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

By Edward Westermarck | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
ANALYSIS OF THE PRINCIPAL MORAL CONCEPTS

WE have assumed that the moral concepts are essentially generalisations of tendencies in certain phenomena to call forth moral emotions. We have further assumed that there are two kinds of moral emotions: indignation and approval. If these assumptions hold good, either indignation or approval must be at the bottom of every moral concept. That such is really the case will, I think, become evident from the present chapter, in which the principal of those concepts will be analysed.

Our analysis will be concerned with moral concepts formed by the civilised mind. Whilst the most representative of English terms for moral estimates have equivalents in the other European languages, I do not take upon myself to decide to what extent they have equivalents in non-European tongues. That all existing peoples, even the very lowest, have moral emotions is as certain as that they have customs, and there can be no doubt that they give expression to those emotions in their speech. But it is another question how far their emotions have led to such generalisations as are implied in moral concepts. Concerning the Fuegians M. Hyades observes, "Les id〈eac〉es abstraites sont chez eux 〈agv〉 peu pr〈egv〉s nulles. Il est difficile de d〈eac〉finir exactement ce qu'ils appellent un homme bon et un homme m〈eac〉chant; mais 〈agv〉 coup s〈ucf〉r ils n'ont pas la notion de ce qui est bon ou mauvais, abstraction faite de l'individu ou de l'objet auquel ils appliqueraient l'un ou l'autre

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