Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/159

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MR. GOLDWIN SMITH ON "THE DATA OF ETHICS."

than by an inquiry into the results likely to flow from it in a special case. Moral actions, in general, are those favorable to life, not only to its preservation, but to its improvement; immoral actions are those which tend to the shortening or to the impoverishing of life. In speaking of life here, we speak not only of the condition of animation, but of all that successive experiences, successive enlargements of the range of thought, action, and sympathy, have built into, or worked into, the human consciousness. To help forward this work of integration is good; to retard or counteract it is evil. In common speech the terms good and evil are upon the whole applied to actions just in accordance as they tend, or are believed to tend, in one or other of these directions.

As the aim of all voluntary action is the furtherance of happiness, the test of perfection in an action will be its fully accomplishing that object. A man who procures a momentary gratification by some unwholesome indulgence has not performed, even from a selfish point of view, a perfect action, seeing that its effects are partly, at least, destructive of the end he has in view. The man who, losing his temper, quarrels with a neighbor, does not, even from a selfish point of view, perform a perfect action; for, whatever satisfaction he may derive at the moment from the utterance of angry words, he can derive no benefit, but only the reverse, from the subsequent alienation of his neighbor's feelings. From a social point of view, no action is perfect which benefits only the actor, or which benefits some one else at the actor's expense. Self-sacrifice may be ethically noble; but that any necessity for it should arise implies some defect in the conditions of existence, and therefore of action. If it enables us, on the one hand, to estimate the moral resources of humanity, it points, on the other, to evils which it behooves us to remedy; for why, we ask, should the gain of one be purchased by the loss of another? To find a perfect action, therefore, we must look for one all the effects of which, so far as they can be traced, are good, which not only involves no sacrifice of happiness, either to the actor or to the person who is the object of the action, but which is equally beneficial to both. Social evolution being a manifestly unfinished process, the region of the social activities can not be expected to furnish the best examples of perfect adjustment. In searching for such an example, Mr. Spencer therefore falls back, in the first place, on the physical region, and cites—to Mr. Smith's great amusement and scorn—the case of a mother suckling her child. We quote his words:

Consider the relation of a healthy mother to a healthy infant. Between the two there exists a mutual dependence which is a source of pleasure to both. In yielding its natural food to the child, the mother receives gratification; and to the child there comes the satisfaction of appetite—a satisfaction which accompanies furtherance of life, growth, and enjoyment. Let the relation be suspended, and on both sides there is suffering. The mother experiences both