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FOUNDATION OF MORAL OBLIGATION - 2 - C, PREVIOUS SECTION - NEXT LECTURE - HELP - FACEBOOK
It is right to will the highest good of God and of the universe, and to use all the necessary means, and fulfill all the necessary conditions of this highest well-being. For children to obey their parents is one of the means, and for this reason it is right, and upon no other condition can it be required. But it is said that children affirm their obligation to obey their parents, entirely irrespective of the obedience having reference, or sustaining any relation, to the good of being. This is a mistake. The child, if he is a moral agent, and does really affirm moral obligation, not only does, but must perceive the end upon which his choice or intention ought to terminate. If he really makes an intelligent affirmation, it is and must be, that he ought to will an end; that this end is not, and cannot be the right, as has been shown. He knows that he ought to will his parents' happiness, and his own happiness, and the happiness of the world, and of God; and he knows that obedience to his parents sustains the relation of a means to this end. The fact is, it is a first truth of reason, that he ought to will the good of his parents, and the good of everybody. He also knows that obedience to his parents is a necessary means to this end. If he does not know these things, it is impossible for him to be a moral agent, to make any intelligent affirmation at all; and if he has any idea of obedience, it is, and must be, only such as animals have who are actuated wholly by hope, fear and instinct. As well might we say, that an ox or a dog, who gives indication of knowing, in some sense, that he ought to obey us, affirms moral obligation of himself, as to say this of a child in whose mind the idea of the good, or valuable to being is not developed. What! Does moral obligation respect ultimate intention only? and does ultimate intention consist in the choice of something for its own intrinsic value, and yet is it true that children affirm moral obligation before the idea of the intrinsically valuable is at all developed? Impossible! But this objection assumes that children have the idea of right developed before the idea of the valuable. This cannot be. The end to be chosen must be apprehended by the mind, before the mind can have the idea of moral obligation to choose an end, or of the right or wrong of choosing or not choosing it. The development of the idea of the good or valuable, must precede the development of the ideas of right and of moral obligation.
Take this philosophy on its own ground, and suppose the relation of rightness existing between choice and its object to be the ground of obligation, it is plain that the intrinsically valuable object must be perceived, before this relation can be perceived. So that the idea of the intrinsically valuable must be developed, as a condition of the existence of the idea of the relation in question. The law of God, then, is not, and cannot be, developed in the mind of a child who has no knowledge or idea of the valuable, and who has, and can have, no reference to the good of any being, in obedience to his parents.
It is one thing to intend that, the intending of which is right, and quite another to intend the right as an end. For example, to choose my own gratification as an end, is wrong. But this is not choosing the wrong as an end. A drunkard chooses to gratify his appetite for strong drink as an end, that is, for its own sake. This is wrong. But the choice does not terminate on the wrong, but on the gratification. The thing intended is not the wrong. The liquor is not chosen, the gratification is not intended, because it is wrong, but nevertheless it is wrong. To love God is right, but to suppose that God is loved because it is right, is absurd. It is to suppose that God is loved, not from any regard to God, but from a regard to right. This is an absurdity and a contradiction. To love or will the good of my neighbor, is right. But to will the right, instead of the good of my neighbor, is not right. It is loving right instead of my neighbor but, this is not right.
1. But it is objected, that I am conscious of affirming to myself that I ought to will the right. This is a mistake. I am conscious of affirming to myself, that I ought to will that, the willing of which is right, to wit, to ill the good of God and of being. This is right. But this is not choosing the right as an end.
But it is still insisted, that we are conscious of affirming obligation to will, and do, many things, simply and only because it is right thus to will, and do, and in view of this rightness.
To this I reply, that the immediate reason for the act, thought of at the time, and immediately present to the mind, may be the rightness of the act, but in such cases the rightness is only regarded by the mind as a condition and never as the ground of obligation. The act must be ultimate choice, or the choice of conditions and means. In ultimate choice, surely, the mind can never affirm, or think of the relation of rightness between the choice and its object, instead of the intrinsic value of the object, as the ground of obligation. Nor can the mind think of the relation of rightness between the choice of conditions and means, and its object, as the ground of the obligation to choose them. It does, and must, assume, the value of the end, as creating both the obligation to choose, and the relation in question. The fact is, the mind necessarily assumes, without always thinking of this assumption, its obligation to will the good, for its own sake, together with all the known conditions and means. Whenever therefore it perceives a condition, or a means of good, it instantly and necessarily affirms obligation to choose it, or, which is the same thing, it affirms the rightness of such choice. The rightness of the choice may be, and often is the thing immediately thought of, but the assumption is, and must be, in the mind, that this obligation, and hence the rightness is created by the nature of the object to which this thing sustains the relation of a condition or a means.
2. But it is said again, "I am conscious of affirming to myself that I ought to will the good of being, because it is right." This is, to will the good of being, as a means, and the right as an end! Which is making right the supreme good, and the good of being a means to that end. This is absurd. But to say, that I am conscious of affirming to myself my obligation to love or will the good of God and my neighbor, because it is right, is a contradiction. It is the same as to say, I ought to love, or intend the good of God and my neighbor, as an ultimate end, and yet not to intend the good of God and my neighbor, but intend the right.
3. But it is said, that "I ought to love God in compliance with, and out of respect to my obligation; that I ought to will it, because and for the reason that I am bound to will it." That is, that in loving God and my neighbor, I must intend to discharge or comply with my obligation; and this, it is said, is identical with intending the right. But ought my supreme object to be to discharge my duty to meet obligation, instead of willing the well-being of God and my neighbor for its own sake? If my end is to do my duty, I do not do it. For what is my obligation? Why, to love, or will the good of God and my neighbor, that is, as an end, or for its own value. To discharge my obligation, then, I must intend the good of God and my neighbor, as an end. That is, I must intend that which I am under an obligation to intend. But I am not under an obligation to intend the right, because it is right, nor do my duty because it is my duty, but to intend the good of God and my neighbor, because it is good. Therefore, to discharge my obligation, I must intend the good, and not the right the good of God and my neighbor and not to do my duty. I say again, to intend the good, or valuable, is right but to intend the right is not right.
4. But it is said, that in very many instances, at least, I am conscious of affirming my moral obligation to do the right, without any reference to the good of being, when I can assign no other reason for the affirmation of obligation than the right. For example, I behold virtue; I affirm spontaneously and necessarily, that I ought to love that virtue. And this, it is said, has no reference to the good of being. Is willing the right for the sake of right, and loving virtue, the same thing? But what is it to love virtue? Not a mere feeling of delight or complacency in it. It is agreed that moral obligation, strictly speaking, respects the ultimate intention only. What, then, do I mean by the affirmation that I ought to love virtue? What is virtue? It is ultimate intention, or an attribute of ultimate intention. But what is loving virtue? It consists in willing its existence. But it is said that I affirm my obligation to love virtue as an end, or for its own sake, and not from any regard to the good of being. This is absurd, and a contradiction. To love virtue, it is said, is to will its existence as an end. But virtue consists in intending an end. Now, to love virtue, it is said, is to will, intend its existence as an end, for its own sake. Then, according to this theory, I affirm my obligation to intend the intention of a virtuous being as an end, instead of intending the same end that he does. This is absurd; his intention is of no value, is neither naturally good nor morally good, irrespective of the end intended. It is neither right nor wrong, irrespective of the end chosen. It is therefore impossible to will, choose, intend the intention as an end, without reference to the end intended. To love virtue, then, is to love or will the end upon which virtuous intention terminates, namely, the good of being; or, in other words, to love virtue is to will its existence for the sake of the end it has in view, which is the same thing as to will the same end. Virtue is intending, choosing an end. Loving virtue is willing that the virtuous intention should exist for the sake of its end. Take away the end, and who would or could will the intention? Without the end, the virtue, or intention, would not and could not exist. It is not true, therefore, that in the case supposed, I affirm my obligation to will, or intend, without any reference to the good of being.
5. But again, it is said, that when I contemplate the moral excellence of God, I affirm my obligation to love Him solely for His goodness, without any reference to the good of being, and for no other reason than because it is right. But to love God because of His moral excellence, and because it is right, are not the same thing. It is a gross contradiction to talk of loving God for His moral excellence, because it is right. It is the same as to say, I love God for the reason that He is morally excellent, or worthy, yet not at all for this reason, but for the reason that it is right. To love God for His moral worth, is to will good to Him for its own sake upon condition that He deserves it. But to will His moral worth because it is right, is to will the right as an ultimate end, to have supreme regard to right, instead of the moral worth, or the well-being of God.
But it may reasonably be asked, why should rightarians bring forward these objections? They all assume that moral obligation may respect something else than ultimate intention. Why, I repeat it, should rightarians affirm that the moral excellence of God is the foundation of moral obligation, since they hold that right is the foundation of moral obligation? Why should the advocates of the theory that the moral excellence of God is the foundation of moral obligation, affirm that right is the foundation, or that we are bound to love God for His moral excellence, because this is right? These are gross contradictions. Rightarians hold that disinterested benevolence is a universal duty; that this benevolence consists in willing the highest good of being in general, for its own sake; that this good, by virtue of its own nature, imposes obligation to choose it, for its own sake, and therefore, and for this reason, it is right thus to choose it. But nevertheless all this, they most inconsistently affirm that right is universally the ground of obligation. Consistency must compel them to deny that disinterested benevolence ever is, or can be, duty and right, or to abandon the nonsensical dogma, that right is the ground of obligation. There is no end to the absurdities in which error involves its advocates, and it is singular to see the advocates of the different theories, each in his turn, abandon his own and affirm some other, as an objection to the true theory. It has also been, and still is, common for writers to confound different theories with each other, and to affirm, in the compass of a few pages, several different theories. At least this has been done in some instances.
Consistent rightarianism is a Godless, Christ less, loveless philosophy. This Kant saw and acknowledged. He calls it pure legality, that is, he understands the law as imposing obligation by virtue of its own nature, instead of the intrinsic value of the end, which the law requires moral agents to choose. He loses sight of the end, and does not recognize any end whatever. He makes a broad distinction between morality and religion. Morality consists, according to him, in the adoption of the maxim, "Do right for the sake of the right," or, "Act at all times upon a maxim fit for law universal." The adoption of this maxim is morality. But now, having adopted this maxim, the mind goes abroad to carry its maxim into practice. It finds God and being to exist, and sees it to be right to intend their good. This intending the good is religion, according to him. Thus, he says, ethics lead to or result in religion (See Kant, on Religion). But we feel prompted to inquire whether, when we apprehend God and being, we are to will their well-being as an end, or for its own sake, or because it is right? If for its own sake, where then is the maxim, "Will the right for the sake of the right?" For if we are to will the good, not as an ultimate end, but for the sake of the right, then right is the end that is preferred to the highest well-being of God and of the universe. It is impossible that this should be religion. Indeed Kant himself admits that this is not religion.
But enough of this cold and loveless philosophy. As it exalts right above all that is called God, and subverts all the teachings of the Bible, it cannot be a light thing to be deluded by it. But it is remarkable and interesting to see Christian rightarians, without being sensible of their inconsistency, so often confound this philosophy with that which teaches that good will to being constitutes virtue. Numerous examples of it occur everywhere in their writings, which demonstrate that rightarianism is with them only a theory that "plays round the head but comes not near the heart."