Ethics: Origin and Development : Chapter 10 : Development of Moral Teachings -- XIX Era
(1842 - 1921) ~ Russian Father of Anarcho-Communism : As anarchism's most important philosophers he was in great demand as a writer and contributed to the journals edited by Benjamin Tucker (Liberty), Albert Parsons (Alarm) and Johann Most (Freiheit). Tucker praised Kropotkin's publication as "the most scholarly anarchist journal in existence." (From : Spartacus Educational Bio.)
• "Which side will you take? For the law and against justice, or for justice and against the law?" (From : "An Appeal to the Young," by Peter Kropotkin, 1880.)
• "...the strength of Anarchy lies precisely in that it understands all human faculties and all passions, and ignores none..." (From : "The Conquest of Bread," by Peter Kropotkin, 1906.)
• "...let us remember that if exasperation often drives men to revolt, it is always hope, the hope of victory, which makes revolutions." (From : "The Spirit of Revolution," by Peter Kropotkin, fi....)
IN the nineteenth century there appeared three new currents in ethics: 1) Positivism, which was developed by the French philosopher, Auguste Comte, and which found a prominent representative in Germany in the person of Feuerbach; 2) Evolutionism, i. e., the teaching about the gradual development of all living beings, social institutions, and beliefs, and also of the moral conceptions of man. This theory was created by Charles Darwin and was later elaborated in detail by Herbert Spencer in his famous "Synthetic Philosophy." 3) Socialism, i. e., a teaching of the political and social equality of men. This teaching derived from the Great French Revolution and from later economic doctrines originating under the influence of the rapid development of industry and capitalism in Europe. All three currents exerted a strong influence upon the development of morality in the nineteenth century. However, up to the present time, there has not been developed a complete system of ethics based on the data of all the three teachings. Some modern philosophers, such as, for example, Herbert Spencer, M. Guyau, and partly Wilhelm Wundt, Paulsen, Höffding, Gizycki, and Eucken, made attempts to create a system of ethics on the bases of positivism and evolutionism, but all of them more or less ignored socialism. And yet we have in socialism a great moral current, and from now on no new system of ethics can be built without in some way considering this teaching, which is the expression of the striving of the working masses for social justice and equity.
Before discussing the views on morality of the chief representatives of the three doctrinal currents, we shall briefly expound the ethical system of the English thinkers of the first half of the nineteenth century. The Scotch philosopher Mackintosh is the forerunner of Positivism in England. By his convictions he was a radical and an ardent defender of the ideas of the French Revolution. He expounded his moral teaching in his book, "View of Ethical Philosophy,"1 where he systematized all the theories of the origin of morality advanced by Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, Hume, and Adam Smith. Like these thinkers Mackintosh recognized that man's moral actions are prompted by feeling and not by reason. Moral phenomena, he taught, are a special kind of feelings: sympathy and antipathy, approval and disapproval, with respect to all our propensities which give birth to all our actions; gradually these feelings combine and constitute a sort of unified whole, a special property of our psychic self, a faculty which can be called moral conscience.
We feel, thereby, that it depends upon our will whether we act with or against our conscience, and when we act against our conscience we blame upon it the weakness of our will or our will for evil.
Thus it is seen that Mackintosh reduced everything to feeling. There was no room whatsoever for the working of reason. Moreover, according to him the moral feeling is something innate, something inherent in the very nature of man, and not a product of reasoning or up-bringing.
This moral feeling, wrote Mackintosh, undoubtedly possesses an imperative character; it demands a certain attitude toward men, and this is because we feel conscious that our moral feelings, the condemnation or approval by them of our actions, operate within the bounds of our will.
Various moral motives merge little by little into a whole in our conception, and the combination of two groups of feelings, that have, in fact, nothing in common,-the egoistic feeling of self-preservation and the feeling of sympathy for others-determine the character of a man.
Such was, according to Mackintosh, the origin of morality, and such was its criterion. But these ethical bases are so beneficial to man, they so closely bind each one of us to the good of the entire society, that they, inevitably, had to develop in mankind.
On this issue Mackintosh takes the viewpoint of the Utilitarians. And he particularly insisted that it is wrong to confuse (as is continually being done) the criterion of morality, i. e., that which serves us as the standard in evaluating the qualities and the actions of man, with that which urges us personally to desire certain actions and to act in a certain way. These two factors belong to different fields, and they should be always distinguished in a serious study. It is important for us to know what actions and what qualities we approve and disapprove from the moral point of view,-this is our criterion, our standard of moral evaluation. But we must also know whether our approval and disapproval are the product of a spontaneous feeling, or whether they come also from our mind, through reasoning. And, finally, it is important for us to know: if our approval and disapproval originate in a feeling, whether that feeling is a primary property of our organism, or has it been gradually developing in us under the influence of reason?
But if we are to formulate thus the problems of ethics, then, as Jodl justly remarked: "In certain respects this is the clearest and the truest observation ever made about the bases of morality. Then it really becomes clear that if there is anything innate in our moral feeling, this fact does not prevent reason from realizing afterwards that certain feelings and actions, developing through social education, are valuable for the common good."2
It also becomes clear I will add, that sociality, and its necessary accompaniment-mutual aid, characteristic of the vast majority of animal species and so much more of man,-were the source of moral sentiments from the time of the very first appearance of man-like creatures on the earth, and that social sentiments were further strengthened by the realization and the understanding of the facts of social life, i. e., by the effort of reason. And in proportion to the development and increasing complexity of social life, reason acquired ever greater influence upon the moral make-up of man.
Finally, it is equally unquestionable that moral feeling can easily become dulled due to the stern struggle for existence, or to the development of instincts of robbery which at times acquire great intensity among certain tribes and nations. And this moral feeling might have withered altogether if the very nature of man, as well as of the majority of the more highly developed animals, did not involve, aside from the herd instinct, a certain mental bent which supports and strengthens the influence of sociality. This influence, I believe, consists in the conception of justice, which in the final analysis is nothing but the recognition of equity for all the members of a given society. To this property of our thinking, which we already find among the most primitive savages and to a certain extent among herd animals, we owe the growth in us of the moral conceptions in the form of a persistent, and at times even unconsciously imperative force. As regards magnanimity, bordering on self-sacrifice, which alone, perhaps, truly deserves the name "moral," I shall discuss this third member of the moral trilogy later, in connection with the ethical system of Guyau.
I shall not dwell upon the English philosophy of the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century. It represents a reaction against the French Revolution and against the pre-revolutionary philosophy of the Encyclopædists, as well as against the daring ideas expressed by William Godwin in his book, "Inquiry Concerning Political justice." This book is a complete and serious exposition of that which began to be advocated later under the name of Anarchism.3 It is very instructive to become acquainted with the English philosophy of this period. I therefore refer all those interested to the excellent exposition by Jodl, in the second volume of his "Geschichte der Ethik."
I will only add on my part that, in general, the English thinkers of this period especially endeavored to prove the insufficiency of mere feeling for the explanation of morality. Thus Stewart, a prominent representative of this epoch, maintains that morality cannot be sufficiently accounted for either by the "reflective affects" of Shaftesbury, or by Butler's "conscience," etc. Having pointed out the irreconcilability of various theories of morality, some of which are built on benevolence, others on justice, on rational self-love, or on the obedience to God's will, he did not wish to acknowledge, like Hume, that rational judgment alone is also incapable of giving us a conception of good, or of beauty; he showed, at the same time, how far moral phenomena are removed in man from a mere emotional impulse.
It would seem that, having arrived at the conclusion that in all moral conceptions reason binds our various perceptions together, and then develops new conceptions within itself (and he even mentioned the "mathematical idea of equality"), Stewart should have arrived at the idea of justice. But whether it was under the influence of the old ideas of the intuitive school, or of the new tendencies which, after the French Revolution, denied the very thought of the equality of rights of all men, Stewart did not develop his thoughts and failed to come to any definite conclusion.4
New ideas in the realm of ethics were introduced in England by a contemporary of Mackintosh, Jeremy Bentham. Bentham was not a philosopher in the strict sense of the word. He was a lawyer, and his specialty was the law and the practical legislation resulting from it. Taking a negative attitude to the law in the form in which it was expressed in legislation throughout thousands of years of historical absence of human rights, Bentham strove to find deep, strictly scientific, theoretical bases of law, such as could be approved by reason and conscience.
In Bentham's view law coincides with morality, and therefore he named his first book, where he expounded his theory, "An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation."5
Bentham, like Helvétius, sees the basic principle of all morality and law in the greatest happiness of the greatest number of men. The same principle, as we have seen, was adopted by Hobbes as the basis of his ethics. But Bentham and his followers (Mill and others) derived from this principle conclusions directly contrary to those of Hobbes. The reactionary Hobbes, under the influence of the Revolution of 1648, through which he had lived, maintained that the greatest happiness can be given to man only by a firm ruling power. On the other hand, Bentham, a "philanthropist" as he called himself, went so far as to recognize equality as a desirable aim. Although he rejected the socialistic teachings of Owen, he nevertheless acknowledged that "equality of wealth would help to attain the greatest happiness of the greatest number of men, provided only the realization of this equality does not lead to revolutionary outbreaks." As regards the law in general he even reached anarchistic conclusions, holding that the fewer laws, the better. "The laws," he wrote, "are a limitation of man's inherent ability to act, and therefore, from the absolute point of view, they represent an evil."
Bentham subjected to severe examination all the existing systems and all the current theories of morality. But, as I have already pointed out, while approaching socialistic and even anarchistic conclusions, Bentham did not venture to follow his ideas to their logical conclusion, and he directed his main efforts toward determining which pleasures are stronger, more lasting, and more fruitful. Since different people understand in different ways their own and the general human happiness, and are far from being able to determine what leads them to happiness and what to suffering, being even more apt to be mistaken as to what constitutes social good, Bentham, accordingly, tried to determine what gives the individual as well as Society the possibility of greatest happiness.
The search for happiness is a striving for personal pleasure,-therefore Bentham, like his predecessor in Ancient Greece, Epicurus, endeavored to determine which of our pleasures are capable of giving us the greatest happiness,-not only a momentary happiness but a lasting one, even if it has to be linked with pain. For this purpose he tried to establish a sort of "scale of pleasures," and at the head of this scale he put the strongest and the deepest pleasures; those that are not accidental or momentary, but those that can last for life; those that are certain, and finally those whose realization is near and is not postponed to a distant and indefinite future.
The intensity of a pleasure, its duration; its certainly or uncertainty; its propinquity or remoteness,-these are the four criteria which Bentham endeavored to establish in his "arithmetic of pleasures," and he also added fecundity, i. e., the capacity of a given pleasure to produce new pleasures, and also the extent, i. e., the capacity to give pleasure not only to me but also to others.6 Parallel with his "scale of pleasures" Bentham also drew up "the scale of pains", where he distinguished between the troubles that harm individuals and those that harm all the members of society or a group of men, and finally, the sufferings and the calamities that undermine irreparably the strength of the individual or even of the whole of society.
In seeking the explanation of the moral feeling Bentham was not content with the previously given explanations of the origin of morality from an innate moral feeling (natural or inspired from above), sympathy and antipathy, "conscience," "moral duty," etc.,-the very mention of "virtue," connected in history with the terrors of the inquisition, aroused his indignation.
These thoughts of his are throughout sharply expressed and developed in detail in his "Deontology; or the Science of Morality," which was arranged and edited after Bentham's death by his friend, John Bowring.7
Morality must be built on different bases, taught Bentham. It is the duty of thinkers to prove that a "virtuous" act is a correct calculation, a temporary sacrifice which will give one the maximum of pleasure; whereas an immoral act is an incorrect calculation. Man should seek his personal pleasure, his personal interest.
Thus spoke Epicurus and many of his followers,-for example, Mandeville in his famous "Fable of the Bees." But as Guyau pointed out,8 Bentham introduces here a considerable correction, whereby utilitarianism makes a great step forward. Virtue is not merely a calculation, wrote Bentham, it also implies a certain effort, a struggle,-man sacrifices immediate pleasure for the sake of a greater pleasure in the future. Bentham particularly insists upon this sacrifice, which is, in fact, a self-sacrifice, even if it is a temporary one. And indeed, not to see this would be refusing to recognize that which constitutes at least half of the entire life of the animal world, of the least developed savages, and even of the life of our industrial societies. Many who call themselves utilitarians actually fall into this error. But Bentham understood where utilitarianism would lead without this correction, and therefore he persistently called attention to it. So much more one would expect John Stuart Mill to insist upon this correction, for be wrote at the time when the communist teachings of Owen,-which also rejected all morality inspired from above,-had already become widespread in England.
These criteria of good and evil, Bentham proved, serve not alone as the basis of the moral evaluation of our own actions, but they must also serve as the basis of all legislation. They are the criterion of morality, its standard, its touchstone. But here enters also a series of other considerations which considerably influence and modify the conceptions of what is moral and desirable for individuals as well as for whole societies at different periods of their development. The intellectual development of man, his religion, his temperament, the state of his health, his up-bringing, his social position, and also the political system,-all these factors modify the moral conceptions of individuals and of societies, and Bentham, pursuing his legislative problems, carefully analyzed all these influences. With all that, though he was inspired by the highest motives and fully appreciated the moral beauty of self-sacrifice, he has not shown where, how, and why, instinct triumphs over the cold judgments of reason, what the relation is between reason and instinct, and where the vital connection is between them. We find in Bentham the instinctive power of sociality, but we cannot see how it keeps pace with his methodical reason, and hence we feel the incompleteness of his ethics and we understand why many, on becoming acquainted with it, were left unsatisfied, and continued to seek reinforcement for their ethical tendencies,-some in religion, and others in its offspring-the Kantian ethics of duty.
On the other hand, it is unquestionable that Bentham's critique is permeated with the desire to urge men toward creativeness, which would give them not only personal happiness, but also a broad understanding of social problems; he seeks also to inspire them with noble impulses. Bentham's aim is to have law and legislation inspired not by the current conceptions of human happiness under the firm hand of the ruling power, but by the higher considerations of the greatest happiness of the greatest number of the members of society.
Bearing in mind this feature of Bentham's ethics, and the general spirit of his work, his lofty aim, his concern for the preservation in society of the means for satisfying the Personal enterprise of individual members, and his understanding of the æsthetic element in the sense of duty, it is easy to grasp why, in spite of the arithmetical dryness of his starting point, Bentham's teaching exercised such potent influence upon the best men of his time. It is also clear why men who have thoroughly studied his teaching, such as Guyau, for example, in his excellent work on modern English ethics, consider Bentham the true founder of the entire English Utilitarian school,-to which Spencer partly belongs.
Bentham's ideas were further developed by a group of his followers, headed by James Mill and his son, John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). The latter's little book, "Utilitarianism," represents the best exposition of utilitarian ethics.9
Although John Stuart Mill wrote only this little book on the theory of morality, he nevertheless made a considerable contribution to moral science and carried the utilitarian teaching to a logical completeness. In his book, as well as in his writings on Economics, Mill is filled with the idea of the necessity of rebuilding social life on the new ethical bases.
To effect this rebuilding Mill saw no need either of the religious motivation of morality or of legislation derived from pure reason (Kant's attempt in this direction ended in complete failure);-he thought it possible to found the whole of moral teaching on one fundamental principle-the striving for the greatest happiness, correctly, i. e., rationally, understood. This interpretation of the origin of morality was already given by Hume. But Mill, as was to be expected of a thinker of the second half of the nineteenth century, completed this idea by pointing to the continuous development of the moral conceptions in mankind, owing to social life. The moral element is not innate in man but presents a product of development.
Humanity possesses some excellent propensities, but it has also evil ones; separate individuals are ready to work for the good of the whole, but others do not want to concern themselves with this. Conceptions of what is good for society, and consequently for the individual, are still very confused. But if we observe in this struggle a progress toward the better, it is due to the fact that every human society is interested in having in the ascendancy the elements, of good, i. e., the common welfare, or, speaking in Kantian language in having the altruistic elements triumph over the egoistic. In o words, we find in social life a synthesis of the moral tendencies based on the sense of duty, and those that originate in the principle of the greatest happiness (eudemonism), or of greatest utility (utilitarianism).
Morality, says Mill, is the product of the interaction between the psychic structure of the individual, and society; and if we regard morality in this light we open a series of broad and alluring vistas and a series of fruitful and lofty problems in the realm of reconstructing society. From this Point of view we should see in morality the sum of demands that society makes on the character and the will of its members in the interest of their own welfare and further development. This, however, is not a dead formula, but on the contrary, something living, something not only legalizing changeability, but even requiring it; this is not the legalization of that which has been, and which has perhaps already outlived its time, but a vital principle for building the future. And if there is a clash of factions which interpret in different ways the problems of the future, if the striving for improvement collides with the habit of the old, there can be no other proofs, Or any other criterion for checking them, than the welfare of mankind and its improvement.
It may be seen even from this brief outline, what vistas Mill opened by the application to life of the principle of utility. Owing to this circumstance he exerted a great influence upon his contemporaries, all the more that all his works were written in simple and clear language. But the principle of justice, which was already pointed out by Hume, was absent from Mill's reasoning, and he makes allusion to justice only at the end of the book, where he speaks of a criterion by means of which could be checked the correctness of various conclusions reached by various movements striving for preponderance in the course of the progressive development of society.
As regards the question,-to what extent the principle of utility, i. e., utilitarianism, can be deemed sufficient for the explanation of the moral element in humanity,-we will consider it at a later time. Here it is important merely to note the forward step made by ethics, the desire to build it exclusively on a rational basis, without the covert or ostensible influence of religion.10 Prior to passing to the exposition of the ethics of positivism and evolutionism it is necessary to dwell, even if briefly, on the moral teachings of some philosophers of the nineteenth century, who, though they took the metaphysical and spiritualistic viewpoint, still exerted a certain influence upon the development of modern ethics. In Germany such a thinker was Arthur Schopenhauer, and in France, Victor Cousin and his pupil, Théodore Jouffroy.
The ethical teaching of Schopenhauer is given a very different appreciation by various writers, as is, in fact, everything written by this pessimist-philosopher, whose pessimism originated not in his active sympathy for humanity, but in his extremely egoistic nature.
Our world, taught Schopenhauer, is an imperfect world; our life is suffering; our "will to live" begets in us desires, in trying to realize which we meet obstacles; and in struggle with these obstacles we experience suffering. But as soon as the obstacle is conquered and the desire is fulfilled, dissatisfaction again arises. As active participants in life we become martyrs, Progress does not do away with suffering. On the contrary, with the development of culture our needs also increase; failure to satisfy them brings new sufferings, new disappointments.
With the development of progress and culture, the human mind becomes more sensitive to suffering and acquires the capacity of feeling not only its own pain and suffering, but also of living through the sufferings of other men and even of animals. As a result man develops the feeling of commiseration, which constitutes the basis of morality and the source of all moral acts.
Thus Schopenhauer refused to see anything moral in actions or in a mode of life based on the considerations of self-love and striving for happiness. But he also rejected the Kantian sense of duty as the basis of morality. Morality, according to Schopenhauer, begins only when man acts in a certain way out of sympathy for others, out of commiseration. The feeling of commiseration, wrote Schopenhauer, is a primary feeling, inherent in man, and it is in this feeling that the basis of all moral tendencies lies, and not in personal considerations of self-love or in the sense of duty.
Moreover, Schopenhauer pointed out two aspects of the feeling al of sympathy: in certain cases something restrains me from inflicting suffering upon another, and in others something urges me to action when someone else is made to suffer. In the first case the result is simple justice, while in the second case we have a manifestation of love for one's neighbor.
The distinction drawn here by Schopenhauer is unquestionably a step forward. It is necessary. As I have already pointed out in the second chapter this distinction is made by the savages, who say that one must do certain things, while it is merely shameful not to perform others, and I am convinced that in time this distinction will be considered fundamental, for our moral conceptions are best of all expressed by the three-membered formula: sociality, justice, and magnanimity, or that which is to be considered morality proper.
Unfortunately, the postulate assumed by Schopenhauer for the purpose of dividing that which he called justice from the love for fellow-men, is hardly correct. Instead of showing that since commiseration has brought man to justice it is the recognition of equity for all men, a conclusion which was already reached by ethics at the end of the eighteenth and in the first part of the nineteenth century, he sought the explanation of this feeling in the metaphysical equality of all men in essence. Moreover, by identifying justice with commiseration, i.e., uniting a conception and a feeling that have different origins, he considerably diminished thereby the importance of so fundamental an element of morality as justice. After all he joined together that which is just, and has therefore an obligatory character, and that which is desirable, such as a generous impulse. Like most writers on ethics, therefore, he insufficiently distinguished between two motives, one of which says: "do not unto another what you do not want done unto yourself," and the second: "give freely to another, without considering what you will get in return."
Instead of showing that we have here a manifestation of two different conceptions of our attitude toward others, Schopenhauer saw the difference only in the degree to which they influence our will. In one case man remains inactive and abstains from hurting another, while in the second case he comes forward actively, urged by his love for his fellow-men. In reality the distinction goes much deeper, and it is impossible to discuss correctly the bases of ethics without recognizing as its first principle justice in the sense of equity, after which one can also recommend magnanimity, which Guyau so excellently characterized as the lavish spending of one's intellect, feelings, and will, for the good of others or of all.
Of course, since Schopenhauer saw in commiseration an act of justice, he could not altogether do without the conception of justice, interpreted in the sense of a recognition of equity. And indeed, the fact that we are capable of feeling sympathy for others, to be affected by their joys and sorrows, and to live through both of these with other men,-this fact would be inexplicable if we did not possess a conscious or subconscious ability to identify ourselves with others. And no one could possess such an ability if he considered himself as apart from others and unequal to them, at least in his susceptibility to joys and sorrows, to good and evil, to friendliness and hostility. The impulse of a man who plunges into a river (even though unable to swim) in order to save another, or who exposes himself to bullets in order to pick up the wounded on the battle-field, cannot be explained in any other way than by the recognition of one's equality with all others.11
But starting with the proposition that life is evil and that the lower levels of morality are characterized by a strong development of egoism, a passionate desire to live, Schopenhauer asserted that with the development of the feeling of commiseration man acquires the ability to realize and to feel the sufferings of others, and he therefore becomes , even more unhappy. He maintained that only asceticism, retirement from the world, and æsthetic contemplation of nature can blunt in us the volitional impulses, free us from the yoke of our passions, and lead us to the highest goal of morality-"annihilation of the will to live." As the result of this annihilation of the will to live, the world will come to the state of infinite rest, Nirvana.
Of course, this pessimistic philosophy is a philosophy of death and not of life, and therefore pessimistic morality is incapable of creating a sound and active movement in society. I have dwelt on the ethical teaching of Schopenhauer only because, by his opposition to Kant's ethics, especially to the Kantian theory of duty, Schopenhauer unquestionably helped to prepare the ground in Germany for the period when thinkers and philosophers began to seek the bases of morality in human nature itself and in the development of sociality. But, owing to his personal peculiarities, Schopenhauer was unable to give a new direction to ethics. As regards his excellent analysis of the problem of freedom of will and of the importance of will as the active force in social life, we will discuss these subjects in a later section of this work. Though the post-revolutionary period in France did not produce such pessimistic teachings as the doctrines of Schopenhauer, still the epoch of the restoration of the Bourbons, and the July Empire, are marked by the flourishing of spiritualistic philosophy. During this period the progressive ideas of the Encyclopædists, of Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Condorcet, were replaced by the theories of Victor de Bonald, Josephe de Maistre, Maine de Biran, Royer-Collard, Victor Cousin, and other representatives of reaction in the realm of philosophical thought.
We will not attempt an exposition of these teachings, and will only remark that the moral doctrine of the most prominent and influential of them, Victor Cousin, is the moral teaching of traditional spiritualism.
We must also note the attempt of Victor Cousin's pupil, Théodore Jouffroy, to point to the significance in ethics of that element of morality which I call in my ethical system self-sacrifice or magnanimity, i. e., of those moments when man gives to others his powers, and at times his life, without thought of what he will obtain in return.
Jouffroy failed duly to appreciate the significance of this element, but he understood that the thing which men call self-sacrifice is a true element of morality. But like all his predecessors, Jouffroy confused this element of morality with morality in general.12 It must be remarked, however, that the whole work of this school had the character of great indefiniteness and of eclecticism, and, perhaps for this very reason, of incompleteness. As we have seen, the second half of the eighteenth century was marked by a daring critique of the scientific, philosophical, political, and ethical conceptions current until that time, and this critique was not confined within the walls of academies. In France the new ideas gained a wide distribution in society and soon produced a radical change in the existing state institutions, and likewise in the entire mode of life of the French people,-economic, intellectual, and religious. After the Revolution, during a whole series of wars that lasted with short interruptions up to 1815, the new conceptions of social life, especially the idea of political equality, were spread at first by the Republican and then by the Napoleonic armies throughout the whole of Western and partly over Central Europe. Of course, the "Rights of Man" introduced by Frenchmen in the conquered territories, the proclamation of the personal equality of all citizens, and the abolition of serfdom, did not survive after the restoration of the Bourbons to the French throne. And what is more, there soon began in Europe the general intellectual reaction which was accompanied by a political reaction. Austria, Russia, and Prussia concluded among themselves a "Holy Alliance," whose object was to maintain in Europe the monarchical and the feudal system. Nevertheless, new political life began in Europe, especially in France, where after fifteen years of mad reaction the July Revolution of 1830 injected a stream of new life in all directions: political, economic, scientific, and philosophical.
Needless to say, the reaction against the Revolution and its innovations, that raged in Europe for thirty years, succeeded in doing a great deal to arrest the intellectual and the philosophical influence of the eighteenth century and of the Revolution, but with the very first breath of freedom that was wafted across Europe on the day of the July Revolution and the overthrow of the Bourbons, the rejuvenated intellectual movement again revived in France and in England.
Already in the thirties of the last century new industrial powers began to be developed in Europe: railroads began to be built, screw-driven steamships made distant ocean voyages possible, large factories applying improved machinery to raw products were established a large metallurgical industry was being developed owing to the progress of chemistry, etc. The whole of economic life was being rebuilt on new bases, and the newly formed class of the urban proletariat came forth with its demands. Under the influence of the conditions of life itself, and of the teachings of the first founders of socialism-Fourier, Saint-Simon, and Robert Owen-the socialistic labor movement began steadily to grow in France and in England. At the same time a new science, based entirely on experiment and observation, and free from theological and metaphysical hypotheses, began to be formed. The bases of the new science had already been laid at the end of the eighteenth century by Laplace in astronomy, by Lavoisier in physics and chemistry, by Buffon and Lamarck in zoölogy and biology, by the Physiocrats and by Condorcet in the social sciences. Together with the development of the new science there arose in France, in the thirties of the nineteenth century, a fresh philosophy which received the name of Positivism. The founder of this philosophy was Auguste Comte.
While in Germany the philosophy of the followers of Kant, Fichte, and Schelling was still struggling in the fetters of a semi-religious metaphysics, i. e., of speculations that have no definite scientific basis, the positivist philosophy threw aside all metaphysical conceptions and strove to become positive knowledge, as Aristotle had attempted to make it two thousand years earlier. It set as its aim in science the recognition of only those conclusions that were derived experimentally; and in philosophy it sought to unite all the knowledge thus acquired by the various sciences into a unified conception of the universe. These teachings of the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century (the theories of Laplace, Lavoisier, Buffon, and Lamarck) opened up to man a new world of ever-active natural forces. The same was done in the realm of economics and history by Saint-Simon and his followers, especially the historian Augustin Thierry, and by a succession of other scientists who threw off the yoke of metaphysics.
Auguste Comte realized the necessity of unifying all these new acquisitions and conquests of scientific thought. He decided to unify all the sciences into a single orderly system and to demonstrate the close interdependence of all the phenomena of nature, their sequence, their common basis, and the laws of their development. At the same time Comte also laid the foundation of new sciences, such as biology (the science of the development of plant and animal life), anthropology (the science of the development of man), and sociology (the science of human societies). Recognizing that all creatures are subject to the same natural laws, Comte urged the study of animal societies for the purpose of understanding primitive human societies, and in explaining the origin of the moral feelings in man, Comte already spoke of social instincts.
The essence of positivism is concrete scientific knowledge,-and knowledge, taught Comte, is foresight-savoir c'est prévoir-(to know is to foresee), and foresight is necessary for extending the power of man over Nature and for increasing thereby the welfare of societies. Comte exhorted the scientists and the thinkers to come to earth from the realm of dreams and intellectual speculations, to come to human beings vainly struggling from century to century, to help them build a better life, a life more full, more varied, more powerful in its creativeness, to help them to know Nature, to enjoy its ever-throbbing life, to utilize its forces, to free man from exploitation by making his labor more productive. At the same time Comte's philosophy aimed to liberate man from the chains of the religious fear of Nature and its forces, and it sought the bases of life of a free personality in the social medium, not in compulsion, but in a freely-accepted social covenant. All that the Encyclopædists vaguely foresaw in science and in philosophy, all that shone as an ideal before the intellectual gaze of the best men of the Great Revolution, all that Saint-Simon, Fourier, and Robert Owen began to express and to foretell, all that the best men of the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century strove to attain,-all these elements Comte attempted to unite, to strengthen, and to affirm by his positivist philosophy. And from this "philosophy," i.e., from these generalizations and ideas, new sciences, new arts, new conceptions of the Universe, and a new ethics had to develop.
Of course, it would be naïve to consider that a system of philosophy, however thoroughgoing, can create new sciences, a new art, and a new ethics. Any philosophy is but a generalization, the result of intellectual movement in all the realms of life, whereas the elements for this generalization are to be supplied by the development of art, science, and social institutions. Philosophy can merely inspire science and art. A properly motivated system of thought, correlating that which has been already done in each of these realms separately, unavoidably imparts to each of them a new direction, gives them new powers, new creative impulse, and a new and better systematization.
This is what actually took place. The first half of the nineteenth century gave,-in philosophy-positivism; in science-the theory of evolution and a series of brilliant scientific discoveries that marked the few years from 1856 to 1862;13 in sociology-the socialism of its three great founders: Fourier, Saint-Simon, and Robert Owen, together with their followers; and in ethics-a free morality, not forced upon us from without, but resulting from the innate endowments of human nature. Finally, under the influence of all these conquests of science there developed also a clearer understanding of the intimate connection between man and other sentient ceratures, as well as between man's thinking processes and his outer life.
The philosophy of positivism endeavored to bind into a unified whole all the results and the conquests of scientific thought, and all the higher aspirations of man, and it endeavored to elevate man to a vivid realization of this unity. That which flashed through in sparks of genius in Spinoza and Goethe when they spoke of the life of Nature and of man, had to find its expression in the new philosophy as a logically inevitable, intellectual generalization.
Needless to say, with such an understanding of "philosophy" Comte ascribed prime importance to ethics. But he derived it not from the psychology of separate individuals, not in the form of moral preaching as was the method in Germany, but as something entirely natural, following logically from the entire history of the development of human societies. In urging the need of historical investigation in the realms of anthropology and ethics, Comte probably had in mind the work done in the field of comparative zoölogy by Buffon and then by Cuvier, which completely confirmed the opinions of Lamarck, on the slow, gradual development of the higher animals, although the reactionary Cuvier disputed this opinion. Comte compared the significance of historical investigation in these sciences with the significance of comparative zoölogy in the field of biology.
He regarded ethics as a great power capable of elevating man above the level of everyday interests. Comte endeavored to base his system of ethics on a positive foundation, on the study of its actual development from the animal herd instinct and from simple sociality up to its highest manifestations. And though toward the end of his life,-whether due to decline of intellectual powers, or to the influence of Clotilde de Vaux,-he made concessions to religion, like many of his predecessors, even to the extent of founding his own Church, these concessions can under no circumstances be derived from his first work, "Positive Philosophy." These concessions were mere additions, and quite unnecessary additions, as was well understood by the best pupils of Comte-Littré and Vyroubov,14 and by his followers in England, Germany, and Russia.15
Comte expounded his ethical views in his "Physique Sociale,"16 and he derived his principal ideas of the bases and the content of moral conceptions not from abstract speculations, but from the general facts of human sociality and human history. His main conclusion was that the social tendencies of man can be explained only by inherent quality, i. e., by instinct and by its urge toward the social life. As a contrast to egoism, Comte called this instinct altruism, and he regarded it as a fundamental property of human nature; moreover, he was the first to point out boldly that the same innate tendency exists in animals.
It is utterly impossible to divide this instinct from the influence of reason. With the help of reason we create out of our innate feelings and tendencies that which we call moral conceptions, so that the moral element in man is at once inherent and the product of evolution. We come into this world as beings already endowed with the rudiments of morality; but we can become moral men only through the development of our moral rudiments. Moral tendencies are observed also among social animals, but morality as the joint product of instinct, feeling, and reason, exists only in man. It developed gradually, it is developing now, and will continue to grow,-which circumstance accounts for the difference in moral conceptions among different peoples at different periods. This variation led some light-minded negators of morality to conclude that morality is something conditional, having no positive bases in human nature or human reason.
In studying various modifications of the moral conceptions, it is easy to be convinced, according to Comte, that there is in all of them a constant element,-namely, the understanding of what is due to others through the realization of our personal interest. Thus Comte recognized the utilitarian element in morality, i. e., the influence of the considerations of personal utility, of egoism, in the development of the moral conceptions that later evolve into rules of conduct. But he understood too well the importance in the development of morality of the three mighty forces: the feeling of sociality, mutual sympathy, and reason, to fall into the error of the Utilitarians who ascribed the predominating influence to instinct and to personal interest.
Morality, taught Comte, like human nature itself,-and like everything in Nature, we will add,-is something already developed and in process of developing at the same time. And in this process of the development of morality he ascribed a great influence to the family, as well as to society. The family, he taught, aids especially the growth of that element in morality which originates in reason. It is, however, difficult to agree with this demarcation, because with the social up-bringing of the youth, as in our boarding schools and residential colleges, for example, and among certain savages, especially in the islands of the Pacific, the herd instinct, the sense of honor and of tribal pride, the religious feeling, etc., develop even more strongly than in the family.
Finally, there is another feature in positivist ethics which must be pointed out. Comte particularly insisted on the great importance of the positivist interpretation of the Universe. It must lead men to the conviction of the close dependence of each individual life upon the life of humanity as a whole. It is therefore necessary to develop in each of us the understanding of the Universal life, of the universal order; and this understanding should serve as the basis for individual as well as for social life. There should also develop in each of us such consciousness of the righteousness of our lives that our every act and our every motive may be freely exposed to the scrutiny of all. Every lie implies a debasement of the "ego," the admission of oneself as inferior to others. Hence Comte's rule, -- "viver au gran jor," to live so as to have nothing to conceal from others.
Comte pointed out three constituent factors in ethics: its essence, i.e., its fundamental principles and its origin; then its importance to society; and finally its evolution and the factors that govern this evolution. Ethics, taught Comte, develops on an historical basis. There is a natural evolution, and this evolution is progress, the triumph of human qualities over animal qualities, the triumph of man over the animal. The supreme moral law consists in leading the individual to assign a secondary place to his egoistic interests; the supreme duty is the social duty. Thus we should take as the basis of ethics the interest of mankind, --- humanity --- that great being of which each one of us constitutes merely an atom, living but a moment, and perishing in order to transmit life to other individuals. Morality consists in living for others.
Such is, briefly, the essence of Comte's ethical teaching. His scientific as well as his moral ideas continued to be developed in France by his pupils, especially by Emile Littré and G.N. Vyroubov, who published from 1867 to 1883 the magazine "Philosophie Positive," where articles appeared that threw light on various aspects of positivism. In a later part of this work we shall have occasion to refer to a fundamental explanation of the conception of justice offered by Littré.
In conclusion, it must be noted that positivism exerted a strong and a very fruitful influence on the developoment of the sciences: it can be safely stated that almost all the best modern scientists approach positivism very closely in their philosophical conclusions. In England the whole of Spencer's philosophy, with the fundamental principles of which most naturalists agree, is a positivist philosophy, --- though Herbert Spencer, who apparently evolved this philosophy in part independently, even if later than Comte, repeatedly endeavored to draw away from the French thinker.
In the fifties of the nineteenth centruy, a teaching similar in many respects to the philosophy of Comte was promulgated in Germany by Ludwig Feuerbach. We will now consider this teaching in so far as it concerns ethics.
The philosophical teaching of Feuerbach (1804-1872) deserves a more detailed consideration, for it unquestionably exercised a great influence upon modern thought ihn Germany. But since the principal object of his philosophy was not so much the elaboration of the bases of morality, as the critique of religion, a more thorough discussion of Feuerbach's teaching would lead me too far afield. I will limit myself, therefore, to pointing out what new elements this teaching added to positivist ethics. Feuerbach did not at once come forward as a positivist who bases his philosophy on the exact data obtained by studying human nature. He began to write under the influence of Hegel, and only gradually, while subjecting to brilliant and daring criticism the metaphysical philosophy of Kant, Schelling, Hegel, and the "idealist" philosophy in general, did he become a philosopher with a "realist" viewpoint. He first expounded his principal thoughts in the form of aphorisms in 1842-1843,17 in two articles, and only after 1858 did he devote his attention to ethics. In 1866, in his work, "Diety, Freedom, and Immortality from the Viewpoint of Anthropology,"18 he introduced a section on freedom of will, and after that he wrote a series of articles on moral philosophy dealing with the fundamental problems of ethics. But even here, as Jodl, from whom I take these data, remarks, there is no completeness; many matters are but faintly indicated. And yet these works taken together constitute a fairly complete exposition of scientific empiricism in ethics, to which Knapp supplied a good addition in his "System of the Philosophy of Law." 19 The thoughtful writings of Feuerbach, which happily, were written in simple, readily understandable language, had a stimulateing effect on German ethical thought.
It is true that Feuerbach did not succeed in avoiding certain very marked contradictions. While endeavoring to base his moral philosophy on the concrete facts of life, and taking the position of a defender of eudemonism, i.e., explaining the development of moral tendencies in mankind by the striving for a happier life, --- he was at the same time lavish with praises of the ethics of Kant and Fitche, who were decidedly antagonistic to the Anglo-Scotch eudemonists, and who sought the explanation of morality in religious revelation.
The success of Feuerbach's philosophny is fully explained by the realistic, scientific trend of the public mind in the second half of the nineteenth century. Kantian metaphysics and the religiosity of Fichte and Schelling could not possibly dominate the mind during an epoch which was marked by a sudden blossoming forth of knowledge of nature and of cosmic life, --- an epoch linked with the names of Darwin, Joule, Faraday, Helmholtz, Claude-Bernard, and others in science, and of Comte in philosophy. Positivism, or as they prefer to call it in Germany, Realism, was the natural outcome of this revival and of the success of natural science after half a century of accumulating of scientific data.
But Jodl points out in Feuerbach's philosophy a certain peculiarity in which he sees "the secret of the success of the realistic movement" in Germany. This was the "purified and deepened intepretation of will and its manifestations," as contrasted with the "abstract and pedantic interpretation of morality by the idealistic school."
This latter school theoretically explained the highest moral manifestations of will by something external, and the "eradication of these misconceptions, effected bty Schopenhauer and Beneke, and secured by Feuerbach, constitutes an epoch in German ethics."
"If," says Feuerbach, "every ethics has for its object human will and its relations, it mus be necessarily added that there can be no will where there is no urge; and where there is no urge toward happiness there can be no urge whatsoever. The impusle toward happiness is the urge of urges; whereever existence is bound up with will, desire and the desire for happiness are inseparable, in fact, even identical. I want, means that I do not want suffering, I do not want annihilation, but that I want to survive and to prosper. ... Morality without happin ess is like a word without meaning."
This interpretation of morality naturally produced a complete revolution in German thought. But as Jodl remarks, "Feuerbach himself linked this revolution with the names of Locke, Malebrance, and Helvétius" For the thinkers of Western Europe this interpretation of the moral sense presented nothing new, although Feurbach expressed it in a form that gained it wider currency than fell to the lot of earlier eudemonists.
As regards the question how the egoistic striving of an individual for personal happiness becomes converted into its "apparent opposite -- into self-restraint and into activity for the good of others," the explanation offered by Feuerbach really explains nothing. It simply repeats the question, but in the form of an assertion. "Unquestionably," says Feuerbach, "the basic principle of morality is happiness, yet not happiness concentrated in one person, but extending to various persons, embracing me and thee, i.e., not a one-sided, but a two or many-sided happiness." This, however, is not a solution. The problem of moral philosophy consists of finding an explanation of why the feelings and thoughts of man take such a turn that he is capable of feeling and thinking in terms of the interests of others, or even of all men, as of his own interests. Is this an inherent instinct, or is it a judgment of our reason, which weighs its interests, identifies them with the interests of others, and which later becomes a habit? Or is it an unconscious feeling which, as the individualists assert, should be resisted? And finally, whence originated this strange sense --- not exactly consciousness and not really emotion --- of obligation, of duty, this identification of one's own interests with the interests of all?
These are the questions with which ethics has been conceerned from the time of Ancient Greece, and to which it supplies most contradictory answers: vis: --- revelation from above; egoism, rationally understood; the herd instinct; fear of punishment in the life to come; reasoning; rash impulse, etc. And Feuerbach could offer no new or satisfactory answer to these questions.
Jodl, who takes so sympathetic an attitude toward Feuerbach, points out that "there is obviously a gap in Feuerbach's exposition. He fails to show that the contraposition between me and thee is not a contraposition between two persons, but between the individual and society," 20 But even this remark still leaves the questions unanswered and they remain in all their force.
This omission, continues Jodl, was made good by Knapp's "System of the Philosophy of Law." Knapp definitely represented the interests of the clan as the logical starting point in the moral process.21 And the rational value of morality increases in proportion as man identifies himself and his interests with an ever larger group of people, and finally with humanity as a whole. Knapp thus returned to the instinct of sociality, which was already understood by Bacon as a stronger and a more permanently active instinct than that of personal gratification.
Those who wish to gain a closer acquaintance with Feuerbach's ethics are referred to his easily readable works, based on observation of life and not on abstract assumptions, and full of valuable thoughts. Jodl's excellent exposition may be also recommended. I shall merely refer, by way of conclusion, to Feuerbach's explanation of the distinction between tendencies (egoistic as well as social) and duty, and to the significance of this distinction in ethics. The fact that native propensity and the sense of duty often contradict each other does not mean that they are inevitably antagonistic and must so remain. On the contrary, all moral education strives to eliminate this contradiction, and even when a man risks his life for the sake of what he considers his duty, he feels that though action may lead to self-annihilation -- inaction will unquestionably be a moral-annihilation. But here we are already leaving the realm of simple justice and are entering into the region of the third member of the moral trilogy, and of that I shall speak later. I will simply note one of Feuerbacvh's definitions which approaches very closely the conception of justice: "Moral will is a will that does not wish to inflict evil, because it does not wish to suffer evil."
The fundamental problem of Feuerbach's philosophy is the establishment of a proper attitude of philosophy towards religion. His negative attitude towards religion is well known. But while endeavoring to free humanity from the domination of religion, Feuerbach, like Comte, did not lose sight of the causes of its origin and its influence on the history of mankind, --- the influence which should under no circumstances be forgotten by those who, assuming a scientific attitude, wage a battle against religion and superstition embodied in the Church and in its temporal alliance with the State. The revelation on which religion rests, taught Feuerbach, does not originate from a Deity, but is an expression of vague feelings of what is useful for the human race as a whole. Religious ideals and prescriptions express the ideals of mankind, and it is desirable that the individual should be guided by these ideals in his relations with his fellow-men. This thought is perfectly true, for otherwise no religion could have acquired the power that religions wield over men. But we must not forget that the wizards, the sorcerers, the shamans, and the clergy up to our own time, have been adding to the fundamental religious and ethical prescriptions a whole superstructure of intimidating and superstitious conceptions. Among these should be included the duty of submitting to the inequalities of class and caste, upon which the whole social structure was being erected, and which the representatives of the Church undertook to defend. Every State constitutes an alliance of the rich against the poor, and of the ruling classes, i.e., the military, the lawyers, the rulers, and the clergy, against those goverened. And the clergy of all religions, as an active member of the State alliance, never failed to introduce into the "clan ideals" such recommendations and commands as best served the interest of the State alliance, i.e., the privileged classes.
2 Dissertation on the progress of ethical philosophy, in the first volume of the Encyclopædia Britannica, (8th edition). Later this work was repeatedly reprinted as a separate edition. [Edinburgh, 1830.]
3Godwin, Inquiry concerning Political Justice and its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness, 2 vols., London, 1793. Under fear of the persecutions- to which Godwin's friends, the republicans, were subjected, the anarchistic tic and communistic assertions of Godwin were omitted from the second edition. 4[Dugald Stewart, Outlines of Moral Philosophy, 1793; Philosophy of the active and moral powers, 1828.]-Trans. Note.
5[London, 1789; second edition, London, 1823.]-Trans. Note.
6[Bentham also includes a seventh criterion,-"purity, or the chance it has of not being followed by sensations of the opposite kind: that is, pain if it be pleasure; pleasure, if it be pain." (Intro., etc., Ed. of 1907, Chapter IV, page 30).]-Trans. Note.
7The first edition of Deontology appeared in 1834, in two volumes. [London; Edinburgh.]
8Guyau, La Morale anglaise contemporaine [Paris, 1879, 2nd. edition, rev. and aug., 1885.]-Trans. Note.
9 Utilitarianism appeared in 1861 in "Fraser's Magazine," and in 1863 in book form.
10It is necessary to add that in developing Bentham's ideas John Stuart Mill introduced a great deal of new matter. Bentham, for example, in expounding his utilitarian theory of morality, had in mind only the quantity of good, and accordingly he called his theory "moral arithmetic," whereas Mill introduced into utilitarianism a new element,-quality, and thereby laid the bases of moral æsthetics. Mill classified pleasures into higher and lower, into those worthy of preference, and unworthy of it. That is why he said that "a discontented (unhappy) Socrates, is higher in moral regard than a contented pig." To feel oneself a man is to be conscious of one's inner value, to feel one's dignity, and in judging various actions man should keep in mind the duty imposed upon him by human dignity. Here Mill already rises above narrow utilitarianism and indicates broader bases of morality than utility and pleasure. [Note by Lebedev, the Russian Editor.]
11In former times, when peasant serfdom prevailed, i.e., when slavery existed, a large majority of landlords-really slave-owners, would not for a moment permit the thought that their serfs were endowed with just as "elevated and refined" feelings as their own. Hence it was considered a great merit in Turgeniev, Grigorovich, and others, that they succeeded in planting in the landlords' hearts the thought that the serfs were capable of feeling exactly like their owners. Before their time such an admission would have been regarded as a belittling, a debasement of the lofty "gentlemen's" feelings. In England, also, among a certain class of individuals, I met with a similar attitude toward the so-called "hands," i. e., the factory workers, miners, etc.-although the English "county," (administrative unit), and the church "parish" have already done much to eradicate such class arrogance.
From : Anarchy Archives
No comments so far. You can be the first!
<< Last Work in Ethics: Origin and Development
Current Work in Ethics: Origin and Development
Next Work in Ethics: Origin and Development >>
All Nearby Works in Ethics: Origin and Development