Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/163

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

itself. Our hope, therefore, is that, in the society of the future, not only will "the milkman go his rounds"—a point upon which Mr. Smith kindly reassures us, and, after all, one of no little significance—but volunteers for the life-boat, the fire-brigade, and all necessary heroic undertakings, will still be forthcoming. If, when the time arrives, men have ceased to risk their lives, as they now so frequently do, in foolish enterprises, without, so far as one can judge, being particularly incited thereto by ideas or hopes connected with the village church, it will be all the better.

2. Evolutionary ethics can not explain conscience, can not tell us why the bad man is miserable in prosperity, and the good man happy in adversity. Is it really so? What is human character but a complex of mental and moral habits, every habit incorporated into it becoming a more or less imperative voice vibrating through the man's whole nature? To know that you have not dotted an i or crossed a t will sometimes give you an uncomfortable feeling. Make a rule of anything, and you will not depart from it without uneasiness. How powerful are the habits of the body every one knows, and those of the mind are not less so. The murderer referred to by Mr. Smith is ill at ease because he has allowed a momentary impulse connected with the least authoritative[1] part of his nature, the mere desire for personal advantage, to carry him into an act of rebellion against a principle of conduct woven into his nature long before he was born, and for which in his subsequent life he has constantly been compelled, not only to profess, but to demand, respect. If it be said that it is impossible to account on this theory for the tone of absolute authority with which conscience urges its decrees, we would ask for a very careful consideration of the passages quoted below from the "Data of Ethics." Mr. Spencer has well shown that, just in proportion as the reasons for doing, or refraining from, a particular act are dissociated from what we may call the ultimate material inducements or deterrents, will the authority they possess be greater. When a man eats because he is hungry, he feels the power, but not the authority, of appetite. When, on the other hand, he refrains from a vicious indulgence because its later effects will be bad, or when he takes a walk before breakfast because he believes it will conduce to his health, though its good effects may not be immediately apparent, he recognizes and feels the authority of sanitary rules. In these cases the degree of dissociation between the rule or principle recognized by the mind and the actual facts on which it rests is but slight; yet the rise of authority is plainly visible.

  1. Let the reader who needs to do so refresh his memory with the following passages from Spencer, "Data of Ethics," chapter vii—"The Psychological View": "From the first, complication of sentiency has accompanied better and more numerous adjustments of acts to ends. . . . Whence it follows that the acts characterized by the more complex motives and the more involved thoughts have all along been of higher authority for guidance. . . . When, led by his acquisitiveness, the thief takes another man's property,