Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 11.djvu/575

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CIVILIZATION AND MORALS.

2. That "rightness" in conduct is just as absolute a quality as "straightness" in mathematical lines (from which it takes its name), and can no more depend for its existence upon the "utility" that is found in it, or upon its coincidence with the experience of happiness among men, than the existence of the quality of straightness in mathematical lines can depend upon the utility with which it serves the architect and the engineer, and coincides with the necessities of mechanical art.

3. That our moral notions of right and wrong, with reference to each particular of conduct, are distinct and complete in exact proportion to the clearness and fullness of our perception of the relations which that particular of conduct appertains to; that their influence in the guiding of our conduct depends upon the distinctness with which they have thus been formed; but that our obedience to the guidance they offer depends upon something else, which we shall have to investigate hereafter.

Let me illustrate these propositions as briefly as possible:

It seems to be historically certain that man's cognition of the alter ego, or other "self," with which he finds himself associated in existence at every turn, is slowly acquired at the beginning of it, and that his conception of that other "self" (or fellow-man) is formed gradually by the projection upon it of ideas that have grown in his own self-consciousness. There are social states still existing, as I have said, in which one man's cognition of another seems to be very slightly different from his cognition of brute creatures, and we may take these to represent one of the primitive stages of human development. But progress occurred in the evolution of consciousness, until the attributes of the subjective "self," which it had cognized first, became more or less perfectly projected upon an objective "self," and one man recognized in another a repetition of the same fact of existence which he found in his own being; in other words, he arrived at the recognition, more or less perfectly, of a human fellow. At this stage moral notions and sentiments had their beginning, exactly as mathematical notions began when two external objects were distinguished from one another, and yet cognized together as two instead of one. There would follow some perception of a relation between this conscious "self" and that other cognized "self," and it would be perceived as the definition of a rule of conduct between them, just as surely as there followed in the other case a perception of the relation in position that exists between one object and another, and which conditions every act that involves the two. In both instances the fundamental idea generated by the perception must be the idea of a line—a "line of conduct" in the first, a "line of motion" or a "line of position" in the second—and the quality of "rightness" which attaches to the conception of the one is identical in kind with the quality of "straightness" that attaches to the other.