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- A Handbook of Ethical Theory - 40/52 -


"subjectively" right and yet "objectively" wrong. The man's character may be such that it is, on the whole, to be approved by the Rational Social Will. He may be animated by the desire to adjust himself to that will. And yet, the accident of ignorance, the accident of prejudice not recognized by himself as such, may lead him to do what he thinks right and what those more enlightened recognize to be wrong.

141. ITS SOLUTION OF CERTAIN DIFFICULTIES.--Perhaps it would be better for me to give this section a heading more nearly like the last. I aim only to give the reader a point of view from which he can approach the problem of a solution.

Take the problem which has come up before in the form of the distribution of pleasures. [Footnote: See Sec 109.] He who dwells, not so much upon pleasure, as upon the satisfaction of desire and will, must state it differently, but the problem is much the same. What degree of recognition should be given to the will of each individual, or to the separate volitions and desires in the life of the individual? Should everybody count for one? Should every desire or group of desires receive recognition? Is no distinction to be made in the intensity of desires? And how many individuals shall we include in our reckoning?

Light seems to be shed upon this complicated problem or set of problems when we hold clearly before ourselves what the task of reason is in regulating the life of man individually and collectively. Its function is to bring order out of chaos and strife; to substitute harmony and planfulness for accident; to introduce long views in the place of momentary impulses; to prevent the barter of permanent good for a mess of pottage.

Reason must accept the impulses and instincts of man as it finds them, and do what it can with them. It cannot ignore them. Slowly, civilizations, to some degree rational, have come into being. In so far as they are rational, they are justified. Keeping all this in view we may say, tentatively:

(a) The principle, "everybody to count for one, and nobody for more than one," must be interpreted as an expression of the conviction that no will should be _needlessly_ sacrificed.

Reason is bodiless, except as incorporated in human societies, and these must have their historic development. Can we do away with the special claims of family, of neighborhood, of the state? They have their place in the historic rational order. But the whispered "everybody to count for one" may help us to realize that such special claims cannot take the place of all others.

(b) Shall a deliberate attempt be made to enlarge the circle of those who are to share in the social will, not merely by diminishing the number of deaths, but by promoting the number of births? States have attempted it often enough. I can only say that, if this be attempted, it should not be attempted in ways that ignore the historical development of society, with its social and moral traditions.

(c) Why not justify our attitude toward the brutes by maintaining that they have, theoretically, rights to recognition, in so far as such recognition does not interfere with the rights of man in the rational social order? The brutes outnumber us, to be sure. We are in a hopeless minority. But were this minority sacrificed, there would be no rational social order at all--no right, no wrong; nothing but the clash of wills or impulses which reason now strives to harmonize as it can. [Footnote: See chapter xxi]

(d) When we turn to the problem of the distribution of satisfactions in the life of the individual, we find ready to hand a variety of unwise saws--"A short life and a merry one," and the like.

How should the individual choose his satisfactions? Merely from the standpoint of the individual? What is _desirable_? Not _desired_, by this man or by that, but _desirable, reasonable_?

It is an open secret that the house of mirth lacks every convenience demanded of a permanent residence, and that those who breathlessly pursue pleasure are seldom pleased. Nor do men, when they stop to think, want their lives to be very short.

And, in any case, this question of the distribution of satisfactions in the life of the individual does not concern the individual alone. Is the man who wants a short life and a merry one an "undesirable" from the standpoint of the Rational Social Will? Then he should be suppressed. The manner of distribution of even his own personal satisfactions is not his affair exclusively. Every ordered society has its notions touching the type of man which suits its ends.

(e) But shall we, in making up our minds about the "satisfaction on the whole" which busies the rational individual or the rational community, take no account at all of the intensity of pleasures and of pains, the eagerness with which some things are desired and the feebleness of the impulsion toward others? May not the intense thrill of a moment more than counterbalance "four lukewarm hours?" Are we not, if we take such things into consideration, back again face to face with something very like the calculus of pleasures--that bugbear of the egoist and of the utilitarian?

It would be foolish to maintain that man, either individually or collectively, places all desires upon the same level. No man of sense holds that every desire should count as one. On the other hand, no man of sense pretends to have any accurate unit of measurement by which he can make unerring estimates of desirability.

Fortunately, he is not compelled to fall back upon such a unit. Even if he was born yesterday, the race was not. He is born into a system of values expressed in social organization and social institutions. It is the resultant of innumerable expressions of preference on the part of innumerable men. It is a general guide to what, on the whole, man wants.

It is, then, foolish for him to raise such questions as, whether it is not better to aim at intense happiness on the part of the few, to the utter ignoring of the mass of mankind. Such questions the Rational Social Will has already answered in the negative.

142. THE CULTIVATION OF OUR CAPACITIES.--Finally, we may approach the question whether it is reasonable to awake dormant desires, to call into being new needs; which, satisfied, may be recognized as a good, but which, unsatisfied, may result in unhappiness. [Footnote: Compare chapter xxi, Sec 86.]

A little cup may be filled with what leaves a big one half empty. It is easy to find grounds upon which to congratulate the "average" man. All the world caters to him--ready-made clothing is measured to fit his figure, and it is sold cheap; the average restaurant consults his taste and his pocket; the average woman just suits him as a help-mate; he is much at home with his neighbors, most of whom diverge little from the average. Why strive to rise above the average--and fall into a divine discontent?

May one not say much the same of a community? Why should it strive to attain to new conquests, to awaken in its members new wants and strain to satisfy them? Does it seem self-evident that it is reasonable, in general, to multiply desires with no guarantee of their satisfaction?

I know no way of approaching the solution of this problem save from the standpoint of the Rational Social Will. We are confronted with the general problem of the desirability of civilization, with all that that implies. The life of man in some rather primitive societies has seemed in certain respects rather idyllic. The eating of the fruit of the tree, and the consequent opening of the eyes, has, time and again, seemed to result in disaster.

But was the idyllic life not an accidental thing, due to a fortuitous combination of circumstances, rather than to man's intelligent control of a larger environment? Civilization of some sort seems inevitable. Have we any other guarantee that we can make it, in the long run, rational, than a many-sided development of man's capacities? And must we not exercise a broad faith in the value of enlightenment, increase of knowledge, farsightedness, the cultivation of complex emotions, even at the risk of some waste of effort and some suffering to certain individuals?

Perhaps this is as good a place as any to say a word about the significance of the terms "higher" and "lower," when used in a moral sense. We have seen that John Stuart Mill made much of the distinction in his utilitarianism. Bentham appears to sin against the enlightened moral judgment in holding that, quantities of pleasure being the same, "push- pin is as good as poetry."

When we realize that the worth of things may be determined from the standpoint of the Rational Social Will, we can easily understand that some occupations and their accompanying pleasures should be rated higher than others, however satisfactory the latter may seem to certain individuals. It is not unreasonable to rate the pleasure of scientific discovery as higher than the pleasure of swallowing an oyster; and that, without following Bentham in falling back upon a quantitative standard, or following Mill in maintaining that pleasures, as pleasures, differ in kind. [Footnote: See chapter xxv, Sec 107.]

CHAPTER XXXI

THE MORAL LAW AND MORAL IDEALS

143. DUTIES AND VIRTUES.--We saw, at the very beginning of this volume [Footnote: Chapter i, Sec 2.] that a single moral law, so abstractly stated as to cover the whole sphere of conduct, must be something so vague and indeterminate as to be practically useless as a guide to action. The admonition, "do right," does not mean anything in particular to the man who is not already well instructed as to what, in detail, constitutes right action. Nor do we make ourselves more intelligible, when we say to him "be good."

It seems to mean something more when we say "act justly" or "be just"; "speak the truth," or "be truthful." And the more we particularize, the more we help the individual confronted with concrete problems--the only problems with which life actually confronts us.

This is as it should be. Duties and virtues are expressions of the Rational Social Will, and that will is a mere abstraction except as it is incorporated, with a wealth of detail, in human societies. It would be hard for the small boy to classify, under any ten commandments, the innumerable company of the "don'ts" which he hears from his mother during the course of a week. He can leave such work to the moralist. But he is receiving an education in the moral law, as an expression of the social will, through the whole seven days.

If we wish, we can emphasize the _moral law_, and dwell upon the _duties_ of man. On the other hand, we may lay stress upon the _virtues_, and point to _ideals_. The Greek made much of the virtues; the Christian moralist had more to say of man's duties. In the end, there need be little discrepancy in the results. I make the same


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