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- A Handbook of Ethical Theory - 5/52 -
Greek gentleman as he conceived him. The personage would cut a sorry figure in the role of a mediaeval saint; the mediaeval saint would wear a tarnished halo if endowed with the Aristotelian virtues.
The one ideal, the Greek, breathes an air of self-assertion; the other one of self-abnegation. Benevolence, Purity, Humility and Unworldliness are not to be found in the former; Justice, Courage and Veracity appear to be missing in the latter. Wisdom, insight, has given place to the Obedience appropriate to a man clearly conscious of a Law, not man-made, to which man feels himself to be subject.
Indeed, the discrepancy between the ideals is such that Aristotle's virtuously high-minded man would have been conceived by the mediaeval churchman to be living in deadly sin, as the very embodiment of pride and arrogance. We find him portrayed as neither seeking nor avoiding danger, for there are few things about which he cares; as ashamed to accept favors, since that implies inferiority; as sluggish and indifferent except when stimulated by some great honor to be gained or some great work to be performed; as frank, for this is characteristic of the man who despises others; as admiring little, for nothing is great to him. His pride prevents him from harboring resentment, from seeking praise, and from praising others. This Nietzschean hero would attract attention upon any stage: "The step of the high-minded man is slow, his voice deep, and his language stately, for he who feels anxiety about few things is not apt to be in a hurry; and he who thinks highly of nothing is not vehement." [Footnote: _Ethics_, Book IV, chapter in, 19, translation by R. W. BROWNE, London, 1865.]
To be sure, virtues not on a given list may be found in, or read into, some of the writings of the man who presents it. It would be absurd to maintain that the mediaeval churchman had no regard for justice, courage and veracity, as he would define them, or that Plato and Aristotle were wholly deaf to the claims of benevolence. Nevertheless, the variations in the emphasis laid on this virtue or on that, or in the conception of what constitutes this virtue or that, may yield ideals of character and of conduct which bear but a slight family resemblance. Imagine St. Francis of Assisi lowering his voice, slowing his step, and cultivating "high- mindedness," or striving to make himself a pattern of decorous wit.
10. LATER LISTS OF THE VIRTUES.--The codes proposed by the moralists of a later time are numerous and widely scattering. It is impossible to do justice to them in any brief compass. A very few instances, selected from among those most familiar to English readers, must suffice to indicate the diversity of their nature.
Hobbes [Footnote: _Leviathan_, chapter xv.], deeply concerned to discover some _modus vivendi_ which should put a check upon strife between man and his fellow-man, and save us from a life "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short," recommends among other virtues:
Justice Equity Requital of benefits Sociability A moderate degree of forgiveness The avoidance of pride and arrogance.
Locke [Footnote: _Essay_, Book IV, chapter iii, Sec. 18; _Of Civil Government_, Book II, chapter ii.], who believes that moral principles must be intuitively evident to one who contemplates the nature of God and the relations of men to Him and to each other, thinks it worth while to set down such random maxims as:
No government allows absolute liberty. Where there is no property there is no injustice. All men are originally equal. Men ought not to harm one another. Parents have a right to control their children.
Hume, [Footnote: An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Sec 6, Part I] whose two classes of virtues comprise the qualities immediately agreeable or useful to ourselves and those immediately agreeable or useful to others, offers us an extended list. He puts into the first class:
Discretion Caution Enterprise Industry Frugality Economy Good Sense, etc. Temperance Sobriety Patience Perseverance Considerateness Secrecy Order, etc.
In the second class he includes:
Benevolence Justice Veracity Fidelity Politeness Wit Modesty Cleanliness.
Manifestly, the lists may be indefinitely prolonged. Why not add to the first class the pachydermatous indifference to rebuffs which is of such service to the social climber, and, to the second, taste in dress and the habit of not repeating stories?
Thomas Reid lays stress upon the deliverances of the individual conscience, when consulted in a quiet hour. Nevertheless he proposes five fundamental maxims: [Footnote: _On the Active Powers of Man_, Essay V, chapter i.]
We ought to exercise a rational self-love, and prefer a greater to a lesser good. We should follow nature, as revealed in the constitution of man. We should exercise benevolence. Right and wrong are the same for all in the same circumstances. We should venerate and obey God.
With such writers we may contrast the Utilitarians and the adherents of the doctrine of Self-realization, [Footnote: These will be discussed below, chapters xxv and xxvi.] who lay little stress upon lists of virtues or duties, but aim, respectively, at the greatest happiness of the greatest number, and at the harmonious development of the faculties of man, regarding as virtues such qualities of character as make for the attainment, in the long run, of the one or the other of these ends.
11. THE STRETCHING OF MORAL CONCEPTS.--The instances given suffice to show that the moralists speak with a variety of tongues. The code of one age is apt to seem strange and foreign to the men of another. Even where there is apparent agreement, a closer scrutiny often reveals that it has been attained by a process of stretching conceptions. Take for example the so-called "cardinal" virtues [Footnote: From _cardo_, a hinge. These virtues were supposed to be fundamental. The name given to them was first used by AMBROSE in the fourth century A.D. See SIDGWICK, _History of Ethics_, chap, ii, p. 44.] dwelt upon by Plato. The Stoics, who made use of his list, changed its spirit. Cicero stretches justice so as to make it cover a watery benevolence. St. Augustine finds the cardinal virtues to be different aspects of Love to God. The great scholastic philosopher of the thirteenth century, St. Thomas, places in the first rank the Christian graces of Faith, Hope and Charity, but still finds it convenient to use the Platonic scheme in ordering a list of the self- regarding virtues taken from Aristotle. Thus may the pillars of a pagan temple be utilized as structural units in, or embellishments of, a Christian church.
Our own age reveals the same tendency. Thomas Hill Green, the Oxford professor, follows Plato. But with him we find wisdom stretched to cover artistic creation; we see that courage and temperance have taken on new faces; and justice appears to be able to gather under its wings both benevolence and veracity. [Footnote: _Prolegomena to Ethics_, Book III, chapter iii, and Book IV, chapter v.] A still wider divergence from the original understanding of the cardinal virtues is that of Dewey, who conceives of them as "traits essential to all morality." He treats, under temperance, of purity and reverence; he makes courage synonymous with persistent vigor; he extends justice so as to include love and sympathy; he transforms wisdom into conscientiousness. [Footnote: DEWEY AND TUFTS, _Ethics_, pp. 404-423.]
This variation in the content of moral concepts may be illustrated from any quarter in the field of ethics. Cicero's circumspect "benevolence" advances the doctrine that "whatever one can give without suffering loss should be given even to an entire stranger." Among such obligations he reckons: to prohibit no one from drinking at a stream of running water; to permit anyone who wishes to light fire from fire; to give faithful advice to one who is in doubt; which things, as he naively remarks, "are useful to the receiver and do no harm to the giver." [Footnote: De Officiis, Book I, chapter xvi.]
Compare with this the admonition to love one's neighbor as oneself; Sidgwick's "self-evident" proposition that "I ought not to prefer my own lesser good to the greater good of another;" [Footnote: The Methods of Ethics, Book III, chapter xiii, Sec 3.] Bentham's utilitarian formula, "everybody to count for one, and nobody for more than one." The admonition, "be benevolent," may mean many things.
12. THE REFLECTIVE MIND AND THE MORAL CODES.--Even the cursory glance we have given above to the moral codes of different communities and those proposed by individual moralists must suffice to bring any thoughtful man to the consciousness that they differ widely among themselves, and that the differences can scarcely be dismissed as insignificant. A little reflection will suffice to convince him, furthermore, that to treat all other codes as if they were mere pathological variations from his own is indefensibly dogmatic.
On the other hand, the differences between codes should not be unduly emphasized. The core of identity is there, and, although in its bald abstractness it is not enough to live by, it is vastly significant, nevertheless. If there were not some congruity in the materials, they would never be brought together as the subject of one science. Unless "good," "right," "obligation," "approval," etc., or the rudimentary conceptions which foreshadow them in the mind of the most primitive human beings, had a core of identity which could be traced in societies the most diverse, there would be no significance in speaking of the enlightened morality of one people and the degraded and undeveloped morality of another. There could be no history of the development of the moral ideas. Collections of disparate and disconnected facts do not constitute a science, nor are they the proper subject of a history.
As a matter of fact, we all do speak of degraded moral conceptions, of a perverted conscience, of a lofty morality, of a fine sense of duty; we do
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