The Personal Aspect of Ethics
“Love thy neighbor as thyself” is the specific and unequivocal commandment emanating from the Jewish and Christian religions. But no one follows it, not even the priests, the rabbis, and the ministers that spell out the doctrine so clearly for the benefit of the laity, unless it is so watered down or “interpreted” as to have no more than a faint resemblance to the original directive. Of course, we often make decisions or take actions on the basis of considerations which give as much, or even more, weight to the good of others as to our own interests, and the extent to which this is done is to some extent an indication of the degree of compliance with the moral code, but, on the whole, our concerns are with our own personal problems (including those of our immediate family, which are, in a very real sense, our own problems). Except for such attention as one may pay to the affairs of others in the course of earning his own living, it is unlikely that any individual devotes more than a very small fraction of his constructive thought to the concerns of his neighbors. However sympathetic he may be to his neighbor’s difficulties, when he does get around to considering them, life is full of problems for him, too, and these are his primary concern.
Now, if the exhortation with which this chapter opened means just what it says, and if it is a valid expression of the moral code, then we humans are in an awkward predicament. The code requires a course of action which for most, if not all, of us is physically impossible. It is quite appropriate, therefore, that we should extend our present inquiry into this area, and to see what bearing our scientific findings may have on the personal aspect of ethics.
There is a school of thought which holds that the subject of ethics is purely a social matter. “All ethics are social ethics,”339 says Ludwig von Mises. “One could hardly be moral, or immoral, without other people,”336 contends Walzer. This view we must summarily reject. Our analysis in the preceding chapters indicates that the moral obligation is an obligation to do our part in carrying out the purpose for which the universe exists, the development of ethical men. Social cooperation plays a part in this development, to be sure, a very important part, but there are also aspects which are peculiar to the individual. The basic fact here is that each individual has the primary responsibility for the effectiveness of his own contribution toward the general objective. There is no alternative; no one else is in a position to exercise the control that is a prerequisite for responsibility. And since we have identified this objective as the fundamental moral objective, it follows that the responsibilities of the individual in connection with his own activities are moral responsibilities.
This is a very important point. In a great many instances the distinction between “good” or moral action and “evil” or immoral action hinges on whether the action is determined by purely selfish considerations or gives due weight to the needs and desires of others. Recognition of this point has encouraged the belief that actions taken primarily for one’s own benefit are always violations of the moral code, and that behavior is not moral unless it gives at least equal weight to the interests of others. This is what the “love thy neighbor as thyself” directive tell us, if we accept it at face value. But our analysis arrives at the conclusion that we have certain moral responsibilities that can well be described as “selfish,” in that they require giving self-interest precedence over the interests of others.
It is obvious that one cannot continue to contribute toward the objective of human existence if he ceases to exist, and the first responsibility of this selfish nature is therefore survival. Recognition of self-preservation as a moral obligation clarifies the application of the moral code to those situations in which survival is involved. Self-defense, for instance, is now simply a case of giving the required greater weight to the primary moral obligation of self-preservation than to the important, but less direct, moral obligation to refrain from taking the life of another. Deliberate sacrifice of one’s own life to save that of another, an act that is highly praised by most moralists, is not moral at all, according to our analysis, unless some very special circumstances are involved, such as the existence of a definite responsibility for the security of the other person, inasmuch as this action gives less weight to a primary responsibility, self-preservation, than to a responsibility which is no more than secondary at best.
It should be understood, of course, that this does not justify usurpation of a right to survival that belongs to someone else by virtue of established custom or some other legitimate claim. For example, it does not justify violating the “women and children first” rule of the sea. Neither does it justify refusal to accept a reasonable risk for the benefit of others under appropriate circumstances.
The justification for self-defense is not seriously questioned in most ethical systems or moral codes, even though reconciling this act with the basic principles of those systems or codes encounters serious difficulties in many cases. It is not likely, therefore, that the preceding comments on self-defense will evoke any strenuous opposition. However, further extension of the same general principle leads to some conclusions that will be widely questioned, and it therefore seems advisable to emphasize the fact that both the premises upon which these conclusions are based and the reasoning that is involved in arriving at them is identical with those from which the justification for self-defense was derived.
The first of these additional conclusions is that, in order to carry out our moral obligations, we must not only continue to exist but must also maintain ourselves in good physical condition. Actions such as overindulgence in alcohol, drugs, etc., are definitely violations of the moral code, inasmuch as they prevent the individuals concerned from making their full contribution toward the objective of existence. This illustrates the weakness of those theories that portray ethics as purely social. On the basis of these theories, an alcoholic is violating the moral code only if his relations with others are unfavorably affected, whereas our analysis indicates that his major offense lies in what he has done to himself.
Now let us enter some of the disputed territory. If we follow the reasoning in the preceding discussion a little farther, it becomes clear that there is a positive aspect to this matter of physical condition as well as a negative aspect. We have a moral obligation not only to refrain from doing those things that will cause physical deterioration, but to do those things that will promote physical well-being. Thus, what is commonly called “good living”—adequate and nutritionally effective food, comfortable living quarters, etc.—is not only a privilege to be enjoyed; it is something that an individual has a moral obligation to provide for himself and his family if he is at all able to do so. One should eat enough to stay in good health, if he can, even though he knows that somewhere in the world others go hungry.
Furthermore, good physical condition is not the only prerequisite for an effective contribution toward the general moral objective. Good mental condition is likewise required. Just as favorable physical conditions are necessary for satisfactory biological development, so favorable biological conditions are necessary for satisfactory ethical development. The individual who is constantly harassed by financial problems, domestic problems, and the like, is not in a condition to think clearly about moral issues. Each person therefore has the same kind of an obligation in this respect that he has with regard to his physical condition; that is, he must try, so far as his circumstances permit, to minimize these disturbing influences. In today’s society, the primary means of accomplishing this end is the achievement of a certain degree of financial security.
To many persons, this conclusion that an individual has a moral obligation to live a pleasant, comfortable, and untroubled life, so far as he is able, will seem utterly reprehensible, and little short of sacrilegious. Our findings do get a little support. Hocking, for example, contends that “There is a duty to enjoyment—not usually necessary to insist on.”340 Rabbi Gittelsohn says, “Judaism teaches that in the end each man is accountable for the legitimate pleasures of life of which he failed to avail himself.”341 Even Kant meets us half way. “To seek prosperity for itself is not directly a duty,” he says, “but indirectly it can very well be a duty, in order to guard against poverty which is a great temptation to vice.”342 But it must be conceded that, as a theoretical proposition, the great majority of those who adhere to a moral code of one kind or another will judge these findings to be incompatible with that code.
In view of our previous conclusion (in Chapter 18) that what human beings think about basic moral issues is in most cases an intuitive perception of the truth, this general disapproval may seem to raise a serious question as to the validity of the current finding. But it is extremely doubtful whether these persons actually believe what they claim to believe. As an abstract proposition, they may give support to this disapproving view, but when it comes to a matter of practical application, they almost invariably do exactly what our analysis indicates that they should do. They give priority to establishing good living conditions for themselves and their families, not to the exclusion of other obligations, but definitely relegating them to a subordinate position. Hence, if we judge what people really think about this issue by what they do rather than by what they say—a criterion that is generally recognized as more reliable—then the principle from Chapter 18 supports the conclusions we have now reached.
The origin of the common practice of branding self-interest as inherently immoral is quite obvious. As we have seen, self-interest is the primary element in Sector 2 behavior, that of the biological organism, whereas the code of Sector 3 involves a considerable degree of subordination of self-interest to the interests of others. The major problem of the religious organizations and moralists in general has therefore been largely a matter of persuading individuals to reduce the role of self-interest in their decision making. To simplify the problem of persuasion, and to strengthen the case for altruism, the moralists have taken what seemed to be the easiest course, and have characterized all self-interest as inherently evil. In common with many other excesses committed with the best of intentions, this has had some serious consequences.
One of these has been the emergence of various types of asceticism, the essence of which is the contention that the interests of man’s physical body are antagonistic to the interests of his moral nature, and that denial of physical wants therefore has a positive moral value. The extreme practices in which the body is actually tortured for the sake of the presumed moral benefit are generally repudiated by present-day opinion, but there is a strong tinge of asceticism in most of the major religions. The Christian emphasis on the conflict between the demands of the “flesh” and those of the “spirit” is typical.
An ascetic doctrine that receives widespread support, explicitly or by implication, is that there is no virtue in doing anything that we actually want to do; the morally commendable actions are the distasteful ones that we carry out from a sense of duty. Religious organizations seldom make any serious attempt to explain their dicta—questioning the commands of the Deity is pointless—but Immanuel Kant has developed this viewpoint at some length, and his name is commonly associated with its expression as a philosophical principle. It is of interest to note that Kant has gone astray because he has misapplied a perfectly valid principle, which he also enunciated. He recognized, as a great many other philosophers, particularly those with strong religious ties, have failed to do, that actions taken in anticipation of reward or to avoid punishment have no moral significance. From the moral standpoint, they have the same standing as any other acts taken in the interest of self-satisfaction. But having arrived at this sound conclusion, Kant then made the assumption that, if a person derives what may be called moral satisfaction from an act, the anticipation of this satisfaction must have been the incentive for the act, and on the basis of the principle just stated, this deprives the act of any moral significance.
A man may be a very good man without being morally good in the sense of the ethics… of Kant. For a man may be by inclination benevolent, well meaning, unselfish, etc… . All those actions towards which he was moved by his “good” inclinations (whether inborn or acquired) would be, according to Kant, ethically neutral—neither good nor bad. For only actions done for the sake of duty, rather than out of benevolent inclination, can be “good” in Kant’s sense.321 (Karl Popper)
The findings of this work are diametrically opposed to Kant’s views as described in the foregoing quotation from Popper, and the Kantian version of asceticism must therefore be rejected as firmly as the more extreme forms. Our scientific analysis of the situation shows that ethical man follows the moral code simply because the rules that constitute the code are the rules that govern the behavior of ethical men. An ethical man is “by inclination benevolent, well meaning, etc.,” and all of his actions are taken as a result of his “good inclinations.” The fact that some other person may do the same thing “for the sake of duty” and seemingly against his own inclination simply means that the latter individual is not as far advanced toward the status of ethical man, and is able to do the right thing only after overcoming resistance from the Sector 2 influences to which he is subject.
The basic error of asceticism lies in its assumption of a conflict between physical well-being and morality. We find, in our analysis, not only that the alleged conflict is non-existent, but that maintaining good physical and mental condition is a positive moral requirement. Actions that harm the physical body are violations of the moral code regardless of whether they are motivated by self-indulgence or by a desire for moral improvement. Like all other violations of the code, they can be justified only if they result in the production of some positive moral values that outweigh the harmful physical consequences.
Asceticism is not the only doctrine in this area that is revealed as false and misleading in the light of our new findings. The whole concept of moral behavior as a burden and sacrifice is tarred with the same brush. There is no reason why one who follows the moral code cannot lead as pleasant and agreeable a life as anyone else. He can meet all of the legitimate demands of his physical mechanism—indeed, to be moral he must do so, to the best of his ability. He can, so far as his circumstances permit, enjoy the pleasant aspects of human life; such things, in themselves, have no moral connotations one way or the other. To be sure, he must refrain from acting as an animal in those instances where the conduct of animals and that of ethical men differs, but this is no burden. An ethical man wants to act in this manner. He does not want to be dishonest; he does not want to injure his neighbor; he does not want to follow the “tooth and claw” code of the animal world.
“There must be definite limits to our duties,” contends Hazlitt. “People must be allowed a moral breathing spell once in a while.”304 Here again, moral behavior is portrayed as a burden, an intolerable burden from which an individual must occasionally be relieved. Nothing could be farther from the truth. This is just another of the fallacious and harmful conclusions that follow from an erroneous concept of the essential nature of the moral code, the “joyless ethic” of so many religions in which moral behavior appears as a dreary sacrifice for which recompense must be made in some future existence. Fortunately, a recognition of the error into which these religions have fallen is growing. A recent editorial in the journal Theology Today has this to say:
The narrowness and negativism, the oppressive moralism long associated with one type of religious behavior, are now being increasingly rejected as a human style of life and are recognized as the products of a limited and parochial view of culture and a desiccated view of man and creation.343
Those religions that have an “other-worldly” outlook generally tend to regard the pursuit of pleasure, political or economic power, or other non-religious objectives as antithetical to religious beliefs, and are all open in some degree to the criticism expressed in the foregoing quotation. An excessive concentration on secular objectives to the exclusion of religious considerations would, of course, be incompatible with a religious life, but ethical decisions are made, and ethical actions are taken in actual practice. Participation in the activities of the secular world is therefore essential in order to gain experience in the application of ethical principles. If it is possible at all, which is highly questionable, development of a well-rounded ethical personality without such experience is obviously very difficult. This is a general rule that applies throughout human life. One may learn the rudiments of any skill through instruction, but proficiency comes only from experience.
The status of experience as a prerequisite for achieving the objective of human existence also leads to the conclusion that withdrawal from worldly activities, a practice looked upon with favor in many religious systems, is not an effective way of attaining the objective. As mentioned in the discussion of the revelation process in Chapter 10, intense concentration upon the particular matter under consideration, to the virtual exclusion of everything else, appears to be helpful in setting the stage for the “flash of insight” that is required. But whatever the nature of the subject matter may be—religious, scientific, or other—a certain level of knowledge and experience is necessary before an individual can make the intuitive jump to a significant conclusion, and experience cannot be gained in isolation. In many respects, life on earth is analogous to a game. A player can improve his performance to some extent by studying the principles of the game and by doing some thinking as to how best to apply these principles, but proficiency comes only as a result of practice and participation in the game. Buddha, Mohammed, and other religious leaders who withdrew into solitude to perfect their understanding were not hermits; they were men of the world who had accumulated a rich fund of secular experience before they undertook a life of solitary contemplation.
The game analogy can appropriately be applied to human life in many ways—in our view of the place of religion in life, for instance. Religion is one of the most important sources of advice as to how to play the game of life. Anyone who undertakes to play a game receives a great deal of advice—much of it conflicting—as to the manner of play. The value of this advice to the player does not depend upon the authority attributed to the source from which it is derived, or upon the degree of acceptance with which it is received. That value is determined entirely by the amount of gain or loss in performance that is accomplished by actual application of the recommended procedures. The same is true in the game of life. Strict conformity with the rules and regulations of one’s religion is of no avail unless those rules and regulations do, in fact, express the requirements of the true moral code. It is extremely unfortunate, from the standpoint of society as a whole, that the agency of the social order that has the primary responsibility for encouraging conformity with the moral code should be so much inclined to portray that compliance as a burdensome task. But as individuals, we have the remedy in our own hands. We can, and should, refuse to accept this distortion of the truth. Each person has the responsibility of examining the moral doctrines of his religion and determining for himself whether they are valid expressions of the Sector 3 code. Those that cannot stand up under the application of reason should be rejected regardless of the source from which they emanate.
It should also be noted that we cannot win the game of life, or any other game, on the strength of good intentions. Of course, we must have an intention to win, but this is not, in itself, sufficient. There must be actual accomplishment. Those religions that offer some kind of a shortcut whereby the full status of ethical man can be attained by fiat are in direct conflict with the conclusion that the purpose of human existence is the development of ethical men. If that objective could be attained by decree, there would be no need for the huge and complicated mechanism that constitutes the physical universe.
Like other games, the game of life involves an element of chance. This is particularly evident in economic and other non-moral areas, but chance may also play a significant role in determining the extent to which the ethical personality is developed during an individual’s lifetime. The handicaps that are imposed on ethical progress where living conditions are unfavorable have already been mentioned. Chance events may also result in termination of life before a person has had adequate time to make significant ethical progress. These are some of the considerations that have led to the conclusion that an alternate route to the ultimate goal of human existence is required, and have inspired the conception of the shortcuts that are now being offered by many religions. Our rejection of these religious answers to the problems that are involved raises questions of equity and justice that should have some attention. We will review them in Chapter 28.
Even if chance does not intervene to prevent victory in a game, one may still not achieve the amount of success to which he would be entitled on the basis of his skill. If the game is under the control of an umpire, a referee, or other official, the player may be the victim of a wrong decision. Or if the game is one involving team play, some member of one’s own team may not respond to his moves in the proper manner. Nor will the captain or manager of the team always give each player full opportunity to display his talents. So it is in the game of life. We are always subject to the vagaries of chance, and we are continually encountering obstacles placed in our way, intentionally or unintentionally, by the human individuals with whom we deal. Like those who are successful in playing other games, what we need to do is to learn to take these things in stride, to play the game to the best of our ability, and to enjoy the game while we are playing it.
In order to put human life into the proper perspective, it is necessary to recognize that human existence is an ongoing process, one that is directed toward ethical perfection (and perhaps some other goals as well—a point that we will discuss later). We are therefore imperfect by definition, aspirants rather than masters, and although our task is to overcome our imperfections, there is no sound reason why our inability to accomplish this task quickly and completely should lead us into the anxiety, guilt, and despair that are emphasized by the existentialist philosophers and are incorporated in a modified form into so many religious doctrines. We have a legacy from our animal origins (whether or not we call it “original sin”) that has to be overcome before we can reach our ultimate goal. But the fact that this objective has not yet been reached does not justify our acceptance of the sense of guilt that so many are trying to force upon us. Nor is it catastrophic if we stumble occasionally as we advance toward the goal. We are fulfilling our purpose as long as we continue making substantial progress in the right direction.
The general situation with respect to the personal aspect of morality can be clarified to a considerable degree by a consideration of what we may call “Crusoe ethics.” In the early days of the development of economic theory, it was quite common to approach economic questions from the standpoint of how the various principles involved would apply to a lone individual on an isolated island. These “Robinson Crusoe” economics are now out-of-style, so to speak, but they served a very valuable purpose (in fact, economic theory would be a great deal better off today if more attention were paid to this simple situation of the lone producer-consumer), and a somewhat similar approach to the morality of the lone individual can be equally productive.
On the basis of the principles that we have established, it is evident that Crusoe has a moral obligation to keep himself alive and in good mental and physical condition. He has no primary obligation to work. If work is necessary to meet the primary obligations just mentioned, as it normally would be, then work is a requirement, but this is only a conditional obligation. If the island has a warm climate and plenty of coconut trees, the primary obligations may be satisfied with little or no actual productive effort. If Crusoe does work, either by choice or from necessity, there is no requirement that he limit his work to the minimum amount that is actually essential. An excessive amount of work that would be physically detrimental is barred by the moral code, but in between the minimum that is required and the maximum that is allowed, there is a very substantial margin in which he may make economic decisions. He can choose between leisure and the products of effort, and, to the extent that he elects to work, he can choose between one type of product and another. He can make choices as to methods and procedures, the extent to which he diverts time and effort from direct production to the making of tools, for example. He can decide how much use he wants to make of the possibility of storing goods for future consumption, and so on.
In this economic activity, Crusoe is living in accordance with the principle of hedonism; he is taking those actions which he believes will bring him the greatest amount of satisfaction. But this hedonism, as he practices it, is not a principle of morality; it has no moral significance at all. As soon as any moral element enters into the situation, the moral aspect is controlling and satisfaction or pleasure is irrelevant. For instance, any intentional action that inflicts physical injury on himself is a violation of the moral code, and if Crusoe is acting as an ethical man, he will avoid such an action, no matter how much pleasure he might have derived from it.
Prudence has always been regarded by philosophers as an important moral virtue, even to the extent that it has been classified by some—Epicurus and Bentham, for instance—as the primary virtue. But it is evident that to Crusoe, prudence is no more than a conditional obligation, inasmuch as imprudent conduct normally does no more than lessen his pleasure and his comforts. Only in the exceptional case does it involve consequences that make it a violation of the moral code. Like pleasure, prudence is primarily a matter of economics in Crusoe’s life, rather than a matter of ethics.
There is nothing in the moral code, as it emerges from our analysis, that would bar Crusoe from killing and eating the animals on the island. In fact, his primary obligation of survival requires that he eat some kind of biological organism, and our analysis shows that there is no basic difference between the status of animals and that of plants. But observation indicates that animals do experience the sensation of pain, and Crusoe has an obligation to avoid inflicting unnecessary pain in the course of his food-gathering activities. Fundamentally, this principle applies to our conduct toward other human beings. The moral code requires that we act in a manner considerate of the interests of others, including adding to their pleasure, so far as this is consistent with our other obligations, and avoiding giving them pain. This obligation carries over into our dealings with animal life, to the extent that it is applicable; that is, to the extent that animals share the sensations that are to be avoided. Cruelty to animals is definitely a violation of the code.
Some digression from our current theme to elaborate on this point may be in order, inasmuch as certain religions carry it to extremes and forbid the use of animals as food, or even, in some cases, prohibit the killing of insect pests. In appraising this position, what we need to remember is that the basic requirement of the moral code is to direct our actions toward the moral objective; that is, to contribute forward fulfillment of the purpose of human existence. This means that we must endeavor to perfect our own ethical personalities, to assist others in doing likewise, and to avoid anything that would hinder these developments. On this basis, taking the life of a human being without adequate justification of a moral nature is clearly a violation of the code, inasmuch as it eliminates all possibility of further ethical improvement of that individual. Taking the life of an animal has no such effect, as the animal cannot develop an ethical personality in any event. It follows that this is not a violation of the code, unless the conditions surrounding the act have human implications of some kind. We are therefore entitled to judge this act on the basis of non-moral considerations. In the usual case, these considerations will be economic.
Cruelty, on the other hand, cannot be justified on any grounds. It is, by definition, unnecessary, and being contrary to the Golden Rule, it is a violation of the code under any circumstances. Of course, animals cannot follow the Golden Rule, since they are subject to a totally different law. Consequently, this rule is not applicable to relationships between man and animals. But ethical man must live up to his own standards, and the moral code is applicable to his actions, irrespective of the status of the others that are affected. Cruelty to animals is not wrong because of what is done to the animal. That animal is entitled to nothing more than what he would get under the biological law that governs his own activities. It is wrong because of what is done by man.
Aside from considerations of this kind, morality has little application to the relations between Crusoe and animals in the wild state, but if any of these are domesticated, an entirely new element enters into the picture. There is now a contractual obligation. The animal provides certain services to Crusoe (which may be nothing more than being readily available for eating), and in return, Crusoe undertakes the responsibility of providing food, shelter, protection, etc. Any failure to meet these responsibilities is a violation of the code, even though there is no obligation at all to provide the same services to wild animals of the same species.
If Crusoe now makes contact with another isolated individual on a neighboring island, a whole new set of moral considerations arises. Inasmuch as the basic moral obligation is to contribute toward the fulfillment of the purpose of human existence, Crusoe’s obligations are no longer confined to maximizing his own personal contribution. Anything that he can do to increase the contribution made by his neighbor, without a significant decrease in his own, is likewise required of him. If the neighbor, Joe Doakes, let us call him, is in danger of starvation, Crusoe is morally obligated to supply food from is own stores, providing that this can be done without risking his own health.
On the other hand, if Doakes lives a marginal existence without comforts and conveniences because he has exercised his privilege of economic choice and has chosen leisure rather than labor and the fruits of labor, Crusoe has no such sharing obligation. As pointed out earlier, there is a range of economic possibilities within which each man is free to make his own decisions, without any moral implications one way or the other. In the case we are now considering, Doakes has made one choice, Crusoe another. If each is acting rationally, each has elected the course that will give him the greatest overall economic satisfaction. Crusoe is not called upon to correct any unbalance, because no such unbalance exists. If he were to divert some of his own goods to Doakes under the mistaken impression that he was morally required to do so, he would be creating an unbalance where none existed before.
This situation remains the same if Doakes makes his decisions on some ground other than his preference for leisure. If, for instance, the use of tools is prohibited by his religious beliefs, his productivity will suffer just as severely as if he limited his hours of work. Regardless of the reason which he assigns to it, his refusal to use tools is actually an economic decision. An act or a decision has a moral significance only if it has actual relevance to the moral code. The fact that someone thinks an act is moral does not alter its true economic character. Doakes has simply chosen whatever satisfaction he may derive from following his religious taboos in preference to the satisfaction he would derive from the additional goods. Here again, if he is acting rationally, he is maximizing his total satisfactions. If the portion of these satisfactions arising out of the consumption of goods is not as large as he would like, and he looks with envy on the prosperity enjoyed by Crusoe, the remedy is in his own hands. He can alter his economic decisions accordingly. If he chooses to retain his superstitions rather than increase his productivity, the responsibility is his own; he has no legitimate claim on Crusoe.
It should be noted, however, that there are some additional considerations which apply if Crusoe’s efforts have been unexpectedly productive, or if some fortuitous circumstance has increased his supply of goods, so that there is an actual surplus over and above what he requires for his own needs. In that event, some sharing with his less fortunate neighbor is in order. But even here some caution is necessary. Giving to others is not inherently moral. Like many of the other activities that we have discussed, it is only a means of accomplishing a moral objective, which in this case is to confer a benefit on the recipient. This does not automatically follow; the gift may accomplish nothing, or it may even be detrimental. With the good start provided by his natural indolence, a period of living on the bounty of another may make Doakes completely unfit to care for himself. And even if this can be avoided, it must be recognized that neither substantial nor permanent improvement in Doakes’ situation can be accomplished by means of outside assistance. Such improvement can take place only by adoption of more efficient methods and practices, and the effect of the temporary assistance supplied by Crusoe may well be to postpone the necessary changes, thus more than offsetting any good that may result from the gift.
As can be seen from the foregoing discussion, the transition from Crusoe’s original one-man society to a society of two individuals has greatly increased the number and complexity of the moral problems involved, even though the nature of the relationship between these two persons is extremely simple. Further development of the society by the addition of more individuals, introduction of different kinds of relationships, and modification of the physical environment results in an ever-increasing complexity of moral issues, but the general principles that govern the relations between two individuals are equally applicable in the wider context. It is obvious, for example, that the points brought out with reference to the aid that Crusoe may extend to his neighbor have direct relevance to many present-day problems.
This is the last of five chapters devoted to ethical subjects, and in closing the discussion, it will be appropriate to point out that the primary cause of the difficulty heretofore experienced in constructing a consistent system of ethical theory has been the lack of any clear idea as to the objective of ethics. Any discipline which can extend hospitality to two general theories as far apart as hedonism, which makes pleasure the criterion of morality, and asceticism, which finds morality in the denial of pleasure, is obviously in need of some more distinct direction signs. The most significant contribution of the present work in the ethical field has therefore been to identify the moral objective.
Like the conclusions reached in the earlier pages, this identification is a scientific product, based in the first instance on established facts, and derived from those facts by a series of logical processes. The primary moral objective, the moral code, and all of the aspects of the application of that code that have been developed in this series of five chapters are integral parts of the far-reaching system of scientific theory that now ties the physical and the metaphysical aspects of existence together in one great whole.