Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/544

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tion of things, and especially of society, if it were to continue to exist. Men come to think that they have no business wantonly to destroy anything, not even an insect or an inanimate object. Yet if they do it at all, they answer that it was because it was "useless." It is thus by tracing ideas apparently dissimilar to the same root that we obtain the strongest possible confirmation of the truth of our contention.

It was thus, then, that men began to form to themselves moral ideas, having an absolute and universal existence as opposed to the mere passing dicta of laws and opinions. In the special case before us the inference ran thus: "If it is not right for me to kill, then all killing is naturally wrong, necessary exceptions notwithstanding." And thus the ideal was formed of the sanctity of human life, and society was regarded only as a means for this end, all its arrangements and institutions being of necessity submitted to the moral judgment of the individual mind, and approved only so far as they came up to the ideal. It must, indeed, be confessed that there are survivals from earlier stages of moral growth which cast a strange and ironical reflection upon man's claim to wisdom and advancement, and cause his practice to fall lamentably short of even so early and obvious an ideal as the sanctity of life. How else are we to account for the fact that while all England will thrill at the news of some specially savage murder, or while we ourselves would be saddened to the end of our days by the result of some homicidal carelessness, we yet contrive to read morning after morning without a sigh or even a passing remark of battles in which thousands of human beings have perished for a cause in which they had no more real concern than they had for the politics of the planet Jupiter?

It was thus, then, that men embarked upon that process of forming ideals which led them from the primitive thought, "Self-preservation is the first (and only) law in Nature," up to the highest abstract expression of moral duty, "Fiat justitia, ruat cœlum." But now observe the immensely important influence which the formation of ideals exercised upon the moral constitution. It was this which enabled men, amid the pressure and conflicts of life, to vindicate their primeval claims to themselves, and to establish an independent moral existence in the midst of society, as they had at first established an independent physical existence in the midst of the universe. The immediate effect was that they became a law unto themselves. For instance, under the influence of such an ideal as the sanctity of human life, they refuse to kill even when authority commands them; nay, they prefer themselves to die. That is to say, the original claim to bodily life reappears in the form of a claim to moral life, to which we insist that the same deference shall be paid as our forefathers claimed for their natural existence, and which, thanks to the innate law of our being, we refuse to surrender upon any conditions whatever. And thus we have come to understand what is meant by the significant phrase, "rights of conscience." Can it be said that this has been satisfactorily explained up to the present time?