Moral Philosophy

Moral Philosophy Nearly every system of philosophy broached in ancient or modern times has impinged more or less closely upon the domain of morals. Indeed, this part of the field has usually been the most hotly contested, as the theosophical problems which it presents have afforded more occasion for philosophical as well as theological polemics than all other themes. The paramount importance of the subjects mentioned the relation of the finite to the Infinite, and the consequent duties and destiny of man at the hands of God have given the most intense interest to the reasonings, teachings, and controversies respecting them. But as these have been so commonly mentioned in the intellectual or metaphysical branches of the investigation, we will here content ourselves with referring to PHILOSOPHY in general for the history of their development, and to the article ETHICS for their more systematic classification. We shall therefore in the present article discuss, in a brief and practical manner, only a few points upon which every scheme of moral philosophy worthy of the name must hinge.

1. Human Responsibility. — Were man a mere animal, endowed with locomotion, instinct, and perception, or could we conceive of him as possessing simply emotion and will, such as brutes seem to evince — nay, even as capable of the boldest stretch of reason and the highest flights of fancy, yet destitute of the power of appreciating the difference between right and wrong, and therefore unable to recognise the fundamental relation of allegiance subsisting on his part toward his Maker, and the common bond of brotherhood between himself and his Fellows, we could not justly hold him amenable for his moral conduct, since this entirely depends upon a due observance of these twofold claims. It is the faculty of conscience, sitting as a viceroy of heaven and a representative of earth within his breast, urging the rights of all outside himself, that constitutes him an accountable being; and though this interior light may become dim through the mists of passion and the clouds of ignorance, it yet shines sufficiently clear to show him his essential duties, or, if utterly eclipsed, the fault will generally be found to be his own — the few cases of congenital paralysis being thereby removed from the category of responsibility. SEE MORAL SENSE. His first obligation, therefore, and his prime measure of safety, is to cultivate this facility by information and prompt obedience, that it may the more surely guide him through the labyrinths of life to the portals of endless day. The beginning and the termination of his personal responsibility, as well as its boundaries on either hand throughout his mortal pilgrimage, are exactly marked by the development of this faculty- one peculiar to him of all the occupants of the globe. This accountability is, in the nature of the case, an individual one, each for himself alone, and it is due in the threefold aspect above indicated to the several classes of beings with whom he has here to do in the order and degree named below. This sums up all his duty, even under the perfect code of Christianity, and is the staple — the core and substance — of every ethical system devised for human conduct.

2. Duty to God. — This is obviously paramount. In this the Holy Scriptures do but enforce, by an authoritative mandate, what all pagan religions have more feebly demanded — namely, the unconditional and primary obligation of obedience to the divine behests. These have been promulged in different ways — sometimes more expressly, at other times more enigmatically and imperfectly; but when once fairly understood, the commonsense of mankind has declared that they must be unflinchingly and peremptorily obeyed. This claim is universally grounded on an admitted creatorship, supported by the avowed dependence of the creature; the Bible adds a third most touching argument to these of natural religion, namely, redemption, thus forming a triple cord — paternity, providence, and grace. The foremost and generic duty that grows out of this obligation is that of reverence — so all the older dispensations conceive it, but Christianity terms it love, taking a nearer and more privileged position. SEE ADOPTION. This reverential regard is chiefly expressed in worship, which accordingly occupies the prominent place in all religions, standing at the very head of the Decalogue. The devotion thus due is unique as well as supreme, because no other being can possibly occupy this relation, nor any higher; worship is therefore due exclusively to our Maker. Idolatry is consequently reckoned as the most odious and damning of all sins, because it virtually overthrows the throne of heaven itself, and thus destroys the very basis of all moral law. Jehovah brooked every transgression of his chosen people but this; and when the captivity had burned away its exterior manifestation, the final excision affirmed his detestation of its still cherished spirit, which incited Israel to the culminating apostasy of the Crucifixion. The same crime in essence has reappeared in the mummeries of Christian churches; and even Protestants may be guilty of it under another name, for any undue love of earthly objects is tantamount to idolatry (Col 3:5; 1Jo 2:15). Under the Christian economy, again, the worship due to God is to assume a purely spiritual form, in distinction from the typical and ceremonial guise of Mosaism (Joh 4:24); but this, of course, does not exclude all exterior observances — it rather requires them, at least for congregational concert. SEE WORSHIP. We mention here but one other specific duty under this head, because it is inclusive of all others — namely, regard for God's revealed word. The respect we show to any one naturally extends to his communications; and in the case of an invisible sovereign or an absent friend, our reverence is often measured chiefly by this mark. How much more highly should we prize and cheerfully heed the words of our God and Saviour! Nor is the Bible to be fondly cherished merely as a memento of dying love, or as a token of kindly concern, nor yet is it to be valued simply as a useful guide-book in ancient lore, but still more as a practical directory to regulate our hearts and our lives: it must become our vade-mecum in everyday concerns of the most vital moment, for by it shall we be finally adjudged. As prayer, therefore, is the central act of divine worship, so is searching the Scriptures the most direct method of ordering our behavior aright in all respects; the two are the complete counterparts, internal and external; one fortifies and purifies the heart, the other moulds and directs the life. The devout Bible-student cannot fail of becoming a strong, earnest, consistent fulfiller, of all the claims of God upon him.

3. Duties to one's Fellow-beings. — These spring immediately out of the above relation of the common fatherhood of God, and they can never be successfully met except by bearing this thought constantly in mind. Selfishness, the most common and baleful besetment of every association of life, is most effectually counteracted by this consideration; and Scripture, no less than conventional politeness, and even statute law, everywhere holds forth teachings grounded on this principle. We hazard nothing in affirming that all the disorders of society have their root in a violation or neglect of this truth — the universal brotherhood and consequent essential equality of all human beings. We may therefore be spared, after the enunciation of this one general clew to the. multiform and complex duties of life, from entering upon a discussion of these in detail, simply observing that they may all be classified under two divisions: 1, the domestic, including the relations of parent and child, of husband and wife, of brother and sister, and of near consanguinity or affinity; 2, the social, embracing the relations of neighbor, fellow-citizen, churchmember, and voluntary association for literary, benevolent, or commercial purposes. For all these, see the appropriate titles in this Cyclopaedia. We here dismiss this branch of the subject, with the remark that our duty in all these regards is not fully discharged by the mere rendering of justice to these various classes of persons connected with us; we owe them likewise the offices of courtesy, charity, and sympathy. This is true, not only in the family and the Church, but also in the community and the world at large; the twofold obligation extends to every ramification of the social fabric. The question of Cain, "Am I my brother's keeper?" expresses the first and most wide- spread heresy against the mutual rights and well-being of the race. It is here, as everywhere else, that the doctrine of the Gospel shows its transcendent excellence — as wise as it is beautiful — doctrine appropriate to the lips of him who was both God and man; namely, the inculcation of love for all mankind as such, and as the common offspring of the one Being to whom we all owe supreme allegiance. The sublime extension of this precept to our very enemies (Ro 12:14) is a peculiar trait of Christianity (Mt 5:43-48); not a mere fancy sketch (Mt 18:23-35), as an offset to our own shortcomings (Mt 6:14-15), or as a noble revenge (Ro 12:20), but a lifelikeness (1Pe 2:19-24) of the heroism of the faultless Master (Lu 23:34), realized (Ac 7:60) by saints (1Co 4:12): so faithfully are the divine lineaments (Ex 33:18-23; Ex 34:5-7) mirrored (Heb 1:3) in the enduring (1Pe 1:25) Word (Re 19:13), whose command (Lu 6:36) is a promise of performance (1Th 5:24). This is the only effectual motive, as well as the sole general bond, in the eager rush of men, each for the maintenance of himself and his. The natural instincts of home affection, and the ties of mutual advantage, may go far to soften the asperities of intimate association; but a wide-reaching and generous philanthropy can never be attained, nor can even the sweetest amenities of closely domestic and social intercourse be steadily Secured, without the habitual recognition of this fellowship in the divine sight.

4. Duties towards one's Self. — These are properly and advisedly placed last, although in the perversity and suicidal folly of human nature they are usually promoted to a front rank, and, indeed, enhanced almost to the exclusion of all the preceding. But no maxim was ever more profoundly true in its application to this subject than our Lord's paradox: "He that seeketh his own life [i.e., personal gratification as his foremost aim], shall lose it." There is no joy equal to that of making others happy; and he who is willing to forego his own ease, comfort, and emolument for the sake of blessing, consoling, and enriching his fellow-creatures, will find himself repaid a thousand-fold even in the satisfaction he experiences in this life, to say nothing of the rewards of that life which is to come. Selfishness always misses its mark, and is therefore sure to be miserable, whereas generosity invariably succeeds in its noble purposes. We need not here enter upon the metaphysical question of purely disinterested benevolence; God has not required us to scan our motives so closely as to detect and eject a thought of the reflex influence of our philanthropy upon our minds in the bliss of doing good and the retrospect of usefulness. On the contrary, he encourages us to a beneficent course by such considerations; and the Son of God himself did not disdain, in his consummate act of self-devotion for the rescue of a fallen world, to contemplate the fruit of his redeeming love (Isa 53:11; Heb 12:2). We may preliminarily remark, as a confirmation and parallel of this secret of the most successful happiness, that all the proclivities of the heart (especially the passions and the appetites) tend not only to excess, and therefore require, even for their own best ends, to be held in check by counter influences of a higher character, but they likewise are set upon the most immediate gratification possible; and as this is not always, nor even usually, the safest or the most complete, the prudent and experienced habitually restrain and defer them till the time and object are ripe for full and wholesome enjoyment. For this reason, all the more do we need to keep the love and pursuit of self in the background, till our nobler sentiments have acquired such strength and discipline that we may securely give to self-love the rein, and guide it to its most successful and harmonious results; otherwise we shall be likely to grasp only the present shadow, and lose the more remote substance. It is precisely this most egregious and irreparable folly of which the mass of mankind are guilty, in pursuing the pleasures of time and sense to the hazard of spiritual and eternal joys. We devote the remainder of this article to a few practical suggestions, under the head of personal duties to one's self, specifically calculated to guard against so lamentable an error, and secure the highest accomplishment of each one's destiny as a subject of moral government.

(1.) The harmonious development of all one's native faculties. — The gift of reason, and still more of a moral faculty, carries with it the obligation to exercise and improve it; we owe this no less as a debt of gratitude to the Giver than as a means of extracting the full value for ourselves. Hence, while a sense of self-preservation naturally and justly leads us to care for and cultivate our physical powers, the neglect of our intellect in any of its glorious capacities is a self-stultification that entitles one to the contempt of his fellows; but the crushing out of conscience or the dwarfing of any of our godlike moral capabilities is a literal suicide of the soul. Such a dereliction defeats the very end of probation, and turns it into a curse forever. Because we are surrounded by and filled with temptation in this scene of trial, all the more diligent do we need to be in rousing and confirming and intensifying every moral power that may aid us in the life- long struggle with our desperate inward and outward foes. Most of all have we occasion to lay hold on the alliance with almighty grace which is proffered us as a restorer to the full image of Deity (Php 2:13).

(2.) The careful culture of any particular aptitude that each may possess. — Variety within certain limits of uniformity is evidently God's law as expressed in nature, and the same rule is observed in the human constitution — bodily, mental, and spiritual. Hence the obvious propriety, and indeed necessity, of noting and turning to account the peculiar genius of every individual, in order to its perfection by judicious practice. In this way the economy and skill of that ingenious modern contrivance the "division of labor" have their higher results. The idea that all are reduced by piety to the same Procrustean bed, either here or hereafter, is preposterous. The facile dexterity of the expert, as compared with the clumsy slowness of the tyro in art, is but a type of the excellence of one saint above another (1Co 15:41), or even of the same in successive stages of growth (Lu 8:18); and this superiority on earth furnishes a vantage-ground by reason of which the moral distance must be forever widening in heaven. The same is true in this life of all the human powers, especially of the mind and heart; and doubtless a like perpetually increasing pre-eminence in these endowments, so akin with the spiritual, will hold good in the other world. From this we see the transcendent importance of cultivating in the present state of existence every power of the soul, before eternity shall fix the plastic ductile condition that pertains to probation. This thought again suggests, on the other hand, the mistaken policy of altogether neglecting even the less marked talent; for a feeble indication may lead to the discovery of a precious treasure, many unpromising beginnings having eventuated in brilliant eminence. And it is the common virtues — like the ordinary acquirements — that are most generally useful; as we approve the necessity of teaching every child, however dull, at least the simple rudiments of education, while we deem it worth while to expend years at the piano or the easel only upon those who evince extraordinary artistic tact. Once more, let no one excuse himself from the everyday duties of life on the ground of his small natural ability (Lu 19:15-26), nor plead his peculiar indisposition or special hinderances to any form of morality, for all really experience the same difficulties and insufficiency in one form or another; this very reluctance, arduousness, opposition, calls for redoubled zeal and effort (Ec 10:10), for it is an omen, or rather symptom, of moral death the more imminent and total.

(3.) The earnest and constant application to practical results of all one's time, powers, and resources. — It is not enough to possess, enlarge, and employ wealth, influence, learning, skill, health, or longevity; we have not yet reached the just standard of requirement till we fully direct them towards useful ends — till they positively redound to the glory of God and the benefit of mankind. We should not be so absorbed in the luxury of their acquisition, increase, or exercise as to forget their ultimate design. In short, we must everywhere, at all times, and in all things, bear in mind that we are but stewards in the occupancy of these endowments, and hold ourselves constantly in readiness to give to the great Proprietor a satisfactory account of their appropriation (1Co 6:20).

(4.) The sober but cordial and devout enjoyment of whatever blessings Providence has conferred upon us. — Asceticism and epicureanism are equally removed from sound godliness (Ec 11:9-10). A morose piety is next to none at all, but a cheerful moderation is the best recommendation of saintliness, and thankfulness sweetens the homeliest morsel. Stoicism can never teach us to be content with our lot. Distrust of God's mercies is as atheistic as their abuse. The moral philosophy of the Bible is alike guarded against all extremes, because it begins, centres, and ends in a true theism (Ec 12:13): "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (Mic 6:8). In our lapsed estate, to regain the lofty completeness we must trace our way back by the same steps; for penitence is the fit condition to our restoration to moral rectitude through divine clemency and fidelity (1Jo 1:9).

Literature. — One of the earliest treatises on the subject in English is Paley's Moral Philosophy (Lond. 1785; often reprinted with extensive modifications by later editors); but it essentially ignores conscience, and has generally been reprobated by sound moralists. See Blakey, Hist. of

Morals (4 volumes, 8vo); Garve, Different Principles of Moral Philos. (from Aristotle to 1798); Channing's Jouffroy, Introd. to Moral Philos. (includes a critical survey of modern systems); Doddridge, Lectures; Belsham, Moral Philos.; Gisbourne, Principles of Moral Philos. (1789); Grove, Moral Philos.; Pearson, Theory of Morals (1800); Beattie, Moral Science (Edinburgh, 1816, 2 volumes); Taylor (J.), Sketch of Moral Philos.; Turnbull, Principles of Moral Science; Smith (J.S.), Lectures on Moral Philos.; Stewart, Outlines of Moral Philos.; and his Active and Moral Powers; and Progress of Ethical Philos. in Europe; Merivale, Boyle Lectures, 1864; Calderwood, Hand-book of Moral Science (Lond. 1872, 8vo); Gillett (E.H.), The Moral System (N.Y. 1874, 8vo), the latest and best work on the subject. Among express treatises on the general subject, we may name, as being best known and most accessible in this country, Wayland, Elements of Moral Science (Bost. 1835, 12mo); Whewell and Henry, Morals (Bost. 1839); Alexander, Outlines of Moral Science (N.Y. 1852); Hickock, Moral Science (N.Y. 1853); Upham, Moral Philos. (N.Y. 1857, 12mo); Winslow, Elements of Moral Philos. (N.Y. 1857, 12mo); M. Hopkins, Lectures on Moral Science (Bost. 1862, 12mo); ibid., Law of Love (N.Y. 1869, 12mo). The periodicals which contain valuable articles on this topic are: Christian Examiner, 8:265; 18:101; 19:1, 25; 28:137; 29:153; 30:145; 41, 97; 49, 215; 52, 188: Christian Rev. 7:321; Princeton Rev. 5:33; 7:377; 18:260; 20:529; Meth. Qu. Rev. 5:220; New-Englander, October 1870, page 549; Brit. and For. Ev. Rev. January 1874, page 183; Lond. Qu. Rev. 3:1; 6:407; 11:494; 48, 83; October 1873, art. 5; Bib. Sacra, April 1873, art. 9; Edinb. Rev. 7:413; 61, 195; 91, 86; Prospect. Rev. 2:577; 2:400; North Brit. Rev. 14:160; Westm. Rev. 1:182; 2:254; 12:246; North Amer. Rev. 9:293; Contemp. Rev. July 1872, art. 7. SEE MORALS.

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