Morals in Review

Morals in Review

Morals in Review

Morals in Review

Excerpt

The present volume was conceived originally as a more pretentious undertaking than circumstances have permitted me to carry out; but I have come to see that on the scale I had in mind it would not have been completed even under more favorable conditions. A fully competent history of ethics would need to take account of so many sorts of fact that it will be no matter for surprise if it is never written. In the first place it ought to show what human conduct is concretely, and how it has come about. This is a science by itself; and when one has accounted for the appearance in man of those biological traits that render him a human and potentially a moral being, has shown the rise of primitive folkways and of the sentiments and opinions that attend them, has followed their ever-accumulating complexity down to the customs and institutions of the present day, and has traced the peculiarities of their content, and the modifications they have undergone, to their source in a physical or economic or social background, he has to all intents covered the field of human history on its less spectacular side.

Even then a second and almost equally extensive task awaits him; along with the history of customs or manners there would need to go a history of ideals. It might be urged that this, too, belongs to "science," and that ideals are themselves nothing but expressions of natural forces. But for all practical purposes there is presented here a separate problem that needs a special treatment of its own. Along with the impersonal customs that arise in a group of men collectively under common external conditions, there are other aspects of man's conscious life which quite definitely . . .

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