A manual of ethics
This handbook is intended primarily for the use of private students, and especially for those who are preparing for such examinations in Ethics as those conducted by the University of London. It is hoped, however, that it will be found useful also by other classes of readers. Its design is to give, in brief compass, an outline of the most important principles of ethical doctrine, so far as these can be understood without a knowledge of Metaphysics.
To do this satisfactorily is by no means easy, and I can hardly hope that I have been successful in overcoming the difficulties. The theory of Ethics must, I believe, in the end, rest on Metaphysics; and what it is possible to do without Metaphysics can be little more than a clearing of the ground, and a leading up to the metaphysical principles that are involved in the subject.
The system of metaphysical truth, however, is like a city with many gates; and perhaps the student may enter it by the ethical gate as profitably as by any other. It has been my aim, at any rate, to conduct the student gradually inwards from the psychological outworks to the metaphysical foundation. It is perhaps hardly necessary to say that the metaphysical point of view adopted in this Manual is that of the school of Idealism i. e. the school founded by Kant and developed by Hegel, Green, and others.
In this respect, the present textbook is similar to two other treatises which appeared a little before it Dewey's Outlines of a Critical Theory of Ethics, and Muir- head's Elements of Ethics.
If these books had been published before this one was arranged for, it is probable that it would never have been undertaken. As it is, I can only plead that the subject is handled in this work in a way slightly different from that in which it is taken up by either of the other two and that it may consequently in some respects satisfy a want which neither of them fully meets.
I hope, however, that readers of my book will, as far as possible, consult the other two also. Where there is a general harmony of point of view, a comparison of the methods of treatment adopted by different writers on points of detail is often of the greatest value to the student. I think it would be especially useful for readers of this book, who have time to spare, to compare it in this way with Muirhead's Elements of Ethics.
The latter work is designed for a slightly different purpose; and at many points, it will be found to supply a very useful supplement to the present treatise by presenting the same general ideas in a somewhat different light. For the convenience of students who may use it in this way, I have inserted frequent references to Mr Muirhead's book, and have indicated the main points of divergence. 1 Other two books which have since appeared Professor James Seth's Study of Ethical Principles and Mr C. F. D'Arcy's Short Study of Ethics are also written from a point of view that is to a large extent similar. In both of these books there is a good deal of space devoted to the discussion of the metaphysical basis; but in neither case does the discussion appear satisfactory.
I have, accordingly, added a good deal more in the way of explanation in this chapter, and have removed some passages about the general nature of moral law, which seemed specially liable to misinterpretation, and have inserted them in Book II., Chap. III., where they are perhaps more in place. I have also added a chapter at the end of Book II., dealing with the general subject of the bearing of Theory on Practice.
I hope I may have succeeded in this way in removing the impression, which appears to have been created in some minds, that I thought it to be the business of ethical science to construct the moral life in vacuo. Nothing could well have been further from my intention; and, if I have overestimated the practical significance of philosophical reflection, I have at least not forgotten either the dictum of Hegel
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