Chapter V: Ethics in Relation to Conduct.

§ 108.

But (c) the Ethics of Christianity are distinguished from those of Plato by emphasizing the value of one particular motive—that which consists in the emotion excited by the idea, not of any intrinsically good consequences of the action in question, nor even of the action itself, but by that of its rightness. This idea of abstract rightness and the various degrees of the specific emotion excited by it are what constitute the specifically moral sentiment or conscience. An action seems to be most properly termed internally right, solely in virtue of the fact that the agent has previously regarded it as right: the idea of rightness must have been present to his mind, but need not necessarily have been among his motives. And we mean by a conscientious man, one who, when he deliberates, always has this idea in his mind, and does not act until he believes that his action is right. (§ 108 ¶ 1)

§ 108, n. 1: This sense of the term must be carefully distinguished from that in which the agent’s intention may be said to be right, if only the results he intended would have been the best possible.

The presence of this idea and its action as a motive certainly seem to have become more common objects of notice and commendation owing to the influence of Christianity; but it is important to observe that there is no ground for the view, which Kant implies, that it is the only motive which the New Testament regards as intrinsically valuable. There seems little doubt that when Christ tells us to Love our neighbours as ourselves, He did not mean merely what Kant calls practical love—beneficience of which the sole motive is the idea of its rightness or the emotion caused by that idea. Among the inward dispositions of which the New Testament inculcates the value, there are certainly included what Kant terms mere natural inclinations, such as pity, etc. (§ 108 ¶ 2)

But what are we to say of virtue, when it consists in a disposition to be moved to the performance of duties by this idea? It seems difficult to deny that the emotion excited by rightness as such has some intrinsic value; and still more difficult to deny that its presence may heighten the value of some wholes into which it enters. But, on the other hand, it certainly has not more value than many of the motives treated in our last section—emotions of love towards things really good in themselves. And as for Kant’s implication that it is the sole good, this is inconsistent with other of his own views. For he certainly regards it as better to perform the actions, to which he maintains that it prompts us—namely, material duties—than to omit them. But, if better at all, then, these actions must be better either in themselves or as a means. The former hypothesis would directly contradict the statement that this motive was sole good, and the latter is excluded by Kant himself since he maintains that no actions can cause the existence of this motive. And it may also be observed that the other claim which he makes for it, namely, that it is always good as a means, can also not be maintained. It is as certain as anything can be that very harmful actions may be done from conscientious motives; and that Conscience does not always tell us the truth about what actions are right. Nor can it be maintained even that it is more useful than many other motives. All that can be admitted is that it is one of the things which are generally useful. (§ 108 ¶ 3)

§ 108, n. 2: Kant, so far as I know, never expressly states this view, but it is implied e.g. in his argument against Heteronomy.

What more I have to say with regard to those elements in some virtues which are good in themselves, and with regard to their relative degrees of excellence, as well as the proof that all of them together cannot be the sole good, may be deferred to the next chapter. (§ 108 ¶ 4)