Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/337

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
325
EVOLUTION IN PROFESSOR HUXLEY.

But, unhappily, men sometimes take pleasure in acts which their conscience disapproves, and enjoy them the more oh such very account. "I'm a sad dog, I am, no mistake about that!" has been said, now and again, with a pleasurable chuckle of immoral self-consciousness, by men not by any means the worst of sinners.

Real merit depends exclusively on motives, and thus one and the same act may be moral or immoral, according to the direction taken by the will in performing it—as in the instances above given of the sick nurse and the woman materially an adulteress.

But this ethical distinction between acts formally and only materially good—the distinction of motive and consequent merit or guilt—is the most important distinction which it is possible for us to draw in the whole domain of human thought, from elementary arithmetic up to the highest regions of philosophy.

The reader will readily understand then my satisfaction when, on perusing the right honorable professor's recent lecture, I read as follows:[1]

Civilization could not advance far without the establishment of a capital distinction between the case of involuntary and that of willful misdeed; between a merely wrong action and a guilty one. And, with increasing refinement of moral appreciation, the problem of desert, which arises out of this distinction, acquired more and more theoretical and practical importance. . . . The idea of justice thus underwent a gradual sublimation from punishment and reward according to acts, to punishment and reward according to desert; or, in other words, according to motive. Righteousness—that is, action from right motive—not only became synonymous with justice, but the positive constituent of innocence and the very heart of goodness.

The position of the absolute moralist could not be better expressed than in those admirable words: The "very heart of goodness" lies in action due to right motives and good will.

I add the words "good will" because, with the attribution of guilt or merit to actions according to the motives of the doer of them, a certain freedom must also be attributed to the will itself. Moral blame or approbation can not (as the universal custom of mankind shows) be attributed to any being destitute of all power of choice or of any control whatever over the actions he performs. Prof. Huxley will not deny that "our volition counts for something as a condition of the course of events."

An act of free will is no uncaused event. Its cause is the spontaneous self-determination of him who freely acts.

But some noble words in the recent Oxford lecture specially merit notice as containing in them an energetic repudiation of the utilitary theory of morals. They are:[2] "We should cast


  1. [November Popular Science Monthly, pp. 24, 25.]
  2. [December Monthly, p. 191.]