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The Metaphysical Elements of Ethics


the criterion of a moral duty to consider the problem: ”If everyone in
every case made your maxim the universal law, how could this law be
consistent with itself ?” But if it were merely feeling that made it
our duty to take this principle as a criterion, then this would not be
dictated by reason, but only adopted instinctively and therefore
blindly.
PREFACE ˆ
paragraph 5
But in fact, whatever men imagine, no moral principle is based on
any feeling, but such a principle is really nothing else than an
obscurely conceived metaphysic which inheres in every man’s
reasoning fac ulty; as the teacher will easily ?nd who tries to
catechize his pupils in the Socratic method about the imperative of
duty and its application to the moral judgement of his actions. The
mode of stating it need not be always metaphysical, and the language
need not nec essarily be scholastic, unless the pupil is to be
trained to be a philosopher. But the thought must go back to the
elements of metaphysics, without which we cannot expect any
certainty or purity, or even motive power in et hics.
If we deviate from this principle and begin from pathological, or
purely sensitive, or even moral feeling (from what is sub jectively
practical instead of what is ob jective), that is, from the matter of
the will, the end, not from its form that is the law, in order from
thence to det ermine duties; then, certainly, there are no metaphysical
elements of ethics, for feeling by what ever it may be excited is
always physical. But then ethical teaching, whether in schools, or
lecture-rooms, etc., is corrupted in its source. For it is not a
matter of indi?erence by what motives or means one is led to a good
purpose (the obedience to duty). However disgusting, then, metaphysics
may appear to those pretended philosophers who dogmatize oracularly,
or even brilliantly, about the doctrine of duty, it is,
nevertheless, an indispensable duty for those who oppose it to go back
2
to its principles even in ethics, and to begin by going to school on
its benches.
We may fairly wonder how, after all previous explanations of the
principles of duty, so far as it is derived from pure reason, it was
still possible to reduce it again to a doctrine of happiness; in
such a way, however, that a certain moral happiness not resting on
empirical causes was ultimately arrived at, a self -cont radictory
nonentity. In fact, when the thinking man has conquered the
temptations to vice, and is conscious of having done his (often
hard) duty, he ?nds himself in a state of peace and satisfaction
which may well be called happiness, in which virtue is her own reward.
Now, says the eudaemonist, this delight, this happiness, is the real
motive of his acting virtuously. The notion of duty, says be, does not
immediat ely determine his will; it is only by means of the happiness
in prospect that he is moved to his duty. Now, on the ot her hand,
since he can promise himself this reward of virtue only from the
consciousness of having done his duty, it is clear that the latter
must have preceded: that is, be must feel himself bound to do his duty
before he thinks, and without thinking, that happiness will be the
consequence of obedience to duty. He is thus involved in a circle in
his assignment of cause and e?ect. He can only hope to be happy if he
is conscious of his obedienc e to duty: and he can only be moved to
obedienc e to duty if be foresees that he will thereby become happy.
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