Now it might be contended that all these different moralities are in their essence one and the same; and that one cannot comply with the requirements of any one of these systems of morality without fulfilling in a measure the requirements of all the other moralities.
It might, for example, be urged that if a man strive after the achievement of a transcendental ideal in which self shall be annulled, he will pro tanto [to such extent] be bringing welfare to his domestic circle; or again, that it would be impossible to promote domestic welfare without, through this, promoting the welfare of the nation, and through that the general welfare of the world.
In like manner it might be argued that all work done for abstract principles of morality like liberty and justice, for the advancement of knowledge, and for whatever else goes to the building up of a higher civilisation, will, by promoting the welfare of the general body of mankind, redound to the advantage of each several nation, and ultimately to the advantage of each domestic circle.
But all this would be true only in a very superficial and strictly qualified sense. In reality, just as there is eternal conflict between egoism and altruism, so there is conflict between the different moralities.
To take examples, the attempt to actualise the transcendental religious ideal may, when pursued with ardour, very easily conflict with the morality which makes domestic felicity its end. And again—as we see in the anti-militarist movement in France, in the history of the early Christian Church, in the case of the Quakers and in the teachings of Tolstoy—it may quite well set itself in conflict with national ideals, and dictate a line of conduct which is, from the point of view of the State, immoral.
We need no further witness of the divorce between idealistic and national morality than that which is supplied in the memorable utterance of Bishop Magee, “No state which was conducted on truly Christian principles could hold together for a week.”
And domestic morality will constantly come into conflict with public morality.
To do everything in one’s power to advance one’s relatives and friends irrespectively of all considerations of merit would, no doubt, be quite sound domestic morality; it could, however, not always be reconciled with public morality. In the same way, to take one’s country’s part in all eventualities would be patriotic, but it might quite well conflict with the higher interests of humanity.
Now, the point towards which we have been winning our way is that each man’s moral station and degree will be determined by the election which he makes where egoism and altruism, and where a narrower and a wider code of morality, conflict.
That the moral law forbids yielding to the promptings of egoism or to those of the narrower moralities when this involves a violation of the precepts of the wider morality is axiomatic. Criminal and anti-social actions are not excused by the fact that motives which impelled their commission were not purely egoistic.