Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/209

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

their supposed sacred origin, the secularization of morals is becoming imperative. Few things can happen more disastrous than the decay and death of a regulative system no longer fit, before another and better regulative system has grown up to replace it." For this reason, Herbert Spencer has sought to fill the gap caused by the disappearance of the code of supernatural ethics, by a code of natural ethics.

The vacuum is before us, while some consider the filling of it superfluous and others impossible. Herbert Spencer believes that it can and must be filled. High above all problems of cultural and scientific endeavor he places that of the foundation of scientific ethics.

It is presumed, in the conception of ethics, that it shall establish the "ought." Unlike other moral systems, scientific ethics deals with the establishment of the practicable "ought"; not with duties in abstracto, but with duties which can be performed. For, "by association with rules which can not be obeyed, rules that can be obeyed lose their authority." Here the critical point of view is established whence scientific ethics must prove the conclusions of moral philosophers upon their merits.

Throughout the "Synthetic Philosophy," which will be closed by the "Principles of Ethics," of which the "Data of Ethics" forms the first part, the fundamental principles of modern evolution are enlisted for the solution of biological, sociological, and psychological questions, to such an extent that this philosophy may be described as a distinct branch of the philosophy of evolution. No system of natural philosophy has, with equal consecutiveness and completeness, adapted the achievements and the hypotheses of modern natural science to the construction of a philosophy on a scientific foundation.

Herbert Spencer's "First Principles" serve as an introduction to this philosophy, and define the stand-point from which the author surveys the whole range of philosophical inquiry. This work undertakes the experiment of a universal application of the fundamental laws and hypotheses of natural science, at the same time generalizing the principle of evolution, and making it the one great underlying principle. It takes up the work of critical philosophy, defining the limits of the knowable and the unknowable. It attempts the only possible reconciliation between religion and science, by pointing to their common, final resting-place in the absolute. The works included in the "Synthetic Philosophy" form parts of a great system held together by the principle of evolution; displaying stupendous learning, and a rare universality of scientific culture, entitling their author to a place, mutatis mutandis, beside Aristotle himself. These comprehensive writings afford, even to those who can not accept their underlying principles, a plenitude of instruction.

As to the statement of the problem in general form, serious difference of opinion is hardly possible. For every school and from every stand-point, ethics is a regulative discipline; not laws of the actual,