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to complete metaphysical or not-in which our most comprephilosophy.
hensive view of the world finds its reasoned expression, cannot neglect that aspect of things in which man is related to his surroundings as a source of action. · Recent ethical literature is itself a proof of this fact. In its speculative developments, both realistic and idealistic, the philosophy of the present day has made the endeavour to connect its conceptions of the world of thought and nature with the ends contemplated as to be realised in the realm of action. Whatever difficulties may be involved in the transition from the “is” to the “ought to be,” it is yet implied that the transition requires to be made, not merely in order that human activity may be shown to be rational, but that reason itself may be justified by leaving nothing outside its sphere.
We must make no attempt, therefore, to draw a line of absolute separation between the first two of the three questions in which, as Kant says, all the interests of our reason centre. The “What ought I to do ?” of ethics is for ever falling back on the “ What can I know?” of metaphysics. The question of practice must accordingly be treated throughout in connection with the question of knowledge. If we use Kant's distinction between speculative and practical reason, we must always bear in mind that it is the same reason which is
1 Werke, ed. Hartenstein (1867), iii. 532.
in one reference speculative, in another practical. We are not at liberty to assume with Butler 2 that “morality... must be somewhat plain and easy to be understood: it must appeal to what we call common-sense.” Nor may we presuppose, as Hutcheson did, that it is a subject “about which a little reflection will discover the truth.” The question must be looked upon not so much as one of immediate practical as of scientific interest, and reason is to be regarded as the only court of appeal.
The form just quoted, in which Kant states the 2. The inproblem, is not altogether free from ambiguity. the ethical “What ought I to do ?” may be taken to signify, en What means should I adopt for the attainment of some end presupposed, perhaps unconsciously, as the end to be sought? But it is evident, not only that this is not what Kant himself meant by the question, but that, as thus put, it necessarily implies a further and deeper question. Not the discovery of the means, but the determination of the end itself—the end which cannot be interpreted as a mere means to some further end—is the (a) fundafundamental question of ethics. It is only by misconception that this can be thought to be a trivial question. To say, as a recent scientific
1 Cf. Kant, Werke, iv. 237.
writer does, “that happiness in one disguise or another is the end of human life is common ground for all the schools," is either to ignore what the schools have taught,2 or else to use the word “happiness” merely as another name for the highest good. But, even were it still the case, as it was in the time of Aristotle, that nearly all men were agreed as to the name of the highest good, and that the common people and the cultured alike called it happiness, the difference as to what they meant by the term would still remain. To say that the ethical end is happiness is, to use Locke's terminology, a “trifling proposition"; for in so doing we merely give it a name—and one which the controversies of philosophy have surrounded with confusion. That the end is happiness in any definite sense, for example, as the greatest balance of pleasure over pain, may be perfectly true, but stands very much in need of proof. That happiness is the highest ethical end can be assumed as true only when “happiness" is nothing more than an abbreviated expression for“ the highest ethical end."
1 W. H. Rolph, Biologische Probleme, zugleich als Versuch zur Entwicklung einer rationellen Ethik, 2d ed., p. 21.
2 Not to mention Kant, the consistent opponent of every eudæmonistic principle, or the doctrines of a political idealist such as Mazzini (see Life and Writings (1867), iv. 223), reference may be made to a writer like W. K. Clifford, who looks from the scientific point of view, and yet holds that “happiness is not to be desired for its own sake.”—Lectures and Essays (1879), i. 121, 173.
3 “Auch dieser Begriff (Glückseligkeit] ist an sich ein bloss formaler, der jede beliebige materiale Bestimmung zulässt.”— Zeller, Ueber Begriff und Begründung der sittlichen Gesetze (1883), p. 23.
new point of
A difficulty of a more radical kind meets us, at (1) implies a the very outset of our inquiry, in the distinctively view, ethical notion expressed by the word “ought.” Various attempts have been made to surmount or circumvent this difficulty; and some of these will come under consideration in the sequel. The very notion of conscious activity contains the idea of bringing about something which does not yet exist. It involves a purpose or end. The notion “ought,” it is true, means more than this: it implies an obligation to pursue a definite end or conform to definite rules, regarded generally as coming from an authoritative source. In this clear and full sense, “oughtness” or duty is a comparatively recent notion, foreign to the classical period of Greek ethics. The force and definiteness belonging to the modern conception of it are due to the juridical aspect which the Stoic philosophy, Roman law, and Christian theology combined to impress upon morality. But even the notion of purpose or end implies a “preference” of the end sought: the state to be realised is looked upon as “better” or “more to be desired” than the existing state. We may ask for the reason of this superior desirableness; but the answer must soon fall back upon the assertion of something held to be desirable in it
tion to which requires in
self. The question which we are always asking, and cannot help asking, “Why is such and such an end to be pursued by me?” or “Why ought I to follow such and such a course of conduct ?” must
soon lead to the assertion of an ultimate end. the transi- This end, therefore, must not be sought for some
ch ulterior end, nor desired as a means to satisfy any vestigation ; other desire. But it is still necessary to inquire
into the way in which the end, held to be ultimate in a practical regard, stands related to the constitution of man and his environment. And the question to which I would draw attention, as the fundamental problem of ethics, is, What is that which men have variously called happiness, the highest good, the ethical end? or, more precisely, How can a transition be made from the notions of theoretical philosophy to the determination of that ethical end? No assumption is made, at starting, as to the nature of this end, or the manner of arriving at it. It may be a transient state of feeling, or a permanent type of character; or it may by its very nature defy exact definition,—the idea itself being perfected as its realisation is progressively approached. In any case it requires to be brought into connection with the ultimate conceptions of thought and existence.
This question of the ethical end or highest good is thus fundamental in ethical science, and upon it all other questions in ethics finally depend. But