The Cardinal Virtues
WHETHER in Cuba or the Klondike, in camp or in college, wherever men live together in close quarters, there they form a moral code.
The codes of college students, for instance, like the codes of mining camps, are couched in grotesque, slangy terms ; but the heart of them is sure to be sound.
For the strictly limited purposes of a college code — that is, for healthy, wealthy young fellows who have no immediate concern about earning their living, and who are free from domestic, business, and political responsibilities —these college codes serve fairly well. In substance, they all agree that a man shall be wide awake and tactful, genial and courteous, kindly in his comments on others, cheerful when things don’t quite suit him, generous in small things as well as in great; especially, that he shall give nothing less than his best, and take nothing from his fellows he has not fairly earned; that he shall lose thought of himself in devotion to some common ends, and put forth the last ounce of energy in him before he will give up the game he sets out to play, or the work he “ goes in for,” or the friend whom he loves. The man who does these things is accepted as a thoroughly good fellow, a gentleman ; he has all the virtues which are absolutely required to get on well in the limited sphere to which this code is applied. That our college youth, in entire unconsciousness of what they are doing, and without the remotest intention of drawing up a moral code, come to a tacit acceptance of principles so profound, so searching, and so comprehensive, is a magnificent witness to the soundness of young men’s ethical insight.
The Greeks worked out an ethical code for themselves in as direct a contact with actual social needs as is felt by our miners and soldiers and ranchmen and college students. Though there were many points which their code did not cover, yet it was much broader than any of these special codes which are being developed to-day, and with adequate amplification can be made to include the whole social duty of man. Their ethical efforts came to so little not from lack of insight so much as from lack of motive. To unite the ethical insight of the Greek with the spiritual motive of the Christian would be the salvation of individual or country or race. The straightest approach to the Greek point of view is through Plato’s doctrine of the Cardinal Virtues.
If we are to see life with the eyes of the Greeks, we must first free our minds of the notion that anything in the world, any appetite or passion of man, is either good or bad in itself. Life would be simple indeed if only some things, like eating and studying and working and saving and giving, were absolutely good; and other things, like drinking and smoking and spending and theatre-going and dancing and sexual love, were absolutely bad. To be sure, men and schools and churches have often tried to dissect life into these two halves ; but it never works well. Material things and natural appetites are in themselves neither good nor bad; they become good when rightly related, and bad when wrongly related. The cardinal virtues are the principles of such right relation.
The first cardinal virtue is wisdom. Wisdom, in the ethical sense of the term, is a very different thing from book-learning. Illiterate people are frequently exceedingly wise, while learned people are often the biggest fools. Wisdom is the sense of proportion, — the power to see clearly one’s ends, and their relative worth; to subordinate lower ends to higher without sacrificing the lower altogether ; and to select the appropriate means to one’s ends, taking just so much of the means as will best serve the ends, — no more and no less. It is neither the gratification nor the suppression of appetite and passion as such, but the organization of them into a hierarchy of ends which they are sternly compelled to subserve.
Of the many ends at which a wise man aims, such as health, wealth, reputation, power, culture, and the like, a single subordinate phase of a single end, the investment of savings, will bring out the essential feature of wisdom. Now, the end at which a man aims in investment of savings is provision for himself and his family in old age. It is the part of wisdom to keep that end constantly before the mind,—not allowing other ends to be substituted for it; and to choose the means which strictly subserve that end, — not the means which are attractive in themselves, or promise to serve some other end. Yet simple as this matter is, not one investor of savings in twenty has the wisdom to do it.
Investment of savings is an entirely different thing from the investment a merchant or manufacturer makes for purposes of profit; and to keep this distinction clear is one of the greatest signs of practical wisdom. The prime consideration in investment of savings should be security. The wise investor of savings will remember two principles : first, high interest is another name for poor security ; second, large profits is another name for extreme risk. He will confine his investment to building and loan associations, savings banks, government and conservative municipal bonds, real estate; first mortgages on real estate worth twice the face of the mortgage, which is producing income considerably in excess of the interest on the mortgage, and is owned by some one who has other property besides that on which the mortgage is held; and finally, local companies which serve essential local needs, like light, water, and transportation, provided they are honestly and economically managed. These, in about the order named, are the only safe, and therefore the only wise forms of investment for savings. The expert banker and financier may seek larger profits where he pleases ; but the man who puts his savings, be they small or large, on which he relies for old age, into any forms of investment more risky than these is a fool. There is nothing more pitiful than to see men and women, who have worked hard and lived close year after year, flattered and wheedled into putting their savings into some specious scheme which promises six or eight per cent interest, or the chance in a few years to double their money, and then fails altogether just when the money they have saved is most needed, and the power to earn wages or salary has gone.
To sum up the dictates of wisdom on this point in a few simple rules, wisdom says : “ Avoid high rates of interest; seek no business profits beyond the range of your own immediate and expert observation ; lend money as a favor to no one, unless you are able and willing, if need be, to give the money outright; have no business dealings with your relatives in which business and sentiment are mixed up ; sign no notes and assume no financial responsibilities for other people; keep your money where you can watch the men who manage it for you ; never put a large part of your savings into any one investment.” He who keeps these rules may not grow suddenly rich, but he will never become suddenly and sorrowfully poor.
This simple yet very practical example may serve as the type of all wisdom. It simply demands that we be perfectly clear about our ends, and the part they play in our permanent plan of life; and then, that we never leave or forsake these chosen ends to chase after others which circumstance or flattery or vanity or indolence or ambition may chance to suggest.
If man dwelt alone in a world of things, wisdom to subordinate things to his ends would be the principal virtue. The form of the perfect character would be a circle, with self as the centre. The fact that we live in a social world, where other persons must be recognized, is the ground of justice, the second cardinal virtue. Justice requires the subordination of the interests of the individual to the interests of society, and the persons who constitute society, in the same way that wisdom requires the subordination of particular desires to the permanent interests of the whole individual to whom they belong. For the individual is a part of society in the same vital way in which a single desire is part of an individual. To indulge a single desire at the expense of the permanent self is folly ; and to indulge a single individual, whether myself or another, at the expense of society is injustice.
The essence of injustice consists in treating people, not as persons, having interests and ends of their own, but as mere tools or machines, to do the things we want to have done. The penalty of injustice is a hardening of heart and shriveling of soul; so that if a person were to treat everybody in that way, he would come to dwell in a world of things, and, before he knew it, degenerate into a mere thing himself. Lord Rosebery points out that this habit of treating men as mere means to his own ends was what made Napoleon’s mind lose its sanity of judgment, and made his heart the friendless, cheerless desolation that it was in his last days. We have all seen persons in whom this hardening, shriveling, drying-up process had reached almost the vanishing point. The employer toward his “ hands ; ” the officer toward his troops ; the teacher, even, toward his scholars ; the housekeeper toward her servants ; all of us toward the people who cook our food and make our beds and sell our meat and raise our vegetables, are in imminent danger of slipping down on to this immoral level of treating them as mere machines. Royce, in his Religious Aspect of Philosophy, has set this forth most forcibly, among English writers ; though it lies at the heart of all the German formulas, like Kant’s “ Treat humanity, whether in thyself or in others, always as an end, never as a means,” and Hegel’s “Be a person, and respect the personality of others.” Royce says : “ Let one look over the range of his bare acquaintanceship ; let him leave out his friends, and the people in whom he takes a special personal interest; let him regard the rest of his world of fellow men, — his butcher, his grocer, the policeman that patrols his street, the newsboy, the servant in his kitchen, his business rivals. Are they not one and all to him ways of behavior toward himself or other people, outwardly effective beings, rather than realized masses of genuine inner sentiment, of love, or of felt desire ? Does he not naturally think of each of them rather as a way of outward action than as a way of inner volition ? His butcher, his newsboy, his servant, — are they not for him industrious or lazy, honest or deceitful, polite or uncivil, useful or useless people, rather than self-conscious people ? Is any one of these alive for him in the full sense, — sentient, emotional, and otherwise like himself, as perhaps his own son, or his own mother or wife, seems to him to be ? Is it not rather their being for him, not for themselves, that he considers in all his ordinary life ? Not their inner volitional nature is realized, but their manner of outward activity. Such is the nature and ground of the illusion of selfishness.”
This passage from Royce lays bare the source of the greater part of the social immorality in the world, and accounts for nine tenths of all the world’s trouble.
What wonder that a man of this type cannot succeed in any large work of administration ! He treats men as things. But men are not things. They rise up in indignation against him. Every man of them is instantly his enemy, and will take the first chance that occurs to betray him and cast him down. A man of that type cannot run a mill or a store or a school or a political campaign or a hotel a week without being in a row. He cannot live in a community six weeks without having made more enemies than friends. The first time he trips, every one is ready to jump on him. And in all his trouble and unpopularity and failure and defeat, the beauty of it is that he is getting precisely what he deserves, and we all exclaim, “ It’s good enough for him ! ” Selfishness is closely akin to folly. The fool treats things as if they were mere qualities, and had no permanent effects. But the effects come back to plague and torment him. The selfish man treats men as if they were mere acts, and had no permanent selves. He may at the time get out of them the act he wants, but in doing so he makes them his enemies ; and no man can permanently prosper with every other man openly or secretly arrayed against him. The most fundamental question a man can ask about our character is whether and to what extent we habitually treat persons as persons, and not as things. The answer to that question will tell whether we shall succeed or fail in any enterprise which has an important social side ; will tell whether we shall make a home happy or wretched; will tell whether we are more of a blessing or a curse to the world in which we move. And the test is to be found, not in our attitude toward the people whom we consider our superiors and equals; not in the appearance we make in what is technically called society. There we have to be decent, whether we want to or not; there we have to treat, or appear to treat, persons as persons, not as things. Little credit belongs to us for all that. But when it comes to our relations with the people of whom Royce was speaking, there we seem to be under no such social compulsion. There our real character gets blurted out. How do we think and feel and speak and act toward our washerwoman or the man who does our humblest work for us ? That determines whether we are at heart Christians or barbarians, whether a gentleman or a brute sits on the throne of our soul. For whether a fellow man is ever a means instead of an end, whether the personality of the humblest ever fails to win our recognition, inasmuch as we do it or do it not unto the least of our brethren determines our moral and social status, as the men of insight, like Kant and Hegel and Jesus, define it.
One of the most important forms of justice is honesty in services and material goods. To be honest means that we refuse to be partner to a trade or transaction in which we would not willingly accept its consequences to all parties, provided we were in their place. Any transaction that involves effects on another we would not willingly, under the circumstances, accept for ourselves is fraud and robbery. The man who pilfers goods from a pocket or a counter is the least of the thieves of to-day. He is only doing, in a pitiful way, the devil’s retail business. The men who do his wholesale business often move in the best of society, and are even the makers and executors of our laws. Wholesale stealing has numerous forms, but it is nearly all reducible to two well-marked types.
First, stealing is carried on by issuing representations of what does not exist as represented. Stealing of this sort is really lying. Adulteration of goods, watered stock, false accounts, are the grosser forms of this stealing. The more adroit of these rascals, however, take to the promotion of spurious enterprises. They form a company to work a mine which has ore, but which they know cannot be worked at a profit; or they build a railroad between points where there is not traffic or travel enough to pay a fair rate of interest on the capital invested. They appropriate to themselves a generous block of the stock as the price for their work of organization. They put in the most expensive plant and equipment. For the first few months, when there are no repairs needed, by artificial stimulus and by various devices of bookkeeping, or by leaving some bills unpaid, they make a showing on paper of large earnings above running expenses. On this fictitious showing they sell their stock to investors at a distance, who think they are being specially favored in being let into a chance to earn dividends of ten per cent. Then comes the crash ; the poor fools that invested in the stock find it worthless, and even the bonds which represent its construction fall below par. Then the poor robbed, cheated, deluded investors look to the promoter for redress ; and lo ! he has unloaded his stock, and is planning another mine in inaccessible Tennessee mountains, or selling lumber that no team can haul out of some impenetrable Florida swamp, or booming city lots staked out on some unbroken Kansas prairie, or running an electric railroad through the pastures and woodlands that connect out-of-the-way hamlets in Maine. Justice and honesty demand that we shall read that man’s character in the light of the losses he inflicts on hardworking farmers, dependent widows, poor men and women who have toiled all their lives, and are looking for rest in old age. In that clear light of consequence to their fellows, the acts of these unscrupulous promoters stand out in their naked hideousness and deformity. The man who promotes a scheme of this kind, knowing or having good reason to believe that his gain is represented by widespread robbery of the innocent and plunder of the unprotected, is a thief and a robber; and the place where he belongs is at hard work in striped clothes, by the side of the defaulter, the burglar, and the picker of pockets. The fact that he does not get there, but fares sumptuously in a palace he rears with his ill-gotten gain, is one of the chief reasons why men still believe and hope there is a hell.
The other type of stealing which flourishes in modern conditions is the misuse of one’s representative or delegated influence. A thief of this sort uses his position in one corporation to let favorable contracts to himself in another corporation in which he is directly or indirectly concerned. He uses his position as purchasing or selling agent for a company by which he is employed, to induce the seller or buyer to make a special rebate or bonus to him in his private capacity ; thus charging his employer with an unrecognized salary in addition to the one he is supposed to receive. He uses his political influence to promote his personal fortunes, or those of his friends and retainers, at the public expense. Wherever a representative or delegated power is used for personal, private, friendly, family, or any ends whatever other than the single interests of the constituents or firm or institution represented, there is a case of wholesale stealing of the second type.
Opportunities for the successful practice of these two types of wholesale stealing are incidental to our highly complex political and industrial life. Exceptional talent and industry and enterprise may still manage to make money without them. But most of the great fortunes which are rapidly made rest on one or the other of these two types of theft. The temptations to resort to them in these days are tremendous. Yet it is no new discovery that wrongdoing is profitable and easy, while virtue is costly and hard. The first step toward righteousness in these matters is to define clearly, in modern terms, what honesty is ; and to brand all whose gains rest on the losses of others as the thieves and villains they are.
Justice, if left to the feeble hands of individuals, would be but poorly executed, even if the individuals concerned were most justly and generously disposed. It is through institutions that justice most effectively works. Loyalty to institutions is a higher and more universal form of justice.
Loyalty to the family involves the recognition that the family is prior to the individual. Into the family we are born ; by our parents we are trained and reared ; from parents, brothers, and sisters we first learn life’s most precious lesson of love. The loyal son must ever hold the family as a dearer and better self. Its interest must be his interest; its requirements, his will; its members, members of himself, to be honored, cherished, defended, supported, so long as he has strength and means to support them, heart and soul wherewith to love.
Loyalty to one’s own home carries with it, as its counterpart, a respect for the home and family life of others. Chastity is the great virtue that guards the sanctity of the home. Approached from the point of view of the family and the home, chastity is one of the most reasonable and imperative requirements which justice and loyalty lay upon men. To the libertine justice puts the searching questions : “ How would you like to have been born as the product of the passing passion of a man who was too mean to acknowledge either you or your mother? How would you like to have your own sisters treated in that way ? How would you like to look forward to rearing your own daughters for the brief, bitter life of the brothel ? ” These are hard questions, no doubt, the very suggestion of which gives one a feeling of horror. But just those questions the libertine must answer before he can ever think guiltlessly of a licentious life for himself. For these wretched women whom he meets on the street after nightfall, or goes to a brothel to find, were once the dear daughters and sisters of fond fathers and mothers and brothers ; and God meant them to be the happy wives of good husbands, fond mothers of sweet children to grow up and honor and love them in turn. To lead one such woman astray, or to patronize an institution which ruins such women by the wholesale, is to be a traitor to the great and blessed institution of home; to make impossible for others that pure, sweet family life to which we owe all that is best in our own lives, and which holds in its beneficent keeping all the best gifts we can hope to hand down to our children. Chastity is no mere conventional virtue, which a young man may lightly ignore, under some such pretext as “ sowing wild oats.” It is rooted and grounded in justice to others, and loyalty to the benign institution of home.
If man were merely a mind, wisdom to see particular desires in the light of their permanent consequences to self, and justice to weigh the interests of self in the impartial scales of a due regard for the interests of others, would together sum up all virtue. Knowledge, in these two forms, would be virtue, as Socrates taught.
We feel, however, as well as know. Nature, for purposes of her own, has placed the premium of pleasure on the exercise of function, and attached the penalty of pain to both privation of such exercise on the one hand, and overexertion on the other. Nature, too, has adjusted the scale of intensity of pleasures and pains to her own ends ; placing the keenest rewards and the severest penalties on those appetites which, like nutrition and reproduction, are most essential to the survival of the individual and the race ; thus enforcing by her rough process of natural selection a crude wisdom and justice of her own. Moreover, these premiums and penalties were adjusted to the needs of the race at a stage of evolution when scanty and precarious food supply and a high death rate, due to the combined inroads of war, famine, and pestilence, rendered nutrition and reproduction of vastly more relative urgency, in comparison with other interests, than they are to-day.
Pleasure and pain, therefore, though reliable guides in the life of an animal struggling for existence, are not reliable guides for men in times of artificial plenty and elaborate civilization. To follow the strongest appetites, to seek the intensest pleasures and shun the sharpest pains, is simply to revert to a lower stage of evolution, and live the life of a beast. Hence that combat of the moral nature with the cosmic process to which Mr. Huxley recently recalled our attention ; or rather, that combat of man with himself which Paul and Augustine, Plato and Hegel, have more profoundly expressed. This fact that Nature’s premiums and penalties are distributed on an entirely different principle from that which wisdom and justice mark out for the civilized man renders it necessary for wisdom and justice to summon to their aid two subordinate virtues, — courage and temperance : courage to endure the pains which the pursuit of wisdom and justice involves ; temperance to cut off the pleasures which are inconsistent with the ends which wisdom and justice set before us.
The wide, permanent ends at which justice and wisdom aim often involve what is in itself, and for the present, disagreeable and painful. The acquisition of a competence involves hard work, when Nature calls for rest; the solution of a problem requires us to be wide awake, when Nature urges sleep ; the advocacy of a reform involves unpopularity, when Nature suggests the advantages of having the good opinion of our fellows ; the life of the country calls for the death of the soldier, when Nature bids him cling to life by running away.
Now, since we are not ascetics, we must admit that per se pleasure is preferable to pain. If it were a question between rest and work when weary, between sleep and waking when tired out, between popularity and unpopularity, between life and death, every sensible man would choose the first alternatives as a matter of course. Wisdom and justice, however, see the present and partial pain as part of a wider personal and social good, and order that the pain be endured. True courage, therefore, is simply the executor of the orders of wisdom and justice. The wise and just man, who knows what he wants, and is bound to get it at all costs, is the only man who can be truly brave. For the strength of one’s courage is simply the strength of the wise and just aims which he holds. All bravery not thus rooted and grounded in the vision of some larger end to be gained is mere bravado and bluster.
Of the many applications of courage, two of the simplest will suffice for illustration : the courage of space, to take the pains to keep things in order; and the courage of time, to be punctual, or even ahead of the hour, when a hard task has to be done.
Even if our life is a small, sheltered one, even if we have only our house or rooms to look after, things tend to get out of order, to pile themselves up in heaps, to get out of our reach and into each other’s way. To leave things in this chaos is both unwise and unjust; for it will trouble us in the future, and trouble the people who have to live with us. Yet it costs pain and effort to attack this chaos and subject it to order. Endurance of pain, in the name of wisdom and justice, to secure order for our own future comfort and the comfort of our family and friends, is courage. On the other hand, to leave things lying in confusion around us ; to let alien forces come into our domain and encamp there, in insolent defiance of ourselves and our friends, is a shameful confession that things are stronger than we. To be thus conquered by dead material things is as ignominious a defeat as can come to a man. The man who can be conquered by things is a coward in the strict ethical sense of the term ; that is, he lacks the strength of will to bear the incidental pains which his personal and social interests put upon him.
The courage of time is punctuality. When there is a hard piece of work to be done, it is pleasanter far to sit at ease for the present, and put off the work. “The thousand nothings of the hour” claim our attention. The coward yields to “ their stupefying power,” and the great task remains forever undone. The brave man brushes these conflicting claims into the background, stops his ears until the sirens’ voices are silent, stamps on his feelings as though they were snakes in his path, and does the thing now which ever after he will rejoice to have done. In these crowded modern days, the only man who “ finds time ” for great things is the man who takes it by violence from the thousands of petty, local, temporary claims, and makes it serve the ends of wisdom and justice.
There are three places where one may draw the line for getting a piece of work done. One man draws it habitually a few minutes or hours or days after it is due. He is always in distress, and a nuisance to everybody else. There is no dignity in a life that is as perpetually behind its appointments as a tail is in the rear of a dog.
It is very risky — ethically speaking, it is cowardly — to draw the line at the exact date when the work is due ; for then one is at the mercy of any accident or interruption that may overtake him at the end of his allotted time. If he is sick, or a friend dies, or unforeseen complications arise, he is as bad off as the man who deliberately planned to be late, and almost as much to blame. For a man who leaves the possibility of accident and interruption out of account, and stakes the welfare of himself and of others on such miscalculation, is neither wise nor just; he is reckless rather than brave. Even if accidents do not come, he is walking on the perilous edge all the time ; his work is done in a fever of haste and anxiety, injurious alike to the quality of the work and the health of the worker.
The man who puts the courage of punctuality into his work will draw the line for finishing a piece of work a safe period inside the time when it is actually due. If one forms the habit and sticks to it, it is no harder to have work done ten days, or at least one day, ahead of time than to finish it at the last allowable minute. Then, if anything happens, it does no harm. This habit will save literary workers an incalculable amount of anxiety and worry. And it is the wear and tear of worry and hurry, not the amount of calm, quiet work, that kills such men before their time.
I am aware that orderliness and punctuality are not usually regarded as forms of courage. But the essential element of all courage is in them,— the power to face a disagreeable present in the interest of desirable permanent ends. They are far more important in modern life than the courage to face bears or bullets. They underlie the more spectacular forms of courage. The man who cannot reduce to order the things that are lying passively about him, and endure the petty pains incidental to doing hard things before the sheer lapse of time forces him to action, is not the man who will be calm and composed when angry mobs are howling about him, or who will go steadily on his way when greed and corruption, hypocrisy and hate, are arrayed to resist him. For whether in the quiet of a study and the routine of an office, or in the turmoil of a riot or a strike, true courage is the ready and steadfast acceptance of whatever pains are incidental to securing the personal and public ends that are at stake.
Temperance is closely akin to courage ; for as courage takes on the pains which wisdom and justice find incidental to their ends, so temperance cuts off remorselessly whatever pleasures are inconsistent with these ends. The temperate man does not hate pleasure, any more than the brave man loves pain, for its own sake. It is not that he loves pleasure less, but that he loves wisdom and justice more. He puts the satisfaction of his permanent and social self over against the fleeting satisfaction of some isolated appetite, and cuts off the little pleasure to gain the lasting personal and social good. There is a remark of Hegel which gives the key to all true temperance : “In the eye of fate all action is guilt.” Since we are finite, to do one thing is to neglect all the competing alternative courses. We cannot have our cake and eat it too. As James puts it: “ Not that I would not, if I could, be both handsome and fat and well dressed and a great athlete, and make a million a year ; be a wit, a bon-vivant, and a ladykiller, as well as a philosopher ; a philanthropist, statesman, warrior, and African explorer, as well as a ‘ tone-poet ’ and saint. But the thing is simply impossible. The millionaire’s work would run counter to the saint’s; the bon-vivant and the philanthropist would trip each other up ; and the philosopher and the lady-killer could not well keep house in the same tenement of clay. So the seeker of his truest, strongest, deepest self must review the list carefully, and pick out the one on which to stake his salvation.”
Some selection there must be between competing and mutually exclusive goods. The intemperate man selects what appeals most forcibly to his sensibilities at the moment. The temperate man selects that which best fits his permanent ends. There is sacrifice in either case. The intemperate man sacrifices his permanent and social self to his transient physical sensations. The temperate man sacrifices his transient sensations in the interest of his permanent and social self.
The temptation to intemperance comes chiefly from a false abstraction of pleasure. Finding that some function is attended with pleasure, we perform the function for the sake of the pleasure ; forgetting to consider the end at which the function aims, or even disregarding the end altogether. A man seizes on one or another of the more sensitive parts of his nervous system, and then contrives ways to produce constant or frequently recurrent excitation. Thus the glutton crams his stomach, not for the nourishment and vigor food will give him, but for the sensations of agreeable taste and comfortable distention. Muscle must toil, brain must plan, and every other organ do extra work, simply to give the palate its transient titillation and provide the stomach its periodic gorge. The drunkard gets the whole sympathetic system of nerves into an excitation so intense as to drive away all concern for other things, and fill his consciousness completely full of the glorious sense that all is well with his physical organism. Tobacco gives a pleasure still farther removed from any rational end. With a minimum of physical substance, a man can get the sensation of working his jaws and lungs, secreting saliva, and being in a tranquil state of body and mind.
Yet if one is bound to have agreeable sensations, regardless of their permanent effects, there is a way, quick, sure, cheap, refined, convenient, unobtrusive, far beyond the crude, clumsy devices of glutton, drunkard, snuff-taker, chewer, or smoker. With a powder so small that it can be held on the tip of a penknife, with a tablet a whole bottle of which can be carried in the pocket, with a drop injected by the hypodermic syringe, one may invoke the magic potency of morphine, hashish, or cocaine.
Such are the latest refinements of intemperance, the most improved devices for stimulating our physical and nervous functions into pleasurable activity, apart from all consideration of the normal ends the functions were evolved to serve. It would be easy to hold them up to ridicule. If, in a book of travels, we were to read of a tribe in some remote island who spent a large portion of their substance gorging themselves with a dozen kinds of food at a single meal; pouring down liquid which made them silly and stupid, and therefore careless and happy; stuffing vegetable matter up their noses, or chewing it and spitting out the juice, or rolling it up in tubes or putting it in bowls and setting fire to it for the fun of pulling the smoke into their , mouths and puffing it out again ; or injecting under their skins substances which would make them lose all sense of reality and responsibility, and live in a dream world where wishes were horses and beggars might ride; and if we had never heard of such practices before, we should not rank them very high in the scale of civilization.
Yet we cannot, if we would, dispose of these forms of intemperance by ridicule. In each case some pleasure is gained, and that pleasure is so far forth a real good. Let us be serious and fair with them all.
The glutton’s gorging of his stomach, in so far as it produces a pleasurable feeling of distention, is good. If a man were nothing but a stomach, and that were made of cast iron, then gluttony would be not only good, but the highest good. If a man were nothing but a bundle of nerves, and these were of wire and never subject to reaction, then the man who could keep them thrilling most intensely by whiskey and champagne would be the wisest one of us all. So if man were nothing but a nose, and that had the lining of a boiler, then snuff-taking would be the acme of virtue. If man were reduced to a pair of huge jaws, then chewing would be virtue for him. If one were a heatingplant chimney, then smoking would be the best he could do. If a man need do nothing but dream, then to neglect the joys of opium or cocaine would be superlative folly.
The evil of these things is due to the greater good they displace. Man is more than stomach or nerves or nose or jaws or chimney or dreamer ; and indulgence in these departments of his life, unless very carefully controlled and restricted, involves injury to more important sides of life, out of all proportion to the petty gains in these special departments in question.
The folly or evil of these practices differs greatly in degree, though they are all branches from the same psychological root, — the quest of sensations divorced from the normal ends the stimulated functions serve. The list of branches from this same root could easily be enlarged. Theoretically, the highest wisdom, the strictest temperance, would eliminate them all ; not, however, on ascetic grounds, but on the rational ground that the wisest man can find better use for his time and money, his vitality and strength, than in any of these abnormally evoked sensations. Yet, practically, something must be conceded to human weakness and infirmity. To say that all these things are theoretically foolish, and therefore immoral, does not carry with it the position that every man is a fool and a knave who practices them. Gluttony, the use of snuff, and chewing, once as prevalent and popular among those who could afford them as smoking is now, have receded before the advancing march of a higher civilization, until they are hardly consistent with our ideas of a gentleman. Drunkenness is rapidly going into the same category. A century ago, a man was thought no less a gentleman because he was occasionally or even frequently drunk. To-day, a man who permits himself to be seen drunk is not wanted for employee or partner or son-in-law or intimate friend. The victim of drug habits we all pity, loathe, and distrust. Moderate drinking and smoking are the two forms in which the quest for abnormal or non-functional sensation is still in vogue. All the other forms of intemperance cited have so far received the stigma of social disapproval that their gradual descent through lower and lower strata of society to final disuse is merely a question of time.
Moderate drinking and smoking undoubtedly have still a long lease of life. There is a good deal to be said in behalf of them both. Moderate drinking temporarily aids digestion, increases goodfellowship, dispels anxiety and care, and serves one of the two purposes of food. We all know multitudes of men who have practiced it for years, and are apparently little the worse for it. To them its discontinuance would be a real hardship; costing, perhaps, in mental strain and effort and temporary physical discomfort, more than the resulting physical gain to themselves as individuals. That multitudes of people will continue the practice, and will do so under the impression, right or wrong, that they are doing what is wisest and best for themselves, there can be no doubt. Such people are not to be condemned as intemperate. Whatever the final verdict of physiology may be (and that is not yet rendered), so long as these people believe, on the testimony of expert authorities whose judgment they trust, and on their own experience so far as they are competent to interpret it, that moderation in the use of alcoholic drink is good for them, they are wise and temperate in its use. For morality is not a matter of right or wrong opinion about physiological or social questions. It is a question of personal attitude toward the opinions which one holds.
The man, however, who knows or believes that it injures him, and helps materially to injure others, and still continues to use it, thereby confesses himself to be a fool and a slave, and merits our severe condemnation. The fundamental elements of manhood are wanting in that man. His rank is lower than the beasts ; for they cannot violate a reason they do not possess. Instinct does for them what the consciously intemperate man lacks the stamina to do for himself. In view of the doubtful nature of the gain which moderate use of alcoholic liquor brings even to those who interpret temporary exhilaration as permanent benefit; in view of the danger that moderation will slip into excess, and be caught in the chains of habit ; in view of the havoc and misery which liquor causes in the world ; in view of the extreme difficulty of securing the temperate individual use without complicity in its terrible social abuse ; in view of the certainty that in the long run the individual would be quite as well off without it, and that society as a whole would be infinitely the gainer if it were universally discarded as a beverage, — the man who seeks to be guided in his life by the highest wisdom and the sanest temperance, though he have not a particle of asceticism in his make - up, though he grudge no man the joy he gets from a social glass, though he will judge no man who conscientiously uses it as either morally or spiritually inferior to himself in consequence, yet, in the present state of physiological knowledge and the existing social conditions that attend the use of alcoholic drinks as a beverage, will find the better part for himself and the highest service to society in a moderation so strict as to amount to practical abstinence.
Smoking, so easily disposed of on ascetic principles, presents, from our point of view, a very difficult and delicate question. There is a good deal to be said in its behalf. It is a solace of solitude. It is a substitute for exercise. It promotes digestion. It brings people together on terms of easy and restful intimacy ; taking away the chill and stiffness from social intercourse, much as an open fire in the fireplace adds a cheer to a room quite independent of the warmth it generates. The advantages from smoking are not confined exclusively to the immediate physical sensation.
Furthermore, when once the habit is established, the body adapts itself to it, and contrives, through lungs, skin, and kidneys, — though not without scenting the clothing with foul exhalations and tainting the breath with offensive odors, — to throw the poison off. Hence men who have once formed the habit; who feel that they can afford its considerable expense, and can find no better use for the money it represents; who gain a good deal of pleasure from it, and are able to detect no serious physical effects, may well believe (although, if they were to look the matter up impartially, the weight of scientific testimony would be against them) that, on the whole, for them, situated as they are, the continuance of the habit represents the greater good. Here again it is not for us to judge individuals. All we can say is that this is a possible, if not the impartial and scientific way of looking at the matter. Many do look at it in that light. In so far as they are honest in taking that view of the matter, they are wise and temperate in smoking as they do. If, however, they know it is injuring them ; if they have a sneaking suspicion, which they dare not follow up with a thorough investigation, that the practice is injurious in general, and is harming themselves in particular, then they are fools and slaves to persist in the practice. But that is a judgment which the individual, who alone knows the facts from the inside, must be left to pass upon himself. We who stand on the outside cannot get at the inner facts, and so have no right to pass such a judgment. At all events, the young man who would attune his life to the highest wisdom, and control it by the firmest temperance, will not permit himself to form the habit before he has attained his full physical and mental stature, and has proved his ability with his own hand or brain to earn for himself whatever necessities and comforts of life he believes to be more fundamental and important than the inhalation and exhalation of smoke.
Let us be careful not to confound a wise temperance with the absurdities and rigors of asceticism. Asceticism hates pleasure, and sets itself up as something superior to pleasure. Hence it is sour, narrow, repulsive. As Macaulay said of the Puritans, “They hated bear-baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators ; ” so the ascetic seems to hate the pleasure there is in things, and to begrudge other people their joys and consolations. Temperance work has too often fallen into the hands of these ascetic cranks, who pose as the apostles and martyrs of the true and only temperance.
True temperance is modest. It is nothing in itself, but, like courage, simply the handmaid of wisdom and justice to carry out their commands. Temperance does not hate pleasure. Temperance loves pleasure more wisely, — that is all. The temperate man recognizes that the pleasure of an act is a pretty sure indication that the act has some elements of good. But temperance denies that pleasure is an indication of the relative worth of different acts. Reason, not pleasure alone, must decide that point. Temperance never cuts off an indulgence, unless it be to save some greater and more valuable interest of life. Temperance is always, if it is modest, and keeps its proper place as the handmaid of wisdom, engaged in cutting off a lesser to save a greater good. Its weapon and symbol is the pruning knife; and its aim and justification is that the vine of life may bear more and better fruit. To erect temperance into a positive principle, to be merely a temperance man or woman, to cut off the fair leaves of pleasure merely for the sake of cutting them off, is monstrous, unnatural, perverse. The great moral motive power of life must lie in the positive and pleasurable interests which wisdom and justice and faith and love lay hold upon. To cast out evil as an end in itself is as futile as to try to drive the air out of a room with a fan.
Temperance, indeed, often finds itself arrayed against the lower and intenser forms of pleasure. That is because, for purposes of her own, Nature has attached the keenest pleasures to those instincts which are most fundamental to the preservation of the individual and the perpetuation of the species. But temperance, if it be wise, — if, that is, it be truly moral, — must ever justify itself by those personal and social goods at which wisdom and justice aim. Hence temperance, though an important virtue in its place, is yet a strictly subordinate one. No man can amount to much without constant practice of stern selfdenial and rigid self - control. But a man who does nothing but that ; the man who erects temperance into a positive principle, who believes that the pruning knife can bear fruit of itself, and despises the rich soil that feeds the roots and the sweet sap that nourishes the branches of the vine of life, is no man at all. The measure and value of our temperance is, not the indulgences which we lop off from the branches of life here and there, but the beauty and sweetness and worth of the fruit which is borne by our lives as a whole.
Such are the cardinal virtues ; such are the counsels a Greek philosopher would give us, could he return to earth to-day. Would give, I say ; for I am well aware that the points I have chosen for illustration are, for the most part, points on which Plato and Aristotle touched very lightly, if at all ; and that on the most important of them their precept and practice were in open contradiction to the precepts I here have set forth. I have followed the logic of their principles rather than the letter of their precepts. Like a fluid in connected vessels, the spiritual life of an age cannot rise, in its ethical precept and practice, above the level of the prevailing religious conceptions, literary standards, political institutions, and social customs. No one knew this better than Plato, as is evident from his attack on the current literary and religious standards of his day, and his attempt to construct an ideal republic, where philosophers should be kings. Christianity, democracy, and the deepening recognition of the rights of personality in men and women, children and servants, have lifted the level of spiritual life to heights undreamed of by Plato, and pronounced by Aristotle to be impossible. On this higher level, the old formulas of the Greeks receive a vastly richer content and an infinitely wider application ; but as forms of statement they never have been and never will be surpassed.
However deep and wide and full man’s life, under Christian influence and inspiration, may come to be, it will ever retain the form the old Greeks stamped upon it, — the form of the cardinal virtues. Man will ever approach perfection in proportion to the wisdom with which he grasps the permanent ends of his life, and subordinates all means to those ends ; the justice with which he weighs the interests of his fellows in the same scales as his own ; the courage with which he greets all pains incidental to the prosecution of his own ends and those of his fellows; and the temperance with which he cuts off whatever pleasure proves inconsistent with the steadfast adherence to these personal and social ends. For thus to live a wise, just, brave, temperate life is to be rightly related to the world, to one’s fellows, and to one’s true self; and therefore sums up, as far as ethics apart from politics and religion can do it, all the virtues and duties of man.
William De Witt Hyde .