The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas - Vol. 1

By Edward Westermarck | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III THE NATURE OF THE MORAL EMOTIONS (continued)

IT was said in the last chapter that moral disapproval is a sub-species of resentment, and that resentment is, in its essence, an aggressive attitude of mind towards an assumed cause of pain. It was shown that, in the course of mental evolution, the true direction of the hostile reaction involved in moral disapproval has become more apparent. We shall now see that, at the same time, its aggressive character has become more disguised.

This is evidenced by the changed opinion about anger and revenge which we meet at the higher stages of moral development. Retaliation is condemned, and forgiveness of injuries is laid down as a duty.

The rule that a person should be forbearing and kind to his enemy has no place in early ethics.

"Let those that speak evil of us perish. Let the enemy be clubbed, swept away, utterly destroyed, piled in heaps. Let their teeth be broken. May they fall headlong into a pit. Let us live, and let our enemies perish." Such were the requests which generally concluded the prayers of the Fijians.1 A savage would find nothing objectionable in them. On the contrary, he regards revenge as a duty,2 and forgiveness of enemies as a sign of weakness, or cowardice, or want of honour.3 Nor

____________________
1
Fison, quoted by Codrington, Melanesians, p. 147, n. 1.
2
See infra, on Blood-revenge.
3
Cf. Domenech, Great Deserts of North America, ii. 97, 338, 438 (Dacotahs); Boas, First General Report on the Indians of British Columbia, p. 38; Baker, Albert N'yanza, i. 240sq. (Latukas).

-73-

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