A HANDBOOK OF ETHICAL THEORY
A HANDBOOK OF ETHICAL THEORY
GEORGE STUART FULLERTON
We are all amply provided with moral maxims which we hold with more or
less confidence but an insight into their significance is not attained
without reflection and some serious effort. Yet surely in a field in
which there are so many differences of opinion clearness of insight and
breadth of view are eminently desirable.
It is with a view to helping students of ethics in our universities and
outside of them to a clearer comprehension of the significance of morals
and the end of ethical endeavor that this book has been written.
I have in the Notes appended to it taken the liberty of making a few
suggestions to teachers some of whom have fewer years of teaching behind
them than I have. I make no apology for writing in a clear and
untechnical style nor for reducing to a minimum references to
literatures in other tongues than our own. These things are in accord
with the aim of the volume.
I take this opportunity of thanking Professor Margaret F. Washburn of
Vassar College and Professor F. J. E. Woodbridge of Columbia
University for kind assistance which I have found helpful.
G. S. F. New York 1921.
_THE ACCEPTED CONTENT OF MORALS_
CHAPTER I. IS THERE AN ACCEPTED CONTENT? 2. What Constitutes Substantial Agreement?
1. The Point in Dispute.
3. Dogmatic Assumption.
CHAPTER II. THE CODES OF COMMUNITIES 5. The Codes of Communities: Veracity.
4. The Codes of Communities: Justice.
6. The Codes of Communities: the Common Good.
CHAPTER III. THE CODES OF THE MORALISTS 8. Epicurean and Stoic.
7. The Moralists.
9. Plato; Aristotle; the Church.
10. Later Lists of the Virtues.
11. The Stretching of Moral Concepts.
12. The Reflective Mind and the Moral Codes.
_ETHICS AS SCIENCE_
CHAPTER IV. THE AWAKENING TO REFLECTION 14. The Awakening.
13. The Dogmatism of the Natural Man.
CHAPTER V. ETHICAL METHOD 16 The Authority of the "Given."
15. Inductive and Deductive Method.
CHAPTER VI. THE MATERIALS OF ETHICS 18. The Philosopher as Moralist.
17. How the Moralist should Proceed.
CHAPTER VII. THE AIM OF ETHICS AS SCIENCE 20. The Appeal to Reason Justified.
19. The Appeal to Reason.
_MAN AND HIS ENVIRONMENT_
CHAPTER VIII. MAN'S NATURE 22. Man's Nature.
21. The Background of Actions.
23. How Discover Man's Nature?
CHAPTER IX. MAN'S MATERIAL ENVIRONMENT 25. The Conquests of the Mind.
24. The Struggle with Nature.
26. The Conquest of Nature and the Well-being of Man.
CHAPTER X. MAN'S SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT 28. Varieties of the Social Order.
27. Man is Assigned his Place.
29. Social Organization.
30. Social Order and Human Will.
_THE REALM OF ENDS_
CHAPTER XI. IMPULSE DESIRE AND WILL 32. Desire.
33. Desire of the Unattainable.
35. Desire and Will not Identical.
36. The Will and Deferred Action.
CHAPTER XII. THE PERMANENT WILL 38. Ends not Consciously Chosen.
37. Consciously Chosen Ends.
39. The Choice of Ideals.
CHAPTER XIII. THE OBJECT IN DESIRE AND WILL 41. Human Nature and the Objects Chosen.
40. The Object as End to be Realized.
42. The Instincts and Impulses of Man.
43. The Study of Man's Instincts Important.
44. The Bewildering Multiplicity of the Objects of Desire and the Effort
to Find an Underlying Unity.
CHAPTER XIV. INTENTION AND MOTIVE 46. Intention.
45. Complex Ends.
48. Ethical Significance of Intention and Motive.
CHAPTER XV. FEELING AS MOTIVE 50. Feeling and Action.
51. Feeling as Object.
52. Freedom as Object.
CHAPTER XVI. RATIONALITY AND WILL 54. One View of Reason.
53. The Irrational Will.
55. Dominant and Subordinate Desires.
56. The Harmonization of Desires.
57. Varieties of Dominant Ends.
58. An Objection Answered.
59. This View of Reason Misconceived.
60. Another View of Reason.
_THE SOCIAL WILL_
CHAPTER XVII. CHARACTERISTICS OF THE SOCIAL WILL 62. Social Will and Social Habits.
61. What is the Social Will?
63. Social Will and Social Organization.
64. The Social Will and Ideal Ends.
65. The Permanent Social Will.
CHAPTER XVIII. EXPRESSIONS OF THE SOCIAL WILL 67. The Ground for the Authority of Custom.
68. The Origin and the Persistence of Customs.
70. Public Opinion.
CHAPTER XIX. THE SHARERS IN THE SOCIAL WILL 72. The Community and the Dead.
71. The Community.
73. The Community and the Supernatural.
74. Religion and the Community.
75. The Spread of the Community.
_THE REAL SOCIAL WILL_
CHAPTER XX. THE IMPERFECT SOCIAL WILL 77. The Will of the Majority.
76. The Apparent and the Real Social Will.
78. Ignorance and Error and the Social Will.
79. Heedlessness and the Social Will.
80. Rational Elements in the Irrational Will.
81. The Social Will and the Selfishness of the Individual.
CHAPTER XXI. THE RATIONAL SOCIAL WILL 83. An Objection Answered.
82. Reasonable Ends.
84. Reasonable Social Ends.
85. The Ethics of Reason.
86. The Development of Civilization.
CHAPTER XXII. THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE SOCIAL WILL 88. The Appeal to Reason.
87. Man's Multiple Allegiance.
89. The Ethics of Reason and the Varying Moral Codes.
_THE SCHOOLS OF THE MORALISTS_
CHAPTER XXIII. INTUITIONISM 91. Varieties of Intuitionism.
90. What is it?
92. Arguments for Intuitionism.
93. Arguments against Intuitionism.
94. The Value of Moral Intuitions.
CHAPTER XXIV. EGOISM 96. Crass Egoisms.
95. What is Egoism?
97. Equivocal Egoism?
98. What is Meant by the Self?
99. Egoism and the Broader Self.
100. Egoism not Unavoidable.
101. Varieties of Egoism.
102. The Arguments for Egoism.
103. The Argument against Egoism.
104. The Moralist's Interest in Egoism.
CHAPTER XXV. UTILITARIANISM 106. Bentham's Doctrine.
105. What is Utilitarianism?
107. The Doctrine of J. S. Mill.
108. The Argument for Utilitarianism.
109. The Distribution of Happiness.
110. The Calculus of Pleasures.
111. The Difficulties of Other Schools.
112. Summary of Arguments for Utilitarianism.
113. Arguments against Utilitarianism.
114. Transfigured Utilitarianism.
CHAPTER XXVI. NATURE PERFECTION SELF-REALIZATION 115. Human Nature as Accepted Standard.
116. Human Nature and the Law of Nature.
117. Vagueness of the Law of Nature.
118. The Appeal to Nature and Intuitionism.
119. Perfection and Type.
120. More and Less Perfect Types.
121. Perfectionism and Intuitionism.
122. The Self-realization Doctrine.
123. The Doctrine Akin to that of Following Nature.
124. Is the Doctrine More Egoistic?
125. Why Aim to Realize Capacities?
126. The Problem of Self-sacrifice.
127. Self-satisfaction and Self-sacrifice.
128. Can Moral Self-sacrifice be a Duty?
129. Self-sacrifice and the Identity of Selves.
130. Questions which Seem to be Left Open.
CHAPTER XXVII. THE ETHICS OF EVOLUTION 132. Evolution and the Schools of the Moralists.
131. The Significance of the Title.
133. The Ethics of Individual Evolutionists.
CHAPTER XXVIII. PESSIMISM 135. Comment on the Ethics of Pessimism.
134. The Philosophy of the Pessimist.
CHAPTER XXIX. KANT HEGEL AND NIETZSCHE 137. Hegel.
_THE ETHICS OF THE SOCIAL WILL_
CHAPTER XXX. ASPECTS OF THE ETHICS OF REASON 140. Its Method of Approach to Problems.
139. The Doctrine Supported by the Other Schools.
141. Its Solution of Certain Difficulties.
142. The Cultivation of Our Capacities.
CHAPTER XXXI. THE MORAL LAW AND MORAL IDEALS 144. The Negative Aspect of the Moral Law.
143. Duties and Virtues.
145. How Can One Know the Moral Law?
CHAPTER XXXII. THE MORAL CONCEPTS 147. Duty and Obligation.
146. Good and Bad; Right and Wrong.
148. Reward and Punishment.
149. Virtues and Vices.
CHAPTER XXXIII. THE ETHICS OF THE INDIVIDUAL. 152. The Virtues of the Individual.
151. What is Meant by the Term?
153. Conventional Morality.
CHAPTER XXXIV. THE ETHICS OF THE STATE 155. Its Origin and Authority.
154. The Aim of the State.
156. Forms of Organization.
157. The Laws of the State.
158. The Rights and Duties of the State.
CHAPTER XXXV. INTERNATIONAL ETHICS 160. Our Method of Approach to the Subject.
159. What is Meant by the Term.
161. Some Problems of International Ethics.
162. The Other Side of the Shield.
163. The Solution.
164. The Necessity for Caution.
CHAPTER XXXVI. ETHICS AND OTHER DISCIPLINES 166. Ethics and Philosophy.
165. Sciences that Concern the Moralist.
167. Ethics and Religion.
168. Ethics and Belief.
169. The Last Word.
THE ACCEPTED CONTENT OF MORALS
IS THERE AN ACCEPTED CONTENT?
1. THE POINT IN DISPUTE.--Is there an accepted content of morals? Can we
use the expression without going on to ask: Accepted where when and by
To be sure certain eminent moralists have inclined to maintain that men
are in substantial agreement in regard to their moral judgments. Joseph
Butler writing in the first half of the eighteenth century came to the
conclusion that however men may dispute about particulars there is an
universally acknowledged standard of virtue professed in public in all
ages and all countries made a show of by all men enforced by the
primary and fundamental laws of all civil constitutions: namely justice
veracity and regard to common good. [Footnote: _Dissertation on the
Nature of Virtue._] Sir Leslie Stephen writing in the latter half of
the nineteenth tells us that "in one sense moralists are almost
unanimous; in another they are hopelessly discordant. They are unanimous
in pronouncing certain classes of conduct to be right and the opposite
wrong. No moralist denies that cruelty falsity and intemperance are
vicious or that mercy truth and temperance are virtuous." [Footnote:
_The Science of Ethics_ chapter i Sec. 1.]
In other words these writers would teach us that men are on the whole
agreed in approving explicitly or implicitly some standard of conduct
sufficiently definite to serve as a code of morals. But that there is
such a substantial agreement among men has not impressed all observers to
the same degree. Locke who wrote before Butler based his arguments
against the existence of innate moral maxims upon the wide divergencies
found among various classes of men touching what is right and what is
wrong. [Footnote: _Essay Concerning Human Understanding_ Book I
chapter iii.] The historian the anthropologist and the sociologist
reinforce his reasonings with a wealth of illustration not open to the
men of an earlier time. They present us with codes not a code; with
multitudinous standards not a single standard; with what has been
accepted here or there at this time or at that; and we may well ask
ourselves where amid this profusion we are to find the one and
2. WHAT CONSTITUTES SUBSTANTIAL AGREEMENT?--To be sure we may be very
generous in our interpretation of what constitutes substantial agreement;
we may deny significance to all sorts of discrepancies by relegating them
to the unimpressive class of "disputes about particulars." Such an
impressionistic indifference to detail may leave us with something on our
hands as little serviceable as a composite photograph made from
individual objects which have little in common a blur lacking all
definite outline and not recognizable as any object at all. No man can
guide his conduct by the common core of many or of all moral codes. Taken
in its bald abstraction it is not a code or anything like a code. Who
can walk without walking in some particular way in some direction at
some time? Who can mind his manners without being mannerly in accordance
with the usages of some race or people?
Those who content themselves with enunciating very general moral
principles may it is true be of no little service to their fellow-men;
but that is only because their fellow-men are able to supply the details
that convert the blur into a picture. Some twenty-four hundred years ago
Heraclitus told his contemporaries "to act according to nature with
understanding"; we are often told today that the rule of our lives should
be "to do good." Had the ancient Greek not possessed his own notions of
what might properly be meant by nature and by understanding did we not
ourselves have some rather definite conception of what actions may
properly fall under the caption of doing good such admonitions could not
lead to the stirring of a finger. Who would appeal to his physician for
advice as to diet if he expected from him no more than the counsel to
eat at the proper hours enough but not too much of suitable food?
If then we confine our admonitions to the group of abstractions which
constitute the universally acknowledged standard of virtue when all the
individual differences which characterize different codes have been
ignored we preach what taken alone no man can live by and no
community of men has ever attempted to live by. If we leave it to our
hearers to drape our naked abstractions with concrete details each will
set to work in a different way. The method of the composite photograph
seems unprofitable in attempting to solve the problem of morals.
3. DOGMATIC ASSUMPTION.--There is however a second way by which the
variations which characterize different codes may come to be relegated to
a position of relative insignificance. We may assume that our own code is
the ultimate standard by which all others are to be judged and we may
set down deviations from it to the account of the ignorance or the
perversity of our fellowmen. So regarded they are aberrations from the
normal and only true code of conduct; interesting perhaps but little
enlightening for they can have little bearing upon our conception of
what we ought to do.
A presumption against this arbitrary assumption that we have the one and
only desirable code is suggested the unthinking acceptance of the
traditional by those who are lacking in enlightenment and in the capacity
reflection. Is it not significant that a contact with new ways of
thinking has a tendency at least to make men broaden their horizon and
to revise some of their views?
In other fields we hope to attain to a capacity for self-criticism. We
expect to learn from other men. Why should we in the sphere of morals
lay claim to the possession of the truth the whole truth and nothing
but the truth? Why should we refuse to learn from anyone? Such a position
seems unreasoning. It puts moral judgments beyond the pale of argument
and intelligent discussion. It is an assumption of infallibility little
in harmony with the spirit of science. The fact that a given standard of
conduct is in harmony with our traditions habits of thought and
emotional responses does not prove to other men that it is not one of a
number of accepted codes but in a quite peculiar sense acceptable a
thing to put in a class by itself--the class into which each mother puts
her own child as over against other children.
Moreover such an unreasoned assumption of superiority must make one
little sympathetic in one's attitude toward the moral life of other
peoples. Into the significance of their social organization of their