Chapter V: Ethics in Relation to Conduct.

§ 107.

(b) A man’s character may be such that, when he habitually performs a particular duty, there is, in each case of his performance, present in his mind, a love of some intrinsically good consequence which he expects to produce by his action or a hatred of some intrinsically evil consequence which he hopes to prevent by it. In such a case this love or hatred will generally be part cause of his action, and we may then call it one of his motives. Where such a feeling as this is present habitually in the performance of duties, it cannot be denied that the state of the man’s mind, in performing it, contains something intrinsically good. Nor can it be denied that, where a disposition to perform duties consists in the disposition to be moved to them by such feelings, we call that disposition a virtue. Here, therefore, we have instances of virtue, the exercise of which really contains something that is good in itself. And, in general, we may say that wherever a virtue does consist in a disposition to have certain motives, the exercise of that virtue may be intrinsically good; although the degree of its goodness may vary indefinitely according to the precise nature of the motives and their objects. In so far, then, as Christianity tends to emphasize the importance of motives, of the inward disposition with which a right action is done, we may say that it has done a service to Ethics. But it should be noticed that, when Christian Ethics, as represented by the New Testament, are praised for this, two distinctions of the utmost importance, which they entirely neglect, are very commonly overlooked. In the first place the New Testament is largely occupied with continuing the tradition of the Hebrew prophets, by recommending such virtues as justice and mercy as against mere ritual observances; and, in so far as it does this, it is recommending virtues which may be merely good as means, exactly like the Aristotelian virtues. This characteristic of its teaching must therefore be rigorously distinguished from that which consists in its enforcement of such a view as that to be angry without a cause is as bad as actually to commit murder. And, in the second place, though the New Testament does praise some things which are only good as means, and others which are good in themselves, it entirely fails to recognise the distinction. Though the state of the man who is angry may be really as bad in itself as that of the murderer, and so far Christ may be right, His language would lead us to suppose that it is also as bad in every way, that it also causes as much evil: and this is utterly false. In short, when Christian Ethics approves, it does not distinguish whether its approval asserts This is a means to good or This is good in itself; and hence it both praises things merely good as means, as if they were good in themselves, and things merely good in themselves as if they were also good as means. Moreover it should be noticed, that if Christian Ethics does draw attention to those elements in virtues which are good in themselves, it is by no means alone in this. The Ethics of Plato are distinguished by upholding, far more clearly and consistently than any other system, the view that intrinsic value belongs exclusively to those states of mind which consist in love of what is good or hatred of what is evil. (§ 107 ¶ 1)