Schulers Books Online

books - games - software - wallpaper - everything


Books Menu

Author Catalog
Title Catalog
Sectioned Catalog


- Problems of Conduct - 20/68 -

asceticism has its evil side.

(1) An overemphasis upon self-denial sacrifices unnecessarily the sweetness and richness of life, stunts it, distorts it, robs it of its natural fruition. The denial of any satisfaction is cruel except as it is necessary. Purity, carried to a needless extreme, became celibacy; the virtue of frugality became the vice of a starvation diet, producing the emaciated and weakened saints; the unworldliness which can be in the world but not of it was transformed into the morbidly lonely and futile isolation of the hermits. These are abnormal and undesirable perversions of human nature.

(2) A reaction from needless repression is almost inevitable. The attempt radically to alter and repress human nature is nearly always disastrous. Most of the ascetics had to pass their days in constant struggles against their temptations, and many of them recurrently lapsed into wild orgies of sin, the result of pent-up impulses denied their natural channels. Morality should be rather directive than repressive, using all of our energies for wise and noble ends, and overcoming evil with good. A merely negative morality implies the continual dwelling of attention upon sin and the continual rebellion of desire. It keeps the soul in a state of unstable equilibrium, and defeats its own ends.

R. B. Perry, Moral Economy, chap, II, secs, II, III; chap, III, secs, II, III, IV. F. Paulsen, System of Ethics, book III, chap. II. S. E. Mezes, Ethics, chap, X, XI, Dewey and Tufts, Ethics, chap, XVIII, secs. 1, 2, 4; chap, XIX, sees. 1, 2, 4. Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy, chap. IV. H. C. King, Rational Living, pp. 93-102. W. dew. Hyde, The Five Great Philosophies of Life, chaps, I-IV. H. Bashdall, Theory of Good and Evil, book II, chap. III.



DUTY, like charity, begins at home; and we need to take the motes out of our own eyes before we can see clearly how to help our fellows. To keep physically well, pure, and prudent, following worthy purposes and smothering unruly desires, is our first business; and there would be much less to do for one another if every one did his duty by himself.

But even with our best endeavors we need a helping hand now and then, and, indeed, are continuously dependent upon the work and kindness of others for all that makes life tolerable, or even possible. And the other side to this truth is that we are never free from the obligation of doing our duty squarely by those whose welfare is in some degree dependent upon us. No man can, if he would, live to himself alone; life is necessarily and essentially social. Personal and social duties are so inextricably interwoven that it is impossible except by an artificial abstraction to separate them. The cultivation of one's own health, for example, is a boon to the community; and to care for the community's health is to safeguard one's own. Every advance in personal purity, culture, or self-control increases the individual's value and diminishes his menace to his fellows; while every step in social amelioration makes life freer and more comfortable for him. So close- knit is society today that an indifference to sanitation in Asia or a religious persecution in Russia may produce disastrous results to some innocent and utterly indifferent individual in Massachusetts or California. On the other hand, there is no vice so solitary and so can widespread social results. [Footnote: Cf. George Eliot in Adam Bede: "There is no sort of wrong deed of which a man can bear the punishment alone. Men's lives are as thoroughly blended as the air they breathe; evil spreads as necessarily as disease."] Society has a vital interest in the personal life of its members, and every member, however self- contained he may be, has a vital interest in the general standards of morality. For purposes of analysis, however, it is convenient to make the distinction between the two aspects of morality, the governance of intra-human and of inter-human relations; the ordering of the single life and the ordering of the community life. Of the two the latter is even more imperative than the former, the arbitration of clashes between individuals even more difficult than the governing of the impulses within a single heart. We turn, therefore, to consider the problems involved in the general conception of social morality, which we may define as the direction of the action of each toward the greatest attainable welfare of all. Why should we be altruistic? That altruism (action directed toward others' welfare) is best for the community as a whole is obvious. In order to maintain his life in the face of the many obstacles that thwart and dangers that threaten him, man must present a solid front to the universe. All clashes of interest, friction, and civil strife, all withholding of help, means a weakening of his united forces, an invitation to disaster. And even where life becomes relatively secure and individualism possible, the greatest good for the greatest number is attainable only by continual cooperation and mutual sacrifice. So vital is it to each member of the community that selfishness and cruelty in others be repressed, that society cannot afford to leave at least the grosser forms of egoism unpunished. Men must enforce upon one another that mutual regard which individuals are constantly tempted to ignore, but without which no man's life can find its adequate fulfillment or security. No man, then, can be called moral, can be said to have found a comprehensive solution of life, however self-controlled and pure he may be, if he is cruel, or even lacking in consideration for others. This is the most glaring defect in both Epicureanism and asceticism; both are fundamentally selfish. For the proper adjustment of life to its needs we must turn rather to Christianity, or to Buddhism, with their ideals of service; to the patriotic ideals of the noblest Greeks; to Kant, with his "So act as to treat humanity, whether in their own person or in that of any other, as an end, never as a means only"; or to the British utilitarians with their "Every one to count for one, and only one." The question, however, persistently recurs, Why should the INDIVIDUAL be altruistic? What does HE get out of it? To this we may reply:

(1) The life of service is, in normal cases, a happier life in itself than the life that is preoccupied with self. It is richer, fuller in potentialities of joy; it is freer from regrets and the eventual emptiness of the self-centered life. [Footnote: Cf. Mill, Utilitarianism, chap. 2: "When people who are tolerably fortunate in their outward lot do not find in life sufficient enjoyment to make it valuable to them, the cause generally is, caring for nobody but themselves."] It is saner, less likely to be veered off on some tangent of morbid and ultimately disastrous indulgence

(2) The altruistic life earns the gratitude and love of others, while the selfish life remains isolated, unloved, without their stimulus and help. Ingratitude there is, of course, and the returning of evil for good; on the other hand, the selfish man may hope for undeserved forgiveness and even love from his fellows. But in the long run it pays to be good to others; bread cast upon the waters does return after many days; normally unkindness provokes dislike, contempt, open hostility, retaliation, while kindness finds a natural and proper reward in return favors, esteem, and affection. No man can tell when he will be in need of sympathy or of aid; it is folly so to live as to forfeit our fellows' good will. And finally, selfishness carried beyond a certain point brings the penalty not only of the unfavorable opinion and private retaliations of others, but of the publicly enforced law. "In normal cases," we have said. And we must add that there are cases though they are less common than we are apt to suppose in which the good of the individual is hopelessly at variance with that of the community. If our fellows could be counted on for a fair reciprocity of self-denial and service, we should not begrudge these necessary sacrifices. The sting lies not so much in the loss of personal pleasures as in the lack of appreciation and return; to do our part when others are not doing theirs takes, indeed, a touch of saintliness. Socrates drinking the hemlock, Jesus dying in agony on the cross, Regulus returning to be tortured at Carthage, were deliberately sacrificing their personal welfare for the good of other men. And in numberless ways a host of heroic men and women have practiced and are daily practicing unrewarded self-denial in the name of love and service, self-denial which by no means always brings a joy commensurate with the pain. These are the abnormal cases; but the abnormal is, after all, not so very uncommon. And for these men and women we must grieve, while we honor and admire them and hold them up for imitation. Society must insist on just such sacrifices when they are necessary for the good of the whole, and must so train its youth that they will be willing to make them when needful.

What is the exact meaning of selfishness and unselfishness?

Selfishness is the pursuance of one's own good at the expense of others. A mistaken idea, which it is necessary to guard against, is that selfishness must be conscious, deliberate. It is not uncommon for a person accused of selfishness to say, or think, "This is an unjust accusation; I have not had a selfish thought!" But unconscious selfishness is by far the commoner sort; millions of essentially good- hearted people are guilty of selfish acts through thoughtlessness and stagnant sympathy. Conscious cruelty is rare compared with moral insensibility. It cannot be too often repeated that selfishness is not a way of feeling about people, it is a way of acting toward them. To be wholly free from selfish conduct necessitates insight into the needs and feelings of others as well as a vague good will toward them. The girl who allows her mother to drudge that she may have immaculate clothes, the mother who keeps her son at home when he ought to be given the opportunity of a wider life, is conscious only of love; but she is really putting her own happiness before that of the loved one. The owner of the vilest tenement houses is sometimes a generous and benevolent-minded man, the luxuriously rich are often honest and glad to confer favors, the political boss is full of the milk of human kindness; but the superficial or adventitious altruism of such men should not blind us to their fundamental, though often entirely unrealized, selfishness. A complementary fallacy is that which denies the epithet "unselfish" to a man who enjoys helping others. Who has not heard the cynical remark, "There's nothing unselfish about So-and-So's benevolence that is his enjoyment in life!" Such a comment ignores the fact that the goal of moral progress lies precisely at the point where we shall all enjoy doing what it is our duty to do. Altruistic impulses are our own impulses, as well as egoistic ones; the distinction between them lies not in the pleasure they may give to their possessor, or the sacrifice they may demand, but in the objective results they tend to attain. Happy is the man whose DELIGHT is in the law of the Lord! Unselfish action is, in the broader sense, all action that is not selfish; in the narrower and positive sense, it is all action that tends to the welfare of others at the expense of the narrower interests of the individual.

Are altruistic impulses always right?

It would be an easy solution for our problems if we could say, "In every case follow the altruistic impulse." But this simplification is impossible; the ideal of service is not such an Open Sesame to our duty. And this for several reasons:

(1) There are frequently clashes between altruistic impulses. In fact, almost all moral errors have some unselfish impulse on their side which helps to justify them in the eyes of the sinner and his friends. The

Problems of Conduct - 20/68

Previous Page     Next Page

  1   10   15   16   17   18   19   20   21   22   23   24   25   30   40   50   60   68 

Schulers Books Home

 Games Menu

Dice Poker
Tic Tac Toe


Schulers Books Online

books - games - software - wallpaper - everything