Morals in evolution - by L. T. Hobhouse - PDF ebook

Morals in evolution; a study in comparative ethics

Morals in evolution; a study in comparative ethics

The purpose of the present work is to approach the theory of ethical evolution through a comparative study of rules of conduct and ideals of life. In this branch of evolutionary science theory and fact sometimes tend to fall apart. Hypo- theses may be formed by the method of brilliant conjecture without any firm basis in the actual history of the moral consciousness, while that history as revealed in the mass of recorded customs and doctrines concerning conduct sometimes tends to be lost in a mass of anthropological detail wherein it is impossible to see the wood for the trees. 

The attempt made in these volumes is to ascertain the main features of development, and by piecing them together to present a sketch in which the essentials of the whole process will be depicted in outline. In this method of handling the subject, no hypothesis as to the causes of evolution is required. 

Even the hypothesis of evolution itself is not strictly necessary. Our object is to distinguish and classify different forms of ethical ideas a morphology of ethics comparable to the physical morphology of animals and plants. 

The results of such a comparative study, if firmly based on recorded facts, would remain standing if the theory of evolution were shattered. At the same time, here as elsewhere, the results of classification when seen in the light of evolutionary theory acquire a wholly new significance and value. They furnish us with a conception of the trend of human development based not on any assumption as to the underlying causes at work, but on a matter-of-fact comparison of the achievements reached different stages of the process itself.

Little, therefore, will be said here of the psychological forces which underlie the ethical consciousness; little of the socio- logical and other factors which accelerate or retard development. These lie for the most part outside our immediate province. It is the essential facts of development itself that we are seeking to ascertain. Such an inquiry encounters many difficulties of its own. Vast and complex subjects must be handled with a brevity which to one especially interested in them will appear quite inadequate. 

The conclusions of a hundred specialisms must be used by one who from the nature of the case cannot himself be a specialist in any of them. Hence the openings alike for error of detail and for disproportion of general handling are great. Nor is it possible to avoid subjects of controversy.

 For the study of the development, the ethics of civilization are not less, but, if anything, more important than those of savagery, and have therefore received closer attention in this work. But the complexities of civilized ethics, interwoven as they are with religious and political doctrines, can only be treated within the limits of a general sketch by keeping strictly to what is distinctive and fundamental in each system, and of this, only so much is selected for discussion as is deemed to have a bearing on ethical development. 

In such selection, the general philosophic bias of the inquirer is only too apt to have an influence. Further, it is a part of the plan of the work to estimate critically the position of each system in the line of ethical development, and in such criticism, it is still harder to put aside all preconceived opinions. 

The alternative would be to omit the ethics of Christendom and the problems of modern thought altogether. This I felt would mutilate the inquiry, and I have accordingly endeavoured to treat these subjects precisely on the same footing and in the same spirit as others, that is to say, as phases of development to be critically but quite impartially examined. In the sketch of modern philosophy, however, 

I have briefly set forth the analysis of the fundamental problems which expresses my own views, and in the final chapter, I have drawn some broad conclusions from the general trend of ethical development. My obligations to other writers are, I hope, adequately,  acknowledged in detail. Dr Westermarck's important work on the Origin and Growth of the Moral Ideas would have been of immense value to me had it appeared a little earlier. 

It is particularly satisfying to me to find that so far as we cover the same field my results generally harmonize with his, and this notwithstanding a material divergence in ethical theory. On almost every page of some of my chapters references to his volume might be added to my footnotes, and with certain questions raised by his inquiry, I have dealt in an appendix. I have to thank many friends for advice as to reading on special subjects. 

Among them, I should like to name Mr. Hagberg Wright of the London Library, Mr LI. Griffith, and the late Mr W. T. Arnold. Prof. Vinogradoff and Dr Estlin Carpenter have most kindly read large portions of the MS., and suggested many valuable criticisms, though of course, neither of them is to be held responsible for anything that is here printed. Lastly, I have to thank Dr Slaughter, Secretary of the Sociological Society, and Miss M. Harris, for undertaking the heavy and responsible task of verifying the references.
the book details :
  • Author:L. T. Hobhouse
  • Publication date 1915
  • Company: London: Chapman and Hall

  • Download 40 MB - PDF ebook

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