on the restoration of the original capacity for good to its full power.
What man is or ought to be in a moral sense he must make or must have made himself. Both must be the effect of his free elective will, otherwise it could not be imputed to him, and, consequently, he would be morally neither good nor bad. When it is said he is created good, that can only mean that he is created for good, and the original constitution in man is good; (51) but this does not yet make the man himself good, but according as he does or does not adopt into his maxim the springs which this constitution contains (which must be left altogether to his own free choice), he makes himself become good or bad. Supposing that a supernatural co-operation is also necessary to make a man good or better, whether this consists only in the diminution of the obstacles or in a positive assistance, the man must previously make himself worthy to receive it and to accept this aid (which is no small thing), that is, to adopt into his maxim the positive increase of power, in which way alone it is possible that the good should be imputed to him, and that he should be recognised as a good man.
Now how it is possible that a man naturally bad should make himself a good man transcends all our conceptions; for how can a bad tree bring forth good fruit? But since it is already admitted that a tree originally good (as to its capacities) has brought forth bad fruit, and the fall from good to bad (when it is considered that it arises from freedom) is not more conceivable than a rising again from bad to good, the possibility of the latter cannot be disputed. For notwithstanding that fall, the command “we ought to become better men,” resounds with undiminished force in our soul; consequently, we must be able to do so, even though what we ourselves can do should be insufficient of itself, and though we should thereby only make ourselves susceptible of an inscrutable higher assistance. It must, however, be presupposed that a germ of good has remained in its complete purity, which could not be destroyed or corrupted— (52) a germ that certainly cannot be self-love, which, when taken as the principle of all our maxims, is in fact the source of all evil.
(53) The restoration of the original capacity for good in us is then not the acquisition of a lost spring towards good; for this, which consists in respect for the moral law, we could never lose, and, were it possible to do so, we could never recover it. It is then only the restoration of its purity, as the supreme principle of all our maxims, by which it is adopted into these not merely in combination with other springs or as subordinate to these (the inclinations) as conditions, but in its entire purity as a spring sufficient of itself to determine the elective will. The original good is holiness of maxims in following one’s duty, by which the man who adopts this purity into his maxims, although he is not himself as yet on that account holy (for there is still a long interval between maxim and act), nevertheless is on the way to approximate to holiness by an endless progress. Firmness of purpose in following duty, when it has become a habit, is called also virtue, as far as legality is concerned, which is its empirical character (virtus phenomenon). It has then the steady maxim of conformity of actions to the law, whatever may be the source of the spring required for this. (54) Hence virtue in this sense is gradually acquired, and is described by some as a long practice (in observing the law) by which a man has passed from the propensity to vice, by gradual reform of his conduct and strengthening of his maxims, into an opposite propensity. This does not require any change of heart, but only a change of morals. A man regards himself as virtuous when he feels himself confirmed in the maxims of observance of duty, although this be not from the supreme principle of all maxims; but the intemperate man, for instance, returns to temperance for the sake of health; the liar to truth for the sake of reputation; the unjust man to common fairness for the sake of peace or of gain, &c., all on the much-lauded principle of happiness. But that a man should become not merely a legally but a morally good (Godpleasing) man, that is, virtuous in his intelligible character (virtus noumenon), a man who, when he recognises a thing as his duty, needs no other spring than this conception of duty itself; this is not to be effected by gradual reform, as long as the principle of his maxims remains impure, but requires a revolution in the mind (a transition to the maxim of holiness of mind), and he can only become a new man by a kind of new birth, as it were by a new creation (Gospel of John, iii. 5, compared with Gen. i. 2) and a change of heart.
But if a man is corrupt in the very foundation of his maxims, how is it possible that he should effect this revolution by his own power and become a good man of himself? And yet duty commands it, and duty commands nothing that is not practicable for us. The only way this difficulty can be got over is, that a revolution is necessary for the mental disposition, but a gradual reform for the sensible temperament, which opposes obstacles to the former; and being necessary, must therefore be possible; that is, when a man reverses the ultimate principle of his maxims by which he is a bad man by a single immutable resolution (55) (and in so doing puts on a new man); then so far he is in principle and disposition a subject susceptible of good; but it is only in continued effort and growth that he is a good man, that is, he may hope with such purity of the principle that he has taken as the supreme maxim of his elective will, and by its stability, that he is on the good (though narrow) road of a constant progress from bad to better. In the eyes of one who penetrates the intelligible principle of the heart (of all maxims of elective will), and to whom therefore this endless progress is a unity, that is, in the eyes of God, this comes to the same as being actually a good man (pleasing to Him), and in so far this change may be considered as a revolution; but in the judgment of men, who can estimate themselves and the strength of their maxims only by the superiority which they gain over sensibility in time, it is only to be viewed as an ever continuing struggle for improvement; in other words, as a gradual reform of the perverse disposition, the propensity to evil.
Hence it follows that the moral culture of man must begin, not with improvement in morals, but with a transformation of the mind and the foundation of a character, although men usually proceed otherwise, and contend against vices singly, leaving the general root of them untouched. Now even a man of the most limited intellect is capable of the impression of an increased respect for an action conformable to duty, in proportion as he withdraws from it in thought all other springs which could have influenced the maxim of the action by means of self-love; and even children are capable of finding out even the least trace of a mixture of spurious springs of action, in which case the action instantly loses all moral worth in their eyes. This capacity for good is admirably cultivated by adducing the example of even good men (good as regards their conformity to law), and allowing one’s moral pupils to estimate the impurity of many maxims from the actual springs of their actions; (56) and it gradually passes over into the character, so that duty simply of itself commences to acquire considerable weight in their hearts. But to teach them to admire virtuous actions, however great the sacrifice they may cost, is not the right way to maintain the feeling of the pupil for moral good. For however virtuous anyone may be, all the good he can ever do is only duty; and to do his duty is no more than to do what is in the common moral order, and therefore does not deserve to be admired. On the contrary, this admiration is a lowering of our feeling for duty, as if obedience to it were something extraordinary and meritorious.
There is, however, one thing in our soul which, when we take a right view of it, we cannot cease to regard with the highest astonishment, and in regard to which admiration is right or even elevating, and that is the original moral capacity in us generally. What is that in us (we may ask ourselves) by which we, who are constantly dependent on nature by so many wants, are yet raised so far above it in the idea of an original capacity (in us) that we regard them all as nothing, and ourselves as unworthy of existence, if we were to indulge in their satisfaction in opposition to a law which our reason authoritatively prescribes; although it is this enjoyment alone that can make life desirable, while reason neither promises anything nor threatens. The importance of this question must be deeply felt by every man of the most ordinary ability, who has been previously instructed as to the holiness that lies in the idea of duty, but who has not yet ascended to the investigation of the notion of freedom, which first arises from this law; (57) and even the incomprehensibility of this capacity, a capacity which proclaims a Divine origin, must rouse his spirit to enthusiasm, and strengthen it for any sacrifices which respect for this duty may impose on him. The frequent excitement of this feeling of the sublimity of a man’s moral constitution is especially to be recommended as a means of awaking moral sentiments, since it operates in direct opposition to the innate propensity to pervert the springs in the maxims of our elective will, (58) and tends to make unconditional respect for the law the ultimate condition of the admission of all maxims, and so restores the original moral subordination of the springs of action, and the capacity for good in the human heart in its primitive purity.
But is not this restoration by one’s own strength directly opposed to the thesis of the innate corruption of man for everything good? Undoubtedly, as far as conceivability is concerned, that is to say, our discernment of its possibility, just as with everything which has to be regarded as an event in time (change), and as such necessarily determined by laws of nature, whilst its opposite must yet be regarded as possible by freedom in accordance with moral laws; but it is not opposed to the possibility of this restoration itself. For if the moral law commands that we shall now be better men, it follows inevitably that we also can be better. The thesis of innate evil has no application in dogmatic morality; for its precepts contain the very same duties, and continue in the same force, whether there is in us an innate propensity to transgression or not. In the culture of morality this thesis has more significance, but still it means no more than this, that in the moral cultivation of the moral capacity for good created in us, we cannot begin from a natural state of innocence, but must start from the supposition of a depravity of the elective will in assuming maxims that are contrary to the original moral capacity, and, since the propensity thereto is ineradicable, with an unceasing effort against it. Now, as this only leads to a progress in infinitum from bad to better, it follows that the transformation of the disposition of a bad into that of a good man is to be placed in the change of the supreme inner principle of all his maxims, in accordance with the moral law, provided that this new principle (the new heart) be itself immutable. A man cannot, however, naturally attain the conviction [that it is immutable], either by immediate consciousness, (59) or by the proof derived from the course of life he has hitherto pursued, for the bottom of his heart (the subjective first principle of his maxims) is inscrutable to himself; but unto the path that leads to it, and which is pointed out to him by a fundamentally improved disposition, he must be able to hope to arrive by his own efforts, since he ought to become a good man and can only be esteemed morally good by virtue of that which can be imputed to him as done by himself.
Now reason, which is naturally disinclined to moral effort, opposes to this expectation of self-improvement all sorts of corrupt ideas of religion, under the pretext of natural impotence (among which is to be reckoned, attributing to God Himself the adoption of the principle of happiness as the supreme condition of His commands). Now we may divide all religions into two classes—favour-seeking religion (mere worship), and moral religion, that is, the religion of a good life. By the former a man either flatters himself that God can make him eternally happy (by remission of his demerits), without his having any need to become a better man, or if this does not seem possible to him, that God can make him a better man, without his having to do anything in the matter himself except to ask for it; which, as before an all-seeing being asking is no more than wishing, would in fact be doing nothing; for if the mere wish were sufficient, every man would be good. But in the moral religion (and amongst all the public religions that have ever existed the Christian alone is moral) it is a fundamental principle that everyone must do as much as lies in his power to become a better man, and that it is only when he has not buried his innate talent (Luke xix. 12-16), when he has used the original capacity for good so as to become a better man, that he can hope that what is not in his power will be supplied by a higher co-operation. But it is not absolutely necessary that man should know in what this co-operation consists; (60) perhaps it is even inevitable that if the way in which it happens had been revealed at a certain time, different men at another time should form different conceptions of it, and that with all honesty. But then the principle holds good: “it is not essential, and therefore not necessary for everyone to know what God does or has done for his salvation,” but it is essential to know what he himself has to do in order to be worthy of this assistance.
—ON A SUPPOSED RIGHT TO TELL LIES FROM BENEVOLENT MOTIVES.
In the work called France, for the year 1797, Part VI. No. 1, on Political Reactions, by Benjamin Constant, the following passage occurs, p. 123:—
“The moral principle that it is one’s duty to speak the truth, if it were taken singly and unconditionally, would make all society impossible. We have the proof of this in the very direct consequences which have been drawn from this principle by a German philosopher, who goes so far as to affirm that to tell a falsehood to a murderer who asked us whether our friend, of whom he was in pursuit, had not taken refuge in our house, would be a crime.”
The French philosopher opposes this principle in the following manner, p. 124:—“It is a duty to tell the truth. The notion of duty is inseparable from the notion of right. A duty is what in one being corresponds to the right of another. Where there are no rights there are no duties. To tell the truth then is a duty, but only towards him who has a right to the truth. But no man has a right to a truth that injures others.” The πρωˆτον ψενˆδος here lies in the statement that “To tell the truth is a duty, but only towards him who has a right to the truth.”
It is to be remarked, first, that the expression “to have a right to the truth” is unmeaning. We should rather say, a man has a right to his own truthfulness (veracitas), that is, to subjective truth in his own person. For to have a right objectively to truth would mean that, as in meum and tuum generally, it depends on his will whether a given statement shall be true or false, which would produce a singular logic.
Now, the first question is whether a man—in cases where he cannot avoid answering Yes or No—has the right to be untruthful. The second question is whether, in order to prevent a misdeed that threatens him or some one else, he is not actually bound to be untruthful in a certain statement to which an unjust compulsion forces him.
Truth in utterances that cannot be avoided is the formal duty of a man to everyone, however great the disadvantage that may arise from it to him or any other; and although by making a false statement I do no wrong to him who unjustly compels me to speak, yet I do wrong to men in general in the most essential point of duty, so that it may be called a lie (though not in the jurist’s sense), that is, so far as in me lies I cause that declarations in general find no credit, and hence that all rights founded on contract should lose their force; and this is a wrong which is done to mankind.
If, then, we define a lie merely as an intentionally false declaration towards another man, we need not add that it must injure another; as the jurists think proper to put in their definition (mendacium est falsiloquium in præjudicium alterius). For it always injures another; if not another individual, yet mankind generally, since it vitiates the source of justice. This benevolent lie may, however, by accident (casus) become punishable even by civil laws; and that which escapes liability to punishment only by accident may be condemned as a wrong even by external laws. For instance, if you have by a lie hindered a man who is even now planning a murder, you are legally responsible for all the consequences. But if you have strictly adhered to the truth, public justice can find no fault with you, be the unforeseen consequence what it may. It is possible that whilst you have honestly answered Yes to the murderer’s question, whether his intended victim is in the house, the latter may have gone out unobserved, and so not have come in the way of the murderer, and the deed therefore have not been done; whereas, if you lied and said he was not in the house, and he had really gone out (though unknown to you) so that the murderer met him as he went, and executed his purpose on him, then you might with justice be accused as the cause of his death. For, if you had spoken the truth as well as you knew it, perhaps the murderer while seeking for his enemy in the house might have been caught by neighbours coming up and the deed been prevented. Whoever then tells a lie, however good his intentions may be, must answer for the consequences of it, even before the civil tribunal, and must pay the penalty for them, however unforeseen they may have been; because truthfulness is a duty that must be regarded as the basis of all duties founded on contract, the laws of which would be rendered uncertain and useless if even the least exception to them were admitted.
To be truthful (honest) in all declarations is therefore a sacred unconditional command of reason, and not to be limited by any expediency.
M. Constant makes a thoughtful and sound remark on the decrying of such strict principles, which it is alleged lose themselves in impracticable ideas, and are therefore to be rejected (p. 123):—“In every case in which a principle proved to be true seems to be inapplicable, it is because we do not know the middle principle which contains the medium of its application.” He adduces (p. 121) the doctrine of equality as the first link forming the social chain (p. 121); “namely, that no man can be bound by any laws except those to the formation of which he has contributed. In a very contracted society this principle may be directly applied and become the ordinary rule without requiring any middle principle. But in a very numerous society we must add a new principle to that which we here state. This middle principle is, that the individuals may contribute to the formation of the laws either in their own person or by representatives. Whoever would try to apply the first principle to a numerous society without taking in the middle principle would infallibly bring about its destruction. But this circumstance, which would only show the ignorance or incompetence of the lawgiver, would prove nothing against the principle itself.” He concludes (p. 125) thus: “A principle recognised as truth must, therefore, never be abandoned, however obviously danger may seem to be involved in it.” (And yet the good man himself abandoned the unconditional principle of veracity on account of the danger to society, because he could not discover any middle principle would serve to prevent this danger; and, in fact, no such principle is to be interpolated here.)
Retaining the names of the persons as they have been here brought forward, “the French philosopher” confounds the action by which one does harm (nocet) to another by telling the truth, the admission of which he cannot avoid, with the action by which he does him wrong (lædit). It was merely an accident (casus) that the truth of the statement did harm to the inhabitant of the house; it was not a free deed (in the juridicial sense). For to admit his right to require another to tell a lie for his benefit would be to admit a claim opposed to all law. Every man has not only a right, but the strictest duty to truthfulness in statements which he cannot avoid, whether they do harm to himself or others. He himself, properly speaking, does not do harm to him who suffers thereby; but this harm is caused by accident. For the man is not free to choose, since (if he must speak at all) veracity is an unconditional duty. The “German philosopher” will therefore not adopt as his principle the proposition (p. 124): “It is a duty to speak the truth, but only to him who has a right to the truth,” first on account of the obscurity of the expression, for truth is not a possession, the right to which can be granted to one, and refused to another; and next and chiefly, because the duty of veracity (of which alone we are speaking here) makes no distinction between persons towards whom we have this duty, and towards whom we may be free from it; but is an unconditional duty which holds in all circumstances.
Now, in order to proceed from a metaphysic of Right (which abstracts from all conditions of experience) to a principle of politics (which implies these notions to cases of experience), and by means of this to the solution of a problem of the latter in accordance with the general principle of right, the philosopher will enunciate:—1. An Axiom, that is, an apodictically certain proposition, which follows directly from the definition of external right (harmony of the freedom of each with the freedom of all by a universal law). 2. A Postulate of external public law as the united will of all on the principle of equality, without which there could not exist the freedom of all. 3. A problem; how it is to be arranged that harmony may be maintained in a society, however large, on principles of freedom and equality (namely by means of a representative system); and this will then become a principle of the political system, the establishment and arrangement of which will contain enactments which, drawn from practical knowledge of men, have in view only the mechanism of administration of justice, and how this is to be suitably carried out. Justice must never be accommodated to the political system, but always the political system to justice.
“A principle recognised as true (I add, recognised à priori, and therefore apodictic) must never be abandoned, however obviously danger may seem to be involved in it,” says the author. Only here we must not understand the danger of doing harm (accidentally), but of doing wrong; and this would happen if the duty of veracity, which is quite unconditional, and constitutes the supreme condition of justice in utterances, were made conditional and subordinate to other considerations; and, although by a certain lie I in fact do no wrong to any person, yet I infringe the principle of justice in regard to all indispensably necessary statements generally (I do wrong formally, though not materially; and this is much worse than to commit an injustice to any individual, because such a deed does not presuppose any principle leading to it in the subject. The man who, when asked whether in the statement he is about to make he intends to speak truth or not, does not receive the question with indignation at the suspicion thus expressed towards him that he might be a liar, but who asks permission first to consider possible exceptions, is already a liar (in potentia), since he shows that he does not recognize veracity as a duty in itself, but reserves exceptions from a rule which in its nature does not admit of exceptions, since to do so would be self-contradictory.
All practical principles of justice must contain strict truths, and the principles here called middle principles can only contain the closer definition of their application to actual cases (according to the rules of politics), and never exceptions from them, since exceptions destroy the universality, an account of which alone they bear the name of principles.
—ON THE SAYING “NECESSITY HAS NO LAW”.
There is no casus necessitatis except in the case where an unconditional duty conflicts with a duty which, though perhaps great, is yet conditional; e. g. if the question is about preserving the State from disaster by betraying a person who stands towards another in a relation such as, for example, that of father and son. To save the State from harm is an unconditional duty; to save an individual is only a conditional duty, namely, provided he has not been guilty of a crime against the State. The information given to the authorities may be given with the greatest reluctance, but it is given under pressure, namely, moral necessity. But if a shipwrecked man thrusts another from his plank in order to save his own life, and it is said that he had the right of necessity (i. e. physical necessity) to do so, this is wholly false. For to maintain my own life is only a conditional duty (viz. if it can be done without crime), but it is an unconditional duty not to take the life of another who does not injure me, nay, does not even bring me into peril of losing it. However, the teachers of general civil right proceed quite consistently in admitting this right of necessity. For the sovereign power could not connect any punishment with the prohibition; for this punishment would necessarily be death, but it would be an absurd law that would threaten death to a man if when in danger he did not voluntarily submit to death.—From “Das mag in der Theorie richtig seyn, u. s. w.” (Rosenkr., vii., p. 211.)
[The two cases here considered were probably suggested by Cicero, who quotes them from Hecato, a disciple of Panætius.—De Off. iii. 23.]
Printed byPonsonby and Weldrick,Dublin.