A guide to ethics might be thought to be a kind of hand-book on how to % behave properly, like a guide to etiquette, or the Highway Code. Useful though such a guide might be, it is not possible to write it. Ethics is a complicated matter. It is partly a matter of general principles, even rules, like those of manners' but largely a matter of judgement, of reasoning, of having the right feeling at the right time, and every time is different. Above all it is a matter of trying to be a particular sort of person. And though ethics (or moral philosophy, as I prefer to call it) has been secularised, it is almost impossible to think about the origins and development of morality itself without thinking about its interconnections with religion. We must distinguish, though not absolutely, public from private morality. I have come to believe that the relation between private morality and a public policy that is democratically acceptable is a subtle and complicated interrelation. But we must try to get it right, otherwise we shall be dominated for ever by the ethics of the pub bore, who will say, "I think it's disgusting. There ought to be a law against it." The pub bore speaks intuitively. Even if he has good reasons for his judgement, he may not be able to articulate them (just as one may recognise someone from a distance, without necessarily being able to say what it was about him that made him so recognisable). His conclusion, that the thing is wrong, may be sound. But he makes the false assumption that his judgement should, or could, be translated into a law which should govern everyone. When people become legislators or politicians, they assume new responsibilities. They have specifically to exercise reason and 1 caution in attempting to, foresee the conseI quences for everyone of the measures they are proposing.
This is not to say that they can be wholly Machiavellian, putting on one side the sensibilities of morality for the sake of successful rule. But it is to suggest that there are a number of kinds of moral judgements that they are not entitled to make, judgements that a private person might make out of friendship, love, or a desire for self-sacrifice, or indeed out of shame or outrage. Moreover, they owe a duty to be able to explain why they have come to the conclusion they have.
They must be seen to have thought rationally' and in public circumstances this means to have thought about the long-term consequences of what it is they propose. They must be seen to be consistent in the stance they take, not only because they will probably advance their own careers if so perceived, but because steady, principled government is what is needed by society. So the interplay between the public and the private comes at the place where principles are to be articulated, and the consequences for society as a whole openly taken into account.
In the sphere of public morality it is not enough simply to say: "I feel I must" do this or that, except in the case where the public and private conflict. A c figure who resigns over a Science issue is entitled to say, "I can do no other." But public morality as such must beexd, and explained with reference to a common good.
My own background is a small illustration of this. My mother, though not pious, had had a very pious background, in that her mother, a German, had married into another German y that had converted to christianity from Judaism.
Religion was serious. My there took church-going for granted, and having been a ublic schoolmaster's wife y father died before I was orn), she also took for anted not just Sunday atndance, but bells sumoning one to chapel every ay. The liturgy was something I grew up with, and the cathedral services were a source of endless pleasure. I went to a very religious school, where it was assumed that the true purse of school was to make us good. Its motto was Caritas humulitas Sinceritas ("Charity, lity, sincerity"), and the scence of myself and my friends was engaged largely with the contemplation of the last of these virtues. …