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

By Edward Westermarck | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI
MOTIVES

No enlightened and conscientious moral judge can regard his judgment as final, unless he know the motive, or motives, of the volition by which his judgment is occasioned. But in ordinary moral estimates little attention is paid to motives. Men desire that certain acts should be performed, and that certain other acts should be abstained from. The conative causes of acts or forbearances are not equally interesting, and they are often hidden. They are considered only in proportion as the moral judgment is influenced by reflection.

Take, for instance, acts which are performed from a sense of duty. It is commonly said that a person ought to obey his conscience. Yet, in point of fact, by doing so he may expose himself to hardly less censure than does the greatest villain. The reason for this is not far to seek. A man's moral conviction is to some extent an expression of his character, hence he may be justly blamed for having a certain moral conviction. And the blame which he may deserve on that account is easily exaggerated, partly because people are apt to be very intolerant concerning opinions of right and wrong which differ from their own, partly owing to the influence which external events exercise upon their minds.

Somewhat greater discrimination is shown in regard to motives consisting of powerful non-volitional conations which in no way represent the agent's character, but to which

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