Imágenes de páginas

solute and the utilitarian. In one view, Right and Wrong are absolute facts, belonging to the nature of things; the human mind is endowed with the power to recognize them, and the recognition carries with it an inherent feeling of obligation on the side of Right, which is the " ought to” of our sense of duty. In the other view, Right and Wrong in human conduct are mere backward reflections from its consequences, and our recognition of them is derived from our observation of what is and what is not conducive to happiness. To the stoic, virtue is the end, happiness a result from it - an incident. To the epicurean, on the contrary, happiness (which the utilitarian of modern times explains to be “the greatest happiness of the greatest number”) is the end, and virtue the necessary means to the attainment of it. The stoic doctrine lifts morality to the nobler level, and gives a dignity to right conduct that is wholly denied by the epicurean or utilitarian philosophy. It has a powerful attraction, therefore, for noble minds; it is congenial to noble spirits; they incline naturally to the acceptance of it, as a true representation of what they find in themselves. But how far different would they have found the springs of conduct in themselves if they had never known the philosophic doctrine? It has satisfied them intellectually, but how far has it influenced them morally? I suspect that the influence has really been small, and that the practical importance, as affecting motives and conduct, of all that has been written in systematic moral philosophy, by philosophers of either school, from Aristotle to Mill, is estimated commonly with much exaggeration.

Plutarch, who wrote moral essays on the cure of anger, on envy and hatred, on tranquillity of mind, and like topics, was neither a moral philosopher nor a maker of precepts; and neither a stoic nor an epicurean. He

wrote against epicureanism, but rather in protest against sensual notions of happiness than in support of any philosophical theory of ethics; and he moralizes in his essays by the pleasant method of anecdote and example, more than by pointed admonition.

The two great representatives of stoic morality among the ancients were Epictetus, the slave, and Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor.

In no proper sense of the term were they moral philosophers, as they are frequently called. They were greater than philosophers, — they were practical moralists, of the sublimest order. They did not support the stoic philosophy by any systematic writing, but they illustrated the ethical ideas of stoicism by their lives and by the precepts they formulated ; and the stoic creed has influenced morals a thousand times more through the pregnant injunctions and examples of these two men, the slave and the emperor, than through the logic of all its philosophers. Stoicism as a philosophy founds itself, as I have said, on the belief in an intuitive cognition of right and wrong, — an innate moral sense. Stoicism as a doctrine of life is the acted consciousness of an eternal superiority in the soul of man to all the conditions of its existence in a body of clay. It was an inspiring faith in the world before Zeno composed a philosophy to support it. It was voiced, as we have seen, in the most ancient moral poetry of the Hindus. Socrates illuminated it in his life and in everything that he taught. It was set forth broadly and strongly by Aristotle. But the great stoic moralists made it conspicuous, as never before, - supreme above other considerations that bear on conduct and life. Sovereignty of spirit over flesh, of reason over passion, is the surpassing attainment through moral discipline, in the stoic view. Thence come temperance, or moderation in all things ; fortitude, or courage to deal

with vicissitudes, both good and ill; faithfulness to duty; submissiveness to the divine ordering of the world; contentment. “Require not things to happen,' said Epictetus," as you wish ; but wish them to happen as they do happen ; and all will go on well.” Another of his sayings is this : “ Remember that you are an actor in a drama, of such a kind as the author pleases to make it. If short, of a short one; if long, of a long one. If it be his pleasure that you should act a poor man, a cripple, a governor, or a private person, see that you act it naturally. For this is your business, to act well the character assigned you: to choose it is another’s.” To the same purpose said Marcus Aurelius : “Live with the gods. And he does live with the gods who constantly shows them that his own soul is satisfied with that which is assigned to him.” Again : “ Think not so much of what thou hast not as of what thou hast; but of the things which thou hast, select the best, and then reflect how eagerly they would have been sought if thou hadst them not.” Among the many fine injunctions of the great emperor there is none finer than this : « Men exist for one another. Teach them then, or bear with them." And this : “Let it make no difference to thee whether thou art cold or warm, if thou art doing thy duty; and whether thou art drowsy or satisfied with sleep; and whether ill-spoken of or praised; and whether dying or doing something else. For it is one of the acts of life, this act by which we die; it is sufficient, then, in this act also, to do well what we have in hand.”

These are pagan morals. Has Christianity improved on them? The question is now timely, for we have arrived, in our hasty survey, within the Christian era. The life of Epictetus was in its first century; that of Marcus Aurelius in the second. It is improbable that either of them knew aught of the teachings of Christ.





[ocr errors]

In the Sermon on the Mount we have the greater part of the moral prescriptions of Jesus gathered up. With some additions to be made to it from the parables and other portions of the gospels, it may be called the Moral Code of Christianity. In most of its precepts, the Sermon on the Mount differs little from older codes. It repeats the Golden Rule, already formulated in the East. It urges righteousness and purity of heart in general terms. It enjoins humility, meekness, mercifulness, forgiveness, kindly feeling towards one's enemies, sincerity in speech, self-examination, good example. It condemns anger, contention, retaliation, hypocrisy, ostentation in almsgiving and prayer, mammon-worship, anxiety for the future, censoriousness, the taking of oaths. Thus far it contains nothing that is not common to the moralists of earlier times and other regions. In a single point, only, I should

it reveals a depth of moral perception not discovered before. That is where lustfulness is tracked from the lustful deed to the lustful thought, and the breaking of marriage except for one cause is forbidden. But that alone cannot lift it to any great supremacy above other moral codes.

Nevertheless, there is a difference, very great, between the higher moral notions of antiquity and the higher moral notions of the modern Christian world. What is it? From what does it arise ? I think the answer is this: The difference is one, not of quality, but of breadth - of amplitude — of practical range; and Jesus gave the key to a moral dispensation as distinctly new as the religious dispensation that he introduced was new, when he answered the lawyer's question, “Who is my neighbor ?by the parable of the Good Samaritan ; and when, to the amazement of his disciples, he talked with the woman of Samaria, and abode two days in that alien city, teaching

[ocr errors]

its people. This would seem to have been the startingpoint of an effective wakening of mankind to the larger sense of human fellowship,- of fellowship between men as men, extending beyond tribal lines and race lines, embracing all. The higher civilizations of antiquity had developed a full understanding, as it seems to me, of all the essential principles of moral law, but shrunk them to a narrow application. All that makes Right in the conduct of one man towards another was perfectly recognized, as between two who stood related in some familiar way, as members of the same family group, the same tribe, the same city, the same state. Dimly the recognition might stretch sometimes, and in some particulars, over the large kinship of race; but it has rarely gone to that limit in any primitive society of either ancient or modern times. Within such bounds of obligation, Ptah-hotep, the Egyptian of five thousand years ago, the composers of the Hebrew proverbs, the authors of the Hindu epics and of the Laws of Manu, had little to learn of moral duty or restraint from our Christian twentieth century. The laws of rectitude between their “neighbors ” and themselves they knew well ; but their “ neighbors” dwelt closely around them, worshipped the same gods, obeyed the same king, spoke the same language, followed the same habits of life. For the “ stranger,” outside the gates of their community, they held a very different moral code.

From the time of Christ to our day, two influences have been steadily, slowly working together, to expand that narrowness and littleness of moral view which seems so inveterate in the human mind. One of those influences and I dare not say that it is the more potent one has been the teaching that compelled the disciples of Christ, first to see a “neighbor" in even the detested Samaritan,

« AnteriorContinuar »