« Prev Section XLI. Deistic and Naturalistic Ethics. Next »

SECTION XLI.

In England and France an anti-Christian tendency gave rise to a progressively-degenerating moralism, which,—resting on an idealess empiricism, and, though vigorously resisted, yet maintaining a rising influence for a long time,—based itself in part on a superficial deism, but also in part, and more consequentially, advanced to pure atheism and materialism, and exalted into a moral law the lowest form of Epicurean self-seeking. But it was especially reserved to the French mind to draw the ultimate consequences of these premises, and to seek in the wildest demoralization the highest civilization and “philosophy,” and, through a destruction-loving dissolution of all moral consciousness in the higher classes (a dissolution which swept over devastatingly into the un-German circles of the German literary world) to prepare the way for that general convulsion in Europe which at length attained, only through horrors and anarchy, to some presence of mind and to some degree of calm. English moralism lingered 302in general in a state of capricious wavering between the principle of happiness and the principle of spiritual perfection, between the principle of subjective eudemonism and the principle of objective spiritualism. The reaction of this freethinking on Germany shows itself mostly in the superficial utilitarian morality of the period of self-styled “illuminism.”

Quite otherwise than in Germany was philosophical ethics shaped in England and France. While in Germany, notwithstanding the deep spiritual and moral disorder consequent upon the Thirty Years’ war, there prevailed, for a long while still, a predominantly Christian spirit, (which remained proof against the. Spinozistic Pantheism, and sought to develop philosophy in harmony with Christianity, and only gradually and at a late hour was enervated by French freethinking through the un-German culture of the higher classes), in England the religious contests had resulted in a deep spiritual laxity and in a growing aversion to Christianity and to the spiritual in general. The unspiritual empiricism of Bacon and Locke seconded this superficial empirical turning-away to the immediately visible and prosaic reality of the world. At first it was regarded as a progress to disregard the doctrinal contents of Christianity and to insist only on its morals; then it followed very naturally that this morality, as divorced from its doctrinal basis, should be divorced also from its historical presuppositions in general, and be derived only from the consciousness of the natural man, and that religion in general, as in contrast to the Christian religion, should be conceived simply as a system of moralism, over which then, not as a foundation but as a protecting superstructure, a superficial deism was constructed;—or, indeed, this tendency was followed out further, and men rejected also this deism, and contented themselves with the superficial morality of individual self-love; and it must be regarded as a real progress (as in contrast to this spiritual superficiality), when clearer thinkers skeptically undermined also this pretended natural religion and natural morality, and insisted on the vanity of all human knowledge.

303

Bacon of Verulcam, though not himself constructing an ethical system, opened, by his empiricism (which opposed all previous philosophy, and according to which there is absolutely no knowledge à priori, but only such as springs from immediate and primarily sensuous experience), a current of thought which was dangerous to the Christian world-theory, although he himself did not in the least oppose the Christian consciousness, but rather placed Christian faith above all philosophical knowledge. However, he was not clearly conscious of the tendency of his fundamental thoughts. On this basis, Locke (ob. 1704) subsequently developed a system of philosophy which attained, especially in England, to a wide-reaching influence, but which is in fact, properly speaking, the very opposite of all speculation. True knowledge arises only from the experience of our sensuous existence; general notions are not the first but the last; the human mind per se has and produces neither notions nor ideas, but is rather a tabula rasa upon which the experience of the objective world first writes its characters; and it is only through impressions from objective existence that the spirit attains, through abstraction, comparison, and analysis, to ideas. Out of this empiricism, however harmless and pretentionless it might seem at first examination, was destined logically to result a system of religion and morality essentially different from the Christian world-theory; and historical facts realized this logical sequence. It sweeps away, in fact, at a single blow all ideal contents of the scientific and religious consciousness, in so far as these lie outside of sensuous experience. But experience furnishes not ideas, but only impressions; and at furthest one attains only to abstracted notions, which, however, have no general and unconditional validity; for the ideas of the divine and eternal, there is no place. But man must have something ideal; if he has it not in and above himself, so that he has simply to accept it in his rational self-consciousness and in religious faith, then he must have it before himself,—must practically and productively create it, in action; the ideal is indeed not yet real, but it is to become so. It is consequently, at least, a presentiment of reason which turned this idealess empiricism toward ethics. But precisely this one-sided moralism shows most evidently, 304the incorrectness of the ground-principles; an idealess morality sinks at once to a morality of the most ignoble self-seeking and materialism. A moral consciousness is, according to this system, derived only from direct experience; what is good I know only from the fact that it makes upon me a pleasant impression, affects me, as a particular individual, with the feeling of pleasure; individual happiness becomes the measure of the moral, and thus Epicureanism has again attained to validity.

Already before the more complete development of the Baconian empiricism by Locke, Thomas Hobbes had drawn the natural and clear consequences of the same.228228   Especially in his Leviathan, 1651, and in his De cive. 1647; comp. Lechler: Gesch. des engl. Deismus, 1841, p. 67 sqq. Only what we experience is true; but we can experience only through the senses, and hence only the sensuous; only this is true and real, even in man himself. Human action has not a purpose, for a purpose is a mere idea without reality, but only a ground, namely, in his sensuously-material reality, and, in virtue of this ground, it is also fully determined; hence the moral law is in no respect different from the law of nature. Good or evil is the agreeable or disagreeable state of the individual person, and hence is determined by our immediate feelings, and has in no sense a general significancy beyond the individual being; what is good for me is not so for another; hence, in regard to the good there can be no general decision; every one determines this according to his feelings and experience; every one strives, and rightly too, to have the most possible feelings of pleasure, and in this he is rational and moral. Self-love in this sense, namely, of referring every thing to one’s own enjoyment of the agreeable, is the highest moral law; each has a right to all. From this it follows, indeed, that through mere morality no harmonious life of men in common is possible, but that, on the contrary, all strive against each other,—a war of all against all; but this leads not to a proof of the unreality of the moral law, but only to the necessity of the State; but also the state, because of the lack of a universally-valid objective norm of morality, can rest only on the individual will of the strong. The unlimited despotism of a single person is alone capable of bringing 305order and harmony into the chaos of individual strivings; and all individuals must submit themselves unconditionally to the will of this ruler,—a will which knows no other law than its own pleasure, and which consequently is always right, let the ruler decree what he will, and which is for all the citizens of that state the unassailable law and conscience, and which has consequently to determine what shall constitute right and morality. Also all religion in the state depends exclusively on the will of the ruler; and he alone has to determine what shall be believed and not believed; no one has a right, in the state, to hold any thing else for good and true in the moral and religious sphere, than what the king declares as good and true; sin is only a contradiction to the king’s will. Whatever is not by him prescribed or forbidden, is morally indifferent.—We cannot deny to this system full consequentiality, and the unabashed nakedness of the same is at least more honest than those more recent views, which seek to bemantle the very same ground-thoughts with more moral forms and disguises.

In express antagonism to this materialism, Cumberland made general benevolence the principle of morality;229229   De legibus naturae, 1672, 83, 94. but he rendered it difficult for himself to refute the consequential Hobbes, by the fact that he placed himself essentially upon the stand-point of sensuous experience, and undertook therefrom to rise to higher religious and moral ideas. He attains thus to the principle which he makes the foundation of all morality, namely, that the striving for the common good of the entire system of rational creatures leads to the good of all the single parts of the same, whereof our own happiness constitutes a portion. Hence the chief end of moral effort is not one’s own but the general good, although the former is contained in the latter. This moral law, to the observance of which man is obligated by nature itself, is especially seconded by religion, and sanctified by the will of God, as Lawgiver, who associates with the law rewards and punishments. But the idea of God is not already pre-supposed in the moral consciousness, but this idea pre-supposes this consciousness.—Hobbes was opposed from a stand-point diametrically opposed to this, and related to that of Plato, and 306hence also more effectually and consequentially, by Cudworth,230230   Systema intellectuale, etc., in English in 1678. who entirely rejected the empirical basis of the moral, and appealed to original moral ideas given in reason itself. He assails materialism and atheism in a learned and ingenious manner, and declares the moral ideas which transcend all experience, and which can never be adequately explained by experience, as a self-revelation of God himself, impressed upon finite reason; and in his opposition to empiricism, he goes so far as to hold that the moral idea stands even above the will of God, so that this will does not determine the good, but is determined by the per se valid idea of the good as existing in God. A complete moral system Cudworth did not carry out; and his influence was less extensive, because of the prevalent tendency of the English mind toward empirical reality, than it deserved to be.—Basing himself upon Cudworth’s theory, Henry More presented a brief but comprehensive treatise on philosophical ethics.231231   Enchiridion ethicum, in his Opp. omn., 1679, 2 fol. (The end of morality is the perfection, and therefore the happiness, of man, which rests essentially on virtue; sensuousness has no right in itself, but stands under the dominion of moral reason; the antecedent condition of morality is the freedom of the will, as itself not determined by any thing, not even by knowledge.) In a similar spirit, Samuel Clarke (1708) insisted on the view, that creatures are for each other. Morality consists in conducting one’s self, by virtue of free rationality, in harmony with the universe, and in the proper relation to one’s self and to the rest of the world, even as irrational creatures do from inner impulse. This relation cannot be arbitrarily fixed by man, but is fixed by the nature itself of things, and man is morally to conform himself to this relation; thereby he realizes his happiness.

Locke endeavored to avoid the inferences which Hobbes had drawn from the ground-thought of empiricism, at least in the moral sphere.232232   Essay on the Human Understanding, 1690. Inborn moral ideas, or ideas that lie in the essence of reason itself and in the conscience, do not exist; all moral laws are derived simply from the observation of real life,—are inferred from the benefit which certain 307modes of action have for the well-being of the actor or of others, and hence may, under different circumstances, be very different; and the actual differences, nay, even contradictions, of moral views that do exist, prove that these views do not lie in reason itself. It is only through education and dominant custom that moral opinions rise into pretended fixed moral principles,—into laws of conscience; there is no innate primitive conscience; the approval or disapproval of a particular organized society is the sole sufficient measure of virtue and vice. Here, however, it is natural that such modes of action as are useful not merely to the subject himself, but also to others and to the community, should also be regarded in general as praiseworthy, and hence virtuous, so that for a certain circle of actions, there may indeed be found an essential agreement of moral judgment, and hence a certain natural law lying in the nature of the thing, which is to be regarded as also God’s law. However, Locke derives this law not from the nature of the moral thought itself, but in fact, simply from public opinion, and hence from experience, and he rises only through inferences from facts of experience to more general notions, which, however, have by no means a validity absolutely and per se. Hence the moral idea does not transcend reality,—does not so much say what should be, as rather what already is; a moral judgment upon the actual moral consciousness of a society is, according to Locke’s theory, impossible; for not the idea is the measure for reality, but reality is the measure for the idelt. The question whether indeed the condition and the moral consciousness of society themselves might not be perverted and untrue, is entirely out of place,—is indeed absurd,—as it would assume to measure moral reality by an idea independent thereof; the moral consciousness of society is always right.—The limiting of these far-reaching assertions by the interposing of a superficially-conceived divine revelation is without any sufficient foundation in Locke’s system.—The Lockian view has indeed, as compared with that of Hobbes, a somewhat more respectable tone, but it has on the other hand less inner consequentiality. The thought of self-love, or, more properly, self-seeking, is at least intelligible and clear; but the taking, as a basis, the judgment of society must be regarded as entirely 308ungrounded, and is in reality utterly meaningless, inasmuch as, in every society, moral views the very opposite of each other are represented, so that consequently the individual is, after all, referred to his own private judgment, which, as it rests upon no per se valid idea, can in fact be based only on the feeling of pleasure or displeasure.

The consequences of this unspiritual ethics showed themselves very soon. The position of Wollaston233233   The Religion of Nature Delineated, 1724. is as yet moderate, but for that reason all the more indefinite and unclear. He reduces all religion to morality; religion is only the obligation to do the good and avoid the evil. The good is identical with the true; every action is good which gives expression to a true proposition, that is, which actually recognizes that a thing is as it really is, and which hence corresponds to the nature or end of a thing; things should be treated as being what they are. The destination of man himself is happiness; but happiness is pleasure,—the consciousness of something agreeable, of that which is in harmony with the nature of man; hence true pleasure springs only from that which corresponds to the destination of man, and consequently to reason. Morality or religion is, therefore, the seeking of happiness through the realizing of truth and of reason.—The next advancement of this tendency consisted in this, that the thought of happiness was fixed more definitely in view. Man wills by his very nature to be happy, that is, he has inclinations the fulfillment of which renders him happy. These inclinations man does not give to himself, but he has them from nature,—finds them in a definite form existing within himself; they are the norms of man’s actions, that is, he is good when he follows his natural inclinations. This advance to Epicurean ethics is made by the plausible and fashionable writer, Lord Shaftesbury.234234   Characteristicks, (1711), 1714; comp. Lechler, p. 240 sqq. Every action springs from an inner determinateness of the actor, from a proclivity or propensity; hence the moral worth of an action lies essentially in this propensity; the propensity aims at that which gives pleasure, and avoids that which gives displeasure; that which by its presence gives pleasure, and by its absence displeasure, is good; the opposite thereof is evil; as objects of effort, the former is the good, the latter the evil; between these 309there lies the sphere of the indifferent. The decision as to good and evil is not arbitrary; but that is good which corresponds to the. peculiarity of a being, and, for that very reason, gives pleasure to the being experiencing it. Happiness is the greatest possible sum of satisfactions or experiences of pleasure; spiritual pleasure-impressions stand higher, however, than the merely sensuous; and the generally-useful or benevolent propensities are, in turn, the better among the spiritual ones, for they duplicate the enjoyment by the participation of others; and they do not stand in contradiction to our own personal good, because they relate to the whole of which we ourselves form a part. Hence true morality consists in the striving after the proper relation and harmony of the individual and of the whole; the one is not to be merged into the other, for man is just as much an individual as he is a member of the whole, and self-love is peer se just as legitimate as the propensity of general benevolence. Hence virtue consists in a rationally-calculated. weighing out of the measure of the reciprocally limiting propensities, that is, in preserving a proper equilibrium. The decision in this case is given primarily by our innate feeling for good and evil, by the moral sense or instinct,—not taken in the sense of a conscious thought, but of a feeling, a feeling of pleasure in the presence of the good, and of displeasure in the presence of the evil. This moral sense is developed by exercise and reflection into a moral judgment. Virtue is indeed independent of religion, and even atheism does not directly endanger it; but yet it receives its proper force and life only in the belief in a good, all-wise and justly-governing God.—Shaftesbury endeavors to rise above the fortuitousness of the determination of the moral in Hobbes and Locke, and to attain to a per se valid determination of the same; but after all, he also finds the deciding voice only in the fortuitous feeling of pleasure or displeasure; his empiricism is essentially subjective. That, as differing from Locke, he regards the moral feeling as innate, does not yet guarantee its objective truth, and, at all events, the objection of Locke holds good against it, namely, the actually-existing diversity of moral views. But this moral feeling is not a moral idea; it has no contents, but utters itself only in each separate case, when it is stimulated by an action or an object, even as a piano gives a note only when it is struck; otherwise 310this feeling is silent and dead, whereas an idea is living and conscious even in the absence of any reality affecting it; this subjective feeling itself is moreover incapable of being tested by a per se and absolutely valid idea.

While Collins, the eulogist of Epicurus, a disciple and friend of Locke, and the first who called himself Freethinker, denied the freedom of the will and regarded human action as absolutely determined by the influences surrounding us, Hutcheson (of Glasgow) endeavored to rectify the moral system of Shaftesbury by assuming good-will toward others, in contradistinction to self-love, as the contents proper of the innate moral sense. To the purely empirical foundation of ethics, however, he held fast in his “System of Moral Philosophy” (1755). We find that certain actions in men, even when these men are not affected by the consequences of the same, meet with approbation or disapprobation; from this it follows that the ground of this judgment is not personal advantage or disadvantage, but a natural moral sense, which perceives the moral irrespective of personal interest, and has therein pleasure, and which therefore also, equally disinterestedly, impels to moral action. This inborn moral sense is not a conscious idea, but an immediate feeling which differs from the interested self-feeling,—just as we have an immediate pleasure in a beautiful, regular form, without being conscious of the mathematical laws thereof, or having any benefit therefrom. The moral approbation and striving are consequently also all the purer the less our personal interest is involved in the case. The selfish and the benevolent propensities mutually exclude each other, for benevolence begins only where personal interest ceases. Therefore we have to make our choice between the two propensities, and as the benevolent one is the purer, hence the moral proper consists exclusively in it. Virtue is not practiced for the sake of a benefit or an enjoyment, but purely out of inner pleasure in it; our nature has an inner innate tendency to promote the welfare of others without having any regard therein to personal benefit. This benevolence toward others is the essence of all the virtues; for even our care for our own welfare is exercised in order to preserve ourselves for the good of others; the degree of virtue rises in proportion to the happiness procured for others, and to the number of persons benefited by us. The preliminarily-311ignored moral relation of man to God, Hutcheson afterward brings—not without violence—into his system, by holding that the moral sense leads also to the union of the moral creature with the Author of all perfection.—The fundamental thoughts of this ethical system are indeed well meant, but they are scientifically weak and arbitrary; from the Christian view they are far remote, for the self-complacent mirroring of self in the pretendedly pure virtuousness of one’s own benevolent heart, and the easy contenting of self in a certain circle of benevolent outward actions, are, in one direction, quite as dangerous for correct self-knowledge, as is the system of pure self-seeking in the other.—A related system, but one manifoldly complicated in unclear originality, was developed by Adam Smith (1759, and later). He emphasized, more strongly still, the element of feeling for others in the innate moral sense, and conceived of it as the feeling of sympathy, in virtue of which we share in natural participation in the joy and in the pains of others, and strive for the participation and harmony of others with our own feelings and actions; in this harmony we find the good, and in the opposite the evil. The morality of our action we recognize by the fact that it is adapted to awaken the sympathies of others; a perfectly isolated man could not possibly have a moral judgment as to himself, because he would lack the criterion, the mirror. Hence man must always so act that others not standing in the same fortuitous relations, that is, impartial persons, can sympathize with him. The obscure conviction that the moral consciousness must rest on a per se valid idea, brings the empiric to this strange and certainly very difficult and inadequate procedure, which, however, though expressly intended to throw off the accidentality of individual being, yet cannot, after all, get rid of it.

Also David Hume treats of the subject of ethics, though with less acumen than that wherewith, in the sphere of religion and of theoretical philosophy, he skeptically undermines the certainty of all knowledge.235235   Treatise of Human Nature, 1730; Essays, etc., 1742. While, in the field of philosophy, he ingeniously exposed the feeble superficiality of the prevalent empiricism, he yet hesitated to introduce his skepticism, with like consequentiality into the practical sphere of morals. A real science of the moral there cannot be, in the opinion of 312Hume, seeing that the moral is not an object of the cognizing understanding, but only of mere feeling or sensation. The ultimate end of all action is happiness; but that which renders happy can be determined only by sensation; hence a sense, or tact, or feeling innate in all men, decides as to good and evil, in that the good excites a pleasant, and the evil an unpleasant feeling. Hence we must learn by way of pure observation what actions violate, or answer to, the moral feeling; and we find, now, that the useful excites moral approbation, and more particularly, that which is useful to the community. General and necessary moral ideas there are none; and even the moral feeling is very different in different nations; hence moral conceptions have always only a varying worth and rest essentially upon custom. The obligation to virtue rests on the fact that in virtue there is furnished the greatest guarantee for actual happiness; and also the working for the good of others reacts in the end upon our own good. Thus Hume coincides essentially with Locke. That he regards suicide as allowable is easily explainable from his ground-thoughts.—By means of a feeble and unfounded eclecticism, Adam Ferguson (of Edinburgh)236236   Institutes of Moral Philosophy, 1769. endeavors to avoid the one-sidedness of other moralists, but only involves himself in worse confusion. To the moral he gives three fundamental laws: the law of self-preservation, the law of community or society, and the “law of estimation,” (the latter relating to the per se excellent),—without reducing this threefoldhess to any kind of clear unity. He attains to an unpredjudiced consideration of the moral in detail only at the expense of the consequentiality of his system.

The ultimate consequences of empiricism were not drawn by the systematic moralists, but by other so-called Freethinkers who wrote more for the general public. Such was the case especially with the most influential among them, Lord Bolingbroke, the chief representative of deism (ob. 1751),237237   Works, 1754. who declared Plato to be half crazy, and all philosophy proper to be mere narrow-mindedness. The moral law is, as the law of nature, clearly revealed to all men through the observation of existence. All morality rests on self-love; this law incites to marriage, to the family, and to society, and to the duties that result therefrom. The end of all effort is the greatest possible 313happiness, that is, the greatest possible number of pleasure-sensations. But this natural law teaches Bolingbroke some very strange things; shamefulness, e. g., is only an aspiration of man to be something better than the brute, or it is a mere social prejudice; polygamy is not immoral; on the contrary, it harmonizes with the law of nature, because it effects a, greater increase of the race; wedlock-communion is disallowable only between parents and children; all other degrees of relationship admit of it, for the highest law and end of marriage is propagation. The pretentious superficiality of this writer obtained for him in the “cultured” world the highest repute.

English moralism checked itself, for the most part, at half-ways; it found as yet too much moral consciousness alive among the masses, not to feel bound in general to hold fast still to a respectable code of morality, even though at the cost of the consequentiality of the system. In France, on the contrary, the demoralization had made sufficient progress among the cultivated classes to be enabled to throw off all reserve, also in the sphere of theory. The scanty remnants of religious and moral contents still retained in the freethinking ethics of Englishmen, had to be thrown out, in the further fermenting process, as discoloring dregs, in order that the unmingled wisdom-beverage of the natural man might attain to its life-giving purity; deistic moralism had to pass over into atheistic materialism. The French ethics of frivolity became, also for German ears, a sweet-sounding music; and French parasites at the little German ducal courts charged themselves with the task of distilling the decoction of trans-Rhenane moral notions also into the lower strata of the German population.

Shaftesbury and Hutcheson had endeavored to, secure the innate moral feeling against the threatening overthrow of all morality, by placing over against the feeling for self, a feeling for the social whole, either as of like worth, or as of a still higher validity. This course was arbitrary, and not grounded in their fundamental principle; for every man is, as an individual, the nearest to himself. And a feeling inborn in me relates, after all, first and last, always to myself; as a merely natural being inspired by no higher idea, I feel for others only in so far as I am myself interested in them. Feeling clings absolutely to the subject, and egotism is the inner essence of any natural 314moral feeling which is not willing to be dominated by an idea. In order to this further development of ethics, there was need of a still further carrying out of empiricism as a theory. This we meet with in Condillac, a French nobleman, an abbot and prince-educator,—one of the most superficial and, therefore, most preferred authors of the middle of the eighteenth century.—All knowledge rests on sensuous impressions; man is acted upon and filled with spiritual contents, simply as a machine, through outward impressions; of all the senses the sense of touch is the highest; it alone gives us certainty as to the objective reality of things, and raises man above the brute. with whom in other respects he is essentially identical. The pleasure and displeasure of impressions work desire and repugnance, and hence awaken and determine the will. It is incredible what stupid absurdities Condillac offers in the name of metaphysics; and it is a significant index of the spirit of the age, that he was one of the most influential and fêted writers of France. The ethics of this world-theory was easily inferred, and was pronounced with open boldness. Long previously Gassendi (of Paris, ob. 1655) had presented the satisfaction of desire as the end of human life, this satisfying is rational when it is orderly, natural, and not excessive; and it effects peace of heart and painlessness of body. He recommended, consequentially enough, the doctrine of Epicurus as the highest wisdom.—The full and clear consequence of empiricism, however, was drawn by Helvetius, who expressly based his doctrine on the, by him, highly esteemed theory of Locke. As an affluent gentleman of leisure, and living only for his pleasures, he became greatly renowned by his work, De l’esprit (1758), throughout the luxurious fashionable circles of Europe. His book was proscribed in France, but all the more circulated throughout Europe; and the author, in his travels to different courts, especially the German ones, was fêted as a great philosopher. His second more important work, (a further development of the first one,) De l’homme, appeared only after his death (1772). The highly-colored and daring tone of his writings, with their rich setting of wit, and of indelicate anecdotes, furnishes a clear image of the then prevalent spirit of the higher classes of cultivated Europe.—All thoughts, according to Helvetius, spring from sensuous perceptions, and our knowledge extends only so 315far as the senses extend; of any thing super-sensuous, and hence also of God, we know nothing. The motives to activity are essentially the passions, which spring from our inclination to pleasure and our aversion to displeasure. The fundamental stimulus of all moral activity is self-love, the expression of which is, in fact, the passions; nothing great is accomplished without great passion; he who is not passionate is stupid. As, now, all thoughts rest on sensuous impressions, so rest also all self-love and all passion, and hence all morality, on the impulses of sensuous pleasure; and even the decision as to truth is entirely dependent on the interest of the self-loving subject. Should the case arise, says Helvetius, that it would be more advantageous for me to regard the part as greater than the whole, then I would in fact assume this to be the case. The good, or the moral, is neither an absolutely valid idea, nor is it any thing arbitrarily assumed, but the determination as to it rests in the experience of the individual; but experience teaches that each regards as good that which is useful to him; and consequently each judges of the morality of actions simply according to his own interest; hence the best actions would be such as corresponded to the interest of all men; but there are no such actions. Hence we must limit our view; and, on closer examination, we find to be truly good that which promotes the interest not merely of the individual but of our nation; the political virtue is the highest, and the political transgression, the highest sin; that which does not contribute to the public good of the nation, as, for example, the so-called religious virtues, is not a virtue, and what does not conflict therewith is not a sin; virtues which profit nothing must be regarded as virtues of delusion, and be discarded. Hence, true ethics has its norm essentially in the civil law-book and in public utility; that which lies outside of these is, for the most part, morally indifferent; when it is useful to the public weal, even inhumanity is just. The motive to moral activity remains, even in this so narrowly limited sphere, self-love; the thought of doing the good for the good’s sake, is antiquated and exploded. To sacrifice my own private advantage to that of the public, I am under no obligation; rather must I seek in the best manner possible to combine the two. When any one helps an unfortunate, out of compassion, this is only self-love, for he simply aims to 316rid himself of the sight of misery, which is unpleasant to him. Ethics is utterly fruitless and vain so long as it does not definitely regard personal interest, and hence sensuous pleasure and the avoidance of sensuous pain, as the highest principle of morality; nothing is forbidden but what causes us pain; with religion, ethics has nothing whatever to do. Morality is therefore also, at different times and under different relations, essentially different; there is no crime which under some circumstances—(when it should be useful)—would not also be right. True, the vicious man seeks also his own advantage, and the only trouble in the matter is that he deceives himself as to the means thereto; hence, he is to be pitied because of his error, but not to be despised. The fact that among all nations, some actions are regarded as virtuous which offer no profit whatever for this life, is simply a hurtful delusion. As self-interest is the ground of all virtue, hence it is also entirely legitimate that the state should stimulate its citizens to obedience by rewards and punishments; in fact, it thereby hits upon the solely correct moral motives to the good; rewards and punishments are the gods which create virtue. All statesmanship consists in awakening the self-love and self-interest of men, and in thereby stimulating them to virtue.

The intellectual revolution—represented by great names—made sweeping advances in France and also in the fashionable world servilely dependent on France, at the courts of the rest of Europe, and especially of Germany,. and had already long since reached its ultimate results, before the political revolution enabled also the lower classes to speak their word in the same sense. It was fashionable at this period to designate by the word “esprit” (as the privilege of the giddy, freethinking world) that which was subsequently called “revolution” among the great masses, and which was, in fact, simply the consequence of the former. Every thing which hitherto had passed as philosophy, (with the exception of the Epicurean), was regarded as nonsense; the most stupid superficiality, provided only that it ridiculed sacred things, passed as philosophy; wit and frivolous fancies took the place of earnest science. The “philosophical” century sank, in the appreciation of really philosophical thought, deeper than even the earlier and as yet barbarous 317Middle Ages had sunk. The higher the encomiums they heaped upon what they called “spirit,” so much the more utter became the spiritual vacuity; men extolled reason more pretentiously than ever, and yet they placed in her temple, as goddess, a public woman. Rousseau and Voltaire passed as the profoundest thinkers of all ages; their spiritual triumphs and attainments were unparalleled, and Voltaire’s renown transcended in glory all renown ever heaped upon an author. The history of the human mind has no second century to refer to in which un-reason dominated with such complete omnipotence.

Jean Jacques Rousseau produced indeed no system of ethics, but he exerted in the sphere of moral opinion an influence such as no author before or after him ever exerted, and felt even up to the present day,—not indeed because he uttered deep thoughts, but because he gave expression to what lay in the spirit of the age,—himself an utterly ungenuine character—under the form of a severe moralist undermining all morality, under the form of earnest thought bidding defiance to all philosophy and science, under the form of a censorious sage, in hermit-like seclusion from the world, preparing soft cushions for the vices of the “cultured” great. And precisely in this his peculiar character he chimed in with the tastes and desires of the age; he simply made, in the dike of the as yet somewhat cramped current of the age, the little breach through which its pent-up waters dispersed themselves over the low-lands so as subsequently, as morasses, to exhale the pestilential miasma of revolution. Of scientific ground-thoughts there can in Rousseau be no question; bold assertions and rhetorical phrases take almost every-where the place of scientific demonstration. The writings of Locke exerted upon him the greatest influence; sensuous experience is also for him the source of all ideas. His moral views receive their proper commentary in his utterly immoral life. His Contrat social (1761) became the theoretical basis of the French Revolution; his narrow-minded sophistical work, Emile (1762) had an immeasurable and bewildering influence on education, and is yet to-day the catechism of all un-Christian schemes of education. Rousseau’s religion of nature, as he called it, is a shallow idealess deism grouped around the 318three thoughts: God, virtue, and immortality, in high sounding rhetorical phrase. He bases morality upon the natural conscience, which, as a direct feeling for the moral, renders unnecessary all instruction and all science as to the moral, and guides man with unerring certainty. All immorality springs simply from “civilization,” and from perverted education; true education consists in non-educating. Let the child be simply let alone in its naturalness; let it be guarded against perverting influences, and then it will spontaneously develop itself as normally as a tree in a good soil. In the nature of man there lies nothing evil whatever; all natural impulses are good; every child is by nature still just as good as the first man was in coming from the hands of the Creator. The sole inborn passion is self-love, and this is good. The child should learn every thing through personal experience, and nothing through obedience; the words “obey” and “command” must be erased from its dictionary, as also the words “duty” and obligation;” the child must by all means be kept in the belief that it is its own lord, and that its educator is subordinate to it. Make the child strong, and it will be good; for all defects, the educator alone is to blame. The sole moral instruction for the child is: “Do wrong to no one;” of love and religion there should, in education, be no question whatever. Instruction should by no means be imparted before the twelfth year, and even after this period only at the desire of the pupil; at twelve years it should yet be incapable of distinguishing its right hand from its left. It should never believe or do any thing on the mere word of another, but must always do simply what it has found to be good from personal experience. The end of this “inactive” method of education, as Rousseau himself designates it, is the end of human life, namely, freedom; but true freedom consists in this, that we wish nothing other than what we can do or obtain; and in this case we will also do nothing other than what pleases us; and this is always the right. Hence the essence of all morality is the giving free scope to our natural propensities. The highest moral law is; “seek thine own highest welfare with the least possible detriment to others.” Christianity is the natural enemy of true morality and of human society, for 319it desires the absolute purity of human nature,—directs man away from the earthly, and preaches only servitude and tyranny. These were sweet words for the ears of the great multitude, and they did not die away unheeded, but found enthusiastic welcome.—Although the almost apotheosized prince of the “philosophical” century, Voltaire, whose pretended philosophy rests almost exclusively on Locke, wrote both moral phrases and un-moral poems, yet in neither case has he produced any thing peculiar or original, much less philosophical, notwithstanding his frequent allusion to his “metaphysics.” Morality, he repeats time and again in the strongest affirmations, is entirely independent of religious faith,—rests upon a natural innate impulse, and is consequently in all men and in all ages, so soon as they use their reason, uniform and the same.238238   Oeuvres, Paris, 1830, t. 31, p. 262; t. 12, p. 160; t. 42, p. 583. Virtue or vice, the morally good or evil, is always and every-where that which is either useful or hurtful to society; incest between father and daughter may, under circumstances, be allowable, and even a duty, as, for example, when a single family constitutes an isolated colony; falsehoods uttered out of a good purpose are legitimate, and the same holds good of almost every thing that is in ordinary cases unallowable. Divinely-revealed moral laws there are none; but a certain benevolence toward others is inborn in man, at the same time with self-love. To the objection, that with so uncertain a basis, one might seek his own welfare by stealing, robbing, etc., Voltaire has the ready answer: then he would get hanged.239239   Ibid., t. 37, p. 336; t. 38, p. 40. And all this he calls metaphysics.

What little of a superficial religious consciousness had yet remained with Rousseau and Voltaire, entirely vanished with the Encyclopedists, and especially with Diderot (ob. 1784). Diderot endeavored, above all things, entirely to divorce morality from religion; the latter is for the former rather a hindrance than a help. In morality itself he wavers, undecided, between naturalistic determinism and a very superficial society-morality. The Epicurean view he regards as the most true. All the vices spring from covetousness, and hence they can all be got rid of by the abolition of property, 320by a community of goods; for the discovery of this universal panacea of human ills, he takes to himself great credit.—Naturalistic morality appears in its most gross form and in shameless nakedness in La Mettrie (ob. 1751),240240   L’homme machine; L’art de jouir., 1751. whom even Voltaire despised, but whom Frederick the Great, from some incomprehensible caprice, made his reader and daily companion (from 1748 on), and even nominated him, ignoramus that he was, to membership in the Academy of Sciences. Religion and morality stand in irreconcilable antagonism to philosophy; they rest only in politics, and serve for the bridling of the masses who are yet unable to rise to philosophy, just as, for a similar reason, there is as yet need also of hangman and death-penalties. But humanity as a whole cannot be happy until all the world embraces atheism. Religion has poisoned nature and cheated her out of her rights. Where the truth, that is, atheism, prevails, there man follows no other law than that of his particular natural propensity. And thus alone can he be happy. Man is not essentially different from the brute, not even by any peculiar moral consciousness; he stands in many respects below the brute, and has only this advantage, that he has a greater number of wants, whereby a greater culture becomes possible. Man—as sprung from the mingling of different races of animals, and as formed from matter of the same kind as that constituting the brute, save only that it has simply gone through a higher fermentation-process, and as being of a merely material organism (for the soul is only the brain, which is itself only a slightly organized piece of dirt),—is simply a mere machine, and is set into motion by outward impressions, and hence he is necessarily determined in all his volitions, and is not responsible for any of his actions. Repentance is folly; for individual man is not at fault for his being a poorly constructed machine. Hence also we should not despise the seemingly vicious, nor judge them severely. As, at death, all is over, hence we should enjoy the present as much as we possibly can. To defer an enjoyment when it offers itself, is the same as waiting at a banquet without eating, until all are done; enjoyment, and indeed primarily and principally, sensuous enjoyment, is our highest and sole destination.—It was 321precisely during his stay in Potsdam that La Mettrie wrote his most audacious glorification of the wildest and even unnatural wantonness. His writings were very much sought after in the higher circles of society.

The total result of materialistic ethics is summed up in a work written very probably by Baron Holbach with the cooperation of Diderot and other Encyclopedists: System de la nature, par Mirabaud (1770), constituting the gospel proper of atheism, and presenting nakedly and undisguisedly, in a dull and spiritless form, the results of the philosophy of Locke, Hobbes, and Condillac, who are in fact expressly cited as sources. As man is only a material machine, hence there is between the physical and the moral life no difference; all thinking and willing consist simply in modifications of the brain. All propensities and passions are purely corporeal states—are either hatred or love, that is “repulsion or attraction;” the absurd doctrine of the freedom of the will has been invented simply to justify the equally absurd one of divine providence. Man is only a part of the great world-machine, determined in all his movements,—a blind instrument in the hands of necessity; the concession of freedom even to a single creature would bring the whole universe into confusion; hence whatever takes place takes place necessarily. Religion and its ethics are the greatest enemies of man, and occasion him only torment. The system of nature alone makes man truly happy,—teaches him to enjoy the present as fully as possible, and gives him, in relation to every thing which is not an object of enjoyment, the indifference that is essential to his happiness. Hence there is no need of a special moral system. Its fundamental principle would necessarily be: “enjoy life as much as thou canst;” but every man does this already of himself without instruction. Self-love, one of the manifestations of the law of gravitation, is the highest moral law. The chief condition of happiness is bodily health; the true key of the human heart is medicine; the most effectual moralists are the physicians; he who makes the body sound, makes the man moral. Every man follows by nature and necessarily his own special interest, a course of conduct which in fact follows immediately and necessarily from his bodily organization; vice and crime 322are but consequences of morbid corporeality,—are not guilt but necessity. Hence only the unwise can repent; in any case repentance is only a pain arising from the fact that an act has had bad consequences for us. Now as the instincts and passions are the sole motive of human action, hence we can influence other men only by working upon their passions. Each is obligated only to that which procures him an advantage. Hence a good man is he who satisfies his passions in such a manner that other persons must contribute to this satisfaction so as that they also thereby satisfy their own passions and interests. Hence the atheist is necessarily a good man, whereas religion makes men bad in that it embitters to them the passions. That suicide is held as legitimate for those who are weary of life, is a matter of course.—This godless world-theory disseminated itself in rapid development deeper and deeper among the masses; and the ten years of the French Revolution are the practical realization of this ethics as a social power.

It is characteristic of the difference of national spirit that the naturalistic tendency could not, in its stark crudity, take hold upon the German people, but came to expression only in association with other higher principles, with Christianly-moral elements, namely, in the Rationalistic “illuminism” of the eighteenth century. Open unbelief proper and materialistic morals spoke, in Germany, almost exclusively French; and the sycophant court-atheists were too much despised to find hearty favor with the masses. The demoralizing revolution which proceeded front the upper classes, met with a powerful opposition in the German national spirit. Even while a popular school of poetry divorced itself from the Christian consciousness, still this school held fast to the antithesis of the spiritual and the naturalistic world-theories, recognizing the former as the higher; “let him who cannot believe, enjoy; let him who can believe, deny himself.”—The superficial deistic ethics attains to greater influence in Germany than the materialistic, though without giving rise to any important scientific works. On the basis of the uncorrupted purity of human nature there was developed a superficial utilitarian morality without deeper contents; and this morality was looked upon as the essence proper of Christianity. Basedow’s demagogic attempt at world-renovation 323by a new system of education based on Rousseau, became very soon too ridiculous to exert any enduring influence, Steinbart241241   System der reinen Phil. oder Glückseligkeitslehre des Christenthums. (professor of theology at Frankfort on the Oder) in his utterly superficial but greatly lauded System of Pure Philosophy or Christian Doctrine of Happiness (1778, ’80, ’86, ’94), regarded the chief contents of the Christian religion and of Christian ethics as simply the answering of the question: “What have I to learn, and to do, in order to have the greatest possible sum of pleasure?” “Happiness is the end of the entire human life, and consists in the heart-state of a continuous contentment and of frequently recurring enjoyment.” Every man is by nature perfectly good and pure, though indeed not as a spirit but as an animal, and he rises only gradually from the animal to the man. Self-love is the ground of all morality, and morality is the infallible way to a state of enjoyment; of a checking of self-love there can be no occasion; hence Christian virtue is “nothing else than a preparedness to enjoy one’s existence to the highest degree, under all circumstances”; the highest state of enjoyment is of course only in the life after death, where alone we can really survey the consequences of our beneficent, meritorious actions; “but our glimpses into that life encourage us to a better using of the present one, and the fullest enjoyment of this life enlarges our receptivity for higher degrees of happiness in the future world.” This is the pure doctrine of Jesus, which unfortunately has, for eighteen centuries, been lost sight of.—Steinbart was favored in the highest degree by the Prussian government, and aided in his plan of founding a “general normal school in which teachers might be educated for the true enlightenment of the nations.”

It was only the revival of the Pantheism of Spinoza in the nineteenth century that gave rise, in Germany, to a scientific form of ethics; but also this system, though of a far higher character than the freethinking of France, yet, in its later unscientific offshoots, ultimated in like results; and the fact that in our own day a resuscitated materialism, resting, however, more on natural science than on philosophy, presents us again with the ethics of the “System of Nature,” is certainly no indication of progress in spiritual development, though indeed an 324evidence of a progress of the intellectual blight consequent on the too great stagnation of the religious and philosophical spirit in the present age.


« Prev Section XLI. Deistic and Naturalistic Ethics. Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |