JR'S Free Thought Pages
                           No Gods  ~ No Masters   


                                                                Authority in Ethics 

                         Bertrand Russell (from Human Society In Ethics and Politics, Chapter 10)

There are various objections which are commonly raised against the kind of ethical system that we have been developing. One of these is that there seems to be a lack of authority on ethical maxims having no basis except that suggested in the foregoing chapters. I will consider this objection in the present chapter. Let us think, in the first place, what we mean by “authority.” There is human authority, and, for the orthodox, there is Divine authority. There is the authority of Truth and there is the authority of conscience. In orthodox morals, all these combine. “Why ought I to do so and so?” “Because it is the Will of God - because it is what the community approves - because it is an eternal Truth that you ought to do so-and-so-because your conscience, if you will but listen to it, tells you that this is what you ought to do.” In face of this ethical broadside, it is hoped that your carnal desires will shrink abashed. A community where all these kinds of authority are recognized will, it is thought, be more apt to do what it ought than a community governed by more mundane considerations. This is held to be so obvious that it is not submitted to any statistical test. I think that, if it were, the result might be surprising. Let us compare two communities, say thirteenth-century- Italy and modem Eng-land. In the former, practically everybody believed that rape led to Hell unless followed by due repentance. In modern England, few believe this. But, if one is to believe Salimbene, monks in thirteenth-century Italy were more addicted to rape than any except a few recognized criminals in modem England. I think a broad survey of history makes it extremely doubtful whether such moral precepts as have obvious ethical value are more obeyed where they have the above fourfold authority than in more freethinking communities. This, however, is by the way, and it is time to come to grips with the difficulties that are likely to be felt.

We may crystallize our discussion around two questions: A. Why should I do what you say I ought? B. Where there are ethical disagreements, how shall we decide? Let us begin with A.

There is here, to begin with, a religious answer, which has the merit of simplicity. You should do what I say you ought, because that is the Will of God. The man who is not convinced by this simple answer may reply in either of two ways. He may say, “How do you know it is the Will of God?” or he may say, “Why should I obey God’s Will?” To the second of these questions there is a simple answer: “God is omnipotent and, if you do not obey His Will, He will punish you. Whereas, if you do, you may get to Heaven.” This answer presupposes egoistic hedonism, namely, the doctrine that every man should try to get as much pleasure for himself as possible. This has always been the orthodox Christian teaching, although rhetorically-minded moralists have tried to wrap it up in edifying phrases. It makes morality indistinguishable from prudence, which may be defined as the endurance of a small present evil for the sake of a great future good. The reasons for virtue in this doctrine are precisely identical with the reasons for not living beyond your income. The doctrine does not differ from that of secular moralists on any point of ethics, but only on a question of brute fact: namely, shall I, if I do A, enjoy eternal bliss in Heaven, but if I do B, suffer eternal torments in Hell? This is not an ethical question. I will therefore discuss it no further.

The more interesting question is, “How am I to know what is the Will of God?” Orthodox writers on ethics always make a point of the contention that their system is objective, while that of secular moralists is subjective. I think there is no truth in this whatsoever. CA doctrine is objective if it follows, by arguments generally recognized as valid, from facts not thought open to question. There must be some method of appealing to those who do not already hold the doctrine by means of considerations of which, in the end, they acknowledge the validity. There are controversies in science, but there are recognized methods of arriving at decisions. This is not the case when there are controversies as to the Will of God. Protestants tell us, or used to tell us, that it is contrary to the Will of God to work on Sundays. But Jews say that it is on Saturdays that God objects to work. Disagreement on this point has persisted for nineteen centuries, and I know no method of putting an end to the disagreement except Hitler’s lethal chambers, which would not generally be regarded as a legitimate method in scientific controversy. Jews and Mohammedans assure us that God forbids pork, but Hindus say that it is beef that He forbids. Disagreement on this point has caused hundreds of thousands to be massacred in recent years. It can hardly be said, therefore, that the Will of God gives a basis for an objective ethic.

Why then do people cling to it so obstinately? Partly from tradition, but partly also for other reasons. It gives you an assurance and a certainty which are otherwise likely to be lacking. “Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war” is an invigorating exhortation. Those who are united in believing that the Will of God enjoins certain things which the enemy does not do may be expected to fight the enemy with more energy and gusto, and with less compunction, than if they were not inspired by this belief. In my occasional contacts with those in authority over our armed forces I have found almost all of them deeply religious, and, when I have inquired into the basis of their faith, I have usually found that they think belief in Christianity encouraging to those who have to drop hydrogen bombs. I will not, at the moment, argue this matter as it belongs rather to politics than to ethics. I will merely remark that, as one whose ethic has no supernatural source, I am not wholly persuaded that readiness for large-scale homicide deserves wholehearted ethical admiration.

A dispassionate inquirer, like myself, if anxious to ascertain what is the Will of God, will not confine himself to the opinions of his immediate neighbours, but will send out a questionnaire to leaders of religious thought throughout the world, since they, but not he, profess to have the necessary knowledge. I am afraid he will find it very difficult to discover any point upon which all are agreed, and he will be compelled to conclude that, by this road at any rate, ethical objectivity is unattainable.

There is a non-theological variant of what is really much the same doctrine. It consists in saying that we all know the meaning of the word “ought,” and that we can perceive what we ought to do just as we can perceive that grass is green. The faculty by which we perceive this is called “conscience.” According to this doctrine, the statement, “I ought to do X,” Is true or false in the same sense in which “grass is green” is true, and “blood is green” is false. Here the authority is no longer God’s Will, but Truth. I have examined this doctrine in an earlier chapter, and shall therefore now deal with it briefly. There are just the same sort of disagreements as to what conscience prescribes as there are about the Will of God, and there is not, as in science, a recognized technique for resolving disagreements. The only recognized technique is that of government in a large sense. There is what the law enjoins, and there is what your neighbours approve or disapprove. This creates a certain amount of agreement among members of the same community or the same State, but it does not produce an agreement transcending frontiers or extending to different cultures. It has, therefore, no advantages over the Divine Will as a basis of ethics.

Before going further, let us consider for a moment the nature of our problem. We are inquiring into different possible meanings of the word “ought” when A says to B, “You ought to do X.” This question is in part factual. If A says, “You ought to obey the Will of God,” it is a factual question whether there is a God and, if so, what He wills. But, as a rule, the question is not factual. Nor, on the other hand, is it logical. There are a host of possible answers to which it would be impossible to make a logical objection, but which nevertheless no one would seriously consider. You might say, “The virtuous man is the man who tries to cause as much pain as possible.” If you said this, it would not be the logician who could refute you. What, then, makes us instantly reject such a suggestion? It is the fact that, as a rule, people do not desire to suffer pain. Or, again: Suppose you said, “The greatest evil is Sin, and I can manufacture robots which shall have no sexual parts and shall therefore be incapable of sin. I can make these robots do all the things that are usually praised. I can make them read the Bible. I can make them preach eloquent sermons. And I can make robot congregations that will weep and beat their breasts as they hear the robot preachers’ moving sermons.” All this is as yet a beautiful dream, but I dare say it will become possible within the next hundred years. But, if A said to B, “You ought to substitute robots for human beings, because robots do not sin,” almost everybody would reply that the robot world, since it would be destitute of sentience, would be neither good nor bad, and would be in no way better than a world of ordinary matter unable to perform the robots’ imitative tricks. Such considerations make it plain that whatever “ought” may mean, it has something to do with sentience and with desire. Where these are absent, there is neither good nor bad, neither virtue nor sin. It follows that, if our definition of “ought” is not to be arbitrary and paradoxical, it must bear some relation to sentience and desire. This is one requisite that our definition must fulfill.

There is another which takes us further into the heart of the matter. If ethics is to have any objectivity, we want to find a meaning of “ought” such that, when A says to B, “You ought to do X,” this does not depend upon who A is. This at once rules out a great many moral codes. If A is a theologically orthodox Aztec, the act X, which he ordains, may be that of killing and eating a human victim. If two nations, M and N, are at war with each other, and A is a member of nation M, the act X, which he commends, may be that of killing as many members of nation N as possible; while if A is a member of nation N, it will be citizens of nation M whose death he will prescribe. If you are a medieval Catholic, you will hold that it is wicked to kill by abortion a fetus in the womb of a heretic woman, but that it is virtuous to let the fetus be born and nourished until it becomes old enough to deserve death at the stake. If you are a modem Freethinker, you will not agree with this opinion. How, then, are we to arrive at objectivity in our definition of “ought”?

One may lay it down broadly that the whole subject of ethics arises from the pressure of the community on the individual. Man is very imperfectly gregarious, and does not always instinctively feel the desires which are useful to his herd. The herd, being anxious that the individual should act in its interests, has invented various devices for causing the individual’s interest to be in harmony with that of the herd. One of these is government, one is law and custom, and one is morality. Morality becomes an effective force in two ways: first, through the praise and blame of neighbours and authorities; and second, by the self-praise and self-blame which are called “conscience.” Through these various forces - government, law, morals-the interest of the community is brought to bear upon the individual. It is to the interest of the community, for example, that no one should steal. But, apart from the above forces, it would be to my interest that I should steal, but no one else. Only tyrants can maintain themselves in this exceptional position, and tyrants are not approved when they no longer have power. I think we may say, in spite of the fact that tyrants occur, that the purpose of a moral code, in so far as it is not superstitious, is to bring the interest of the community to bear upon the individual, and to produce an identity between his interest and that of his herd which would not otherwise exist.

We may say, therefore, as a first step toward the answer to our question, that, if A and B belong to the same herd, when A says to B, “You ought to have done X,” he means, “The act X would have furthered the interests of the herd to which we both belong.” This insures that any two persons who in the relevant respects belong to B’s herd will give the same answer to the question if they make no mistake of fact, but it does not insure that people outside that herd will give the same answer. We are thus led to the question of partial and general goods which was discussed in an earlier chapter, and are led, by the arguments given in that chapter, to the conclusion that the only way to secure objectivity in the meaning of “ought” is to enlarge our herd until it embraces all human beings, or, better perhaps, everything sentient. In this way, and in this way only, can we insure that what A says B ought to do does not depend upon who A is. It is such considerations that lead me to adopt the following definition:

When A says to B, “You ought to do X,” I shall define the word “ought” as meaning that, of all acts that are possible for B, X is the one most likely to further the interests of man-kind, or of all sentient beings.

Although by the above method we have secured a measure of objectivity in our definition of “ought,” it should not be forgotten that, in a certain sense, the sanction of any morality is ultimately egoistic. A man’s actions are partly reflex, partly habitual, and partly the result of desire. When I sneeze or yawn, I do not do so in the belief that this action furthers my interest. When I perform some purely habitual action, such as dressing, I may be quite unaware of what I am doing, and, in any case, am not deliberately choosing one course of action in preference to another, except when I am debating what clothes to wear. The moralist is not concerned with actions that are merely reflex or habitual, but with deliberate choices. Now, when I make a choice, it is my desires that are operative. The desires of others are only effective in so far as they influence mine. To say that I shall act on my own desires, is to utter a tautology. When moralists tell us, as they are too apt to do, that we ought to resist desire for the sake of higher things, what they really mean is that we ought to subordinate some desires to others. The others, which the moralist wishes to see supreme, are of two sorts. There is first the wish to please and to earn praise from our friends or from the authorities, or, if we live in the Italian Renaissance, posterity. But there is also another kind of desire, which is that involved in love or sympathy, which is the straightforward, uncomplicated desire for the welfare of others. Almost everybody feels this in some degree. It is abnormal not to feel it toward one’s children while they are young. Either of these two classes of desire tends to harmonize my interests with those of others. I define my interests as all the things that I desire, and, therefore, in so far as I desire the welfare of others, this becomes part of my interests. Although, therefore, what determines my action is what I desire, and is in this sense egoistic, it is not necessarily egoistic as regards the objects desired.

I come now to the second question mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, namely, “Where there are ethical disagreements, how shall we decide?” There are here various kinds of disagreement to be considered. Of the disagreements that occur in practice, much the greater number can be reduced to disagreements as to fact, and are therefore not essentially ethical. When Mr. A and Mr. B disagree, it may be possible to prove that the system upheld by Mr. B will bring more satisfaction to Mr. A than Mr. A’s system will. I have heard it said, though I am not sure whether this is historically correct, that Quakers were the first people to adopt the plan of fixed prices in shops. It is said that they did this because they thought it a lie to ask more than you were willing to take. But fixed prices proved such a convenience to customers that Quaker shopkeepers all grew rich, and the others found it advisable to follow suit. This is an example of a large class of cases in which real and apparent self-interest conflict, and the only people who act in harmony with self-interest are those who have a moral principle compelling them to go against what they believe to be their interest. In such cases a better appreciation of fact would prevent ethical disagreement. People who are defeated in war very often believe themselves to be upholding some ethical principle, but if they had foreseen their defeat, they would have perceived that their principle, whether valid or not, would not be upheld by such means.

There are, however, some genuine purely ethical disagreements. The most important of these is as to vindictive punishment. When we hate a man and think him wicked, we are liable to find pleasure in the thought of his suffering, and we may easily persuade ourselves that this suffering is a good thing on its own account. This is the basis of the belief in Hell, where punishment is not supposed to have any reforming effect. Belief in vindictive punishment has also more mundane forms. When the Germans were defeated at the end of the First World War, there was a very widespread feeling that they ought to be punished, not only in order to reform them or in order to deter others from following their example, but also because it was just that such appalling sin should be followed by suffering. Undoubtedly this feeling helped to produce the folly of Versailles and the subsequent treatment of Germany. I do not know how to prove that vindictive punishment is a bad thing. There are, however, two kinds of argument which can be brought. One is that the whole conception of sin is mistaken, as I have argued in a previous chapter. The other is an argument from prudence. Versailles and its aftermath led to the Nazis and the Second World War. I think one may lay it down that in the great majority of cases vindictive punishment does not have the effects which are hoped for by those who inflict it, but diminishes the total of satisfaction of desire, not only in those who are punished, but also in those who punish. This, however, is a large question leading straight into many vexed problems of politics. I shall therefore say no more about it at present.

Most of the disagreements that occur in practice are, not as to what things have intrinsic value, but as to who shall enjoy them. The holders of power naturally demand for themselves the lion’s share. Disagreements of this sort tend to become mere contests for power. In theory, this sort of question can be decided by our general criterion: that system is best which produces a maximum of intrinsic value. Disputes may remain when both sides accept this criterion, but they will then have become disputes as to fact and will be, at least in theory, amenable to scientific treatment.

I will end this chapter by applying its principles to two questions that I have often found troublesome. The first of these is as to cruelty, and the second is as to the rights of the individual against society.

When I am compelled, as happens very frequently in the modern world, to contemplate acts of cruelty which make me shudder with horror, I find myself constantly impelled toward an ethical outlook which I cannot justify intellectually. I find myself thinking, “These men are wicked and what they do is bad in some absolute sense for which my theory has not provided.” I believe, however, that this feeling does not do justice to the theory. Let us see what the theory permits. It is clear, to begin with, that acts of cruelty in general diminish the total satisfaction of mankind and are therefore such as, on our definition, ought not to be performed. It is clear, further, that the emotion of disapproval toward such acts tends to prevent them, and is therefore, on our definitions, such as ought to be felt. But at this point the kind of theory that I have been advocating exercises a useful restraint, which is absent from more absolute theories. It does not follow, because A is cruel, that B is right to be cruel toward A. It follows only that he does right in trying to prevent A from committing further cruel acts. If, as may well happen, this is more likely to be effected by kindness than by punishment, then kindness is the better method. Doctor Burt (now Sir Cyril), in his book on the juvenile delinquent, begins with an account of a boy of seven who committed a murder. He was treated with kindness and became a decent citizen. It was not possible to apply this method to Hitler, and I do not wish to suggest that in his case it would have succeeded. But it is possible to apply it to the German nation. Such considerations, I maintain, show that our ethic justifies a proper horror of cruelty without justifying the excesses to which this horror often leads.

I come now to my last question, which concerns the rights of the individual as against society. Ethics, we say, is part of an attempt to make man more gregarious than nature made him. The stresses and strains with which morals are concerned are due, it may be said, to the only partial gregariousness of the human species. But this is a half-truth. Many of the things that are best in the human species are due to the fact that it is not completely gregarious. The individual has his own intrinsic value, and the best individuals make contributions to the general good which are not demanded, and are often even resented, by the rest of the herd. It is therefore an essential part of the pursuit of the general good to allow to individuals such freedoms as are not obviously injurious to others. It is this that gives rise to the perennial conflict of liberty and authority, and sets limits to the principle that authority is the source of virtue.

                                                 Superstitious Ethics - Chapter 11

In previous chapters it has been argued that the rightness or wrongness of an act depends upon its probable consequences, and not upon its belonging to some class of acts labelled virtuous or sinful without regard to their effects. It is possible to accept this view in the abstract without realizing how contrary it is to received usage. The word “ethics,” and still more the adjective “unethical,” commonly implies some mysterious and inexplicable quality which an act is known to possess in virtue either of a traditional taboo or of some supernatural revelation. This point of view governs the ethical judgments of most people and deeply affects criminal law. It is this point of view that I am calling “superstitious ethics.”

Consider the following propositions:

It is wicked to eat pork;

It is wicked to eat beef;

It is wicked for a widow to evade suttee; it is wicked to work on Saturdays; it is wicked to play on Sundays;

It is wicked for two godparents of the same child to marry; it is wicked to marry one’s deceased wife’s sister, or one’s deceased husband’s brother;

It is wicked to fornicate;

It is wicked to have sexual relations with a member of one’s own sex;

It is wicked to commit suicide.

Each of these propositions has been fervently maintained by large and civilized communities. Some of them are embodied in the criminal law of advanced countries. I am not concerned to argue whether such acts are or are not wicked. What I am concerned with are the reasons given for supposing them to be so. These reasons are derived in some cases from a tradition having a prehistoric origin, but in most cases they are derived from some sacred book which is considered so authoritative that its dicta must never be questioned. Most of the moral exhortation which is practiced by the clergy or by those who give strengthening advice in the YMCA is concerned with exhorting hearers to obey such precepts; and failure to obey them is viewed conventionally as much more heinous than unkindness, or malice inspired by envy, or group hatred leading to political disaster. A Victorian cotton manufacturer who employed women in his mills might work them for such long hours and for such miserable wages that their health was ruined and their lives were filled with anguish, but if he made enough money, he was respected, and might become a Member of Parliament. If, however, it became known that he had had sexual relations with some one among the women in his employ, he was regarded as a sinner, and public honours were not for him. Professional moralists have never considered, and do not now consider, that kindliness, generosity, freedom from envy and malice, are as important morally as obedience to the rules imposed by a traditional code. Indeed, a cynic might be tempted to think that one of the attractions of a traditional code is the opportunities which it affords for thinking ill of other people and for thwarting what should be innocent desires.

Support for this supposition may be derived from the curious selectiveness which characterizes the orthodox interpretation of texts. There are in the Gospels two pronouncements on divorce: one forbidding it altogether, the other permitting it for adultery. The Catholic Church and the great majority of Anglican clergymen reject the more humane of these two pronouncements.

A good example of the effect of superstitious ethics upon the law of England at the present day was afforded by the rejection in the House of Lords, in 1936, of the Voluntary Euthanasia (Legalization) Bill. The purpose of this bill was to permit doctors, with the consent of the patient, to shorten suffering in cases of incurable illness. There are large numbers of cases every year of patients who suffer intense agony, especially from cancer, and who have no hope of recovery. As the law stands, no medical man, and no relative of the patient, has any right to put an end to the suffering however much the patient may wish him to do so. The late Lord Ponsonby, in the above-mentioned bill, proposed that, subject to elaborate safeguards, the patient and his doctors together should have the right to end his life somewhat sooner than it would end by nature. Their Lordships were profoundly shocked by this suggestion and rejected it by a large majority. Lord Fitzalan, who moved the rejection of the bill, objected to its title, and said: “I wish he had given it good plain English words, understandable by the people, and called the bill what it is, a bill to legalize murder and suicide, because, after all, that is what it amounts to.” He went on to say: “Of course, if this question is to be considered, as I am sure it will not be, by noble Lords in this House, as if there was no God, then the situation is different. Then we are driven back to being governed only by sentiment. Well, sentiment has its merits, and in many ways I think sentiment does much good. But if we allow it to run away with us, then it means an abandonment of principle, it means that we are governed by our emotions, and we sacrifice that great virtue of grit which has been such a great characteristic of our race. This is no party question. For generations the great majority of our predecessors in this House, of all creeds and all sections of opinion, have accepted the tradition that the Al-mighty reserved to Himself alone the power to decide the moment when life should become extinct. The Noble Lord opposite comes down today with his bill and asks us to usurp this right to ourselves, to ignore the Almighty in this respect, to insist on sharing this prerogative.”

Several comments occur to one in reading these arguments. There is no evidence that Lord Fitzalan was opposed to war or to capital punishment, although in each case human beings are usurping what he calls the privilege of the Almighty. It is only when killing is a kindness that he objects to it. And what should we have to think of a God who shared Lord Fitzalan’s sentiments? Is it really credible that a wise, omnipotent, and beneficent Being finds so much pleasure in watching the slow agonies of an innocent person that He will be angry with those who shorten the ordeal? The House of Lords, encouraged by the late Archbishop of Canterbury, apparently took this view, though two medical Peers endeavoured to soften its cruelty by saying that, even with the law as it is, doctors do often shorten life in such cases in spite of the fact that in doing so they become legally liable to be hanged. This contention might have been put, more briefly than they put it, in the simple words: “Hypocrisy at all costs.”

I have dwelt upon this case of euthanasia both because it was debated in Parliament not very long ago, and because it raises no issue of politics. There is no question of rich against poor, conservative against labour, or any of the other issues on which elections are fought. The traditional moral code stands out stark and cruel and immovable against the claims of kindly feeling.

Some people may argue that opinion has become more liberal since 1936, and that, if a similar bill were introduced now, it would be more likely to pass. It is perhaps a sufficient answer to point out that no similar bill has been introduced. Probably one of the reasons is that there are a certain number of believers in traditional systems who would vote against any Member of Parliament if he supported such a bill, but that there are very few people of liberal outlook who would desert their own political party because their Member or Candidate of that party had voted against euthanasia. Traditionalists hold their opinions more fanatically than their liberal-minded opponents, and therefore have power out of proportion to their numbers. A man who publicly advocates any relaxation of the traditional code can be made to suffer obloquy, but nothing of the sort can be inflicted upon benighted bigots.

I can illustrate this from my own experience: In the year 1940, I had a letter from a young American liberal criticizing my book Marriage and Morals on the ground that everything said in that book is now accepted by practically everybody, and that the superstitions I was attacking are virtually extinct. A few weeks later, as a result of legal proceedings, I was deprived of a professorship in New York on the explicit ground that Marriage and Morals was “lecherous, lewd, lascivious and obscene.” I was in consequence subjected for a time to an almost complete boycott throughout the United States.

It is of course true that public opinion in general is more liberal than it was, and this has had some effect upon legislation, for example, as regards divorce. On the other hand, police measures against homosexuals are being intensified in this country; and in New York State, where adultery is punishable by imprisonment, there is no effective movement to alter the law in this respect. Many people say: “What does the law matter, seeing that it is not enforced?” To my mind this is a very fallacious argument. In the first place, any law which cannot be enforced is bad, since it brings law into contempt. In the second place, although the law is usually not enforced, it can be invoked by a vindictive spouse or a political opponent, and can be used as a means of blackmail. For these reasons, among others, I cannot think that the official profession of an ethical standard that is neither obeyed nor believed in by the majority of the population is a matter which ought to be viewed with equanimity.

The main argument against superstitious ethics is that they come down to us from less civilized times and embody a harshness from which we should try to escape. Affection to-ward intimates and kindly feeling toward the world at large are the sentiments most likely to lead to right conduct. Traditional precepts have quite other sources. Why is birth control wicked? Because the Lord struck Onan dead. Why is homosexuality wicked? Because the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. Why is adultery wicked? Because of the Seventh Commandment. I am not saying that there _may not be better reasons for some at least of these prohibitions. What I am saying is that the traditional reasons are invalid and should be forgotten.

There is another aspect of superstitious ethics which is very harmful. It is that which holds that people who do certain things are sinners and deserve to suffer. I am not suggesting that there should be no such thing as punishment or the criminal law. What I am saying is that punishment, where justifiable, is a regrettable necessity and not some-thing to rejoice at as a just retribution. If a man arrives in London with the plague, he and all with whom he has had contact are isolated and subjected to various disagreeables. But we do not think that they are wicked, and we do not rejoice in whatever sufferings we have to inflict. It is not in this way that conventional moralists view “sinners.” On the contrary, a belief in sin is held to justify those emotions of hatred to which most people are prone. This is especially disastrous when it is a whole nation or race or creed that is thought wicked. The world in which we live is filled with such collective hatreds; and it is they, more than anything else, that threaten mankind with disaster.

An ethical principle may be judged by the kind of emotion that causes it to be welcomed. By this test, it will be found that a great many generally recognized principles are not so respectable as they seem. A candid examination will often show that, whether a principle be valid or not, what makes men cling to it is that it affords an outlet for some not very noble passion, more especially cruelty, envy, and pleasure in feeling superiority. If, on self-examination, you find that it is passions of this sort that cause you to cling to some moral maxim, that is a quite sufficient reason for a re-examination of your convictions in the matter. It is because superstitious ethics so often spring from such undesirable sources that it is worth while to combat them, and to accept only such moral rules as seem likely to promote the general happiness, and to reject all those which attract us because they cause unhappiness to those whom we dislike.



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