"On The Basis of Morality" (from 1840) is one of Arthur Schopenhauer's significant works in ethics. In this treatise, he argues that morality stems from compassion. He starts his work with criticism of Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, which Schopenhauer considered the clearest explanation of Kant's foundation of ethics. He continues with a positive construction of his own ethical theory and concludes the book with a brief description of the metaphysical foundations of ethics.
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V. ON THE LEADING PRINCIPLE OF THE KANTIAN ETHICS VI. ON THE DERIVED FORMS OF THE LEADING PRINCIPLE OF THE KANTIAN ETHICS VII. KANT'S DOCTRINE OF CONSCIENCE VIII. KANT'S DOCTRINE OP THE INTELLIGIBLE AND EMPIRICAL CHARACTER.
IX. FICHTE'S ETHICS AS A MAGNIFYING GLASS FOR THE ERRORS OF THE KANTIAN
THE FOUNDING OF ETHICS.
I. CONDITIONS OF THE PROBLEM II. SCEPTICAL VIEW III. ANTIMORAL INCENTIVES IV. CRITERION OF ACTIONS OF MORAL WORTH V. STATEMENT AND PROOF OF THE ONLY TRUE MORAL INCENTIVE VI. THE VIRTUE OF JUSTICE VII. THE VIRTUE OF LOVING-KINDNESS VIII. THE PROOF NOW GIVEN CONFIRMED BY EXPERIENCE IX. ON THE ETHICAL DIFFERENCE OF CHARACTER.
ON THE METAPHYSICAL EXPLANATION OF THE PRIMAL ETHICAL PHAENOMENON.
I. HOW THIS APPENDIX MUST BE UNDERSTOOD II. THE METAPHYSICAL GROUNDWORK
JUDICIUM REGIAE DANICAE SCIENTIARUM SOCIETATIS
This translation was undertaken in the belief that there are many English-speaking people who feel more than a merely superficial interest in ethical research, but who may not read German with sufficient ease to make them care to take up the original. The present Essay is one of the most important contributions to Ethics since the time of Kant, and, as such, is indispensable to a thorough knowledge of the subject. Moreover, from whatever point of view it be regarded,—whether the reader find, when he closes the book, that his conviction harmonises with the conclusion reached, or not; it would be difficult to find any treatise on Moral Science more calculated to stimulate thought, and lift it out of infantile imitation of some prescribed pattern. The believer in the Kantian, or any other, basis of Ethics, could hardly measure the strength or the weakness of his own position more surely than by comparing it with the Schopenhauerian; while he who is yet in search of a foundation will find much in the following pages to claim his attention.
Those acquainted with the luminous imagery, the subtle irony, the brusque and penetrating vigour of the German, will doubtless admit that it is no easy task to reduce Schopenhauer to adequate English prose; and if this has been attempted by the present writer, no one can be more conscious than he of the manifold shortcomings discoverable. But such as it is, the work is heartily offered to all who still follow the true student's rule, "Gladig wolde he lerne und gladig teche," with the single hope that it may help, however slightly, to widen their knowledge, and ripen their judgment.
My friend, R. E. Candy, Esq., I.C.S., has kindly given me information concerning several Indian names.
ROME: June, 1902.
Ὃν δὲ θεοὶ τιμῶσιν, ὁ καὶ μωμεύμενος αἰνεῑ.—Theognis: 169.
In 1837 the Danish Royal Society of Sciences propounded, as subject for a prize competition, the question with which this treatise opens; and Schopenhauer, who was glad to seize the opportunity of becoming better known, prepared, and sent to Copenhagen, the earliest form of "The Basis of Morality." In January, 1840, the work was pronounced unsuccessful, though there was no other candidate. In September of the same year it was published by the author, with only a few unimportant additions, but preceded by a long introduction, which, cast in the form of an exceedingly caustic philippic, is, in its way, a masterpiece. In 1860, (only a month before Schopenhauer's death,) the second edition was printed with many enlargements and insertions, the short preface, dated August being one of the last things he wrote.
The reason why the prize was withheld is not far to seek, and need not detain us. At that time the philosophical atmosphere was saturated with Hegel, and, to a certain extent, with Fichte; hence it is easy to imagine with what ruffled, not to say, scandalised feelings the Academy must have risen from its perusal of the work. Moreover, putting Hegel and Fichte out of the question, the position advanced was in 1840 so new, indeed so paradoxical (as Schopenhauer himself admits); there is at times such an aggressiveness in the style; the whole essay is so much more calculated to startle than to conciliate; that we cannot feel much surprise at the official decision.
In the Judgment published by the Society three reasons are given for its unfavourable attitude. The second is declared to be not only dissatisfaction with the mode of discussion (ipsa disserendi forma), but also inability to see that Schopenhauer proves his case. As the third is alleged the "unseemly" language employed in connection with certain "summi philosophi" (Hegel and Fichte). These two objections are of course in themselves perfectly legitimate, and how far the Academy was right or wrong may be left for the reader to determine.
But the first reason stated is of a different kind, and affords as neat an instance of self-stultification proceeding ex cathedra as can well be found. It is true that the question is worded vaguely enough, but if it means anything, it asks where the "philosophiae moralis fons et fundamentum"—the foundation of moral science—is to be sought for, i.e., where it is to be found. Turning to the Judgment we read: "He" (Schopenhauer) "has omitted to deal with the essential part of the question, apparently thinking that he was required to establish some fundamental principle of Ethics": which he was required to do, unless the Society's Latin is borrowed from Νεϕαλοκοκκυγία. And then it goes on to declare that he treated as secondary, indeed as an opus supererogationis, the very thing which the Academy intended should occupy the first place, namely, the connection between Metaphysics and Ethics. But the "metaphysicae et ethicae nexus," so far from being formulated in the question as the chief point to be considered, is not even mentioned! The Society thus denies having asked what it actually did ask, while the discussion, which it asserts was specially indicated, is not suggested by a single word. Its embarrassment is sufficiently shown by this unworthy shifting, to enlarge upon which would here be out of place.
It is not intended to offer any criticism either on Schopenhauer's main position in this essay, or on the various side-issues involved. The reader is supposed to be accurately acquainted with the fundamentals of his philosophy, as contained in Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, and is invited to be the critic himself. But perhaps a few remarks on the structure and general trend of the work may not be amiss.
After preliminary considerations, partly to show the difficulty of the subject, partly to clear the ground (Part I.), the treatise opens with a searching critique of Kant's Ethical Basis, of the Leading Principle of his system, and of its derived forms. (Part II., Chapters I.-VI.) Schopenhauer's conclusion is that the Categorical Imperative is a very cleverly woven web, yet in reality nothing but the old theological basis in disguise, the latter being the indispensable, if invisible, clothes' peg for the former; and that Kant's tour de main of deducing his Moral Theology from Ethics is like inverting a pyramid. The theory of Conscience is next discussed (Chapter VII.). The half-supernatural element which Kant introduced under the highly dramatic form of a court of justice holding secret session in the breast, is examined, and eliminated; and Conscience is defined as the knowledge that we have of ourselves through our acts.
But if, so far, the result obtained is distinctly unfavourable to Kant, Schopenhauer is glad to agree with him on one point, namely, the theory of Freedom, to a brief notice of which he now passes (Chapter VIII.). He points out that the solution of this question is found in the doctrine of the co-existence of Liberty and Necessity: according to which the basis of our nature, the so-called Intelligible Character, that lies outside the forms attaching to phaenomena, namely, Time, Space, and Causality, is transcendentally free; while the Empirical Character, together with the whole person, being, as a phaenomenon, the transient objectivation of the Intelligible Character, under the laws of the principium individuationis, is strictly determined. Part II. closes with a sufficiently amusing examination of Fichte (Chapter IX.). His proper function is shown to be that of a magnifying glass for Kant. By means of this powerful human lens we can see the monstrous shapes into which the Kantian pet creations are capable of developing. Thus we find the Categorical Imperative become a Despotic Imperative, the "Absolute Ought" grown into a fathomless inscrutable Εἱμαρμένη, etc.
With Part III. we reach the positive part of the work. Schopenhauer begins (Chapter I.) by emphasising the necessity of finding a basis for Ethics that appeals, not to the intellect, but to the intuitive perception. Such (he says) can never be any artificial formula, which surely crumbles to powder beneath the rough touch of real life; rather must it be something springing out of the heart of things, and therefore lying at the root of man's nature. But is there, he asks (Chapter II.), after all, such a thing as natural morality? Is anything good ever done absolutely without an egoistic motive? The conclusion arrived at is that, although much may be, and has been, at all times, said in favour of the Sceptical View, and although this view is in fact true as regards the greater number of apparently unselfish acts, yet there can be no doubt that truly moral conduct does occur, that deeds of justice and loving-kindness are occasionally performed without the smallest hope of reward, or fear of punishment involved in their omission. The last paragraph of chis chapter is important because it puts in the clearest light what, according to Schopenhauer, is the end of Ethics. Its aim, he says, is not to treat of that which people ought to do (for "ought" has no place except in theological Morals, whether explicit, or implicit); but "to point out all the varied moral lines of human conduct; to explain them; and to trace them to their ultimate source." This definition, which assigns no educative function to Ethics, strictly agrees with the doctrine of the unchangeableness of character. (V. Chapter IX. of this Part.)
Our philosopher then proceeds to show (Chapter III.) that there are two fundamental "antimoral" incentives in man's nature: Egoism and Malice. Be it, however, here remarked that a still simpler classification would reduce these two to one. Malice may well be regarded as nothing but Egoism carried to its extreme, developed to gigantic proportions. It is a distinct source of gratification to certain natures to witness the suffering of another; because a diminution of the latter's capacity for action, whether effected by itself, or not, is regarded by an ego of this kind as an increase of its own power to do as it likes,—as an enhancement of its own glorification.
In Chapter IV. the ultimate test of truly moral conduct is explained to be the absence of all egoistic motivation; and in Chapters V.-VII., by a process of careful reasoning, every human act is traced to one of three original springs, namely, (1) Egoism, (2) Malice, and (3) Compassion; or to a combination of (1) and (3), or (1) and (2). Of these the third is shown to be the only counter-motive to the first and second, and in fact the sole source of the two cardinal virtues, justice and loving-kindness, which are explained as the manifestation of Compassion in a lower, and a higher, degree, respectively. In the course of the demonstration the question as to how far a lie is legitimate comes incidentally under discussion; as also the theory of Duty; duties being defined as "actions, the simple omission of which constitutes a wrong." (Cf. Part II., Chapter III.)
The position now reached, namely, that Compassion is the one and only fount of true morality, because it is the sole non-egoistic source of action, is (says Schopenhauer) a strange paradox; hence the testimony of experience and of universal human sentiment is appealed to, in confirmation of it, under nine different considerations (Chapter VIII.). They are as follows:—
(1) An imaginary case.
(2) Cruelty, which means the maximum deficiency in Compassion, is the mark of the deepest moral depravity. Therefore the real moral incentive must be Compassion.
(3) Compassion is the only thoroughly effective spring of moral conduct.
(4) Limitless Compassion for all living things is the surest and most certain token of a really good man.
(5) The evidence of separate matters of detail.
(6) Compassion is more easily discerned in its higher power; it is more obviously the root of loving-kindness than of justice.
(7) Compassion does not stop short with men; it includes all living beings.
(8) Considered simply from the empirical point of view, Compassion is the best possible antidote to Egoism, no less than the most soothing balsam for the world's inevitable suffering.
(9) Rousseau's testimony is quoted, as well as passages from the Paṅća-tantra, Pausanias, Lucian, Stobaeus, and Lessing; and reference is made to Chinese Ethics and Hindu customs.
Part III. closes (Chapter IX.) with an inquiry into the Ethical Difference of Character. The theory that this difference is innate and immutable is supported by numerous extracts from various writers of all periods, and illustrated in many ways. But all the evidence accumulated hardly amounts to more than so many hints and indications, and the matter (says Schopenhauer) was only satisfactorily explained by Kant's doctrine of the Intelligible and Empirical Character. (Cf. Part II., Chapter VIII.) According to this, the ethical difference between man and man is an original and ultimate datum, caused by the transcendentally free act of the Intelligible Character, that is, the Will, as Thing in itself, outside phaenomena; the Empirical Character being, so to say, the reflection of the Intelligible, mirrored through the functions of our perceptive faculty, namely, Time, Space, and Causality. Hence the former, while manifested in plurality and difference of acts, yet necessarily always wears the same unchangeable features, inasmuch as it is but the appearance-form of the unity behind. If the reader asks why "the essential constitution of the Thing in itself underlying the phaenomenon" is so enormously different in different individuals, it can only be said that our intellect, conditioned, as it is, by the laws of Causality, Space, and Time, has no power to deal with noumena, its range being limited to phaenomena; and that therefore this question is one of those which have no conceivable answer. (Cf. Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, vol. ii., chap. 50., Epiphilosophie.)
The discussion now terminated points to the conclusion that nine-tenths, or perhaps nineteen-twentieths, of what we do is, more or less, due to Egoism, conscious or unconscious; while acts of real morality, that is, of unselfish justice and pure loving-kindness (admitting that they occur) are to be attributed to Compassion, that is, the sense of suffering with another. Nor is the principle of Altruism new. It is as old as man himself. All the rare and sensitive natures in the world have given utterance to it, each in his own way. Like a golden thread it runs from the earliest Indian literature to George Eliot, to Tolstoï; and every day, for unnumbered ages, "from youth to eld, from sire to son," in lowly dwellings and in princes' palaces, it has been unawares translated into action.
And if we may forecast the future from the past, it would appear that in all the stormy seas yet to be traversed by the human race, before its little day is spent, Compassion will ever be the surest guide to better things; and that the light of knowledge illuminating the path, whereby the world may become relatively happier, will always vary directly as man's susceptibility to its promptings: for "Durch Mitleid wissend" is not truer of Parsifal than of all other saviours.
In the fourth Part of the treatise Schopenhauer attempts the metaphysical explanation of Compassion, which for those, who still think that Metaphysics is something more than a pseudo-science of the past—like Alchemy or Astrology—will have special interest.
It should be observed (as is pointed out in our author's Preface to the first edition) that the line of thought followed does not belong to any particular metaphysical school, but to many; being in fact a principle at the root of the oldest systems in the world, and traceable in one form or another down to Kant. As in the dawn of history it was our own Aryan forefathers, who divined with subtle intuition the ideality of Time and Space; so in the fulness of the ages it was reserved for another Aryan of Scotch descent to formulate the same in exact language. Now, by the vast majority of men the ideality of the principium individuationis is undoubtedly either not consciously realised at all, or else but dimly perceived under the form of allegories and mythologies. Yet, if this theory be true, if individuation be only a phaenomenon depending on the subjectivity of Time and Space, then Compassion, and its external expression, the ἀγάπη that is greater than Faith and Hope, receive their final explanation. And every εὐθανασία; every word that vibrates in harmony with the inspired rhapsody of 1 Corinthians xiii.; every act of genuine justice, or of true loving-kindness, done by man to man, as well as the uplifting emotion which stirs our hearts at the sight of such conduct:—all these things become fraught with a new and luminous significance: the secret writing is interpreted, its deepest meaning disclosed.
Moreover, the "thou shalt," and the "thou shalt not," no less of the various theologies than of the Categorical Imperative, may from this point of view be accounted for, on the ground of the identity of man, so far as he is noumenal, with the transcendental Reality behind phaenomena. The crude threats of punishment and promises of reward, the stern Moral Law, poised in mid air,—these hypotheses, and all their varieties (whose function is in reality nothing else but to check Egoism), are seen to be due to the intellect's imperfect comprehension of, or rather, its vague groping after, the transcendental unity of life, however individualised and differentiated as a phaenomenon in Time and Space. It thus becomes apparent that the position developed by Schopenhauer in the third and fourth parts of the Essay is not so much destructive, as explanatory, of the usual theories, which, if once the former be fully grasped, lose themselves in it as stars and moon in the light of day. They are at once interpreted, and shown to be no longer of importance. Similarly, all the religions of the world, "which are the Metaphysics of the people," find their raison d'être in the same doctrine. The theory of an externalδημιουργὸς takes its place as the natural mode of denoting, in children's language, the internal metaphysical Entity, whose appearance-form, in terms of our consciousness, is called the Universe. The circle is completed; the discords vanish, and an ultimate harmony is reached. And so over the thrice-tangled skein of phaenominal existence a simplifying and integrating light is shed, showing that the πᾱν is but the reflection of the ἕν, under the forms of our faculty of perception, namely, Time, Space, and Causality—forms, which necessarily imply plurality and change, on which, again, in the last resort the Welt-Schmerz depends.
"The One remains, the many change and pass; . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,Stains the white radiance of Eternity,Until Death tramples it to fragments."
"What an unspeakable gain," says Richard Wagner, "we should bring to those who are terrified by the threats of the Church, and, on the other hand, to those who are reduced to despair by our physicists, if we could quicken the noble edifice of 'Love, Faith, and Hope,' with a clear consciousness of the ideality of the world, conditioned by the laws of Space and Time, which form the sole basis of our perceptive capacity! In that case all anxious inquiries as to a 'Where' and 'When' of the 'other world' would be understood to be only answerable by a blissful smile. For, if there is a solution to these questions, which seem of such boundless importance, our philosopher has given it with incomparable precision and beauty in the following sentence, which, to a certain extent, is only a corollary to the definition of the ideality of Time and Space: 'Peace, Rest, and Bliss dwell only there where there is no where, and no when.'" (V. Schopenhauer: Parerga and Paralipomena, vol. ii., chap. 3, § 30 bis.)
 He died September 21st.
 It should be noticed that this "essential part of the question," a few lines before, is said to have been passed over altogether (omisso enim eo, quod potissimum postulabatur).
 Any one who cares to see how this Judgment, the Danish Royal Society of Sciences, Hegel, Fichte, and "Professors of Philosophy" in general, are all pulverised together under our sage's withering wrath and trenchant irony, should read his Introduction to each Edition.
 Incidentally (Chapter III.), duties towards ourselves, properly so called, are shown to be non-existent from the Schopenhauerian standpoint. Cf. the definition of Duty in Part III., Chapter VI.
 Schopenhauer treated this subject exhaustively in his Essay on "The Freedom of the Will," which, written immediately before, and more fortunate than, the present treatise, was awarded the prize by the Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences in January, 1839.
 If, as above suggested, Malice be taken as a form of Egoism, we may simplify as follows:—
Egoism (not in its higher power) may be simultaneously operative with Compassion in every possible proportion.
V. Also the Neue Paralipomena, chap. vii.; Zur Ethik, § 248, where Schopenhauer calls this "the hardest of all problems." On the one hand, we have the metaphysical unity of the Will, as Thing in itself, which, as the Intelligible Character, is present, whole and undivided, in all phaenomena, in every individual; on the other hand, we find, as a fact of experience, the widest possible difference in the Empirical Character, no less of animals than of men. That is to say, "difference" must be predicated of the Thing in itself! It is obvious that we here touch a contradiction, which, for the rest, lies at the root of the Schopenhauerian doctrine of the Will.
 The reader will remember the fine poetic presentment of this view of things, which Goethe with intuitive perception gives in the Faust, Part I., where the Erdgeist says:
"So schaff' ich am sausendenWEBSTUHL DER ZEIT,Und wirkeDER GOTTHEIT LEBENDIGES KLEID."
 V. Gesammelte Schriften und Dichtungen von Richard Wagner. Zweite Auflage, vol. x. "Was nützt diese Erkenntnis?" p. 361:—Welchen unsäglichen Gewinn würden wir aber den einerseits von den Drohungen der Kirche Erschreckten, andererseits den durch unsere Physiker zur Verzweiflung Gebrachten zuführen, wenn wir dein erhabenen Gebäude von "Liebe, Glaube und Hoffnung" eine deutliche Erkenntnis der, durch die unserer Wahrnehmung einzig zu Grunde liegenden Gesetze des Raumes und der Zeit bedingten, Idealität der Welt einfügen könnten, durch welche dann alle die Fragen des beängstigten Gemüthes nach einem "Wo" und "Wann" der "anderen Welt" als nur durch ein seliges Lächeln beantwortbar erkannt werden müssten? Denn, giebt es auf diese, so grenzenlos wichtig dünkenden Fragen eine Antwort, so hat sie unser Philosoph, mit unübertrefflicher Präzision und Schönheit, mit diesem, gewissermaassen nur der Definition der Idealität von Zeit und Raum beigegebenen Ausspruche ertheilt: "Frieda, Ruhe, und Glückseligkeit wohnt allein da, wo esKEIN WO UND KEIN WANNgiebt."
The question advanced by the Royal Society, together with the considerations leading up to it, is as follows:—
Quum primitiva,', moralitatis idea, sive de summa lege morali principalis notio, sua quadam 'propria eaque minime logica necessitate, turn in ea disciplina appareat, cui propositum est cognitionem τοῡ ἠθικοῡ explicare, turn in vita, partim in conscientiae judicio de nostris actionibus, partim in censura morali de actionibus aliorum hominum; quumque complures, quae ab illa ider inseparables sunt, eamque tanquam originem respiciunt, notiones principales ad τὸ ἠθικόν spectantes, velut officii notio et imputationis, eadem necessitate eodemque ambitu vim suam exserant,—et tamen inter eos cursus viasque, quas nostrae aetatis meditatio philosophica persequitur, magni momenti esse videatur, hoc argumentum ad disputationem revocare,—cupit Societas, ut accurate haec quaestio perpendatur et pertractetur:
Philosophiae moralis fons et fundamentum utrum in idea moralitatis, quae immediate conscientia contineatur, et ceteris notionibus fundamentalibus, quae ex illa prodeant, explicandis quaerenda sunt, an in alio cognoscendi principio?
(The original idea of morality, or the leading conception of the supreme moral law, occurs by a necessity which seems peculiar to the subject, but which is by no means a logical one, both in that science, whose object it is to set forth the knowledge of what is moral, and also in real life, where it shows itself partly in the judgment passed by conscience on our own actions, partly in our moral estimation of the actions of others; moreover, most of the chief conceptions in Ethics, springing as they do out of that idea, and inseparable from it (as, for instance, the conception of duty, and the ascription of praise or blame) assert themselves with the same necessity, and under the same conditions. In view of these facts and because it appears highly desirable, considering the trend of philosophic investigation in our time, to submit this matter to further scrutiny; the Society desires that the following question be carefully considered and discussed:—
Is the fountain and basis of Morals to be sought for in an idea of morality which lies directly in the consciousness (or conscience), and in the analysis of the other leading ethical conceptions which arise from it? or is it to be found an some other source of knowledge?)
"Why do philosophers differ so widely as to the first principles of Morals, but agree respecting the conclusions and duties which they deduce from those principles?"
This is the question which was set as subject for a prize essay by the Royal Society of Holland at Harlem, 1810, and solved by J. C. F. Meister; and in comparison with the task before us, the inquiry presented no extraordinary difficulty. For:—
(1) The present question of the Royal Society has to do with nothing less important than the objectively true basis of morals, and consequently of morality. It is an Academy, be it observed, which invites this inquiry; and hence, from its position, it has no practical purpose in view; it asks for no discourse inculcating the exercise of uprightness and virtue, with arguments based on evidence, of which the plausibility is dwelt on, and the sophistry evaded, as is done in popular manuals. Rather, as its aim is not practical, but only theoretical, it desires nothing but the purely philosophical, that is, the objective, undisguised, and naked exposition of the ultimate basis of all good moral conduct, independent of every positive law, of every improved assumption, and hence free from all groundwork, whether metaphysical or mythical. This, however, is a problem whose bristling difficulties are attested by the circumstance that all philosophers in every age and land have blunted their wits on it, and still more by the fact that all gods, oriental and occidental, actually derive their existence therefrom. Should therefore this opportunity serve to solve it, assuredly the Royal Society will not have expended its money amiss.
(2) Apart from this, a peculiar disadvantage will be found to attach to any theoretical examination of the basis of morals, because such an investigation is suspiciously like an attempt to undermine, and occasion the collapse of, the structure itself. The fact is, that in this matter we are apt to so closely associate practical aims with theory, that the well-meant zeal of the former is with difficulty restrained from ill-timed intervention. Nor is it within the power of every one to clearly dissociate the purely theoretical search for objective truth, purged of all interest, even of that of morality as practised, from a shameless attack on the heart's sacred convictions. Therefore he, who here puts his hand to the plough, must, for his encouragement, ever bear in mind that from the doings and affairs of the populace, from the turmoil and bustle of the market-place, nothing is further removed than the quiet retreat and sanctuary of the Academy, where no noise of the world may enter, and where the only god raised on a pedestal is Truth, in solitary, naked sublimity.
The conclusion from these two premises is that I must be allowed complete freedom of speech, as well as the right of questioning everything; and furthermore, that if I succeed in really contributing something, however small, to this subject, then that contribution will be of no little importance.
But there are still other difficulties obstructing my path. The Royal Society asks for a short monograph setting forth the basis of Ethics entirely by itself; which means to say, independent of its connection with the general system, i.e., the actual metaphysics of any philosophy. Such a demand must not only render the accomplishment of the task more difficult, but necessarily make it imperfect. Long ago Christian Wolff, in his Philosophia Practica (P. II., § 28) observed: "Tenebrae in philosophia practica non dispelluntur, nisi luce metaphysica effulgente" (Darkness in practical philosophy is only dispersed, when the light of metaphysics shines on it;) and Kant in the Preface to his Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten remarks: "Metaphysics must precede, and is in every case indispensable to, moral philosophy." For, just as every religion on earth, so far as it prescribes morality, does not leave the latter to rest on itself, but backs it by a body of dogmas (the chief end of which is precisely to be the prop of the moral sense); so with philosophy, the ethical basis, whatever it be, must itself attach to, and find its support in, one system of metaphysics or another, that is to say, in a presupposed explanation of the world, and of existence in general. This is so, because the ultimate and true conclusion concerning the essential nature of the Universe must necessarily be closely connected with that touching the ethical significance of human action; and because, in any case, that which is presented as the foundation of morality, if it is not to be merely an abstract formula, floating in the clouds, and out of contact with the real world, must be some fact or other discoverable either in the objective kosmos, or else in man's consciousness; but, as such, it can itself be only a phaenomenon; and consequently, like all other phaenomena, it requires a further explanation; and this explanation is supplied by Metaphysics. Philosophy indeed is such a connected whole that it is impossible to exhaustively discuss any one part without all the others being involved. Thus Plato says quite correctly: ψυχῆs oὗν ϕύσιν ἀξίως λόγου κατανοῆσαι oἴει δυνατὸν εἷναι, ἄνευ τῆς τοῡ ὅλον ϕυσεως; (Phaedr., p. 371, Ed. Bip.) (Do you think then it is possible to understand at all adequately the nature of the soul, without at the same time understanding the nature of the Whole, i.e., the totality of things?) The metaphysics of nature, the metaphysics of morals, and the metaphysics of the beautiful mutually presuppose each other, and only when taken as connected together do they complete the explanation of things as they really are, and of existence in general. So that whoever should exactly trace one of these three to its ultimate origin, would be found to have necessarily brought the others into his solution of the problem; just as an absolutely clear and exhaustive understanding of any single thing in the world would imply a perfect comprehension of everything else.
Now if we were to start from a given system of metaphysics, which is assumed to be true, we should reach synthetically a basis of morals, and this basis, being, so to say, built up from below, would provide the resulting ethical structure with a sure foundation. But in the present case, since the terms of the question enforce the separation of ethics from all metaphysics, there remains nothing but the analytic method, which proceeds from facts either of external experience, or of consciousness. It is true that thus the ultimate origin of the latter may be traced back to the human spirit, a source which then, however, must be taken as a fundamental fact, a primary phaenomenon, underivable from anything else, with the result that the whole explanation remains simply a psychological one. At best its connection with any general metaphysical standpoint can only be described as accessory. On the other hand, the fundamental datum, the primary phaenomenon of Ethics, so found in man's nature, could itself in its turn be accounted for and explained, if we might first treat of metaphysics, and then by the synthetic method deduce Ethics from it. This would mean, however, nothing less than the construction of a complete system, of philosophy, whereby the limits of the given question would be far exceeded. I am, therefore, compelled to answer it within the lines which its own isolated narrowness has laid down.
And lastly, there is the following consideration. The basis on which it is here intended to place Ethics will prove to be a very small one; and the consequence is that of the many lawful, approvable, and praiseworthy actions of mankind, only the minority will be found to spring from purely moral motives, while the majority will have to be attributed to other sources. This gives less satisfaction, has not such a specious glitter as, let us say, a Categorical Imperative, which always stands ready for commands, only that itself in its turn may command what ought to be done, and what ought to be left undone; not to mention other foundations that are entirely material.
I can only, therefore, remind the reader of the saying in Ecclesiastes (iv. 6): "Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit." In all knowledge the genuine, proof-resisting, indestructible coefficient is never large; just as in the earth's metallic strata a hundredweight of stone hides but a few ounces of gold. But whether others will prefer—as I do—the assured to the bulky possession, the small quantity of gold which remains in the crucible to the big lump of matter that was brought along with it; or whether I shall rather be charged with having removed from Ethics its basis, instead of providing one, in so far as I prove that the lawful and commendable actions of mankind often do not contain a particle of pure moral worth, and in most cases only a very little, resting, as they do, otherwise on motives, the sufficiency of which must ultimately be referred to the egoism of the doer; all this I must leave undecided; and I do so, not without anxiety, nay, rather with resignation, because I have long since been of the same mind as Johann Georg von Zimmermann, when he said: "Rest assured until your dying day, that nothing in the world is so rare as a good judge." (Ueber die Einsamkeit; Pt. I., Ch. iii., p. 93.)
For all true and voluntary righteousness, for all loving-kindness, for all nobleness, wherever these qualities may be found, my theory can only point to a very small foundation; whereas my opponents confidently construct broad bases for Morals, which are made strong enough for every possible burden, and are at the same time thrust upon every doubter's conscience, accompanied with a threatening side-glance at his own morality. As contrasted with these, my own position is indeed in sore and sorry plight. It is like that of Cordelia before King Lear, with her weakly worded assurance of dutiful affection, compared with the effusive protestations of her more eloquent sisters. So that there seems to be need of a cordial that may be furnished by some maxim taken from intellectual hunting grounds, such as, Magna est vis veritatis, et praevalebit. (Great is the strength of truth, and it will prevail.) But to a man who has lived and laboured even this fails to give much encouragement. Meanwhile, I will for once make the venture with truth on my side; and what opposes me will at the same time oppose truth.
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