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be something known and indisputable, the only question being how we came to know it. But the psychology of ethics, reinforced by the knowledge sociology gives of the development of morality, rises now to larger issues. It attempts to show the genesis of the moral from the non-moral, to account thus for the origin of ethical ideas, and even to determine what kinds of ends are to be striven after. In this way, a theory of the origin and growth of moral sentiments and institutions is made to render important help to more than one of the theories which will fall to be considered in the sequel.
The present Essay has to inquire into the way in which we may determine what the end of human conduct is,-into the basis of ethics, therefore. But I do not propose to offer an exhaustive investigation of all the theories which have been or may be started in .solution of the problem. On the contrary, I will begin by excluding from the inquiry all theories which seek the basis of ethics in something outside the constitution of man as a feeling and reasoning agent:' not because I contend that all
3. Present inquiry limited
1 The difference between Aristotle and Kant in ethics is sometimes expressed (see Trendelenburg, Hist. Beiträge zur Phil., iii. 171 ff.) as if it consisted in the fact that the former investigated human nature in order to find its téros, whereas the latter sought the standard of action in a transcendental ground. There is reason for this distinction in Kant's manner of statement. But both may be regarded as investigating human nature.
such theories are prima facie unreasonable, but because it is at any rate the more obvious course to to theories
depending seek to determine the function of an organism by on the
human constudying its inner constitution, than by having regard to something which is external to it, and does not act upon and modify it as a necessary part of its environment. It is only when this method has been tried and has failed that we should seek outside us for some guide as to the part we ought to play in the universe. For this reason I shall not take into consideration the views of the basis of ethics which find it in positive law either divine or human, except in so far as they are shown to follow from the nature of man. It is not necessary for me to deny that the source of all moral obligation may be the will of God, or the commands of the sovereign, or the opinion of society, and that the highest moral ideal may be obedience to such a rule. But theories of this kind make ethics merely an application of positive theology, or of legislation, or of social sentiment, and seem only to have an Their difference rather consists in the different position and function assigned to reason in man. It is because Kant is for the moment looking upon reason as something distinct from human nature that he says that “the ground of obligation is to be sought, not in the nature of man or in the circumstances in the world in which he is placed, but à priori simply in the notions of pure reason” (Werke, iv. 237). His “metaphysical” view of ethics, however, follows from the rational constitution of the human subject and his experience, and does not depend on any source that really " transcends” the reason of man.
appropriate place when we have failed to find an independent basis for action.
The question which remains to be put may be expressed in these terms: Can we find in human nature (taken either alone or in connection with its environment) any indications of the end of human conduct, or, in other words, of the principle on which human beings “ought” to act ? and if so, in what direction do these indications point, and what is their significance? The answer to this question will thus necessarily depend on the view we take of the constitution of man and his relation to his environment. And I purpose to bring this discussion within the necessary limits by considering the ethical consequences of one only of the two views into which philosophical opinion is
divided. and here to Now the fundamental principle of division in ism. philosophical opinion lies in the place assigned to
reason in human nature. According to one theory, man is essentially a sensitive subject, though able to reason about his sensations—that is, to associate, compound, and compare them. He is supposed to be built up of sense-presentations associated with feelings of pleasure and pain. Recipient of external impressions which persist in idea and are accom
ethics of Naturalism
1 Opinion is also divided according to the place assigned to reason in the world,—this principle of division corresponding almost exactly with the former,
panied by pleasure or pain on his part, and thus followed by other ideas and impressions, man's mental constitution is explained without attributing to reason any spontaneous or productive function. The other view differs from this in as distin., attributing spontaneity to reason-making it, in from Rationone way or another, the source of forms of thought, al principles, or ideas. The former may be called the Naturalistic, the latter the Rationalistic view of : man: from that follows a Naturalistic or Natural ethics, from this a Rationalistic or Rational ethics. Into both these theories, in a theoretical as well as in an ethical aspect, the historical turn of thought which has characterised recent inquiry has introduced a profound modification. On the basis of Naturalism Naturalism, we may either look upon man as an vidualistic individual distinct from other individuals, as was done by Epicurus and Hobbes and the materialists of the eighteenth century, or we may consider the race as itself an organism, apart from which the or historical. individual is unintelligible, and look upon human nature as having become what it now is through a long process of interaction between organism and environment, in which social as well as psychical and physical facts have influenced the result. This is the view to the elaboration of which Comte and
1 Thus it is the object of Helvétius's first discours “De l’esprit” to prove that physical sensibility and memory are the only productive causes of our ideas.
either indi. vidualistic
Darwin and Spencer have in different ways contributed. What makes the historical method of importance philosophically, is not the mere fact that it traces a sequence of events in time, but the fact that, by doing so, it is able to look upon each link in the chain of events as necessarily connected with every other, and thus to regard as a system—or, rather, as an organism—what previous empirical theories had left without any
principle of unity. Rationalism A similar movement of thought has introduced vidualistic a like modification into the Rationalistic theory.
According to older doctrines, the individual reason is mysteriously charged with certain à priori principles which are to us laws of knowledge and of action; whereas the form of Rationalism which is now in the ascendant resembles the theory of natural evolution in this, that as the latter finds the race more real than the individual, and the
individual to exist only in the race, so the former or universal. looks upon the individual reason as but a finite
manifestation of the universal reason, and attempts to show the principles or constitutive elements of this universal reason or consciousness in their logical or necessary connection-leaving open to empirical investigation the way in which they have gradually disclosed themselves in the in
1 Comte, by connecting ethics with biology ; Darwin and Spencer, by the doctrine of evolution.