The Evolutionary Method As Applied To Morality: II. Its Significance for Conduct
IN a preceding paper, I attempted to show that only by the use of evolutionary ideas, that is, the historical method, can morality be brought within the domain of science. That discussion, however, did not develop the implied bearings of the presented theory upon distinctively moral values and validities. If we suppose for the moment that scientific treatment would follow the general lines indicated, what would be the influence of such a treatment upon morality as such? Would it leave moral quality unaffected -- just where it was ? Would it lessen or destroy the moral meaning as such ? Or would it intensify and expand ethical significance, giving an added meaning and an added sanction ?
Before directly taking up these questions, it is necessary to dispose of a certain ambiguity and confusion. I am convinced that in much recent discussion about validity or objective value, writers have taken up indiscriminately two different standpoints, and passed unwittingly from one problem to another and quite different matter. One question is this : What is the validity of the moral point of view as such? Or, in the form which contemporary thought makes most urgent: How is the validity of the moral point of view, with its insistence upon standards, ideals, responsibilities, to be reconciled with the validity of the scientific point of view and its insistence upon the presented, upon facts, upon the causal ? A distinct question is the following: How is the validity of a given moral point of view or judgment determined? This judgment about capital punishment is morally valid; that one is ethically incompetent. This point of view regarding temperance, expansion, the silver question, Organized charity, etc., is true-that is, has superior objective value-- compared with some other point of view. Or, the judgment "I
(354) should follow my artistic bent, even if it interferes with existing filial relations," is correct.
Now, ethical science is primarily concerned with problems of validity in the latter sense. It belongs to logic, to the theory of points of view, the categories, and of the methods that develop these points of view, to discuss the validity of morality uberhaupt. The scientist as such is not directly concerned with matters of ultimate validity; neither, however, is he taken up with mere presented facts. His fundamental and interesting problem is that of ways of passing upon questions of specific validity; ways of determining the respective values this or that particular judgment. The extent to which philosophical writers adopt and repeat the propositions of empirical writers, developed before objective science had made much headway, is surprising. It is not bare description of given facts that constitutes the work of the scientist ; but discovering, testing, and elaborating adequate modes of finding out what is really given; adequate modes of describing and defining what is thus laid bare. This ought to be too trivial, too commonplace to mention, but current arguments against the use of historical methods in ethics indicate the need not only of mention but of stress. The opponent argues thus : It is of course true that morality has a history; that is, we can trace different moral practices, beliefs, customs, demands, opinions, in various forms of outward manifestation. We can say that here such and such moral practices obtained, and then gave way in this point or that. This indeed is a branch of history, and an interesting one. As history it is mere truism to say that it will receive scientific treatment just in the degree in which all the resources of historic method are called into action. But when this is said and done the result remains history, not ethics. What ethics deals with is the moral worth of these various practices, beliefs, etc.; and this question of worth is a totally different matter from existence in a temporal series, and from the accurate description of serial order. The historian of ethics can at most supply only data; the distinctive work of the ethical writer is still all to be done. And we may imagine the objector going on to add the stock phrases . History
(355) is descriptive, it deals with the given, the actual, the phenomenal. Ethics is normative, it wants to know about the standard, the ideal, that which ought to be, whether or no it is or ever has been.
In my judgment the objector is here entangled in the looseness and vagueness of his own analysis. He has not discriminated the two meanings of validity. He is arguing that because a genetic or historic account does not determine ab initio the moral point of view as such, therefore it is not necessary to the right determination of questions of specific value -- an obvious mutatio conclusionis.
Because history does not create off-hand, so to speak, moral validity, it hardly follows that an adequate knowledge of historical development is not quite indispensable to the successful pursuit of the task of deciding upon validity in this and that special case. At times it would seem as if the objector went even further in his confusion ; it would almost appear that he confounds history as an objective succession of events 'with history as the rational account and interpretation of these events ; history as bare fact and history as method. It might be true that objective history does not create moral values., as such, and yet be true that there is no way of settling questions of valid ethical significance in detail apart from historical consideration. In any case, whatever deserves the name of history is more than an inventory of practices, beliefs, and opinions. It is concerned with the origin and development of these customs and ideas ; and with the question of their mode of operation after they have arisen. The described facts-yes ; but among the facts described is precisely certain conditions under which various norms, ideals, and rules of action have originated and functioned. A continual pigeon-
(356) -holing of such consideration as mere 'description' becomes lies irritating when it assumes that the description cannot go beyond the prima facie and obvious appearance of the material dealt with; that it just goes heaping up more and more such unexplained Lnd uninterpreted data. This no more supplies the general content of historic science than the first appearance of the world to our senses is the significant content of physical science. this is only material to be described ; not the described material. Its worth is to furnish data and present problems, suggest working hypotheses, and supply the material through which the: may be tested.
The historic method is a method, first, for determining how specific moral values (whether in the way of customs, expectations, conceived ends, or rules) came to be ; and second, for determining their significance as indicated in their career. Its assumptions are that norms and ideals, as well as unreflective customs, arose out of certain situations, in response to the demands of those situations ; and that once in existence they operated with a less or greater need of success (to be determined by study of the concrete case). We are still engaged in forming norms, in setting up ends, in conceiving obligations. If moral science has any constructive value, it must provide standpoints and working instrumentalities for the more adequate performance these tasks. Are we to say that the urgent problem of the present right determination of standards and aims can be solved when we cut loose from a consideration of the past? Shall we say that a defined and critical knowledge of the origin, history, and destiny of such matters in the past life of humanity is aside from the mark in our present situation ?
To adopt such a standpoint, even by implication, is to commit ourselves to two assumptions : first, that while there may have been rationality in past moral beliefs and practices, there is no such rationality as to the present and the future. In other words, it is assumed that while moral attitudes manking have hitherto arisen in relation to a definite situation, the present is quite in the air, and hence judgment of it cannot be directed. Secondly, it is assumed that a knowledge of how norms and
(357) moral endeavors have been brought about in the past throws no light upon the intrinsic process of moralization. For my part, I am not presumptuous enough to venture upon such notions ; I would have those who deny moral significance to the historical method show how we may guide and control the formation of our further moral judgments if we forego inquiry into the process of their formation as historically set before us.
In these introductory words, I do not suppose myself to have shown that the historic method has a settled moral significance that at once facilitates conduct and gives it an added sanction by introducing more rationality; but I hope at least to have cleared up somewhat the real point at issue, and to have shown the irrelevancy of some of the current, rather peremptory, modes of disposing of the genetic standpoint in morals.
The problem of the best method of arriving at correct judgments on points of moral worth, necessarily traverses ground covered by the time-honored and time-worn theories of intuitionalism, and empiricism. Even at the risk of threshing old straw, it will be advisable to compare the evolutionary method with these other points of view, In such a comparison, however, it is to be borne in mind that the sole point under review is that of the logical relationship of the theory examined to the meaning and sanction of our moral judgments. The question is not whether or no there are intuitions ; whether or no they can be utilized in special cases, or whether or no all supposed intuitions can be accounted for as products of associative memory. The problem is not one of fact but of value. It is a logical problem. If we suppose such necessary and universal beliefs as go by the name of 'intuition' to exist, does such existence settle anything regarding the validity of what is believed, either in general or in part ? It is a question of the relation of the intuition to fact -- to the moral order in reality. Under what conditions alone, and in what measure or degree, are we justified in arguing from the existence of mora1 intuitions as mental states and acts to facts taken to correspond to them ?
The reply already hinted at is that the mere existence of a belief, even admitting that as a belief it cannot in any way be
(358) got rid of, determines absolutely nothing regarding the objectivity of its own content. The worth of the intuition depends upon genetic considerations. In so far as we can state the intuition in terms of the conditions of its origin, development, and later career, in so far we have some criterion for passing judgment upon its pretentions to validity. If we can find that ie intuition is a legitimate response to enduring and deep-seated conditions, we have some reason to attribute worth to it. If we find that historically the belief has played a part in maintaining the integrity of social life, and in bringing new values into our belief in its worth is additionally guaranteed. But if we cannot find such historic origin and functioning, the intuition remains a mere state of consciousness, a hallucination, an illusion, which is not made more worthy by simply multiplying the number of people who have participated in it.
Put roughly we may say that intuitionalism, as ordinarily conceived, makes the ethical belief a brute fact, because unrelated. Its very lack of genetic relationship to the situation in which it appears condemns it to isolation. This isolation logically makes it impossible to credit it with objective validity. The intuitionalist, in proclaiming the necessity of his content, proclaims -is thereby its objective reference ; but in asserting its non-, genetic character he denies any reference whatsoever. The gene tic theory holds that the content embodied in any so-called int uition is a response to a given active situation : that it arises, develops, and operates somehow in reference to this situation. The functional reference establishes in advance some kind of relationship to objective conditions, and hence some presumption of validity. If the 'intuition' persists, it is within certain limits because the situation persists. If the particular moral belief is really inexpugnable, it is just because the conditions which require it are so enduring as to persistently call out an attitude which is relevant to them. The probability is that it continues in exist,-- ice simply because it continues to be necessary in function.
The presumption or probability, however, must not be pushed too far. It is a well-known fact that habits endure and project themselves after the conditions which originally generated them
(359) pass over, and that under such circumstances the habits become sources of error and even of hallucination. Indeed the most generic psychological statement that we have of illusions is that a psych o -physical disposition in conformity with the state of the case in the great majority of instances asserts itself by the principle of habit, when some of the conditions are radically different, and thus produces a judgment whose content does violence to the facts of the particular case.
The point of the genetic method is then that it shows relationships, and thereby at once guarantees and defines meaning. We must take the history of any intuition or attitude of moral consciousness in both directions: both ex parte ante and ex parte post. We must consider it with reference to the antecedents which evoked it, and with reference to its later career and fate. It arises in a certain context, and as a reaction to certain circumstances ; it has a subsequent history which can be traced. It maintains and reinforces certain conditions, and modifies others. It becomes a stimulus which provokes new modes of action. Now when we see how and why the belief came about, and also know what else came about because of it, we have a hold upon the worth of the belief which is entirely wanting when we set it up as an isolated intuition. Pure intuitionalism. is often indeed undistinguishable from the crassest empiricism. The ' intuition' is declared to be a content of 'reason,' but reason is a mere label. The ordinary relation and criteria of rationality are expressly eliminated. Quite likely we have deified the results of a merely accidental history or series of circumstances. The only way to introduce reasonableness is to analyze in detail the course of events from which the intuition results, and to trace in further detail the influences that radiate from it. There is much ground for John Stuart Mill's basis of opposition to intuitionalism -- it tends to perpetuate prejudice and sanctify conservatism by calling them eternal truths of reason, and thus to erect barriers in the way of moral progress.
A given belief or intuition represents, as regards its content, a cross-section of an historic process. No wonder it becomes meaningless and obstructive when the static section is taken as if it were a complete and individualized reality. Any morpho-
(360) -logical section becomes significant in itself, and heuristic with reference to further scientific activity, just in the degree in which it is employed along with other cross-sections, before and, after, in constructing a continuous process or life history.
Every intuitionalist admits that as matter of fact the supposed content of the intuitions has in some cases at least varied from time to time. This point is familiar as an objection of fact against intuitionalism. Its logical significance is however even more important.
This admission condemns, as a nugatory pretense, the claim to objective validity on the part of every intuition. If we are mistaken in one case, we may be in others, since by definition any standard outside the intuition as such is excluded. Either everything that appears to the individual as final and authoritative is such, or else such appearance lacks competency in any case. Intuitionalism is Protagorean in its belief that man's ideas are the measure of moral realities. If the intuitionalist falls back upon the notion of the inexpugnable, he falls back simply upon a question of bare fact. How much time is to be allowed ? Certainly the life of the individual occupies but a brief span in the continuity of conscious social life in which it is imbedded. Beliefs that are inexpugnable for a given individual, or for a series of generations, or even for an entire nationality, finally fade away. According to the test of inexpugnableness this would show that they were never intuitions, and hence never objectively valid-- ex hypothesi. Viewed in this way, the contents of our present moral beliefs become of suspicion. Intuitionalism, at one stroke transforms itself into scepticism. What guarantee have we that our present 'intuitions' have more validity than hundreds of past ideas that have shown themselves by passing away to be empty opinion or indurated prejudice? In denying genesis and history to have objective worth, we make the whole history of moral belief an illusion -a vain shew. The same logic that makes necessary the rejection of former moral ideas as not really intuitions, and hence of no moral worth at all, cuts the ground out from under any and every moral belief.
On the other hand, the genetic theory ascribes a certain positive moral validity to any belief, that has arisen as a persistent response to a situation, while at the same time it enables us to measure, through tracing its later career and destiny, the range of worth attaching to it. The genetic method grades worth, instead of compelling us either to consecrate or damn it in toto. Take as a special and test case the matter of the value of human life. Savage tribes almost universally practice infanticide. They do so not only without a thought of its immorality, but in many cases, and up to a certain extent, in recognition of a supposed obligation. Their moral 'intuitions' inform them that the welfare of the older and vigorous members of a group is to be preferred to that of the decrepit and feeble-that the latter are a burden to the well-being of the community, and hence to be eliminated. Now the theory which denies a certain positive value genetically measured to this belief, by its own dialectic also deprives us of any reason for attributing positive ethical significance to the moral aspirations of to-day. A theory which regards infanticide in the light of a reaction to its own set of historic conditions may, by investigating these conditions, give a relative justification to the idea. It may also, by tracing its later and continuing effects, finally condemn it. It may see how its persistence left a group stranded on a lower level , and how its passing away coincided with and conditioned a more complex and richer social order. The investigation may, indeed it should, reveal principles of the moralizing process which give better control of the moral beliefs and practices of to-day.
Infanticide arises in nomadic peoples ; the tribes are nomadic just because the necessity of getting food keeps them on the move from place to place. This very necessity makes impossible the settled abode with the ties and attachments which spring up about it. It keeps all the institutional relations of life loose and superficial. Moreover, to a nomadic people everything that has to be carried about is a burden Every infant is not only such a burden, but is an additional drain upon the scanty food resources of his community. Moreover, the burden of transportation falls upon the woman, and the woman is already laden with all the
(362) camp equipment and utensils. The food supply is so precarious that the older babies, in order to make sure of life, are long suckled at the breast, frequently for four or five years. To try and feed the new baby is possibly to starve the old. Moreover, in the encampment the woman has many duties put upon her in order that the man may be free to hunt. These duties can hardly be adequately performed if many little children are demanding attention.
Needless to say, the question is not one of justifying infanticide. The genetic or historic consideration reveals, however, that in the rough the same sort of moral process is at work in the savage society as in the civilized. The fundamental question in any case is the paramount conditions of social existence. Let the social situation be such that more value comes to life from preserving and caring for the tender, helpless, and feeble than from ignoring them, and their nurture will be a moral duty. Let this preservation become a tax, and even a threat against the integrity of the community life, and an opposite belief and practice are set up.
The same method which gives a relative justification to the intuition, also forbids its continuance. Such justification, as it gets is in its relativity to a given type of social life. That type, however, is so crude and undeveloped as compared with other forms we are familiar with, that it cannot be tolerated. The demand for doing away with infanticide is just the same as its justification : that it is consistent with a certain type of life. It not only arises within it, but tends to perpetuate it.
Now if we turn our gaze to the present social life we find precisely the same situation. Our moral code does not permit us intentionally to expose, nor wilfully to destroy, the infant and the aged. It does permit us, however, to condemn hundreds and thousands of little children, as well as grown people, to sickly, stunted, and defective lives, physical as well as mental. To be sure this state of things is attacked as immoral by many social reformers, but the general attitude is one of comparative indifference, sometimes indeed of irritation with the visionaries who endeavor to stir up dissatisfaction, or even of indignation with them
(363) as imperiling the foundations of society. Not that the condemnation of children to a partial life is in and of itself a necessary pillar of society, but that it is a necessary incident of a whole industrial order which cannot be attacked without shaking society. In other words, there is at bottom a belief simply in the necessity of these things to the conservation and maintenance of the established social type. And this is precisely the reason the savage would appeal to in defense of his infanticide if he were capable of reflective thought. Very much the same thing can be said about our practice of war, and the necessity that war implies the offering up a sacrifice of so many thousands of human lives every year. Such things are simply 'necessary'; and hence our impatience with or contempt, for those who proclaim their radical immorality. Hence our zeal in idealizing, and in imputing moral qualities of patriotism, bravery, etc.
The point here, as in the case of infanticide, is neither merely to glorify nor condemn the thing in and of itself, but rather to get back to the general movement of society which produces these particular ethical symptoms; and in turn to trace in more detail their historic consequences, realizing in detail to what extent they tend to perpetuate undeveloped and inadequate social forms.
The illustration suggests that the import of the argument is wider than just the question of intuitionalism. The problem is the criterion for the validity of any moral idea prevalent in society at a given time. The conclusion is that a genetic treatment places any such belief in relation both to the circumstances which generate it, and the effects which it produces, and thereby gets us out of the region of mere opinion, sentimentality, and prejudice. This possibility of objective judgment is the scientific phase of the matter. But the fact, that this control of judgment of the worth or lack of worth in current moral beliefs at once modifies the beliefs and determines the development of new ones, shows that the scientific method has of itself a moral value it determines and enforces fundamental moral motives and sanctions. it is an intrinsic factor in controlling the formation of moral judgments, and this is a part of the evolution of moral ideals and standards.
The relation of the genetic method to empiricism, so far as the matter of moral validity is concerned, requires attention. Fortunately, the notion that intuitionalism and empiricism exhaust the alternatives no longer universally obtains. We are getting aware that it is quite possible, to conceive ideas and values as arising in and with reference to experience ; and yet hold that empiricism, being just one mode of logical interpretation, gives a faulty and distorted account of them. Fortunately moerover, (for our argument is already getting too long) it is no necessary to examine the whole scope of empirical method. Only two points concern us here one, the relation of the empirical method to the genetic method the second, a comparison of bearings upon the question of determining worth in our ethical judgments.
Empiricism is no more historic in character than intuitionalism. Empiricism is concerned with the moral idea or belief as a grouping or association of various elementary feelings. It regards the idea simply as a complex state which is to be explained by resolving it into its elementary constituents. By its both the complex and the elements are isolated from an historic context. The genetic method determines the worth or significance of the belief by considering the place that it occupied in a developing series; the empirical method by referring it to its components. Elementary feelings or sensations, as the empiricist deals with them, have no inherent or intrinsic time reference at all. Such reference is a purely external matter that attaches to the accidental way in which one of these elements happens to fall in with others ; accidental because its position of antecedence or consequence is something lying wholly outside of the element itself. While the genetic method finds quality or meaning to be essentially a function of position in the historic series, the empirical method holds that reality and hence validity can be got at only by dissolving the bonds of temporal connection, and ,fct-ting to a residual experience which is self existent and self-sufficing.
The empirical and the genetic methods thus imply a very different relationship between the moral state, idea, or belief, and objective reality. From the genetic standpoint, the moral idea is essen-
(365)-tially an attitude that arises in the individual in response to the practical situation in which he is involved. It is the estimate the individual puts upon that situation. It is a certain way of conceiving it or interpreting it with reference to the exigencies of action. Accordingly, it operates as a method of reconstructing the situation through the act indicated. It arises as a response to a stimulus, and its worth is found in its success, as response, in doing the particular work demanded of it, not in the extent to which it parallels or reproduces the precise conditions which evoke it. The idea of withdrawing the hand may be an adequate response to the perception of a flame. The idea, however, is not an impression of the object. In like manner the notion of giving an accused man a chance to justify himself may be an adequate response to the stimulus of capture and presumed guilt. And yet it in no way depends for its reality upon being a mere impress of the existing state of affairs. The test of its worth is its capacity to regulate the various factors entering into the situation. The empirical theory holds that the idea arises as a reflex of some existing object or fact. Hence the test of its objectivity is the faithfulness with which it reproduces that object as copy. The genetic theory holds that the idea arises as a response, and that the test of its validity is found in its later career as manifested with reference to the needs of the situation that evoked it.
The difference again maybe stated as follows: The empirical method holds that the belief or idea is generated by a process of repetition or cumulation; the genetic method by a process of adjustment. We need only refer to Spencer's account of the way in which various impressions consolidate themselves into moral beliefs or intuitions to see how completely the process is conceived as one of sheer accumulation. This, moreover, lies not in Spencer's personal wish to conceive it that way, but rather in the logic of empiricism itself. Each experience being separate and isolated, due to an impression received from an existent thing, all that remains, is for the various images, of these experiences to pile up on each other in such a way that the like elements continually reinforce one another, while the unlike ones fade, blur, and are finally effaced. Empiricism can conceive a given
(366) experience only as a summation of elements. Here is where its weakness lies, as its intuitional opponents have always felt practically, though they have not always seized the logical point. If a moral belief is simply an accumulation through repeated associations of previously given elements of experience without any essential modification or reconstruction of them, then one of two things is certain : either the original state was inherently ethical in quality -- and thus the contention of the intuitionalist is virtually admitted -- or else the empiricist is trying to generate the ethical by telescoping into one another purely non-ethical elements. Here is the vulnerable point in empiricism -- by its logic change of quality in passage from generating elements to final product must be explained away. It is illusion. But the essence of an historic process is precisely qualitative change in process, that, as process, is continuous.
The empiricist is compelled to regard an idea as simply an accumulation of particular experiences, because he regards the original experience as an impression whose worth lies in its pictorial accuracy. If we regard the 'first' term as reaction or response, while it is thoroughly and genuinely empirical in character (in the sense of arising wholly within and because of experience and not from any extraneous a priori source), yet its business as response is to transcend, not barely to repeat, the quality of experience as previously given or constituted. Its further development consists in such elaborating and transforming of the response as makes it more adequate. Instead of bare consolidation of ready-made elements, there is a series of tentative adjustments which gradually perfect an adaptation.
The logic of the moral idea is like the logic of an invention, say a telephone. Certain positive elements or qualities are present ; but there are also certain ends which, not being adequately served by the qualities existent, are felt as needs. Facts as given and needs as demands are viewed in relation to each other because of their common relationship to some process of experience. Tentative reactions are tried. The old 'fact' or quality is viewed in a new light-the light of a need-hence is treated in a new way and thereby transformed. The operative factor is the
(367) reaction that, while called out in and by experience, transcends by modifying what is already given, instead of simply repeating it and accumulating more qualities of the same sort.
This logical objection can be brought into closer connection with facts by considering the relation of a moral belief to a biological instinct, or a well-formed social custom, which has not yet been brought into the ethical sphere ; the empiricist who turns evolutionist without appreciation of the inherent disparity of his logic and the realities of a historic process, holds that conscious customs are generated by the persistence of biological habits, and that moral practices form the cumulative effect of the customs. But more instinctive acts simply make instinct more instinctive; more acts of habit just harden an original custom. It is only through failure in the adequate working of the instinct or habit -- failure from the standpoint of adjustment-- that history, change in quality or values, is made. Simple repetition of acts of caring for the young, however long continued, would not awaken a consciousness of obligation, or of virtue, or of any moral value, as long as the acts were habitually performed-just because there would be no need for a transformation. In so far as definite acts are repeated and consolidated, the original habit or instinct of doing certain things in a certain way is just strengthened. We do not think we 'ought' to breathe, though the habit offers a typical instinct of an accumulatively consolidated act. Not by repetition, but by the failure of the purely biological methods of caring for the young, did any new or different attitude need to arise. Some failure of instinct created the demand for a conscious attention to the nurture of the young. Only through this conscious attitude and its tension against some instinct could an ethical adaptation arise out of a physiological adaptation. Experience as it has been, experience in its given or constituted form, as such, is absolutely insufficient, in generating any moral belief. Either it is so coherent that the moral attitude is unnecessary, or it is so incoherent as to require the moral attitude as something different, and because different from itself. It is precisely the breakdown which serves as stimulus for qualitatively unlike modes of response, which, in so far as it is maintained in the medium of
(368) conscious attention, may be called ethical. The fundamental fallacy of empiricism is found in its failure to recognize negative elements in experience as a stimulus to building up a new experience which transcends the old, because involving its revision in such a way as to make good its needs and lacks. But it is just such change that the historic or genetic method is concerned with.
From this point of view, Huxley's contention of the essential difference and even opposition between the moral and natural gets an intelligible meaning. As I have endeavoured to show elsewhere, his claim is not true in the sense that the moral process is to be opposed to the natural process as such. It is valid in that the mere presentation, repetition, or accumulation. of the natural just as it is or has been (as a given state, the only way in which the empiricist recognizes it) cannot generate anything approximating a moral attitude. It is the lack of adequate functioning in the given adjustments that supplies the conditions which call out a different mode of action ; and it is in so far as this is new and different that it gets its standing by transforming or reconstructing the previously existing elements. It is this need and effort of reconstruction which creates the feeling of antagonism or opposition between the old, the natural order, and the new or ethical order -- the order which demands that a way of conceiving or interpreting the situation cease to be mere idea, and become a practical construction.
The relevancy of this radical incapacity of the empirical method to deal with historic change, to the question of our grounds for accepting or criticising moral judgments obvious -- to empiricism the given is the real, and the given is that which resists further analysis. Undoubtedly ethical empiricism has been of great value in the actual development of morality in the last century. It has resolved into 'elements' many habits and beliefs around which was gathered an emotional sanctification in such a way as greatly to facilitate their practical breaking-up. It has shown mere custom, prejudice, factitious association, class-interest to be operative in institutions, laws, ways of acting,
(369) that claimed moral worth, and has thus been a potent, perhaps the most potent force, in releasing certain tied-up impulses and rendering them available for future organization.
But even this service has had three marked restrictions. Empiricism has had no particular direction to give in furthering the positive organization. It has set free certain tendencies, but the consequent movement of these tendencies has been left again to circumstance and dominant interest. Potent in criticism, empiricism is helpless in construction. In the second place, it has no way of discriminating in its reduction of complete states, practices and ideas into 'elements.' All ideas and ideals alike give way to its dissolving touch. It is no accident that John Stuart Mill, whose mind was inherently organic and constructive, felt his habit of "inveterate analysis " as a skeptical and destructive influence, and sought to counteract its baneful influence by finding "indissoluble associations," by falling back upon certain 'natural' social feelings of an organizing sort, and by nourishing his ideals upon the historic interpretations of Comte and the 'German School.' It was always open to any writer of less positive and serious moral consciousness, to subject the best working ideas of humanity to the same treatment that, in the hands of James Mill and Jeremy Bentham, was so effective against engrained moral prejudice and class interests masquerading as natural morality and eternal intuitions. And thirdly, thereby, empiricism always and inevitably generates intuitionalism. Someone must come to the rescue of the threatened ideals ; and so they are vehemently reasserted as inherently and unrelatedly valid. When dogmatism is necessary in order to protect from dissolution ideas that appear requisite to the better life of humanity, dogmatism may be accounted due; and it arrives with an impetus derived from shock with the theory it opposes. Thus arbitrary reactions and oscillations are substituted for a gradual and controlled development of moral opinion and practice.
Empiricism is thus as absolutistic in its logic as is intuitionalism. Complex ideas, beliefs, practices, are indeed relative, made through associations of elements. But the elements are just given, they are fixed, absolute; they are objective determinations,
(370) not critical points of a process. And the associations which yoke them are all externally determined also ; they are not continuities of an historic growth. The contrast comes out strong when we compare the typical empiricist's mode of dealing with some apparently absurd custom of a remote people, enforced by that people as sacred obligation, with the historian's treatment of it. The empiricist makes of it a freak, an excrescence from external chance combinations ; the historian sees it embedded in the life of the people, historically knit together with its whole body of memories and traditions ; carrying, as well as carried by customs which are involved in the whole scheme of social life. It is not an accident, but a logical necessity, that the historic method arose partly at least in reaction from the arbitrary absolutism of empiricism which made a tabula rasa of institutions, customs, organized beliefs, and left in their place untimed, unrelated elements, open to any possible conjunction but demanding none. The historic method is as critical as empiricism ; it destroys by explaining, by laying bare, by setting the fact dealt with in its whole context; and mayhap condemning it by showing how obsolete is that situation. But, at the same time, it justifies -- relatively. The situation was a reality, it existed in its own time and lace, and the fact in question was an integral part of it.
This then is the case for the moral significance of the genetic method : it unites the present situation with its accepted customs, beliefs, moral ideals, hopes, and aspirations, with the past. It sees the moral process as a whole, and yet in presective. Whatever then can be learned from a study of the past, is at once available in the analysis of the present. It be comes an instrument of inquiry, of interpretation, of criticism as regards our present assumptions and aspirations. Thereby it brings their constitution and formation out into the light as far as may be. It eliminates surds, mere survivals, emotional reactions, and rationalizes, so far as that is possible at any given time, the attitudes we take, the ideals we form. Both empiricism and intuitionalism, though in very different ways, deny the continuity of the moralizing process. They set up timeless, and hence absolute and disconnected, ultimates ; thereby they sever the problems and move-
(371) -ments of the present from the past, rob the past, the sole object of calm, impartial, and genuinely objective study, of all instructing power, and leave our experience to form undirected, at the mercy of circumstance and arbitrariness, whether that of dogmatism or scepticism. To help us see the present situation comprehensively, analytically, to put in our hands a grasp of the factors that have counted, this way or that, in the moralizing of man, that is what the historic method does for us. If our moral judgments were just judgments about morality, this might be of scientific worth, but would lack moral significance, moral helpfulness. But moral judgments are judgments of ways to act, of deeds to do, of habits to form, of ends to cultivate. Whatever modifies the judgment, the conviction, the interpretation, the criterion, modifies conduct. To control our judgments of conduct, our estimates of habit, deed, and purpose, is in so far forth to direct conduct itself.
Thus the contention of the previous paper as to the scientific necessity of the genetic or evolutionary method, and of the present paper as to its practical moral significance turn out to be one. Whatever gives scientific control gives of necessity also practical assistance; just because the standpoint is one of continuity of process that knows no separation of past from present.
THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO.