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- A Handbook of Ethical Theory - 4/52 -
6. THE CODES OF COMMUNITIES: THE COMMON GOOD.--Nor are the facts which confront us less perplexing when we turn to that "regard to the common good" which Butler finds to be acknowledged and enforced by the primary and fundamental laws of all civil constitutions. Whether we look at the past or view the present, whether we study primitive communities or confine ourselves to civilized nations, we see that common good is not, apparently, conceived as the good of all men, however much the words "justice" and "humanity" may be upon men's lips.
Has any modern state as yet succeeded in incorporating in its civil constitution such provisions as will ensure to all classes of its subjects any considerable share in the common good? Slaves and animals, said Aristotle, have no share in happiness, nor do they live after their own choice. [Footnote: _Politics_, iii, 9.] The pervading unrest of the modern economic community is due to the widespread conviction that the existing organization of society does not sufficiently make for the happiness of all. Some states with a high degree of culture have not even made a pretence of having any such aim. They have deliberately legislated for the few. [Footnote: The "citizens" of the ancient Greek state were a privileged class who legislated in their own interest. Let the reader look into Plato's _Laws_ and Aristotle's _Politics_ and see how inconceivable the cultivated Greek found what is now the ideal of a modern democracy. "Citizens" should own landed property, and work it by slaves, barbarians and servants. They should not be "ignoble" mechanics or petty traders. Compare the spirit of Froissart's _Chronicles_, in the Middle Ages. See what Bryce (_South America_, New York, 1918, chapters xi and xv) says about the position of the Negro in our Southern states, and of the Indians in South American republics.]
Even where the avowed aim is the common good of all, states have assumed that some must be sacrificed for others. Certain individuals are selected to die in the trenches in the face of the enemy, that others may be guaranteed liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Grotius, the famous jurist of the seventeenth century, has been criticized for holding that a beleaguered town might justly deliver up to the enemy a small number of its citizens in order to purchase immunity for the rest. How far do the cases differ in principle? "Among persons variously endowed," wrote Hegel, "inequality must occur, and equality would be wrong." [Footnote: Hegel, _The Philosophy of Right_, translated by Dyde, London, 1896, p. 56.] Commonwealths of many degrees of development have recognized inequalities of many sorts, and have treated their subjects accordingly.
"For diet," said Bentham with repellent frankness, "nothing but self- regarding affection will serve." Benevolence he considered a valuable addition "for a dessert." He had in mind the individual, and he did injustice to individuals in certain of their relations. But how do things look when we turn our attention to the relations between states? Does any state actually make it a practice to treat its neighbor as itself? Would its citizens approve of its doing so?
The Roman was compelled to formulate a _jus gentium_, a law of nations, to deal with those who held, to him, a place beyond the pale of law as he knew it. [Footnote: See SIR HENRY MAINE, _Ancient Law_, chapter iii.] Many centuries have elapsed since pagan philosophers taught the brotherhood of man, and since Christian divines began to preach it with passionate fervor. Yet civilized nations today are still seeking to find a _modus vivendi_, which may put an end to strife and enable them to live together. The _jus gentium_, or its modern equivalent, is, alas! still in its rudiments.
To obviate misunderstanding at this point, it is well to state that, in adducing all the above facts, I do not mean to argue that it is abnormal and an undesirable thing that the scales of justice should, at times, be weighted in divers ways. I am not maintaining that the distribution of common good should proceed upon the principle of strict impartiality. What is possible and is desirable in this field is not something to be decided off-hand. But the facts suffice to illustrate the truth that the discrepancies to be found in the codes of different communities can scarcely be dismissed as unimportant details. They are something far too significant for that.
THE CODES OF THE MORALISTS
7. THE MORALISTS.--If, from the codes, or the more or less vague bodies of opinion, which have characterized different communities, we turn to the moralists, we find similar food for thought.
But who are the moralists? Can we put into one class those who preach a short-sighted selfishness or a calculating egoism and those who urge upon us the law of love? Those who recommend a contempt of mankind, and those who inculcate a reverence for humanity? Those who incline to leave us to our own devices, telling us to listen to conscience, and those who draw up for us elaborate sets of rules to guide conduct? The histories of ethics are rather tolerant in herding together sheep and goats. And not without reason. Those whom they include have been in a sense the spokesmen of their fellows. Their words have found an echo in the souls of many. They are concerned with a rule of life, and their rule of life, such as it is, rests upon some principle which has impressed men as being not wholly unreasonable.
In taking a glance at what they have to offer us, I shall not go far afield, and shall exercise a brevity compatible with the purpose of mere illustration. To the moralists of ancient Greece, and, to a lesser degree, to those of the Roman Empire, to the Christian teachers who succeeded to their heritage in the centuries which followed, and to the more or less independent thinkers who made their appearance after the Reformation, we can trace our ethical pedigree. For our purpose we need seek no wider field. Here we may find sufficiently notable contrasts of opinion to disturb the dogmatic slumber of even an inert mind. The most cursory glance makes us inclined to accept with some reserve Stephen's claim that "the difference between different systems is chiefly in the details and special application of generally admitted principles."
8. EPICUREAN AND STOIC.--Thus, Aristippus of Cyrene advised men to grasp the pleasure of the moment rather than to await the more uncertain pleasure of the future; but he also counselled, for prudential reasons, the avoidance of a conflict with the laws. Such advice takes cognizance of the self-love of the individual, and is not self-love reasonable? Nevertheless, such advice might be given by a discouraged criminal of a reflective turn of mind, on his release from prison, to a comrade not yet chastened by incarceration. Epicurus praises temperance and fortitude, but only as measures of prudence. He praises justice, but only in so far as it enables us to escape harm, and frees us from that dread of discovery that haunts the steps of the evil-doer. His more specific maxims, do not fall in love with a woman, become the father of a family, or, generally, go into politics, smack strongly of the rule of life recommended to Feuillet's hero, Monsieur de Camors, by his worldly-wise and cynical father.
Contrast with these men the Stoics, whose rule of life was to follow Nature, and to eschew the pursuit of pleasure. Man's nature, said Epictetus, is social; wrongdoing is antisocial; affection is natural. [Footnote: _Discourses_, Book I, chapter xxiii--a clever answer to Epicurus.] Said Marcus Aurelius, it is characteristic of the rational soul for a man to love his neighbor. The cautious bachelor imbued with Epicurean principles would find strange and disconcerting the Stoic position touching citizenship: "My nature is rational and social; and my city and country, so far as I am Antoninus, is Rome, but so far as I am a man, it is the world. The things then which are useful to these cities are alone useful to me." [Footnote: _Thoughts_, Book VI, 44; translated by GEORGE LONG.]
9. PLATO; ARISTOTLE; THE CHURCH.--No more famous classification of the virtues--those qualities of character which it is desirable for a man to have, and which determine his doing what it is desirable that he should do--has ever been drawn up than that offered us by Plato: Wisdom, Courage, Temperance and Justice. [Footnote: For PLATO's account of the virtues see the _Republic_, Book IV, and the _Laws_, Book I.] It is interesting to lay beside it the longer list drawn up by Aristotle, and to compare both with that which commended itself to the mind of the mediaeval churchman.
With Aristotle, the virtues are made to include: [Footnote: _Ethics_; I refer the reader to the admirable exposition and criticism by SIDGWICK, _History of Ethics_, London, 1896, chapter ii, Sec 10-12; compare ZELLER, _Aristotle and the Earlier Peripatetics_, English translation London, 1897, Volume II, chapter xii.]
Wisdom High-mindedness Justice Ambition Courage Gentleness Temperance Friendliness Liberality Truthfulness Magnificence Decorous Wit
and it is suggested that, although scarcely a virtue, a sense of shame is becoming in youth.
We find the Christian teachers especially recommending: [Footnote: See SIDGWICK'S sympathetic account of the Churchman's view of the virtues, _loc_. _cit_., chapter iii.]
Obedience Patience Benevolence Purity Humility Alienation from the "World" Alienation from the "Flesh"
and their lists of the "deadly sins" they select from the following:
Pride Arrogance Anger Gluttony Unchastity Envy Vain-Glory Gloominess Languid Indifference.
Could there be a more striking contrast than that between the mediaeval code and those of the great Greek thinkers? Plato recommended as virtues certain general characteristics of character much admired by the Greek of his day. Aristotle accepted them and added to them. He has painted much more in detail the gifts and graces of a well-born and well-situated
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