Ethics and education
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The following article, from A Cyclopedia of Education, edited by Paul Monroe, Ph.D. (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1911, vol. II, pp. 500-509), sketches "the important ethical ideas as they have appeared in history and influenced the minds and educational ideals of men." Its deficiencies — a Greco-Christian bias, a gendered diction, and perhaps an overly progressive vision — were deficiencies of its time. Its virtues — authoritative nuance, confident selectivity, and educative insight — are qualities to which to aspire in creating a 21st-century equivalent. robbie
- Frederick J. E. Woodbridge (Ph.D., LL.D., Professor of Philosophy, Columbia University)
Since good and evil are incident to life, and there are right and wrong ways of attaining good and avoiding evil, there is a natural incentive to morals. It would appear, therefore, that ethics — which is the attempt to give our interest in what is good and bad, right and wrong, the proportions of a science — would be chiefly concerned with the classification of natural goods and the discovery of the most efficient means of securing and disseminating them. But its problems have seldom been so naturally and so simply conceived. Instead of a primary interest in the classification of goods, ethical inquiry has shown much greater interest in such problems as the nature of the good, the relation of the good to the useful, the pleasant, and the desirable, and whether there is one good or many goods. And instead of a primary interest in discovering the most efficient means by which the goods of life may be secured and disseminated, it has shown much greater interest in inquiring about the nature of obligation, the foundation of rights and duties, the extent of responsibility, and the freedom of the will. In other words, there has generally been a "moral" coloring to human reflection on the pursuit of the good, a sense, that is, that men confronted by the consideration of good and right have other and deeper problems than that of means to ends. Thus Plato could picture the perfectly unjust man as one who none the less might have in all quarters the reputation of justice; and Kant could exclaim, "The sight of a being who is not adorned with a single feature of a pure and good will enjoying unbroken prosperity can never give pleasure to an impartial, rational spectator." These illustrations may give one the feeling of what is meant by "moral," a feeling which it is easier to appreciate than to define. An adequate understanding of it can be had only from a study of the general development of moral ideas. This is a large task, and can be treated here only in a summary fashion.
It is customary to claim that ethics first attained something like the dignity of an independent science with the Sophists of ancient Greece, that is, about the fifth century B.C. The claim may be allowed, provided we remember that it is significant only in view of that particular course of civilization which Europeans and their descendants are wont to regard as the main line of the world's progress. But the beginnings of the science of ethics were naturally not the beginnings of morality. The terms "ethics" and "moral," having, as they do, the primary meaning of the customary and habitual, indicate very clearly that moral philosophy began in reflection on the established customs and habits of the society which produced it. Indeed, if it is usual to begin the history of the science of ethics with the Greeks, it is also usual to begin the history of morals with the rites and ceremonies of primitive peoples, their clan and group customs, their habits of living. It is characteristic of these customs and habits that they are thought to be helpful in promoting the general well-being of the community, and it is apparent that they gradually grew up as organized methods of controlling the forces of nature and the conduct of individuals. Yet it is also apparent that primitive society does not justify them on utilitarian grounds. They have that peculiar sanctity which, as already noted, is called moral, a sanctity which makes them binding even when they are not serviceable, and which steadily opposes change and innovation. Thus in the most primitive societies with which anthropology has made us familiar, we find that individuals are expected to make their conduct conform to customs long established and carefully guarded, and that lack of conformity is severely dealt with. Primitive morals consist thus of organized practices which confine the conduct of individuals within restricted limits, not because these practices have proved to be really serviceable, but because they are felt to be authoritative and obligatory. They determine the training of the young and shape the ideals and practices of education in its beginnings. See Primitive society, education in.
How the practices which constitute primitive morals get that peculiar sanction which is strong enough to outweigh for generations and even centuries the failure to meet the test of genuine serviceableness, is an inquiry of considerable interest and of remarkable difficulty. It is important to note that they have this sanction long before anyone thinks of questioning it or discovering reasons for it. As a consequence, it turns out that the reasons savages give for their customs and habits are far from reliable. Even with peoples of considerable civilization, it is usual to find that their established practices are referred back to some early legislator whose personality is largely mythical, or to the revelation of some divinity. All of this goes to show that men have often been more interested in making morals authoritative than in discovering exactly why moral practices are performed. Perhaps we should say, in view of the facts at our command, that these practices get their sanction originally because of their congruity with what we may call primitive imagination. They fitted well into the general picture of things which men rather spontaneously formed, and thus became intimately bound up with their outlook upon life and the world. If this is so, it is perhaps not difficult to understand why the reasons given for their performance after they have become established are so inadequate as explanations of their origin.
It is to be noted also that morals undergo many transformations, and exhibit great variety, quite independent of any marked reflection upon them. Historians have traced with considerable success these variations, and found explanations of them in physical, economic, and social conditions. It is natural to suppose that as these conditions change, the customs and habits of men will change with them. Utility, too, must evidently be an important factor in moral development. For while practices long continue the utility of which is questionable, it is inevitable that these practices tend to break down in proportion as they fail of genuine serviceableness. Thus we may recognize a natural evolution of morals, to a large extent independent of reflective ethical inquiry.
Now, while it would be unwarrantable to claim that there was no such inquiry before the Sophists, or that it was not an important factor in moral development, the general considerations we have noted do, none the less, afford an approximately accurate setting for the reflections of the Sophists. They met a body of established practices sanctified by authority and tradition, marked by many indications of a long history, and of derivation from many contributing sources. The situation which they thus faced they put in question. The incentives to their procedure are doubtless to be found in the social movements of the time; but our concern is with the procedure itself rather than with its causes. We may note, however, that amid all the moral practices of the Greeks which concern the relations of individuals to one another and to society at large, the rights of property, the relation of the sexes, — that general domain which we cover by the terms"rights," "duties," "obligations," — there had grown up the conception of individual virtue or excellence. The Greek imagination had formed a picture of the kind of man it was worth while to be. This picture had found its way into story and drama, but it had also been drawn in terms of moral precepts. The "nothing in excess" and "know thyself," which Plato tells us had been dedicated to Apollo at Delphi as the first-fruits of wisdom, express an idea of balance and intelligence. Wise men like Thales, Solon, and Bias held a place in the popular mind on account of their practical wisdom and their apposite sayings. These conceptions of human excellence do not, however, seem to have advanced much beyond their exhibition in individual character or in proverbial utterance. Even Democritus (460-360 B.C.), who was one of the most conspicuous of Greek thinkers, and who is credited with the production of a work on ethics, seems to have been contented with wise sayings instead of acute analysis. His "golden sayings" are golden, but they do not form an inquiry.
In striking contrast to Democritus stands his townsman and contemporary, the Sophist Protagoras (480-411 B.C.). He too had a great saying, well known to history: "Man is the measure of all things, of things that are, that they are, and of things that are not, that they are not." That saying is an ethical reflection which is typical of the sophistical movement in its prime. It attempts to cut morals off at once from authority and tradition, and to found human conduct directly upon human nature and man's primary interest in his success and well-being. According to the Sophists, the rules with which men's conduct may be reasonably expected to conform are the rules which are determined by his nature and needs. So the Sophists taught. Their great business was education, to free men's minds by a thorough acquaintance with human society and the world in order that human conduct might be freely directed toward the attainable and satisfactory. It is no wonder that they were regarded as the destroyers of tradition, or that they wrought a revolution in education. Since they regarded virtue as the decent equipment of men for life, they made education the indispensable adjunct of morals, and at the same time determined its content and methods in view of the new moral demand. Ethics and education, so far as they indicated intellectual interests, were practically identical.
The relation of Socrates (468-399) to this general movement is ambiguous. He was one with the Sophists in his contention that virtue can be taught, that knowledge and morality go hand in hand, that enlightenment of mind is prerequisite to right action. But history credits him with a violent opposition to the Sophists. It looks to us now as if that opposition may have been rooted more in social and political considerations than in any genuine difference in aim or method. Yet there seems to have marked the teaching of Socrates a profound sense of the ultimate unchangeableness of whatever can be called good and bad, right and wrong, which the Sophists lacked. He seems to have created a passion for discussion and an engaging search for that "real truth inside man" which would both illuminate conduct and satisfy the mind. This he did with an ironic modesty which made that truth forever just beyond one's reach, and yet was so unshakably backed up by a firm belief in that truth's reality that faith instead of skepticism was the result. That justice, temperance, courage, the good, are not things to be changed as suits the opportunity, but thoroughly genuine and changeless, eluding our definitions, perhaps, yet unalterable possessions of the soul — such seems to have been the faith of Greece's greatest talker.
Plato (427-347) had this same faith by temperament, enriched it through companionship with Socrates, and transformed it by his own genius into one of the perduring philosophies of history. If life is to attain the dignity of the best, be the kind of life it ought, it must, according to Plato, involve a vision of the good and express that vision in a realized social order. But vision and expression interplay, for the good is seen not through isolated self-analysis of the soul, but through the perfectibility of social relations which men's natural admiration of the good discloses. There is a kind of analogy between the individual and society, so that the Greek ideal of intelligence and balance in a man is but a reading in smaller letters — the figure is Plato's — of intelligence and balance in the State. Furthermore, intelligence and balance are conceived to be ideals not only of conduct, but also of appreciation, so that the good becomes the concept of every excellence, the beautiful as well as the useful and the true. Plato asks us thus to contemplate a vision of beauty as well as an ideal of conduct and a goal of thought. But the essential thing is that this contemplation must be worked out in social terms, and, when worked out, is seen to disclose the enduring pattern of things which attracts by its own excellence and creates by its own power. Particulars of conduct, things like justice and temperance, which we call the virtues, appeared thus to Plato to be dependent on a whole of excellence, to be its manifold instances, or some relation interwoven with them. One could not be genuinely virtuous in some single direction, but rather more or less virtuous as a whole and as a member of a society which as a whole is more or less virtuous. The good is one. Seldom has history revealed a finer faith in its reality and in its possibilities.
The practical problem set by the philosophy of Plato was the organizing of society in the interest of the ideal it discloses, and this he conceived to be primarily the problem of education. The details of his system we still read with surprise at their boldness, their novelty, and their foresight. They are everywhere joined to an insistent demand, which is both the fundamental characteristic of the Platonic scheme of education and a natural result of his ethical attitude. That demand is that education should aim at individual disinterestedness. So Plato valued more highly the studies we call abstract and speculative than those we call concrete and useful. The latter, he believed, fix attention on the immediately practical and the isolated, and thus, by fostering the desire for individual success, promote the impulses which lead to social disorganization. The former, however, by fixing attention on the impersonal and the general, tend to minimize the purely individual ambitions and desires, give breadth of view, and thus make possible a clearer vision of the social good. Philosophers were to head his State, solely because they are trained to pass disinterested and impersonal judgments upon the affairs of life. To believe that the good as realizable is a social ideal, and to teach with an eye primarily to individual efficiency or success, involved for Plato an insuperable contradiction. That is why the peculiarity of his educational problem is a natural result of his ethical attitude.
The ethics of Plato constitute an important document in the history of education. Wherever we find the insistence that education should equip youth for life by making them broadly disinterested rather than narrowly efficient, by teaching them subjects which make for largeness of mind rather than for practical success, by fixing the attention on something which cannot be measured by worldly accomplishment, there we find the spirit of Plato either directly exerted or arising from some fresh contemplation of social ideals. It has been a dominant spirit in education for centuries, shaping ideals and methods, and begetting that idea of education which we call liberal. (See Humanism; Liberal education.)
Aristotle (384-322) keeps his thinking true to the general conception that the central problem of ethics is to provide an ideal for conduct. But he individualizes the ideal, laying stress, as did Socrates and the Sophists, upon personal attainments. Yet he does not conceive the best possible life as independent of social relations. It must be worked out, if it is to be attained, in the best possible State, but it is primarily a matter of individual perfection rather than of the perfection of society. While Plato could maintain that the individual happiness of citizens is subordinate to the perfection of the State, Aristotle held that the State is at best but an instrument in aid of individual well-being. It is one of the goods of life which, like maturity, health, friends, and property, minister to men's larger capabilities. He thus conceived ethics to be a branch of politics, not because the State comes rationally first as setting an ideal, but naturally first as the environment of human relations and the domain of human activities. Moreover, the ideal is not with him the Platonic pattern of goodness that attracts by its excellence and creates by its power; it is rather the free exercise of the function or activity which is peculiarly characteristic of man. All things, thinks Aristotle, have their characteristic activities which largely distinguish what they are, and the free exercise of which constitutes the good at which all things aim. The best life for men involves, therefore, the exercise of all their natural activities, but particularly the exercise of that activity by which men are peculiarly distinguished. And this is reason. Now the ideal which reason sets is twofold. It involves the virtuous control of conduct and the free exercise of reflection. Accordingly the ethics of Aristotle comprises an examination of the virtues, those types of excellence which make the admirable man, and also an emphasis on intellectual exercise pursued in its own interest for the self-sustaining joy of it. Thus the perfect man must be not only a citizen possessed of mature powers, abundant wealth, and friends, admirable for his justice, high-mindedness, temperance, and generosity; he must also be reflective, letting his mind play freely about the concerns of life and the constitution of nature in order that he may attain the supreme excellence of disinterested intelligence. In a sense this is Plato transformed, a faith in an enduring pattern of goodness translated into terms of human psychology and natural science, and presented as a goal of activity rather than as an insight into abiding realities.
This suggested contrast is illustrated in Aristotle's treatment of the virtues. With him they are not partial though related manifestations of a good essentially one and eternal, they are rather organized and controlled tendencies to action in those critical situations where the possibilities of behavior are contrasted and opposite. Thus a man is courageous when he has acquired the settled habit of reacting to danger with his natural tendencies to flight or rashness controlled. He is, as it were, a "mean" between the cowardly and the headstrong. Other virtues are similarly construed. Here again we have the familiar Greek emphasis on balance and intelligence, but it is defined now in terms of the formation of habits. And if the virtues are to be unified, they can become so only as the individual attains a unified control of his habitual reactions in the face of the varied crises of conduct. If this unified control is to be attained, he must carry his conduct up into the domain of reflection, where the bearing of things can be seen and appreciated. "Anybody can give or spend money, but to give it to the right persons, to give the right amount of it, and to give it at the right time and for the right cause and in the right way, this is not what anybody can do, nor is it easy."
With Aristotle the Greek ideal attained its highest expression. Plato beheld it with a finer passion, perhaps, colored by a beauty not quite of this world, and endued with an atmosphere not wholly human. He might have expressed that passion in the words of Sophocles: "0 that my lot might lead me in the path of holy innocence of thought and deed, the path which august laws ordain, laws which in the highest heaven had their birth, neither did the race of mortal man beget them, nor shall oblivion ever put them to sleep; the power of God is mighty in them, and groweth not old!" And Plato did say of his perfect State: "In heaven there is laid up a pattern of such a city, and he who desires may behold it, and, beholding, govern himself accordingly. But whether there really is or ever will be such an one is of no importance to him; for he will act according to the laws of that city and of no other." Aristotle beheld it with a calm confidence untouched by suspicions of its remoteness. For him it was the ideal of the best life attainable by man: best because it embodied the exercise of man's greatest capacities, and attainable because it was grounded in the indications of these capacities themselves, the existence of which guaranteed it without the need of other support.
Greek ethics, beginning with the Sophists and culminating in Aristotle, substituted thus for the current and traditional morals the conception of the best life for man in the light of his natural needs, surroundings, and capacities. Its dominant ideas were balance and intelligence. It was an ideal at once of conduct and of education. Wherever Greek influence went, — and that means throughout Western civilization, — ethical inquiry felt its impression. The conception of the best life, the terms in which it was expressed, the means by which it might be reached, the sanctions which might be urged in its support, — these things might vary, but reflection on morals tended to substitute for traditional practices a conception of the best life, or to suffuse these practices with a sentiment springing from the vision of it. Often these ethical reflections presented an astonishing contrast to the popular morality of the times which produced them; and this contrast has been so heightened by the imagination of many historians that we are wont to think of the centuries which marked the beginnings of the Roman Empire and the spread of Christianity as centuries of moral debauchery, and to regard their ethical ideals as protests wrung from despair. It is saner to think of them in the main as the continuance of the Greek habit of mind. The two ethical philosophies which are regarded as characteristically Roman, the Stoic and the Epicurean, received their initial impulse from Greek thinkers and spread under Greek influence and instruction; Neoplatonism was Plato revived and molding Jewish philosophy; Christianity itself, under Greek influence, came to think of Jesus not only as the Messiah, the bringer of comfort and salvation, but also as the pattern of perfection, the founder of a kingdom wherein membership constituted the best life.
Of all these ethical tendencies, Stoicism (q.v.) and Epicureanism have perhaps the best right to rank as ethical philosophies. The ideal of the one, conceived as the resolute will, and of the other, as the sensitive disposition, were grounded in a consideration of man's needs and capacities in view of his surroundings. These ideals have become violently contrasted in men's imagination. The Stoic, as Seneca (4-65), Epictetus (first century A.D.), and Marcus Aurelius (121-180) have pictured him, stands free from the allurements of passion, undaunted by calamity, self-poised, his soul steadfast and resolute to do his part in the world "whether God or atoms rule." The Epicurean, as the fine character of Epicurus (q.v.) (341-270 B.C.) himself and the poetry of Lucretius (96-55 B.C.) formed him, is open to the joys of life, his soul attuned and sensitive to the solicitations of happiness, his mind freed from cosmic obligations, since nature, being but matter continually reorganized according to changeless laws, is indifferent to all its products, and yet affords the instruments to happiness, if care is taken to discover and employ them. Contrasted as these ideals are, the one tending toward insensibility and the other toward dissoluteness, they involved an identical discipline, the understanding of human nature and the control of its propensities. Consequently both Stoic and Epicurean could find the aim of education to lie in the development of personality, and value its content and methods as these contributed to that aim.
For the development of ethics Christianity is especially noteworthy for its exaltation of new virtues. Aristotle emphasized such human excellences as wisdom, temperance, courage, justice, high-mindedness, liberality, and friendship. Christianity taught meekness, self-sacrifice, service, charity, mercy, peace, long-suffering, forgiveness, faith, hope, and love. In so teaching, it did more than lengthen the list of the fruits of the spirit. It tended emphatically to alter for reflection the philosophical view of things. The world, in its conception, had become somehow soiled, so that men could not behave toward one another as beings exulting in the pride of life. They faced one another as creatures needing help, consolation, and comfort. They faced, too, a God who would be to them as a father if they, as children, would submit themselves in meekness to his parental care. Thus there has been in the ethics of Christianity the sense that human relations have been determined by an overwhelming calamity which spoiled and debased nature, making it unfit to be a source of inspiration and a sustainer of happiness, putting men rather in desperate need of one another's help and of salvation. There has been, in contrast with this life, the vision of the City of God, on which men should set their affections, and in the radiance of which the joys and toils of the present become insignificant and petty. It afforded an ideal which could comfort and ennoble, but which could also render men insensible to the demands of this life and indifferent to the possibilities of natural goodness. Its training was of the spirit in the paths of peace by the means of grace. So that when Christianity first possessed the world, it did not turn men's minds toward a knowledge and conquest of nature in the interest of human happiness. (See Christian education.)
Yet the sense of the futility of all things earthly should not be set down as a thing peculiarly Christian. While we are justified in regarding the ethical ideals of the Greco-Roman period as a continuation of the Greek habit of mind rather than as a protest against a widespread depravity in human affairs, we must recognize that they were generally marked by a sad world-weariness. They were so often the ideals of tired men. Various reasons have been assigned for this. Perhaps we find the clew to the matter in the fact that the general imagination was dominated by the idea of imperial conquest, of the restless expansion of the arms and power of Rome. Great victories could arouse great enthusiasms, but those victories tended more and more to be nothing but the subjugation of uncivilized hordes which imposed upon the Roman a burden of administration without contributing to the intellectual life of the time. The greatest energy was spent upon a task which yielded little spiritual reward beyond the consciousness of the successful handling of matters of routine. The conquest of barbarians by Romans afforded none of the great stimuli to creative imagination which marked the robust defense of Greeks against the Persian. The fruits of war were booty and the task of so organizing savage crowds that future trouble might be avoided; they were not the consciousness of a nation saved by its own efforts for its own destiny. The things of the mind were supported by patronage rather than by the quickened intelligence of a people. A multitude that could not amuse itself had to be amused by administrative ingenuity. Life tended more and more to become artificial. It is clear that to Marcus Aurelius, who said that "even in a palace life may be well lived," the survey of imperial possibilities afforded no other prospect than another day of wearisome details, desperately in need of something refreshing, but finding only conventionality for its support. Not that men were generally conscious of such an atmosphere, but that in such they lived, and, breathing it, found it stifling, — if this was so, it is no wonder that men were tired and sought ideals of life which rested the soul, but did not inspire.
The Middle Ages, as we are wont to regard them, were possessed by Christianity, but by Christianity organized and administered by the Church and joined with the Empire in modifying the destinies of Europe. So dominant was that possession, and so frequently has history been written in terms of it, that the remarkable difference between the morals of men in their everyday life and the ideal of the best life as it found expression in the Church is overlooked. That ideal Mr. Bryce has thus described: "A life in the Church, for the Church, through the Church; a life which she blessed in mass at morning and sent to peaceful rest by the vesper hymn; a life which she supported by the constantly recurring stimulus of the sacraments, relieving it by confession, purifying it by penance, admonishing it by the presentation of visible objects for contemplation and worship — this was the life which they of the Middle Ages conceived of as the rightful life of man; it was the actual life of many, the ideal of all." But rarely has there been a time when human relations were marked by so much inhumanity and sordid worldliness, and yet which could own an ideal so unworldly. To that ideal men turned to seek enlightenment and instruction. In the shelter of the Church schools were founded. The teachers were clerics, and even when universities were established, with their characteristic institutional independence, the teachers still for the most part were members of some religious order, whether they taught medicine, law, rhetoric, physics, or theology. The more the learning of the Middle Ages became organized, the more it modified and expanded the ethical ideal. This is seen, for instance, in Abelard (1079-1142) and Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274). The former, under the title "Know Thyself," treated morality as an independent science based upon the will and conscience; and the latter regarded the State once more as an instrument for human perfection in this life. But most significant, perhaps, is the work of Roger Bacon (1214?-12G4). Part VII of his Opus Majus is a remarkable discussion of moral philosophy. It ends with the exaltation of Christian ideas as supreme; but it discusses civic morality and personal morality in the light of history. On these topics Bacon dwells at length because of "the beauty of the subject and the rarity of the books treating of it." Aristotle is his great authority, but he speaks of his search for Seneca, long unknown to him "and probably to others," and quotes him frequently. He affirms that admirable truths on the subject of personal character and conduct have been set forth by heathen writers, which put Christians to shame. While his work is exceptional, it indicates a new and growing interest in the ethical reflection of the time.
There were also influences independent of the Church which contributed to the enlargement of ethical conceptions. The institution of chivalry, with its ideal of the knight without fear and without reproach, its emphasis on courtesy, gentleness, succor of the oppressed, and respect for women, aroused an admiration of new virtues as embodied in the warrior who was also a gentleman. And such organizations as the Hanseatic League, arising earlier than the thirteenth century, and formed in the interests of safer trade and more intelligent commercial and industrial relations, began to make the demand for ethical recognition in a domain of human activity hitherto almost completely neglected by the moral philosopher. Its noon has been long delayed, but its dawn was early.
It is apparent that modern ethics was not confronted with a dearth of ideals. It possessed the moral philosophies of ancient times, and the heritage of the Middle Ages. Indeed, many a modern book is but a commendation of the long-familiar, a discussion of the best life and of the virtues; and moral education has often been conceived as the study of classical literature. Yet it is not to the rewriting of old themes, however fresh and invigorating, that we should turn for the modern emphasis. It was not for new ideals that modern ethical philosophers searched the scriptures and their own lives, but for a new authority, new methods, and new instruments. The Church ideal, although, as has been noted, there were tendencies in ethics which made for its modification, had acquired during the early years of Christianity and during the Middle Ages a superhuman authority resting upon an institution considered divine. Neither the authority nor the institution endured without challenge. The forces that weakened them — the expansion of men's minds through study, the steady, if slow, growth of a first-hand knowledge of nature, the strife between popes and emperors, the growth of nationalities, the discovery of new parts of the earth — weakened them gradually, but the consciousness that they had been weakened to the point of inadequacy was comparatively abrupt. Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Descartes (1596-1650), and Hobbes (1588-1679), for instance, write with the appreciation of the need of new foundations which is the outcome not merely of a gradual preparation, but also of sudden and revolutionary insight. Francis Bacon may be said to have raised a new ideal, but it was an ideal of the organization of the instruments at men's disposal for the attainment of the best life. These were primarily science, industry, and the arts. Bacon provided for the Church, leaving its authority undisturbed in those directions which science, industry, and the arts do not touch; but for these enterprises he claimed an independent domain, free from authority and tradition and founded squarely upon attainable human experience. Like Plato, he could sketch a perfect State, but in science, industry, and the arts it was founded, and in their interests organized. Descartes, confessing his willingness to submit his opinions to authority, proclaimed under cover of that confession his belief in the equal and natural ability of all men to distinguish between good and bad, true and false, and insisted that what men need in their concerns is not the guidance of authority, but a method for profitably conducting their thoughts and experiences. Hobbes attacked the idea of authority itself, and found it resting ultimately on the mutual consent of men unwilling to trust one another when left to their own natural devices; for the natural condition of mankind is, he thought, a war of every man against every other, and, "which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Authority, once established, he would have absolute, but he grounded it solely on nature, and justified its existence solely as an institution which makes for peace among men. Work like all this was not the beginning of a new era, but it proclaimed the full consciousness of one. Progress was openly arrayed against tradition, and it has fought a conquering battle ever since. That battle has been stubborn, and is still continued, but to-day it is a commonplace to affirm that authority rests on an accommodation and consent, that method is but organized experience, and that the primary instruments of human welfare are science, industry, and the arts.
The history of modern ethics is the history of the increasing recognition by moral philosophers of these principles. It has been, moreover, a history tangled and confused, for the spirit of modern ethics has never been completely the spirit of the institutions which have possessed the power and resources of modern times. It has had to win resources and power by revolution and compromise. It was thus marked, as we are wont to say, by an intense individualism, since it was the spirit of persons rather than of institutions. Three hundred years after Francis Bacon and Hobbes, an emperor can still claim that he is an instrument of the Lord and not a creature of politics, that he holds his crown by the grace of God, and not by the will of a people or a parliament. Bishops and earls still sit in the House of Lords, not because they are statesmen, but because they are bishops and earls. Impulses toward civic improvement, the remedy of public evils, and the enlargement and betterment of education still find their chief stimuli in individual enterprise or in unofficial organizations. Similar illustrations might be cited from other departments of civilization. They reflect, and perhaps largely by way of reminiscence, how progress has made its way through revolution and compromise. Modern philosophy itself reflects the same picture. Descartes is its accredited father, but he left it a legacy of traditional problems which he himself had inherited, but had not discovered. Indeed, modern philosophy as a whole presents a confused combination of intellectual insight and problems which get their major significance from the fact that men once discussed them. And so, if we consider modern personality, the character of the typical modern man, we find it to be the product of readjustment rather than of singleness of vision. Progress was the spirit of the modern period, but the history of that period is the history of revolution and compromise. This, we may say, was inevitable, but there are indications that we have entered upon a new period where the demands of progress are no longer a call to arms, but the welcome vision of better things.
It was natural that individual moralists of the modern period should reflect its general tendency. Spinoza (1632-1677) is in many respects very typical His principal contribution to philosophy bears the title Ethica. Its fourth book presents a way of life based on a knowledge of the passions of men as these affect human relations and as they can be controlled by reason. It is thoroughly democratic in outlook. In order to attain well-being, he tells us elsewhere (Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione) that it is necessary to understand nature, "and also to form a social order such as is most conducive to the attainment of this character by the greatest number with the least difficulty and danger. We must seek the assistance of moral philosophy and the theory of education; further, as health is no insignificant means for attaining our end, we must also include the whole science of medicine, and, as many difficult things are by contrivance rendered easy, and we can in this way gain much time and convenience, the science of mechanics must in no way be despised. But, before all things, a means must be devised for improving the understanding and purifying it, as far as may be at the outset, so that it may apprehend things without error, and in the best possible way." All this is conceived in the modern spirit, but Spinoza entitles his fourth book Human Bondage. The fifth book is entitled Human Freedom, and there Spinoza pictures the best life as a rapturous love of the mind for God, a kind of passionate medieval mysticism. This ideal he grounds in a metaphysical argument concerning substance and attribute, essence and existence, the finite and the infinite, nature and God. His ethics is a compromise between modernity, medievalism, and antiquity. Kant (1724-1804), too, is typical. He conceived the moral law to be the principle implied in all reasonable behavior, and thus a basal principle of human nature. But, as if this were inadequate, he finds its own important implications to be God, freedom, and immortality and a "kingdom of ends" which one could never quite reach by enthusiastically trying to improve society. Thus it was that attempts to found ethics upon human nature, human needs, human relationships, and to organize conduct in the interest of progress and a broad view of the possibilities of improving the conditions of life were so. frequently turned into attempts to harmonize progress and tradition. Again, we may say this was inevitable, we may say it was wise; but it must be appreciated if we are to understand how modern moral philosophy so often attempted to legitimatize progress, and yet hinted that the best life is attainable without it; or how the philosophy of Hegel was at once a bulwark of tradition and an inspiration to Karl Marx.
It would be inadequate, even in a general sketch, to let modern ethics go solely with this comment upon its dominant characteristic, for it was fertile in ethical problems, in attempts to discover why man is or should be moral. Besides opinions of the types already noted, there were men who looked for some natural sense or feeling or faculty or intuition, back to which could be traced the propensity to pass moral judgments upon conduct. Thus Hume (1711-1776) could appeal to the natural feeling of moral approbation; Adam Smith (17231790) to the natural sympathy aroused by an appreciation of the varied situations in which men find themselves; Reid (1710-1796) to a moral faculty; Kant (1724-1804) and T. H. Green (1836-1882) and their many followers to principles of judgment, native and intuitive; Spencer (1820-1903) to egoistic and altruistic impulses; and the long line of British utilitarians, with such prominent names as Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-18i3), to the natural desire for happiness. Such ideas as these were worked out by many, and in a variety of ways. On the continent of Europe they have been generally coupled with philosophical speculation and formalistic classification; in England with psychological analysis and practical affairs, so that there utilitarianism, with its emphasis upon happiness and the greatest good of the greatest number, has become nationally characteristic.
Particular mention should be made of the work of Henry Sidgwick. His Methods of Ethics, first published in 1874 (sixth edition, 1901), is written in the consciousness that the problem of ethics has become a problem in methodology, the ways and means of attaining the best life and the virtues, rather than the discovery of what is good or the foundation and authority of morals. He states in his preface that the work claims to be an examination "of the different methods of obtaining reasoned convictions as to what ought to be done which are to be found — either explicit or implicit — in the moral consciousness of mankind generally: and which, from time, to time, have been developed, either singly or in combination, by individual thinkers, and worked up into the systems now historical. I have avoided the inquiry into the Origin of the Moral Faculty — which has perhaps occupied a disproportionate amount of the attention of modern moralists — by the simple assumption (which seems to be made implicitly in all ethical reasoning) that there is something under any given circumstances which it is right or reasonable to do, and that this may be known. If it be admitted that we now have the faculty of knowing this, it appears to me that the investigation of the historical antecedents of this cognition, and of its relation to other elements of the mind, no more properly belongs to Ethics than the corresponding questions as to the cognition of Space belong to Geometry." Many have thought that the work of Sidgwick utterly ignores the inquiries which give to moral philosophy its chief and characteristic importance; but the historian sees in it the expression of a growing conviction that the best life is naturally disclosed in that prospect of better things which a progressive society envisages, that the virtues are virtues solely because they are types of human excellence historically exhibited and individually attainable in the relations of man to man, and that consequently the only moral problem is the concreto and particularized problem of method.
This conviction has in recent years steadily grown in intensity and in general recognition. We may still, however, discover, as in every period of human history we do, a great discrepancy between the habits and customs of men and the moral ideas which their literature and moral philosophy disclose; but he who reads and he who is engaged in any enterprise for the improvement of human relations can recognize that the primary demand to-day is not for edification, but for enlightenment. The priest still goes to the slums, but there goes with him a demand for more air and more light. Men still carry comfort to sick and wayward souls, but there go with them societies for the prevention of disease, of over-crowding, of poverty, of excessive toil, of the unwise treatment of children, of almost every evil which can distort vision or sap energy. These societies appeal to the public conscience, but they seek to awake it not so much by exhortation as by the concrete exhibition of existing evils and the methods of remedying them. Public officers are expected to administer their trusts wisely, not solely because such is their duty, but primarily because they are public officers. In general, virtue is no less desired or esteemed, but vice has become more intolerable. Although revolution and compromise remain in practice, although habits and customs clash with insight and vision, the ethical inquiry of to-day may perhaps claim that it is freeing the conception of progress for singleness of vision. One of the most recent textbooks in ethics (Dewey and Tufts, 1908) closes with these words:-
Science will succeed in pointing out the specific causes for many of the moral evils from which we suffer. Poverty, crime, social injustice, breaking down of the family, political corruption, are not all to be accepted simply as "evils" or "wickedness" in general. In many cases their amount may be greatly reduced when we understand their specific causes and apply a specific remedy. But the great reliance is upon the primal forces which have brought mankind so far along the line of advance. The constant remaking of values in the search for the genuinely satisfying, the constant forming, criticizing, and reshaping of ideals, the reverence for a larger law of life and a more than individual moral order, the outgoing of sympathy and love, the demand for justice — all these are the forces which have built our present social system, and these must continually reshape it into more adequate expressions of genuine moral life if it is to continue unimpaired or in greater vigor. We do not know in any full sense whence the life of the spirit comes, and we cannot, while standing upon the platform of ethics, predict its future. But if our study has shown anything, it is that the moral is a life, not a something ready made and complete once for all. It is the new and serious situations which call out new vigor and lift it to higher levels. Ethical science, tracing this process of growth, has as its aim not to create life — for the life is present already, — but to discover its laws and principles. And this should aid in making its further advance stronger, freer, and more assured because more intelligent."
The aim of this article has not been to write a history of morals or a history of ethical philosophy. It has been rather to sketch the important ethical ideas as they have appeared in history and influenced the minds and educational ideals of men. To trace in detail how modern ethical ideas have affected modern education would involve the writing of the history of that education. For what that history reveals is the growing recognition of the spirit of progress. The steady broadening of the course of study, the slow breaking down of the idea that one type of education is adequate for everybody, the growth of industrial education and vocational training, the carrying of. the school to all classes of society and continuously into new fields of activity, the revolution wrought in discipline, the professional training of teachers — such things not only reflect the spirit of modern ethics, but point once more to the close connection which has always existed between moral insight and educational advance. Yet history discloses a steady decline of the importance attached by educators to specifically moral instruction. Even in our colleges and universities the course in ethics has lost the preeminence it once had. This is often regarded as a misfortune, but in the light of history it may be set down as the recognition that the young are taught to be moral not merely by precept and example, but by a lively acquaintance with the specific problems which beset life and by a training in the solution of them. Or it may be set down as the recognition that the study of good and bad, right and wrong, in general, is but one of many ways to strengthen the desire for the good and make known the best ways by which the goods of life may be secured and disseminated. Since the existence of the good and of various means for its attainment constitutes a natural incentive to morals, it may be claimed that there is no specific morality which can be taught.
Since the days of Plato and Aristotle, ethics has been regarded in the general classification of knowledge as a branch of philosophy. It should be remembered, however, that the scope of philosophy has been gradually restricted as special sciences have attained independence of general systems of thought. Yet, great as this restriction has been, ethics has not yet succeeded in establishing itself as an independent science, but remains along with logic, metaphysics, and æsthetics, as one of the parts of philosophy. This fact has determined the place which ethics has held in the general arrangement of college and university studies and its affiliations with other departments of knowledge. Even when it is taught in public schools as a part of general education, its connection with philosophy has been evident. For many years in American colleges a course in ethics, usually known as moral philosophy, was prescribed for all students, and this prescription is still common, although far from as general as formerly. For the advance of ethical inquiry the close identification of ethics with philosophy is not advantageous, for it is evident that any comprehensive appreciation of moral progress can be secured only through acquaintance with general history and with such subjects as economics politics, sociology, and anthropology. The more intimate and increasingly recognized relation of ethics to these subjects will doubtless alter its future status as an academic discipline.
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