Right and Wrong are. Law or Rule about Right and Wrong used to be called the Law of Nature The idea was that, Just as all bodies are governed by the law of gravitation and organisms by biological laws, so the creature called man also had his law-??with this great difference, that a body could not choose whether it obeyed the law of gravitation or not, but a man could choose either to obey the Law of Human Nature or to disobey it. Man cannot disobey laws, which he shared with other things.
But the law which is peculiar to his human nature, the law he does not share with animals or gettable or inorganic things, is the one he can disobey if he chooses This law was called the Law of Nature because people thought that every one knew it by nature and did not need to be taught it. They thought that the human idea of decent behavior was obvious to everyone If this is not true, what was the sense in saying the enemy were in the wrong unless Right is a real things which the Nazis at bottom knew as well as we did and ought to have practiced?
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If they had no notion of what we mean by right, then, though we might still have had to fight them, we could no more have blamed them for that than for the color of their hair. For the case of different civilizations and different ages having different moralities: the differences between moralities have never amounted to anything like a total difference. (e. G. Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. (He may break his promise to you but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining, “It’s not fair! ) If there is no such thing as treaties or Right and Wrong or Law of Nature, what is the difference between a fair treaty and an unfair one? We are forced to believe in a real Right and Wrong. People may be mistaken about them, Just as people sometimes get their sums wrong; but they are not a matter of mere taste and opinion any more than the multiplication table.
None of us are really keeping the Law of Nature We have failed to practice ourselves the kind of behavior we expect from other people The moment anyone tells you you are not following the Law of Nature a string of excuses comes up. The point is that they are one more proof of how deeply, whether we like it or not, we believe in the Law of Nature. If we do not believe in decent behavior, why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently?
The truth is, we believe in decency so much, we feel the Rule or Law pressing o us so-??that we can’t bear to face the fact that we are breaking it, and consequently we try to shift the responsibility. Summary: Firstly, human beings have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves, and the universe we live in. II.
Some Objections “Isn’t what you call the Moral Law simply our herd instinct and hasn’t it been developed Just like all our other instincts? ” We all know what it feels like to be prompted by instinct-by mother love, or sexual instinct, or the instinct for food. It means that you feel a strong want or desire to act in a certain way. And, of course, we sometimes do feel Just that sort of desire to help another person: and no doubt that desire is due to the herd instinct. But feeling a desire to help is quite different room feeling that you ought to help whether you want to or not.
The Moral Law tells us the tune we have to play; our instincts are merely the keys. The Moral Law is not any one instinct or any set of instincts: it is something, which makes a kind of tune (the tune we call goodness or right conduct) by directing the instincts. “Isn’t what you call the Moral Law Just a social convention, something that is put into us by education? ” People who ask that question are usually taking it for granted that if we have learned a thing from parents and teachers, then that thing must be merely a human invention. But it is not.
Some of the things we learn are mere conventions, which might have been different-??we learn to keep to the left of the road, but it might Just as well have been the rule to keep to the right-??and others to them, like mathematics, are real truths. Moral Law belongs to the real truth category because of 2 reasons: The differences are not really very great-??not nearly so great as most people imagine-??and you can recognize the same law running through them all: whereas mere conventions, like the rule of the road or the kind of clothes people wear, may differ to any extent.
If no set of moral ideas were truer or better than any other, there would be no sense in preferring civilized morality to savage morality, or Christian morality to Nazi morality. The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are measuring them both by a standard saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other. You are measuring them both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people’s ideas get nearer to that real Right than others.
If the Rule of Decent Behavior meant simply whatever each nation happens to approve,” there would be no sense in saying that any one nation had ever been more correct in its approval than any other; no sense in saying that the world could ever grow morally better or morally worse. Ill. The Reality Of The Law It follows that what we usually call the laws of nature-??the way weather works on a tree for example-??may not really be laws in the strict sense, but only in a manner of speaking.
One cannot be sure that there is anything over and above the facts themselves, any law about what ought to happen, as distinct from what does happen. The Law of Human Nature or the Law of Decent Behavior certainly do not mean “what human beings, in fact, do”; for as I said before, many of them do not obey this law at all, and none of them obey it completely. The Law of Human Nature tells you what human beings ought to do and do not. When you are dealing with humans, something else comes in above and beyond the actual facts.
You have the facts (how men do behave) and you also have something else (how they ought to behave) We might try to make out that when you say a man ought not to act as he does, you only mean the same as when you say that a stone is the wrong shape; namely, that what e is doing happens to be inconvenient to you. – But this is untrue. Though decent conduct does not mean what pays each particular person at a particular moment, still, it means what pays the human race as a whole; and that consequently there is no mystery about it.
Human beings have some sense; they see that you cannot have real safety or happiness except in a society where every one plays fair, and it is because they see this that they try to behave decently. Men ought to be unselfish, ought to be fair. Not that men are unselfish, nor that they like being unselfish, but that they ought to be. The Moral Law, or Law of Human Nature, is not simply a fact about human behavior in the same way as the Law of Gravitation is, simply a fact about how heavy objects behave.
On the other hand, it is not a mere fancy, for we cannot get rid of the idea, and most of the things we say and think about men would be reduced to nonsense if we did. And it is not simply a statement about how we should like men to behave for our own convenience; for the behavior we call bad or unfair is not exactly the same as the behavior we find inconvenient, and may even be the opposite. This Rule of Right and Wrong, or Law of Human Nature, must somehow r other be a real thing – a thing that is really there, not made up by ourselves.
And yet it is not a fact in the ordinary sense, there is something above and beyond the ordinary facts of men’s behavior, and yet quire definitely real – a real law which none of us made, but which we find pressing on us. ‘V. What Lies Behind The Law What we call the Laws of Nature may not be anything except a way of speaking. The Law of Human Nature, or of Right and Wrong, must be something above and beyond the actual facts of human behavior. In this case, besides the actual facts, you have omitting else-??a real law which we did not invent and which we know we ought to obey.
Ever since men were able to think, they have been wondering what this universe is and how it came to be there. And, very roughly, two views have been held. First, there is what is called the materialistic view. People who take that view think that matter and space Just happen to exist, and always have existed, nobody knows why; and that the matter, behaving in certain fixed ways, has Just happened, by a sort of fluke, to produce creatures like ourselves who are able to think. The other view is the religious view.
According to it, what is behind the universe is more like a mind than it is like anything else we know. It is conscious and has purpose, and prefers one thing to another. There is one thing, and only one, in the whole universe, which we know more about than we could learn from external observation. That one thing is Man. We do not merely observe men, we are men. We know that men find themselves under a moral law, which they did not make and cannot quite forget even when they try , and which they know they ought to obey.
Anyone studying man from the outside as we study electricity and cabbages, not knowing our language and consequently tot able to get any inside knowledge from us, but merely observing what we did, would never get the slightest evidence that we had this moral law. In the same way, if there were anything above or behind the observed facts in the case of stones or the weather, we, by studying them from outside, could never hope to discover it. There is only one case in which we can know whether there is anything more, namely our own case.
The only way in which we could expect it to show itself would be inside ourselves as an influence or a command trying to get us to behave in a certain way. And that is Just what we do find inside ourselves. The only packet I am allowed to open is Man. When I do, especially when I open that particular man called Myself, I find that I do not exist on my own, that I am under a law; that somebody or something wants me to behave in a certain way. “l should expect to find that there was, so to speak, a sender of letters in both cases, a Power behind the facts, a Director, a Guide. All I have go to is a Something which is directing the universe, and which appears in me as a law urging me to do right and making me feel responsible and uncomfortable when I do wrong. Aside from the Materialist view and the Religious IEEE, I ought to mention the In between view called Life-Force philosophy, or Creative Evolution, or Emergent Evolution. Wittiest expositions come in the works of Bernard Shaw, but the most profound ones come from Bergsten.
People who hold this view say that the small variations by which life on this planet “evolved” from the lowest forms to Man were not due to chance but to the “striving” or “pervasiveness” of a Life-Force. One reason why many people find Creative Evolution so attractive is that it gives one much of the emotional comfort of believing in God and none of the less pleasant consequences. The Life-Force is a sort of tame God. All the thrills of religion and none of the cost. V. We Have Cause To Be Uneasy First, humanity has been making some big mistakes. We are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back.
Going back is the quickest way on. Secondly, this has not yet turned exactly into a “religious Jaw’. We have not yet got as far as the God of any actual religion, still less the God of that particular religion called Christianity. We have only gotten as far as a Somebody or Something behind the Moral Law. We have 2 bits of evidence about the Somebody. One that He was a great artist (for the universe is a very beautiful place), but also that He is quite merciless and no friend to man (for the universe is a very dangerous and terrifying place) The other bit of evidence is that Moral Law, which He has put into our minds.
And this is a better bit of evidence than the other, because it is inside information Thirdly, Christianity simply does not make sense until you have faced the sort of facts I have been describing. Christianity tells people to repent and promises them forgiveness. It therefore has nothing to say to people who do not know they have done anything to repent of and who do not feel that they need any forgiveness.
It is after you have realized that there is a real Moral Law, and a Power behind the law, and that you have broken that law and put yourself wrong with that Power-??it is after all this, and not a moment sooner that Christianity begins to talk. (When you know you are sick, you will then listen to the doctor) Christianity-??how we got into our present state of both hating goodness and loving it, how God can be this impersonal mind at the back of the Moral Law and yet also a Person, how the demands of this law have been met on our behalf, how God Himself becomes a man to save a man from the disapproval of God.