Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER I.: definition of morality. - Social Statics
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CHAPTER I.: definition of morality. - Herbert Spencer, Social Statics 
Social Statics: or, The Conditions essential to Happiness specified, and the First of them Developed, (London: John Chapman, 1851).
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definition of morality.
There does not seem to exist any settled idea as to what a Moral Philosophy properly embraces. Moralists have either omitted to prelude their inquiries by any strict definition of the work to be done, or a definition of a very loose and indiscriminating character has been framed. Instead of confining themselves to the discovery and application of certain essential principles of right conduct, they have attempted to give rules for all possible actions, under all possible circumstances. Properly understood the subject matter for investigation lies within comparatively narrow limits; but, overlooking these, they have entered upon a multitude of questions which we shall shortly find to be quite beyond their province.
As already said (p. 15) the moral law must be the law of the perfect man—the law in obedience to which perfection consists. There are but two propositions for us to choose between. It may either be asserted that morality is a code of rules for the behaviour of man as he is—a code which recognises existing defects of character, and allows for them; or otherwise that it is a code of rules for the regulation of conduct amongst men as they should be. Of the first alternative we must say, that any proposed system of morals which recognises existing defects, and countenances acts made needful by them, stands self-condemned; seeing that, by the hypothesis, acts thus excused are not the best conceivable; that is are not perfectly right—not perfectly moral, and therefore a morality which permits them, is, in so far as it does this, not a morality at all. To escape from this contradiction is impossible, save by adopting the other alternative; namely, that the moral law ignoring all vicious conditions, defects, and incapacities, prescribes the conduct of an ideal humanity. Pure and absolute rectitude can alone be its subject matter. Its object must be to determine the relationships in which men ought to stand to each other—to point out the principles of action in a normal society. By successive propositions it must aim to give a systematic statement of those conditions under which human beings may harmoniously combine; and to this end it requires as its postulate, that those human beings be perfect. Or we may term it the science of social life; a science that, in common with all other sciences, assumes perfection in the elements with which it deals.
Treating therefore as it does on the abstract principles of right conduct, and the deductions to be made from these, a system of pure ethics cannot recognise evil, or any of those conditions which evil generates. It entirely ignores wrong, injustice, or crime, and gives no information as to what must be done when they have been committed. It knows no such thing as an infraction of the laws, for it is merely a statement of what the laws are. It simply says, such and such are the principles on which men should act; and when these are broken it can do nothing but say that they are broken. If asked what ought any one to do when another has knocked him down, it will not tell; it can only answer that an assault is a trespass against the law, and gives rise to a wrong relationship. It is silent as to the manner in which we should behave to a thief; all the information it affords is, that theft is a disturbance of social equilibrium. We may learn from it that debt implies an infraction of the moral code; but whether the debtor should or should not be imprisoned, cannot be decided by it. To all questions which presuppose some antecedent unlawful action, such as—Should a barrister defend any one whom be believes to be guilty? Ought a man to break an oath which he has taken to do something wrong? Is it proper to publish the misconduct of our fellows? the perfect law can give no reply, because it does not recognise the premises. In seeking to settle such points on purely ethical principles, moralists have attempted impossibilities. As well might they have tried to solve mathematically a series of problems respecting crooked lines and broken-backed curves, or to deduce from the theorems of mechanics the proper method of setting to work a dislocated machine. No conclusions can lay claim to absolute truth, but such as depend upon truths that are themselves absolute. Before there can be exactness in an inference, there must be exactness in the antecedent propositions. A geometrician requires that the straight lines with which he deals shall be veritably straight; and that his circles, and ellipses, and parabolas shall agree with precise definitions—shall perfectly and invariably answer to specified equations. If you put to him a question in which these conditions are not complied with, he tells you that it cannot be answered. So likewise is it with the philosophical moralist. He treats solely of the straight man. He determines the properties of the straight man; describes how the straight man comports himself; shows in what relationship he stands to other straight men; shows how a community of straight men is constituted. Any deviation from strict rectitude he is obliged wholly to ignore. It cannot be admitted into his premises without vitiating all his conclusions. A problem in which a crooked man forms one of the elements is insoluble by him. He may state what he thinks about it—may give an approximate solution; but anything more is impossible. His decision is no longer scientific and authoritative, but is now merely an opinion.
Or perhaps the point may be most conveniently enforced, by using the science of the animal man, to illustrate that of the moral man. Physiology is defined as a classified statement of the phenomena of bodily life. It treats of the functions of our several organs in their normal states. It explains the relationships in which the members stand to each other—what are their respective duties—how such duties are performed, and why they are necessary. It exhibits the mutual dependence of the vital actions; points out how these are maintained in due balance, and describes the condition of things constituting perfect health. Disease it does not even recognise, and can therefore solve no questions concerning it. To the inquiry—What is the cause of fever? or, what is the best remedy for a cold? it gives no answer. Such matters are out of its sphere. Could it reply it would be no longer Physiology, but Pathology, or Therapeutics. Just so it is with a true morality, which might properly enough be called—Moral Physiology. Its office is simply to expound the principles of moral health. Like its analogue, it has nothing to do with morbid actions and deranged functions. It deals only with the laws of a normal humanity, and cannot recognise a wrong, a depraved, or a disordered condition.
Hence it appears, that in treating of two such matters as the right of property, and the impropriety of duelling, as parts of the same science, moralists have confounded together subjects that are essentially distinct. The question—What are the right principles of human conduct? is one thing; the question—What must be done when those principles have been broken through? is another, and widely-different thing. Whether this last admits of any solution—whether it is possible to develope scientifically a Moral Pathology and a Moral Therapeutics seems very doubtful. Be this as it may, however, it is very clear that a system of pure Ethics is independent of these. And it will be considered so throughout the ensuing investigations.