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it is easy to see that it does not cover the whole field, and that the other points of view already referred to have a legitimate application. Ethics has not only to determine the end, but to apply it to practice, and so to decide as to what is right or wrong in particular actions, and virtuous or vicious in character. And, in addition to the two questions thus implied—the question as to the ethical end, and that as to the application of it to practical affairs — there is another department of inquiry which has had a place assigned to it in most ethical systems, and which has a right to be regarded as belonging to ethics. We may investigate the place, in the individual and the community respectively, both of the sentiments and ideas and of the social institutions and customs through which morality is manifested; and this inquiry covers the twofold ground of what may be called moral psychology and moral sociology.
Of these three questions, the first forms the sub- (c) distinct ject of inquiry in the following pages. It seems to ethical me that a great part of the obscurity which sur- que rounds ethical argument is due to confounding these different questions. It is true that no one of them is without bearing on the others; but it is none the less necessary, in discussing any one of them, to keep its distinctness from those others well in view. In inquiring into the foundation on which the ethical end is based, I do not intend to develop a code
(a) from inquiry into
of rules for practical conduct or a theory of human virtue; nor shall I attempt to trace the origin and nature of moral sentiments and ideas, or of the social institutions and customs connected with morality. If these subjects have to be introduced at all, it will be only in so far as they may be thought to decide, or tend to decide, the question more immediately in view.
Thus it forms no part of the present inquiry to the methods follow out the application to conduct of different
ethical ends, or to exhibit the different practical systems to which different ends naturally lead. It might seem indeed, at first sight, as if the development of their practical consequences might solve the question as to the nature of the ends themselves. If we assume certain possible and primâ facie reasonable ethical ends, and then see what codes of morality they will yield, surely (it may be thought) that one which affords the most consistent and harmonious code for the guidance of life
will be the end to be sought in preference to Limitation all others. But in order that the criticism of what
Professor Sidgwick has called the methods of ethics may be able to answer the question as to the end or principle of ethics, certain conditions must first
be complied with. In the first place, it is necessary investigator that the ends or principles whose applications to og conduct are to be examined must not be uncritic
ally accepted from the fluctuating morality of com
of this inquiry
ing all logical alternatives,
mon - sense nor from the commonplaces of the schools, but must be shown to be “alternatives between which the human mind” is “necessarily forced to choose when it attempts to frame a complete synthesis of practical maxims, and to act in a perfectly rational manner.” 1 But although this requisite is complied with, it (bb) from
hot more than will still remain possible, in the second place, that two or more of the assumed principles may yield fistent code systems of practical rules perfectly self-consistent, possible, and yet inconsistent with one another. It would be very hard indeed to show that both the theory of Egoistic Hedonism, and what is generally called Utilitarianism, do not succeed in doing so: and thus the examination of methods is not of itself sufficient to settle the question of the end of conduct. And since—to quote Mr Sidgwick 3—it is “a fundamental postulate of ethics that either these methods must be reconciled and harmonised, or all but one of them rejected,” it follows that the criticism of methods leads naturally up to an independent criticism of principles, unless indeed it can be shown that one method only yields a consistent code of practical rules.
i Methods of Ethics, book i. chap. i. & 5, 3d ed., p. 11.
2 “ The rule, 'Let every one care for me,' is quite as simple, and, in a logical point of view, defines conduct as consistently and reasonably as the rule, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'”— Leslie Stephen, Science of Ethics (1882), p. 73.
3 Methods of Ethics, I. i. 3, p. 6.
end must give per
(cc) from its Even in this case, however, if it led to the adopassumption that the true tion of the end in question, it must be borne in
* mind that the postulate would be implied that the fectly con- true ethical end must be able to yield a consistent
and harmonious system of rules for practical life. Without altogether denying this postulate, it yet seems to me that it stands in need of qualification. For in different circumstances, and at different stages of individual and social development, the application of the same ethical end may naturally produce different and conflicting courses of conduct. We must not start with any such assumption as that the rationality of the end consists in some sort of mathematical equality which ignores alike the different environment with which one age and another surround different generations, and the different functions which one individual and another have to perform in the social whole. We must leave open the possibility that what is right now may be wrong in another age; we must remember that everybody may not count for one, and that some people may count for more than one; we must admit that we may have sometimes to do to others what we would not that others should do to us. The only consistency we have a right to demand must leave room for such a variety of different conditions as to be, by itself, a very insecure guide.
From the difficulty of complying with the above conditions, it seems practically impossible for the criticism of ethical methods to decide the question of the ethical end. Even if the application to conduct of every important end has been taken account of, we are met with the difficulty that two or more mutually antagonistic though self-consistent practical codes may probably have been developed, while we are not even justified in assuming that inability to yield a system which will fit the complex circumstances of life in a perfectly harmonious manner is sufficient ground for rejecting an end shown in some other way to be reasonable.
The last department of ethics referred to—that (8) distinct which has to do with the origin and nature of moral psychology sentiments and social customs—has a bearing on the question of the end of conduct in some respects more important than the investigation of ethical methods. For, whereas the latter expressly assumes certain ends as prima facie reasonable, the former inquiry, on the contrary, is now frequently understood to be able, without presupposing any ethical relations whatever, to trace the way in which, from primitive feelings and customs, morality itself has been evolved. The psychological side of ethical inquiry has always had an important place with English moralists. At times, indeed, the question of the “moral faculty” has excited so much interest as to divert attention from the nature of morality itself. Moral truth has been supposed to