I NOW turn to the sceptics. By "sceptics" I mean those who, because their main concern is, intellectual integrity, reject all theories that offend their extremely fastidious intellectual conscience. For this reason they refuse to accept the teaching, either of saints or of revolutionaries.
It is important to emphasize that the true sceptic is dominated by loyalty to the distinctively human capacity for critical intelligence, just as the saint is dominated by loyalty to the other distinctively human capacity, namely mutual awareness and kindliness. Reason and love may be fancifully described as the two wings of the human spirit. Flight is not possible with one wing alone. With love and no reason the saint becomes amiably ineffective and superstitious. With reason and no love the sceptic becomes a clever cynic. The perfect man would be a sceptical saint. And in our day he would be also a revolutionary.
I am by nature specially sympathetic toward scepticism. For that reason I feel bound to be critical of it. The sceptical attitude is of great value, but, like all other principles, scepticism is capable of becoming a fetish and of doing great harm.
The true sceptic's chief loyalty is to honest reasoning. What he most detests is deception, particularly self-deception. His scepticism begins with an emotional reaction against cant and humbug. He is also opposed emotionally to emotion itself. He has heard so much about the value of fine emotions and about the aridity of the purely intellectual attitude, and he has encountered so much self-deceiving sentimentality, that he has been driven to conceive an ideal of completely unemotional, dispassionate, detached behaviour. He is inclined to forget that admiration even of this ideal is emotional.
Just as there are true and false saints, so there are true and false sceptics. The true sceptic is one whose ruling motive really is intellectual honesty, who refuses at all costs to believe or pretend to believe theories that cannot withstand intellectual criticism. He is determined not to allow emotion to interfere with his reasoning, and is thus driven to doubt nearly all the theories that other men believe.
The false sceptic is the cynic. He is not at heart concerned with intellectual honesty but with setting up an intellectual smoke-screen between himself and duty. In rebellion against pretentious "faith", he conceives a morbid passion to put the worst possible interpretation on man and the universe. He is not concerned with the ideal of the dispassionate life. He cares only for the irresponsible life. Consciously or unconsciously he seeks only an excuse for detachment from all desires except selfish desires. It is with glee, frank or veiled or unwitting, that he denies the validity of moral obligation. The true sceptic also denies the validity of moral obligation, but the motive of his denial is intellectual honesty, even if, as I believe, it is misguided intellectual honesty. It is not sheer moral laziness or cowardice. Many true sceptics, though they profess to disbelieve in the objectivity of good and evil, would gladly believe, if intellectual honesty did not seem to forbid it. Often the actual behaviour of true sceptics is more moral than the average. Sometimes their devotion to the ideals of the intellectual conscience is heroic. Yet when they perform what appear to be acts of moral self-sacrifice they assure us that they do so merely because they are socially conditioned to behave in such a manner, or because of ingrained habits of group-feeling.
The generous sceptic's loyalty to reason helps to produce in him a strong loyalty to reasonableness. His guiding principle in intercourse with others is that he must try to understand the other's motives and appeal to them reasonably. He tends to believe in persuasion rather than force, and in rational persuasion rather than in appeal to emotion. In this respect he comes in line with the saints; and partly, I believe, through the same motive as theirs, though in him it is not a clearly recognized motive. At heart and more or less unwittingly this kind of sceptic is faithful to the ideal of genuine community, based on the mutual respect and co-operation of reasonable beings.
Even the most rigorous sceptic is sceptical primarily because of an emotional bias, namely toward intellectual honesty. Because he is a sceptic about ethics, he himself, of course, declares that his emotional bias in favour of intellectual honesty is just a subjective feeling in his own mind, that intellectual honesty is not in any strict sense intrinsically good. But he does behave as though he believed it to be intrinsically good.
Sometimes the emotional root of scepticism is simply a cold and phlegmatic disposition. Sometimes it is a sensitive emotional nature which must be protected by means of a cloak of detachment. But sometimes scepticism is an expression of the personality as a whole in response to the widespread superstitions of mankind. Whatever its emotional root, its conscious expression, in the true sceptic, is a passionate moral loyalty to intellectual integrity.
The sceptic is suspicious of all emotion. He rebels both against his own emotion and against emotion in others. He is constantly offended by self-deceivers and canting hypocrites. Particularly he objects to the sham saint; and in his view all saints are in a sense sham saints, since he regards even the most sincere of them as self-deceivers. His scepticism is largely a rejection of the vague and doubtful dogmas of religion, and a protest against what, in his view, is the gigantic humbug perpetrated by the churches.
Starting with his initial bias in favour of intellectual honesty, he soon comes to the conclusion that the intellectual side of religion is a pretentious sham. Its arguments are specious, its theories often unintelligible. If the sceptic is strictly true to his own lights, he does not positively deny all religious doctrines. He does not profess atheism. For the positive denial of theological theories seems to him as unsound intellectually as the affirmation of them. They simply lie beyond the range of intellect. The legitimate scope of intellectual enquiry, he says, is much more restricted than is generally supposed. Moreover, at every turn it is liable to be frustrated not only by logical obtuseness but by irrelevant and often unwitting emotion. In subtle manners our wishes falsify our thinking. For instance we crave the right to praise and blame, and so we believe that good and evil are not mere matters of whim. We crave comfort and security, and so we persuade ourselves that some power in the universe will cherish us.
Two kinds of reasons are given by religious people for this belief in a benevolent universal power. First, evidence derived from our experience of the external world is put forward to suggest that a benevolent power is in fact at work in it. To the sceptic this evidence seems to be all of the type of the old belief that God made the winds to fill the sails of our ships. The sceptic is not impressed. This kind of argument puts the cart before the horse. Sails were adapted to winds, not vice versa; and man laboriously adapts himself to the universe.
One form of this argument deserves more careful consideration. It begins with the assertion that human beings inevitably frustrate their own nature whenever they fall short of love and reason. This I believe to be in an important sense true. The next step is to point out that inevitably the human race as a whole must either progress toward love and reason or frustrate its own nature. This also I believe to be true. The argument then claims that this must necessarily apply to all beings and races which have reached the human degree of intelligence and self-consciousness. This also is in my view true. But it is surely illogical to infer that, if all this is so, there must be a power making for love and reason throughout the universe, and that this power is God, who intends us to behave in accordance with the principle of love and reason. Presumably the point of the argument lies in the conviction that anything so striking as love and reason must be a product of divine intention. But though it seems on the whole likely that in some sense love and reason are important factors in the universe, but it gives scarcely any support to the belief that they were ordained by a purposeful God.
The second kind of reason for the belief in a universal benevolent power is the saint's own intuitive conviction that there is indeed a God and he is loving. To this the sceptic replies that no mere feeling on the part of an individual can logically afford information about the universe as a whole. The loftiest of feelings, he says, is an event in an individual mind. Logically there is no necessity that the conviction generated by this feeling should be true of anything beyond the feeling itself. It is perhaps conceivable that the mystic has some kind of immediate acquaintance with the universe as a whole and its essential rightness, or with a benevolent universal spirit. But if so the mystic's mind must be of a radically different type from ordinary minds. This seems to the sceptic highly improbable, if not actually meaningless. Anyhow the mystic's experience, whatever it is, cannot be communicated to others, who do not themselves have such experience. Therefore it is of no public value whatever.
Against this reduction of religious experience to mere "feeling" some reply by turning the sceptic's argument against himself. His loyalty to truth, and even his intuitive sense of "true" and "false", are after all mere "feelings", and therefore they have no objective validity.
To this the sceptic may answer that there is just one thing which, in principle, cannot be undermined by reasoning, namely, reason itself; since, if the argument against reason is true, it must itself be condemned as worthless, because it is a case of reasoning. But, the sceptic may add, if reason is, after all, valid, the argument against religious experience must be dealt with on its own merits.
The sceptic insists that if people had a clearer idea of the scope and limitations of intellect, they would not be so ready to accept metaphysical beliefs. The true function of intellect, he says, is not to probe behind the world of ordinary experience, not to deduce metaphysical reality, but to clarify ordinary experience. It detects likenesses and differences within the flux of ordinary experience. In its scientific mode it formulates handy descriptions of the ways in which events observably happen and may be expected to happen. But it can discover no necessity in virtue of which they must do so. Nor can it logically deduce from ordinary experience a hidden reality of an essentially different kind from experienced reality. From the study of the world of perceived and fleeting events, whether physical events or mental events "in our own minds", it is logically impossible, according to the sceptic, to deduce any truth whatever about the universe as a whole, or about "the eternal reality". Therefore in his view the theories of the churches are completely without foundation.
Evidence of a purely scientific kind might, of course, make it seem probable that some benevolent power was interfering with the natural course of events in man's interest. The sceptic sees no evidence that this is so, but it is not logically impossible. What he regards as impossible is to deduce rationally any truths about the whole of reality. Again, evidence of a purely scientific kind might suggest that, as a matter of fact, individual human minds survive death, and succeed in communicating with us intelligently. The sceptic does not deny this possibility. On the other hand such evidence as there is in favour of it does not impress him. However, if he is true to his fundamental principles, he is very ready to examine the evidence scientifically. What he denies is that we can deduce the immortality, the eternal persistence, of individual spirits from anything whatever in the nature of an ordinary fleeting experience.
Thus far I agree with the sceptic, at any rate to a very large extent. The qualification is necessary because I feel that his scepticism is a little too dogmatic and sweeping. In fact he is not quite sceptical enough about his own sceptical theories. So far as I can see, there is indeed at present very little possibility of deducing necessary truths about the whole universe from ordinary individual fleeting experience; but how does the sceptic know that this sceptical doctrine itself is a universal and necessary truth about every possible kind of experience? So many doctrines that have been confidently asserted to be absolute truths have turned out to be too sweepingly stated, or even wholly false. I content myself therefore with saying that, in the present state of human experience, and with our present technique of reasoning, most statements about the essential or eternal nature of reality must be regarded as extremely doubtful. Those few that can be made with any confidence are in the main negative. Thus it is pretty clear that reality is not simply one unanalysable and featureless "absolute", or that all particular things are unreal. On the other hand, it is equally clear that reality is not a number of self-complete things, with no internal connections with one another. Reality is both one and many. But how far it is one and how far it is many we cannot yet determine.
One important criticism of the sceptic's general principle must be suggested. He assumes at the outset that a particular mental state is in fact something wholly distinct from other things in the universe, and from the universe as a whole. It is not clear to me that this assumption is justified. I am not convinced that it does not beg the whole question. Some mental states, such as sense-perceptions, certainly do seem to contain within themselves, or to apprehend directly, something other than themselves; and some, we are told by the mystics, seem to apprehend something of the whole's essential nature. Perhaps this is an illusion; but I do not see that the sceptics do anything to prove that it is so. They merely assume at the outset of their argument that a mental state or mental event must be a compact little bit of mental stuff, confined, so to speak, within its own skin. They do not entertain the possibility of its being a relation between something apprehending and something apprehended, and that the apprehended thing may sometimes be an aspect of the universe as a whole.
On the other hand, I am convinced that the sceptics are justified in pointing out that most metaphysical and theological theories are either meaningless or extremely doubtful.
So much for the sceptic's general position. I now turn to one particular sphere in which, I am convinced, he has allowed his scepticism to blind him to certain facts of experience. It so happens that this sphere is the most important of all for the practical life of mankind. Not only does he deny metaphysics and theology; he also denies morality. In his view the statement that anything is absolutely or objectively good is meaningless. The sceptic admits, of course, that we do have moral feelings, feelings of approval and disapproval. He denies that these feelings afford any justification for saying, "I ought to do so and so whether I like it or not"; unless the sense be merely, "I have a purely subjective feeling of approval of my doing so and so."
He explains these moral feelings in terms of ordinary psychology and sociology. They result partly, he may say, from the child's dependence on the law-making parent, partly from the individual's relation to the group. The root of morality lies partly in the family relationship, partly in gregariousness. The will to conform and enforce conformity has survival value. Hence arises the disposition to accept and to feel awe about the customs of the tribe, or of some dominating section of the tribe.
There can be no doubt that these principles form a very effective key to the understanding of the evolution of particular moral ideas. But they do not afford adequate grounds for denying the objective basis of morality. Any theory which simply explains morality away in terms of subjective mental states over-reaches itself, reduces itself to absurdity. There is something in moral experience which is far more cogent than any theory. Of course We may make mistakes about particular moral situations. We may misconceive the facts. Or we may be in some particular respect morally insensitive. But on occasions when a man is faced with a clear moral choice which comes, so to speak, within his particular moral compass, he perceives without the slightest possibility of doubt that the duty which confronts him derives its power from something beyond his own subjective feeling, beyond his craving for safety in another world or prestige in this world, and beyond his desire to conform to socially approved custom. In some sense, very difficult to describe, the rightness of the right course is logically prior both to personal feeling and to tribal custom. When one is confronted with a fellow mortal in grave distress, it is perfectly obvious that to refrain from helping him is to violate something more fundamental, and in the fullest sense more sacred, than self-esteem or than social convention. This is an obtrusive and inescapable experience which certainly needs to be related to scientific culture, but is no more to be denied than sense- perception of physical objects is to be denied. One might as well deny the reality of a charging bull perceived in broad daylight. The analogy with physical objects is helpful. No doubt physical objects are philosophically very different from what they seem to common sense; but simply to reduce them to feelings in one's own mind is to adopt a philosophy which, even if it is logically unassailable, no man can believe. Similarly with morality. "Good" and "bad", doubtless, are not the simple objective characters that they appear to common sense; but to reduce them to mere feelings in one's own mind is to adopt a theory which cannot be consistently practised. When it is sporadically practised it reduces the individual to self-loathing, and society to confusion.
This is not the occasion to try to work out a logically satisfactory ethical theory, but I must at least suggest what I regard as the right starting point and direction of such an enterprise. The root of the sceptic's error, as I have already said, lies in the illegitimate use of the immensely valuable method of analysis. A feeling, and in particular a moral feeling, is not a self-complete "mental event", confined within its own skin. A feeling is an abstraction from a concrete situation consisting of a conscious being in an environment. Far from explaining away morality in terms of feeling, we should describe feeling in terms of morality! It is more true to say that a pleasant feeling is our feeling in relation to something good than to say that a moral experience is merely a subjective mental state.
By saying that anything is "good" we mean essentially to say something about the thing itself, not about any mind that judges it. But what we mean, so far as I can see, is essentially this. The thing or event in question is such that any mind capable of apprehending it as it really is, and without distraction or perversion by irrelevant, influences, cannot but approve of it, because of what it is and because of what a mind is. And by "approve of" we mean "recognize that it ought to be". But again, by "ought to be" We mean simply that any mind apprehending it truly, and without being perverted by irrelevant influences, cannot but desire that it should be. In really clear moral experience this is how we feel. We may be mistaken about the facts of the situation that we are judging; but if it is as it appears to us, then any mind that apprehends it truly, and is sufficiently developed to appreciate it, and is not perverted by irrelevant influences, would approve of the action which We call "the right action". The meanings of "good", "right", "approve", and "ought" involve each other, and cannot be defined save by reference to something given in moral experience and, I believe, in all feeling and desire.
I believe that there is one kind of thing, or rather one kind of event, which can truly be called good in the universal sense mentioned above. Conscious beings, when they are not distracted by irrelevant influences, cannot but approve of the free activity of conscious beings. They cannot but disapprove of its frustration. These statements obviously need qualification. In saying that all free activity is good we do not, of course, deny that a particular instance of free activity may have evil consequences which outweigh its own intrinsic goodness. Further, men may contract evil habits, such as deliberate cruelty or deceit or self-indulgence. In these cases, though the action is good in so far as it is a free expression of the individual's extant nature, it is also harmful both to others and to himself. It is an expression of a nature that has been perverted, since one insistent factor in it needs for its expression a kind of action which is dangerous to the rest of it and to other individuals. Another qualification is needed. Naturally I cannot approve of a particular activity if it happens to be of a type that I am too obtuse to apprehend. Again, even if it is within the compass of my sensibility, I may be prevented from consciously recognizing that I do approve of it, that I do apprehend it as good. Circumstances in my past life may have generated in me an obsession in favour of one particular kind of good, to such an extent that I am now incapable of admitting the goodness of anything which conflicts with my favoured kind of good.
The sceptic, of course, objects that, if some moral intuitions can be "perverted", we have no right to trust any, no matter how widely they are accepted. It is true, indeed, that in principle every moral intuition is open to doubt, just as in principle every percept may be illusory. But we do not doubt a percept unless it conflicts with the general system of our percepts; and similarly we need not doubt a moral intuition unless we have some positive reason for doing so. And just as in every percept, even in every hallucination, there is something objective to the perceiving, so in every moral intuition there is something objectively good, in the sense defined above. The error arises through a failure (either from ignorance or perversion) to relate this particular good to other relevant goods and evils.
The activities and capacities of conscious beings may be said to vary in three respects. First, one act, or rather one capacity or need to act, may be more insistent than another, may be less easily restrained. The impulse to cough may be more insistent than the need to listen quietly to a lecture. Second, one act may promise more beneficial effects than another to the individual himself or to others. That is, it may facilitate more activity in the long run. A surgical operation may promise more free activity in the long run than a course of drugs. Third, one act may be intrinsically more subtle, more developed, or mentally more lucid, or more deeply fulfilling than another. Creating a work of art or a scientific theory or a social institution may be a more developed, a more complex, subtle, objectively correlated and mentally lucid activity than enjoying a drink. The words "subtle", "developed", "lucid", "fulfilling" signify different aspects of one and the same fundamental character in respect of which the acts of conscious beings vary. In the final analysis this one character, which is perhaps best called fulfilment of capacity, is essentially what we recognize as "good" in the universal sense described above.
In comparing two acts in respect of this character we use one or other or both of two methods. Either we intuitively perceive one act to be better than the other; or we intellectually judge one act to belong to a class of acts which on other occasions we have intuitively perceived to be better than acts of the other type.
To choose morally, then, is to choose that act which is believed either to constitute or to afford in the future the greatest possible fulfilment of capacity of conscious beings. But we must distinguish between the extent or depth of fulfilment afforded by an act and on the other hand the act's mere insistence or urgency. There are, of course times when the most insistent activity affords the deepest fulfilment, as when, in great hunger, the need to eat becomes obsessive and crippling, or when sexual starvation warps the mind. But there are occasions when the more insistent activity ought to be restrained for the sake of an activity which, though less insistent, is intuitively recognized as more deeply fulfilling, more expressive of capacity. For instance one may recognize that eating ought to be postponed in order to rescue a friend. Self-regarding activity is nearly always more insistent than genuine altruistic activity; yet it may be less deeply fulfilling even to the agent himself. It exercises greater powers of imagination and integrated will.
In general the better or more fulfilling or more awakened act is that which involves the more accurate and comprehensive awareness of oneself and of the world, and the more appropriate feeling and striving in relation to the world thus apprehended. This appropriateness must of course take into account the whole of one's experienced world. Nothing relevant should be neglected in determining one's action.
I said that feeling and striving must be "appropriate" to the world apprehended. If one of two possible events constitutes in fact a deeper fulfilment than the other, the appropriate feeling in relation to it is preference, and the appropriate action is to strive for it. But often, owing to ignorance or perversion or both, we prefer the lesser good. Some particular distorting influence in our experience may have generated in us an obsessive craving for the one kind of good, so that we are blinded to the other. Or we may even prefer an intrinsic evil, such as vindictive destruction, to an intrinsic good, because this particular evil has been associated with, and has become symbolic of, some obscure personal fulfilment which has been constantly denied us and is now desperately insistent.
Throughout I distinguish between actual objective fulfilment of capacity and our subjective feelings and judgments of fulfilment. These may err, may be inappropriate, Of course, our only way of knowing anything about fulfilment is through intuitive feelings of fulfilment; but intense feelings of fulfilment (or frustration) in some limited sphere, such as self-regard, may prevent attention to greater frustration (or fulfilment) in some other sphere. And so the final judgment of value may be perverted.
There is a valid distinction between sanity and insanity. Both sane and insane judgments of value are at bottom intuitive; but whereas the insane judgment is determined by a minor, and probably unwitting, obsessive or insistent need, the sane judgment grasps all relevant needs, yet holds all, so to speak, at arm's length, so that the final intuitive valuation may be unbiased. The fact that no man is ever completely sane should not be allowed to discredit the distinction between sanity and insanity.
Action, then, must be appropriate to the circumstances. To be fully appropriate, it may have to be in an important sense creative. That is, it may have to produce significantly novel conditions. By this I think I mean conditions which will not only fulfil existing capacity or existing felt needs (in oneself or others), but will cause new and more awakened capacity to come into being. Examples of creative capacity in this sense are: the production of an intellectual theory which reorganizes understanding and opens new vistas before the mind's eye; the production of a highly original and significant work of art; the production of a personal relationship which raises both individuals to finer percipience or greater integrity; the production of "vitalizing" social changes, in a narrow or a wide sphere.
So far I have spoken as though the mind were a bundle of distinct capacities, and as though it were possible to calculate the relative amounts of fulfilment afforded by each. We do, of course, compare the satisfaction to be derived from different capacities. But strictly our capacities are not fixed, distinct things. Though some of them, no doubt, are relatively constant, all are to a greater or less extent variable, and intricately involved together. Also, from time to time, they vary in importance in relation to the personality as a whole. There are occasions, for instance, when pub-crawling may be spiritually more beneficial than attempting to contemplate the eternal verities. Evidently what is intrinsically good is not simply the fulfilling of distinct activities which can be relatively evaluated; rather what is good is the harmonious and developing life of the personality as a whole, of the single experiencing individual. His well-being demands now this, now that activity; and activities of the most exalted and of the humblest kinds. In some sense the individual is not just a system of activities; he is himself. This must not be understood to mean that he is an eternal spirit, or even that, though ephemeral, he is an unanalysable unique something, distinct from his flux of experience. It means simply that he is an organic unity in which everything is what it is in virtue of its relation to other things.
In the harmonious life of the personality, then, the primitive activities must playa part, both because they are intrinsically good and because they are necessary as means to the continued healthy life of the individual. But for the proper fulfilling of individuality the more awakened activities must preside, must be the final determining consideration. The primitive activities must not be practised at random, but on such occasions as will not interfere with the full development of the more awakened activities.
I have been considering the individual simply as an individual. Even from that point of view it must be remembered that he is essentially social. He cannot fulfil himself in isolation, nor even as a purely selfish unit in society. Not only has he personal needs for intercourse and affection. Quite apart from these needs, he is to some extent aware of other individuals as living persons, as centres of conscious activity and conscious needs. It is far more difficult for him to apprehend the needs of others than his own needs. And even when he does apprehend the needs of others, his own more insistent self-regard may prevent him from acting appropriately to them. Because of all this, society puts a premium on mutual kindliness. In fact, just because altruism is more difficult and awakened than self-regard, traditional morality teaches that the claims of others should be allowed more weight than one's own claims. It is important for social cohesion that the principle of altruism should be respected.
Roughly we may say that the system of thought from which ethical scepticism is derived is analytic and materialistic. This system of thought has certainly had very great achievements, both theoretical and emotional. It has created natural science, and it has created the scientific spirit of faithful observation and dispassionate reasoning. This is a wholesome reaction from the inveterate habit of wishful thinking. The scientific spirit is valuable for two reasons. First, even though intellectual enquiry is always instigated and controlled by needs, yet, while intellect is operating, we must try to prevent irrelevant emotion from confusing it. Second, in its best, its sincerest form scientific detachment contains, I believe, a core of piety, an emotional acceptance of the universe whatever its nature turns out to be. This I regard as a more sincere piety than the attitude of those religious people who insist that the universe must conform to certain moral standards if it is to be emotionally accepted.
But though scientific detachment at its best is valuable in these two respects, in its commoner form it is nothing but a mental carapace to shield the morally lazy from the stings of compassion and conscience. And when scientific detachment supports a simple materialistic metaphysic, and denies right and wrong and all the higher reaches of human experience, it takes the first step toward social disaster.
To say this of the positivistic attitude of science is not to advocate a return to superstition. Even if the sceptic is mistaken in denying, on logical grounds, the very possibility of attaining metaphysical truths, he is surely right in denying that metaphysical speculation is likely to be of much profit in the present state of man's intellectual equipment.
The sceptic's criticism of the metaphysical theories of the saint seems to me valid. On the other hand the actual experience of the saints must not be confused with their theoretical interpretation of it. As I have said, the fact that genuine saints observably behave in a manner which it is tempting to call superhuman strongly suggests that their experience is not simply illusory.
Let us apply the same test to the sceptics. Some of them certainly behave in a manner worthy of saints. They do so, I believe, in spite of their scepticism, or at least in spite of their ethical scepticism, and because of their moral, though unconsciously moral, loyalty to intellectual integrity.
Though some ethical sceptics succeed in behaving very morally in spite of their theory, many more are, I believe, definitely hampered by it. The conviction that after all nothing really matters cannot but weaken a man's fibre. Of course some sceptics have strong feelings of social loyalty. Without any moral sanction, they simply desire to behave socially. But for the majority ethical scepticism points to a merely self-indulgent life. Also it may cause a prejudice against tender feelings; for, from the sceptic's point of view, tenderness toward others is apt to seem more irrational than self-regard. But this conviction is itself irrational.
This prejudice against the tender emotions is characteristic of our age. After the war of 1914-18 a far-reaching change of emotional fashion, so to speak, swept over Western civilization. It had long been brewing. It was partly a reaction against religious orthodoxy and a sentimental morality which was becoming more and more insincere. It was partly a result of scientific materialism and ethical scepticism. Partly, no doubt, it was a product of cynical commercialism. Psychoanalysis, too, was connected with it, both as cause and as effect. Probably it was also an expression of the disillusionment and cynicism, and the widespread disgust with human nature, which crippled the war-racked generations.
From the psychologist's point of view this great emotional change can be explained as a social manifestation of a principle well known in the mental life of the individual. When the developing mind faces one of the great personal problems which stand in the way of maturity, and fails to solve it, there is often a regression to a relatively infantile mode of behaviour. This is what threatens European civilization. Science and mechanized industry confronted it with a gigantic problem which it has lamentably failed to solve. Consequently it tends to a relatively primitive way of feeling and acting.
Whatever the causes of this far-reaching emotional change which came to fruition in Europe after the war, it was manifested as a revulsion from the two distinctively human capacities by which man rose from sub-human savagery, namely, kindliness and reason. These capacities are essential to genuine human sociality, which demands mutual respect and intelligent co-operation.
Genuine sociality tends now to be rejected in favour of the more primitive kind of sociality based on sheer animal gregariousness, in which the dominant motive is not mutual respect but the will to conform to the behaviour of the group, and to enforce conformity. Loss of faith in the free intelligence has been manifested prodigiously in the Fascist countries and less obviously elsewhere. One of its causes was the purely negative triumph of scepticism. Intuitively and rightly men inclined to revolt against a doctrine that stultified the whole of human endeavour, plunged thousands of morally frail individuals into a directionless and tortured life of self-indulgence, and to a greater or less extent undermined men's faith in themselves, in one another, and in their species.
The revolt against scepticism went too far. It developed into a revolt against reason itself.
The revolt against emotion, or rather against sentimentality, also went too far. It developed into a revolt against kindliness.
Thus men now are impelled to glorify not reason but sheer dogma, not kindliness but ruthlessness, not the free responsible individual but the servile unit of the mob and the equally servile mob-leader.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00