When philosophy goes about its work it proves necessary to divide the question. There are no sharply bounded subdivisions of philosophy; as problems become more fundamental, they tend to merge into one another, and the solution of one depends on the solution of the rest. But the mind must do one thing at a time in philosophy as in other affairs. Furthermore, the need of philosophy is felt in quite different quarters, which leads to a difference of approach and of emphasis.

Perhaps that portion of philosophy that is most easily considered by itself is Ethics, or what was a generation ago usually referred to as Moral Philosophy. There is no better introduction to Ethics than Plato’s famous dialogue, “The Apology,”〖H. C., ii. 5.〗 in which Socrates, defending himself against his accusers, describes and justifies the office of the moralist. As moralist, Socrates says that he took it upon himself to question men concerning the why and wherefore of their several occupations. He found men busy, to be sure, but strangely unaware of what they were about; they felt sure they were getting somewhere, but they did not know where. He did not himself pretend to direct them, but he did feel sure that it was necessary to raise the question, and that in that respect, at least, he was wiser than his fellows. The moral of Socrates’s position is that life cannot be rationalized without some definite conception of the good for the sake of which one lives. The problem of the good thus becomes the central problem of Ethics. Is it pleasure, or knowledge, or worldly success? Is it personal or social? Does it consist in some inward state, or in external achievement? Is it to be looked for in this world, or in the hereafter? These are but variations of the same problem, as it is attacked in turn by Plato, Aristotle, Christian theologians, Hobbes, Rousseau, Kant, Mill, and the whole line of moral philosophers. Other special problems emerge, and take their place beside this. What, for example, is the relation of moral virtue to the secular law? In Plato’s “Crito,”〖H. C., ii, 31.〗 Socrates teaches that it is the first duty of the good man to obey the law, and submit to punishment, even though he be innocent; because the good life is essentially an orderly life, in which the individual conforms himself to the political community to which he belongs by birth and nature. Hobbes reached the same conclusion on different grounds. Morality, he says, exists only so far as there is authority and law; to save himself from the consequences of his own inherent selfishness and unscrupulousness, man has delivered himself up forever to the state, and save so far as enforced by the state there are no rights or duties at all. Either one obeys the law or one lapses into that primitive outlawry in which every man is for himself, the hunter and the prey. How different is the teaching of Rousseau,〖H. C., xxxiv, 165.〗 who prophesied for an age in which men were sore from the rub of the harness, and longed to be turned out to pasture. The law, Rousseau preaches, is made for man, not man for the law. Man has been enslaved by his own artificial contrivances, and must strive to return to the natural goodness and happiness that are his rightful inheritance. These are the questions that still lie at the basis of our political philosophy, and divide the partisans of the day, even though they know it not.

A somewhat different and perhaps more familiar turn is given to moral philosophy by Kant.〖H. C., xxxii, 305, 318.〗 With him the central idea in the moral life is duty. It is not consequence or inclination that counts, but the state of the will. Morality is founded on a law of its own, far deeper than man-made statutes. This law is delivered to the individual through his “Practical Reason,” and it is the last word in all matters affecting the regulation of conduct. Thus Kant puts the accent where Protestant and Puritanic Christianity puts it; whereas Plato, bidding us look to the rounding and perfecting of life, is the spokesman of that perennial Paganism that flourishes as vigorously to-day as it did before the advent of Christianity.

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