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SECTION LVI. Scientific Classification of Ethics.

The usual distribution of the subject-matter of ethics into the doctrine of goods, of virtues, and of duties, does not answer the nature of this science, as these are not different parts of the whole, but only different modes of contemplating one and the same thing,—modes which are so intimately involved in each other, that such a classification inevitably involves, on the one hand, an unnatural severing of the subject-matter, and, on the other, manifold repetitions of the same thought. All the various articulations of this science into the mere discussion of virtues, duties, and goods, according to the different classes and subdivisions of particular virtues, duties, 24and goods, come short of exhausting the subject-matter, and must therefore involve the throwing of other important ethical considerations into an introduction or some other subordinate position.

Among the various classifications of the matter of ethics, the above-mentioned is in recent times the more usual; it is adopted by Schleiermacher, though only in his Philosophical Ethics, and it is applied by Rothe to Theological Ethics also. In both of these writers, the importance of such a classification lies in the thought of the working of reason upon nature, in which morality is by them made to consist. The goal of this working, namely, the positive harmony of nature and reason, is the good; the power of reason which works this good, is virtue; the mode of procedure for working the good, the directing of the activity toward it, is duty.33Schleirm. Syst., p. 71 sqq.; Grundlinien, 1803, p. 175 sqq; Üb. d. Begriff des höchsten Gutes, Werke III, 2, 447 sqq. Comp. §. 48. This view, irrespectively of the so-strongly emphasized thought of Rothe, of the good as a harmony of (material) nature and reason,—which is utterly inapplicable to Christian morality,—is in fact valid also for Christian ethics (Schwarz). In Christ’s words: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things [temporal goods] shall be added unto you” [Matt. vi, 33], are comprehended both the highest good and the single goods, duty and virtue,—the latter being embraced in “righteousness,” though righteousness is indeed more than virtue. There is a difference between the goal to be reached, the way or movement toward it, and the power of the subject which conditions this movement; still it does not follow from this that the entire subject-matter of ethics can be organically and exclusively distributed on this basis. The antithesis of duties and goods could be most easily carried out, since the producing activity and the produced result are clearly distinguishable. But even here the difficulty arises, that true good, and hence, of course, also happiness (as Aristotle very justly remarks), is not an inert result but an activity; but every activity, if it is rational, must be the expression of a moral idea, the realizing of a duty; so that we are brought to the at 25first strange-seeming conclusion, that dutiful acting is itself a part of the being and essence of the good,—is in one respect itself a good. The family, the church, the state, etc., are goods; but these all are conditioned not merely on dutiful acting,—they themselves are a purely moral life,—consist, strictly speaking, in a collectivity of moral actions, although not solely therein. If we once abstract these actions, there remains neither family nor state nor church; these are not mere empty spaces in which moral acting takes place, but they are themselves incessantly generated by this acting, and without it would not exist,—just as the fiery ring of a revolved torch is not an entity per se, but exists alone by virtue of the motion. Hence the visible embarrassment of the ethical writers in question as to where they shall treat, for example, of family and political duties, whether under the head of duties proper or of goods.—Still more embarrassing is it in the discussion of the virtues. That virtue is per se a good, being an end to be acquired by moral effort, is perfectly evident, and is so admitted by Schleiermacher (Werke, III, 2, 459); also in the above-cited utterance of Christ, righteousness appears as a goal of effort, as an element of the essence of the kingdom of God [comp. Phil. iv, 8]; we aim at virtue, and we possess virtues; but every possession is a good. Now as goods are of course not merely objective,—as indeed the highest good of Christians, the possession of the kingdom of God, comes not with outward observation but is of a strictly inward character [Luke xvii, 20, 21],—hence it is plain that virtue is also a good; as indeed the kingdom of God consists “in power” [1 Cor. iv, 20], and hence by its very nature includes in itself virtue. Hence the doctrine of goods cannot be discussed without treating also of virtue. On the other hand, a merely dormant power is in reality nothing at all; the reality of a power is its outgoing,—the reality of virtue is moral action, that is, the fulfilling of duty. It is not possible, therefore, to discuss the virtues without at the same time treating of all the duties, and vice versa. Hence the distribution of ethics above-mentioned can be adhered to only so long as the discussion lingers in generalities and avoids the particular.

Schleiermacher and Rothe, in fact, admit that the three 26divisions, goods, virtues, and duties, are not, in reality, different parts of, but only a three-fold manner of viewing, the same object,—yet in such a manner that in each of the three the other two are included, if not expressly, at least substantially. The doctrine of goods, of virtues or of duties, embraces, either of them, according to Schleiermacher, when fully developed, the whole of ethics (Syst., p. 76 sqq.). The classification in question can therefore be carried out only by arbitrarily leaving some of the divisions imperfectly discussed. Particular goods, says Rothe, do not spring from the working of a particular virtue and through the fulfilling of a particular duty, but on the contrary no single one is realized otherwise than through the co-working of all the virtues and through the fulfilling of all the duties, and each single virtue contributes to the realization of all the goods, and is conditioned on the fulfilling of all the duties, and each particular virtue contributes in turn to every dutiful manner of action (i, 202). Irrespectively of the fact that the latter declarations are too sweeping,—seeing that, for example, the family may often exist as a good without the virtue of courage, of industry, etc., and that courage may exist apart from the fulfillment of the family duties, etc.,—still it is quite evident that if either of the three divisions in question were really and completely, and not merely in general, carried out, there would remain nothing for the other divisions save a few general observations. The family, for example, is a good only in so far as it has domestic love for its basis, and, in point of fact, Rothe treats of domestic love among the goods; but what remains then to be said of it in treating of the virtues and duties? The remarkable scantiness of Schleiermacher’s discussion of duties is itself evidence of an erroneous classification. And Rothe obtains for his discussion of duties (in fact confessedly finds any occasion whatever therefor) simply because, as he says, reference is there to be had to sin, so that the discussion of duties becomes essentially the portrayal of struggle. But this admission destroys the very basis of the classification;—were it not for sin, a discussion of duties would not be possible, whereas the basis of this classification has not the least reference to sin. If Schleiermacher, after speaking, in his first part, of chastity and unchastity, had 27then in his second part spoken of chastity as among the virtues,—which his plan required of him, but which he does not do—and in his third part fully discussed the duties of chastity, then in order to carry out his classification he would have had to reiterate the same matter three times.—Rothe speaks in very strong expressions against those who do not adopt this classification, affirming that all previous ethical teaching and phraseology have been erroneous, and have ignored the fact that even every-day parlance makes a difference between being virtuous and acting dutifully;—as if common usage does not, just as frequently and just as correctly, speak also of acting virtuously and being true to duty! Oddly enough it seems, in the face of this so-deemed “imperishable desert” of Schleiermacher in regard to this classification, that Schleiermacher himself—clearer-sighted here than Rothe—does not apply it to his own Christian Ethics; and not only that, but he even declares it inadmissable here,—seeing that a description of virtue and a description of the kingdom of God as the highest good, cannot possibly be kept separate, inasmuch as virtue is simply a “habitus” generated by the Holy Spirit as indwelling in the kingdom of God; nor can Christian ethics, in his opinion, be treated under the-head of duties, seeing that no one duty can be discussed save in and with the totality of all the duties, and hence in connection with the idea of the kingdom of God (Chr. Sitte., p. 77 sqq.). And the same might also be said against the application of this classification to Philosophical Ethics.

If this classification of general ethics into the doctrines of goods, of virtues and of duties, is practically untenable, much more is it inapplicable to Christian Ethics, since it lacks one essential Christian thought, that of the divine law. Schleiermacher presented no discussion of the law, as he wrote wholly irrespectively of the idea of God; and for this reason alone his classification would be inapplicable to Christian Ethics. For duty is not identical with the law. The law is objective, duty subjective; the law is the moral idea per se in its definite form, as thought, as universally valid—the will of God in general; duty is the subjective realization of the law for a particular individual under particular circumstances,—relates per se always to the strictly particular, the actual. The law 28is valid always, and under all circumstances; duty varies largely according to time and circumstances; the very same mode of action which is to-day my duty, may be to-morrow, contrary to my duty;—to-day my duty is silence, to-morrow I must speak. The law is categorical, duty is usually hypothetical; the former is the expression of divine morality, the latter of human. So also is the relation of goods to virtue; the former are more the general, objective phase; the latter is more the particular, personal, subjective phase; virtue is the subjective possession of a moral power the product of which is objective good. In the Old Testament the moral life-movement went over from the divine objective will, namely, the law, to the human subject in order to bring the latter into possession of the highest good; in the Christian world the moral life-movement goes out from the subject as being already in union with God, and already in possession of the everlasting good, and directs itself to the objective realization of God-like being,—from the inward possession of the kingdom of God to the objective manifestation and realization of the same.

Of other scientific classifications, we will say but little. The older popular division of the subject-matter of ethics according to the Ten Commandments, was a form very well adapted for popular Christian instruction, and, indeed, by giving a large construction to the more immediate scope of these commandments, it admits of the treatment of all evangelically-ethical thoughts: it does not, however, suffice for a scientific development of Christian ethics, seeing that this series of commands was constructed primarily for merely practical purposes; very essential points, such as the moral essence of man and of the good, and (as parts of the latter) of the state and the church, would have to be thrown into introductory or collateral remarks.—The classification according to our duties to God, to our neighbor, and to ourselves, while in fact embracing the whole circle of duties, yet requires likewise too much of the essential matter to be thrown into an introduction.—Harless makes the divisions, the good itself, the possession of the good, and the preservation of the good; but by “good” he understands rather the antecedent condition than the goal of the moral life; by 29“possession,” more the obtaining and preserving of the possession; and by “preservation,” rather its actual manifestation. This, as well as Schleiermacher’s theological classification, relates only to distinctively Christian ethics.—A very common classification is, into general and special ethics,—the latter treating of the special circumstances and relations of the moral life; but such a system can be carried out without violence only when the first division is reduced to a mere general introduction.


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