Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

senses and on the disposition and nature of man. Æsthetics was therefore a branch of Philosophy that would naturally interest them. English æsthetic philosophers begin by inquiring into the impression which the contemplation of a thing produces in us, and then try to arrive at conclusions as to the qualities an object must possess so as to produce such an æsthetic effect.

Locke, Cudworth, Home, Hogarth, Burke, Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, and Reid are the philosophers who have developed theories in this branch of philosophic inquiry. In Germany, after Winckelmann, Lessing, and Herder, Kant, in his “ Critique of Pure Reason,” maintained that we must first investigate not the essence of the Beautiful but our own individual judgment and taste. It was also Kant who first observed, as has already been pointed out, that the æsthetic pleasure must be a disinterested one. The poet Fr. Schiller developed Kant's theories. He first held that the sense of beauty is limited to man only. This theory has, however, been proved a fallacy by modern science of evolution. Schiller's second idea that the origin of art is to be found in the tendency for play has recently been treated at large. Hegel, Schelling, Schopenhauer, and Fechner in Germany, Taine in France, Ruskin in England, Heiberg in Denmark, and Bielinsky in Russia, are names that can only be mentioned in this treatise.

CHAPTER VII

ETHICS

§ 1. Whilst Psychology proper only considers man as he is and his thoughts and actions as they are, Ethics deals with questions of how he ought to be, how he should act, how shape and form his life. Man is endowed with many faculties and powers, he has many inclinations and desires, many and various are his wants. He is not only an ever-acting being, always engaged in doing something, but he is also a free agent. He is entirely master of his own actions. He can regulate his will and actions in any way he pleases. He can behave towards his fellow-men as he pleases. He can help or harm them. With regard to himself, he can be industrious or lazy, he can work or enjoy himself. But volition and action in man imply an aim; without an aim or purpose volition is impossible. Ethics therefore asks, What ought to be the aim and purpose of man which he is striving to attain by his actions, and towards which he directs his will ? That wonderful power of thought which enables man to investigate and inquire into his essence, enables him to ask for and find the aim of his existence, to establish rules and laws for his conduct and actions, to consider some of them as good and others as bad. In order to find these rules he must think, and the totality of these thoughts is called the science of Ethics. It is therefore the study that inquires into the sources and motives, aims and laws of our actions. It deals with voluntary human actions and their sources, with moral judgments, sentiments, and their manifestations in life.

§ 2. What are the motives that prompt us to act thus and not otherwise in certain circumstances? Whence do we derive the knowledge of good and evil, and whither does this knowledge tend to lead us? To these questions Ethics gives the answers. There appears to be in us a voice that seems to tell us how we should act, what is right or wrong, what is good or bad, what is advantageous and disadvantageous, what is moral and what is immoral. This voice is called conscience. It is a sort of innate feeling, independent of outside authority. Long before the problems of morality were philosophically treated, the moral sense existed and impelled men to act in certain ways. It had its roots either in the innate feelings, in the religious conceptions, or in the decisions of a group of men who, from motives of practical interest, made certain regulations for the common welfare. It was a sort of conventional morality, and owed its origin to practical interest, subject to outside law. The regulations became sanctioned by usage and afterwards obligatory. They developed into customs and habits, which it was moral' to observe and immoral to infringe. “Custom,” says Th. Ziegler in “ Social Ethics,” “is the established conformity of arbitrarily determined actions, developed in a certain circle, especially in a racial or natural community, in a rank or clan of society, to infringe which becomes an offence against morality, to exercise it a virtue.”

§ 3. After having arranged, collected, and classified the customs and habits of nations, Moral Philosophy, as a science, not content with mere facts, asks the Whence, Why, and Whither.

It first explains the customs and regulations, examines them and approves or condemns them. Hence also the term Ethics, from the Greek word ņOıká, derived from noos =character. Just as languages existed before grammar had begun to establish rules, so moral data existed before philosophical investigations of morality.

| Ethics, however, has also the same reference to the externals of custom or usage from the Greek word člos, custom, which is equivalent to the Latin mos, pl. mores, a custom or habit.

Proceeding from these moral data the science tried to establish rules by which actions should be guided.

Ethics therefore, as distinguished from theoretical Philosophy, which merely inquires into what is, has been, and will be, is also practical Philosophy, trying to determine what ought to be. It is the science of human conduct and of human habit.

§ 4. Even superficial reflection on the slightest experience suffices to teach us that man must not only act as he wishes and wills, or as he can, but that, on the contrary, he must very often refrain from doing what he pleases himself, that he must “ submit his will to the will of others,” that he must therefore regulate his volition and shape it according to circumstances.

The history of nations shows us also that men have had and still have diverse opinions as to what is good or bad, moral or immoral. An action is good in one case and bad in another, it is moral in a certain locality or at a certain time, whilst it will be condemned at another time and in a different locality. Ethics, therefore, has to define the concepts of Good and Bad, to investigate whether they change and evolve with time, or whether there are certain immutable moral concepts for all ages and all men.

§ 5. To sum up. Ethics furnishes us with a clear consciousness of our moral life, establishes and fixes the means of testing the validity of moral ideas embodied in customs that have prevailed and still prevail, helps us to grasp the ultimate principles, to justify, correct, or cast aside regulations, and find the standard of morality which will enable us to judge and guide our inclinations and actions. Its object is not only to understand human strivings, modes of conduct and their effects upon life, but also to guide and influence the human will, to discover the moral raison đétre, to determine the value of things in so far as they depend upon our will, and to advise us how to mould and shape our life, how to fashion our deeds so as to realise the ideals of life for our own good, welfare, and perfection, and for those of our fellow-men. The reader will remember that in the introductory chapter I said: “ The truth gained (by philosophical speculation) is not confined to the death-kingdom of abstract speculation, but ultimately applies to real, practical life.” I therefore add here, in the words of Professor Paulsen in his “System of Ethics,” that “the ultimate aim impelling men to meditate upon the nature of the universe will always be the desire to reach some conclusion concerning the meaning, the source, and the goal of their own lives. The origin and aim of all Philosophy is consequently to be sought in Ethics.”

§ 6. It has been pointed out that Socrates had directed the attention of Greek thought to the study of man. Pre-Socratic Philosophy was directed towards the material world. Yet utterances containing moral reflections, rules for conduct and life, clothed in the garb of proverbs and aphorisms, are scattered throughout the works of the poets. In fact, the moral sense begins in Greece with poetry. The poets were—as Paul Janet, the French philosopher has pointed out-the first theologians of the Greek religion, and were also the first preachers. Speculation proper upon moral truths, in Western thought, only began with Plato and Aristotle, especially with Aristotle. But neither of them had invented morality. Long before them the human mind had learned to judge one action thus and another otherwise, to distinguish between good and bad, moral and immoral deeds. The power of reflection merely tried to collect the data and facts and inquired after the motives and reasons. Why was it wrong to kill and steal, why immoral to tell a lie, and moral to be truthful ?

Greek Moral Philosophy or Ethics starts from the view that there must be a highest good after which man is striving, a good desired for itself, not as a means for the attainment of something else, a good obtainable by human action, and in view of which this action should be regulated. This good is happiness (eudaimonia), which is aimed at in conduct as the ultimate purpose, and to which all other purposes are subordinated. Hence the term Eudæmonism, or the theory that “ happiness is the chief good for man and the ethical end of his conduct.” Having admitted that the greatest individual happiness is the highest good, Greek moral philosophers then ask : What is the greatest individual happiness, and what are

« AnteriorContinuar »