Sinclair Carolin and James Martineau
|5 Gordon Street, London, W.C., February 6th, 1878.
DEAR SIR,—I would gladly disengage you, if I had time and skill, from the meshes of casuistry in which you find yourself and your friend entangled. But the only help I could hope to give involves a method so different from that in which you are working, that I should have to weary you with a disquisition before I could bring it to bear. In my opinion, Morality i.e. Moral Obligation, or Duty, that for which we are responsible) does not lie in Actions, but in the Springs of action. Our inward impulses, e.g., anger, compassion, appetite, wonder, reverence, solicit us, and often compete together for our will. These have among themselves a relative worth and claim upon us, which we intuitively know. This knowledge is Conscience; and in every problem our Duty is to give effect to the higher prompting, and reject the lower. This secured, the Moral conditions of our problem are fulfilled. But then the Spring of action selected may work itself out on any one of several different lines; e.g., Social benevolence may organise a communistic or nihilistic conspiracy; or may build an infirmary or found a University. In choosing among these possibilities, the Agent must be decided by the consequences foreseen; taking that which promises to give most effect to his principle of action. This calculation is Rational only, not Moral; if he goes wrong in it, he blunders, but does not sin; whereas, at the earlier stage, he could not take the wrong impulse without being guilty. It follows that Utilitarianism—the reckoning of the balance of good results from action—is outside morality altogether, and is nothing but the application of good sense to cases, in which the morality is already settled. It would be a long business to work out the Scale of Springs of action and justify the relative rank which I should assign to them. But, certainly, the Reverence for Veracity (which is a composite, not a simple, principle) would stand in it higher than the filial Affection which, in your friend's case, came into conflict with it: so that I cannot justify his lie; though the competition is sufficiently close to make one's judgment very lenient. In such cases, the most plausible computation of consequences is apt to be very misleading. Those which immediately impend loom large before the view; while remoter ones may be the more important. If deception was habitually practised upon sick people, the bitterness of sickness would be indefinitely increased. I believe it a true rule to say that we have nothing to do with consequences, till we have secured the right principle in its sway. Its inevitable operation does not lie at our door, but remains with the Providence of the World. But its contingent operation, according as it is wisely or foolishly directed, comes into our problem. Upon these principles, your friend's algebraic reasonings, and the axioms themselves on which they proceed, disappear. I hope you will excuse a too busy man for not spending the time necessary for analysing them, and showing where the confusion enters.
—In haste, yours truly, JAMES MARTINEAU.
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