DAVID STARR JORDAN.
Berkeley, Cal., Sept. 19, 1914.
Might or Right
By John Grier Hibben.
President of Princeton
University; author of works on logic
The address printed below was delivered by President Hibben at the opening of the Laymen’s Efficiency Convention in New York City, Oct. 16, 1914.
We are all of us sadly conscious of our failure to realize in any adequate measure the standards of right conduct which we set for ourselves. Attainment falls far short of purpose and desire. Through want of courage, or it may be of inclination, or of sheer inertia, we fail to obey perfectly the law of duty which we recognize as imperatively binding upon us. There is, however, a more subtle kind of failure as regards our moral endeavor and achievement which is due to the unconscious shifting of these standards of right and wrong themselves. It is not merely that we fail to do that which we know to be right, but at times the very idea of right itself is strangely altered. The good insensibly assimilates to itself certain elements of evil which we allow and accept without full realization of the significance of this moral alchemy to which the most fundamental of our ideas are often times subjected. The idea of right no longer stands in its integrity, but is compromised and even neutralized by conflicting thoughts and sentiments. The things which at one time held first place in our estimate of life become secondary. Our attitude toward men, and manners, and affairs experiences a radical change. This in most cases takes place unconsciously, or if conscious of it, we refrain from confessing it even to ourselves.
There are some, however, who are both frank enough and bold enough to announce their belief in the radical doctrine which demands a complete transformation of essential values. For them, good is evil and evil good, and they seem not ashamed to avow it. The conspicuous German philosopher of later years, Nietzsche, with a naive simplicity insists that the great need of our modern civilization is that which he designates as “the transvaluation of all values.” By this he means the complete transformation of certain ideas of supreme value into their direct opposites. He declares, for instance, that the central virtues of Christianity, such as those of self-sacrifice, pity, mercy, indicate an inherent weakness of the human race, and that the strong man dissipates his energies through the offices of kindness and helpfulness. Thus the law which commands us to bear one another’s burdens must be regarded as obsolete. Every man should be strong enough to bear his own burdens. If not, he is a drag to the onward progress of humanity, and to assist him is to do evil and not good. If you help the weak, you so far forth assist in perpetuating an inferior type of manhood.
Nietzsche’s “Moralic Acid.”