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“Do naught to others which if done to thee
Would cause thee pain; this is the sum of duty.”
“ This is the sum of all true righteousness:
By looking on his neighbor as himself.”
be called relative altruism, or the determination of duty to others by one's own claims. But a more absolute altruism of feeling is inculcated in the same poem :
“ Enjoy thou the prosperity of others,
Take pleasure in their neighbor's happiness.”
“To injure none by thought or word or deed,
Without a thought of their own interest." The Code of Manu teaches the same absolute considerateness for the feelings as well as for the rights of others:
“Wound not another, though by him provoked,
Utter no word to pain thy fellow-creatures." And where in all ethical literature is there a more sublime injunction than this, in the same Code, which throws the final and true motive of right conduct back to the soul's own consciousness of right?
“ The soul is its own witness, yea the soul
Itself is its own refuge; grieve thou not,
Among the Chinese, who, since the sixth century before Christ, have taken their teaching in morals from Confucius, there seems never to have been recognized so absolute a principle of right in spirit and conduct; but Confucius set forth the Golden Rule most distinctly. In the “Confucian Analects," as translated by Professor Legge, Tsze-kung asked : “ Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one's life?” to which the Master replied: “Is not Reciprocity such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” Apparently Confucius regarded this as a simple rule of expediency — the suggestion to a practical mind of the plan of dealings between men most likely to make their intercourse satisfactory to each and all. Indeed, it is wholly a practical, expedient wisdom that we find in the teachings of Confucius. There is rarely, in his injunctions, the glimpse of a principle out of which other rules might be drawn; but almost always the Confucian precept is an indisputable decision of common sense, applied concretely to some of the circumstances of life. In one respect, however, Confucius was far advanced beyond all other ancient teachers of the East. That was in his urgency of teaching. “ Instruct sons and younger brothers;” “make much of the colleges and seminaries;” “ describe and explain the laws;" instruct others; learn from others; question others; — this is largely the burden of the admonitions of the Master and his disciples. And the appeal was effective. If their apprehension of what is valuable in knowledge had equalled the zeal for education with which Confucius inspired them, the Chinese would probably be the best educated among the peoples of the world to-day.
If we now turn westward again, in the world of antiquity, and come back to the Mediterranean, this time
arriving on its northern shore, among the Greeks, we shall meet first a counsellor of morals whose views are as worldly-wise and plainly practical as those of Confucius, and whose teachings hardly rise to the height of the doctrine of Reciprocity. It is Hesiod, the ancient bard, who, in one part of his “ Works and Days,” addresses moral advice to a certain Perses, apparently his brother. The advice all tends correctly enough to good conduct, — to respect for virtue, to desire for wisdom, to piety, to hospitality, to neighborly good-will, to general prudence and decency of life. But the motives appealed to are not high, as may be seen in a few passages taken out of the translation made by Mr. C. A. Elton :
“Bid to thy feast a friend; thy foe forbear." And :
“ Love him who loves thee; to the kind draw nigh ;
Men fill the giving, not the ungiving hand.” Another sentiment of the poem is significant of the prevalence of bad faith among the Greeks :
“ Not e’en thy brother on his word believe,
But, as in laughter, set a witness by.” If Hesiod, who is supposed to have lived in the eighth century before Christ, represented the moral ideas of the better-cultured Greeks of his time, and if the “Golden Verses” ascribed to Pythagoras were composed in the sixth or fifth century before Christ, the moral advance made in the intervening two or three hundred years was very great. In the “ Golden Verses” there is no trace of utilitarianism, either practical or philosophical. The appeal is always to the soul itself, as its own monitor:
“Let rev'rence of thyself thy thoughts control,
And guard the sacred temple of thy soul.” “ Let no example, let no soothing tongue,
thee with a syren's song,
in slumbers on thy weary eyes,
Rejoice, my heart, for all went well to-day.” I quote from a translation made by the old English dramatist, Nicholas Rowe. This undoubtedly takes some modernness of tone from the translator, as the poetry of the ancients is almost sure to do; but the fine spirit of it is readily seen.
Thus far all the ethical teachings we have reviewed have come from what Principal Sir Alexander Grant, of the University of Edinburgh, has called “ the era of popular or unconscious morals.' We are now, in Greece, approaching the beginnings of such inquisitive thinking upon the nature and sources of moral obligation as produce, first, a “ skeptic or sophistic era," in Principal Grant's division, and then a “conscious or philosophic era.” From the Greek sophists, little or nothing seems to have embodied itself in lasting precepts. Nor is anything of that description to be got from the teachings of Socrates and Plato, who made the passage for Greek thought from sophistic to philosophic morals. Of all the teachers ever given to mankind, Socrates was the least dogmatic, the least likely to frame a positive precept or rule of conduct.
His mission was to cure men's minds of half-thinking, to drive them to the end of a thought, force them to rummage the contents of an idea, and find all that belongs to it. As Plato's dialogues represent him, he pulled to pieces the Greek notions of virtue and the virtues, one after another : temperance, or moderation, for example, in the dialogue called “Charmides," and courage in the “ Laches" and the " Protagoras,” with the result that no positive definitions are found, and none seem discoverable. The constant inference to be drawn from the destructive dialectic of Socrates is, that all virtue is substantially one and indivisible, and that a man may possess its complete guidance in his own consciousness, if he will improve himself in wisdom, with which it is really identified.
With Aristotle, who succeeded Plato in the founding of great schools of Greek thought, moral philosophy, strictly speaking, had its birth. He was the first of all men to attempt the construction of a logical science of the principles of human conduct, and to explain its rightness and wrongness on rational grounds. Since his day, no subject of speculative philosophy has received more thought, and system after system of the theory of ethics has been worked out and discussed. Of the intellectual value of such theories and the discussion of them, as part of the process of the enlightenment of the human mind, contributing essentially to its comprehension of itself and of the Cosmos, there can be no doubt. But that the practical morality of mankind has been much influenced by systems of moral philosophy seems doubtful in the extreme.
From the beginning, these systems have been divided by a single main contention, and have followed one or the other of two lines of theory, namely : the stoical and the epicurean, or the intuitive and the inductive, or the ab