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No man has ever counted the books that have been written about morals. No subject seems so fascinating to the human mind. It may well be, indeed, that nothing imports us so much as to know how to live. Yet it can scarcely be that on any subject are the books that have been written more unprofitable, one might even say unnecessary.
For when we look at the matter objectively it is, after all, fairly simple. If we turn our attention to any collective community, at any time and place, in its moral aspect, we may regard it as an army on the march along a road of life more or less encompassed by danger. That, indeed, is scarcely a metaphor; that is what life, viewed in its moral aspect, may really be considered. When thus considered, we see that it consists of an extremely small advance guard in front, formed of persons with a limited freedom of moral action and able to act as patrols in various directions, of a larger body in the rear, in ancient military language called the blackguard and not without its uses, and in the main of a great compact majority with which we must always be chiefly concerned since they really are the army; they are the community. What we call “morals” is simply blind obedience to words of command—whether or not issued by leaders the army believes it has itself chosen—of which the significance is hidden, and beyond this the duty of keeping in step with the others, or of trying to keep in step, or of pretending to do so. It is an automatic, almost unconscious process and only becomes acutely conscious when the individual is hopelessly out of step; then he may be relegated to the rear blackguard. But that happens seldom. So there is little need to be concerned about it. Even if it happened very often, nothing overwhelming would have taken place; it would merely be that what we called the blackguard had now become the main army, though with a different discipline. We are, indeed, simply concerned with a discipline or routine which in this field is properly described as custom, and the word morals essentially means custom. That is what morals must always be for the mass, and, indeed, to some extent for all, a discipline, and, as we have already seen, a discipline cannot properly be regarded as a science or an art. The innumerable books on morals, since they have usually confused and befogged this simple and central fact, cannot fail to be rather unprofitable. That, it would seem, is what the writers thought—at all events about those the others had written—or else they would not have considered it necessary for themselves to add to the number. It was not only an unprofitable task, it was also—except in so far as an objectively scientific attitude has been assumed—aimless. For, although the morals of a community at one time and place is never the same as that of another or even the same community at another time and place, it is a complex web of conditions that produces the difference, and it must have been evident that to attempt to affect it was idle. There is no occasion for any one who is told that he has written a “moral” book to be unduly elated, or when he is told that his book is “immoral” to be unduly cast down. The significance of these adjectives is strictly limited. Neither the one book nor the other can have more than the faintest effect on the march of the great compact majority of the social army.
Yet, while all this is so, there is still some interest in the question of morals. For, after all, there is the small body of individuals ahead, alertly eager to find the road, with a sensitive flair for all the possibilities the future may hold. When the compact majority, blind and automatic and unconscious, follows after, to tramp along the road these pioneers have discovered, it may seem but a dull road. But before they reached it that road was interesting, even passionately interesting.
The reason is that, for those who, in any age, are thus situated, life is not merely a discipline. It is, or it may become, really an art.
That living is or may be an art, and the moralist the critic of that art, is a very ancient belief. It was especially widespread among the Greeks. To the Greeks, indeed, this belief was so ingrained and instinctive that it became an implicitly assumed attitude rather than a definitely expressed faith. It was natural to them to speak of a virtuous person as we should speak of a beautiful person. The “good” was the “beautiful”; the sphere of ethics for the Greeks was not distinguished from the sphere of æsthetics. In Sophocles, above all poets, we gather the idea of a natural agreement between duty and inclination which is at once both beauty and moral order. But it is the beautiful that seems to be most fundamental in τὸ καλὸν, which was the noble, the honourable, but fundamentally the beautiful. “Beauty is the first of all things,” said Isocrates, the famous orator; “nothing that is devoid of beauty is prized.... The admiration for virtue comes to this, that of all manifestation of life, virtue is the most beautiful.” The supremely beautiful was, for the finer sort of Greeks, instinctively if not always consciously, the supremely divine, and the Argive Hera, it has been said, “has more divinity in her countenance than any Madonna of them all.” That is how it came to pass that we have no word in our speech to apply to the Greek conception; æsthetics for us is apart from all the serious business of life, and the attempt to introduce it there seems merely comic. But the Greeks spoke of life itself as a craft or a fine art. Protagoras, who appears to-day as a pioneer of modern science, was yet mainly concerned to regard living as an art, or as the sum of many crafts, and the Platonic Socrates, his opponent, still always assumed that the moralist’s position is that of a critic of a craft. So influential a moralist as Aristotle remarks in a matter-of-fact way, in his “Poetics,” that if we wish to ascertain whether an act is, or is not, morally right we must consider not merely the intrinsic quality of the act, but the person who does it, the person to whom it is done, the time, the means, the motive. Such an attitude towards life puts out of court any appeal to rigid moral laws; it meant that an act must befit its particular relationships at a particular moment, and that its moral value could, therefore, only be judged by the standard of the spectator’s instinctive feeling for proportion and harmony. That is the attitude we adopt towards a work of art.
It may well appear strange to those who cherish the modern idea of “æstheticism” that the most complete statement of the Greek attitude has come down to us in the writings of a philosopher, an Alexandrian Greek who lived and taught in Rome in the third century of our Christian Era, when the Greek world had vanished, a religious mystic, moreover, whose life and teaching were penetrated by an austere ascetic severity which some would count mediæval rather than Greek. It is in Plotinus, a thinker whose inspiring influence still lives to-day, that we probably find the Greek attitude, in its loftiest aspect, best mirrored, and it was probably through channels that came from Plotinus—though their source was usually unrecognised—that the Greek moral spirit has chiefly reached modern times. Many great thinkers and moralists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it has been claimed, were ultimately indebted to Plotinus, who represented the only genuinely creative effort of the Greek spirit in the third century.
Plotinus seems to have had little interest in art, as commonly understood, and he was an impatient, rapid, and disorderly writer, not even troubling to spell correctly. All his art was in the spiritual sphere. It is impossible to separate æsthetics, as he understood it, from ethics and religion. In the beautiful discourse on Beauty, which forms one of the chapters of his first “Ennead,” it is mainly with spiritual beauty that he is concerned. But he insists that it is beauty, beauty of the same quality as that of the physical world, which inheres in goodness, “nor may those tell of the splendour of Virtue who have never known the face of Justice and of Wisdom beautiful beyond the beauty of Evening and of Dawn.” It is a beauty, he further states,—though here he seems to be passing out of the purely æsthetic sphere,—that arouses emotions of love. “This is the spirit that Beauty must ever induce, wonderment and a delicious trouble, longing and love, and a trembling that is also delight. For the unseen all this may be felt as for the seen, and this souls feel for it, every soul in some degree, but those the more deeply who are the more truly apt to this higher love—just as all take delight in the beauty of the body, but all are not strung as sharply, and those only that feel the keener wound are known as Lovers.” Goodness and Truth were on the same plane for Plotinus as Beauty. It may even be said that Beauty was the most fundamental of all, to be identified ultimately as the Absolute, as Reality itself. So it was natural that in the sphere of morals he should speak indifferently either of “extirpating evil and implanting goodness” or of “introducing order and beauty to replace goodness”—in either case “we talk of real things.” “Virtue is a natural concordance among the phenomena of the soul, vice a discord.” But Plotinus definitely rejects the notion that beauty is only symmetry, and so he avoids the narrow conception of some more modern æsthetic moralists, notably Hutcheson. How, then, he asks, could the sun be beautiful, or gold, or light, or night, or the stars? “Beauty is something more than symmetry, and symmetry owes its beauty to a remoter principle”—its affinity, in the opinion of Plotinus, with the “Ideal Form,” immediately recognised and confirmed by the soul.
It may seem to some that Plotinus reduces to absurdity the conception of morality as æsthetics, and it may well be that the Greeks of the great period were wiser when they left the nature of morals less explicit. Yet Plotinus had in him the root of the matter. He had risen to the conception that the moral life of the soul is a dance; “Consider the performers in a choral dance: they sing together, though each one has his own particular part, and sometimes one voice is heard while the others are silent; and each brings to the chorus something of his own; it is not enough that all lift their voices together; each must sing, choicely, his own part in the music set for him. So it is with the Soul.” The Hellenic extension of the æsthetic emotion, as Benn pointed out, involved no weakening of the moral fibre. That is so, we see, and even emphatically so, when it becomes definitely explicit as in Plotinus, and revolutionarily hostile to all those ideals of the moral life which most people have been accustomed to consider modern.
As usually among the Greeks, it is only implicitly, also, that we detect this attitude among the Romans, the pupils of the Greeks. For the most part, the Romans, whose impulses of art were very limited, whose practical mind craved precision and definition, proved rebellious to the idea that living is an art; yet it may well be that they still retained that idea at the core of their morality. It is interesting to note that St. Augustine, who stood on the threshold between the old Roman and new Christian worlds was able to write: “The art of living well and rightly is the definition that the ancients give of ‘virtue.’” For the Latins believed that ars was derived from the Greek word for virtue, ἀρετή. Yet there really remained a difference between the Greek and the Roman views of morals. The Greek view, it is universally admitted, was æsthetic, in the most definite sense; the Roman was not, and when Cicero wishes to translate a Greek reference to a “beautiful” action it becomes an “honourable” action. The Greek was concerned with what he himself felt about his actions; the Roman was concerned with what they would look like to other people, and the credit, or discredit, that would be reflected back on himself.
The Hebrews never even dreamed of such an art. Their attitude is sufficiently embodied in the story of Moses and that visit to Sinai which resulted in the production of the table of Ten Commandments which we may still see inscribed in old churches. For even our modern feeling about morals is largely Jewish, in some measure Roman, and scarcely Greek at all. We still accept, in theory at all events, the Mosaic conception of morality as a code of rigid and inflexible rules, arbitrarily ordained, and to be blindly obeyed.
The conception of morality as an art, which Christendom once disdained, seems now again to be finding favour in men’s eyes. The path has been made smooth for it by great thinkers of various complexion, who, differing in many fundamental points, all alike assert the relativity of truth and the inaptitude of rigid maxims to serve as guiding forces in life. They also assert, for a large part, implicitly or explicitly, the authority of art.
The nineteenth century was usually inspired by the maxims of Kant, and lifted its hat reverently when it heard Kant declaiming his famous sayings concerning the supremacy of an inflexible moral law. Kant had, indeed, felt the stream of influence which flowed from Shaftesbury, and he sought to mix up æsthetics with his system. But he had nothing of the genuine artist’s spirit. The art of morals was to him a set of maxims, cold, rigid, precise. A sympathetic biographer has said of him that the maxims were the man. They are sometimes fine maxims. But as guides, as motives to practical action in the world? The maxims of the valetudinarian professor at Königsberg scarcely seem that to us to-day. Still less can we harmonise maxims with art. Nor do we any longer suppose that we are impertinent in referring to the philosopher’s personality. In the investigation of the solar spectrum personality may count for little; in the investigation of moral laws it counts for much. For personality is the very stuff of morals. The moral maxims of an elderly professor in a provincial university town have their interest. But so have those of a Casanova. And the moral maxims of a Goethe may possibly have more interest than either. There is the rigid categorical imperative of Kant; and there is also that other dictum, less rigid but more reminiscent of Greece, which some well-inspired person has put into the mouth of Walt Whitman: “Whatever tastes sweet to the most perfect person, that is finally right.”
Fundamentally considered, there are two roads by which we may travel towards the moral ends of life: the road of Tradition, which is ultimately that of Instinct, pursued by the many, and the road of what seems to be Reason—sought out by the few. And in the end these two roads are but the same road, for reason also is an instinct. It is true that the ingenuity of analytic investigators like Henry Sidgwick has succeeded in enumerating various “methods of ethics.” But, roughly speaking, there can only be these two main roads of life, and only one has proved supremely important. It has been by following the path of tradition moulded by instinct that man reached the threshold of civilisation: whatever may have been the benefits he derived from the guidance of reason he never consciously allowed reason to control his moral life. Tables of commandments have ever been “given by God”; they represented, that is to say, obscure impulses of the organism striving to respond to practical needs. No one dreamed of commending them by declaring that they were reasonable.
It is clear how Instinct and Tradition, thus working together, act vitally and beneficently in moulding the moral life of primitive peoples. The “divine command” was always a command conditioned by the special circumstance under which the tribe lived. That is so even when the moral law is to our civilised eyes “unnatural.” The infanticide of Polynesian islanders, where the means of subsistence and the possibilities of expansion were limited, was obviously a necessary measure, beneficent and humane in its effects. The killing of the aged among the migrant Eskimos was equally a necessary and kindly measure, recognised as such by the victims themselves, when it was essential that every member of the community should be able to help himself. Primitive rules of moral action, greatly as they differ among themselves, are all more or less advantageous and helpful on the road of primitive life. It is true that they allow very little, if any, scope for divergent individual moral action, but that, too, was advantageous.
But that, also, is the rock on which an instinctive traditional morality must strike as civilisation is approached. The tribe has no longer the same unity. Social differentiation has tended to make the family a unit, and psychic differentiation to make even the separate individuals units. The community of interests of the whole tribe has been broken up, and therewith traditional morality has lost alike its value and its power.
The development of abstract intelligence, which coincides with civilisation, works in the same direction. Reason is, indeed, on one side an integrating force, for it shows that the assumption of traditional morality—the identity of the individual’s interests with the interests of the community—is soundly based. But it is also a disintegrating force. For if it reveals a general unity in the ends of living, it devises infinitely various and perplexingly distracting excuses for living. Before the active invasion of reason living had been an art, or at all events a discipline, highly conventionalised and even ritualistic, but the motive forces of living lay in life itself and had all the binding sanction of instincts; the penalty of every failure in living, it was felt, would be swiftly and automatically experienced. To apply reason here was to introduce a powerful solvent into morals. Objectively it made morality clearer but subjectively it destroyed the existing motives for morality; it deprived man, to use the fashionable phraseology of the present day, of a vital illusion.
Thus we have morality in the fundamental sense, the actual practices of the main army of the population, while in front a variegated procession of prancing philosophers gaily flaunt their moral theories before the world. Kant, whose personal moral problems were concerned with eating sweetmeats, and other philosophers of varyingly inferior calibre, were regarded as the lawgivers of morality, though they carried little enough weight with the world at large.
Thus it comes about that abstract moral speculations, culminating in rigid maxims, are necessarily sterile and vain. They move in the sphere of reason, and that is the sphere of comprehension, but not of vital action. In this way there arises a moral dualism in civilised man. Objectively he has become like the gods and able to distinguish the ends of life; he has eaten of the fruit of the tree and has knowledge of good and evil. Subjectively he is still not far removed from the savage, oftenest stirred to action by a confused web of emotional motives, among which the interwoven strands of civilised reason are as likely to produce discord or paralysis as to furnish efficient guides, a state of mind first, and perhaps best, set forth in its extreme form by Shakespeare in Hamlet. On the one hand he cannot return to the primitive state in which all the motives for living flowed harmoniously in the same channel; he cannot divest himself of his illuminating reason; he cannot recede from his hardly acquired personal individuality. On the other hand he can never expect, he can never even reasonably hope, that reason will ever hold in leash the emotions. It is clear that along neither path separately can the civilised man pursue his way in harmonious balance with himself. We begin to realise that what we need is not a code of beautifully cut-and-dried maxims—whether emanating from sacred mountains or from philosophers’ studies—but a happy combination of two different ways of living. We need, that is, a traditional and instinctive way of living, based on real motor instincts, which will blend with reason and the manifold needs of personality, instead of being destroyed by their solvent actions, as rigid rules inevitably are. Our only valid rule is a creative impulse that is one with the illuminative power of intelligence.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the seed-time of our modern ideas, as it has so often seemed to be, the English people, having in art at length brought their language to a fine degree of clarity and precision, and having just passed through a highly stimulating period of dominant Puritanism in life, became much interested in philosophy, psychology, and ethics. Their interest was, indeed, often superficial and amateurish, though they were soon to produce some of the most notable figures in the whole history of thought. The third Earl of Shaftesbury, one of the earliest of the group, himself illustrated this unsystematic method of thinking. He was an amateur, an aristocratic amateur, careless of consistency, and not by any means concerned to erect a philosophic system. Not that he was a worse thinker on that account. The world’s greatest thinkers have often been amateurs; for high thinking is the outcome of fine and independent living, and for that a professorial chair offers no special opportunities. Shaftesbury was, moreover, a man of fragile physical constitution, as Kant was; but, unlike Kant, he was not a childish hypochondriac in seclusion, but a man in the world, heroically seeking to live a complete and harmonious life. By temperament he was a Stoic, and he wrote a characteristic book of “Exercises,” as he proposed to call what his modern editor calls the “Philosophical Regimen,” in which he consciously seeks to discipline himself in fine thinking and right living, plainly acknowledging that he is the disciple of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. But Shaftesbury was also a man of genius, and as such it was his good fortune to throw afresh into the stream of thought a fruitful conception, in part absorbed, indeed, from Greece, and long implicit in men’s minds, but never before made clearly recognisable as a moral theory and an ethical temper, susceptible of being labelled by the philosophic historian, as it since has been under the name, passable no doubt as any other, of “Æsthetic Intuitionism.”
Greek morality, it has been well said, is not a conflict of light and darkness, of good and evil, the clear choice between the broad road that leads to destruction and the narrow path of salvation: it is “an artistic balance of light and shade.” Gizycki, remarking that Shaftesbury has more affinity to the Greeks than perhaps any other modern moralist, says that “the key lay not only in his head, but in his heart, for like can only be recognised by like.” We have to remember at the same time that Shaftesbury was really something of a classical scholar, even from childhood. Born in 1671, the grandson of the foremost English statesman of his time, the first Earl, Anthony Cooper, he had the advantage of the wise oversight of his grandfather, who placed with him as a companion in childhood a lady who knew both Greek and Latin so well that she could converse fluently in both languages. So it was that by the age of eleven he was familiar with the two classic tongues and literatures. That doubtless was also a key to his intimate feeling for the classic spirit, though it would not have sufficed without a native affinity. He became the pupil of Locke, and at fifteen he went to Italy, to spend a considerable time there. He knew France also, and the French tongue, so well that he was often taken for a native. He lived for some time in Holland, and there formed a friendship with Bayle, which began before the latter was aware of his friend’s rank and lasted till Bayle’s death. In Holland he may have been slightly influenced by Grotius. Shaftesbury was not of robust constitution; he suffered from asthma, and his health was further affected by his zeal in public affairs as well as his enthusiasm in study, for his morality was not that of a recluse, but of a man who played an active part in life, not only in social benevolence, like his descendant the enlightened philanthropic Earl of the nineteenth century, but in the establishment of civil freedom and toleration. Locke wrote of his pupil (who was not, however, in agreement with his tutor’s philosophic standpoint, though he always treated him with consideration) that “the sword was too sharp for the scabbard.”
“He seems,” wrote of Shaftesbury his unfriendly contemporary Mandeville, “to require and expect goodness in his species as we do a sweet taste in grapes and China oranges, of which, if any of them are sour, we boldly pronounce that they are not come to that perfection their nature is capable of.” In a certain sense this was correct. Shaftesbury, it has been said, was the father of that new ethics which recognises that Nature is not a mere impulse of self-preservation, as Hobbes thought, but also a racial impulse, having regard to others; there are social inclinations in the individual, he realised, that go beyond individual ends. (Referring to the famous dictum of Hobbes, Homo homini lupus, he observes: “To say in disparagement of Man ‘that he is to Man a wolf’ appears somewhat absurd when one considers that wolves are to wolves very kind and loving creatures.”) Therewith “goodness” was seen, virtually for the first time in the modern period, to be as “natural” as the sweetness of ripe fruit.
There was another reason, a fundamental physiological and psychological reason, why “goodness” of actions and the “sweetness” of fruits are equally natural, a reason that would, no doubt, have been found strange both by Mandeville and Shaftesbury. Morality, Shaftesbury describes as “the taste of beauty and the relish of what is decent,” and the “sense of beauty” is ultimately the same as the “moral sense.” “My first endeavour,” wrote Shaftesbury, “must be to distinguish the true taste of fruits, refine my palate, and establish a just relish in the kind.” He thought, evidently, that he was merely using a metaphor. But he was speaking essentially in the direct, straightforward way of natural and primitive Man. At the foundation, “sweetness” and “goodness” are the same thing. That can still be detected in the very structure of language, not only of primitive languages, but those of the most civilised peoples. That morality is, in the strict sense, a matter of taste, of æsthetics, of what the Greeks called αἴσθησις, is conclusively shown by the fact that in the most widely separated tongues—possibly wherever the matter has been carefully investigated—moral goodness is, at the outset, expressed in terms of taste. What is good is what is sweet, and sometimes, also, salt. Primitive peoples have highly developed the sensory side of their mental life, and their vocabularies bear witness to the intimate connection of sensations of taste and touch with emotional tone. There is, indeed, no occasion to go beyond our own European traditions to see that the expression of moral qualities is based on fundamental sensory qualities of taste. In Latin suavis is sweet, but even in Latin it became a moral quality, and its English derivatives have been entirely deflected from physical to moral qualities, while bitter is at once a physical quality and a poignantly moral quality. In Sanskrit and Persian and Arabic salt is not only a physical taste but the name for lustre and grace and beauty. It seems well in passing to point out that the deeper we penetrate the more fundamentally we find the æsthetic conception of morals grounded in Nature. But not every one cares to penetrate any deeper and there is no need to insist.
Shaftesbury held that human actions should have a beauty of symmetry and proportion and harmony, which appeal to us, not because they accord with any rule or maxim (although they may conceivably be susceptible of measurement), but because they satisfy our instinctive feelings, evoking an approval which is strictly an æsthetic judgment of moral action. This instinctive judgment was not, as Shaftesbury understood it, a guide to action. He held, rightly enough, that the impulse to action is fundamental and primary, that fine action is the outcome of finely tempered natures. It is a feeling for the just time and measure of human passion, and maxims are useless to him whose nature is ill-balanced. “Virtue is no other than the love of order and beauty in society.” Æsthetic appreciation of the act, and even an ecstatic pleasure in it, are part of our æsthetic delight in Nature generally, which includes Man. Nature, it is clear, plays a large part in this conception of the moral life. To lack balance on any plane of moral conduct is to be unnatural; “Nature is not mocked,” said Shaftesbury. She is a miracle, for miracles are not things that are performed, but things that are perceived, and to fail here is to fail in perception of the divinity of Nature, to do violence to her, and to court moral destruction. A return to Nature is not a return to ignorance or savagery, but to the first instinctive feeling for the beauty of well-proportioned affections. “The most natural beauty in the world is honesty and moral truth,” he asserts, and he recurs again and again to “the beauty of honesty.” “Dulce et decorum est was his sole reason,” he says of the classical pagan, adding: “And this is still a good reason.” In learning how to act, he thought, we are “learning to become artists.” It seems natural to him to refer to the magistrate as an artist; “the magistrate, if he be an artist,” he incidentally says. We must not make morality depend on authority. The true artist, in any art, will never act below his character. “Let who will make it for you as you fancy,” the artist declares; “I know it to be wrong. Whatever I have made hitherto has been true work. And neither for your sake or anybody’s else shall I put my hand to any other.” “This is virtue!” exclaims Shaftesbury. “This disposition transferred to the whole of life perfects a character. For there is a workmanship and a truth in actions.”
Shaftesbury, it may be repeated, was an amateur, not only in philosophy, but even in the arts. He regarded literature as one of the schoolmasters for fine living, yet he has not been generally regarded as a fine artist in writing, though, directly or indirectly, he helped to inspire not only Pope, but Thomson and Cowper and Wordsworth. He was inevitably interested in painting, but his tastes were merely those of the ordinary connoisseur of his time. This gives a certain superficiality to his general æsthetic vision, though it was far from true, as the theologians supposed, that he was lacking in seriousness. His chief immediate followers, like Hutcheson, came out of Calvinistic Puritanism. He was himself an austere Stoic who adapted himself to the tone of the well-bred world he lived in. But if an amateur, he was an amateur of genius. He threw a vast and fruitful conception—caught from the “Poetics” of Aristotle, “the Great Master of Arts,” and developed with fine insight—into our modern world. Most of the great European thinkers of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were in some measure inspired, influenced, or anticipated by Shaftesbury. Even Kant, though he was unsympathetic and niggardly of appreciation, helped to develop the conception Shaftesbury first formulated. To-day we see it on every hand. It is slowly and subtly moulding the whole of our modern morality.
“The greatest Greek of modern times”—so he appears to those who study his work to-day. It is through Shaftesbury, and Shaftesbury alone that Greek morals, in their finest essence, have been a vivifying influence in our modern world. Georg von Gizycki, who has perhaps most clearly apprehended Shaftesbury’s place in morals, indicates that place with precision and justice when he states that “he furnished the elements of a moral philosophy which fits into the frame of a truly scientific conception of the world.” That was a service to the modern world so great and so daring that it could scarcely meet with approval from his fellow countrymen. The more keenly philosophical Scotch, indeed, recognised him, first of all Hume, and he was accepted and embodied as a kind of founder by the so-called Scottish School, though so toned down and adulterated and adapted to popular tastes and needs, that in the end he was thereby discredited. But the English never even adulterated him; they clung to the antiquated and eschatological Paley, bringing forth edition after edition of his works whereon to discipline their youthful minds. That led naturally on to the English Utilitarians in morality, who would disdain to look at anything that could be called Greek. Sir Leslie Stephen, who was the vigorous and capable interpreter to the general public of Utilitarianism, could see nothing good whatever in Shaftesbury; he viewed him with contemptuous pity and could only murmur: “Poor Shaftesbury!”
Meanwhile Shaftesbury’s fame had from the first been pursuing a very different course in France and Germany, for it is the people outside a man’s own country who anticipate the verdict of posterity. Leibnitz, whose vast genius was on some sides akin (Shaftesbury has, indeed, been termed “the Leibnitz of morals”), admired the English thinker, and the universal Voltaire recognised him. Montesquieu placed him on a four-square summit with Plato and Montaigne and Malebranche. The enthusiastic Diderot, seeing in Shaftesbury the exponent of the naturalistic ethics of his own temperament, translated a large part of his chief book in 1745. Herder, who inspired so many of the chief thinkers of the nineteenth century and even of to-day, was himself largely inspired by Shaftesbury, whom he once called “the virtuoso of humanity,” regarding his writings as, even in form, well-nigh worthy of Greek antiquity, and long proposed to make a comparative study of the ethical conceptions of Spinoza, Leibnitz, and Shaftesbury, but unfortunately never carried out that happy idea. Rousseau, not only by contact of ideas, but the spontaneous effort of his own nature towards autonomous harmony, was in touch with Shaftesbury, and so helped to bring his ideals into the general stream of modern life. Shaftesbury, directly or indirectly, inspired the early influential French Socialists and Communists. On the other hand he has equally inspired the moralists of individualism. Even the Spanish-American Rodó, one of the most delicately aristocratic of modern moralists in recent time, puts forth conceptions, which, consciously or unconsciously, are precisely those of Shaftesbury. Rodó believes that all moral evil is a dissonance in the æsthetic of conduct and that the moral task in character is that of the sculptor in marble: “Virtue is a kind of art, a divine art.” Even Croce, who began by making a deep division between art and life, holds that there can be no great critic of art who is not also a great critic of life, for æsthetic criticism is really itself a criticism of life, and his whole philosophy may be regarded as representing a stage of transition between the old traditional view of the world and that conception towards which in the modern world our gaze is turned.
As Shaftesbury had stated the matter, however, it was left on the whole vague and large. He made no very clear distinction between the creative artistic impulse in life and critical æsthetic appreciation. In the sphere of morals we must often be content to wait until our activity is completed to appreciate its beauty or its ugliness. On the background of general æsthetic judgment we have to concentrate on the forces of creative artistic activity, whose work it is painfully to mould the clay of moral action, and forge its iron, long before the æsthetic criterion can be applied to the final product. The artist’s work in life is full of struggle and toil; it is only the spectator of morals who can assume the calm æsthetic attitude. Shaftesbury, indeed, evidently recognised this, but it was not enough to say, as he said, that we may prepare ourselves for moral action by study in literature. One may be willing to regard living as an art, and yet be of opinion that it is as unsatisfactory to learn the art of living in literature as to learn, let us say, the art of music in architecture.
Yet we must not allow these considerations to lead us away from the great fact that Shaftesbury clearly realised—what modern psychology emphasises—that desires can only be countered by desires, that reason cannot affect appetite. “That which is of original and pure nature,” he declared, “nothing besides contrary habit and custom (a second nature) is able to displace. There is no speculative opinion, persuasion, or belief, which is capable immediately or directly to exclude or destroy it.” Where he went beyond some modern psychologists is in his Hellenic perception that in this sphere of instinct we are amid the play of art to which æsthetic criteria alone can be applied.
It was necessary to concentrate and apply these large general ideas. To some extent this was done by Shaftesbury’s immediate successors and followers, such as Hutcheson and Arbuckle, who taught that man is, ethically, an artist whose work is his own life. They concentrated attention on the really creative aspects of the artist in life, æsthetic appreciation of the finished product being regarded as secondary. For all art is, primarily, not a contemplation, but a doing, a creative action, and morality is so preëminently.
Shaftesbury, with his followers Arbuckle and Hutcheson, may be regarded as the founders of æsthetics; it was Hutcheson, though he happened to be the least genuinely æsthetic in temperament of the three, who wrote the first modern treatise on æsthetics. Together, also, they may be said to have been the revivalists of Hellenism, that is to say, of the Hellenic spirit, or rather of the classic spirit, for it often came through Roman channels. Shaftesbury was, as Eucken has well said, the Greek spirit among English thinkers. He represented an inevitable reaction against Puritanism, a reaction which is still going on—indeed, here and there only just beginning. As Puritanism had achieved so notable a victory in England, it was natural that in England the first great champion of Hellenism should appear. It is to Oliver Cromwell and Praise-God Barebones that we owe Shaftesbury.
After Shaftesbury it is Arbuckle who first deserves attention, though he wrote so little that he never attained the prominence he deserved. He was a Dublin physician of Scottish ancestry, the friend of Swift, by whom he was highly esteemed, and he was a cripple from boyhood. He was a man of genuine artistic temperament, though the art he was attracted to was not, as with Shaftesbury, the sculptor’s or the painter’s, but the poet’s. It was not so much intuition on which he insisted, but imagination as formative of a character; moral approval seemed to him thoroughly æsthetic, part of an imaginative act which framed the ideal of a beautiful personality, externalising itself in action. When Robert Bridges, the poet of our own time, suggests (in his “Necessity of Poetry”) that “morals is that part of Poetry which deals with conduct,” he is speaking in the spirit of Arbuckle. An earlier and greater poet was still nearer to Arbuckle. “A man to be greatly good,” said Shelley in his “Defence of Poetry,” “must imagine intensely and comprehensively.... The great instrument of moral good is the imagination.” If, indeed, with Adam Smith and Schopenhauer, we choose to base morals on sympathy we really are thereby making the poet’s imagination the great moral instrument. Morals was for Arbuckle a disinterested æsthetic harmony, and he had caught much of the genuine Greek spirit.
Hutcheson was in this respect less successful. Though he had occupied himself with æsthetics he had little true æsthetic feeling; and though he accomplished much for the revival of Greek studies his own sympathies were really with the Roman Stoics, with Cicero, with Marcus Aurelius, and in this way he was led towards Christianity, to which Shaftesbury was really alien. He democratised if not vulgarised, and diluted if not debased, Shaftesbury’s loftier conception. In his too widely sympathetic and receptive mind the Shaftesburian ideal was not only Romanised, not only Christianised; it was plunged into a miscellaneously eclectic mass that often became inconsistent and incoherent. In the long run, in spite of his great immediate success, he injured in these ways the cause he advocated. He overemphasised the passively æsthetic side of morals; he dwelt on the term “moral sense,” by Shaftesbury only occasionally used, as it had long previously been by Aristotle (and then only in the sense of “natural temper” by analogy with the physical senses), and this term was long a stumbling-block in the eyes of innocent philosophic critics, too easily befooled by words, who failed to see that, as Libby has pointed out, the underlying idea simply is, as held by Shaftesbury, that æsthetic notions of proportion and symmetry depend upon the native structure of the mind and only so constitute a “moral sense.” What Hutcheson, as distinct from Shaftesbury, meant by a “moral sense”—really a conative instinct—is sufficiently indicated by the fact that he was inclined to consider the conjugal and parental affections as a “sense” because natural. He desired to shut out reason, and cognitive elements, and that again brought him to the conception of morality as instinctive. Hutcheson’s conception of “sense” was defective as being too liable to be regarded as passive rather than as conative, though conation was implied. The fact that the “moral sense” was really instinct, and had nothing whatever to do with “innate ideas,” as many have ignorantly supposed, was clearly seen by Hutcheson’s opponents. The chief objection brought forward by the Reverend John Balguy in 1728, in the first part of his “Foundation of Moral Goodness,” was precisely that Hutcheson based morality on instinct and so had allowed “some degree of morality to animals.” It was Hutcheson’s fine and impressive personality, his high character, his eloquence, his influential position, which enabled him to keep alive the conception of morals he preached, and even to give it an effective force, throughout the European world, it might not otherwise easily have exerted. Philosophy was to Hutcheson the art of living—as it was to the old Greek philosophers—rather than a question of metaphysics, and he was careless of consistency in thinking, an open-minded eclectic who insisted that life itself is the great matter. That, no doubt, was the reason why he had so immense an influence. It was mainly through Hutcheson that the more aristocratic spirit of Shaftesbury was poured into the circulatory channels of the world’s life. Hume and Adam Smith and Reid were either the pupils of Hutcheson or directly influenced by him. He was a great personality rather than a great thinker, and it was as such that he exerted so much force in philosophy.
With Schiller, whose attitude was not, however, based directly on Shaftesbury, the æsthetic conception of morals, which in its definitely conscious form had up till then been especially English, may be said to have entered the main stream of culture. Schiller regarded the identity of Duty and Inclination as the ideal goal of human development, and looked on the Genius of Beauty as the chief guide of life. Wilhelm von Humboldt, one of the greatest spirits of that age, was moved by the same ideas, throughout his life, much as in many respects he changed, and even shortly before his death wrote in deprecation of the notion that conformity to duty is the final aim of morality. Goethe, who was the intimate friend of both Schiller and Humboldt, largely shared the same attitude, and through him it has had a subtle and boundless influence. Kant, who, it has been said, mistook Duty for a Prussian drill-sergeant, still ruled the academic moral world. But a new vivifying and moulding force had entered the larger moral world, and to-day we may detect its presence on every side.
It has often been brought against the conception of morality as an art that it lacks seriousness. It seems to many people to involve an easy, self-indulgent, dilettante way of looking at life. Certainly it is not the way of the Old Testament. Except in imaginative literature—it was, indeed, an enormous and fateful exception—the Hebrews were no “æsthetic intuitionists.” They hated art, for the rest, and in face of the problems of living they were not in the habit of considering the lilies how they grow. It was not the beauty of holiness, but the stern rod of a jealous Jehovah, which they craved for their encouragement along the path of Duty. And it is the Hebrew mode of feeling which has been, more or less violently and imperfectly, grafted into our Christianity.
It is a complete mistake, however, to suppose that those for whom life is an art have entered on an easy path, with nothing but enjoyment and self-indulgence before them. The reverse is nearer to the truth. It is probably the hedonist who had better choose rules if he only cares to make life pleasant. For the artist life is always a discipline, and no discipline can be without pain. That is so even of dancing, which of all the arts is most associated in the popular mind with pleasure. To learn to dance is the most austere of disciplines, and even for those who have attained to the summit of its art often remains a discipline not to be exercised without heroism. The dancer seems a thing of joy, but we are told that this famous dancer’s slippers are filled with blood when the dance is over, and that one falls down pulseless and deathlike on leaving the stage, and the other must spend the day in darkness and silence. “It is no small advantage,” said Nietzsche, “to have a hundred Damoclean swords suspended above one’s head; that is how one learns to dance, that is how one attains ‘freedom of movement.’”
For as pain is entwined in an essential element in the perfect achievement of that which seems naturally the most pleasurable of the arts, so it is with the whole art of living, of which dancing is the supreme symbol. There is no separating Pain and Pleasure without making the first meaningless for all vital ends and the second turn to ashes. To exalt pleasure is to exalt pain; and we cannot understand the meaning of pain unless we understand the place of pleasure in the art of life. In England, James Hinton sought to make that clear, equally against those who failed to see that pain is as necessary morally as it undoubtedly is biologically, and against those who would puritanically refuse to accept the morality of pleasure. It is no doubt important to resist pain, but it is also important that it should be there to resist. Even when we look at the matter no longer subjectively but objectively, we must accept pain in any sound æsthetic or metaphysical picture of the world.
We must not be surprised, therefore, that this way of looking at life as an art has spontaneously commended itself to men of the gravest and deepest character, in all other respects widely unlike. Shaftesbury was temperamentally a Stoic whose fragile constitution involved a perpetual endeavour to mould life to the form of his ideal. And if we go back to Marcus Aurelius we find an austere and heroic man whose whole life, as we trace it in his “Meditations,” was a splendid struggle, a man who—even, it seems, unconsciously—had adopted the æsthetic criterion of moral goodness and the artistic conception of moral action. Dancing and wrestling express to his eyes the activity of the man who is striving to live, and the goodness of moral actions instinctively appears to him as the beauty of natural objects; it is to Marcus Aurelius that we owe that immortal utterance of æsthetic intuitionism: “As though the emerald should say: ‘Whatever happens I must be emerald.’” There could be no man more unlike the Roman Emperor, or in any more remote field of action, than the French saint and philanthropist Vincent de Paul. At once a genuine Christian mystic and a very wise and marvellously effective man of action, Vincent de Paul adopts precisely the same simile of the moral attitude that had long before been put forth by Plotinus and in the next century was again to be taken up by Shaftesbury: “My daughters,” he wrote to the Sisters of Charity, “we are each like a block of stone which is to be transferred into a statue. What must the sculptor do to carry out his design? First of all he must take the hammer and chip off all that he does not need. For this purpose he strikes the stone so violently that if you were watching him you would say he intended to break it to pieces. Then, when he has got rid of the rougher parts, he takes a smaller hammer, and afterwards a chisel, to begin the face with all the features. When that has taken form, he uses other and finer tools to bring it to that perfection he has intended for his statue.” If we desire to find a spiritual artist as unlike as possible to Vincent de Paul we may take Nietzsche. Alien as any man could ever be to a cheap or superficial vision of the moral life, and far too intellectually keen to confuse moral problems with purely æsthetic problems, Nietzsche, when faced by the problem of living, sets himself—almost as instinctively as Marcus Aurelius or Vincent de Paul—at the standpoint of art. “Alles Leben ist Streit um Geschmack und Schmecken.” It is a crucial passage in “Zarathustra”: “All life is a dispute about taste and tasting! Taste: that is weight and at the same time scales and weigher; and woe to all living things that would live without dispute about weight and scales and weigher!” For this gospel of taste is no easy gospel. A man must make himself a work of art, Nietzsche again and again declares, moulded into beauty by suffering, for such art is the highest morality, the morality of the Creator.
There is a certain indefiniteness about the conception of morality as an artistic impulse, to be judged by an æsthetic criterion, which is profoundly repugnant to at least two classes of minds fully entitled to make their antipathy felt. In the first place, it makes no appeal to the abstract reasoner, indifferent to the manifoldly concrete problems of living. For the man whose brain is hypertrophied and his practical life shrivelled to an insignificant routine—the man of whom Kant is the supreme type—it is always a temptation to rationalise morality. Such a pure intellectualist, overlooking the fact that human beings are not mathematical figures, may even desire to transform ethics into a species of geometry. That we may see in Spinoza, a nobler and more inspiring figure, no doubt, but of the same temperament as Kant. The impulses and desires of ordinary men and women are manifold, inconstant, often conflicting, and sometimes overwhelming. “Morality is a fact of sensibility,” remarks Jules de Gaultier; “it has no need to have recourse to reason for its affirmations.” But to men of the intellectualist type this consideration is almost negligible; all the passions and affections of humanity seem to them meek as sheep which they may shepherd, and pen within the flimsiest hurdles. William Blake, who could cut down to that central core of the world where all things are fused together, knew better when he said that the only golden rule of life is “the great and golden rule of art.” James Hinton was for ever expatiating on the close resemblance between the methods of art, as shown especially in painting, and the methods of moral action. Thoreau, who also belonged to this tribe, declared, in the same spirit as Blake, that there is no golden rule in morals, for rules are only current silver; “it is golden not to have any rule at all.”
There is another quite different type of person who shares this antipathy to the indefiniteness of æsthetic morality: the ambitious moral reformer. The man of this class is usually by no means devoid of strong passions; but for the most part he possesses no great intellectual calibre and so is unable to estimate the force and complexity of human impulses. The moral reformer, eager to introduce the millennium here and now by the aid of the newest mechanical devices, is righteously indignant with anything so vague as an æsthetic morality. He must have definite rules and regulations, clear-cut laws and by-laws, with an arbitrary list of penalties attached, to be duly inflicted in this world or the next. The popular conception of Moses, descending from the sacred mount with a brand-new table of commandments, which he declares have been delivered to him by God, though he is ready to smash them to pieces on the slightest provocation, furnishes a delightful image of the typical moral reformer of every age. It is, however, only in savage and barbarous stages of society, or among the uncultivated classes of civilisation, that the men of this type can find their faithful followers.
Yet there is more to be said. That very indefiniteness of the criterion of moral action, falsely supposed to be a disadvantage, is really the prime condition for effective moral action. The academic philosophers of ethics, had they possessed virility enough to enter the field of real life, would have realised—as we cannot expect the moral reformers blinded by the smoke of their own fanaticism to realise—that the slavery to rigid formulas which they preached was the death of all high moral responsibility. Life must always be a great adventure, with risks on every hand; a clear-sighted eye, a many-sided sympathy, a fine daring, an endless patience, are for ever necessary to all good living. With such qualities alone may the artist in life reach success; without them even the most devoted slave to formulas can only meet disaster. No reasonable moral being may draw breath in the world without an open-eyed freedom of choice, and if the moral world is to be governed by laws, better to people it with automatic machines than with living men and women.
In our human world the precision of mechanism is for ever impossible. The indefiniteness of morality is a part of its necessary imperfection. There is not only room in morality for the high aspiration, the courageous decision, the tonic thrill of the muscles of the soul, but we have to admit also sacrifice and pain. The lesser good, our own or that of others, is merged in a larger good, and that cannot be without some rending of the heart. So all moral action, however in the end it may be justified by its harmony and balance, is in the making cruel and in a sense even immoral. Therein lies the final justification of the æsthetic conception of morality. It opens a wider perspective and reveals loftier standpoints; it shows how the seeming loss is part of an ultimate gain, so restoring that harmony and beauty which the unintelligent partisans of a hard and barren duty so often destroy for ever. “Art,” as Paulhan declares, “is often more moral than morality itself.” Or, as Jules de Gaultier holds, “Art is in a certain sense the only morality which life admits.” In so far as we can infuse it with the spirit and method of art, we have transformed morality into something beyond morality; it has become the complete embodiment of the Dance of Life.
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 What we call crime is, at the beginning, usually an effort to get, or to pretend to get, into step, but, being a violent or miscalculated effort, it is liable to fail, and the criminal falls to the rear of the social army. “I believe that most murders are really committed by Mrs. Grundy,” a woman writes to me, and, with the due qualification, the saying is worthy of meditation. That is why justice is impotent to prevent or even to punish murder, for Mrs. Grundy is within all of us, being a part of the social discipline, and cannot be hanged.
 Herbert Spencer, writing to a correspondent, once well expressed the harmlessness—if we choose so to regard it—of moral teaching: “After nearly two thousand years’ preaching of the religion of amity, the religion of enmity remains predominant, and Europe is peopled by two hundred million pagans, masquerading as Christians, who revile those who wish them to act on the principles they profess.”
 But later asceticism was strictly the outcome of a Greek tendency, to be traced in Plato, developed through Antisthenes, through Zeno, through Epictetus, who all desired to liberate the soul from the bonds of matter. The Neo-Platonists carried this tendency further, for in their time, the prevailing anarchy and confusion rendered the world and society less than ever a fitting haven for the soul. It was not Christianity that made the world ascetic (and there were elements of hedonism in the teaching of Jesus), but the world that made Christianity ascetic, and it was easy for a Christian to become a Neo-Platonist, for they were both being moulded by the same forces.
 Maurice Croiset devotes a few luminous critical pages to Plotinus in the Croisets’ Histoire de la Littérature Grecque, vol. V, pp. 820-31. As an extended account of Plotinus, from a more enthusiastically sympathetic standpoint, there are Dr. Inge’s well-known Gifford Lectures, The Philosophy of Plotinus (1918); I may also mention a careful scholastic study, L’Esthétique de Plotin (1913), by Cochez, of Louvain, who regards Plotinus as the climax of the objective æsthetics of antiquity and the beginning of the road to modern subjective æsthetics.
 Kant was habitually cold and calm. But he was very fond of dried fruits and used to have them specially imported for him by his friend Motherby. “At one time he was eagerly expecting a vessel with French fruits which he had ordered, and he had already invited some friends to a dinner at which they were to be served. The vessel was, however, delayed a number of days by a storm. When it arrived, Kant was informed that the provisions had become short on account of the delay, and that the crew had eaten his fruit. Kant was so angry that he declared they ought rather to have starved than to have touched it. Surprised at this irritation, Motherby said, ‘Professor, you cannot be in earnest.’ Kant answered, ‘I am really in earnest,’ and went away. Afterwards he was sorry.” (Quoted by Stuckenberg, The Life of Kant, p. 138.) But still it was quite in accordance with Kantian morality that the sailors should have starved.
 Shaftesbury held that Locke swept away too much and failed to allow for inborn instincts (or “senses,” as he sometimes called them) developing naturally. We now see that he was right.
 There is no need to refer to the value of salt, and therefore the appreciation of the flavour of salt, to primitive people. Still to-day, in Spain, sal (salt) is popularly used for a more or less intellectual and moral quality which is highly admired.
 We find fallacious criticism of the “moral sense” down to almost recent times, in, for instance, McDougall’s Social Psychology, even though McDougall, by his insistence on the instinctive basis of morality, was himself carrying on the tradition of Shaftesbury and Hutcheson. But McDougall also dragged in “some prescribed code of conduct,” though he neglected to mention who is to “prescribe” it.
 It is noteworthy, however, that the æsthetic view of morals has had advocates, not only among the more latitudinarian Protestants, but in Catholicism. A few years ago the Reverend Dr. Kolbe published a book on The Art of Life, designed to show that just as the sculptor works with hammer and chisel to shape a block of marble into a form of beauty, so Man, by the power of grace, the illumination of faith, and the instrument of prayer, works to transform his soul. But this simile of the sculptor, which has appealed so strongly alike to Christian and anti-Christian moralists, proceeds, whether or not they knew it, from Plotinus, who, in his famous chapter on Beauty, bids us note the sculptor. “He cuts away here, he smooths there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a living face has grown upon his work. So do you also cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, make all one glow of beauty, and never cease chiselling your statue until the godlike splendour shines on you from it, and the perfect goodness stands, surely, in the stainless shrine.”
 This has been well seen by Jules de Gaultier: “The joys and the sorrows which fill life are, the one and the other,” he says (La Dépendance de la Morale et l’Indépendance des Mœurs, p. 340), “elements of spectacular interest, and without the mixture of both that interest would be abolished. To make of the representative worth of phenomena their justification in view of a spectacular end alone, avoids the objection by which the moral thesis is faced, the fact of pain. Pain becomes, on the contrary, the correlative of pleasure, an indispensable means for its realization. Such a thesis is in agreement with the nature of things, instead of being wounded by their existence.”