Front Page Titles (by Subject) PART I.: OF THE DUTIES OF PERFECT AND DETERMINATE OBLIGATION. - The Metaphysics of Ethics
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PART I.: OF THE DUTIES OF PERFECT AND DETERMINATE OBLIGATION. - Immanuel Kant, The Metaphysics of Ethics 
The Metaphysics of Ethics by Immanuel Kant, trans. J.W. Semple, ed. with Iintroduction by Rev. Henry Calderwood (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1886) (3rd edition).
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OF THE DUTIES OF PERFECT AND DETERMINATE OBLIGATION.
OF THE DUTY OWED BY MANKIND TO HIMSELF IN RESPECT OF HIS ANIMAL PART.
The first if not chiefest duty incumbent upon mankind, in respect of his brute nature, is his self-conservation in his animal estate. The antipart of this obligation is the deliberate and forethought destruction of his animality; and this may be considered as either total or partial. The total we call self-murder; the partial, again, is either material or formal,—material, when a man bereaves himself of any integrant part or organ of his body, by demembration or mutilation; formal, when by excess man suffers himself to be bereft, for a while or for ever, of the use of the physical functions of his system, and so likewise indirectly of his ethic rationality, self-obstupefaction.
Sec. 6.—Of Self-murder.
The voluntary divestiture of man’s animal part can be called self-murder, only then when it is shown that such an act is criminal. A crime which may be perpetrated, either simply on our own person, or also at the same time and by consequence upon the person of another, e.g., as when one in pregnancy kills herself.
Self-destruction is a crime—murder. Suicide may no doubt be considered as the transgression of the duty owed by any one to his fellow-men; as a violation of the conjugal obligations incumbent upon spouses; as a disregard of the duty owed by a subject to his government (the state); or, lastly, as a dereliction of one’s duty to God, the person quitting, without His permission, the post intrusted to him by God in the world. But none of these amount to the crime of murder; and the question at present to be considered is, whether or not deliberate self-destruction is a violation of man’s duty toward himself, even when abstraction is made from all those other considerations; that is, whether man ought to acknowledge himself beholden to the self-conservation of his animal part (nay, most strictly and exactly beholden so to act, and that too by force singly of his personality). That a man can injure himself, appears absurd (volenti non fit injuria); and this was the reason why the Stoics considered it to be a prerogative of the sage to walk with undisturbed soul out of life as out of a smoky room, not urged by any present or apprehended evils, but simply because he could no longer sustain with effect his part in life; and yet this very courage, this strength of soul to advance undauntedly to death, arguing his recognition of somewhat prized by him far higher than life, ought to have taught him not to despoil a being of existence possessing so mighty a mastery and control over the strongest forces in his physic system.
Mankind, so long as duty is at stake, cannot renounce his personality; that is, by consequence, never,—duty being always his incumbent debt; and it is a contradiction to hold that any one were entitled to withdraw himself from his obligations, and to act free, in such sense as to need no ground of warrant for his conduct. To abolish, then, in his own person the subject of morality, is tantamount to expunging with all his might the very being of morality from the world, which morality is, however, an end in itself. Whence we conclude, that to dispose of one’s life for some fancied end, is to degrade the humanity subsisting in his person (homo noumenon), and intrusted to him (homo phenomenon) to the end that he might uphold and preserve it.
For any one to deprive himself of an integral part of his frame, to dismember or mutilate his organs,—as when, for instance, any one sells or gifts a tooth to be transplanted into the jaw of another, or to submit to emasculation to gain an easier livelihood as a singer, and so on,—are acts of partial self-murder. The like observation, however, does not hold of the amputation of a decayed or mortified member, which it might be even dangerous to keep. Neither can we say that it is a violation of one’s person to remove what is a part and pertinent, but still no organ of the body, e.g., to cut one’s hair; but were this done with a view to making gain by the sale of one’s tresses, such an act could not be regarded as altogether devoid of blame.
Casuistics.—Is it self-murder to devote one’s self, like Curtius, to certain death for the liberation of his country? Is martyrdom—the deliberate offering of one’s self up for the benefit of mankind at large—capable of being regarded like the former, as a trait of a heroic character?
Is it allowed to anticipate an unjust sentence of death by suicide? Even were the sovereign to grant this permission, as Nero to Seneca?
Can we regard it as a crime, on the part of our late great monarch,* that he always bore about with him a poison, probably in order that if he should be taken in war, which he always carried on in person, he might not be compelled to accept conditions of ransom too burdensome to his country? A motive we are entitled to ascribe to him, as it is not likely he was impelled to it by mere arrogancy.
A patient, feeling decided symptoms of hydrophobia, after the bite of a mad dog, declared that as this complaint was incurable, he would destroy himself, lest, as he stated in his testament, he should, in a paroxysm of the disease, occasion some disaster to his fellow-men. It is demanded if he did wrong?
He who inoculates himself for smallpox, hazards his life on an uncertainty, even although he does so with a view to its more effectual preservation, and places himself in a much more ambiguous relation to the law, than the mariner, who does not excite the storm which he encounters, whereas this other is himself the cause of his running the risk of death. Is such inoculation lawful?
Sec. 7.—Of Self-defilement.
As the love of life is bestowed upon us for the preservation of our person, so the love of sex for the continuance of our kind. Either appetite is a last end purposed by nature; by end is to be understood that connection obtaining betwixt a cause and its effect, where the cause, although unintelligent, is nevertheless cogitated according to the analogy it bears to an understanding, that is, is spoken of and taken as if it intentionally and of design tended to the education of its own effect. In this way a question arises, if the power of propagating one’s species stands under a restrictive law; or if a person who exercises such a faculty may, without subverting any duty by doing so, overlook that end of nature, and employ his intersexual organs as the mere engine of brute pleasure.
In the elementary principles of law, we took occasion to show that mankind could not serve himself of the person of another, in order to this enjoyment, except subject to the limitary conditions of a particular legal contract (marriage), in which event two persons become mutually obliged to one another. But the question ethics undertakes is this, Whether there be or not a duty owed by man to himself, in respect of this appetite, the violation whereof attains (not merely degrades), the humanity inhabiting his person. The appetite itself is called lust, and the vice it gives birth to is called impurity. The virtue, again, raised upon this instinct of the sensory is termed chastity; and this chastity is now to be represented as a duty owed by man to himself. A lust is said to be unnatural, when a man is impelled to it, not by a real given matter objected to his sensory, but by the productive power of his imagination, depicting to him in fancy the object, contrary to the end aimed at by nature; for the power of appetition is then put into operation in such a manner as to evade or subvert the ends of nature; and, in truth, an end yet more important than the end proposed by nature in the instinctive love of life,—this tending only to the conservation of the individual, that to the upholding uninterrupted the succession of the species.
That this unnatural use (and so abuse) of one’s sexual organs is a violation, in the highest degree, of the duty owed by any to himself, is manifest to everybody; and is a thought so revolting, that even the naming this vice by its own name is regarded as a kind of immorality, which is not the case, however, with self-murder, which no one hesitates to detail in all its horrors, and publish to the world in specie facti; just as if mankind at large felt ashamed at knowing himself capable of an act sinking him so far beneath the brutes.
And yet, to prove upon grounds of reason the inadmissibility of that unnatural excess, and even the disallowedness of a mere irregular use of one’s sexual part, so far forth as they are violations (and in regard of the former, even in the highest possible degree) of the duty owed by man to himself, is a task of no slight or common difficulty. The ground of proving is to be sought, no doubt, in this, that man meanly abdicates his personality, when he attempts to employ himself as a bare means to satisfy a brutal lust. At the same time, the high and prodigious enormity of the violation perpetrated by man against the humanity subsisting in his person, by so unnatural and portentous a lust, which seems, as we have said, formally to transcend in magnitude the guilt of self-murder, remains unexplained upon this argument; unless, perhaps, it might be urged that the headlong obstinacy of the suicide, who casts away life as a burden, is no effeminate surrender to sensitive excitement, but shows valour, and so leaves ground for reverencing the humanity he represents; while this other resigns himself an abandoned outcast to brutality, enjoying his own self-abuse—that is, he makes himself an object of abomination, and stands bereft of all reverence of any kind.
Sec. 8.—Of Self-obstupefaction by Excessive Indulgence in Meats and Drinks.
The vice existing in this species of intemperance is not estimated by the prejudice or bodily pains mankind may entail upon himself as the sequents of his excess; for then we should regulate our judgment upon a principle of conveniency (i.e., on a system of eudaimonism), which, however, affords no ground of duty, but only of a dictate of expediency; at least such principle gives birth to no direct obligations.
The inordinate gratification of our bodily wants is that abuse of aliments which blunts the operations of the intellect: drunkenness and gluttony are the two vices falling under this head. The drunkard renounces, for the seductive goblet, that rationality which alone proclaims the superiority of his rank; and is, while in his state of intoxication, to be dealt with as a brute only, not as a person. The glutton, gorged with viands, blunts his powers for a while, and is incapacitated for such exercises as demand suppleness of body, or the reflections of the understanding. That the putting one’s self into such a situation is a grave violation of what a man owes to himself, is self-evident. The former state of degradation, abject even beneath the beasts, is commonly brought about by the excessive use of fermented liquors, or of stupefying drugs, such as opium, and other products of the vegetable kingdom; the betraying power whereof lies in this, that for a while a dreamy happiness, and freedom from solicitude, or perhaps a fancied fortitude, is begotten, which, after all, concludes in despondency and sadness, and so unawares, and by insensible and unsuspected steps, introduces the need and want to repeat and to augment the stupefying dose. Gluttony must be reputed still lower in the scale of animal enjoyment; for it is purely passive, and does not waken to life the energies of fancy,—a faculty susceptible for a long time of an active play of its perceptions during the obstupefaction of the former, upon which account gluttony is the more beastly vice.
Casuistics.—Can we, if not as the panegyrists, yet as the apologists of wine, accord to it a use bordering on intoxication, so far forth as it animates conversation, and combines the society by the frankness it produces? Can we, in any event, say of wine what Seneca has said when talking of Cato: Virtus ejus incaluit mero? But who is he who will assign a measure to one who stands on the brink of passing into a state, where all eyesight fails him to measure anything, nay, whose disposition is in full march to go beyond it? To employ opium or ardent spirits as instruments of one’s animal gratification, is very much akin to meanness; because these, by their soporific welfare, render the individual mute, reserved, and unsocial; upon which accounts it is that these are allowed only in medicine. Mahometanism has made but an injudicious selection, when it forbids wine, and allows the use of opium in its stead.
A banquet (Lord Mayor’s feast) is a formal invitation to a double intemperance in both kinds, although it has, over and above the stimulating of one’s physical existence, a reference to a moral end, viz., the advancing of man’s social intercourse with his species. Yet because, whenever the number of the guests exceeds, as Chesterfield says, the number of the muses, the very multitude obstructs the social exchange, and admits only the talking to one’s immediate neighbours,—i.e., since a feast is an institution subverting its own end,—it remains to be regarded only as a seduction to excess, i.e., to immorality, and to a violation of the duty owed by man to himself. To what extent is mankind ethically entitled to give ear to such invitations?
OF THE DUTY OWED BY MAN TO HIMSELF, AS A MORAL BEING SINGLY.
THIS duty is opposed to the vices of lying, avarice, and false humility.
Sec. 9.—Of Lying.
The highest violation of the duty owed by man to himself, considered as a moral being singly (owed to the humanity subsisting in his person), is a departure from truth, or lying. That every deliberate untruth in uttering one’s thoughts must bear this name in ethics, is of itself evident, although in law it was only styled fraud or falsehood when it violated the rights of others—ethics giving no title to vice on account of its harmlessness; for the dishonour (i.e., to be an object of ethical disdain) it entails, accompanies the liar like his shadow. A lie may be either external or internal: by means of the former he falls under the contempt of others; but by means of the latter, falls, which is much worse, under his own, and violates the dignity of humanity in his own person. We say nothing here of the damage he may occasion to other people, the damage being no characteristic of the vice; for it would then be turned into a violation of the duty owed to others: nor yet of the damage done by the liar to himself; for then the lie, as a mere error in prudence, would contradict only the hypothetical, not the categorical imperative, and could not be held as violating duty at all. A lie is the abandonment, and, as it were, the annihilation, of the dignity of a man. He who does not himself believe what he states to another person (were it but an ideal person), has a still less value than if he were a mere thing; for of the qualities of this last some use may be made, these being determinate and given; but for any one to communicate thoughts to another by words intended to convey the contrary of what the speaker really thinks, is an end subversive of the purpose and design for which nature endowed us with a faculty of interchanging thought, and is upon these accounts a renunciation of one’s personality, after which the liar goes about, not as truly a man, but as the deceptive appearance of one only. Veracity in one’s statements is called candour; if such statements contain promises, fidelity: both together make up what is called sincerity.
A lie, in the ethical signification of the word, considered as intentional falsehood, need not be prejudicial to others in order to be reprobated, for then it would be a violation of the rights of others. Levity, nay, even good-nature, may be its cause, or some good end may be aimed at by it. However, the giving way to such a thing is by its bare form a crime perpetrated by man against his own person, and a meanness, making a man contemptible in his own eyes.
The reality of many an inward lie, the guilt whereof man entails upon himself, is easily set forth; but to explain the possibility of such a thing is not so easy; and it looks like as if a second person were required, whom we intended to deceive, since deliberately to deceive one’s self sounds like a contradiction.
Man as a moral being (homo noumenon) cannot use himself as a physical being (homo phenomenon), as a mere instrument of speech, nowise connected with the internal end of communicating his thoughts; but he is bound to the condition, under his second point of view, of making his declaration harmonize with his inward man, and so is obliged to veracity towards himself. Mankind thus perverts himself, when he bubbles himself into the belief in a future judge, although he find none such within himself, in the persuasion that it can do no harm, but may, on the contrary, be of service, inwardly to confess such faith before the Searcher of his Heart, in order, in any event, to insinuate himself into His favour. Or otherwise, supposing him to entertain no doubts on this point, still he may flatter himself that he is an inward reverer of His law, although he knows no other incentive than the fear of hell.
Insincerity is just want of conscientiousness, i.e., of sincerity in a man’s avowals to his inward judge, cogitated as a person different from himself. To take this matter quite rigidly, this would be insincerity, to hold a wish framed by self-love for the deed, because the end aimed at by it is good; and the inward lie told by a man to himself, although a violation of his duty towards himself, commonly goes under the name of, and is taken for, a weakness, pretty much in the same way as the wish of a lover to find only good qualities in his adored, seals his eyes to her most glaring defects. However, this insincerity in the statements declared by man to himself, deserves the most serious reprehension; for, from this rotten spot (which seems to taint the vitals of humanity), the evil of insincerity spreads into one’s intercourse with one’s fellow-men, the maxim of truth being once broken up.
Remark.—It is exceedingly remarkable that holy writ dates the original of evil, not from the fratricide of Cain (against which nature revolts), but from the first lie; and states the author of all evil under the denomination of the Liar from the beginning, and the Father of lies; although reason can give no account of this proneness of mankind to hypocrisy; which deflective tendency must, however, have preceded man’s actual lapse, an act of freedom not admitting, as physical effects do, a deduction and explanation from the law of cause and effect, this last law referring singly to phenomena.
Casuistical Questions.—Are falsehoods out of pure politeness (the most obedient servant at the end of a letter), lying? No one is deceived by them. An author asks, “How do you like my new work?” Now the answer might be given illusorily, by jesting upon the captiousness of such a question; but who has wit enough always ready? The smallest tarrying in replying must of itself mortify the author. Is it, then, allowed to pay him compliments?
If I lie, in matters of importance, in the actual business of life, must I bear all the consequences resulting from my falsehood? One gives orders to his servant, if any call for him, to say he is not at home: the domestic does so, and becomes in this way the cause of his master’s finding opportunity to commit a crime, which would otherwise have been prevented by the messenger-at-arms, who came to execute his warrant. On whom, according to ethic principles, does the blame fall? Unquestionably, in part upon the servant, who violated by his lie a duty owed by him to himself, the consequences of which, also, will he imputed to him by his own conscience.
Sec. 10.—Of Avarice.
I understand in this chapter not rapacious avarice, the propensity to extend one’s gains beyond one’s needs, in order to sumptuous fare; but the avarice of hoarding, which, when sordid, makes a man a miser, not so much because it disregards the obligations of charity, as because it narrows and contracts the proper enjoyment of the goods of life within the measure of one’s real wants, and so is repugnant to the duty owed by man to himself.
It is in the exposition of this vice that we can best display the inaccuracy of all those accounts of virtue and vice which make them differ in “degree,” and show clearly at the same time the applicability of Aristotle’s famous principle, that virtue is the mean betwixt two extremes of vice.
Thus, when for instance I regard frugality as the mean betwixt prodigality and avarice, and state this medium as one of degree, then the one vice could not pass into its opposite and contrary (which, however, is not unfrequent), except by passing through the intermediate virtue, and in this way virtue would come to be a diminishing vice, i.e., a vice at its vanishing quantity; and the true inference from this would be, in the present instance, that the perfect point of moral duty would consist in making no use at all of the bounties of fortune.
Neither the measure nor the quantum of acting upon a maxim, but that maxim’s objective principle, is what constitutes the act a vice or a virtue. The maxim of the avaricious and rapacious prodigal is to accumulate wealth, in order that he may enjoy it; that of the sordidly avaricious, or miser, is, on the contrary, to acquire and to keep accumulated his wealth, where he makes the bare possession of it his end, and dispense with the enjoyment.
The peculiar characteristic of the miser is this, that he adopts the principle of hoarding up the means conducive to many ends, with the inward reservation, never to apply such means to their destined uses, and so to bereave himself of all the amenities and sweets of life; a maxim utterly subversive of the duty a man owes to himself. Profusion and hoarding, then, differ not in degree, but they are specifically distinct in respect of their contrary and inconsistent maxims.1
Casuistical Question.—Since we treat here only of duties owed to one’s self, and rapacious avarice (insatiable cupidity of wealth), and the avarice of hoarding, rest on the common ground of self-love, and seem both objectionable, merely because they conclude in poverty, in the case of the former, issuing in unexpected, in that of the latter, in a voluntary indigence (by force of the determination to live in poverty)—since, I say, all this is the case, the question might be raised, if they are either of them at all vices, and not rather mere imprudences, and so not falling within the sphere of the duties owed by man to himself; but the sordid avarice is not a mere misunderstood economy,—it is an abject and servile enthralling of a man’s self to the dominion of money, and is a submitting to cease to be its master, which is a violation of the duty owed by man to himself: it is the opposite of that generous liberality of sentiment (not of munificent liberality, which is no more than a particular case of the former) which determines to shake itself free from every consideration whatever, the law alone excepted, and is a defraudation committed by man against himself. And yet, what kind of law is that, whereof the very inward legislator knows not the application? Ought I to retrench the outlays of my table, or the expenses of my dress? Should I in youth, or in my old age? Or is there, generally speaking, any such virtue as that of thrift?
Sec. 11.—Of False and Spurious Humility.
Man, as a part of the physical system (homo phenomenon, animal rationale), is an animal of very little moment, and has but a common value with beasts, and the other products of the soil. Even that he is superior to those by force of his understanding, gives him only a higher external value in exchange, when brought to the market along with other cattle, and sold as wares.
But man considered as a person, i.e., as the subject of ethico-active reason, is exalted beyond all price; for as such (homo noumenon), he cannot be taken for a bare means, conducive either to his own or to other persons’ ends, but must be esteemed an end in himself; that is to say, he is invested with an internal dignity (an absolute worth), in name of which he extorts reverence for his person from every other finite Intelligent throughout the universe, and is entitled to compare himself with all such, and to deem himself their equal.
The humanity of our common nature is the object of that reverence exigible by each man from his fellow, which reverence, however, he must study not to forfeit. He may, and indeed he ought, to estimate himself by a measure at once great and small, according as he contemplates his physical existence as an animal, or his cogitable being, according to the ethical substratum of his nature. Again, since he has to consider himself not merely as a person, but also as a man, that is, as such a person as has imposed upon him duties put upon him by his own reason, his insignificance as an animal ought neither to impair nor affect his consciousness of his dignity as a rational, and he ought not to forget his ethical self-reverence springing from his latter nature; that is to say, he ought not to pursue those ends which are his duties servilely, or as if he sought for the favour of any other person: he ought not to renounce his dignity, but always to uphold, in its integrity, his consciousness of the loftiness of the ethical substratum of his nature; and this self-reverence is a duty owed by man to himself.
The consciousness and feeling of one’s little worth, when compared with the law, is ethical humility: the over-persuasion that a man has a great deal of moral worth, owing only to his neglecting to quadrate himself with the law, is ethical arrogancy, and might be called self-righteousness. But to renounce all claim to any moral worth, in the hope of thereby acquiring a borrowed and another, is false ethical humility, and may be called spiritual hypocrisy.
Humility, understood as a low opinion of one’s self, when compared with other persons, is no duty (nor, generally speaking, in comparison with any finite being, although a seraph): the active endeavour, in such comparison, to find one’s self equal or superior to others, in the imagination of thereby augmenting his inward worth, is ambition,—a vice diametrically opposed to the duty we owe to others; but the studied declinature of all one’s proper ethic worth, considered as a mean for ingratiating one’s self into the favour of another (be that other who he may), is false and counterfeit humility—(hypocrisy, flattery)—and a degradation of one’s personality, subverting the duty he owes to himself.
Upon an exact and sincere comparison of a man’s self with the moral law (its holiness and rigour), true humility must infallibly result; but from the very circumstance that we can know ourselves capable of such an inward legislation, and that the physical man finds himself compelled to stand in awe of the ethical man in his own person, there results also at the same time a feeling of exaltation, and the highest possible self-estimation, as the consciousness of one’s inward worth, by force of which he is raised far beyond all price, and sees himself invested with an inalienable dignity, inspiring him with reverence for himself.
This duty, in respect of the dignity of our humanity, can be rendered more sensible by such precepts as the following.
Become not the slaves of other men. Suffer not thy rights to be trampled under foot by others with impunity. Make no debts thou mayest be unable to discharge. Receive no favours thou canst dispense with, and be neither parasites nor flatterers nor—for they differ but in degree—beggars. Live, then, frugally, lest one day thou come to beggary. Howling and groaning, nay, a mere scream at a bodily pain, is beneath thy dignity as a man, more especially when conscious that thou hast thyself merited it. Hence the ennoblement of (averting of ignominy from) the death of a malefactor, by the constancy with which he meets his fate. To kneel or prostrate thyself upon the earth, in order to depicture in a more lively image to thy fancy thy adoration of celestial objects, derogates from thy dignity as a man; as does also the worshipping of them by images: for then thou humblest thyself, not before an ideal, the handiwork of thy reason, but beneath an idol, the workmanship of thy hands.
Casuistics.—Is not the elation of mind in self-reverence, considered as a consciousness of the lofty destiny of man, too much akin to arrogance, i.e., to self-conceit, to make it advisable to summon up to it, not only in respect of the moral law, but even in respect of other men? or would not self-denial in this particular invite others to despise our person, and so be a violation of what is due by man to himself? Fawning and scraping to another is in any event unworthy of a man.
Are not the different styles of address, and the especial marks of respect, denoting, with such painful anxiety, difference of rank in society,—all which differs widely from politeness, a thing indispensable for mutually reverencing one another,—the thou, he, they, your high wisdom, your reverence, etc. etc., in which pedantry the Germans go beyond all nations on the earth, the Indian castes alone excepted,—are not, I say, these proofs of a widely-spread tendency among mankind to false and spurious humility? (hæ nugæ in seria ducunt.)—However, he who first makes himself a worm, does not complain when he is trampled under foot.
OF THE DUTY OWED BY MAN TO HIMSELF AS HIS OWN JUDGE.
The idea Duty always involves and presents to the mind that of necessitation by law (law being an ethical imperative limiting our freedom), and belongs to our moral understanding which prescribes the rule. The inward imputation of an act, however, as of an event falling under the law, belongs to the judgment, which being the subjective principle of the imputation of an act, utters its verdict whether or not any given deed (i.e., act subsumible under law) has been done or not, after which reason pronounces sentence, i.e., connects the act with its legal consequences, and so absolves or condemns; all which is carried on before a court of justice, as if in the presence of an ethical person sitting to give effect to the law. The consciousness of an internal tribunal in man, before which his thoughts accuse or excuse him, is what is called Conscience.
Every man has Conscience, and finds himself inspected by an inward censor, by whom he is threatened and kept in awe (reverence mingled with dread); and this power watching over the law, is nothing arbitrarily (optionally) adopted by himself, but is interwoven with his substance. It follows him like his shadow, however he may try to flee from it. He may indeed deafen himself by pleasure or by business, or he may lull himself into a lethargy; but this is only for a while, and he must inevitably come now and then to himself: nor can he hinder himself from ever and anon awakening, whereupon he hears his dreadful and appalling voice. In the last stage of reprobation man may indeed have ceased to heed him, but not to hear him, is impossible.
This originary intellectual and ethical (for it refers to duty) disposition of our nature, called conscience, has this peculiarity, that although this whole matter is an affair of man with himself, he notwithstanding finds his reason constrained to carry on the suit, as if it were at the instigation of another person; for the procedure is the conduct of a cause before a court. Now, that he who is the accused by his conscience should be figured to be just the same person as his judge, is an absurd representation of a tribunal; since in such event the accuser would always lose his suit. Conscience must therefore represent to itself always some one other than itself as judge, unless it is to arrive at a contradiction with itself. This other may be either a real—or an ideal person the product of reason.*
Such an ideal person, authorized to sit as judge in the court of conscience, must be a searcher of the heart, for the tribunal is erected in the interior of man. Further, he must hold all-obligatory power,i.e., be such a person, or at least be figured as if he were a person, in respect of whom all duty may be represented as his commandments, because conscience is judge over all free actions. Lastly, he must have all power (in heaven and in earth) to absolve and to condemn, these properties being of the very essence of the functions of a judge: apart from his being endowed wherewith, he could give no effect to the law. But since he who searches the heart, and, having all-obligatory power, is able to absolve and condemn, is called God, it follows that conscience must be regarded as a subjective principle implanted in the reason of man, calling for an account of every action before God. Nay, this notion of responsibility is at all times involved, however darkly, in every act of moral self-consciousness.
This is not by any means to say that man is entitled, and still less that he is bound, to believe in, as real, any such Supreme Being, answering to the idea, to which conscience inevitably points; for the idea is given him not objectively by speculative reason, but subjectively only, by practical reason obliging itself to act conformably to this representation. And mankind is, by means of this idea, but merely from its analogy to that of a sovereign lawgiver of the universe, led to figure to himself conscientiousness (in the old language of the empire, religio), as a responsibility owed to a most holy being, different from ourselves, and yet most intimately present to our substance (moral legislative reason), and to submit ourselves to His will as if it were a law of righteousness. The notion of religionin genere is therefore just this, that it is a principle of esteeming of all our duties as if they were divine commandments.
1. In an affair of conscience, man figures to himself a preadmonitory or warning conscience before he decides on acting; and here the minutest scruple, when it refers to an idea of duty (somewhat in itself moral), and over which conscience is the alone judge, is of weight, nor is it ever regarded as a trifle; nor can what would be a real transgression be declared, according to the saying of minima non curat prætor, a bagatelle or peccadillo, and so left for an arbitrary and random determination. Hence, having a large conscience is the same with having none.
2. As soon as an act is determined on and completed, the accuser immediately presents himself in the court of conscience, and along with him there appears a defender, and the suit is never decided amicably, but according to the rigour of the law. After which follows—
3. The sentence of conscience upon the man, either absolving or condemning, which concludes the cause. As to which final judgment, we remark that the former sentence never decrees a reward as the gaining of something which was not there before, but leaves room only for satisfaction at escaping condemnation. The bliss, therefore, announced by the consoling voice of conscience is not positive (as joy), but only negative (tranquillization after previous apprehension); a blessedness capable of being ascribed to virtue only, as a warfare with the influences of the evil principle in man.
Sec. 14.—The first commandment of all Duties owed by Man to himself.
This is, know thyself, not after thy physical perfection, but after thy ethical, in reference to thy duty. Search, try thy heart, whether it be good or evil, whether the springs of thy conduct be pure or impure; and how much, either as originally belonging to thy substance or as acquired by thee, may be imputable to thy account, and may go to make up thy moral state.
This self-examination, which seeks to fathom the scarcely penetrable abysses of the human heart, and the self-knowledge springing from it, is the beginning of all human wisdom. For this wisdom, which consists in the accordance of the will of an Intelligent with the last end of his existence, requires in man, first, that he disembarrass himself of an inward impediment (an evil will, nestled in his person); and second, the unremitted effort to develop his originary inamissible substratum for a good one. Only the Avernan descent of self-knowledge paves a way to self-apotheosis.
This ethical self-knowledge guards, first, against the fanatical detestation of one’s self as a man, and against a disdain of the whole human race in general. It is only by force of the glorious substratum for morality within us—which substratum it is that renders man venerable—that we are enabled to find any man despicable, or to hand ourselves over to our own contempt, when seen to fall short of this august standard; an ethical disregard attaching to this or that man singly, never to humanity in general. And then it guards, secondly, against the fond and fatal self-delusion of taking a bare wish, however ardent, for any index of a good heart; and obviates irregular self-estimation. Even prayer is no more than a wish, inwardly uttered in the presence of a Searcher of the Heart. Impartiality, in judging of ourselves, when compared with the law, and sincerity in a man’s own self-confession of his own inward ethical worth or unworth, are the duties owed by man to himself, immediately founded on this first commandment of self-knowledge.
Sec. 16.—Of an Amphiboly of the Reflex Moral Notions; whereby Mankind is led to regard what is only a Duty to wards himself, as if it were a Duty owed by him to others.
To judge on grounds of naked reason, man has no duties imposed upon him, except those owed by him to humanity in general (himself or others); for his obligement towards any person imports ethical necessitation by that person’s will. The necessitating (obliging) subject must then, in every instance, be, first, a person; and must, second, be a person presented to our knowledge in experience and observation; for, since man has to work towards the end of that person’s will, this is a relation possible only betwixt two given existing beings, no imaginary or barely cogitable persons becoming the final cause and scope of any one’s actions. But experience and observation teach a knowledge of no other being, except our fellow-men, capable of obligation, whether active or passive. Mankind can, therefore, have no duty toward any being other than his fellow-men, and when he figures to himself that there are such, this arises singly from an amphiboly of his reflex moral notions; and this fancied duty owed by him to others is no more than a duty to himself, he being misled to this misunderstanding by confounding what is duty to himself in regard of other beings, with a duty toward those others.
This fancied duty may extend, either to impersonals, or if to personal, yet to invisible beings, not presented to our sensory. The former will be either the physical matter of the universe, or else its organized but impercipient products; or, lastly, that part of nature which we see endowed with choice, motion, and perception (1. minerals, 2. plants, 3. animals). The latter will have a reference to superhuman beings, cogitated as spiritual substances (God, angels). And we now ask, does there obtain, betwixt these different kinds of beings and man, any relation of duty? and if so, what is the nature and extent of this obligation?
In regard of the beautiful but lifeless objects in nature, to indulge a propensity to destroy them, is subversive of the duty owed by man to himself. For this spirit of destruction lays waste that feeling in man, which, though not itself ethical, is yet akin to it, and aids and supports, or even prepares a way for a determination of the sensory, not unfavourable to morality, viz., the emotion of disinterested complacency in somewhat quite apart from any view of its utility, e.g., as when we find delight in contemplating a fine crystallization, or the unutterable beauties of the vegetable kingdom.
In regard of the animated but irrational part of the creation, it is undoubted that a savage and cruel treatment of them is yet more inly repugnant to what man owes to himself; for it blunts and obtunds our natural sympathy with their pangs, and so lays waste, gradually, the physical principle which is of service to morality, and assists greatly the discharge of our duty towards other men. But to kill them or to set them on work not beyond their strength (which labour man himself must undertake), is in nowise disallowed; although to torture them, with a view to recondite experiments subserving a mere speculation, which could be dispensed with, is detestable. Nay, gratitude for the services of an old horse or house-dog is indirectly, a duty, namely, an indirect duty in regard of these animals; for, directly, it is no more than what a man owes to himself.
In regard of a Being transcending all bounds of knowledge, but whose existence is notwithstanding given to us in idea, viz., the Godhead, we have in like manner a duty called religion, which is the duty of recognising all our duties as if they were divine commandments. But this is not the consciousness of a duty toward God. For since this idea rises singly upon our own reason, and is made by ourselves for the behoof of explaining theoretically the symmetry and fitness of means to ends observed in the fabric of the universe, or practically to give added force to the mainspring of action, it is manifest that we have nowhat given, toward whom an obligation could be constituted; and his reality would first need to be established by experience (or revealed). And the duty we have here is to apply this indispensable idea of reason to the moral law within us, where it proves of the greatest ethical fertility. In this practical sense it may be asserted, that to have religion is a duty owed by man to himself.
[* ]Frederick II.
[1 ]The position, one ought never to overdo or underdo anything, says nothing, for it is tautological. What is it to overdo?Ans. To do more than is right. What is it to underdo?Ans. To do less than is right. What is meant byone ought?Ans. It is not right to do more or less than is right. If this be the wisdom to be pumped from Aristotle, we have made a bad choice in our fountain.
contain downright falsehood, if taken to the letter. Sapiens seems to mean a good, dog-trot, prudent man, who does not feed his imagination with any fantastic idea of perfection, which is to be aspired to, though not attained, which last exceeds man’s power, and would run up ethics into an absurdity. But to be too virtuous, i.e., too attached and devoted to duty, is as much as drawing a right line too straight, or a circle too round.
[* ]The twofold personality in which the man who accuses and judges himself has to cogitate himself, this double self, forced on the one hand to appear trembling at the bar of a tribunal, where, on the other hand, he sits as judge, invested as his birthright with such authority, needs some explanation, lest reason seem to be involved in a contradiction with itself. I, at once accused and accuser, am numerically one and the same person, but, as the subject of the moral legislation, based on the idea Freedom (homo noumenon), I must be considered, though only for a practical behoof, as diverse from the phenomenal man endowed with reason. For a practical behoof only, we say, because speculation gives no theory, of the relation obtaining betwixt the cogitable and the sensible system. And this specific difference betwixt the real and the phenomenal man is the difference of the superior and inferior faculties by which man is characterized. The former accuse, the latter appear in defence: after closing the record, the inward judge, as he who is invested with judiciary authority, utters the doom of bliss or woe, as ethical sequents of the deed; but in this capacity (which is that of a sovereign governor) we are unable to investigate any further the sources of its power, but are constrained to stand in awe of the unconditionate jubeo or veto of our reason.