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SECTION LVII. Scientific Classification of Ethics. (Concl’d)

Morality is life, and hence, activity or movement, and more definitely, rationally-free movement. Herein lie three things: the subject that moves, the end toward which the movement goes out, and the movement-activity itself. The subject goes out from its immediate condition of being per se, through movement, over into another condition which lies before it as an end. But the moral subject is not a mere isolated individual; on the contrary, it is the freely self-developing image of God as the primitive ground and prototype of all morality, and it lives only in virtue of constant inner-communion with God. The holily-ruling God becomes, as distinguished from man, the eternal, holy proto-subject of the moral life; and there is no moment of the moral life in which the human subject, strictly per se and without God’s cooperation, works the good.—The goal toward which the moral movement directs itself is also of a twofold character. Man finds himself already in the presence of an objective world different from himself; and even where he makes himself his own object, this, his reality, is, primarily, a gift conferred upon him without any moral action on his own part; this conferred existence (world and self) is the working-sphere of his 30moral activity—the most immediate object and end of the same. But man is not, in his activity, to throw himself away upon this objective world-to merge himself into it—but he is to shape it by his own power, and in harmony with the moral idea,—to male the possibility of the good into real good, to realize a spiritual end in and through the objective world. Hence the goal of the moral activity is to be considered under two phases: (a) As a pure object untouched as yet by the moral activity,—as a mere platform, as material given for the moral activity in order to be spiritually dominated by this activity so as to become a spiritually and morally formed real good. (b) This object itself as morally fashioned, as having become a good,—existing primarily only as an idea, a rational purpose, but afterward as a result of moral activity, as a fruit realized,—that is the ideal goal proper, or the end of the moral activity. In the first case, the object is, for the moral activity, a directly-given reality, but it is not to remain as such; in the second case it is primarily not real, but exists only in thought, but it is ultimately to become a reality expressive of the thought.—The third phase of the moral movement, namely, the moral activity itself, is, as spiritually free, likewise of a twofold character; on the one hand, it is to be considered from its subjective side, that is, in respect to how it is rooted in the subject himself, and from him issues forth,—the subjective motive of the moral activity, the source of the stream; on the other hand, it is to be considered as a life-stream, sent forth from the subject and directed upon the object,—that is, the activity proper itself as having become real and objective in its progressive 31development toward the attained goal in which it ends.

The subject-matter of ethics falls, therefore, into the following subdivisions:

1. The moral subject, purely in and of itself considered.

2. God as the objective ground of the moral life and of the moral law, and also as the prototype of the moral idea, and as co-working in the moral life.

3. The given objective existence upon which, as material to be fashioned, the moral activity exerts itself.

4. The subjective ground of the moral activity, the personal motive to morality.

5. The moral working or acting itself, the moral life-movement toward the moral goal.

6. The conceived object of the moral activity, its goal or end,—the good as an object to be realized.

While Dogmatics sets out most naturally from the thought of God, Ethics takes its start from man, the moral subject, inasmuch as morality in its totality is simply the rational life-development of man,—God coming into consideration here not so much in his character as Creator as rather in that of a Lawgiver and righteously-ruling Governor. Should we, however, divorce Ethics entirely from Dogmatics, we would, of course, have to preface the moral discussion of man by a presentation of the doctrine of God.

The idea of the moral subject, of the rational personality, is the foundation-thought of ethics,—the root out of which all the other branches spring. But man is a morally rational person only in so far as he conceives of himself, not as an isolated individual, but as conditioned by the divine reason and the divine holiness. Hence the idea of the moral personality leads out beyond itself to the thought of God, as the eternal fountain and the measure of morality, as the holy and just Lawgiver; the prototypal relation of God to the moral 32has its personally-historical manifestation in Christ, the Son of God; the moral idea becomes in Christ an actually-realized ideal. The doctrine of the moral law belongs not in the sphere of the human subject, but in that of the divine, for the law is not man’s but God’s will.

In the notion of the moral subject considered as an individual being, there lies implicitly also the notion of an objective world different from the same. Morality, as active life, has this world before it as its theater of effort; the activity in its outgoing comes into contact with a reality independent of itself, which, though because of the unity of creation it is not antagonistic to the subject, is nevertheless primarily foreign to the same, and not in any wise imbued with or dominated by it. But to be a spirit, implies in itself the dominating of the unspiritual, the entering into harmony with all that is spiritual. It is the task of the moral subject to bring about this domination and this harmony. Moreover, in so far as man finds himself in a simply given, and not as yet spiritually-dominated and cultivated condition, he becomes to himself his own object, his moral activity being directed upon himself.

The modifying activity as exerted upon this given existence is not, however, of a purposeless character, but it has before it, in the rational end, an ideal object the realizing of which is to be effected by the activity as moral. In an ethical discussion which follows the actual order of the moral life, this moral activity will have to be considered first, although with constant reference to the moral end. This activity, as a spiritual outgoing from the subject, has, on the one hand, its fountain in the moral subject, on the other, it has also a development-course as a stream. Each is to be considered separately, so that we have here again two subdivisions. The consideration of the subjective origin or ground of the moral activity—its motive,—has to do with the why. The existence of the law and the encountering of an external world by the subject, do not suffice to explain why man should enter upon a course of moral activity; there must be found, as distinguished from these, a motive in the subject himself that prompts directly to moral activity,—that sets the subject into movement. The mere “should” is not 33enough to move us; we may remain indifferent and emotionless in the presence of every “categorical imperative” and of every, however well-grounded, command; if there is not some impulse to activity within us, all and every command will fall back powerless from us; and this impulse must be of a rationally-free, a moral character.

The moral activity itself, which is occasioned by this inner motive, is to be considered primarily only in its essence and in its general forms of manifestation, and it involves only the general, but not the special, discussion of the doctrine of duties. By far the largest scope of special activity comes under the last division of our classification; for the true essence and real worth of moral good lies in the fact that it is not a dormant possession, but that, on the contrary, it unfolds continuously new and richer life,—just as a natural fruit is not simply a product in which the life of the plant ends, but is also the germ of a new life;—with this difference, however, that the fruit of the moral activity is not merely the germ of a new life that simply repeats its former self, but rather of an enriched, spiritually-heightened life. In the attained moral good the moral life-movement rises to a new, higher circulation; the person in possession of this good has become richer,—is a spiritually higher-developed personality; the previously existing moral-subject has become more exalted and spiritualized,—is, in fact, the already attained moral good itself; and the moral activity gains thereby ampler and more ennobled contents; with the acquired good springs up new duty.

In elucidation of the classification we have given, compare the passages Deut. x, 12 sqq.; xi, 1 sqq.; xii, 1 sqq. Here we may consider as the moral subject the people of Israel,—the moral mission and activity of whom cannot possibly be understood save in the light of their historically-moral peculiarity. Jehovah is the sovereign, requiring moral obedience to his will; the people’s sinful hearts [x, 16], the heathen country and inhabitants [x, 19; xi, 10 sqq.; xii, 2 sqq.], and the national life of the Israelites, form the sphere. the theater, of the moral activity; thankful love to the merciful, longsuffering God is the moral motive [x, 15, 21 sqq.]; willing obedience, the walking in the ways of God, is the moral 34activity; and the approbation of God and his blessings are the moral end [x, 13-15; xi, 8 sqq.; xii, 7 sqq.].

In consideration of the thought that there lies at the basis of all moral activity an end to which the activity directs itself, it might seem more correct to consider this end, namely, the good, before discussing the moral activity itself; however, on the other hand, as the realization of the good presupposes the moral activity, and as we are to consider the good not as simply conceived, but as realized, and, inasmuch as out of the realization of one good a new field of moral activity arises in turn before us, hence it is clearly more natural, in fact, to place the discussion of the end or the good (as being actually the last in the order of the moral development) in the last place; for, it is in fact quite evident, that we cannot speak of the family, the church, and the state, without having first examined the moral activity per se. To begin with the discussion of the good would be the so-called “analytical method,” whereas ours, on the contrary, is the “synthetic;”—the course of the former is, so to speak, retrogressive; while the latter proceeds forward, more in the actual course of the moral development, and hence is the more natural.

The first three subdivisions of our classification embrace, it is true, only the antecedent conditions of the moral activity itself; but it does not follow from this that their subject-matter is to be thrown into an introduction. Free rational life, as an object of ethics, cannot be treated as a mere activity without taking into consideration also the active subject, as well as the law by which the subject is governed, and the field upon which it acts; he who describes vegetable life, must surely speak also of the organs of plants. In any case, a controversy as to whether this consideration forms only an introduction to the subject-matter, or is a part of the subject-matter itself, would be very unprofitable.

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