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Moral Philosophy   By: (1845-1932)

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Nihil Obstat: JOSEPHUS KEATING, S.J. Censor deputatus

Imprimi potest: JOANNES H. WRIGHT, S.J. Præp. Prov. Angliæ

Nihil Obstat: C. SCHUT, D.D. Censor deputatus

Imprimatur: EDM. CAN. SURMONT Vie. Gen.

PREFACE (1905).

For fifteen years this Manual has enjoyed all the popularity that its author could desire. With that popularity the author is the last person to wish to interfere. Therefore, not to throw previous copies out of use, this edition makes no alteration either in the pagination or the text already printed. At the same time the author might well be argued to have lapsed into strange supineness and indifference to moral science, if in fifteen years he had learnt nothing new, and found nothing in his work which he wished to improve. Whoever will be at the expense of purchasing my Political and Moral Essays (Benziger, 1902, 6s.) will find in the first essay on the Origin and Extent of Civil Authority an advantageous substitute for the chapter on the State in this work. The essay is a dissertation written for the degree of B. Sc. in the University of Oxford; and represents, I hope, tolerably well the best contemporary teaching on the subject.

If the present work had to be rewritten, I should make a triple division of Moral Philosophy, into Ethics, Deontology (the science of [Greek: to deon], i.e., of what ought to be done), and Natural Law. For if "the principal business of Ethics is to determine what moral obligation is" (p. 2), then the classical work on the subject, the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, is as the play of Hamlet with the character of Hamlet left out: for in that work there is no analysis of moral obligation, no attempt to "fix the comprehension of the idea I ought " (ib.). The system there exposed is a system of Eudaemonism, not of Deontology. It is not a treatise on Duty, but on Happiness: it tells us what Happiness, or rational well being, is, and what conduct is conducive to rational well being. It may be found convenient to follow Aristotle, and avow that the business of Ethics is not Duty, not Obligation, not Law, not Sanction, but Happiness. That fiery little word ought goes unexplained in Ethics, except in an hypothetical sense, that a man ought to do this, and avoid that, if he means to be a happy man: cf. p. 115. Any man who declares that he does not care about ethical or rational happiness, stands to Ethics as that man stands to Music who "hath no ear for concord of sweet sounds."

All that Ethics or Music can do for such a Philistine is to "send him away to another city, pouring ointment on his head, and crowning him with wool," as Plato would dismiss the tragedian ( Republic III. 398). The author of the Magna Moralia well says (I. i. 13): "No science or faculty ever argues the goodness of the end which it proposes to itself: it belongs to some other faculty to consider that. Neither the physician says that health is a good thing, nor the builder that a house is a good thing: but the one announces that he produces health and how he produces it, and the builder in like manner a house." The professor of Ethics indeed, from the very nature of his subject matter, says in pointing out happiness that it is the rational sovereign good of man: but to any one unmoved by that demonstration Ethics can have no more to say. Ethics will not threaten, nor talk of duty, law, or punishment.

Ethics, thus strictly considered on an Aristotelian basis, are antecedent to Natural Theology. They belong rather to Natural Anthropology: they are a study of human nature. But as human nature points to God, so Ethics are not wholly irrespective of God, considering Him as the object of human happiness and worship, the Supreme Being without whom all the aspirations of humanity are at fault (pp. 13 26, 191 197). Ethics do not refer to the commandments of God, for this simple reason, that they have nothing to say to commandments, or laws, or obligation, or authority... Continue reading book >>

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