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Chapter 3

The Origin And Development Of Moral Science In Human Beings

145. We have seen that conscience necessarily begins in human beings when they are in possession of abstract, formulated law, which they must follow when they act (cf. 139, 143, 144). They are therefore obliged to apply the law to the particular action they are performing by making a judgment on it, and thus forming a conscience about it. But abstract, formulated law, which we simply call law,(106) acquires different states in the human mind, giving rise to different kinds of conscience.

146. In addition we do not always apply the law immediately to what we are about to do, or at least not always in the same way. As a result, the various ways of applying the law give rise to different judgments about our actions and therefore different kinds of conscience.

147. The different kinds of conscience originate from:

1. the different states that the law, applied to our actions, assumes in our mind;
2. the different ways the law is applied in the judgments we make about our actions.

In this chapter I shall discuss the different states of the law as they vary with the progressive development of the human mind. In the following chapter I shall discuss the different ways of applying the law to particular human actions, of judging these actions and of forming a moral conscience about them.

148. An investigation into the different states assumed by the law in the human mind according to the stages of human development concerns the origin, growth and perfecting of moral science. This science is simply the complex of all moral laws in their respective order, that is, of all the obligatory formulas that constitute the moral rules of human actions.

Hence, the investigation entails a philosophical survey of the development of the human spirit relative to moral notions. It is not a survey of contingent facts but, given certain positive conditions, of necessary facts. We can therefore ignore any accidental development of the mind dependent upon positive, accidental factors. For instance, it is certain that if our predecessors of two thousand years ago were to speak to primitive people living today in order to give them moral instruction, they would use language quite different from ours. Their logic would correspond to a level of development lower than our own and their teaching would involve ideas less abstract and less clear than ours. Thus, their way and ours of instructing these primitive people would produce different thought processes. In both cases, however, the development of mind and spirit would be subject to the same logical and psychological laws; only the accidental circumstances in which these laws operate would be different.

149. Accidental circumstances must, therefore, be ignored. Our investigation must deal only with the constant effects of the understanding's development relative to moral concepts.


Article 1.

SPECIFIC MORAL formulas are formed before GENERIC MORAL formulas

150. We must first establish the general principle that human beings, when forming abstract notions to serve as the moral rule of their actions, obey the logical and psychological laws governing the formation of all abstracts.

The study of knowledge shows that abstracts in the human mind have two grades, specific and generic.(107) Because every moral norm is an abstract idea, it must be either specific or generic. This is the first and fundamental division of all formulas expressing obligation, because formulas are stated either in regard to a species of beings or in regard to an entire genus.

Thus, just as beings are classified into species and genera, so formulas expressing obligation (or, if preferred, moral imperatives) are classified into specific and generic.(108) For example, the imperatives that directly apply to the human species constitute specific laws. If these specific laws are generalised, they become laws having the genus 'intelligent beings' as their object, and are therefore generic laws. 'Do not kill' is a specific imperative because it refers to the human species, but 'Do not hate' is a generic or universal imperative because it refers to all intelligent beings, and in fact to all beings.

151. Anyone seeking to construct a science of ethics should carefully consider the species and genera of beings, and use them as a foundation for dividing the various formulas of obligation into an ordered hierarchy. He should note that every species has three modes: full[-imperfect], imperfect-abstract and full-perfect,(109) and that genus also is of three kinds: real, mental and nominal. He must show that a class of moral imperatives corresponds to each of these different forms of species and genera, and that the imperatives of one class must not be confused with those of another, nor intermingle indiscriminately, as commonly occurs in treatises on ethics.

152. The specific and generic imperatives are subordinate to the universal, categorical imperative, which is the principle and source of all imperatives, wonderfully containing and uniting the whole of moral science.

153. If we consider these different imperative formulas relative to the action of the spirit conceiving them, we see that the specific formulas, which prescind only from the being's subsistence and from the accidents (which belong to the abstract species(110)), are at a lower level of reflection than the generic formulas. The spirit has first to reflect on specific formulas before it can make them generic, at least in the case of mental genera. Real genera, because they are founded in nature, could be abstracted directly without the use of specific abstractions.

154. The level of reflection required to express the mental genera in words is proportionate to the level and extent of the genera. And because higher reflections cannot be made without lower reflections, we can understand why the science of morality begins with specific formulas. Only after a long time do these specific formulas become generalised. Continually expressed in more general propositions, they assume a nobler, more scientific appearance, giving greater satisfaction to the mind, although ever more distant from their practical applications.

155. But it is precisely from the varying condition of these applications that different consciences originate when we act. Each formula, whether specific or generic, can be used as a rule of our actions, although specific formulas are easily (and sometimes immediately) applied to the judgment of actions about to be done, whereas generic formulas are applied only when the specific formula has been deduced from them to serve as mediator in the application.

Thus, the person who follows generic formulas in his action will be more liable to error in forming a conscience than the person who forms his conscience by means of specific formulas. On the other hand, the former will have a greater appreciation of the dignity of moral virtue than the latter, because generic formulas contain the explanation of specific formulas and are therefore closer to the categorical imperative, which is the source of the evidence for obligation. This explains why educated people can speak more eloquently about moral matters; they have a more universal view of them. However, when acting, and in consequences closer to practice, they are less sure than ordinary people, who simply follow specific precepts. Those who follow universal principles can easily make a mistake, precisely because such principles are so far removed from life itself, and because the mind has to pass through a long succession of intermediate propositions before being able to judge the actions to be done.

156. For example, the moral formula: 'You must help your country' is more generic than: 'Punishment of the guilty must be left to magistrates.' The need for magistrates and judges to judge crimes committed by individual citizens is founded in the necessity to preserve order in the state, if the country is to be helped. But anyone who regulated his actions solely by the more general principle of helping his country, could make a mistake about the respect due to the judiciary more easily than the person following the more specific rule of leaving the treatment of crimes to magistrates; the first would form an erroneous conscience more easily than the second. If the first knew of a depraved, evil man, he might think it lawful to kill him, by reasoning: 'Everyone must help his country. But doing away with the wicked is a great good for one's country. Therefore my act of ridding the country of this criminal is an excellent work.' This application of the principle is wrong.

The general principle, when used by itself as a rule for a person who refuses to take specific formulas as a norm, gives rise to pretexts for mistakes, particularly if the person is already blinded by passion. The principle 'You must help your country' does not in itself determine any good and upright way of helping one's country. Consequently, because the means are not determined in reality, anyone following the principle can use apparent rather than true, real means. On the other hand, another person following the more specific formula 'Punishment of the guilty must be left to magistrates' cannot make a mistake, because the formula, being specific, determines the means of attaining real, public utility. But if the first person, instead of immediately applying the general principle, moves to the particular formula and uses it as a means for judging his action, he avoids error.


Article 2.

We first form moral formulas about beings considered in themselves and then formulas about beings in their different relationships



Formulas about beings considered in themselves

157. From what has been said about the laws governing the development of human intelligence, we can conclude that 'as people develop, they first form moral formulas about beings considered in themselves and then formulas about beings in their various relationships.'

158. It is a fact that we first perceive individual beings. We then perceive several beings together, and subsequently distinguish them with their different relationships. We cannot see these relationships before we have perceived the beings as individuals. Knowledge, therefore, of the relationships belongs to the faculty of reflection, and the level of reflection depends on the quality of the individual beings whose relationships are being determined.
Furthermore, just as we cannot know our duties towards a being unless we have first perceived the being, so we cannot know our duties arising from the relationships between beings unless we have first conceived these relationships.

Thus, duties to beings in themselves become known before duties deriving from the relationships between beings. Hence, at the beginning of moral science, imperative formulas which express the first kind of duties are antecedent to those expressing the second kind. For example, we know that in the union of the sexes nothing must be done contrary and harmful to the generation of children; only later do we become aware of the incongruity of polygamy. The first truth is drawn easily from the dignity of a creature that possesses reason, but to know the second, we have first to observe the relationship existing simultaneously between many wives, and then the incongruity present in this simultaneous relationship.

159. But here we must pay careful attention to a kind of exception to the logical law I have posited as controlling the origin of the different moral formulas.

Many relationships between beings are known by us from the beginning because of the synthetical or complex nature of our first perceptions. In fact, at least by means of sight, we perceive the whole universe from the beginning in one single perception. We distinguish beings, noting their differences and relationships. But our knowledge is not perfect, nor do we understand remote, abstract or complex relationships. Relationships like father and mother, brothers and sisters, husband and wife are conceived with almost the first concepts of these beings, but in a confused manner. I say 'confused' because at the beginning, a child sees in his father and mother only other intelligent, good, caring beings with power over him; he loves them naturally, habitually and gratefully but without understanding the notion of parent. We must conclude therefore that we perceive beings by means of our relationship with them, a relationship made up of the action they exercise on us and of the element added by our perceiving understanding. In the first perception of a being, for example, we feel the being as pleasant or unpleasant to our nature. We then see that it is like or unlike ourselves. These relationships are the foundation of the first duties we feel towards beings.

The first relationships that we know, therefore, are: 1. those which beings have directly with us; and 2. those which we suppose or imagine perceived beings have among themselves, as we reason by analogy with ourselves and judge all other beings to have feeling and intelligence as we have.(111)

160. The first relationships are not apprehended as relationships; they are the perceived beings themselves apprehended under a particular aspect arising from the special action they exercise on us and we on them. For example, colour is not apprehended in a being as an action of the being on us (in which the relationship would consist) but as the coloured being itself. Fatherhood is not apprehended as the relationship between the one begetting and the one begotten; what is apprehended is simply a lovable human being called father.

161. The second relationships also are not apprehended initially as relationships but as qualities seen in the conceived being. The relationship of equality between a being and us is not apprehended by abstracting the equality but by directly imagining in the being a feeling and intelligence similar to that in us; we imagine ourselves to be in the being. But these relationships are soon abstracted to become true relationships, existing as such in the mental concept we have of them,(112) and provide the foundation for other moral formulas.



Formulas concerning beings in their mutual relationships

162. With the exception of the relationships contained in the concept of beings, all other relationships become known later when we have occasion to compare several beings.
If we make a contract or form any kind of association, a pact exists between the contracting parties, and relationships are established between associates. These relationships are foundations for new formulas enjoining obligation. Thus, the formation of civil society would give rise in moral science to a great number of moral formulas.
In the same way, as the uses of things and their effects for the good or evil of humanity become known, the number of moral duties increases proportionately, and obligations arise from the use of natural resources and manufactured goods.

163. If, therefore, we want to know the connection between these formulas and the faculty of reflection in order to distribute the formulas according to the levels of reflections, we must simplify our teaching and look for a principle that will guide us in classifying duties according to the levels of reflections.

The principle is: 'Relationships between beings (the cause of moral obligations) fall under two heads: the being and the action of things.'

164. The moral formulas, therefore, that spring from these relationships concern either 1. the respective value of things, or 2. their direct and indirect actions with their good or bad effects.

165. In the case of simple beings, the first formulas, concerned with the respective value relationships of things (the respective entity of things) arise, as we said, from the perception and concept of beings, and are now further distinguished by the differences noted between the beings. In the case, however, of complex beings, which like societies and moral bodies are made up of many beings, appropriate formulas come after the first formulas and require a higher level of reflection. Let us take a particular case.

An example of a formula derived from the concept of simple beings is: 'A human being must not be used by another as a means.' But if I consider human beings in their relationship with animals, I discover a second formula: 'A human being is more valuable than an animal which, unlike a human being, can be used as a means.' This formula does not differ essentially from the first, but it is more precise because by means of the difference between human beings and animals, it indicates better what is due to human beings. It belongs to the group of formulas founded on the respective value relationships of simple things.

If I now compare a human being with the union called family (a complex being), I form the following formula: 'A family is more valuable than one human being. When conflict arises, I must therefore prefer the preservation of the family to that of the individual human being, all things being equal.' But if I compare a family with a complex of families, I have the formula: 'Many families are worth more than one family, I must therefore prefer the preservation of the many to the one.'

All these formulas are founded on the relationships between simple and complex beings, or between different complex beings. It is clear that a complex being presupposes the simple beings that form it. It is equally clear that I cannot make a comparison between complex beings except by an act of reflection at a level higher than the level for comparing simple beings. Moreover, complex beings themselves are of different natures, with different levels of complexity and artificiality. Their concepts do not belong to the same level of reflections; some hold a higher and others a lower place in a fixed order.

166. Relationships that have their origin in the action of things, that is, in their mutual interactions, are the basis for formulas of obligation according to the effects produced by the interaction. Whatever the actions and their order, they must eventually produce a good or bad effect, helpful or harmful to (intelligent) beings, the objects of the action. The universal principle 'You must do good and not evil to all beings', a very general, imperative formula, gives rise to many other, less general and more specific principles. These prohibit certain actions with a bad effect and approve certain others with a good effect.

167. But the final effect of the interaction of beings is not easily perceived; it can be seen only with time and the development of human intellective functions. There are two reasons for this.

1. Sometimes the effect is immediate; at other times it is the result of a series of subordinate causes. Although an immediate effect can be judged easily, it is not easy to judge the usefulness or harm of an ultimate, indirect effect. The difficulty is increased in proportion to the distance of the effect from its first cause, often resulting in a conflict of judgments: one person judges a certain action as good because his attention is fixed on the immediate, advantageous effect, while another person judges the same action as wrong because he considers a complex of distant, indirect effects, which he finds harmful.

168. This gives rise to different consciences. Moreover a person's conscience can sometimes be uncertain and doubtful because he sees how difficult it is to calculate all the effects, including the remote effects of an action. Another person, however, forms a certain conscience without difficulty because his vision of the series of effects is restricted. He thinks his calculation is complete because it includes the effects he sees; and he does not suspect the existence of more remote effects.

169. Once again, it is easy to note that if the judgment on the immediate effect of any action belongs to a certain level of reflection, the complete, indirect effect cannot be calculated without reflection at a higher level, which, of course, is proportionate to the length and number of the series of causes and effects. In this respect moral science starts from the discovery of formulas concerning the immediate effects of actions of things, and moves on to the discovery of formulas concerning ever more complete, indirect effects.

170. In the same way, it is possible to calculate how varying numbers of people acting simultaneously produce different effects. The calculation required for many agents belongs to a higher reflection than that required for a few. Consequently, moral formulas dealing with many agents are discovered after those dealing with few.

171. 2. The second reason for the progress of moral science is the discovery of formulas of obligation regarding the action of things.

I can know the effect, considered in itself, of one or many actions and causes, but to know the real value of the effect I must sometimes judge it in relationship to all its circumstances. Let us suppose that an effect takes place in part of a complex, physical or moral body, and that it is beneficial to this part. It does not follow, however, that it will be beneficial to the whole body. For example, I can take some wine for the sake of my stomach, which produces a good effect. But the overall effect is worse because some other part of my body is diseased. In which case I have done more harm than good.

The part therefore must fit the whole. For example, I could misjudge the beauty of an ornament by not considering it in relationship to its setting, just as I could misjudge the usefulness of some part of a mechanism if I were unaware of its relationship to the whole device. What is good or bad in an effect, therefore, is not found simply in the effect but also in its relationship to all the circumstances around it. The history of moral science shows that this truth had been noticed by the human mind. The Stoics understood it as the foundation of the whole of moral science; for them, that which is fitting became the principle of ethics.(113)

172. However, this principle, a very general one, is not yet universal, although it does embrace less general formulas, and progressively developing specific formulas. This development depends upon the way in which we extend the judgment we make about the goodness of an effect not only to the accompanying circumstances but also to many other circumstances, both close and remote, as we continue to consider new relationships. In a word, we do not judge the effect alone; we judge it as part of a larger physical or moral body, and finally as part of a greater complex concept. The moral formulas develop pari passu with the levels of reflection to which they belong.

173. We have seen that there are as many consciences as there are imperative moral formulas. Conscience is always formed according to a norm applied for the purpose of judging an intended action. Human conscience, therefore, is subject to the modifications of moral opinions. As moral science progresses, imperative formulas are continually discovered. The result is new and different consciences in people and humanity as a whole.

174. Furthermore, as imperative formulas increase in number, conscience easily becomes doubtful or perplexed, and subject to other modifications. It is therefore understandable that when we use different formulas or norms to make the proximate judgment of our actions, we obtain different results and make conflicting decisions. This can happen in the same person, and the result is a perplexed, uncertain, doubtful conscience.



Positive laws are deduced from rational laws

175. Positive law is founded in rational law. To understand this clearly, we must determine what we understand by positive law.
I define positive law as the will of a being made known to other beings so that they can carry it out. The obligation to execute the will of the being depends solely upon the will itself of the being communicating the law.

176. Hence positive law first differs from rational law because rational law, which has its own reason independent of the legislator's will, is founded, as we have seen, in fittingness or usefulness (considered in the object of the duty, not the subject performing the duty). The reason for the positive law, on the other hand, is simply the will of a respected and honoured legislator, and the fittingness of carrying out that will.

177. Second, there is in fact a reason for positive law, a reason which lies solely in the eminence of the will constituting the law. This reason does not spring from the real form of being (usefulness) or the ideal form (necessary fittingness) but from the moral form (hypothetical or arbitrary fittingness).

178. Third, the source of all positive laws, strictly speaking, can only be the will of God, because this will alone is good in itself, lovable and observable. Its sublime dignity makes it equal to divine reason, so that St. Augustine makes both the reason and will of God the source of law: the reason or will of God.

179. Fourth, if God were to give the human race a law identical with the rational law (for instance, the commandment 'Do not kill') such a law, positively promulgated by God, would be true rational law and true divine positive law. It would thus have greater dignity and authority.

180. Fifth, if the rational law were declared by a human being, no matter with what authority — granted the declaration was not made in the name of God, or the common good did not require submission, even to an erroneous will (in which case the reason for the law would be the common good and not the will of a human being) — such a law would still be rational law, with the same obligating force. It would be now understood more clearly, however, and have its own persuasive force rendering its transgressors less excusable. The degree of its clarity and persuasion would correspond to the degree of wisdom and authority of the person promulgating it.

181. Sixth and finally, human authority can, itself, make positive laws, if such laws are necessary for the better observance of rational laws.

182. Human laws can also have a positive or willed element, provided they contain an element of rational law supplemented by positively willed determinations. These determinations render the execution of the law possible, easy or complete. For instance, soldiers are to be transported from one place to another. Obviously the order for their transport is not given without necessity or utility. The order therefore is not positive, but rational, and to this extent is independent of the commander's will. However, there is a choice of roads and means of transport, and no reason for preferring one of these to another. Nevertheless a choice has to be made, but not by the soldiers themselves who would all choose different roads and different means. The result would be confusion or worse. One, single will, that of the commanding officer, has necessarily to make the choice.

183. Such are the limits that bind human authority in the making of positive, willed laws. Determining ends is the function of rational law, not of human authority which at most can only declare rational law. The true function of human authority consists in determining the means for the attainment of these ends when the means are not already determined by some more suitable reason.

184. We must now consider the obligation of subjects to observe the positive laws of competent human authority. The foundation of these laws is not human will (which is neither law nor able to make laws), but the need to follow rational order. We must observe this order, and therefore must use the means necessary for its observance. One of these means is that of a single will determining that which of itself is indetermined. We must accept this will and conform to it.

185. For this reason, and within these limits, every will is subject to a single, individual or collective will.
This subjection may seem to be a kind of contract because an act of will is present in those submitting. It is not, however, an arbitrary contract, since all are morally obliged to submit. If they did not submit, they would sin. It is obvious that this obligation is independent of the question (irrelevant to our discussion): 'Can those who are not united in civil societies be forced to unite?' or 'Is there a case where people can be legitimately compelled to submit to a single will?'(114)

186. We should not infer from what has been said that things determined by rational law cannot be the object of human legislators. The need for order, which authorises the formation of positive laws by human legislators, gives the legislators the faculty and duty of declaring the rational law in those cases where the people must act in a uniform way for the sake of society — the declaration, of course, does not bind unless it is just or probable. When the rational law is not evident, the competent power must express the declaration so that the people are not divided and split by conflicting opinions (if the law is evident the human authority need not declare it but only sanction it). In doubtful cases the people must follow the authentic, probable declaration of the rational law because of their obligation to co-operate in social order.

The argument supporting this is exactly the same as for human positive law, which I presented above. If natural order is a duty, the means necessary for it must also be duties. But these means include a declaration (to be accepted by all) about doubtful points of the rational law. Hence a human tribunal declaring the natural law, within these limits, must be recognised.

187. Summing up, we have seen that positive law always has its origin in a will; that this will can be either divine or human; and that the divine will, which constitutes good simply by willing, makes laws of itself without any further reason. We have also seen that the human will does not make laws of itself; its act as such does not constitute good but must be rendered good by following the good already constituted by the rational order or the divine will. Nevertheless the human will, in desiring good, often has many ways and means of choosing it and, when unable to discern the best, is left free to choose. We have seen, however, that this faculty to choose freely from equally suitable means cannot belong to each individual where social action is concerned. For the sake of order this action must be unified so that the society as a whole, not the individual, makes the choice. This single and social will, which binds and preserves the people, must be made and declared by an individual or collective person, called the supreme, legislative 'authority'. All the members of the social body obey this authority and in associating renounce both in fact and by right their natural free choice. They submit to the judgment of the single will that has retained all its natural power and become the norm for the whole society. In cases, therefore, where the rational order is indetermined, the people, who are bound to make a choice of some kind, have to follow what the public authority enacts for all.



Supreme formulas

188. In the light of what has been said, we will conclude with some indications about the last period of moral science.
This period can come about only when moral opinions are fully developed, when humanity has passed from infancy to perfect maturity, and when all the imperative formulas rooted in the apprehension of beings and their relationships have been deduced. After that, an attempt must be made to summarise all the moral formulas deduced from universal principles not known by reflection as expressions of universal principles known by reflection. This is the work of the last period of the science.

189. I believe we have already reached this stage in which the most universal formulas of all have been formed by reflection, and include all other formulas. I also believe that these principles are only four in number. The first has being as its object; the other three have the internal relationships of being as their object.

190. In fact all possible relationships of beings are reduced to three ultimate categories in which all genera are found.

191. The first formula, which precedes the other three and is simply being, states: 'Acknowledge BEING for what it is.'

192. But BEING has three, supreme internal relationships, or forms, reality, ideality and morality, in all of which it must be acknowledged. Hence, three supreme imperative formulas.

Ideal being (ideality), which is itself light, reveals the other two. Through it we know real beings, which indicate in us the first imperative formula: 'Acknowledge real beings for what they are', that is, 'Esteem beings, love them, help them; rejoice in the being they have, and desire for them the being they require according to their nature, and which perfects them.'
When we acknowledge moral being, that is, the essentially moral will, the will of God, the second moral imperative reveals itself in our spirit as: 'Make your will one with the essentially moral will.'
After making known real being and moral being, ideal being finally makes itself known by reflection as truth and gives rise to the third imperative which states: 'Acknowledge ideal being,' or 'Esteem the truth unreservedly,' or 'Follow the light of reason.'

193. All four formulas are equally supreme, but the three last are contained in the first, which is perfected by each of them.(115)

194. The last of these supreme formulas comes to be known after the other two because it depends upon a higher level of reflection. However, it contains the others and leads to them, because ideal being extends to all things. For this reason, the command: 'Adhere to the truth' includes: 'Adhere to real being' and 'Adhere to moral being or the divine will.' We could in fact say it is the first imperative taken to a higher level of reflection.


Article 3.

We first form reflective moral formulas having EXTERNAL ACTIONS as their object; then formulas having AFFECTIONS of the spirit as their object, and finally formulas expressing PRACTICAL ESTEEM

195. Our actions are determined in reality by the affections that accompany them. These affections involve a preceding judgment about things, which I have called practical because it has power for action (cf. 18-22). Hence, all moral actions can be reduced to external actions, to affections of the spirit and to practical judgments about the goodness of things. All moral formulas must belong to these three classes of moral act.

196. We now have to determine the order in which these formulas were discovered and expressed.
When we perform a moral act we first make a judgment about things. Then, on the basis of our judgment, we adjust our affections towards these things, and finally we act according to these affections. But the order in which humanity forms and expresses moral formulas is the opposite of this.

The teaching of the earliest moralists dealt in the main with the precepts about external actions. Only much later, when ethics is evolving into a science, do we see thinkers concerned with formulating directives that govern the order of our affections — and only at this time were these directives willingly accepted by all as something beautiful and new. Finally, moral science reaches perfection with the discovery of the real source of the affections, namely, the practical judgment. All moral teaching is now directed to the right formation of this judgment.

197. Thus, moral science duly followed the path indicated for its origin, growth and perfection. As we know, the easiest things for us to observe are external actions; they are immediately present to us and directly concern human association. Obviously they were the first to need rules and directions; God himself began his legislation with a command whose object was external action, that is, the prohibition not to eat the fruit.

People then turned their thoughts to what was happening within them, and they saw that good or evil actions sprang from the right or wrong ordering of affections. Only then did moralists examine affections, as civil legislators tried to do also in their own way. Earlier, this would not have been possible.
Finally thinkers, after realising that affections are the result of practical esteem of things, determined the supreme moral imperative: 'Esteem all things in practice according to their worth.'


Article 4.

Summary and classification of all moral formulas

198. In the preceding three Articles I presented a philosophical survey of the origin and progress of moral science. Because this science is substantially nothing more than a complex of formulated precepts, I tried to show the progressive order in which the formulas have been gradually thought out, and I spoke about them from three different points of view. I considered them: in themselves as general or specific; in their origin from the apprehension of beings or apprehension of their more or less close relationships; and finally, in their object which could be practical judgment, or affection, or exterior action. I must now unify all three points of view, briefly indicating their mutual connection and drawing up a single, simple classification for all the formulas that have been or will be composed in works on ethics.

199. The first and fundamental division of moral formulas must express acts of morality. It must therefore originate in the distinction between esteem for things, affections seconding the esteem, and actions following from the affections. Esteem, affections and external actions constitute only one thing, as a human being is one. They are a single moral action with three grades, issuing, as it were, from the human being and attaining its term in three stages. The first stage is suitable esteem, the second the affection following the esteem, and the third, which completes the moral act, the external action caused by the affection.

The second division, adhering to and continuous with the first, arises from beings and their relationships as the objective cause of moral acts. In fact, all the preceding formulas, whether they determine esteem, affections or external actions, can be subdivided and classified according to the cause determining the degree of esteem and affection, and the quality and quantity of external action. A being, or a relationship between beings, obliges me to make a determined value judgment, to have a determined affection and to posit a determined action.

Finally, the basis for a subordinate classification is the logical form of the more or less general formulas, or even the universal formulas we have discussed (the principle of morality and the three imperative categories). The entire classification of possible imperative formulas in ethics would then be determined according to the following:


Classification Table
Of All Possible Moral Formulas


I. Imperative formulas for a just practical esteem.


Imperative formulas for a just practical esteem according to the truth (ideal being) of beings considered in themselves.






General formulas.



Specific formulas.


Imperative formulas for a just practical esteem according to the truth of beings considered in their relationships.



Relationships between real beings.








Formulas drawn from relationships between real beings (series of beings). Such relationships are generally close, multiple (between varying numbers of beings), and belong to a more or less complex body (determined by its circumstances and the number of parts). Each relationship is




a) general,




b) specific.



Relationships between moral beings (subordinations of will, positive laws).






General formulas.



Specific formulas.



Relationships between ideal beings (the logic of duties).






Rules of conscience.

II. Imperative formulas regarding affection, necessarily derived from the practical esteem. (The same subdivision).

III. Imperative formulas regarding external action, necessarily derived (given the required circumstance) from preceding affection. (The same subdivision).



(106) This appropriate use of the term conforms to St. Paul's use of it (Rom 1), as we can see from Tertullian's commentary on the Apostle's words: 'If God is to judge the hidden things of those who have offended either with or without the law — those ignorant of the law naturally do what is under the law — he will certainly judge those who are under the LAW and also subject to NATURE, which serves as law for the uninstructed' (L. 5, contr. Marcionem, c. 13). We note: 1. nature took the place of law for the Gentiles. This is precisely what I say: beings themselves, that is, the nature of conceived beings, are from the start the norm for human beings, from which only later is the formula of law derived. 2. In this first state, the human being is said to be without law because moral obligation, despite its efficacy and obligation in its first unabstracted condition, does not merit the name 'law' as we commonly use the word.

(107) Cf. my theory of species and genera in OT, 646-659.

(108) Above every species and genera, we posit three CATEGORIES, one of which is universal moral being.

(109) Cf. OT, loc. cit.

(110) Although formulas belonging to full-imperfect species could be verbally expressed if we wished, the exercise would be pointless. In any case, they are so many that we could never express them all. Full-imperfect-specific ideas are not found in books on ethics because they are not expressed in any language. Even philosophers do not generally notice them.

(111) The authoress of Essai sur l'éducation de l'enfance (Madame Necker, Geneva, 1837) writes very much to the point: 'It is commonplace to see very young children attributing vital powers to inanimate objects, and this illusion increases their fears or pleasures threefold. A portrait is looking at them; a table suffers when someone hits it. And what about the little finger of their mother or the maid? - what kind of role does that play for a great number of children? This little servant of the secret police is listening, answering, denouncing the guilty ones, who see nothing surprising in so absurd a fact.'

(112) The formula, 'A human being must not harm a fellow human being', belongs to the first species, where the relationship is not yet separated from the concept 'human'. But the formula, 'You must not harm your like', belongs to the second species, because the relationship of similarity is abstracted from what is human, and expressed. The second formula is discovered after the first, which implicitly contains it, and expresses the reason for the first - the reason one human being should not harm another is that the other is his like.

(113) In order to arrive at a very general formula the understanding does not have to pass through all the less general or specific formulas. It need only reflect on, and then abstract from, one of them. For example, we do not need to observe different cases of the following truth: 'A part of a whole cannot be judged good or bad except in relationship to the whole', in order to abstract from it the general imperative of Stoic fittingness, that is, 'nothing may be done that is not in keeping with everything else with which it forms at least a mental whole.'

(114) This question can be discussed under either signorial right or social right, a very important distinction. I refer the reader to my treatment of the matter in La Società ed il suo fine.

(115) The three moral categories I have dealt with have their origin in the first formula completed by union with each of the other three formulas.

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