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In their proper sense, says Mr. Bain, I consider the words, morality, duty, obligation, right, as belonging to the class of actions, which is supported and reinforced by the sanction of a punishment. We may disapprove a mode of conduct, but so long as we do not proceed against it, we do not regard it as obligatory.
"The powers that impose the obligatory sanction are Law and Society, or the community acting through the Government by public judicial acts, and apart from the Government by the unofficial expressions of disapprobation and the exclusion from social good offices. · The murderer and the thief are punished by the law; the coward, the adulterer, the heretic, the eccentric person are punished by the community acting as private individuals, and agreeing by consent to censure and excommunicate the offender. A third power concerned in obligation is conscience, which is an ideal reflection of public authority growing up in the individual mind, and making to the same end.'
The various moral systems founded upon positive law, the divine will, strict reason, moral sense, personal interest, and general interest, are successively examined and rejected by the author. He very clearly shows the insufficiency of egotistical and utilitarian doctrines. It is not true that all our acts reduce themselves to the love of ourselves, 'because sympathy is a fact of human nature whose influence makes itself readily felt at a distance, and constantly modifies and contradicts purely egotistical impulses.' And in the same way utility does not always explain all our actions, since it is not rare to see a man refuse to embrace a lucrative profession, which would appear to him to be dishonourable to the traditions of his family pride, and to choose instead a life of privations and poverty.
The doctrine of an independent moral law which serves as a criterion and regulator, is not more acceptable, because it attributes to this criterion an independent existence relating to nothing,—in fact, hardly conceivable. We have for our weights and measures an independent standard, by which we can compare them ; for the regulation of our watches we have our astronomi
cal observations, and we have the Observatory at Greenwich, which is our regulator ; but in morals there is no criterion of this kind. It is doing violence to language to maintain the existence of an abstract truth; it is the same with moral ideas. They must be sought in the human mind, and not in anything exterior to the human mind. If mechanical and metaphysical laws are true, it is not in virtue of a certain abstract truth from which they are derived, but because the perceptions of men in this region of phenomena are uniform when they are compared. When this uniformity does not exist in our perceptions (those of taste, for example), then the criterion fails. " “There is no more universal consciousness than universal reason; consciousness, like reason, is always individual. Only men agree in their moral approbation and disapprobation, as they agree in their judgment upon truth. To suppose a true or a good independent of individual judgments is to resemble a man who, hearing a choir sing, should suppose an abstract universal voice, distinct and independent of particular voices.
We may translate this doctrine into the language of Kant, by saying, scientific and moral truths are subjective; all their reality is in us, and not out of us. The true and the good are only realized abstractions: they result from our judgments, instead of being the cause of them ; so far from being anterior to them, they are produced after and by them. The fundamental fact is then that of moral approbation and disapprobation. Are all men agreed to approve and disapprove the same things ? In order to answer this question it would be necessary to have a complete collection of all the codes which have ever existed. In the absence of them, we may say that the supposed uniformity of moral decisions resolves itself into the two following elements :
The duties which tend to preserve public security, which includes individual security. Consequently respect for protective authority, distinction between the meum and the tuum, the union of the sexes, the care of the mother for the child. Every society which does not fulfil these conditions, disappears, being destroyed by a vice inherent in its own nature.
The duties of pure feeling, imposing prescriptions not essential to the maintenance of society ; duties which are variable according to time and peoples : such as drinking wine in honour of Bacchus, going out veiled like the Mussulmans, abstaining from animal food like the Brahmins, etc.
Finally, we must conclude that the moral laws which prevail in almost all societies, if not in all, are partly founded upon utility, and partly upon feeling.' - And to this question, What is the moral criterion we must reply & The laws promulgated by existing society, which were derived from a man who was invested in his time with the authority of a moral legislator. In support of this doctrine we may invoke the mode of promulgation of moral laws : they are imposed by a real power, and by an individual whose power is sometimes dictatorial. Such were Mahomet, Confucius, Buddha, Solon, and the traditional' Lycurgus. We may also invoke their - mode of abrogation, of which the Reformation and the French Revolution have given us examples.
As to individual consciousness, the author declares himself in complete disagreement with those who consider it to be primitive and independent. 'I maintain, on the contrary,' he says, 'that consciousness is an imitation, from within ourselves, of the government which is without. It is formed and developed by education.'1
The object of my work being to explain, not to criticise, I shall not stop here to discuss this doctrine, however open to objection it may appear to me in many respects. Still I cannot refrain from making a few short remarks upon it.
Nothing appears more contrary to facts than to place the rule of morals in a promulgated legislation, and to regard it as the type upon which the individual conscience fashions itself. In the first place one objection naturally presents itself. How can it be then that the individual conscience frequently makes for itself an individual law in disagreement with the general laws, or at least outside of them ? The author has stated this difficulty, which he considers 'formidable in appearance, but I venture to think that he has not in any degree resolved it. Besides, how can we fail to
see that these promulgated laws are the result of individual consciences, of a dull latent labour which has lasted sometimes for centuries ? History teaches us that all new or good legislation is in agreement with the desires and the tendencies of particular consciences, and that it is accepted by the majority, and imposes itself by degrees upon its opponents, or else it is the work of a caprice, and then it has neither duration nor stability. Promulgated laws are then the result of individual consciences, instead of being their cause. The legislations of Buddha, of Solon, of Lycurgus, of Confucius, of Mahomet, are not pure creations of their brain. Confucius declares that he follows the tradition of his ancestors, who were so powerful in China. Mahomet states himself to be a restorer. Buddhism is born of an effusion of hearts towards charity, tenderness and the doctrine of inaction. Solon and Lycurgus give a body to ancient Ionic or Doric institutions. All these men have only told the secret of all the world.
Is it not also to be regretted that the study of moral sentiments should say nothing of their development ? How can their nature be shown, if their evolutions be not described ? Undoubtedly, we cannot accept either the doctrine which maintains the absolute immutability of morals, to which facts give the most utter denial, or the doctrine of its absolute mobility, which is not less forcibly contradicted by experience. But how does the development take place, and in what measure? How, by the composition of simple elements, have new moral emotions been able to produce themselves for man? The reply to these questions is missing.'
1 On the moral theory of Bain see Janet, Revue des Deux Mondes, Oct.
Will.-1. Division of the subject—2. Of the germ of the will—3. Growth of
the voluntary power-4. Motives and resolution-5. Free will—6. Conclusion.
I. The idea of progress, evolution, and development, which we regret is wanting in the study of Mr. Bain upon the emotions, appears in the half volume devoted to the Will. In that he follows through all its phases the growth of voluntary power, from the moment when it was scarcely an obscure germ, an almost physiological instinct, to its final period of completion, when in the name of liberty it supposes intelligence and founds morality. In the place of an artificial and abstract method, which, taking the will as completely constituted in its adult age, can only half explain it, we have here a natural and concrete method which completes the static study by a dynamic explanation. It is remarkable that in France the plan followed in the study of the will has almost always issued in metamorphosing it into an abstraction. The fact of determining its conditions and its results, that which precedes and that which follows it, has been so exclusively isolated, that it has been reduced to a mathematical point, to an almost imperceptible moment, which has no more reality. The current theories, in short, when reduced to what they have essentially in common, distinguish three moments in a voluntary act; the production of motives and their conflict, the resolution and the action which interpret it. They are not occupied with the first or with the third, because they belong either to intelligence or to physiology ; they intrench themselves in the second exclusively, in order to work out the whole of the will. Hence these factitious questions and strange assertions; for example, that the will · is equal in all men,' it is in complete disagreement with the facts, but in complete agreement with the abstraction which has been substituted for reality. Here, as everywhere, the important matter was to state the question clearly, but the method of the