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- Problems of Conduct - 4/68 -


What were the main causes that produced personal morality?

How did these germinal forms of courage, prudence, industriousness, etc, first come into existence? The answer to this question will also show what are the main underlying causes that promote these virtues today.

(1) They are in part due to certain organic needs and cravings which exist independently of the individual's environment. Hunger and thirst imperiously check the tendency to laziness, or heedlessness, and stimulate to industriousness and prudence. To this day the mere need of food and clothing and shelter is the main bulwark of these virtues. The acquisitive impulse, which is also rather early in appearance, has an increasing share in this sort of moralization. The craving for action, which is the natural result of abundant nervous and muscular energy, the combative instinct, the joy of conquest and achievement, and the sexual impulse, go far in counteracting cowardice and inertia. The artistic impulse, when it emerges in man, long before the dawn of history, makes against caprice for orderliness, self-control, and patience. Ambition is a potent force in human affairs. The desire for the approval of others, which is prehuman, makes for all the virtues.

(2) But in addition to these inward springs of morality there is the constant pressure of a hostile environment. Cold, storms, rivers that block journeys, forests that must be felled, treacherous seas that lure with promise and exact toll for carelessness, arouse men out of their torpor and aid the development of the virtues we have been considering. The necessity of rearing some sort of shelter makes against laziness for industry and perseverance. The dangers of wind or flood check heedlessness in the choice of location for the home and foster prudence and foresight. In the harsher climates man is more goaded by nature; hence more moral progress has, probably, been effected in the temperate than in the tropical zones.

(3) A third and very important source lies in the mutual hostility of the animal species and of men. Slothfulness and recklessness mean for the great majority of animals the imminent risk of becoming the prey of some stronger animal. Among tribes of men the ceaseless struggles for supremacy have pricked cowardice into courage, demanded self-control instead of temper, supplanted gluttony and drunkenness by temperance. Cruel as has been the suffering caused by war, and deplorable as most of its effects, it did a great deal in the early stages of man's history to promote the personal virtues, alertness, moderation, caution, courage, and efficiency.

In the latest stages of man's development, conscious regard for law and custom, the fear of gods, the explicit recognition of duty and conscience, and the direct pursuit of ideals-all the reflective considerations that we may lump together under the word "conscientiousness"-play their ever increasing part and complicate the psychological situation. But even in modern civilized man the underlying animal forces count for far more. And without them the later self-conscious forces would not have come into play at all. There is a small class of people who are dominated throughout their activities by consciously present ideals or obedience to religious injunctions. But the average man still acts mainly under the pressure of the more primitive forces which we have enumerated.

How far has the moralizing process been blind and how far conscious?

(1) To a very large extent the moralizing process has been a merely mechanical one. Through slight differences in nerve-structure individuals have varied a little in their response to the pressure of inward cravings and outward perils. The braver, the more prudent, the more industrious have had a better chance of survival. So by the process which we have come to call natural selection there has been a continual weeding-out of the relatively lazy, cowardly, reckless, and imprudent. Much of our morality is the result of tendencies thus long cultivated by the ruthless methods of nature; we inherit a complex nervous organization, the outcome of ages of molding and selection, which now instinctively and easily responds to stimuli with a certain degree of inbred morality. This is the case much more than is apparent upon the surface. The child seems very unmoral, the mere prey of passing impulses; but latent in his brain are many aptitudes and tendencies which will at the proper time ripen and manifest themselves. The period of adolescence is that during which the changes in mental structure which were effected during the later stages of evolution are being made in the mind of this new individual; he reenacts, as it were, in a few years, the history of the race, and emerges without any conscious effort, the possessor of the fruits of that long struggle of which he was always the heir.

(2) In all the later stages of animal evolution, however, moral development is largely conscious, or semi-conscious. Besides our inner inheritance of altered brain-paths there is a social inheritance of habits which each generation adopts by imitation of its predecessors. Without any deliberate intention, the young of every species imitate their parents, and then the older members of the flock or herd. "Suggestion" is said by some to be the chief means of moralization; we are brave or industrious because we see others practicing these virtues and naturally do as they do. At any rate, whichever are more important, the inherited tendencies or those acquired by contagion, both of these factors play a large part in the development of the individual's morals.

(3) The third method of moral development is that which we call "learning by experience." The pain or dissatisfaction which a wrong impulse brings in its train, the satisfaction which follows a moral act, are remembered, and recur with the recurrence of a similar situation, becoming perhaps the decisive factors in steering the animal or man toward his true welfare. Many animals quite low in the organic scale learn by experience; and though of course the degree of consciousness that accompanies these readjustments varies enormously, this method of moralization may be said to be always, like the preceding, a more or less conscious process. Learning by experience is subject, of course, to many mistaken judgments; the fallacy of post hoc propter hoc leads many learners to avoid perfectly innocent acts as supposedly involving some evil result with which they were once by chance connected; and the true causes of the evils are often overlooked. Even when dimly conscious readjustments become highly conscious deliberation, the results of that deliberation may be less forwarding morally than the unconscious and merciless grinding of natural selection.

More and more, of course, as men grew in power of reflection, did they consciously shape their morals; and this intelligent selection, which has as yet played a comparatively small role, is bound, as men become more and more rational, to supersede in importance the other factors in moral evolution. But in the later phases of evolution all three of these processes blend together; and it would be impossible for the keenest analyst to tell how much of his conduct was determined in each of these ways.

H. Spencer, Data of Ethics (also published as the first part of his Principles of Ethics), chap. I and chap. II, through sec. 4; or J. Fiske, Cosmic Philosophy, part II, chap, XXII, first half, to "We are now prepared to deal." L. T. Hobhouse, Morals in Evolution, part I, chap. I, secs. 1-4. I. King, Development of Religion, pp. 48-59 A great mass of concrete material will be found in E. Westermarck's Origin and Development of Moral Ideas, H. O. Taylor's Ancient Ideals, W. E. H. Leeky's History of European Morals.

CHAPTER II

THE ORIGIN OF SOCIAL MORALITY

How early was social morality developed?

By social morality we mean, concretely, such virtues as tender and fostering love, sympathy, obedience, subordination of selfish instincts to group-demands, the service of other individuals or of the group. These habits are later in development than some of the personal virtues, but long antedate the differentiation of man from the other animals. Instances of self-sacrificing devotion of parent to offspring among birds and beasts are too common to need mention. Devotion to the mate, though less developed, is early present in many species. The strict subordination of ants and bees to the common welfare is a well-known marvel, the latter enthusiastically and poetically described by Maeterlinck in his delightful Life of the Bees. The stern requirements of obedience to the unwritten laws of the herd, which make powerful so many species of animals individually weak, are graphically, though of course with exaggeration, set forth by Kipling in his Jungle Book. Many sorts of animals, such as deer and antelopes, might long ago have been exterminated but for their mutual cooperation and service. Affection and sympathy in high degree are evident in some sub-human species. When we come to man, we find his earliest recorded life based upon a social morality which, if crude, was in some respects stricter than that of today. It is a mistake to think of the savage as Rousseau imagined him, a freehearted, happy-go-lucky individualist, only by a cramping civilization bowed under the yoke of laws and conventions. Savage life is essentially group-life; the individual is nothing, the tribe everything. The gods are tribal gods, warfare is tribal warfare, hunting, sowing, harvesting, are carried on by the community as a whole. There are few personal possessions, there is little personal will; obedience to the tribal customs, and mutual cooperation, are universal. [Footnote: As an example of the solidarity of barbarous tribes, note how Abimelech, seeking election as king, says to "all the men of Shechem": "Remember that I am your bone and your flesh." (Judges IX, 2.) Later, "all the tribes of Israel" say to David, "Behold, we are thy bone and thy flesh." (2 Sam. V, 1.) Of savage life as observed in modern times we have many reports like this: "Many strange customs and laws obtain in Zululand, but there is no moral code in all the world more rigidly observed than that of the Zulus." (R. H. Millward, quoted by Myers, History as Past Ethics, p. 11.) Compare this: "A Kafir feels that the 'frame that binds him in' extends to the clan. The sense of solidarity of the family in Europe is thin and feeble compared to the full-blooded sense of corporate union of the Kafir clan. The claims of the clan entirely swamp the rights of the individual." (Kidd, Savage Childhood, p. 74.) An elaborate and stern social morality, then, long preceded verbally formulated laws; it was a matter of instinct and emotion long before it was a matter of calculation or conscience. The most primitive men acknowledge a duty to their neighbors; and the subsequent advance of social morality has consisted simply in more and more comprehensive answers to the questions, What is my duty? and Who is my neighbor? At first, the neighbor was the fellow tribesman only, all outsiders being deemed fair prey. Every member of the clan instinctively arose to avenge an injury to any other member, and rejoiced in triumphs over their common foes. We still have survivals of this primitive code in the Corsican vendettas and Kentucky feuds. With the growth of nations, the cooperative spirit came to embrace wider and wider circles; but even as yet there is little of it in international relations. The old double standard of morality persists in spite of the command to which we give theoretic allegiance-"Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies!" From the same lips came the final answer to the question,


Problems of Conduct - 4/68

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