Page images
PDF
EPUB

Have power to scatter; but it shall dissolve
Before the light of reason and the face

Of Nature's self. First, for exordium,

Lay thou to heart this first great principle

Nought e'er is formed from nought by power divine.
But when we have studied deep and comprehend
That power divine can ne'er make nought from nought,
Then shall we know that which we seek to know-
How everything is fashioned first and last,

And all things wrought without the help of God!" "

So far he read, and paused; and as he paused
A change came o'er the face he gazed upon,
As if a finger touch'd the brow and eyes.

The father shriek'd and shudder'd, shrinking back
In nameless awe, for in a moment's space,
Though all the air was sunny overhead,
And all the lake was golden at their feet,
The twain were cover'd with a shadow cast
By some dark shape unseen.

For I am dying!"

"Hold my hand, father,

Then the white face flash'd

To one wild look of passionate farewell,
And silently, without another word,

The last sad breath was drawn.

They bore him in

How and by whom the gentle deed was done
The father knew not, being dazed and stunn'd,
But follow'd moaning, while upon his bed
They placed him down; and when that afternoon
A pallid Sister from the convent came

To do the last sad offices of death,

The old man only watch'd her in a trance

And made no sign; but when, her kind task done,
She touch'd him, saying in her own soft speech,

[ocr errors]

Signor, I trust he died in the full faith

Of Christ our Lord!" he gave a laugh so strange,
So terrible and yet so pitiful,

She thought his wits were gone.

Fair as a star,

Justinian lay upon his bed of death,
And seeing him so young and beautiful
The Sister gathered lilies in the garden

And strew'd them on his breast; then reverently
She bless'd him; and the old man look'd at ner,

Trembling as in a trance; but suddenly
Uprising, in a hollow voice he cried,

Pointing her to the door with quivering hands,
"Begone! profane him not! from life to death
I kept him safe from Superstition's touch!

My boy! you shall not take him from me now!"

ROBERT BUCHANAN in Contemporary Review.

The following is the original text of the passages of Lucretius translated in the text:

1 Nam tibi de summa cœli ratione deûmque
Disserere incipiam, et rerum primordia pandam ;
Unde omnes natura creet res, auctet alatque ;
Quove eadem rursum natura perempta resolvat ;
Quæ nos materiem, et genitalia corpora rebus
Reddenda in ratione vocare, et semina rerum
Appellare sucmus, et hæc eadem usurpare
Corpora prima, quod ex illis sunt omnia primis.

De Rer. Nat., Book i. 54-02.

2 Hunc igitur terrorem animi tenebrasque necesse est
Non radii solis, neque lucida tela diei
Discutiant, sed naturæ species, ratioque:
Principium hinc cujus nobis exordia sumet,
Nullam rem e nihilo gigni divinitus unquain
Quas ob res, ubi viderimus nil posse creari
De nihilo, tum, quod sequimur, jam rectius inde
Perspiciemus, et unde queat res quæque creari,
Et quo quæque modo fiant opera sine divûm.

De Rer. Nat, Book i. 147-151, 155–159.

HERBERT SPENCER ON THE DATA OF ETHICS.*

WHEN a writer of the acknowledged power of Herbert Spencer proceeds to treat of Ethical Data, after a long series of works regarded as preliminary for this task, special importance is to be attached to his reasoning. Laborious preparation for a crowning effort lends increased interest to that effort when at last it is undertaken. Besides, Herbert Spencer has devoted himself to the exposi tion and defence of a theory of evolution which has gained wide popularity, and which has this obvious merit in a scientific sense, that it contemplates human life as an integral part of a grand whole. The full test of such a theory is not reached until the attempt is made to include ethical data within its boundaries. Only now, therefore, can the testing strain be said to have been applied to the entire

*The Data of Ethics. By Herbert Spencer. Chapman & Hall.

L M 3-8

theory of Spencer. How can an evolution theory, which traces all characteristics of human life to a process of development from lower forms of animate existence, account for the right and dutiful in human conduct? If the right and dutiful find no place in the life of the mollusk, how do they find a place by gradual evolution in the life of man? This is the question to which Herbert Spencer has now addressed himself, and the success of the answer is here to be considered.

[ocr errors]

A prefatory explanation of the reason for the appearance of this volume at the present time is the author's fear "of leaving the final work of the series unexecuted." Apprehension that health may permanently fail," before he reaches the last part of the task he had marked out for himself," has led the author to pass by certain intermediate stages in the treatment of Sociology, in order that he may deal now with ethical distinctions. The volume will receive a welcome, joined with the hope that Herbert Spencer may have granted him strength sufficient for deliberately completing the whole round of work he has laid down for himself. At the same time, the urgent need for dealing at once with The Data of Ethics is an admission of the fundamental importance of the ethical problem, an admission which will be fully accepted by those who differ essentially from him as to the true theory of moral life.

Before entering upon criticism, it is necessary to state, however briefly, the development theory upheld by Spencer, of which the ethical theory now presented is to be taken as the crowning feature. According to him, the science or philosophy of existence is to be found in evolution from lower to higher forms. The lowest stage is the physical; from that there is advance to the biological; the next advance brings us to the psychological; and thence we are brought to the sociological. Restricting attention here to conduct, as coming most closely on the present subject of investigation, there is evolution from the lowest forms of physical action, which gradually assumes a more developed aspect, keeping pace with the evolution of structure and of functions in the history of animate existence. Under this theory the laws of evolution are held to supply an adequate philosophy of human conduct.

That there is a progress from lower to higher in the order of existence admits of no dispute. In accordance with this, we can form systematic conceptions of the universe. But that an all-pervading law of evolution, taken as the scientific expression of a force operating through all forms of life, gives the explanation of a gradually in creasing complexity of being, is a theory which must still occasion much debate. My present purpose, however, is not to discuss this theory, but only to find the point of junetion which may set Spencer's ethical philosophy in proper position and in a suitable light.

The evolution theory which Herbert Spencer has been at pains to

66

develop clearly determines the line of his procedure as to ethics. Either the ethical theory must be a manifest outgrowth of the evolution theory-a crowning feature in it-or that theory itself must be abandoned as insufficient to meet the difficulties connected with the higher order of activity. Accordingly Herbert Spencer defines Ethics by reference to its subject-matter in the following terms: 'Ethics has for its subject-matter that form which universal conduct assumes during the last stages of its evolution" (p. 20). So far this statement only affirms that ethical action is the highest type of action ―a statement about which there may be general agreement. But whether this highest type of action, as seen in human life, can be accurately described as the last stages of evolution in the history of universal conduct," may be disputed. Human conduct may warrantably be classified with conduct in general, but it does not thereby become a phase of universal conduct.

[ocr errors]

The intellectual demand meeting the evolutionist when he reaches the territory of ethics is to show that moral action is the product of higher structure and functions belonging to man. The evolutionist

has to cut his way through a thicket of perplexities in attempting to make good this position. The test of the scheme must be found in generally recognized ethical conceptions, and the measure in which a rational explanation of these conceptions, and of the actions to which they lead, has been provided.

In the earlier stages of his discussion, Mr. Spencer deals 1st, with "Conduct in general;" 2d, “Evolution of conduct;" and 3d, 'Good and bad conduct.'

66

[ocr errors]

That conduct is a whole, and ethics a part of the totality; that conduct may be taken in a sense so wide as to include all actions except purposeless actions, that is, all actions adjusted to ends; and that ethical science is concerned with a restricted and advanced division of conduct-are positions which may be freely admitted. There is, indeed, an ambiguity in the description of purposeless actions, about which, however, there is no need to raise discussion. There is, however, a wide difference between an action which serves a pur. pose and an action by which an agent executes his own purpose; and there is a proportionate difference between the philosophic theories adequate to account for these two sets of actions. There is an immense distance separating the action of water pouring upon a millwheel from the action of a man conveying his thoughts to another in ordinary conversation. And between these two lies the vast and complicated set of sensori-motor actions characterizing various orders of muscular activity.

Let us here, however, keep hold of these two conceptions, which are favorites with Mr. Spencer, that conduct is a totality, and that moral conduct is a part in this whole. We have now to consider how moral actions come to be regarded as a distinct class within the

totality. To account for this, we must be able to point to distinguishing features belonging exclusively to such actions. What are these features? and how are they recognized? In accordance with the relation of whole and part, it is found convenient to dwell on the general classification of actions as good or bad. From this generality it is needful to discover the avenue to the more specific region of right or wrong. This requires discrimination, which brings the evolutionist on his first serious perplexity. There is, indeed, no great puzzle so long as we linger among evidences of growing complexity of animal structure, and adaptation to the accomplishment of higher ends. We freely apply the term " good," in a lax_general sense, to all actions serving any end in animal economy, such as the support of the organism or the increase of happiness. So long as we continue observation in this region there can be no dispute as to Spencer's answer to the question, What constitutes advance in the evolution of conduct? Increasing complexity of organism provides for increasing complexity of action. On this line of progress, marking degrees of excellence, we may have a good and a better. From complexity within the organism itself we pass to what concerns the species to which the individual belongs, considering what is good in the sense of providing for the continuance of the race. Here we are concerned with the relation of parents and offspring, as exemplified in lower and higher orders of beings. From this we advance to what is social, and the good is that which contributes to the strength and comfort of the aggregate belonging to the same order.

66

[ocr errors]

All this is clear and certain, but it helps nothing toward an explanation of ethical distinctions. It is in some sense an obstruction to a proper understanding. For it deliberately leads us into a thicket out of which it is difficult to clear a way to open ground, where moral distinctions come within sight. "The struggle for existence"-the well-known auxiliary of the evolutionist-proves a source of great perplexity, as he seeks to become a moralist, vindicating an evolution theory as adequate to explain ethical actions. The struggle for existence" has as its consequent "survival of the fittest, and that as its concomitant "destruction of the weakest.' This struggle may be traced in the evolution of conduct up the scale of increasingly complex organism, with evidence of steadily increasing violence on the one hand and laceration on the other. Growing strength, with more powerful weapons of offence, may present evolution of conduct, ap. pearing at length in fiercest encounters. But such evolution is not in the direction of morality, nor is it any help toward the evolution of thought bearing on higher conduct.

[ocr errors]

Nothing can conceal-or even materially obscure-the vastness of the contrast involved when we pass from such conflict to actions which come within the ethical region. We are introduced into a new sphere—as Mr. Spencer has said, it is introduction “ by antithesis”

« PreviousContinue »