|« Prev||Philosophical Ethics Before Kant.||Next »|
Independently of the Reformation,—because averse to Christianity itself, and standing rather in connection with the already previously existing breaking-loose from the evangelically-moral consciousness which showed itself, as godlessness on the one hand, and as humanism on the other,—there was developed, in antithesis to the Christian religion and to Mediaeval philosophy (as also in antithesis to the riper Greek philosophy, and consequently to the historical spirit in general) an essentially new philosophical movement, which, while moving forward under manifold modifications of form, gradually won a progressively greater influence on theology, and in fact chiefly also on theological ethics, leading the same astray, on the one hand, into deep-reaching errors, but also, on the other (and in fact because of these errors) bringing it to a riper self-examination and to a clearer self-consciousness. Showing a preference,—in contrast to the precedent of the better form of scholasticism,—to those ancient moralists who already represented the decadence of Greek thought, namely, to the Epicureans, the Stoics, and the Skeptics, or indeed also, merely in a general way, to the so-called humanistic spirit of antiquity,—this movement (which found favor especially in Italy and France, because of the there-increasing demoralization of the higher classes), shows itself at first, for the most part, simply in the 278form of general maxims and sentiments, and attained only rarely to a more scientific shape. Scarcely anywhere save in Germany did this current of thought rise to scientific earnestness and philosophical development, and thereby to a more substantial moral character. Spinoza broke off all connection with ancient and Mediaeval philosophy, and developed a consequential Pantheistic system, in which ethics assumes the form of an objective describing of the absolutely unfree, purely mechanically-conceived moral life, as determined with unconditional nature-necessity by the life of the universe, although, because of the unhistorical originality of his manner of thinking, he exerted but little influence upon his (for this element, yet unreceptive) age. All the greater, however, became the influence of the philosophy of Leibnitz, representing as it did a world-theory the opposite of that of Spinoza, and placing itself rigidly on monotheistic ground, and standing in a much closer connection with history;—especially was this influence extended through the labors of his somewhat independent disciple, Christian Wolf, who created a very detailed and morally earnest system of ethics, essentially under the form of the doctrine of duties, which, as a purely philosophical opposition-movement to the above-mentioned non-Christian and anti-Christian current, attained to a not undeserved influence on Christian ethics in Germany, and gave rise in Crusius to an evangelically deeper, though not philosophically carried-out, development of moral science.
It is utterly incorrect and anti-historical to deduce the collective, and (as some have done) even the anti-Christian philosophy of modern times from the Reformation, or even to regard it as standing in any close connection therewith. 279The essence of the Reformation is not the freeing of the individual subject from all objective authority. Historically, we are forced to hold fast to the fact that both before, and during, and after, the time of the Reformation, there were prevailing still other entirely different spiritual influences than the religiously-evangelical one,—influences which were in part entirely independent of the Reformation and of its spirit, nay, even utterly opposed thereto, and in part, though occasioned in their development by the movement of thought going out from the Reformation, were yet not caused thereby. The renewed cultivation of ancient classical literature, especially of the belletristic as distinguished from the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, played, in the Reformation-movement, only a very subordinate and essentially negative role, namely, in that it undermined the credit of scholasticism. The deep earnestness of the religious life in the evangelical church, the required inward purity, and the repentance of regeneration, consisted but illy with a love for the exaltation of the natural man, as exhibited in Greek literature; and it was much easier for humanism to find an undisturbed patronage within the Romish church,—which, though indeed not theoretically approving of the movement, had yet practically already long since accorded it favor. Humanism was the name self-assumed by this movement, which in antithesis to the Christian world-theory placed man, in his natural development, into the fore-ground even of its moral world-theory, and threw as far as possible into the back-ground his need of redemption, and which had consequently in Christianity only a scientific and esthetic interest. The unbelieving impiety which prevailed widely in the Romish church of that age, and which found its way even into the Papal chair, had a much more lively sympathy for heathen literature than the evangelical church. The Pelagian character of humanism stood in fact nearer to the view of the Romish church than to that of the evangelical. Luther turned the unevangelical Erasmus indignantly away; Rome offered him a cardinal’s hat.
It was quite natural, although it had nothing at all to do with the evangelical Reformation, that there should now rise in opposition to the one-sided idealism and spiritualism of 280scholasticism, an equally one-sided realism and naturalism, which would naturally enough find encouragement in the spirit of the age as weaned off from the Mediaeval ideals of chivalry and poetry, and as immersed in material interests and in the prose of politics. This thoroughly non-Christian naturalistic tendency, which attained to a more spiritual content only in the sphere of German thought, manifested from the very start a decided aversion to all history, an aversion which constantly grew more marked and positive. This anti-historical spirit began already to show itself in the attempt to call again into life, in disregard to the entire history of Christian thought, an ante-Christian world-theory, namely, to effect a rehabilitation of the spirit of the heathen thought of Greece and Rome. At a later period the movement went still further,—broke even with the history of philosophy, pushing it entirely aside even in its ancient form,—and the “philosophical” century thought to display its strength in speaking disdainfully of the spiritual products of a Plato and an Aristotle, and in regarding as philosophers only third and fourth rate minds, such as Cicero, and in basing itself, in boundless self-sufficiency, purely and simply upon itself. It required all the pretension of the so-called philosophical century to accept men, such as Rousseau and Voltaire (who had in fact scarcely the faintest conception of solid philosophical thought-work), as the greatest philosophers of the world’s history. From the history of thought, these men were unwilling to learn any thing, but solely from nature; every one wanted to philosophize on his own responsibility; every thing had to be entirely new; the new era wished to owe nothing to the past, but contemptuously to tread it under foot; and the reaction from this anti-historical, and hence unspiritual tendency, begins only quite late—with Schelling. Now as the Christianly-moral world-theory has a thoroughly historical character, hence the history of this essentially naturalistic form of ethics admits of no possible organic incorporation into the history of Christian ethics; it simply moves side by side with the Christian current,—breaks, especially at a later period, disturbing, confusing, and perverting, into it,—but is with only slight exception not a furthering element of its development.281
Erasmus, who enters the ethical field in several treatises,217217 Enchiridion militis christ.; Matrimonii christ. institt.; Institt. principis christ.; and others. does not as yet himself directly assail the Christianly-moral consciousness, but only presents with prudent reserve the ethics of Plato and Cicero as very closely related to Christian ethics, and mingles faint Christian views with Grecian, and thereby reduces them to the level of Pelagianism. His assaults on the moral abuses of the church are devoid of Christian depth.—Pomponatius (of Padua and Bologna, ob. about 1525),218218 Opp., Bas. 1567, 3 t. who, under the patronage of the Papal court, assailed the doctrine of personal immortality, professed, in point of ethics, to belong to the Stoic school,—taught absolute determinism, and presented the Christian view only ambiguously along-side of the heathen.—Lipsius, in the Netherlands (ob. 1606) went still further in the exaltation of Stoicism,219219 Manuductio ad Stoicam philosophiam, 2d ed., 1610. though his opinions received no very favorable commendation from his unbridled life and from his threefold change of faith—Romish, Lutheran, Reformed, and then Romish again.—In all essential features belongs here also the Socinian ethics of Crell, which is in many respects kindred to the later Rationalistic system, and presents (in a spirit of pure Pelagianism) Christian ethics simply as improved Aristotelian ethics, and prefers the latter to the ethics of the Old Testament.220220 Ethica Aristotelica, etc., Selenoburgi, s. a., 4to.,—later: Cosmopoli, 1681, 4to.—Agrippa of Nettesheim (of Cologne, ob. 1535), undermined, by a far-reaching skepticism, the certainty of all moral consciousness, and explained this consciousness simply by mere fortuitous habit and by fortuitously-adopted public manners;221221 De incertitudine et vanitate scientiarum, 1527 (?) then in Col., 1531. his magico-alchemistic superstitiousness forms the back-ground thereto. (Giordano Bruno, the forerunner of Spinoza, produced no system of ethics.)
Less influential upon his own age than upon recent times, was the philosophy of Spinoza. His chief work, Ethica (1677), which appeared only after his death, constitutes almost an entire philosophical system, of which the ethical 282part proper forms indeed the largest but not the most philosophical and important. This perspicuous and mathematically-exact treatise presents not so strictly a speculative development of the subject-matter as, rather, rational elucidations and proofs of assumed propositions, among which, however, some very important ones, which needed to be demonstrated, are presented merely as axioms not needing proof, or are disguised in definitions. That the Jewish, but also Judaism-rejecting, philosopher should feel himself obliged also to ignore the history of the human spirit in general, was naturally to be expected; his system (if we except the philosophy of Descartes, which had likewise but little connection with earlier philosophy, and whose monotheistical character Spinoza assails) has no historical antecedents proper, but in fact begins anew the philosophical thought-work from the very beginning, and develops the Pantheistic world-theory so consequentially and undisguisedly as is nowhere else to be found.—God, as the solely existing substance whose two attributes are thought and extension, has not a world different from and outside of himself, but is this world himself, as considered simply under a particular aspect. All particular being is only a mode of the existence of God; and all these modes are conditioned by the absolute necessity of the divine life, and cannot be otherwise than as they really are; all that is, is what, and as, it is, from necessity; of every thing which is or takes place the principle holds absolutely good: omnia sunt ex necessitate naturae divinae determinata. Hence this holds good equally also of man, who is likewise a particular mode of the being of God. When we say: “the human soul thinks something,” this is the same as to say: “God thinks,” not however in so far as God is infinite, but in so far as he constitutes the essence of the human spirit. Hence human thought is just as necessarily determined as is all being in general,—and hence knows per se, and necessarily, the truth.—Now, thinking has two phases: knowing and willing. Of willing the same holds good as of knowing, namely, it is absolutely determined in all its activity. Every will-act has a definite cause, by which it is absolutely determined. Willing can never contradict knowing, but is the immediate and necessary product of the same, and is, strictly speaking, 283identical therewith; willing is affirming, and non-willing is denying. He who believes that he speaks, or keeps silent, or does any thing else, by free choice, dreams with open eyes. Men delude themselves into thinking that they are free in their volitions, only because they are not conscious of the cause which absolutely determines them; all that takes place through the activity of the will is necessary, and therefore good. This doctrine renders the heart calm and makes us happy; with it we have no longer any occasion for fear, for we know that every thing takes place according to the everlasting decree of God, with the same necessity as it follows from the idea of a triangle, that its three angles are equal to two right angles,—teaches us to hate, to despise, to mock no one,—teaches us unlimited contentment (ii, prop. 48, 49).
All this is clear and consequential; but how can the existence of a moral consciousness be reconciled therewith? How can any thing be morally required or done, if every thing takes place with unconditional necessity, and if will-freedom is only a false appearance? That there can be no question of a moral command proper, of an “ought,” Spinoza himself virtually admits, inasmuch as he declares it his purpose to speak of human actions just as if the matter in question were lines, surfaces, and solids (iii. prooem.) We are active in so far as any thing takes place within or without us, of which we are the perfect cause; and the more we are active, and the less we are passive, so much the more perfect are we. Even as all other things, so also the spirit strives to retain and to enlarge its reality; its striving is its willing; the end is not different from the cause—from the unfree-acting impulse of nature; the passing-over to a higher reality awakens the feeling of pleasure; the opposite, that of displeasure. Pleasure in connection with the consciousness of its cause, is love; the opposite is hate. For a real difference between good and evil there is, in this world-theory, no place whatever. Neither good nor evil is a reality in things themselves, but both are simply subjective conceptions and notions, which we form by a comparison of things, and are hence only relative relations having their basis not in things but in ourselves,—are only modes of our thinking; for example, a particular piece of music is good for a melancholic 284person, not good for a different one, and is of no significancy at all for a deaf one; hence it is per se neither good nor bad, (iv, praef:) Hence we cannot say in general that any thing at all is good per se; it is only by comparing one thing with another higher entity, or with a notion formed by ourselves, that we find any thing to be good; good and evil are only expressions of our subjective judgment as to that for or against which we have a desire or an aversion. Per se, however, every thing is good, because necessary; nothing is or transpires without God or against his will; every thing is just as, according to eternal, divine destination and necessity, it ought to be; hence the notion of evil is only a limited and ungrounded manner of thinking on the part of our own understanding,—is nothing on the part of God. Evil is in fact, even in our own conception, only a negative something, a privation; but God knows no mere negative something, hence God knows absolutely nothing of evil (comp. the view of Erigena, § 33), and hence there is in reality no such thing as evil; for what God does not know does not exist, and outside of God’s thinking there is no other thinking. Moreover, were evil or sin a real something, God would necessarily not only know it, but also be the cause of it, for God is the substance and the cause of all that is; and what is of God cannot be evil. Hence it is only a false manner of looking at things, an imagination, when we find any thing evil in the real world,—false, in that we bring things into relation to ourselves, to our fortuitous feelings of pleasure and displeasure, instead of contemplating them in their own nature; in and of itself, and hence in truth, every thing real is good and perfect. In all seemingly free action nothing else can take place than what results with necessity from the existing circumstances of the acting subject. Even the stings of conscience are a self-deception, and are nothing other than a sadness or chagrin which we feel over some kind of a failure. Let it not be objected to this, that if men do every thing from necessity, and hence, also, sin from necessity, they cannot consequently be blamed therefor, but that all men would then be necessarily happy. On the contrary, man can be without guilt, and, notwithstanding that, be also devoid of happiness. The horse is not guilty for its not being man, 285and nevertheless it still remains a horse; and he who is bitten by a mad-dog is also not guilty therefor, and yet he goes mad; he who is blind was in fact destined in the concatenation of beings to be blind and not seeing (Ep., 32, 34.) This is surely the most wonderful justification of the moral order of the universe which one could possibly fall upon; for, in fact, whence can mad-dogs originate in an absolutely necessary and good world? If every thing is necessary, and the entirely innocent can be made mad by mad-dogs, this is evidently a very bad sort of world-order. And we must ask: if all human thinking is the thinking of God himself, and is absolutely necessary, how is there in fact possible any manner of false thinking and imagining? If men really regard evil as real, then this is, in fact, an error on the part of God himself, which our philosopher should endeavor to account for; but if there is no evil, then there is also no error, and the system thus entangles itself in its own meshes. And when Spinoza makes error to be just as necessary as truth (ii, prop., 35, 36), he still cannot evade this contradiction by declaring error to be merely relative, for a merely seeming error would yet in reality be the truth, and hence would not admit of the turn here taken by Spinoza.
Hence—so infers Spinoza—all is good which is useful; and all is evil which hinders from a good (iv, def., 1, 2.) Hence virtue is the power or capacity of acting in conformity to our own nature; virtus nihil aliud est, quam ex legibus propriae naturae agere; hence every one must follow the necessity of his nature, and by it judge of good and evil. Hence sin is avoided for the simple reason that it is contrary to our nature; but why sin is yet in fact committed, Spinoza needs not to answer, because sin in the proper sense of the word cannot be committed at all; of sin there can be any question only in the State, and, there, it is disobedience to civil law (iv, 37, schol. 2). As reason can require nothing which would be against nature, hence it requires that each should strive for that which is useful to himself; and useful is that which brings each to a higher reality. Hence morality requires that each should love himself, should seek to preserve as much as possible his existence, and to bring it to higher perfection and reality; and man is all the more 286virtuous the more he seeks after that which is useful to him, (iv, prop. 18).—As the essence of reason is knowledge, hence knowledge is the most useful of things, and the rational man holds nothing for truly useful save that which contributes to knowledge. Hence the highest good is the knowledge of God, and the highest virtue is the striving thereafter; and every man has the strength necessary thereto; and as the body is directly connected with the spirit, and as the spirit is all the more vigorous the more vigorous the body is, hence it is useful and virtuous to make the body skillful.
The good always awakens delight; hence delight is per se necessarily good, and sadness necessarily evil, as well as whatever leads to sadness. Hence compassion is, for the rational man, evil and irrational; true, it often inclines us to beneficence, but this we should do at any rate even without compassion, (this is the virtue of generositas); and the truly wise man knows indeed that nothing is or takes place in the world over which we could grieve; moreover compassion easily leads astray to false acting (Eth. iv, 50).—Also humility as including a feeling of sadness is not a virtue, and springs not from reason, but from error, inasmuch as in it man recognizes himself as, in some respect, powerless, whereas, in virtue of the prevalence of universal necessity, he has all the power necessary to his destination (iv, 53). Repentance over committed sin is not only not virtuous, but it is irrational, because it rests on the delusion of having done a free and, that too, evil action, whereas the action was in reality necessary, and hence good; he who feels repentance is consequently doubly miserable. However, our moralist appears to shrink back from the practical consequences of this doctrine; he declares it as very dangerous when the great masses are not kept in bounds by humility, repentance and fear (iii, 59, def. 27; iv, prop. 54),—an apprehension which is, of course, entirely inexplicable from the ground-principle of his system, and must be banished, as a mere “imagination,” into the sphere of unreason; for how can there be, in Spinoza’s world, a dangerous populace to be curbed only by false notions, seeing that indeed every thing that takes place is absolutely a necessary divine act?—The notion that any thing is bad or evil is, according to Spinoza, per se already an evil; 287if man is truly rational and has only correct ideas, then he can have no notion of evil at all, for it in fact does not exist; whatever affects us as pain or suffering, is such only in virtue of an erroneous, confused conception, an “imagination;” if we have correct knowledge, then are we free from all pain; the more we recognize all things as necessary, so much the less are we subject to suffering; every painful state of the emotions disappears so soon as we form to ourselves a clear notion thereof. Hence, according to Spinoza, the sole evil is false conceptions, but how these could arise we are not informed.—He who truly knows himself and his circumstances, has necessarily joy; and as in all true knowing he also knows God, and as this knowing is attended with joy, hence he also loves God; hence in the knowledge and love of God consists the highest joy. God himself, however, (conceived as the universe) is without states of emotion, without love or aversion. God can neither love nor hate, save in the love or hate of man himself; and when any one who loves God desires to be loved in turn by God, he desires in fact that God should cease to be God. True, we may indeed speak of God’s love, but not in such a manner as that God as a personal spirit should love man, but only that God loves in our love; God loves not me but God loves himself, namely, in that I love Him.
Spinoza’s ethics appears at once as very widely different from all preceding ethics; its essential characteristic is, unhistoricalness. Greek philosophy, and also scholasticism, are the fruit of a long and vigorous development of an historical current of human thought,—presuppose an already historical moral consciousness, for which they aim to create a scientific form. Spinoza’s ethics sprang, in no sense whatever, from the spirit of an historical people,—has no historical antecedents, no historical consecration, and hence wears in its lofty, reality-spurning bearing, also the character of historical impossibility. Plato’s idealistic state is historically possible on a Greek basis; Spinoza’s ethics can absolutely never and nowhere be the expression of the moral consciousness of a people,—can be appropriated only as their isolated moral consciousness by single persons, who in proud selfishness imagine themselves far above the morally-religious consciousness 288of the masses, whereas in fact they owe the very possibility of their moral existence in society simply to this consciousness of the masses. Spinoza has learned nothing, whether from the philosophers of Greece, from the Middle Ages, from the religion of the Old Testament, or from Christianity; his ethical speculations are devoid of preparatory antecedents,—are an absolutely revolutionary breaking-off from all historical spirit-development,—base themselves purely upon individual thinking. His unimportant dependence on Descartes is not in conflict therewith. If he had had even the slightest appreciation for the significance and the rights of history, he would have been required, on the very ground of his own system, to recognize the Christian world-theory as a highly important revelation of the alone-ruling God, and to regard history in general as a normal and necessary life-manifestation of God. Whereas in fact he turns himself contemptuously away from all history of thought, as if God had come to true self-consciousness alone and solely in himself. He does not free himself in any sense from the contradiction of declaring, on the one hand, all reality as necessary and good, and all evil as mere appearance, and of regarding on the other hand, all previously-existing spiritual reality as absolutely wrong, senseless, and irrational.
Plato and Aristotle, for the reason that they stand more within the current of history, stand also far nearer the Christian consciousness than Spinoza. In his wide-reaching antithesis to the real essence of spirit which is in fact necessarily history, he is the father of the Naturalism of more recent times. Only the unfree, the nature-entity, is real; the free, the spiritual, and hence also the moral, in general has no existence whatever. Though indeed he contrasts thought and extension in space, as being of different nature, yet this thinking is in fact not free and spiritual, but bears absolutely a nature-character,—has not ends before it, but simply presents manifestations of a necessary ground; so in the case of God, so in the case of man. Ethics is therefore degraded to a mere describing of necessary nature-phenomena; and where it falls into the tone of moral- exhortation in view of rational ends, then this is to be understood either in a merely improper sense, and is indulged in simply in view of the 289unwise multitude, or it comes into irreconcilable contradiction with the ground-thought of the system. The Jew continues a Jew, in this Christian age, only through hatred against history, which has in fact pronounced his condemnation; he is either the petrified guest in the midst of living society, or the insolently mocking despiser of all historical reality, utterly devoid of reverence and respect for the historical spirit,—a champion of the wildest radicalism. Spinoza, breaking loose from the petrified form of Talmudic Judaism, stands entirely isolated in the world of the historical spirit; he can find for himself no proper place in this world,—makes only an attempt to build up an entirely new world out of himself. The same self-delusion which prevails throughout post-Christian Judaism, namely, in that it dreams of still having an historical character, whereas it has in fact sunk utterly into mere lifeless matter, is also potent in Spinoza. He dreams of creating a system. of ethics, whereas it proves to be really nothing else than the theoretical describing of a moral instinct devoid of a rational end. Where the “must” dominates, there all “should” and “would” cease. In sharp contrast to the pure idealistic Pantheism of Erigena, who really recognizes only God and not the world, and who, like the Indians, finds evil only in the distinguishing of the worldly and finite from God, Spinoza holds in fact fast to the reality and divinity of the finite,—merges God into the world, and regards the real, simply as it is, in its isolated separateness, as good and perfect. The Pantheism of Erigena leads to an ascetic turning-away from the world; that of Spinoza, to a contented and absolutely satisfied merging of self into the world; and the “akosmism” which Hegel thinks he discovers in Spinoza is not to be found in him, but rather in the nobler and far more spiritual John Scotus Erigena.
Spinoza exerted in his own age but little influence. Notwithstanding the deep spiritually-moral declension of that dark period, the religious God-consciousness was as yet too vital to fall in with this naturalistic Pantheism; and the requirement to recognize all reality as necessary and good, could find little response at a time of profound disorganization and far-reaching material, misfortune in Germany. It 290was reserved for a later age, when a wide-spread irreligious sentiment was attempting to create for itself a scientific justification, to emphasize the doctrine of Spinoza not merely in its undeniable (though yet not to be overestimated) philosophical significancy, but also to attempt to exalt it to a religious character, nay, even to a pretended transfiguration of Christianity, and “to offer a lock to the manes of the holy Spinoza “—(Schleierm., Reden; 2 ed.., p. 68).
That from this doctrine there could arise for the moral life itself only a perverting influence, needs for the unprejudiced mind no proof. The letting of one’s self alone in his immediate naturalness and reality, is here even lauded as wisdom; repentance and sanctification within, and sanctifying activity without, become folly, because no one has either the right or the ability initiatively to interfere with the eternally necessary course of things. That Spinoza himself was an upright man, proves nothing in favor of his system; the weight of custom and the natural moral sentiments are often stronger than a perverse theory; nor is, in fact, mere uprightness in our social relations the full manifestation of the moral.
Leibnitz,—though also stimulated by Descartes, but opposed to Spinoza in his fundamental thoughts, and more imbued with an historical spirit, and standing in closer connection with the results of precedent spiritual development,—did not produce a system of ethics proper, though he broke the way for the development of such. Though highly respecting the Christian consciousness, he yet had no very deep appreciation for the same, and hence his thoughts in relation to religion and morality are of a somewhat external character. He is unable to comprehend evil in the purely spiritual sphere, but seeks for its roots, beyond this sphere, in the essence of the creature as such. God as the absolutely perfect rational spirit has indeed realized, among all possible conceptions of a world, the best one; but as the world does not contain the fullness of all perfection, which in fact exists in God alone, nor yet all possible perfections, as in fact all that is possible has not become real, hence there lies in the conception even of the best world still at the same time the necessity of a certain imperfection, without which a world is 291in fact not conceivable, and which consequently belongs to the essence of the world as such, and is a malum metaphysicum; this is, however, not per se a reality, but only a nonbeing, a limit. The reality of the morally evil is fortuitous, is the fault of man; only the possibility of it is necessary. In his popularly-written work “Théodicée” (1710), he further develops this thought, although elucidatorily rather than scientifically.—Though Leibnitz recognizes the freedom of the will and the guilt of man in relation to sin, still he does not sufficiently deeply conceive of this guilt, and above all of the significancy and workings of sin as an historical world-power, otherwise he would have constructed his theory quite differently. He constantly seeks the roots of evil elsewhere than in committed sin. The naturalistic determinism of Spinoza, however, he utterly rejects; to the free personal God, corresponds the freedom of the rational creature. The rational man never acts from mere fortuitous fancies, but only from rational grounds. But this moral necessity does not interfere with liberty, because the possibility of irrational determinations still remains.—Leibnitz conceives of ethics essentially as the doctrine of right, inasmuch as moral duty is a right of God upon us. Right, in the wide sense of the word, has three stages: mere right, which requires that we injure no one; equitableness, which leaves and imparts to every one his own; and piety, which fulfills the will of God and thereby preserves the harmony of the world. Hence faith in the personal, almighty and all-wise God is the foundation of all right; and the essence of piety is love to God, from which all other forms of love, constituting the essence of justness, receive their power. To love signifies to be rejoiced by the happiness of another, or to make that happiness one’s own. The proper object of love is the beautiful, that is, that, the contemplation of which delights; but God is the highest beautiful. Piety as the highest stage of right, creates also the highest moral communion—the church—which is destined to embrace entire humanity. The three forms of society, corresponding to the three stages of right, have also a threefold uniting-bond: mere power, and reverence, and conscience; but also the first two receive their real character of right, only through the latter. Love to God leads us into 292the way of the highest happiness,—is in itself already the beginning of the same in the “this-side,” and works a constant progress in perfection also in the “yon-side.”222222 In various essays, especially in the preface to Cod. juris diplom., 1693; Gubrauer: Leibnitz; 1842, i, p. 226 sqq.
In an original spirit, and, in the moral sphere, almost independently of Leibnitz, wrote Christian Wolf. He created a complete ethical system.223223 Vernünft. Gedanken. v. d. Menschen Thun u. Lassen (1720); more elaborate is: Philosoophia moralis s. Ethica, methodo scientifico pertractata (1750), both works forming the first part of a whole which he presented in his Philos. prac. univ. (1738), the second part of which embraces the doctrine of society or politics; also in his Jus naturae (1740) there is much ethical matter. His great reputation, and the authoritative character which he enjoyed with his contemporaries, were, however, almost entirely overthrown in the Kantian period; that over-estimation, as also the subsequent under-estimation, were equally unjust. A many-sided boldly-exploring spirit, and, though in many respects deceiving himself as to the scientific value of propositions which he uttered with the greatest confidence, and attempted to demonstrate in a not unfrequently stiff mathematical form, he yet attained to an extraordinary influence, because of the clearness and precision of his ideas, and of their manner of presentation, and gave rise, also in the sphere of ethics, to a very vigorous scientific movement; and though his commendable effort to remain in harmony with Christian revelation was not by any means always realized, yet it helped to preserve for a long while in Germany, as in contrast to the frivolous hatred of Revelation prevalent in France and in England, a more earnest Christian and scientific spirit. Precisely in the field of morals Wolf was greatly influential toward the independent shaping of German science; and he broke off the excessive dependence, also of theological ethics, on Aristotle. While Wolf, in his decided, scientifically-grounded recognition of the personal God—whom he conceives of indeed rather merely, in his relation to the world, as Creator and Governor, and less,—in relation to himself, in his inner essence-holds fast to the objectively-religious basis of ethics; he yet at first view seems to endanger 293the subjective foundation thereof, namely, the moral freedom of the will, by his determinism.
Whatever takes place, also the seemingly fortuitous, has a sufficient ground, either in itself or in its connection with other things, and is in so far determined; there takes place no change whatever which is not conditioned in the peculiarity of the concatenation of the universe, and determined by the antecedent circumstances thereof, just as a clock, set in motion for a whole year, is determined in each moment of its movement by this its first starting; the world is just such an absolutely, determined clock-work,—is a machine. Also in the freedom of the human will, every real determination has its sufficient ground, and is not arbitrary. This freedom consists in the possibility of choosing and doing the opposite of what we really do, but that the opposite possible should become real pre-supposes motives, and in so far as the motive. is sufficient, this determination to realization is also conditioned by the motive. It is impossible that a person who knows something as better, should prefer to it the worse, and hence in such a case it is necessary that he should choose the better; but the will is free in this nevertheless, as in fact man has the ground of his determination of will in himself.—This sounds at once very questionable, and, as is well known, Wolf was, because of this doctrine, driven from the Prussian states, as politically dangerous. However, it is not to be overlooked that when man is considered as a rational creature per se irrespective of the already-existing depravity, his freedom is in fact not a groundless and irrational caprice, but is determined by rational knowledge, and that, for the really moral man in possession of correct knowledge, there does in fact exist a moral necessity of following the rational. Hence Wolf’s thought is not per se incorrect, but only too unguarded, and therefore liable to misunderstanding. As, however, Wolf expressly declares himself against determinism as held by Spinoza, and as he distinctly and repeatedly asserts the real, free will-determination of man, though indeed not as irrational caprice,224224 Introduction to the 2d ed. of his Moral. we are consequently not at liberty to attribute to him the full determinism of Spinoza.—The question as to whether, and in how far, our knowledge is 294conditioned by and dependent on our moral nature, and hence as to whether this knowledge is freely, or absolutely unfreely, determined, Wolf does not answer, but simply holds, that our willing is conditioned and determined by our knowledge; and with him, as with Socrates, the essential point is simply to correct and disseminate knowledge, and then the corresponding moral action follows of itself with inner necessity. Hence we can explain the almost unbounded pretensions which the Wolfian ethics makes, and hence also the per se correct, but (in view of the actual condition of humanity) erroneous thought that ethics is not simply a scientific consciousness of the moral life, but also an essential motive to the moral life itself,—that, properly understood, ethics is the source of virtue. This thought stands forth more or less clearly throughout Wolf’s writings; practice follows theory of necessity. The moral life is like a mathematical question proposed for solution; it is only necessary to have clear notions of virtue and vice and of duty, and then evil disappears of itself, and man becomes virtuous. “I have,” says Wolf, (in the preface to his second edition), “not a little lightened the entire practice of the good and the avoidance of the evil, by the fact that I have shown that when one wishes to turn the will, it is just the same as when one disputes, namely, in that one has at all times in the one case, as in the other, simply to answer to one of the premises of an inference;” and later (in the preface to the third edition) he says: “When my writings on world-wisdom and, among them, the present one on what men are to do and what not to do, appeared, those who are able to understand and judge of the matter for themselves, and who were not prepossessed by unfavorable prejudices, judged that thenceforth reason and virtue would become universal, and that every body would strive, by this means, to attain to happiness of life.” Wolf, however, expressly deprecates the misconception, that in his ethics he “ascribes too much to nature and leaves no room for grace; the doctrines taught by me,” says he, “serve much rather to make clearly understood the difference between nature and grace, and especially the great help which the latter is to the former, so that consequently they are guides to grace;” the Christian religion offers more 295than world-wisdom can do; rather does man learn by this rational morality, that his natural powers do not suffice, and hence he perceives all the better the necessity and excellency of the grace which is offered to us in the Christian religion, and which supplies that which nature lacks. How it can be that the natural powers do not suffice, and how, on the presumption of such a lack of strength, the philosophical ethics of Wolf can yet be, independently, effectual in itself, we are not informed.
Ethics has to do with the free actions of men as distinguished from the necessary ones; and freedom consists in the possibility of choice between several possible things. The condition of a man is perfect when his earlier and later conditions agree with each other, and all of them with the essence and nature of man., The free actions of man promote or diminish this perfection, that is, they are either good or bad. When, therefore, actions are to be judged according to their moral worth, then we must inquire what change they bring about in the condition of our body or soul. Hence free actions become good or evil in virtue of their effect; and as the effect follows from them necessarily and cannot fail, hence actions are good or evil in and of themselves, and are not made so simply by God’s will; hence if it were possible that there were no God, and that the present inter-dependence of things could exist without him, still the free actions of men would nevertheless remain good or evil.—Here the per se correct ground-thought of the moral receives an external and therefore misleading application, inasmuch as the result of our actions is dependent on other powers than these actions themselves; only in an ideal and as yet not sin-perverted condition of humanity, would such a judging of the moral worth of actions from their result, hold good, though even then it would be certainly more appropriate to determine this worth from the essence of the action itself and not simply from its result. In this respect Wolf clings so fast to the merely-outward that he says: “Thus, he who is tempted to steal learns that stealing is wrong, because it is followed by the gallows.” Equally one-sided is the contrasting of the goodness per se of an action and of the will of God. The general maxim of ethics is therefore this: ” Do 296that which renders thee and thy condition, or that of others, more perfect; avoid that which makes it more imperfect;” this is a universal rule of nature. [This “or that of others” is only thrust in, and is not at all derived from the ground-thought; the dualism involved therein, and the possible contradiction, are in no manner reconciled.]—The sufficient motive of the will is the knowledge of the good; and it is impossible that one should not will a per se good action, when one only clearly comprehends it; hence when we do not will it, it is for no other reason than that we do not comprehend it.” Likewise is the knowledge of evil the motive of non-willing or aversion, and hence it is likewise impossible that one should will a per se evil action when one clearly understands it. Hence all moral willing and doing of the good or of the evil rests absolutely on our knowing or non-knowing. True, man can indeed act contrary to his conscience, but this takes place only when, because of special circumstances, he regards the good as evil, or the evil as good, and hence, after all, from error. The ultimate end of all moral actions, and hence of our entire life, is the perfection of ourselves and of our condition, or happiness, which is consequently the highest good for man.
Ethics proper, Wolf treats as the doctrine of duties. Duty is an action which conforms to law. Law is a rule to which we are bound to conform our free actions; it is either a natural, a divine, or a human law. Reason is the teacher of the law of nature; this law fully embraces the whole moral life, and is, for this life, sufficient and absolutely valid and unchangeable, for it rests on the harmonizing of our actions with our nature. But as this our nature is established by the divine creative will, hence the law of nature is at the same time also a divine law, an expression of the divine will, though this will is not to be conceived of as an arbitrary one, so that, for example, God’s will might declare the per se good for evil, and the per se evil for good. The duties are: (1) duties of man toward himself, and more specifically, toward his understanding, toward his will, toward his body, and the duty in regard to our outward condition (that is, our social position); (2) duties toward God, and more specifically, love to God, fear and reverence, trust, 297prayer and thankfulness, and outward worship; (3) duties toward other men, and more specifically, toward friends and enemies, duties in regard to property, and duties in speech and in contracts. This general classification of duties became subsequently very usual.—Upon ethics is based natural right, which treats of the allowable, as ethics proper treats of the obligatory; all rights rest on duties. The ground-thought of right is: thou Inayest do whatever sustains and promotes the perfection of thy own condition and that of the condition of others, and thou mayest do nothing which is contrary thereto. In the further application of right to society, and hence as politics, the welfare of society is the norm of action.
Wolfian ethics has manifestly, both in form and in contents, great defects. In respect to form, it may be reproached with a manifold commingling of empirical maxims with speculation; notions derived from experience are often simply analyzed and then used as bases for further inferences, and that, too, with the pretension of philosophical validity; also there is abundant philosophical dogmatism, inasmuch as the thoughts are very frequently not really developed in regular process from the ground-thought, but are only associated and joined with it. In respect to matter, there prevails throughout this ethics, despite all its monotheistic presuppositions, a naturalistic tendency; Wolf knows only the immediate natural existence of the moral spirit, but not the history thereof, that is, the life proper of the same. His ethics has a history of the spirit neither as its presupposition nor as its goal; there is created by the moral activity not a moral history of humanity, but only a state of the individual. Hence the question as to whether indeed the actual nature of man is not already in some respects a product of such a moral history of humanity,—whether or not it is a pure unchanged original nature,—falls outside of this circle of thought, and in fact remained unheeded by philosophical ethics, and hence also to a large degree by theological ethics, throughout the eighteenth and a part of the nineteenth century; and in this respect Wolf was, in fact, the forerunner of the modern Rationalistic school. And what he says of sinfulness, of divine grace and of Christianity, by way of guarding against this naturalistic ground-tendency, is rather mere personal 298good-will than a consequential result of his system. All real interest is directed here to the sufficient reason, and not to the end; there is lacking to morality and to history the vital heart-blood of free spiritual productive creation. Christianity can be, to this world-theory, at best only a higher revelation of the truth, a furthering of knowledge, but not an historical history-creating fact. Hence in the further theological development of this stand-point, Christianity constantly sunk more and more to a mere revealed system of morals, which, however, contained and could contain nothing other than the Wolfian doctrine itself. Positive contents proper, Wolf does not really give to the moral law; he does not rise beyond mere formal definitions. What the good is, in and of itself, we are not informed; we learn only that it stands in harmony with reason and makes us happy; hence it is embraced only in its relations to something else, but not in its inner contents.
In the spirit of Wolf, though with some independence, Canz labored further, in Tübingen; his Disciplinae morales omnes, 1739, is an able survey of the entire ethical field as then known; more theological is his Instruction in the Duties of Christians, (1745, 4to., presenting ethics as “duty-imposing God-acquaintance” and prefacing the doctrine of duties simply by an essay on the four chief springs of all human action and omission, namely, the flesh, nature, reason, and the gracious workings of the Holy Spirit). Alexander Baumgarten (a brother of the noted theologian) perfected, in his Philosophia ethica (1740, 1751), the Wolfian ethics, especially in formal respects; he places our duties toward God (as those which condition all the others) at the head.—G. F. Meier of Halle wrote, on the basis of Baumgarten’s book, a fuller and more popular work: Philosophical Ethics (1753).—(The voluminous and superficial Eberhard appears in his Ethics of Reason (1781) merely as a feeble, barren imitator of Wolf.)
Nearly contemporaneously with Wolf, had Thomasius (of Leipzig and Halle) presented ethics from the stand-point of mere common sense in a very popular form,225225 Von der Kunst vernünftig. u. tugenhaft zu LIEBEN, etc., 1710; Von der Artzenei wider die unvernünftige Liebe, 1704; comp. Fülleborn: Beitr. z. Gesch. d. Phil, 1791, iv. offering indeed 299many good observations, but containing neither precision of thought nor a really scientific development. “He places Christian ethics higher than philosophical, but conceives of the former very superficially; Aristotle and the schoolmen he despises and combats without understanding them. The essence of virtue is love, or the desire naturally inherent in man to unite himself to, and to remain in union with, that which the understanding recognizes as good; in this love lies blessedness, that is, repose of soul and absence of pain, as the highest good; love is irrational when it aims at vain, transitory, and hurtful things, or when it is too violent, or wills the impossible; from such love spring all the vices. General love to man, as the essence of morality, embraces five chief virtues: sociableness, truthfulness, modesty, forbearance, patience; self-love should rest only on love to man. The necessity of revelation, Thomasius recognizes; philosophy does not supply its place, but leads to it, in that it leads to self-acquaintance.
Clear-headedly and with deep Christian knowledge, Christian August Crusius (of Leipzig, ob. 1776) opposed the Wolfian philosophy, but was abler in criticizing than in creating, and hence. of more limited influence than Wolf, (“Directions for Living Rationally,”226226 Anweisung vernünftig zu leben etc., 1744; third edition, 1767). He declares himself very definitely against the determinism of Wolf; the human will is not absolutely determined by its knowledge, but remains, in relation thereto, free, and can act contrarily thereto; he appeals in proof thereof to the perfectly unambiguous evidence of consciousness, and to the full responsibility of man for his sins. The determinations of the will are indeed, as rational, not arbitrary and fortuitous, but have, on the contrary, a sufficient reason; but this reason is by no means a necessarily-determining one, but the will has always the possibility of acting contrarily even to a sufficient reason; and Crusius goes, in this respect, so far as to find perfect freedom only in holding that the will can determine itself as easily for the one course as for the other. All duties he considers as contained in our duty toward God, and hence he does not co-ordinate, but subordinates, them to this duty. Moral effort has indeed happiness and perfection for 300its goal, but it has its law in the divine will, which likewise aims thereat. Man’s relation of dependence to his Creator directs him to make his entire life dependent on the holy will of God; our striving toward the rational God-willed goal, becomes truly moral only when it is the expression of loving obedience to the revealed divine will. Hence it is incorrect that the good is good per se even without reference to God’s will; rather is it good simply because God wills it, though this divine willing is not irrational caprice, but a morally necessary act of his holy essence. Hence morality rests in its very essence on religion; and the moral law may not, as in Wolf’s system, stand apart from the religious consciousness, but requires a free God-obeying course of acting answering to the divine will, and therefore also to the end of the perfection of the creature. A natural, though not absolutely sufficing manifestation of the divine will, is given in the conscience, which, however, does not, as with Wolf, simply form a theoretical judgment, but contains also at the same time a feeling of joy or anguish, and hence an impulse. Crusius separates prudence from the doctrine of morality proper, as the ability of finding, for rational ends, also the special appropriate means.—A more popular presentation of this view is contained in the so-long-esteemed, widely-read, and influential “Moral Lectures”227227 Moralische Vorlesungen. of Gellert (1770), which, however, are estimable more for their noble sentiments and warmth of feeling than for depth of thought; and which, in their rhetorically verbose and often dull and tedious manner could have made so great an impression only in an age which had lost all taste for strong food; discursive discussions on “the utility of health,” etc., were then regarded as interesting reading. Gellert addresses himself more to the feelings than to the cognizing understanding, but the former are not embraced in Christian depth, but rather as mere feeble sentimentality.
Since the middle of this century the taste for really philosophical thinking had been declining in Germany, in the precise measure in which the pretension to the name of “philosophical century” was put forward; instead of a spiritually-vigorous, constantly-progressing development of thought, we 301find, for the most part, only a self-complacent superficial criticising tendency and arbitrarily-brought-together, ungrounded assertions and observations, derived more from outward experience than from reason, and often delighting in rhetorical bombast.—The voluminous Feder of Göttingen (Prackt. Philos., 1776; Unters. üb. d. menschlichen Willen, 1779-85), reminds indeed often of Wolf by his pedantic minuteness, but not by depth of thought; and he bases himself in the main on the empiricism of Locke.—Garve, who was highly esteemed by his contemporaries, derived the most of his matter from the English moralists, and limited his own moral thoughts to annotations on other writers (Cicero), and to disconnected but clear and elegantly written, though neither profound nor ingenious, dissertations.
|« Prev||Philosophical Ethics Before Kant.||Next »|
►Proofing disabled for this book
► Printer-friendly version