By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

´╗┐Title: The Basis of Morality
Author: Besant, Annie Wood, 1847-1933
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Basis of Morality" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

[Transcriber's Note: Accented characters with macrons are marked in this
file as [=x], while those with inferior dots are marked as [x.].]





  _Mysticism, The Immediate Future,
  Initiation: The Perfecting of Man,
  Superhuman Men, etc. etc._


       *       *       *       *       *



       *       *       *       *       *



Must religion and morals go together? Can one be taught without the
other? It is a practical question for educationists, and France tried
to answer it in the dreariest little cut and dry kind of catechism ever
given to boys to make them long to be wicked. But apart from education,
the question of the bedrock on which morals rest, the foundation on
which a moral edifice can be built that will stand secure against the
storms of life--that is a question of perennial interest, and it must
be answered by each of us, if we would have a test of Right and Wrong,
would know why Right is Right, why Wrong is Wrong.

Religions based on Revelation find in Revelation their basis for
morality, and for them that is Right which the Giver of the Revelation
commands, and that is Wrong which He forbids. Right is Right because
God, or a [R.][s.]hi or a Prophet, commands it, and Right rests on the
Will of a Lawgiver, authoritatively revealed in a Scripture.

Now all Revelation has two great disadvantages as a basis for morality.
It is fixed, and therefore unprogressive; while man evolves, and at a
later stage of his growth, the morality taught in the Revelation becomes
archaic and unsuitable. A written book cannot change, and many things in
the Bibles of Religion come to be out of date, inappropriate to new
circumstances, and even shocking to an age in which conscience has
become more enlightened than it was of old.

The fact that in the same Revelation as that in which palpably immoral
commands appear, there occur also jewels of fairest radiance, gems of
poetry, pearls of truth, helps us not at all. If moral teachings worthy
only of savages occur in Scriptures containing also rare and precious
precepts of purest sweetness, the juxtaposition of light and darkness
only produces moral chaos. We cannot here appeal to reason or judgment
for both must be silent before authority; both rest on the same ground.
"Thus saith the Lord" precludes all argument.

Let us take two widely accepted Scriptures, both regarded as
authoritative by the respective religions which accept them as coming
from a Divine Preceptor or through a human but illuminated being, Moses
in the one case, Manu in the other. I am, of course, well aware that
in both cases we have to do with books which may contain traditions of
their great authors, even sentences transmitted down the centuries.
The unravelling of the tangled threads woven into such books is a work
needing the highest scholarship and an infinite patience; few of us
are equipped for such labour. But let us ignore the work of the Higher
Criticism, and take the books as they stand, and the objection raised
to them as a basis for morality will at once appear.

Thus we read in the same book: "Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any
grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy
neighbour as thyself." "The stranger that dwelleth with you shall be
unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself, for
ye were strangers in the land of Egypt." "Sanctify yourselves therefore
and be ye holy." Scores of noble passages, inculcating high morality,
might be quoted. But we have also: "If thy brother, the son of thy
mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy
friend which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly saying, let us
go and serve other Gods ... thou shalt not consent unto him nor hearken
unto him; neither shalt thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare,
neither shalt thou conceal him, but thou shalt surely kill him; thine
hand shall be first upon him to put him to death." "Thou shalt not
suffer a witch to live." A man is told, that he may seize a fair woman
in war, and "be her husband and she shall be thy wife. And it shall be
that if thou hast no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither
she will." These teachings and many others like them have drenched
Europe with blood and scorched it with fire. Men have grown out of
them; they no longer heed nor obey them, for man's reason performs its
eclectic work on Revelation, chooses the good, rejects the evil. This
is very good, but it destroys Revelation as a basis. Christians have
outgrown the lower part of their Revelation, and do not realise that
in striving to explain it away they put the axe to the root of its

So also is it with the Institutes of Manu, to take but one example
from the great sacred literature of India. There are precepts of
the noblest order, and the essence and relative nature of morality is
philosophically set out; "the sacred law is thus grounded on the rule
of conduct," and He declares that good conduct is the root of further
growth in spirituality. Apart from questions of general morality, to
which we shall need to refer hereafter, let us take the varying views
of women as laid down in the present Sm[r.][t.]i as accepted. On many
points there is no wiser guide than parts of this Sm[r.][t.]i, as will
be seen in Chapter IV. With regard to the marriage law, Manu says:
"Let mutual fidelity continue unto death." Of a father He declares:
"No father who knows must take even the smallest gratuity for his
daughter; for a man, who through avarice takes a gratuity, is a seller
of his offspring." Of the home, He says: "Women must be honoured and
adorned by their fathers, husbands, brothers and brothers-in-law who
desire happiness. Where women are honoured, there the [D.]evas are
pleased; but where they are not honoured, any sacred rite is fruitless."
"In that family where the husband is pleased with his wife and the
wife with her husband [note the equality], happiness will assuredly be
lasting." Food is to be given first in a house to "newly-married women,
to infants, to the sick, and to pregnant women". Yet the same Manu is
supposed to have taken the lowest and coarsest view of women: "It is
the nature of women to seduce men; for that reason the wise are never
unguarded with females ... One should not sit in a lonely place with
one's mother, sister or daughter; for the senses are powerful, and
master even a learned man." A woman must never act "independently, even
in her own house," she must be subject to father, husband or (on her
husband's death) sons. Women have allotted to them as qualities, "impure
desires, wrath, dishonesty, malice and bad conduct". The Sh[=u][d.]ra
servant is to be "regarded as a younger son"; a slave is to be looked
on "as one's shadow," and if a man is offended by him he "must bear it
without resentment"; yet the most ghastly punishments are ordered to be
inflicted on Sh[=u][d.]ras for intruding on certain sacred rites.

The net result is that ancient Revelations, being given for a certain
age and certain social conditions, often cannot and ought not to be
carried out in the present state of Society; that ancient documents are
difficult to verify--often impossible--as coming from those whose names
they bear; that there is no guarantee against forgeries, interpolations,
glosses, becoming part of the text, with a score of other imperfections;
that they contain contradictions, and often absurdities, to say nothing
of immoralities. Ultimately every Revelation must be brought to the bar
of reason, and as a matter of fact, is so brought in practice, even the
most "orthodox" Br[=a]hma[n.]a in Hin[d.][=u]ism, disregarding all the
Sh[=a]s[t.]raic injunctions which he finds to be impracticable or even
inconvenient, while he uses those which suit him to condemn his
"unorthodox" neighbours.

No Revelation is accepted as fully binding in any ancient religion, but
by common consent the inconvenient parts are quietly dropped, and the
evil parts repudiated. Revelation as a basis for morality is impossible.
But all sacred books contain much that is pure, lofty, inspiring,
belonging to the highest morality, the true utterances of the Sages and
Saints of mankind. These precepts will be regarded with reverence by the
wise, and should be used as authoritative teaching for the young and the
uninstructed as moral textbooks, like--textbooks in other sciences--and
as containing moral truths, some of which can be verified by all morally
advanced persons, and others verifiable only by those who reach the
level of the original teachers.

       *       *       *       *       *



When scholarship, reason and conscience have made impossible the
acceptance of Revelation as the bedrock of morality, the
student--especially in the West--is apt next to test "Intuition" as a
probable basis for ethics. In the East, this idea has not appealed to
the thinker in the sense in which the word Intuition is used in the
West. The moralist in the East has based ethics on Revelation, or on
Evolution, or on Illumination--the last being the basis of the Mystic.
Intuition--which by moralists like Theodore Parker, Frances Power Cobb,
and many Theists, is spoken of as the "Voice of God" in the human
soul--is identified by these with "conscience," so that to base morality
on Intuition is equivalent to basing it on conscience, and making the
dictate of conscience the categorical imperative, the inner voice which
declares authoritatively "Thou shalt," or "Thou shalt not".

Now it is true that for each individual there is no better, no safer,
guide than his own conscience and that when the moralist says to the
inquirer: "Obey your conscience" he is giving him sound ethical advice.
None the less is the thinker faced with an apparently insuperable
difficulty in the way of accepting conscience as an ethical basis; for
he finds the voice of conscience varying with civilisation, education,
race, religion, traditions, customs, and if it be, indeed, the voice
of God in man, he cannot but see--in a sense quite different from that
intended by the writer--that God "in divers manners spoke in past
times". Moreover he observes, as an historical fact, that some of the
worst crimes which have disgraced humanity have been done in obedience
to the voice of conscience. It is quite clear that Cromwell at Drogheda
was obeying conscience, was doing that which he conscientiously believed
to be the Will of God; and there is no reason to doubt that a man like
Torquemada was also carrying out what he conscientiously believed to be
the Divine Will in the war which he waged against heresy through the

In this moral chaos, with such a clash of discordant "Divine Voices,"
where shall sure guidance be found? One recalls the bitter gibe of Laud
to the Puritan, who urged that he must follow his conscience: "Yea,
verily; but take heed that thy conscience be not the conscience of a

Conscience speaks with authority, whenever it speaks at all. Its voice
is imperial, strong and clear. None the less is it often uninformed,
mistaken, in its dictate. There _is_ an Intuition which is verily
the voice of the Spirit in man, in the God-illuminated man, which is
dealt with in the fifth chapter. But the Intuition recognised in the
West, and identified with conscience, is something far other.

For the sake of clarity, we must define what conscience is since we have
said what it is not: that it is not the voice of the Spirit in man, that
it is not the voice of God.

Conscience is the result of the accumulated experience gained by each
man in his previous lives. Each of us is an Immortal Spirit, a Divine
fragment, a Self: "A fragment of mine own Self, transformed in the
world of life into an immortal Spirit, draweth round itself the senses,
of which the mind is the sixth, veiled in Matter." Such is each man. He
evolves into manifested powers all the potentialities unfolded in him by
virtue of his divine parentage, and this is effected by repeated births
into this world, wherein he gathers experience, repeated deaths out of
this world into the other twain--the wheel of births and deaths turns
in the [T.]riloka, the three worlds--wherein he reaps in pain the
results of experiences gathered by disregard of law, and assimilates,
transforming into faculty, moral and mental, the results of experience
gathered in harmony with law. Having transmuted experience into faculty,
he returns to earth for the gathering of new experience, dealt with
as before after physical death. Thus the Spirit unfolds, or the man
evolves--whichever expression is preferred to indicate this growth.
Very similarly doth the physical body grow; a man eats food; digests it,
assimilates it, transmutes it into the materials of his body; ill food
causes pain, even disease; good food strengthens, and makes for growth.
The outer is a reflection of the inner.

Now conscience is the sum total of the experiences in past lives which
have borne sweet and bitter fruit, according as they were in accord or
disaccord with surrounding natural law. This sum total of _physical_
experiences, which result in increased or diminished life, we call
instinct, and it is life-preserving. The sum total of our interwoven
_mental and moral_ experiences, in our relations with others, is
moral instinct, or conscience, and it is harmonising, impels to
"good"--a word which we shall define in our fourth chapter.

Hence conscience depends on the experiences through which we have passed
in previous lives, and is necessarily an individual possession. It
differs where the past experience is different, as in the savage and the
civilised man, the dolt and the talented, the fool and the genius, the
criminal and the saint. The voice of God would speak alike in all; the
experience of the past speaks differently in each. Hence also the
consciences of men at a similar evolutionary level speak alike on broad
questions of right and wrong, good and evil. On these the "voice" is
clear. But there are many questions whereon past experience fails us,
and then conscience fails to speak. We are in doubt; two apparent duties
conflict; two ways seem equally right or equally wrong. "I do not know
what I _ought_ to do," says the perplexed moralist, hearing no
inner voice. In such cases, we must seek to form the best judgment we
can, and then act boldly. If unknowingly we disregard some hidden law we
shall suffer, and _that_ experience will be added to our sum total,
and in similar circumstances in the future, conscience, through the aid
of this added experience, will have found a voice.

Hence we may ever, having judged as best we can, act boldly, and learn
increased wisdom from the result.

Much moral cowardice, paralysing action, has resulted from the Christian
idea of "sin," as something that incurs the "wrath of God," and that
needs to be "forgiven," in order to escape an artificial--not a
natural--penalty. We gain knowledge by experience, and disregard of a
law, where it is not known, should cause us no distress, no remorse, no
"repentance," only a quiet mental note that we must in future remember
the law which we disregarded and make our conduct harmonise therewith.
Where conscience does not speak, how shall we act? The way is well known
to all thoughtful people: we first try to eliminate all personal desire
from the consideration of the subject on which decision is needed, so
that the mental atmosphere may not be rendered a distorting medium by
the mists of personal pleasure or pain; next, we place before us all the
circumstances, giving each its due weight; then, we decide; the next
step depends on whether we believe in Higher Powers or not; if we do, we
sit down quietly and alone; we place our decision before us; we suspend
_all_ thought, but remain mentally alert--all mental ear, as it
were; we ask for help from God, from our Teacher, from our own Higher
Self; into that silence comes the decision. We obey it, without further
consideration, and then we watch the result, and judge by that of the
value of the decision, for it may have come from the higher or from
the lower Self. But, as we did our very best, we feel no trouble, even
if the decision should be wrong and bring us pain. We have gained an
experience, and will do better next time. The trouble, the pain, we have
brought on ourselves by our ignorance, we note, as showing that we have
disregarded a law, and we profit by the additional knowledge in the

Thus understanding conscience, we shall not take it as a basis of
morality, but as our best available individual light. We shall judge
our conscience, educate it, evolve it by mental effort, by careful
observation. As we learn more, our conscience will develop; as we act
up to the highest we can see, our vision will become ever clearer, and
our ear more sensitive. As muscles develop by exercise, so conscience
develops by activity, and as we use our lamp it burns the more brightly.
But let it ever be remembered that it is a man's own experience that
must guide him, and his own conscience that must decide. To overrule the
conscience of another is to induce in him moral paralysis, and to seek
to dominate the will of another is a crime.

       *       *       *       *       *



To those whose intelligence and conscience had revolted against the
crude and immoral maxims mixed up with noble precepts in Revelation; to
those who recognised the impossibility of accepting the varying voices
of Intuition as a moral guide; to all those the theory that Morality was
based on Utility, came as a welcome and rational relief. It promised a
scientific certitude to moral precepts; it left the intellect free to
inquire and to challenge; it threw man back on grounds which were found
in this world alone, and could be tested by reason and experience; it
derived no authority from antiquity, no sanction from religion; it stood
entirely on its own feet, independently of the many conflicting elements
which were found in the religions of the past and present.

The basis for morality, according to Utility, is the greatest happiness
of the greatest number; that which conduces to the greatest happiness of
the greatest number is Right; that which does not is Wrong.

This general maxim being laid down, it remains for the student to study
history, to analyse experience, and by a close and careful investigation
into human nature and human relations to elaborate a moral code which
would bring about general happiness and well-being. This, so far, has
not been done. Utility has been a "hand-to-mouth" moral basis, and
certain rough rules of conduct have grown up by experience and the
necessities of life, without any definite investigation into, or
codifying of, experience. Man's moral basis as a rule is a compound of
partially accepted revelations and partially admitted consciences, with
a practical application of the principle of "that which works best". The
majority are not philosophers, and care little for a logical basis. They
are unconscious empirics, and their morality is empirical.

Mr. Charles Bradlaugh, considering that the maxim did not sufficiently
guard the interests of the minority, and that, so far as was possible,
these also should be considered and guarded, added another phrase; his
basis ran: "The greatest happiness of the greatest number, with the
least injury to any." The rule was certainly improved by the addition,
but it did not remove many of the objections raised.

It was urged by the Utilitarian that morality had developed out of the
social side of human beings; that men, as social animals, desired to
live in permanent relations with each other, and that this resulted
in the formation of families; men could not be happy in solitude; the
persistence of these groups, amid the conflicting interests of the
individuals who composed them, could only be secured by recognising that
the interests of the majority must prevail, and form the rule of conduct
for the whole family. Morality, it was pointed out, thus began in family
relations, and conduct which disrupted the family was wrong, while that
which strengthened and consolidated it was right. Thus family morality
was established. As families congregated together for mutual protection
and support, their separate interests as families were found to be
conflicting, and so a _modus vivendi_ was sought in the same
principle which governed relations within the family: the common
interests of the grouped families, the tribe, must prevail over the
separate and conflicting interests of the separate families; that which
disrupted the tribe was wrong, while that which strengthened and
consolidated it was right. Thus tribal morality was established. The
next step was taken as tribes grouped themselves together and became
a nation, and morality extended so as to include all who were within
the nation; that which disrupted the nation was wrong, and that which
consolidated and strengthened it was right. Thus national morality was
established. Further than that, utilitarian morality has not progressed,
and international relations have not yet been moralised; they remain
in the savage state, and recognise no moral law. Germany has boldly
accepted this position, and declares formally that, for the State,
Might is Right, and that all which the State can do for its own
aggrandisement, for the increase of its power, it may and ought to do,
for there is no rule of conduct to which it owes obedience; it is a law
unto itself. Other nations have not formularised the statement in their
literature as Germany has done, but the strong nations have acted upon
it in their dealings with the weaker nations, although the dawning
sense of an international morality in the better of them has led to
the defence of international wrong by "the tyrant's plea, necessity".
The most flagrant instance of the utter disregard of right and wrong as
between nations, is, perhaps, the action of the allied European nations
against China--in which the Hun theory of "frightfulness" was enunciated
by the German Kaiser--but the history of nations so far is a history of
continual tramplings on the weak by the strong, and with the coming to
the front of the Christian white nations, and their growth in scientific
knowledge and thereby in power, the coloured nations and tribes, whether
civilised or savage, have been continually exploited and oppressed.
International morality, at present, does not exist. Murder within the
family, the tribe, and the nation is marked as a crime, save that
judicial murder, capital punishment, is permitted--on the principle of
(supposed) Utility. But multiple murder outside the nation--War--is not
regarded as criminal, nor is theft "wrong," when committed by a strong
nation on a weak one. It may be that out of the widespread misery caused
by the present War, some international morality may be developed.

We may admit that, as a matter of historical and present fact, Utility
has been everywhere tacitly accepted as the basis of morality, defective
as it is as a theory. Utility is used as the test of Revelation, as the
test of Intuition, and precepts of Manu, Zarathushtra, Moses, Christ,
Muhammad, are acted on, or disregarded, according as they are considered
to be useful, or harmful, or impracticable, to be suitable or unsuitable
to the times. Inconsistencies in these matters do not trouble the
"practical" ordinary man.

The chief attack on the theory of Utility as a basis for morality has
come from Christians, and has been effected by challenging the word
"happiness" as the equivalent of "pleasure," the "greatest number" as
equivalent to "individual," and then denouncing the maxim as "a morality
for swine". "Virtue" is placed in antagonism to happiness, and virtue,
not happiness, is said to be the right aim for man. This really begs the
question, for what is "virtue"? The crux of the whole matter lies there.
Is "virtue" opposed to "happiness," or is it a means to happiness? Why
is the word "pleasure" substituted for "happiness" when utility is
attacked? We may take the second question first.

"Pleasure," in ordinary parlance, means an immediate and transitory
form of happiness and usually a happiness of the body rather than
of the emotions and the mind. Hence the "swine". A sensual enjoyment
is a "pleasure"; union with God would not be called a pleasure, but
happiness. An old definition of man's true object is: "To know God, and
to enjoy Him for ever." There happiness is clearly made the true end
of man. The assailant changes the "greatest happiness of the greatest
number" into the "pleasure of the individual," and having created this
man of straw, he triumphantly knocks it down.

Does not virtue lead to happiness? Is it not a condition of happiness?
How does the Christian define virtue? It is obedience to the Will of
God. But he only obeys that Will as "revealed" so far as it agrees with
Utility. He no longer slays the heretic, and he suffers the witch to
live. He does not give his cloak to the thief who has stolen his coat,
but he hands over the thief to the policeman. Moreover, as Herbert
Spencer pointed out, he follows virtue as leading to heaven; if right
conduct led him to everlasting torture, would he still pursue it? Or
would he revise his idea of right conduct? The martyr dies for the truth
he sees, because it is easier _to him_ to die than to betray truth.
He could not live on happily as a conscious liar. The nobility of a
man's character is tested by the things which give him pleasure. The
joy in following truth, in striving after the noblest he can see--that
is the greatest happiness; to sacrifice present enjoyment for the
service of others is not self-denial, but self-expression, to the Spirit
who is man.

Where Utility fails is that it does not inspire, save where the
spiritual life is already seen to be the highest happiness of the
individual, because it conduces to the good of all, not only of the
"greatest number". Men who thus feel have inspiration from within
themselves and need no outside moral code, no compelling external law.
Ordinary men, the huge majority at the present stage of evolution, need
either compulsion or inspiration, otherwise they will not control their
animal nature, they will not sacrifice an immediate pleasure to a
permanent increase of happiness, they will not sacrifice personal gain
to the common good. The least developed of these are almost entirely
influenced by fear of personal pain and wish for personal pleasure; they
will not put their hand into the fire, because they know that fire
burns, and no one accuses them of a "low motive" because they do not
burn themselves; religion shows them that the results of the disregard
of moral and mental law work out in suffering after death as well as
before it, and that the results of obedience to such laws similarly work
out in post-mortem pleasure. It thus supplies a useful element in the
early stages of moral development.

At a higher stage, love of God and the wish to "please Him" by leading
an exemplary life is a motive offered by religion, and this inspires to
purity and to self-sacrifice; again, this is no more ignoble than the
wish to please the father, the mother, the friend. Many a lad keeps pure
to please his mother, because he loves her. So religious men try to live
nobly to please God, because they love Him. At a higher stage yet, the
good of the people, the good of the race, of humanity in the future,
acts as a potent inspiration. But this does not touch the selfish lower
types. Hence Utility fails as a compelling power with the majority, and
is insufficient as motive. Add to this the radical fault that it does
not place morality on a universal basis, the happiness of _all_,
that it disregards the happiness of the minority, and its unsatisfactory
nature is seen. It has much of truth in it; it enters as a determining
factor into all systems of ethics, even where nominally ignored or
directly rejected; it is a better basis in theory, though a worse one in
practice, than either Revelation or Intuition, but it is incomplete.
We must seek further for a solid basis of morality.

       *       *       *       *       *



We come now to the sure basis of morality, the bedrock of Nature,
whereon Morality may be built beyond all shaking and change, built as a
Science with recognised laws, and in a form intelligible and capable of
indefinite expansion. Evolution is recognised as the method of Nature,
her method in all her realms, and according to the ascertained laws
of Nature, so far as they are known, all wise and thoughtful people
endeavour to guide themselves. In making Morality a Science, we give
it a binding force, and render it of universal application; moreover,
we incorporate into it all the fragments of truth which exist in other
systems, and which have lent to them their authority, their appeal to
the intellect and the heart.

Let us first define Morality. It is the science of human relations, the
Science of Conduct, and its laws, as inviolable, as sure, as changeless,
as all other laws of Nature, can be discovered and formulated. Harmony
with these laws, like harmony with all other natural laws, is the
condition of happiness, for in a realm of law none can move without
pain while disregarding law. A law of Nature is the statement of an
inviolable and constant sequence external to ourselves and unchangeable
by our will, and amid the conditions of these inviolable sequences we
live, from these we cannot escape. One choice alone is ours: to live in
harmony with them or to disregard them; violate them we cannot, but we
can dash ourselves against them; then the law asserts itself in the
suffering that results from our flinging ourselves against it, or from
our disregarding its existence; its existence is proved as well by
the pain that results from our disregard of it, as by the pleasure
that results from our harmony with it. Only a fool deliberately and
gratuitously disregards a natural law when he knows of its existence;
a man shapes his conduct so as to avoid the pain which results from
clashing with it, unless he deliberately disregards the pain in view of
a result to be brought about, which he considers to be worth more than
the purchase price of pain. The Science of Morality, of Right Conduct,
"lays down the conditions of harmonious relations between individuals,
and their several environments small or large, families, societies,
nations, humanity as a whole. Only by the knowledge and observance of
these laws can men be either permanently healthy or permanently happy,
can they live in peace and prosperity. Where morality is unknown or
disregarded, friction inevitably arises, disharmony and pain result; for
Nature is a settled Order in the mental and moral worlds as much as in
the physical, and only by knowledge of that Order and by obedience to
it can harmony, health and happiness be secured."

The religious man sees in the laws of Nature the manifestation of the
Divine Nature, and in obedience to and co-operation with them, he sees
obedience to and co-operation with the Will of God. The non-religious
man sees them as sequences he cannot alter, on harmony with which his
happiness, his comfort, depends. In either case they have a binding
force. The man belonging to any exoteric religion will modify by them
the precepts of his Scriptures, realising that morality rises as
Evolution proceeds. He does thus modify scriptural precepts by practical
obedience or disregard, whether he do it by theory or not. But it is
better that theory and practice should correspond. The intuitionist
will understand that conscience, accumulated experience, has developed
by experience within these laws. The utilitarian will see that the
happiness of all, not only of the greatest number, must be ensured by a
true morality, and will understand why Happiness is the result thereof.
Manu indicates the various bases very significantly: "The whole Ve[d.]a
is the source of the Sacred Law [Revelation], next the tradition
[Conscience] and the virtuous conduct of those who know [Utility],
also the customs of holy men [Evolution] and self-satisfaction
[Mysticism]" (ii, 6.). It is true that happiness can result only by
harmony with law, harmony with the Divine Will which is embodied in
law--we need not quarrel over names--and the Science of Right Conduct,
"by establishing righteousness brings about Happiness". It may therefore
be truly said that the object of Morality is Universal Happiness. Why
the doing of a right action causes a flow of happiness in the doer, even
in the midst of a keen temporary pain entailed by it, we shall see under

The moment we base Morality on Evolution, we see that it must change
with the stage of evolution reached, and that the duty--that which ought
to be done--of the civilised and highly advanced man is not the same as
the duty of the savage. "One set of duties for men in the K[r.][t.]a
age, different ones in the Tre[t.][=a] and in the Dv[=a]para, and
another in the Kali." (_Manusm[r.][t.]i_, i, 85.) Different ages
bring new duties. But if Morality be based on Evolution we can at once
define what is "Right" and what is "Wrong". That is Right which
subserves Evolution; that is Wrong which antagonises it. Or in other
words, for those of us who believe that God's method for this world is
the evolutionary: that is Right which co-operates with His Will; that is
wrong which works against it. "Revelation" is an attempt to state this
at any given time; "Intuition" is the result of successful attempts
to do this; "Utility" is the application of observed results of
happiness and misery which flow from obedience to this, or disregard

Evolution is the unfolding and manifestation of life-energies, the
unfolding of the capacities of consciousness, the manifestation of these
ever-increasing capacities in ever-improving and more plastic forms.
The primary truth of Morality, as of Religion and of Science, is the
Unity of Life. One Life ever unfolding in endless varieties of forms; the
essence of all beings is the same, the inequalities are the marks of the
stage of its unfoldment.

When we base Morality on Evolution, we cannot have, it is obvious, one
cut and dry rule for all. Those who want cut and dry rules must go to
their Scriptures for them, and even then, as the rules in the Scriptures
are contradictory--both as between Scriptures and within any given
Scripture--they must call in the help of Intuition and Utility in the
making of their code, in their selective process. This selective process
will be largely moulded by the public opinion of their country and age,
emphasising some precepts and ignoring others, and the code will be the
expression of the average morality of the time. If this clumsy and
uncertain fashion of finding a rule of conduct does not suit us, we
must be willing to exert our intelligence, to take a large view of the
evolutionary process, and to deduce our moral precepts at any given
stage by applying our reason to the scrutiny of this process at that
stage. This scrutiny is a laborious one; but Truth is the prize of
effort in the search therefor, it is not an unearned gift to the
slothful and the careless.

This large view of the evolutionary process shows us that it is best
studied in two great divisions: the first from the savage to the highly
civilised man who is still working primarily for himself and his family,
still working for private ends predominantly; and the second, at present
but sparsely followed, in which the man, realising the supreme claim of
the whole upon its part, seeks the public good predominantly, renounces
individual advantages and private gains, and consecrates himself to the
service of God and of man. The Hindu calls the first section of
evolution the Prav[r.][t.][t.]i M[=a]rga, the Path of Forthgoing; the
second the Niv[r.][t.][t.]i M[=a]rga, the Path of Return. In the first,
the man evolves by taking; in the second, by giving. In the first, he
incurs debts; in the second, he pays them. In the first, he acquires; in
the second, he renounces. In the first, he lives for the profit of the
smaller self; in the second, for the service of the One Self. In the
first, he claims Rights; in the second, he discharges Duties.

Thus Morality is seen from two view-points, and the virtues it
comprises fall into two groups. Men are surrounded on every side by
objects of desire, and the use of these is to evoke the desire to
possess them, to stimulate exertion, to inspire efforts, and thus to
make faculty, capacity--strength, intelligence, alertness, judgment,
perseverance, patience, fortitude. Those who regard the world
as God-emanated and God-guided, must inevitably realise that the
relation of man--susceptible to pleasure and pain by contact with his
environment--to his environment--filled with pleasure and pain-giving
objects--must be intended to provoke in man the desire to possess the
pleasure-giving, to avoid the pain-giving. In fact, God's lures to
exertion are pleasures; His warnings are pains and the interplay between
man and environment causes evolution. The man who does not believe in
God has only to substitute the word "Nature" for "God" and to leave out
the idea of design, and the argument remains the same: man's relation to
his environment provokes exertion, and thus evolution. A man on the Path
of Forthgoing will, at first, seize everything he desires, careless of
others, and will gradually learn, from the attacks of the despoiled,
some respect for the rights of others; the lesson will be learnt more
quickly by the teaching of more advanced men--[R.][s.]his, Founders
of Religions, Sages, and the like--who tell him that if he kills,
robs, tramples on others, he will suffer. He does all these things;
he suffers; he learns--his post-mortem lives helping him much in the
learning. Later on, he lives a more controlled and regulated life, and
he may blamelessly enjoy the objects of desire, provided he injure none
in the taking. Hin[d.][=u]ism lays down, as the proper pursuits for the
household life, the gaining of wealth, the performance of the duties of
the position held, the gratification of desire. The desires will become
subtler and more refined as intelligence fashions them and as emotions
replace passions; but throughout the treading of the Path of Forthgoing,
the "desire for fruit" is the necessary and blameless motive for
exertion. Without this, the man at this stage of evolution becomes
lethargic and does not evolve. Desire subserves Evolution, and it is
Right. The gratification of Desire may lead a man to do injury to
others, and as soon as he has developed enough to understand this, then
the gratification becomes wrong, because, forgetting the Unity, he has
inflicted harm on one who shares life with him, and has thus hampered
evolution. The sense of Unity is the root-Love, the Uniter, and Love is
the expression of the attraction of the separated towards union; out of
Love, controlled by reason and by the desire for the happiness of all,
grow all Virtues, which are but permanent, universal, specialised
_forms_ of love. So also is the sense of Separateness the
root-Hate, the Divider, the expression of the repulsion of the separated
from each other. Out of this grow all Vices, the permanent, universal,
specialised _forms_ of Hate. That which Love does for the Beloved,
that Virtue does for all who need its aid, so far as its power extends.
That which Hate wreaks on the Abhorred, that Vice does to all who
obstruct its path, so far as its power extends.

"Virtues and Vices are fixed emotional states. The Virtues are fixed
Love-emotions, regulated and controlled by enlightened intelligence
seeing the Unity; the Vices are fixed Hate-emotions, strengthened and
intensified by the unenlightened intelligence, seeing the separateness."
(_Universal Text Book_, ii, 32.) It is obvious that virtues are
constructive and vices destructive, for Love holds together, while Hate
disintegrates. Yet the modified form of Hate--antagonism,
competition--had its part to play in the earlier stages of human
evolution, developing strength, courage, and endurance, and while Love
built up Nations within themselves, Hate made each strong against its
competitor. And within Nations, there has been conflict of classes,
class and caste war, and all this modified and softened by a growing
sense of a common good, until Competition, the characteristic of the
Path of Forthgoing tends to change into Co-operation, the characteristic
of the Path of Return. The Path of Forthgoing must still be trodden by
many, but the number is decreasing; more and more are turning towards
the Path of Return. Ideals are formulated by the leaders of Humanity,
and the Ideals held up to-day are increasingly those of Love and of
Service. "During the first stage, man grasps at everything he desires
and develops a strong individuality by conflict; in the second,
he shares all he has, and yokes that individuality to service;
ever-increasing separation is the key-note of the one; ever-increasing
unity is the key-note of the other. Hence we need not brand as evil the
rough aggression and the fierce struggles of barbarous times; they were
a necessary stage of growth and were at that stage Right, and in the
divine plan. But now those days are over, strength has been won; the
time has come when the separated selves must gradually draw together,
and to co-operate with the divine Will which is working for union is
the Right. The Right which is the outcome of Love, directed by reason,
at the present stage of evolution, then, seeks an ever-increasing
realisation of Unity, a drawing together of the separated selves. That
which by establishing harmonious relations makes for Unity is Right;
that which divides and disintegrates, which makes for separation, is
Wrong." (_ibid._, 10, 11.)

Hin[d.][=u]ism, on which the whole of this is based, has added to this
broad criterion the division of a life into four stages, to each of
which appropriate virtues are assigned: the Student Period, with its
virtues of perfect continence, industry, frugality, exertion; the
Household Period, with its virtue of duties appropriate to the position,
the earning and enjoying of wealth, the gratification of desires; the
Retirement Period, with the virtues of the renouncing of worldly
gain and of sacrifice; the Ascetic Period, of complete renunciation,
meditation and preparation for post-mortem life. These indications
make more easy the decisions as to Right and Wrong.

The more we think upon and work out into detail this view of Morality as
based on Evolution, the more we realise its soundness, and the more we
find that the moral law is as discoverable by observation, by reason,
and by experiment, as any other law of Nature. If a man disregards it,
either ignorantly or wilfully, he suffers. A man may disregard physical
hygienic and sanitary laws because of his ignorance; none the less will
he suffer from physical disease. A man may disregard moral laws because
of ignorance; none the less will he suffer from moral disease. The sign
of disease in both cases is pain and unhappiness; experts in both cases
warn us, and if we disregard the warning, we learn its truth later by
experience. There is no hurry; but the law is sure. Working with the
law, man evolves swiftly with happiness; working against it, he evolves
slowly with pain. In either case, he evolves, advancing joyously as a
free man, or scourged onwards as a slave. The most obstinate fool in
life's class, refusing to learn, fortunately dies and cannot quite
escape after death the knowledge of his folly.

Let the reader try for himself the solution of moral problems,
accepting, as a hypothesis, the facts of evolution and of the two halves
of its huge spiral, and see for himself if this view does not offer a
rational, intelligible, practical meaning to the much-vexed words, Right
and Wrong. Let him see how it embraces all that is true in the other
bases suggested, is their summation, and rationalises their precepts.
He will find that Morality is no longer dependent on the maxims of great
Teachers--though indeed they proclaimed its changeless laws--nor on the
imperfect resultant of individual experiences, nor on the happiness of
some only of the great human family, but that it inheres in the very
nature of things, an essential law of happy life and ordered progress.
Then indeed is Morality founded on a basis that cannot be moved; then
indeed can it speak with an imperial authority the "ought" that must
be obeyed; then it unfolds its beauty as humanity evolves to its
perfecting, and leads to Bliss Eternal, the Brahman Bliss, where the
human will, in fullest freedom, accords itself in harmony with the

       *       *       *       *       *



Mysticism cannot be spoken of as a basis of morality in the sense in
which Revelation, Intuition, Utility and Evolution are bases, for it is
valid only for the individual, not for everybody, for the true Mystic,
the dictates of the Outer or Inner God are imperial, compelling, but to
any one else they are entirely unauthoritative. None the less, as the
influence of the Mystic is wide-reaching, and his dicta are accepted by
many as a trustworthy revelation--are not all revelations communicated
by Mystics?--or as the intuition of an illuminated conscience, or as
showing the highest utility, or as the result of an evolution higher
than the normal, it is worth while to consider their value.

Mysticism is the realisation of God, of the Universal Self. It is
attained either as a realisation of God outside the Mystic, or within
himself. In the first case, it is usually reached from within a
religion, by exceptionally intense love and devotion, accompanied by
purity of life, for only "the pure in heart shall see God". The external
means are prayer to and meditation on the Object of devotion--Shr[=i]
R[=a]ma, Shr[=i] K[r.][s.]h[n.]a, the Lord Jesus--long continued and
persevering, and the devotee realises his Divinity by ecstacy attaining
Union thereby. Such Mystics are, for the most part, valuable to the
world as creating an atmosphere of spirituality, which raises the
general level of religious feeling in those who come within its area;
India has especially profited by the considerable number of such Mystics
found within its borders in past times, and to a lesser extent to-day;
every one who practises, for instance, meditation, knows that it is
easier here than elsewhere, and all sensitive persons feel the Indian
"atmosphere". Outside this, such Mystics occasionally write valuable
books, containing high ideals of the spiritual life. As a rule, they do
not concern themselves with the affairs of the outer world, which they
regard as unimportant. Their cry continually is that the world is evil,
and they call on men to leave it, not to improve it. To them God and the
world are in opposition, "the world, the flesh, and the devil" are the
three great enemies of the spiritual life. In the West, this is almost
universal, for in the Roman Catholic Church seclusion is the mark of
the religious life, and "the religious" are the monk and the nun, the
"religious" and the "secular" being in opposition. In truth, where the
realisation of God outside himself is sought by the devotee, seclusion
is a necessity for success, if only for the time which is required for
meditation, the essential preliminary of ecstacy. In the very rare
Mystics of non-Catholic communions, full ecstacy is scarcely, if at all,
known or even recognised; an overpowering sense of the divine Presence
is experienced, but it is a Presence outside the worshipper; it is
accompanied with a deliberate surrender of the will to God, and a
feeling on the part of the man that he becomes an instrument of the
divine Will; this he carries with him into outer life, and, undirected
by love and the illuminated reason, it often lands the half-developed
Mystic into fanaticism and cruelty; no one who has read Oliver
Cromwell's letters can deny that he was a Mystic, half-developed, and it
is on him that Lord Rosebery founded his dictum of the formidable nature
of the "practical Mystic"; the ever present sense of a divine Power
behind himself gives such a man a power that ordinary men cannot
successfully oppose; but this sense affords no moral basis, as, witness
the massacre of Drogheda. Such a Mystic, belonging to a particular
religion, as he always does, takes the revelation of his religion as his
moral code, and Cromwell felt himself as the avenging sword of his God,
as did the Hebrews fighting with the Amalekites. No man who accepts a
revelation as his guide can be regarded as more than partially a Mystic.
He has the Mystic temperament only, and that undoubtedly gives him
a strength far beyond the strength of those who have it not.

The true Mystic, realising God, has no need of any Scriptures, for he
has touched the source whence all Scriptures flow. An "enlightened"
Br[=a]hma[n.]a, says Shr[=i] K[r.][s.]h[n.]a, has no more need of the
Ve[d.]as, than a man needs a tank in a place which is overflowing with
water. The value of cisterns, of reservoirs, is past, when a man is
seated beside an ever-flowing spring. As Dean Inge has pointed out,
Mysticism is the most scientific form of religion, for it bases itself,
as does all science, on experience and experiment--experiment being only
a specialised form of experience, devised either to discover or to

We have seen the Mystic who realises God outside himself and seeks
Union with Him. There remains the most interesting, the most effective
form of Mysticism, the realisation by a man of God within himself. Here
meditation is also a necessity, and the man who is born with a high
capacity for concentration is merely a man who has practised it in
previous lives. A life or lives of study and seclusion often precede
a life of tremendous and sustained activity in the physical world. The
realisation is preceded by control of the body, control of the emotions
and control of the mind, for the power to hold these in complete
stillness is necessary, if a man is to penetrate into those depths of
his own nature in which alone is to be found the shrine of the inner
God. The subtle music of that sphere is drowned by the clatter of the
lower bodies as the most exquisite notes of the V[=i][n.][=a] are lost
in the crude harsh sound of the harmonium. The Voice of the Silence can
only be heard in the silence, and all the desires of the heart must be
paralysed ere can arise in the tranquillity of senses and mind, the
glorious majesty of the Self. Only in the desert of loneliness rises
that Sun in all His glory, for all objects that might cloud His dawning
must vanish; only "when half-Gods go," does God arise. Even the outer
God must hide, ere the Inner God can manifest; the cry of agony of the
Crucified must be wrung from the tortured lips; "My God, my God, why
hast _Thou_ forsaken me?" precedes the realisation of the God

Through this all Mystics pass who are needed for great service in the
world, those whom Mr. Bagshot so acutely calls "materialised Mystics".
The Mystics who find God outside themselves are the "unmaterialised"
Mystics, and they serve the world in the ways above mentioned; but the
other, as Mr. Bagshot points out, transmute their mystic thought into
"practical energy," and these become the most formidable powers known in
the physical world. All that is based on injustice, fraud and wrong may
well tremble when one of these arises, for the Hidden God has become
manifest, and who may bar His way?

Such Mystics wear none of the outer signs of the "religious"--their
renunciation is within, not without, there is no parade of outer
holiness, no outer separation from the world; Janaka the King,
K[r.][s.]h[n.]a the Warrior-Statesman, are of these; clothed in cotton
cloth or cloth of gold, it matters not; poor or rich, it boots not;
failing or succeeding, it is naught, for each apparent failure is the
road to fuller success, and both are their servants, not their masters;
victory ever attends them, to-day or a century hence is equal, for
they live in Eternity, and with them it is ever To-day. Possessing
nothing, all is theirs; holding everything, nothing belongs to them.
Misconception, misrepresentation, they meet with a smile, half-amused,
all-forgiving; the frowns, the taunts, the slanders of the men they live
to serve are only the proofs of how much these foolish ones need their
help, and how should these foolish ones hurt those on whom the Peace of
the Eternal abides?

These Mystics are a law unto themselves, for the inner law has replaced
the external compulsion. More rigid, for it is the law of their own
nature; more compelling, for it is the Voice of the divine Will; more
exacting, for no pity, no pardon, is known to it; more all-embracing,
for it sees the part only in the whole.

But it has, it ought to have, no authority outside the Mystic himself.
It may persuade, it may win, it may inspire, but it may not claim
obedience as of right. For the Voice of the God within only becomes
authoritative for another when the God within that other self answers
the Mystic's appeal, and he recognises an ideal that he could not have
formulated, unaided, for himself. The Mystic may shine as a Light, but
a man must see with his own eyes, and there lies the world's safety;
the materialised Mystic, strong as he is, cannot, by virtue of the God
within him, enslave his fellow-men.

       *       *       *       *       *


*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Basis of Morality" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.