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CHAPTER 1.: The Confusion of Ethical Thought - Herbert Spencer, The Principles of Ethics, vol. 1 
The Principles of Ethics, introduction by Tibor R. Machan (Indianapolis: LibertyClassics, 1978). Vol. 1.
Part of: The Principles of Ethics, 2 vols.
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The Confusion of Ethical Thought
111. If, in common with other things, human feelings and ideas conform to the general law of evolution, the implication is that the set of conceptions constituting ethics, together with the associated sentiments, arise out of a relatively incoherent and indefinite consciousness; and slowly acquire coherence and definiteness at the same time that the aggregate of them differentiates from the larger aggregate with which it is originally mingled. Long remaining undistinguished, and then but vaguely discernible as something independent, ethics must be expected to acquire a distinct embodiment only when mental evolution has reached a high stage.
Hence the present confusion of ethical thought. Total at the outset, it has necessarily continued great during social progress at large, and, though diminished, must be supposed to be still great in our present semicivilized state. Notions of right and wrong, variously derived and changing with every change in social arrangements and activities, form an assemblage which we may conclude is even now in large measure chaotic.
Let us contemplate some of the chief factors of the ethical consciousness, and observe the sets of conflicting beliefs and opinions severally resulting from them.
112. Originally, ethics has no existence apart from religion, which holds it in solution. Religion itself, in its earliest form, is undistinguished from ancestor worship. And the propitiations of ancestral ghosts, made for the purpose of avoiding the evils they may inflict and gaining the benefits they may confer, are prompted by prudential considerations like those which guide the ordinary actions of life.
“Come and partake of this! Give us maintenance as you did when living!” calls out the innocent Wood-Veddah to the spirit of his relative, when leaving an offering for him; and then, at another time, he expects this spirit to give him success in the chase. A Zulu dreams that his brother’s ghost, scolding him and beating him for not sacrificing, says, “I wish for meat”; and then to the reply “No, my brother, I have no bullock; do you see any in the cattle pen?” the rejoinder is, “Though there be but one, I demand it.” The Australian medicine man, eulogizing the dead hunter and listening to replies from the corpse, announces that should he be sufficiently avenged he has promised that “his spirit would not haunt the tribe, nor cause them fear, nor mislead them into wrong tracks, nor bring sickness amongst them, nor make loud noises in the night.” Thus is it generally. Savages ascribe their good or ill fortunes to the doubles of the dead whom they have pleased or angered; and, while offering to them food and drink and clothing, promise conformity to their wishes and beg for their help.1
When from the first stage, in which only the ghosts of fathers and other relatives are propitiated by the members of each family, we pass to the second stage, in which, along with the rise of an established chieftainship, there arises a special fear of the chief’s ghost, there results propitiation of this also–offerings, eulogies, prayers, promises. If, as warrior or ruler, a powerful man has excited admiration and dread, the anxiety to be on good terms with his still more powerful double is great, and prompts observance of his commands and interdicts. Of course, after many conquests have made him a king, the expressions of subordination to his deified spirit, regarded as omnipotent and terrible, are more pronounced, and submission to his will becomes imperative: the concomitant idea being that right and wrong consist simply in obedience and disobedience to him.
All religions exemplify these relations of phenomena. Concerning the Tongans, Mariner says that “Several acts acknowledged by all civilized nations as crimes, are under many circumstances considered by them as matters of indifference,” unless they involve disrespect to “the gods, nobles, and aged persons.” In his description of certain peoples of the Gold Coast, Major Ellis shows that with them the idea of sin is limited to insults offered to the gods, and to the neglect of the gods.
The most atrocious crimes, committed as between man and man, the gods can view with equanimity These are man’s concerns, and must be rectified or punished by man. But, like the gods of people much farther advanced in civilization, there is nothing that offends them so deeply as to ignore them, or question their power, or laugh at them.
When from these cases, in which the required subordination is shown exclusively in observances expressive of reverence, we pass to cases in which there are commands of the kind called ethical, we find that the propriety of not offending God is the primary reason for fulfilling them. Describing the admonitions given by parents to children among the ancient Mexicans, Zurita instances these:
Do not poison any one, since you would sin against God in his creature; your crime would be discovered and punished, and . . . you would suffer the same death. [P 138] Do not injure any one, shun adultery and luxury; that is a mean vice which causes the ruin of him who yields to it, and which offends God. [P 139] Be modest; humility procures us the favor of God and of the powerful.
Much more pronounced, however, among the Hebrews was the belief that right and wrong are made such simply by the will of God. As Schenkel remarks, “Inasmuch as man owes obedience to God’s laws, sin is regarded as rebellion (Isaiah i. 2, lix. 13; Hosea vii. 13; Amos iv 4).” Conformity to divine injunctions is insisted upon solely because they are divine injunctions, as is shown in Leviticus xviii. 4, 5: “Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the Lord your God. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments.” Such was the view which the Hebrews themselves avowedly entertained. This is proved by their later writings. Bruch remarks that according to the author of the Book of Wisdom, “virtue is obedience to the will of God, and where this is expressed in the Law fulfillment of it is required (vi. 5, 19).” And in like manner, Fritzsche says–In Ecclesiasticus “the command of God appears as the proper motive of morality”
How little good and bad conduct were associated in thought with the intrinsic natures of right and wrong, and how completely they were associated in thought with obedience and disobedience to Jahveh, we see in the facts that prosperity and increase of population were promised as rewards of allegiance; while there was punishment for such nonethical disobediences as omitting circumcision or numbering the people.
That conformity to injunctions, as well as making sacrifices and singing praises, had in view benefits to be received in return for subordination, other ancient peoples show us. Here are illustrative passages from the Rig-Veda.
A like expected exchange of obligations was shown among the Egyptians when Rameses, invoking The unsacrificing Sanakas perished. Contending with the sacrificers the non-sacrificers fled, O Indra, with averted faces.
[i. 33, 4–5]
Men fight the fiend, trying to overcome by their deeds him who performs no sacrifices.
[vi. 14, 3]
May all other people around us vanish into nothing, but our own offspring remain blessed in this world.
[x. 81, 7]
We who are wishing for horses, for booty, for women . . . Indra, the strong one who gives us women.
[iv 17, 16]
Ammon for aid, reminded him of the hecatombs of bulls he had sacrificed to him. And, similarly, it was shown among the early Greeks when Chrises, praying for vengeance, emphasized the claim he had established on Apollo by decorating his temple. Evidently the good and evil which come from enjoined and forbidden actions, are considered as directly caused by God, and not as indirectly due to the constitution of things.
That like conceptions prevailed throughout medieval Europe everyone knows. With the appeals to saints for aid in battle, with the vows to build chapels to the Virgin by way of compounding for crimes, and with the crusading expeditions and pilgrimages undertaken as means to salvation, there went the idea that divine injunctions are to be obeyed simply because they are divine injunctions; and the accompanying idea was that good and evil are consequences of God’s will and not consequences naturally caused. The current idea was well shown in the forms of manumission–"For fear of Almighty God, and for the cure of my soul, I liberate thee” &c. or “For lessening my sins” &c. Even now a kindred conception survives in most men. Not only is it still the popular belief that right and wrong become such by divine fiat, but it is the belief of many theologians and moralists. The speeches of bishops concerning the Deceased Wife’s Sisters Bill, sufficiently indicate the attitude of the one; and various books, among others that of the Quaker moralist Jonathan Dymond, show the other. Though there has long been growing a vague recognition of natural sanctions which some actions have and others have not, yet there continues a general belief that moral obligation is supernaturally derived.
113. Various mythologies of ancient peoples, in common with those of some existing savages, describe the battles of the gods: now with one another and now with alien foes. If the deities of the Scandinavians, the Mongolians, the Indians, the Assyrians, the Greeks, are not all of them successful warriors, yet the supremacy of the gods over other beings, or of one over the rest, is habitually represented as established by conquest. Even the Hebrew deity, characterized as a “man of war,” is constantly spoken of as a subduer of enemies, if not personally yet by proxy.
The apotheosized chiefs who become the personages of mythologies (frequently invaders, like the Egyptian gods who came into Egypt from the land of Punt) usually leave behind them wars in progress or unsettled feuds; and fulfillment of their commands, or known wishes, by overcoming enemies, then becomes a duty. Even where there are no bequeathed antagonisms with peoples around, example and precept given by the warrior-king unite in giving divine sanction to the ethics of enmity.
Hence such a fact as that told of the Fijian chief, who was in a state of mental agony because he had displeased his god by not killing enough of the enemy. Hence such representations as are made by Assyrian kings: Shalmaneser II asserting that Asshur “had strongly urged me to conquer and subjugate”; Tiglath Pileser naming Asshur and the great gods as having “ordered an enlarged frontier to” his dominions; Sennacherib describing himself as the instrument of Asshur, and aided by him in battle; Assurbanipal, as fighting in the service of the gods who, he says, are his leaders in war. Of like meaning is the account which the Egyptian king, Rameses II, gives of his transcendent achievements in the field while inspired by the ghost of his deified father. Nor is it otherwise with the carrying on of wars among the Hebrews in pursuance of divine behests; as when it is said–"Whomsoever the Lord our God shall drive out from before us, them will we possess” (Judges xi. 24). And among other peoples, in later times, we see the same connection of ideas in the name assumed by Attila–"the scourge of God.”
Sanctions for deeds entailed by the conflicts between societies, when not thus arising, inevitably arise from social necessities. Congruity must be established between the conduct found needful for self-preservation and the conduct held to be right. When, throughout a whole community, daily acts are at variance with feelings, these feelings, continually repressed, diminish, and antagonist feelings, continually encouraged, grow; until the average sentiments are adjusted to the average requirements. Whatever injures foes is then thought not only justifiable but praiseworthy, and a part of duty. Success in killing brings admiration above every other achievement; burning of habitations and laying waste of territory become things to be boasted of; while in trophies, going even to the extent of a pyramid of heads of the slain, the conqueror and his followers show that pride which implies the consciousness of great deeds.
These conceptions and feelings, conspicuous in ancient epics and histories, have continued conspicuous during the course of social evolution, and are conspicuous still. If, instead of asking for men’s nominal code of right and wrong, we seek for their real code, we find that in most minds the virtues of the warrior take the first place. Concerning an officer killed in a nefarious war, you may hear the remark–"He died the death of a gentleman.” And among civilians, as among soldiers, there is tacit approval of the political brigandage going on in various quarters of the globe; while there are no protests against the massacres euphemistically called “punishments.”
114. But though for the defense against, and conquest of, societies, one by another, injurious actions of all kinds have been needful, and have acquired in men’s minds that sanction implied by calling them right, such injurious actions have not been needful within each society; but, contrariwise, actions of an opposite kind have been needful. violent as may frequently be the conduct of tribesmen to one another, combined action of them against other tribes must be impossible in the absence of some mutual trust, consequent on experience of friendliness and fairness. And since a behavior which favors harmonious cooperation within the tribe conduces to its prosperity and growth, and therefore to the conquest of other tribes, survival of the fittest among tribes causes the establishment of such behavior as a general trait.
The authority of ruling men gives the ethics of amity collateral support. Dissension being recognized by chiefs as a source of tribal weakness, acts leading to it are reprobated by them; and where the injunctions of deified chiefs are remembered after their deaths, there results a supernatural sanction for actions conducive to harmony, and a supernatural condemnation for actions at variance with it. Hence the origin of what we distinguish as moral codes. Hence the fact that in numerous societies, formed by various races of men, such moral codes agree in forbidding actions which are antisocial in conspicuous degrees.
We find evidence that moral codes thus arising are transmitted from generation to generation, now informally and now formally Thus “the Karens ascribe all their laws, and instructions, to the elders of preceding generations.” According to Schoolcraft, the Dakotas “repeat traditions to the family with maxims, and tell their children they must live up to them.” And then Morgan tells us that among the Iroquois, when mourning for their sachems, “a prominent part of the ceremonial consisted in the repetition of their ancient laws and usages.” Whence it is manifest that, sachems being the ruling men, this repetition of their injunctions during their obsequies, amounted to a tacit expression of obedience, and the injunctions became an ethical creed having a quasi-supernatural sanction.
The gravest transgressions, first recognized as such, as their flagitiousness taken for granted, are, in the absence of a systematized code of conduct, not conspicuously denounced by early teachers; any more than by our own priests, the wrongfulness of murder and robbery is much insisted on. Interdicts referring to the less marked deviations from ordinary conduct, and injunctions to behave worthily, are most common. The works of the ancient Indians furnish illustrations; at the same time showing how reaction against extreme egoism leads to enunciation of extreme altruism. Thus, in the later part of that heterogeneous compound, the Mahabharata, we read:
And again in Bharavi’s Kiratarjuniya it is said:
So too a passage in the Cural runs:
In the Chinese books we have, besides the injunctions of the Taoists, the moral maxims of Confucius, exemplifying his development of the ethics of amity. Enumerating the five cardinal virtues Confucius says:
First among these stands humanity, that is to say, that universal sympathy which should exist between man and man without distinction of class or race. Justice, which gives to each member of the community his due, without favor or affection.
And then in another place he expresses, in a different form, the Christian maxim:
Do not let a man practice to those beneath him, that which he dislikes in those above him; to those before him, what he dislikes in those behind him; to those on the right hand, that which he dislikes on the left.
Social life in ancient Egypt has produced clear recognition of the essential principles of harmonious cooperation. M. Chabas, as quoted by Renouf and verified by him, says:
None of the Christian virtues is forgotten in it; piety, charity, gentleness, self-command in word and action, chastity, the protection of the weak, benevolence towards the humble, deference to superiors, respect for property in its minutest details, . . . all is expressed there, and in extremely good language.
And then, according to Kuenen, who gives evidence of the correspondence, we have the same principles adopted by the Hebrews, and formulated by Moses into the familiar decalogue; the essentials of which, summed up in the Christian maxim, serve along with that maxim as standards of conduct down to our own day
The broad fact which here chiefly concerns us is that, in one or other way, communities have habitually established for themselves, now tacitly and now avowedly here in rudimentary forms and there in elaborated forms, sets of commands and restraints conducive to internal amity. And the genesis of such codes, and partial conformity to them, have been necessary; since, if not in any degree recognized and observed, there must result social dissolution.
115. As the ethics of enmity and the ethics of amity, thus arising in each society in response to external and internal conditions respectively, have to be simultaneously entertained, there is formed an assemblage of utterly inconsistent sentiments and ideas. Its components can by no possibility be harmonized, and yet they have to be all accepted and acted upon. Every day exemplifies the resulting contradictions, and also exemplifies men’s contentment under them.
When, after prayers asking for divine guidance, nearly all the bishops approve an unwarranted invasion, like that of Afghanistan, the incident passes without any expression of surprise; while, conversely, when the Bishop of Durham takes the chair at a peace meeting, his act is commented upon as remarkable. When, at a Diocesan Conference, a peer (Lord Cranbook), opposing international arbitration, says he is “not quite sure that a state of peace might not be a more dangerous thing for a nation than war,” the assembled priests of the religion of love make no protest; nor does any general reprobation, clerical or lay, arise when a ruler in the Church, Dr. Moorhouse, advocating a physical and moral discipline fitting the English for war, expresses the wish “to make them so that they would, in fact, like the fox when fastened by the dogs, die biting,” and says that “these were moral qualities to be encouraged and increased among our people, and he believed that nothing could suffice for this but the grace of God operating in their hearts.” How completely in harmony with the popular feeling in a land covered with Christian churches and chapels, is this exhortation of the Bishop of Manchester, we see in such facts as that people eagerly read accounts of football matches in which there is an average of a death per week; that they rush in crowds to buy newspapers which give detailed reports of a brutal prizefight, but which pass over in a few lines the proceedings of a peace congress; and that they are lavish patrons of illustrated papers, half the woodcuts in which have for their subjects the destruction of life or the agencies for its destruction.
Still more conspicuous do we find the incongruity between the nominally accepted ethics of amity and the actually accepted ethics of enmity when we pass to the Continent. In France, as elsewhere, the multitudinous appointed agents for diffusing the injunction to do good to enemies, are practically dumb in respect of this injunction; and, instead of seeking to make their people put up the sword, are themselves, under the direction of these people they have been teaching, obliged, during their student days, to serve in the army Not to achieve any humane end or to enhance the happiness of mankind, either at home or abroad, do the French submit to the crushing weight of their military budget; but to wrest back territories taken from them in punishment for their aggressiveness. And, as we have lately seen, a wave of enthusiasm very nearly raised to supreme power a soldier who was expected to lead them to a war of revenge.
So is it, too, in Protestant Germany–the land of Luther and the favorite home of Christian theology. Significant of the national feeling was that general order to his soldiers issued by the Emperor on ascending the throne, in which, saying that “God’s decree places me at the head of the army” and otherwise expressing his submission to “God’s will,” he ends by swearing “ever to remember that the eyes of my ancestors look down upon me from the other world, and that I shall one day have to render account to them of the glory and honor of the Army.” To which add that, in harmony with this oath, pagan alike in sentiment and idea, we have his more recent laudation of dueling clubs: a laudation soon afterwards followed by personal performance of divine service on board his yacht.
How absolute throughout Europe is the contradiction between the codes of conduct adjusted respectively to the needs of internal amity and external enmity, we see in the broad fact that along with several hundred thousand priests who are supposed to preach forgiveness of injuries, there exist immensely larger armies than any on record!
116. But side by side with the ethical conceptions above described, originating in one or other way and having one or other sanction, there has been slowly evolving a different conception–a conception derived wholly from recognition of naturally produced consequences. This gradual rise of a utilitarian ethics has, indeed, been inevitable; since the reasons which led to commands and interdicts by a ruler, living or apotheosized, have habitually been reasons of expediency more or less visible to all. Though, when once established, such commands and interdicts have been conformed to mainly because obedience to the authority imposing them was a duty, yet there has been very generally some accompanying perception of their fitness.
Even among the uncivilized, or but slightly civilized, we find a nascent utilitarianism. The Malagasy, for example, have
laws against Adultery, Theft and Murder; . . . there is also a Fine inflicted on a Man, who shall curse another Man’s Parents. They never swear profanely, but these things they do, because, said they, “it is convenient and proper; and we could not live by one another, if there were not such laws.”
In the later Hebrew writings the beginnings of a utilitarian ethics are visible; for though, as Bruch remarks of the author of Ecclesiasticus, “all his ethical rules and precepts in a truly Hebrew way run together in the notion of the fear of God,” yet many of his maxims do not originate from divine injunctions. When he advises not to become too dependent, to value a good name, to be cautious in talk, and to be judicious in eating and drinking, he manifestly derives guidance from the results of experience. A fully differentiated system of expediency morals had been reached by some of the Egyptians. Mr. Poole writes:
Ptah-hotep is wearied with religious services already outwom, and instead of the endless prescriptions of the current religion, he attempts a simple doctrine of morals, founded on the observation of a long life. . . . His proverbs enforce the advantage of virtuous life in the present. The future has no place in the scheme. . . . This moral philosophy of the sages is far above that of the Book of the Dead, inasmuch as it throws aside all that is trivial and teaches alone the necessary duties. But it rests on a basis of . . . expediency The love of God, and the love of man, are unnoticed as the causes of virtue.
Similarly was it with the later Greeks. In the Platonic Dialogues, and in the Ethics of Aristotle, we see morality in large measure separated from theology and placed upon a utilitarian basis.
Coming down to modern days, the divergence of expediency ethics from theological ethics, is well illustrated in Paley, who, in his official character, derived right and wrong from divine commands, and in his unofficial character derived them from observation of consequences. Since his day the last of these views has spread at the expense of the first, and by Bentham and Mill we have utility established as the sole standard of conduct. How completely in this last, conduciveness to human welfare had become the supreme sanction, replacing alleged divine commands, we see in his refusal to call “good” a supreme being whose acts are not sanctioned by “the highest human morality”; and by his statement that “if such a being can sentence me to hell for not so calling him, to hell I will go.”
117. Yet a further origin of moral dictates is to be recognized as having arisen simultaneously. Habits of conformity to rules of conduct have generated sentiments adjusted to such rules. The discipline of social life has produced in men conceptions and emotions which, irrespective of supposed divine commands, and irrespective of observed consequences, issue in certain degrees of liking for conduct favoring social welfare and aversion to conduct at variance with it. Manifestly such a molding of human nature has been furthered by survival of the fittest; since groups of men having feelings least adapted to social requirements must, other things equal, have tended to disappear before groups of men having feelings most adapted to them.
The effects of moral sentiments thus arising are shown among races partially civilized. Cook says: The Otaheitans “have a knowledge of right and wrong from the mere dictates of natural conscience; and involuntarily condemn themselves when they do that to others, which they would condemn others for doing to them.” So, too, that moral sentiments were influential during early stages of some civilized races, proof is yielded by ancient Indian books. In the Mahabharata, Draupadi complains of the hard lot of her righteous husband, and charges the Deity with injustice; but is answered by Yudhishthira:
Thou utterest infidel sentiments. I do not act from a desire to gain the recompense of my works. I give what I ought to give . . . Whether reward accrues to me or not, I do to the best of my power what a man should do. . . . It is on duty alone that my thoughts are fixed, and this, too, naturally. The man who seeks to make of righteousness a gainful merchandise, is low. The man who seeks to milk righteousness does not obtain its reward. . . . Do not doubt about righteousness: he who does so is on the way to be born a brute.
And similarly, in another of these ancient books, the Ramayana, we read:
Virtue is a service man owes himself, and though there were no Heaven, nor any God to rule the world, it were not less the binding law of life. It is man’s privilege to know the Right and follow it.
In like manner, according to Edkins, conscience is regarded among the Chinese as the supreme authority. He says:
When the evidence of a new religion is presented to them they at once refer it to a moral standard, and give their approval with the utmost readiness, if it passes the test. They do not ask whether it is Divine, but whether it is good.
And elsewhere he remarks that sin, according to the Confucian moral standard, “becomes an act which robs a man of his self-respect, and offends his sense of right,” and is not “regarded as a transgression of God’s law.”
Of modern writers who, asserting the existence of a moral sense, consider the intuitions it yields as guides to conduct, we may distinguish two classes. There are those who, taking a view like that of Confucius just indicated, hold that the dicta of conscience are authoritative, irrespective of alleged divine commands; and, indeed, furnish a test by which commands may be known as not divine if they do not withstand it. On the other hand there are those who regard the authority of conscience as second to that of commands which they accept as divine, and as having for its function to prompt obedience to such commands. But the two are at one insofar as they place the dicta of conscience above considerations of expediency; and also insofar as they tacitly regard conscience as having a supernatural origin. To which add that while alike in recognizing the moral sentiment as innate, and in accepting the ordinary dogma that human nature is everywhere the same, they are, by implication, alike in supposing that the moral sentiment is identical in all men.
But, as the beginning of this section shows, it is possible to agree with moralists of the intuitive school respecting the existence of a moral sense, while differing from them respecting its origin. I have contended in the foregoing division of this work, and elsewhere, that though there exist feelings of the kind alleged, they are not of supernatural origin but of natural origin; that, being generated by the discipline of the social activities, internal and external, they are not alike in all men, but differ more or less everywhere in proportion as the social activities differ; and that, in virtue of their mode of genesis, they have a coordinate authority with the inductions of utility.
118. Before going further it will be well to sum up these various detailed statements, changing somewhat the order and point of view.
Survival of the fittest insures that the faculties of every species of creature tend to adapt themselves to its mode of life. It must be so with man. From the earliest times groups of men whose feelings and conceptions were congruous with the conditions they lived under, must, other things equal, have spread and replaced those whose feelings and conceptions were incongruous with their conditions.
Recognizing a few exceptions, which special circumstances have made possible, it holds, both of rude tribes and of civilized societies, that they have had continually to carry on external self-defense and internal cooperation–external antagonism and internal friendship. Hence their members have required two different sets of sentiments and ideas, adjusted to these two kinds of activity.
In societies having indigenous religions, the resulting conflict of codes is not overt. As the commands to destroy external enemies and to desist from acts which produce internal dissensions, come either from the living ruler or from the apotheosized ruler; and as, in both cases, the obligation arises not from the natures of the prescribed acts, but from the necessity of obedience; the two, having the same sanction, are not perceived to stand in opposition. But where, as throughout Christendom, the indigenous religion in which the ethics of enmity and the ethics of amity coexisted with like authorities, has been suppressed by an invading religion, which, insisting on the ethics of amity only, reprobates the ethics of enmity, incongruity has resulted. International antagonisms having continued, there has of necessity survived the appropriate ethics of emnity, which, not being included in the nominally accepted creed, has not had the religious sanction. Hence the fact that we have a thin layer of Christianity overlying a thick layer of paganism. The Christianity insists on duties which the paganism does not recognize as such; and the paganism insists on duties which the Christianity forbids. The new and superposed religion, with its system of ethics, has the nominal honor and the professed obedience; while the old and suppressed religion has its system of ethics nominally discredited but practically obeyed. Both are believed in, the last more strongly than the first; and men, now acting on the principles of the one and now on those of the other, according to circumstances, sit down under their contradictory beliefs as well as they may; or, rather, refrain from recognizing the contradictions.
Hence the first of these various confusions of ethical thought. Since, in the general mind, moral injunctions are identified with divine commands, those injunctions only are regarded as moral which harmonize with the nominally accepted religion, Christianity; while those injunctions which belong to the primitive and suppressed religion, authoritative as they may be considered, and eagerly as they are obeyed, are not regarded as moral. There have come to be two classes of duties and virtues, condemned and approved in similar ways, but one of which is associated with ethical conceptions and the other not: the result being that men cannot bring their real and nominal beliefs into harmony.
And then we have the further confusions which arise, not from the conflict of codes, but from the conflict of sanctions. Divine commands are not the authorities whence rules of conduct are derived, say the utilitarians, but their authorities are given by conduciveness to human welfare as ascertained by induction. And then, either with or without recognition of divine commands, we have writers of the moral-sense school making conscience the arbiter; and holding its dicta to be authoritative irrespective of calculated consequences. Obviously the essential difference between these two classes of moralists is that the one regards as of no value for guidance the feelings with which acts are regarded, while the other regards these feelings as of supreme value.
Such being the conflict of codes and conflict of sanctions, what must be our first step? We must look at the actual ideas and feelings concerning conduct which men entertain, apart from established nomenclatures and current professions. How needful is such an analysis we shall be further shown while making it; for it will become manifest that the confusion of ethical thought is even greater than we have already seen it to be.
[]For further ilIustrations, see Principles of Sociology, secs. 142–3, and Ecclesiastical Institutions, sec. 584.