Lectures on the Ethics of T.H. Green, Mr. Herbert Spencer, and J. Martineau

By Henry Sidgwick | Go to book overview

LECTURE II
FUNDAMENTAL ETHICAL FACT

I NOW pass to the 'Fundamental Ethical Fact' (omitting the theological implications which I have already dealt with). This is:

that, distinctively as men, we have an irresistible tendency to approve and disapprove, to pass judgments of right and wrong. Wherever approbation falls, there we cannot help recognising merit; wherever disapprobation, demerit. To the former we are impelled to assign honour and such external good as may express our sympathy, and to feel that no less than this is due: to the latter we award disgrace and such external ill as may mark our antipathy, with the consciousness that we are not only entitled but constrained to this infliction (p. 18).

He goes on to explain that the objects on which our moral judgment directs itself are 'persons exclusively, and not things' (p. 21).

The approbation or disapprobation which we feel towards human actions is directed upon them as personal phenomena; and if this condition failed, would disappear, though they might still as natural causes be instrumental in producing much good or ill (p. 23). . . . It follows that what we judge is always the inner spring of an action as distinguished from its outward operation (p. 24).

Hence he infers that the principle of moral judgment is

directly opposed to the maxim, that the only value of good affections is for the production of good actions:--a maxim which is a just rebuke to idle and barren good affections as compared with the healthy and fruitful, but which becomes monstrously false when it demands not only inward creative

-329-

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