Scientific treatment of the moral order, article defines and discusses philosophical ethics and moral philosophy
Ethics. —I. DEFINITION.—Many writers regard ethics (Gr. ethike) as any scientific treatment of the moral order and divide it into theological, or Christian, ethics (moral theology) and philosophical ethics (moral philosophy). What is usually understood by ethics, however, is philosophical ethics, or moral philosophy, and in this sense the present article will treat the subject. Moral philosophy is a division of practical philosophy. Theoretical, or speculative, philosophy has to do with being, or with the order of things not dependent upon reason, and its object is to attain by the natural light of reason a knowledge of this order in its ultimate causes. Practical philosophy, on the other hand, concerns itself with what ought to be, or with the order of acts which are human and which therefore depend upon our reason. It is also divided into logic and ethics. The former rightly orders the intellectual activities and teaches the proper method in the acquirement of truth, while the latter directs the activities of the will; the object of the former is the true; that of the latter, the good. Hence ethics may be defined as the science of the moral rectitude of human acts in accordance with the first principles of natural reason. Logic and ethics are normative and practical sciences, because they prescribe norms or rules for human activities and show how, according to these norms, a man ought to direct his actions. Ethics is preeminently practical and directive; for it orders the activities of the will, and the latter it is which sets all the other faculties of man in motion. Hence, to order the will is the same as to order the whole man. Moreover, ethics not only directs a man how to act if he wishes to be morally good, but sets before him the absolute obligation he is under of doing good and avoiding evil.
A distinction must be made between ethics and morals, or morality. Every people, even the most uncivilized and uncultured, has its own morality or sum of prescriptions which govern its moral conduct. Nature has so provided that each man establishes for himself a code of moral concepts and principles which are applicable to the details of practical life, without the necessity of awaiting the conclusions of science. Ethics is the scientific or philosophical treatment of morality. The subject-matter proper of ethics is the deliberate, free actions of man; for these alone are in our power, and concerning these alone can rules be prescribed, not concerning those actions which are performed without deliberation, or through ignorance or coercion. Besides this, the scope of ethics includes whatever has reference to free human acts, whether as principle or cause of action (law, conscience, virtue), or as effect or circumstance of action (merit, punishment, etc.). The particular aspect (formal object) under which ethics considers free acts is that of their moral goodness or the rectitude of order involved in them as human acts. A man may be a good artist or orator and at the same time a morally bad man, or, conversely, a morally good man and a poor artist or technician. Ethics has merely to do with the order which relates to man as man, and which makes of him a morally good man.
Like ethics, moral theology also deals with the moral actions of man; but unlike ethics, it has its origin in supernaturally revealed truth. It presupposes man’s elevation to the supernatural order, and, though it avails itself of the scientific conclusions of ethics, it draws its knowledge for the most part from Christian Revelation. Ethics is distinguished from the other natural sciences which deal with moral conduct of man, as jurisprudence and pedagogy, in this, that the latter do not ascend to first principles, but borrow their fundamental notions from ethics, and are therefore subordinate to it. To investigate what constitutes good or bad, just or unjust, what is virtue, law, conscience, duty, etc., what obligations are common to all men, does not lie within the scope of jurisprudence or pedagogy, but of ethics; and yet these notions and principles must be presupposed by the former, must serve them as a ground-work and guide; hence they are subordinated to ethics. The same is true of political economy. The latter is indeed immediately concerned with man’s social activity inasmuch as it treats of the production, distribution, and consumption of material commodities, but, this activity is not independent of ethics; industrial life must develop in accordance with the moral law and must be dominated by justice, equity, and love. Political economy was wholly wrong in trying to emancipate itself from the requirements of ethics. Sociology is at the present day considered by many as a science distinct from ethics. If, however, by sociology is meant a philosophical treatment of society, it is a division of ethics; for the inquiry into the nature of society in general, into the origin, nature, object, and purpose of natural societies (the family, the state) and their relations to one another forms an essential part of Ethics. If, on the other hand, sociology be regarded as the aggregate of the sciences which have reference to the social life of man, it is not a single science but a complexus of sciences; and among these, so far as the natural order is concerned, ethics has the first claim.
II. SOURCES AND METHODS OF ETHICS.—The sources of ethics are partly man’s own experience and partly the principles and truths proposed by other philosophical disciplines (logic and metaphysics). Ethics takes its origin from the empirical fact that certain general principles and concepts of the moral order are common to all peoples at all times. This fact has indeed been frequently disputed, but recent ethnological research has placed it beyond the possibility of doubt. All nations distinguish between what is good and what is bad, between good men and bad men, between virtue and vice; they are all agreed in this: that the good is worth striving for, and that evil must be shunned, that the one deserves praise, the other, blame. Though in individual cases they may not be one in denominating the same thing good or evil, they are nevertheless agreed as to the general principle, that good is to be done and evil avoided. Vice everywhere seeks to hide itself or to put on the mask of virtue; it is a universally recognized principle, that we should not do to others what we would not wish them to do to us. With the aid of the truths laid down in logic and metaphysics, ethics proceeds to give a thorough explanation of this undeniable fact, to trace it back to its ultimate causes, then to gather from fundamental moral principles certain conclusions which will direct man, in the various circumstances and relations of life, how to shape his own conduct towards the attainment of the end for which he was created. Thus the proper method of ethics is at once speculative and empirical; it draws upon experience and metaphysics. Supernatural Christian Revelation is not a proper source of ethics. Only those conclusions properly belong to ethics which can be reached with the help of experience and philosophical principles. The Christian philosopher, however, may not ignore supernatural revelation, but must at least recognize it as a negative norm, inasmuch as he is not to advance any assertion in evident contradiction to the revealed truth of Christianity. God is the fountain-head of all truth—whether natural, as made known by Creation, or supernatural as revealed through Christ and the Prophets. As our intellect is an image of the Divine Intellect, so is all certain scientific knowledge the reflex and interpretation of the Creator’s thoughts embodied in His creatures, a participation in His eternal wisdom. God cannot reveal supernaturally and command us to believe on His authority anything that contradicts the thoughts expressed by Him in His creatures, and which, with the aid of the faculty of reason which He has given us, we can discern in His works. To assert the contrary would be to deny God‘s omniscience and veracity, or to suppose that God was not the source of all truth. A conflict, therefore, between faith and science is impossible, and hence the Christian philosopher has to refrain from advancing any assertion which would be evidently antagonistic to certain revealed truth. Should his researches lead to conclusions out of harmony with faith, he is to take it for granted that some error has crept into his deductions, just as the mathematician whose calculations openly contradict the facts of experience must be satisfied that his demonstration is at fault.
After what has been said, the following methods of ethics must be rejected as unsound. (I) Pure Rationalism.—This system makes reason the sole source of truth, and therefore at the very outset excludes every reference to Christian Revelation, branding any such reference as degrading and hampering free scientific investigation. The supreme law of science is not freedom, but truth. It is not derogatory to the true dignity and freedom of science to abstain from asserting what, according to Christian Revelation, is manifestly erroneous. (2) Pure Empiricism, which would erect the entire structure of ethics exclusively on the foundation of experience, must also be rejected. Experience can tell us merely of present or past phenomena; but as to what, of necessity, and universally, must, or ought to, happen in the future, experience can give us no clue without bringing in the aid of necessary and universal principles. Closely allied to Empiricism is Historicism, which considers history as the exclusive source of ethics. What has been said of Empiricism may also be applied to Historicism. History is concerned with what has happened in the past and only too often has to rehearse the moral aberrations of mankind. (3) Positivism is a variety of Empiricism; it seeks to emancipate ethics from metaphysics and base it on facts alone. No science can be constructed on the mere foundation of facts, and independently of metaphysics. Every science must set out from evident principles, which form the basis of all certain cognition. Ethics especially is impossible without metaphysics, since it is according to the metaphysical view we take of the world that ethics shapes itself. Whoever considers man as nothing else than a more highly developed brute will hold different ethical views from one who discerns in man a creature fashioned to the image and likeness of God, possessing a spiritual, immortal soul and destined to eternal life; whoever refuses to recognize the freedom of the will destroys the very foundation of ethics. Whether man was created by God or possesses a spiritual, immortal soul which is endowed with free will, or is essentially different from brute creation, all these are questions pertaining to metaphysics. Anthropology, moreover, is necessarily presupposed by ethics. No rules can be prescribed for man’s actions, unless his nature is clearly understood. (4) Another untenable system is Traditionalism, which in France, during the first half of the nineteenth century, counted many adherents (among others, de Bonald, Bautain), and which advanced the doctrine that complete certainty in religious and moral questions was not to be attained by the aid of reason alone, but only by the light of revelation as made known to us through tradition. They failed to see that for all reasonable belief certain knowledge of the existence of God and of the fact of revelation is necessarily presupposed, and this knowledge cannot be gathered from revelation. Fideism, or, as Paulsen designated it, the Irrationalism of many Protestants, also denies the ability of reason to furnish certainty in matters relating to God and religion. With Kant, it teaches that reason does not rise above the phenomena of the visible world; faith alone can lead us into the realm of the supersensible and instruct us in matters moral and religious. This faith, however, is not the acceptance of truth on the strength of external authority, but rather consists in certain appreciative judgments, i.e. assumptions or convictions which are the result of each one’s own inner experiences, and which have, therefore, for him a precise worth, and correspond to his own peculiar temperament. Since these persuasions are not supposed to come within the range of reason, exception to them cannot be taken on scientific grounds. According to this opinion, religion and morals are relegated to pure subjectivism and lose all their objectivity and universality of value.
III. HISTORICAL VIEW OF ETHICS.—As ethics is the philosophical treatment of the moral order, its history does not consist in narrating the views of morality entertained by different nations at different times; this is properly the scope of the history of civilization, and of ethnology. The history of ethics is concerned solely with the various philosophical systems which in the course of time have been elaborated with reference to the moral order. Hence the opinions advanced by the wise men of antiquity, such as Pythagoras (582-500 B.C.), Heraclitus (535-475 B.C.), Confucius (558-479 B.C.), scarcely belong to the history of ethics; for, though they proposed various moral truths and principles, they did so in a dogmatic and didactic, and not in a philosophically systematic manner. Ethics properly so called is first met with among the Greeks, i.e. in the teaching of Socrates (470-399 B.C.). According to him, the ultimate object of human activity is happiness, and the necessary means to reach it, virtue. Since everybody necessarily seeks happiness, no one is deliberately corrupt. All evil arises from ignorance, and the virtues are one and all but so many kinds of prudence. Virtue can, therefore, be imparted by instruction. The disciple of Socrates, Plato (427-347 B.C.), declares that the summum bonum consists in the perfect imitation of God, the Absolute Good, an imitation which cannot be fully realized in this life. Virtue enables man to order his conduct, as he properly should, according to the dictates of reason, and acting thus he becomes like unto God. But Plato differed from Socrates in that he did not consider virtue to consist in wisdom alone, but in justice, temperance, and fortitude as well, these constituting the proper harmony of man’s activities. In a sense, the State is man writ large, and its function is to train its citizens in virtue. For his ideal State he proposed the community of goods and of wives and the public education of children. Though Socrates and Plato had been to the fore in this mighty work and had contributed much valuable material to the upbuilding of ethics; nevertheless, Plato’s illustrious disciple, Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), must be considered the real founder of systematic ethics. With characteristic keenness he solved, in his ethical and political writings, most of the problems with which ethics concerns itself. Unlike Plato, who began with ideas as the basis of his observations, Aristotle chose rather to take the facts of experience as his starting point; these he analyzed accurately, and sought to trace to their highest and ultimate causes. He sets out from the fact that all men tend to happiness as the ultimate object of all their endeavors, as the highest good, which is sought for its own sake, and to which all other goods merely serve as means. This happiness cannot consist in external goods, but only in the activity proper to human nature—not indeed in such a lower activity of the vegetative and sensitive life as man possesses in common with plants and brutes, but in the highest and most perfect activity of his reason, which springs in turn from virtue. This activity, however, has to be exercised in a perfect and enduring life. The highest pleasure is naturally bound up with this activity, yet, to constitute perfect happiness, external goods must also supply their share. True happiness, though prepared for him by the gods as the object and the reward of virtue, can be attained only through a man’s own individual exertion. With keen penetration Aristotle thereupon proceeds to investigate in turn each of the intellectual and moral virtues, and his treatment of them must, even at the present time, be regarded as in great part correct. The nature of the State and of the family were, in the main, rightly explained by him. The only pity is that his vision did not penetrate beyond this earthly life, and that he never saw clearly the relations of man to God.
A more hedonistic (hedone, “pleasure”) turn in ethics begins with Democritus (about 460-370 B.C.), who considers a perpetually joyous and cheerful disposition as the highest good and happiness of man. The means thereto is virtue, which makes us independent of external goods—so far as that is possible—and which wisely discriminates between the pleasures that are to be sought after and those that are to be shunned. Pure Sensualism or Hedonism was first taught by Aristippus of Cyrene (435-354 B.C.), according to whom the greatest possible pleasure, especially sensual pleasure, is the end and supreme good of human endeavor. Epicurus (341-270 B.C.) differs from Aristippus in holding that the largest sum total possible of spiritual and sensual enjoyments, with the greatest possible freedom from displeasure and pain, is man’s highest good. Virtue is the proper directive norm in the attainment of this end.
The Cynics, Antisthenes (444-369 B.C.) and Diogenes of Sinope (414-324 B.C.), taught the direct contrary of Hedonism, namely, that virtue alone suffices for happiness, that pleasure is an evil, and that the truly wise man is above human laws. This teaching soon degenerated into haughty arrogance and open contempt for law and for the remainder of men (Cynicism). The Stoics, Zeno (336-264 B.C.) and his disciples, Cleanthes, Chrysippus, and others, strove to refine and perfect the views of Antisthenes. Virtue, in their opinion, consists in man’s living according to the dictates of his rational nature, and, as each one’s individual nature is but a part of the entire natural order, virtue is, therefore, the harmonious agreement with the Divine Reason, which shapes the whole course of nature. Whether they conceived this relation of God to the world in a pantheistic or a theistic sense, is not altogether clear. Virtue is to be sought for its own sake, and it suffices for man’s happiness. All other things are indifferent and are, as circumstances require, to be striven after or shunned. The passions and affections are bad, and the wise man is independent of them. Among the Roman Stoics were Seneca (4 B.C.—A.D. 65), Epictetus (born about A.D. 50), and the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 121-180), upon whom, however, at least upon the latter two, Christian influences had already begun to make themselves felt. Cicero (106-43 B.C.) elaborated no new philosophical system of his own, but chose those particular views from the various systems of Grecian philosophy which appeared best to him. He maintained that moral goodness, which is the general object of all virtues, consists in what is becoming to man as a rational being distinct from the brute. Actions are often good or bad, just or unjust, not because of human institutions or customs, but of their own intrinsic nature. Above and beyond human laws, there is a natural law embracing all nations and all times, the expression of the rational will of the Most High God, from obedience to which no human authority can exempt us. Cicero gives an exhaustive exposition of the cardinal virtues and the obligations connected with them; he insists especially on devotion to the gods, without which human society could not exist.
Parallel with the above-mentioned Greek and Roman ethical systems runs a sceptical tendency, which rejects every natural moral law, bases the whole moral order on custom or human arbitrariness, and frees the wise man from subjection to the ordinary precepts of the moral order. This tendency was furthered by the Sophists, against whom Socrates and Plato arrayed themselves, and later on by Carneades, Theodore of Cyrene, and others.
A new epoch in ethics begins with the dawn of Christianity. Ancient paganism never had a clear and definite concept of the relation between God and the world, of the unity of the human race, of the destiny of man, of the nature and meaning of the moral law. Christianity first shed full light on these and similar questions. As St. Paul teaches (Rom., ii, 24 sq.), God has written His moral law in the hearts of all men, even of those outside the influence of Christian Revelation; this law manifests itself in the conscience of every man and is the norm according to which the whole human race will be judged on the day of reckoning. In consequence of their perverse inclinations, this law had to a great extent become obscured and distorted among the pagans; Christianity, however, restored it to its pristine integrity. Thus, too, ethics received its richest and most fruitful stimulus. Proper ethical methods were now unfolded, and philosophy was in a position to follow up and develop these methods by means supplied from its own store-house. This course was soon adopted in the early ages of the Church by the Fathers and ecclesiastical writers, as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, but especially the illustrious Doctors of the Church, Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine, who, in the exposition and defense of Christian truth, made use of the principles laid down by the pagan philosophers. True, the Fathers had no occasion to treat moral questions from a purely philosophical standpoint, and independently of Christian Revelation; but in the explanation of Catholic doctrine their discussions naturally led to philosophical investigations. This is particularly true of St. Augustine, who proceeded to thoroughly develop along philosophical lines and to establish firmly most of the truths of Christian morality. The eternal law (lex oeterna), the original type and source of all temporal laws, the natural law, conscience, the ultimate end of man, the cardinal virtues, sin, marriage, etc. were treated by him in the clearest and most penetrating manner. Hardly a single portion of ethics does he present to us but is enriched with his keen philosophical commentaries. Later ecclesiastical writers followed in his footsteps.
A sharper line of separation between philosophy and theology, and in particular between ethics and moral theology, is first met with in the works of the great Schoolmen of the Middle Ages, especially of Albert the Great (1193-1280), Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), Bonaventure (1221-1274), and Duns Scotus (1274-1308). Philosophy and, by means of it, theology reaped abundant fruit from the works of Aristotle, which had until then been a sealed treasure to Western civilization, and were first elucidated by the detailed and profound commentaries of Bl. Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas, and pressed into the service of Christian philosophy. The same is particularly true as regards ethics. St. Thomas, in his commentaries on the political and ethical writings of the Stagirite, in his “Summa contra Gentiles” and his “Quaestiones disputatae”, treated with his wonted clearness and penetration nearly the whole range of ethics in a purely philosophical manner, so that even to the present day his works are an inexhaustible source whence ethics draws its supply. On the foundations laid by him the Catholic philosophers and theologians of succeeding ages have continued to build. It is true that in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, thanks especially to the influence of the so-called Nominalists, a period of stagnation and decline in philosophy set in, but the sixteenth century is marked by a revival. Ethical questions, also, though largely treated in connection with theology, are again made the subject of careful investigation. We mention as examples the great theologians Victoria, Dominicus Soto, L. Molina, Suarez, Lessius, and De Lugo. Since the sixteenth century special chairs of ethics (moral philosophy) have been erected in many Catholic universities. The larger, purely philosophical works on ethics, however, do not appear until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as an example of which we may instance the production of Ign. Schwarz, “Institutiones juris universalis naturae et gentium” (1743).
Far different from Catholic ethical methods were those adopted for the most part by Protestants. With the rejection of the Church‘s teaching authority, each individual became on principle his own supreme teacher and arbiter in matters appertaining to faith and morals. True it is that the Reformers held fast to Holy Writ as the infallible source of revelation, but as to what belongs or does not belong to it, whether, and how far, it is inspired, and what is its meaning—all this was left to the final decision of the individual. The inevitable result was, that philosophy arrogantly threw to the winds all regard for revealed truth, and in many cases became involved in the most pernicious errors. Melanchthon, in his “Elementa philosophize moralis”, still clung to the Aristotelean philosophy; so, too, did Hugo Grotius, in his work, “De jure belli et pacis”. But Cumberland and his follower, Samuel Pufendorf, set out along rather devious paths in matters ethical, inasmuch as they identified moral goodness with the utilitarian interests of human society. Pufendorf, moreover, assumed, with Descartes, that the ultimate ground for every distinction between good and evil lay in the free determination of God‘s Will, a view which renders the philosophical treatment of ethics fundamentally impossible. Quite an influential factor in the development of ethics was Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679). He supposes that the human race originally existed in a rude condition (status naturoe) in which every man was free to act as he pleased, and possessed a right to all things, whence arose a war of all against all. Lest destruction should be the result, it was decided to abandon this condition of nature and to found a state in which, by agreement, all were to be subject to one common will (one ruler). This authority ordains, by the law of the State, what is to be considered by all as good and as evil, and only then does there arise a distinction between good and evil of universal binding force on all. The Pantheist Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) considers the impulse to self-preservation as the foundation of virtue. Every being is endowed with the necessary impulse to assert itself, and, as reason demands nothing contrary to nature, it requires each one to follow this impulse and to strive after whatever is useful to him. And each individual possesses power and virtue just in so far as he obeys this impulse. Freedom of the will consists merely in the ability to follow unrestrainedly this natural impulse. Shaftesbury (1671-1713) bases ethics on the affections or inclinations of man. There are sympathetic, idiopathic, and unnatural inclinations. The first of these regard the common good, the second the private good of the agent, the third are opposed to the other two. To lead a morally good life, war must be waged upon the unnatural impulses, while the idiopathic and sympathetic inclinations must be made to harmonize. This harmony constitutes virtue. In the attainment of virtue the subjective guiding principle of knowledge is the “moral sense”, a sort of moral instinct. This “moral sense” theory was further developed by Hutcheson (1694-1747); meanwhile, “common sense” was suggested by Thomas Reid (1710-1796) as the highest norm of moral conduct. In France the materialistic philosophers of the eighteenth century—as Helvetius, de la Mettrie, Holbach, Condillac, and others—disseminated the teachings of Sensualism and Hedonism as understood by Epicurus.
A complete revolution in ethics was introduced by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). From the wreck of pure theoretical reason he turned for rescue to practical reason, in which he found an absolute, universal, and categorical moral law. This law is not to be conceived as an enactment of external authority, for this would be heteronomy, which is foreign to true morality; it is rather the law of our own reason, which is, therefore, autonomous, that is, it must be observed for its own sake, without regard to any pleasure or utility arising therefrom. Only that will is morally good which obeys the moral law under the influence of such a subjective principle or motive as can be willed by the individual to become the universal law for all men. The followers of Kant have selected now one now another doctrine from his ethics and combined therewith various pantheistical systems. Fichte places man’s supreme good and destiny in absolute spontaneity and liberty; Schleiermacher, in cooperating with the progressive civilization of mankind. A similar view recurs substantially in the writings of Wilhelm Wundt and, to a certain extent, in those of the pessimist, Edward von Hartmann, though the latter regards culture and progress merely as means to the ultimate end, which, according to him, consists in delivering the Absolute from the torment of existence.
The system of Cumberland, who maintained the common good of mankind to be the end and criterion of moral conduct, was renewed on a positivistic basis in the nineteenth century by Auguste Comte and has counted many adherents, e.g., in England, John Stuart Mill, Henry Sidgwick, Alexander Bain; in Germany, G. T. Fechner, F. E. Beneke, F. Paulsen, and others. Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) sought to effect a compromise between social Utilitarianism (Altruism) and private Utilitarianism (Egoism) in accordance with the theory of evolution. In his opinion, that conduct is good which serves to augment life and pleasure without any admixture of displeasure. In consequence, however, of man’s lack of adaptation to the conditions of life, such absolute goodness of conduct is not as yet possible, and hence various compromises must be made between Altruism and Egoism. With the progress of evolution, however, this adaptability to existing conditions will become more and more perfect, and consequently the benefits accruing to the individual from his own conduct will be most useful to society at large. In particular, sympathy (in joy) will enable us to take pleasure in altruistic actions.
The great majority of non-Christian moral philosophers have followed the path trodden by Spencer. Starting with the assumption that man, by a series of transformations, was gradually evolved from the brute, and therefore differs from it in degree only, they seek the first traces and beginnings of moral ideas in the brute itself. Charles Darwin had done some preparatory work along these lines, and Spencer did not hesitate to descant on brute-ethics, on the pre-human justice, conscience, and self-control of brutes. Present-day Evolutionists follow his view and attempt to show how animal morality has in man continually become more perfect. With the aid of analogies taken from ethnology, they relate how mankind originally wandered over the face of the earth in semi-savage hordes, knew nothing of marriage or the family, and only by degrees reached a higher level of morality. These are the merest creations of fancy. If man is nothing more than a highly developed brute, he cannot possess a spiritual and immortal soul, and there can no longer be question of the freedom of the will, of the future retribution of good and evil, nor can man in consequence be hindered from ordering his life as he pleases and regarding the wellbeing of others only in so far as it redounds to his own profit.
As the Evolutionists, so too the Socialists favor the theory of evolution from their ethical viewpoint; yet the latter do not base their observations on scientific principles, but on social and economical considerations. According to K. Marx, F. Engels, and other exponents of the so-called “materialistic interpretation of history”, all moral, religious, juridical, and philosophical concepts are but the reflex of the economical conditions of society in the minds of men. Now these social relations are subject to constant change; hence the ideas of morality, religion, etc. are also continually changing. Every age, every people, and even each class in a given people forms its moral and religious ideas in accordance with its own peculiar economical situation. Hence, no universal code of morality exists binding on all men at all times; the morality of the present day is not of Divine origin, but the product of history, and will soon have to make room for another system of morality. Allied to this materialistic historical interpretation, though derived from other sources, is the system of Relativism, which recognizes no absolute and unchangeable truths in regard either to ethics or to anything else. Those who follow this opinion aver that nothing objectively true can be known by us.
Men differ from one another and are subject to change, and with them, the manner and means of viewing the world about them also change. Moreover the judgments passed on matters religious and moral depend essentially upon the inclinations, interests, and character of the person judging, while these latter in turn are constantly varying. Pragmatism differs from Relativism inasmuch as that only is to be considered true which is proven by experience to be useful; and, since the same thing is not always useful, unchangeable truth is impossible.
In view of the chaos of opinions and systems just described, it need not surprise us that, as regards ethical problems, scepticism is extending its sway to the utmost limits, in fact many exhibit a formal contempt for the traditional morality. According to Max Nordau, moral precepts are nothing but “conventional lies”; according to Max Stirner, that alone is good which serves my interests, whereas the common good, the love for all men, etc. are but empty phantoms. Men of genius and superiority in particular are coming more and more to be regarded as exempt from the moral law. Nietzsche is the originator of a school whose doctrines are founded on these principles. According to him, goodness was originally identified with nobility and gentility of rank. Whatever the man of rank and power did, whatever inclinations he possessed, were good. The down-trodden proletariat, on the other hand, were bad, i.e. lowly and ignoble, without any other derogatory meaning being given to the word bad. It was only by a gradual process that the oppressed multitude through hatred and envy evolved the distinction between good and bad, in the moral sense, by denominating the characteristics and conduct of those in power and rank as bad, and their own behavior as good. And thus arose the opposition between the morality of the master and that of the slave. Those in power still continued to look upon their own egoistic inclinations as noble and good, while the oppressed populace lauded the “instincts of the common herd”, i.e. all those qualities necessary and useful to its existence—as patience, meekness, obedience, and love of one’s neighbor. Weakness became goodness, cringing obsequiousness became humility, subjection to hated oppressors was obedience, cowardice meant patience. “All morality is one long and audacious deception.” Hence, the value attached to the prevailing concepts of morality must be entirely rearranged. Intellectual superiority is above and beyond good and evil as understood in the traditional sense. There is no higher moral order to which men of such calibre are amenable. The end of society is not the common good of its members; the intellectual aristocracy (the overman) is its own end; in its behalf the common herd, the “too many”, must be reduced to slavery and decimated. As it rests with each individual to decide who belongs to this intellectual aristocracy, so each one is at liberty to emancipate himself from the existing moral order.
In conclusion, one other tendency in ethics may be noted, which has manifested itself far and wide: namely, the effort to make morality independent of all religion. It is clear that many of the above-mentioned ethical systems essentially exclude all regard for God and religion, and this is true especially of materialistic, agnostic, and, in the last analysis, of all pantheistic systems. Apart, also, from these systems, “independent morality”, called also “lay morality”, has gained many followers and defenders. Kant’s ideas formed the basis of this tendency, for he himself founded a code of morality on the categorical imperative and expressly declared that morality is sufficient for itself, and therefore has no need of religion. Many modern moral philosophers—Herbart, Eduard von Hartmann, Zeller, Wundt, Paulsen, Ziegler, and a number of others—have followed Kant in this respect. For several decades practical attempts have been made to emancipate morality from religion. In France religious instruction was banished from the schools in 1882 and moral instruction substituted. This tendency manifests a lively activity in what is known as the “ethical movement”, whose home, properly speaking, is in the United States. In 1876, Felix Adler, professor at Cornell University, founded the “Society for Ethical Culture”, in New York City. Similar societies were formed in other cities. These were consolidated in 1887 into the “Union of the Societies for Ethical Culture”. Besides Adler, the chief propagators of the movement by word of mouth and writing, were W. M. Salter and Stanton Coit. The purpose of these societies is declared to be “the improvement of the moral life of the members of the societies and of the community to which they belong, without any regard to theological or philosophical opinions”. In most of the European countries ethical societies were founded on the model of the American organization. All these were combined in 1894 into the “International Ethical Association”. Their purpose, i.e. the amelioration of man’s moral condition, is indeed praiseworthy, but it is erroneous to suppose that any such moral improvement can be brought about without taking religion into consideration. In fact many members of the ethical societies are openly antagonistic to all religions, and would therefore do away with denominational schools and supplant religious teaching by mere moral instruction. Even upon purely ethical considerations such attempts must be unhesitatingly rejected. If it be true that even in the case of adults moral instruction without religion, without any higher obligation or sanction, is a nonentity, a meaningless sham, how much more so is it in the case of the young? It is evident that, judged from the standpoint of Christianity, these efforts must meet with a still more decided condemnation. Christians are bound to observe not only the prescriptions of the natural law, but also all the precepts given by Christ concerning faith, hope, love, Divine worship, and the imitation of Himself. The Christian, moreover, knows that without Divine grace and, hence, without prayer and the frequent reception of the sacraments, a morally good life for any considerable length of time is impossible. From their earliest years, therefore, the young must not only receive thorough instruction in all the Commandments, but must be exercised and trained in the practical use of the means of grace. Religion must be the soil and atmosphere in which education develops and flourishes.
While, among non-Catholics ever since the Reformation, and especially since Kant, there has been an increasing tendency to divorce ethics from religion, and to dissolve it into countless venturesome and frequently contradictory systems, Catholics for the most part have remained free from these errors, because, in the Church‘s infallible teaching authority, the guardian of Christian Revelation, they have always found secure orientation. It is true that towards the end of the eighteenth, and at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Illuminism and Rationalism penetrated here and there into Catholic circles and attempted to replace moral theology by purely philosophical ethics, and in turn to transform the latter according to the Kantian autonomy. This movement, however, was but a passing phase. With a reawakening of the Church‘s activity, fresh impetus was given to Catholic science, which was of benefit to ethics also and produced in its domain some excellent fruits. Recourse was again had to the illustrious past of Catholicism, while, at the same time, modern ethical systems gave occasion to a thorough investigation and verification of principles of the moral order. Taparelli d’Azeglio led the way with his great work “Saggio teoretico di diritto naturale appoggiato sul fatto” (1840-43). Then followed, in Italy, Audisio, Rosmini, Liberatore, Sanseverino, Roselli, Zigliara, Signoriello, Schiffini, Ferretti, Talamo, and others. In Spain this revival of ethics was due to, among others, J. Balmes, Donoso Cortes, Zefirio Gonzalez, Mendive, R. de Cepeda; in France and Belgium, to de Lehen (Institutes de droit naturel), de Margerie, Onclair, Ath, Vallet, Charles Perin, Piat, de Pascal, Moulart, Castelein; in England and America, to Joseph Rickaby, Jouin, Russo, Hollaind, J. J. Ming. In German-speaking countries the reawakening of Scholasticism in general begins with Kleutgen (Theologie der Vorzeit, 1853; Philosophie der Vorzeit, 1860), and of ethics in particular with Th. Meyer (Die Grundsätze der Sittlichkeit and des Rechts, 1868; Institutiones juris naturalis seu philosophiae moralis universae, 1885-1900). After them came A. Stöckl, Ferd. Walter, Moy de Sons, C. Gutberlet, Fr. J. Stein, Brandis, Costa-Rossetti, A.M. Weiss, Renninger, Lehmen, Willems, V. Frins, Heinrich Pesch, and others. We pass over numerous Catholic writers, who have made a specialty of sociology and political economy.
IV. OUTLINES OF ETHICS.—It is clear that the following statement cannot pretend to treat thoroughly all ethical questions; it is intended rather to afford the reader an insight into the most important problems dealt with by ethics, as well as into the methods adopted in their treatment. Ethics is usually divided into two parts: general, or theoretical ethics, and special, or applied ethics. General ethics expounds and verifies the general principles and concepts of the moral order; special ethics applies these general principles to the various relations of man, and determines his duties in particular.
Reason itself can rise from the knowledge of the visible creation to the certain knowledge of the existence of God, the origin and end of all things. On this fundamental truth the structure of ethics must be based. God created man, as He created all things else, for His own honor and glory. The ultimate end is the proper motive of the will’s activity. If God were not the ultimate object and end of His own activity, He would depend upon His creatures, and would not be infinitely perfect. He is, then, the ultimate end of all things, they are created for His sake, not, indeed, that He can derive any benefit from them, which would be repugnant to an infinitely perfect being, but for His glory. They are to manifest His goodness and perfection. Irrational creatures cannot of themselves directly glorify God, for they are incapable of knowing Him. They are intended as means to the end for which rational man was created. The end of man, however, is to know God, to love Him and serve Him, and thereby attain to perfect and unending happiness. Every man has within him an irresistible, indestructible desire for perfect happiness; he seeks to be free from every evil and to possess every obtainable good. This impulse to happiness is founded on man’s nature; it is implanted there by his Maker; and hence will be duly realized, if nothing is wanting on the part of man’s own individual endeavor. But perfect happiness is unattainable in the present life, if for no other reason, at least for this, that inexorable death puts an early end to all earthly happiness. There is reserved for man a better life, if he freely chooses to glorify God here on earth. It will be the crown of victory to be conferred upon him hereafter, if at present he remains subject to God and keeps His Commandments. Only from the viewpoint of eternity do this earthly life and the moral order acquire their proper significance and value. But how does man, considered in the natural order, or apart from every influence of supernatural revelation, come to know what God requires of him here below, or how he is to serve and glorify Him, in order to arrive at eternal happiness?—By means of the natural law.
From eternity there existed in the mind of God the idea of the world, which He freely determined to create, as well as the plan of government according to which He wished to rule the world and direct it to its end. This ordination existing in the mind of God from all eternity, and depending on the nature and essential relations of rational beings, is the eternal law of God (lex oeterna Dei), the source from which all temporal laws take their rise. God does not move and govern His creatures by a mere external directive impetus, as the archer does the arrow, but by means of internal impulses and inclinations, which he has bound up with their natures. Irrational creatures are urged, by means of physical forces or natural impulses and instincts, to exercise the activity peculiar to them and keep the order designed for them. Man, on the other hand, is a being endowed with reason and free will; as such, he cannot be led by blind impulses and instincts in a manner conformable to his nature, but must needs depend upon practical principles and judgments, which point out to him how he is to order his conduct. These principles must somehow or other be manifested to him by nature. All created things have implanted in their natures certain guiding principles, necessary to their corresponding activities. Man must be no exception to this rule. He must be led by a natural, inborn light, manifesting to him what he is to do or not to do. This natural light is the natural law. When we speak of man as possessing a natural, inborn light, it is not to be understood in the sense that man has innate ideas. Innate ideas do not exist. It is true, nevertheless, that the Creator has endowed man with the ability and the inclination to form many concepts and develop principles. As soon as he comes to the use of reason, he forms, by a natural necessity, on the basis of experience, certain general concepts of theoretical reason—e.g. those of being and not being, of cause and effect, of space and time—and so he arrives at universal principles, e.g. that “nothing can exist and not exist at the same time”, that “every effect has its cause”, etc. As it is in the theoretical, so also in the practical order. As soon as reason has been sufficiently developed, and the individual can somehow or other practically judge that he is something more than a mere animal, by an intrinsic necessity of his nature he forms the concept of good and evil, i.e. of something which is proper to the rational nature which distinguishes him from the brute, and which is therefore worth striving for, and something which is unbecoming and therefore to be avoided. And, as by nature he feels himself attracted by what is good and repelled by what is evil, he naturally forms the judgments, that “good is to be done and evil avoided”, that “man ought to live according to the dictates of reason”, etc. From his own reflections, especially when assisted by instruction from others, he easily comes to the conclusion that in these judgments the will of a superior being, of the Creator and Designer of nature, has its expression. Around about him he perceives that all things are well ordered, so that it is very easy for him to discern in them the handiwork of a superior and all-wise power. He himself has been appointed to occupy in the domain of nature the position of lord and master; he, too, must lead a well regulated life, as befits a rational being, not merely because he himself chooses to do so, but also in obedience to his Creator. Man did not give himself his nature with all its faculties and inclinations; he received it from a superior being, whose wisdom and power are everywhere manifest to him in Creation.
The general practical judgments and principles: “Do good and avoid evil”, “Lead a life regulated according to reason”, etc., from which all the Commandments of the Decalogue are derived, are the basis of the natural law, of which St. Paul (Rom., ii, 14) says, that it is written in the hearts of all men. This law is an emanation of the Divine law, made known to all men by nature herself; it is the expression of the will of nature’s Author, a participation of the created rational being in the eternal law of God. Hence the obligation it imposes does not arise from man’s own autonomy, as Kant held, nor from any other human authority, but from the Will of the Creator; and man cannot violate it without rebelling against God, his master, offending Him, and becoming amenable to His justice. How deeply rooted among all nations this conviction of the higher origin of the natural law was, is shown by the fact that for various violations of it (as murder, adultery, perjury, etc.) they did their utmost to propitiate the angered deity by means of prayers and sacrifices. Hence they looked upon the deity as the guardian and protector of the moral order, who would not allow the contempt of it to go unpunished. The same conviction is manifested by the value all nations have attached to the moral order, a value far surpassing that of all other earthly goods. The noblest among the nations maintained that it was better to undergo any hardship, even death itself, rather than prove recreant to ones duty. They understood, therefore, that, over and above earthly treasures, there were higher and more lasting goods whose attainment was dependent upon the observance of the moral order, and this not by reason of any ordinance of man, but because of the law of God. This being premised, it is clearly impossible to divorce morality from religion without robbing it of its true obligation and sanction, of its sanctity and inviolability and of its importance as transcending every other earthly consideration.
The natural law consists of general practical principles (commands and prohibitions) and the conclusions necessarily flowing therefrom. It is the peculiar function of man to formulate these conclusions himself, though instruction and training are to assist him in doing so. Besides this, each individual has to take these principles as the guide of his conduct and apply them to his particular actions. This, to a certain extent, everybody does spontaneously, by virtue of an innate tendency. As in the case of all practical things, so in regard to what concerns the moral order, reason uses syllogistic processes. When a person, e.g., is on the point of telling a lie, or saying what is contrary to his convictions, there rises before his mental vision the general precept of the natural law: “Lying is wrong and forbidden.” Hence he avails himself, at least virtually, of the following syllogism: “Lying is forbidden; what you are about to say is a lie; therefore, what you are about to say is forbidden.” The conclusion thus arrived at is our conscience, the proximate norm of our conduct. Conscience, therefore, is not an obscure feeling or a sort of moral instinct, but a practical judgment of our reason on the moral character of individual acts. If we follow the voice of conscience, our reward is peace and calm of soul; if we resist this voice, we experience disquiet and remorse.
The natural law is the foundation of all human laws and precepts. It is only because we recognize the necessity of authority for human society, and because the natural law enjoins obedience to regularly constituted authority, that it is possible for a human superior to impose laws and commands binding in conscience. Indeed all human laws and precepts are fundamentally the conclusions, or more minute determinations, of the general principles of the natural law, and for this very reason every deliberate infraction of a law or precept binding in conscience is a sin, i.e. the violation of a Divine commandment, a rebellion against God, an offense against Him, which will not escape punishment in this life or in the next, unless duly repented of before death.
The problems hitherto mentioned belong to general, or theoretical, ethics, and their investigations in nearly all cases bear upon the natural law, whose origin, nature, subject-matter, obligation, and properties it is the scope of ethics to explain thoroughly and verify. The general philosophical doctrine of right is usually treated in general ethics. Under no circumstances may the example of Kant and others be imitated in severing the doctrine of right from ethics, or moral philosophy, and developing it as a separate and independent science. The juridical order is but a part of the moral order, even as justice is but one of the moral virtues. The first principles of right: “Give every man his due”; “Commit no injustice”; and the necessary conclusions from these: “Thou shalt not kill”; “Thou shalt not commit adultery”, and the like, belong to the natural law, and cannot be deviated from without violating one’s duty and one’s neighbor’s rights, and staining one’s conscience with guilt in the sight of God.
Special ethics applies the principles of general, or theoretical, ethics to the various relations of man, and thus deduces his duties in particular. General ethics teaches that man must do good and avoid evil, and must inflict injury upon no one. Special ethics descends to particulars and demonstrates what is good or bad, right or wrong, and therefore to be done or avoided in the various relations of human life. First of all, it treats of man as an individual in his relations to God, to himself, and to his fellow-men. God is the Creator, Master, and ultimate end of man; from these relations arise man’s duties toward God. Presupposing his own individual efforts, he is, with God‘s assistance, to hope for eternal happiness from Him; he must love God above all things as the highest, infinite good, in such a manner that no creature shall be preferred to Him; he must acknowledge Him as his absolute lord and master, adore and reverence Him, and resign himself entirely to His holy Will. The first, highest, and most essential business of man is to serve God. In case it is God‘s good pleasure to reveal a supernatural religion and to determine in detail the manner and means of our worship of Him, man is bound by the natural law to accept this revelation in a spirit of faith, and to order his life accordingly. Here, too, it is plain that to divorce morality from religion is impossible. Religious duties, those, namely, which have direct reference to God, are man’s principal and most essential moral duties. Linked to these duties to God are man’s duties regarding himself. Man loves himself by an intrinsic necessity of his nature. From this fact Schopenhauer drew the conclusion that the commandment concerning self-love was superfluous. This would be true, if it were a matter of indifference how man loved himself. But such is not the case; he must love himself with a well-ordered love. He is to be solicitous for the welfare of His soul and to do what is necessary to attain to eternal happiness. He is not his own master, but was created for the service of God; hence the deliberate arbitrary destruction of one’s own life (suicide), as well as the freely intended mutilation of self, is a criminal attack upon the proprietary right God has to man’s person. Furthermore, every man is supposed to take a reasonable care to preserve his health. He has certain duties also as regards temperance; for the body must not be his master, but an instrument in the service of the soul, and hence must be cared for in so far only as is conducive to this purpose. A further duty concerns the acquisition of external material goods, as far as they are necessary for man’s support and the fulfillment of his other obligations. This again involves the obligation to work; furthermore, God has endowed man with the capacity for work in order that he might prove himself a beneficial member of society; for idleness is the root of all evil. Besides these self-regarding duties, there are similar ones regarding our fellow-men: duties of love, justice, fidelity, truthfulness, gratitude, etc. The commandment of the love of our neighbor first received its true appreciation in the Christian Dispensation. Though doubtlessly contained to a certain extent in the natural law, the pagans had so lost sight of the unity of the human race, and of the fact that all men are members of one vast family dependent upon God, that they looked upon every stranger as an enemy.
Christianity restored to mankind the consciousness of its unity and solidarity, and supernaturally transfigured the natural precept to love our neighbor, by demonstrating that all men are children of the same Father in heaven, were redeemed by the blood of the same Savior, and are destined to the same supernatural salvation. And, better still, Christianity provided man with the grace necessary to the fulfillment of this precept and thus renewed the face of the earth. In man’s intercourse with his fellow-men the precepts of justice and of the other allied virtues go hand in hand with the precept of love. There exists in man the natural tendency to assert himself when there is question of his goods or property. He expects his fellow-men to respect what belongs to him, and instinctively resists any unjust attempt to violate this proprietorship. He will brook an injury from no one in all that regards his life or health, his wife or child, his honor or good name; he resents faithlessness and ingratitude on the part of others, and the lie by which they would lead him into error. Yet he clearly understands that only then can he reasonably expect others to respect his rights when he in turn respects theirs. Hence the general maxim: “Do not do to others, what you would not wish them to do to you”; from which are naturally deduced the general commandments known to all men: “Thou shalt not kill, nor commit adultery, nor steal, nor bear false witness against thy neighbor”, etc. In this part of ethics it is customary to investigate the principles of right as regards private ownership. Has every man the right to acquire property? Or, at least, may not society (the State) abolish private ownership and assume possession and control of all material goods either wholly or in part, in order thus to distribute among the members of the community the products of their joint industry? This latter question is answered in the affirmative by the Socialists; and yet, it is the experience of all ages that the community of goods and of ownership is altogether impracticable in larger commonwealths, and would, if realized in any case, involve widespread slavery.
The second part of special, or applied, ethics, called by many sociology, considers man as a member of society, as far as this can be made the subject of philosophical investigation. Man is by nature a social being; out of his innate needs, inclinations, and tendencies the family and State necessarily arise. And first of all the Creator had to provide for the preservation and propagation of the human race. Man‘s life is brief; were no provision made for the perpetuation of the human species, the world would soon become an uninhabited solitude, a well-appointed abode without occupants. Hence God has given man the power and propensity to propagate his kind. The generative function was not primarily intended for man’s individual wellbeing, but for the general good of his species, and in its exercise, therefore, he must be guided accordingly. This general good cannot be perfectly realized except in a lasting, indissoluble monogamy. The unity and indissolubility of the marriage bond are requirements of the natural law, at least in the sense that man may not on his own authority set them aside. Marriage is a Divine institution, for which God Himself has provided by means of definite laws, and in regard to which, therefore, man has not the power to make any change. The Creator might, of course, dispense for a time from the unity and indissolubility of the marriage tie; for, though the perfection of the married state demands these qualities, they are not of absolute necessity; the principal end of marriage may be attained to a certain degree without them. God could, therefore, for wise reasons grant a dispensation in regard to them for a certain length of time. Christ, however, restored marriage to the original perfection consonant with its nature. Moreover, He raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament and made it symbolic of His own union with the Church; and had He done nothing more in this respect than restore the natural law to its pristine integrity, mankind would be bound to Him by an eternal debt of gratitude. For it was chiefly by means of the unity and indissolubility of the married life that the sanctuary of the Christian family was established, from which mankind has reaped the choicest blessings, and compared with which paganism has no equivalent to offer. This exposition of the nature of marriage from a theistic standpoint is diametrically opposed to the views of modern Darwinists. According to them, men did not primitively recognize any such institution as the married state, but lived together in complete promiscuity. Marriage was the result of gradual development, woman was originally the center about which the family crystallized, and from this latter circumstance there arises an explanation of the fact that many savage tribes reckon heredity and kinship between families according to the lineal descent of the female. We cannot dwell long upon these fantastic speculations, because they do not consider man as essentially different from the brute, but as gradually developed from a purely animal origin. Although marriage is of Divine institution, not every individual is obliged, as a human being, to embrace the married state. God intends marriage for the propagation of the human race. To achieve this purpose it is by no means necessary for each and every member of the human family to enter upon marriage, and this particularly at the present time, when the question of over-population presents so many grave difficulties to social economists. In this connection certain other considerations from a Christian point of view arise, which do not, however, belong to philosophical ethics. Since the principal end of marriage is the procreation and education of children, it is incumbent upon both parents to cooperate according to the requirements of sex in the attainment of this end. From this it may readily be gathered what duties mutually exist between husband and wife, and between parents and their children.
The second natural society, the State, is the logical and necessary outcome of the family. A completely isolated family could scarcely support itself, at all events it could never rise above the lowest grade of civilization. Hence we see that at all times and in all places, owing to natural needs and tendencies, larger groups of families are formed. A division of labor takes place. Each family devotes itself to some industry in which it may improve and develop its resources, and then exchanges its products for those of other families. And now the way is opened to civilization and progress. This grouping of families, in order to be permanent, has need of authority, which makes for security, order, and peace, and in general provides for what is necessary to the common good. Since God intends men to live together in harmony and order, He likewise desires such authority in the community as will have the right to procure what is needful for the common good. This authority, considered in itself and apart from the human vehicle in which it is placed, comes immediately from God, and hence, within its proper sphere, it imposes upon the consciences of the subjects the duty of obedience. In the light of this interpretation, the exercise of public power is vested with its proper dignity and inviolability, and at the same time is circumscribed by necessary limitations. A group of families under a common authoritative head, and not subject to any similar aggregation, forms the primitive State, however small this may be. By further development, or by coalition with other States, larger States gradually come into existence. It is not the purpose of the State to supplant the families, but to safeguard their rights, to protect them, and to supplement their efforts. It is not to forfeit their rights or to abandon their proper functions that individuals and families combine to form the State, but to be secured in these rights, and to find support and encouragement in the discharge of the various duties assigned them. Hence the State may not deprive the family of its right to educate and instruct the children, but must simply lend its assistance by supplying, wherever needful, opportunities for the better accomplishment of this duty. Only so far as the order and prosperity of the body politic requires it, may the State circumscribe individual effort and activity. In other words, the State is to posit the conditions under which, provided private endeavor be not lacking, each individual and each family may attain to true earthly happiness. By true earthly happiness is meant such as not only does not interfere with the free performance of the individual’s moral duties, but even upholds and encourages him therein.
Having defined the end and aim of the State, we are now in a position to examine in detail its various functions and their extent. Private morality is not subject to State interference; but it is the proper function of the State to concern itself with the interests of public morality. It must not only prevent vice from parading in public and becoming a snare to many (e.g. through immoral literature, theatres, plays, or other means of seduction), but also see to it that the public ordinances and laws facilitate and advance morally good behavior. The State may not affect indifference as regards religion; the obligation to honor God publicly is binding upon the State as such. It is true that the direct supervision of religious matters in the present supernatural order was entrusted by Christ to His Church; nevertheless, it is the duty of the Christian State to protect and uphold the Church, the one true Church founded by Christ. Of course, owing to the unfortunate division of Christians into numerous religious systems, such an intimate relation between Church and State is at the present day but rarely maintained. The separation of Church and State, with complete liberty of conscience and worship, is often the only practical modus vivendi. In circumstances such as these the State must be satisfied to leave the affairs of religion to the various bodies, and to protect the latter in those rights which have reference to the general public order. The education and instruction of children belongs per se to the family, and should not be monopolized by the State. The latter has, however, the right and the duty to suppress schools which disseminate immoral doctrine or foster the practice of vice; beyond such control it may not set limits to free individual endeavor. It may, however, assist the individual in his efforts to secure an education, and, in case these do not suffice, it may establish schools and institutions for his benefit. Finally, the State has to exercise important economical functions. It must protect private property and see to it that in man’s industrial life the laws affecting justice be carried out in all their force and vigor. But its duties do not stop here. It should pass such laws as will enable its subjects to procure what is needed for their respectable sustenance and even to attain a moderate competency. Both excessive wealth and extreme poverty involve many dangers to the individual and to society. Hence, the State should pass such laws as will favor the sturdy middle class of citizens and add to their numbers, Much can be done to bring about this desirable condition by the enactment of proper tax and inheritance laws, of laws which protect the laboring, manufacturing, and agricultural interests, and which supervise and control trusts, syndicates, etc.
Although the authority of the State comes immediately from God, the person who exercises it is not immediately designated by Him. This determination is left to the circumstances of men’s progress and development or of their modes of social aggregation. According as the supreme power resides in one individual, or in a privileged class, or in the people collectively, governments are divided into three forms: the monarchy; the aristocracy; the democracy. The monarchy is hereditary or elective, according as succession to supreme power follows the right of primogeniture of a family (dynasty) or is subject to suffrage. At the present day the only existing kind of monarchy is the hereditary, the elective monarchies, such as Poland and the old German Sovereignty, having long since disappeared. Those States in which the sovereign power resides in the body of the people, are called polycracies, or more commonly, republics, and are divided into aristocracies and democracies. In republics the sovereignty is vested in the people. The latter elect from their number representatives who frame their laws and administer the affairs of government in their name. The almost universally prevailing form of government in Europe, fashioned upon the model created by England, is the constitutional monarchy, a mixture of the monarchical, aristocratic, and democratic forms. The law-making power is vested in the king and two chambers. The members of one chamber represent the aristocratic and conservative element, while the other chamber, elected from the body of citizens, represents the democratic element. The monarch himself is responsible to no one, yet his governmental acts require the counter-signature of the ministers, who in turn are responsible to the chamber.
With regard to its appointed functions the government of the State is divided into the legislative, judiciary, and executive powers. It is of primary importance that the State enact general and stable laws governing the activities of its subjects, as far as this is required for the good order and wellbeing of the whole body. For this purpose it must possess the right to legislate; it must, moreover, carry out these laws and provide, by means of the administrative, or rather executive, power for what is needful to the general good of the community; finally, it has to punish infractions of the laws and authoritatively settle legal disputes, and for this purpose it has need of the judiciary power (in civil and criminal courts). This right of the State to impose penalties is founded on the necessity of preserving good order and of providing for the security of the whole body politic. In a community there are always found those who can in no other way be effectually forced to observe the laws and respect the rights of others than by the infliction of punishment. Hence the State must have the right to enact penal statutes, calculated to deter its subjects from violating the laws, and the right, moreover, to actually inflict punishment after the violation has occurred. Among the legitimate modes of punishment is capital punishment. It is considered, and rightly so, a step forward in civilization, that. nowadays a milder practice has been adopted in this regard, and that capital punishment is more rarely inflicted, and then only for such heinous crimes as murder and high treason. Nevertheless, humanitarian sentimentalism has no doubt been carried to an exaggerated degree, so much so that many would on principle do away with capital punishment altogether. And yet, this is the only sanction sufficiently effective to deter some men from committing the gravest crimes.
When it is asserted, with Aristotle, that the State is a society sufficient for itself, this is to be considered true in the sense that the State needs no further development to complete its organization, but not in the sense that it is independent in every respect. The greater the advance of mankind in progress and civilization, the more necessary and frequent the communication between nations becomes. Hence the question arises as to what rights and duties mutually exist between nation and nation. That portion of ethics which treats this question from a philosophical stand-point is called the theory of international law, or of the law of nations. Of course, many writers of the present day deny the propriety of a philosophical treatment of international law. According to them the only international rights and duties are those which have been established by some positive measure either implicitly or explicitly agreed upon. This, indeed, is the position that must be taken by all who reject the natural law. On the other hand, this position precludes the possibility of any positive international law whatever, for lasting and binding compacts between various States are possible only when the primary principle of right is recognized—that it is just and obligatory to stand by lawful agreements. Now this is a principle of natural law; hence, those who deny the existence of the natural law (e.g. E. von Hartmann) must consequently reject any international law properly so called. In their opinion international agreements are mere conventions, which each one observes as long as he finds it necessary or advantageous. And so we are eventually led back to the principles of ancient paganism, which, in the intercourse between nations, too often identified right with might. But Christianity brought the nations into a closer union and broke down the barriers of narrow-minded policy. It proclaimed, moreover, the duties of love and justice as binding on all nations, thus restoring and perfecting the natural law. The fundamental principles: “Give each one his due”, “Do injury to no man”, “Do not to others what you would not have them do to you”, etc., have an absolute and universal value, and hence must obtain also in the intercourse between nations. Purely natural duties and rights are common to all nations; the acquired or positive ones may vary considerably. Various, too, are the rights and duties of nations in peace and in war. Since, however, there are, under this head, many details of a doubtful and changeable character, the codification of international law is a most urgent desideratum. Besides this an international court should be established to attend to the execution of the various measures promulgated by the law and to arbitrate in case of dispute. The foundations of such an international court of arbitration have been laid at The Hague; unfortunately, its competence has been hitherto very much restricted, and besides, it exercises its functions only when the Powers at variance appeal to it of their own accord. In the codification of international law no one would be more competent to lend effective cooperation and to maintain the principles of justice and love which should exist between nations in their intercourse with one another, than the pope. No one can offer sounder guarantees for the righteousness of the principles to be laid down, and no one can exert greater moral influence towards carrying them into effect. This is even recognized by unprejudiced Protestants. At the Vatican Council not only the many Catholic bishops present, but the Protestant David Urquhart appealed to the pope to draw up a schedule of the more important principles of international law, which were to be binding on all Christian nations. Religious prejudice, however, places many difficulties in the way of realizing this plan.