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Bertrand Russell's Best: On Ethics

Measures of sterilization should, in my opinion, be very definitely confined to persons who are mentally defective. I cannot favor laws such as that of Idaho, which allows sterilization of 'mental defectives, epileptics, habitual criminals, moral degenerates, and sex perverts.' The last two categories here are very vague, and will be determined differently in different communities. The law of Idaho would have justified the sterilization of Socrates, Plato, Julius Caesar, and St. Paul. (M.M.p259/60)

In addition to the general argument against faith, there is something peculiarly odious in the contention that the principles of the Sermon on the Mount are to be adopted with a view to making atom bombs more effective. If I were a Christian, I should consider this the absolute extreme of blasphemy. (H.S.E.P.)

If throughout your life you abstain from murder, theft, fornication, perjury, blasphemy, and disrespect towards your parents, your Church, and your king, you are conventionally held to deserve moral admiration even if you have never done a single kind or generous or useful action. This very inadequate notion of virtue is an outcome of tabu morality, and has done untold harm. (H.S.E.P.p40)

The Russian Government appears to think that Soviet decrees can change the laws of genetics; the Vatican apparently believes that ecclesiastical decrees could secure adequate nourishment for all even if there were only standing room on the planet. Such opinions, to my mind, represent a form of insane megalomania entirely alien to the scientific spirit. (N.H.C.W.p27)

Christ said 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,' and when asked 'who is thy neighbor?' went on to the parable of the Good Samaritan. If you wish to understand this parable as it was understood by His hearers, you should substitute 'German' or 'Japanese' for 'Samaritan.' I fear many present-day Christians would resent such a substitution, because it would compel them to realize how far they have departed from the teaching of the Founder of their religion. (U.E.p136)

Suppose atomic bombs had reduced the population of the world to one brother and sister; should they let the human race die out? I do not know the answer, but I do not think it can be in the affirmative merely on the ground that incest is wicked. (H.S.E.P.p47.)

The whole conception of 'sin' is one I find very puzzling, doubtless owing to my sinful nature. If 'sin' consisted in causing needless suffering, I could understand, but on the contrary, sin often consists in avoiding needless suffering. Some years ago, in the English House of Lords, a bill was introduced to legalize euthanasia in cases of painful and incurable disease. The patient's consent was to be necessary, as well as several medical certificates. To me, in my simplicity, it would seem natural to require the patient's consent, but the late Archbishop of Canterbury, the English official expert on sin, explained the erroneousness of such a view. The patient's consent turns euthanasia into suicide, and suicide is sin. Their Lordships listened to the voice of authority and rejected the bill. Consequently, to please the Archbishop- and his God, if he reports truly victims of cancer still have to endure months of wholly useless agony, unless their doctors or nurses are sufficiently humane to risk a charge of murder. I find difficulty in the conception of a God who gets pleasure from contemplating such tortures; and if there were a God capable of such wanton cruelty, I should certainly not think Him worthy of worship. But that only proves how sunk I am in moral depravity. (U.E.p76)

Has civilization taught us to be more friendly towards one another? The answer is easy. Robins (the English, not the American species) peck an elderly robin to death, whereas men (the English, not the American species) give an elderly man an old-age pension. Within the herd we are more friendly to each other than are many species of animals, but in our attitude towards those outside the herd, in spite of all that has been done by moralists and religious teachers, our emotions are as ferocious as those of any animal, and our intelligence enables us to give them a scope which is denied to even the most savage beast. It may be hoped, though not very confidently, that the more humane attitude will in time come to prevail, but so far the omens are not very propitious. (U.E.p126)

There is in Aristotle an almost complete absence of what may be called benevolence or philanthropy. The sufferings of mankind, in so far as he is aware of them, do not move him emotionally; he holds them intellectually to be an evil, but there is no evidence that they cause him unhappiness except when the sufferers happen to be his friends. (H.W.P.p183/4)

Most stern moralists are in the habit of thinking of pleasure as only of the senses, and, when they eschew the pleasures of sense, they do not notice that the pleasures of power, which to men of their temperament are far more attractive, have not been brought within the ban of their ascetic self-denial. It is the prevalence of this type of psychology in forceful men which has made the notion of sin so popular, since it combines so perfectly humility towards heaven with self-assertion here on earth. The concept of sin has not the hold upon men's imaginations that it had in the Middle Ages, but still dominates the thoughts of many clergymen, magistrates and schoolmasters. When the great Dr. Arnold walked on the shores of Lake Como, it was not the beauty of the scene that occupied his thoughts. He meditated, so he tells us, on moral evil. I rather fear that it was the moral evil of school-boys rather than schoolmasters that produced his melancholy reflections. However that may be, he was led to the unshakable belief that it is good for boys to be flogged. One of the great rewards that a belief in sin has always offered to the virtuous is the opportunity which it affords of inflicting pain without compunction. (H.S.E.P.p195/6)

One of the 'grand' conceptions which have proved scientifically useless is the soul. I do not mean that there is positive evidence showing that men have no soul; I only mean that the soul, if it exists, plays no part in any discoverable causal law. There are all kinds of experimental methods of determining how men and animals behave under various circumstances. You can put rats in mazes and men in barbed-wire cages, and observe their methods of escape. You can administer drugs and observe their effect. You can turn a male rat into a female, though so far nothing analogous has been done with human beings, even at Buchenwald. It appears that socially undesirable conduct can be dealt with by medical means, or by creating a better environment, and the conception of sin has thus come to seem quite unscientific, except, of course, as applied to the Nazis. There is real hope that, by getting to understand the science of human behavior, governments may be even more able than they are at present to turn mankind into rabbles of mutually ferocious lunatics. (U.E.p133/4)

Cotton goods (after the industry became scientific) could find a market in India and Africa: this was a stimulus to British Imperialism. Africans had to be taught that nudity is wicked; this was done very cheaply by missionaries. In addition to cotton goods we exported tuberculosis and syphilis, but for them there was no charge. (I.S.S.p21)

As soon as we abandon our own reason, and are content to rely upon authority, there is no end to our trouble. Whose authority? The Old Testament? The New Testament? The Koran? In practice, people choose the book considered sacred by the community in which they are born, and out of that book they choose the parts they like, ignoring the others. At one time, the most influential text in the Bible was: 'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.' Nowadays, people pass over this text, in silence if possible; if not, with an apology. And so, even when we have a sacred book, we still choose as truth whatever suits our own prejudices. No Catholic, for instance, takes seriously the text which says that a Bishop should be the husband of one wife. (U.E.p81/2)

Consider how much brutality has been justified by the rhyme: "A dog, a wife, and a walnut tree, The more you beat them the better they be." I have no experience of the moral effect of flagellation on walnut trees, but no civilized person would now justify the rhyme as regards wives. The reformative effect of punishment is a belief that dies hard, chiefly, I think, because it is so satisfying to our sadistic impulses. (U.E.p148)

I had at one time a very bad fever of which I almost died. In my fever I had a long consistent delirium. I dreamt that I was in Hell, and that Hell is a place full of all those happenings that are improbable but not impossible. The effects of this are curious. Some of the damned, when they first arrive below, imagine that they will beguile the tedium of eternity by games of cards. But they find this impossible, because, whenever a pack is shuffled, it comes out in perfect order, beginning with the ace of spades and ending with the king of hearts. There is a special department of Hell for students of probability. In this department there are many typewriters and many monkeys. Every time that a monkey walks on a typewriter, it types by chance one of Shakespeare's sonnets.... There is a peculiarly painful chamber inhabited solely by philosophers who have refuted Hume. These philosophers, though in Hell, have not learned wisdom. They continue to be governed by their animal propensity toward induction. But every time that they have made an induction, the next instance falsifies it. This, however, happens only during the first hundred years of their damnation. After that, they learn to expect that an induction will be falsified, and therefore it is not falsified until another century of logical torment has altered their expectation. Throughout all eternity surprise continues, but each time at a higher logical level. (N.E.P.p30/1)

When we pass in review the opinions of former times which are now recognized as absurd, it will be found that nine times out of ten they were such as to justify the infliction of suffering. Take, for instance, medical practice. When anesthetics were invented they were thought to be wicked as being an attempt to thwart God's will. Insanity was thought to be due to diabolic possession, and it was believed that demons inhabiting a madman could be driven out by inflicting pain upon him, and so making them uncomfortable. In pursuit of this opinion, lunatics were treated for years on end with systematic and conscientious brutality. I cannot think of any instance of an erroneous medical treatment that was agreeable rather than disagreeable to the patient. (U.E.p148)

The absence of any sharp line between men and apes is very awkward for theology. When did men get souls? Was the Missing Link capable of sin and therefore worthy of hell? Did Pithecanthropus Erectus have moral responsibility? Was Homo Pekiniensis damned? (I.S.S.p15/6)

A man who uses what is called 'bad language' is not from a rational point of view any worse than a man who does not. Nevertheless practically everybody in trying to imagine a saint would consider abstinence from swearing as essential. Considered in the light of reason this is simply silly. The same applies to alcohol and tobacco. With regard to alcohol the feeling does not exist in southern countries, and indeed there is an element of impiety about it, since it is known that Our Lord and the Apostles drank wine. With regard to tobacco it is easier to maintain a negative position, since all the greatest saints lived before its use was known. But here also no rational argument is possible. The view that no saint would smoke is based in the last analysis upon the view that no saint would do anything solely because it gave him pleasure. (C.H.p99)

When Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning-rod, the clergy, both in England and America, with enthusiastic support of George III, condemned it as an impious attempt to defeat the will of God. For, as all right-thinking people were aware, lightning is sent by God to punish impiety or some other grave sin and the virtuous are never struck by lightning. Therefore if God wants to strike anyone, Benjamin Franklin ought not to defeat His design; indeed, to do so is helping criminals to escape. But God was equal to the occasion, if we are to believe the eminent Dr. Price, one of the leading divines of Boston. Lightning having been rendered ineffectual by the 'iron points invented by the sagacious Dr. Franklin,' Massachusetts was shaken by earthquakes, which Dr. Price perceived to be due to God's wrath at the 'iron points.' In a sermon on the subject he said, 'In Boston are more erected than elsewhere in New England, and Boston seems to be more dreadfully shaken. Oh! There is no getting out of the mighty hand of God.' Apparently, however, Providence gave up all hope of curing Boston of its wickedness, for, though the lightning-rods became more and more common, earthquakes in Massachusetts have remained rare. Nevertheless, Dr. Price's point of view, or something very like it, was still held by one of the most influential men of recent times. When, at one time, there were several bad earthquakes in India, Mahatma Gandhi solemnly warned his compatriots that these disasters had been sent as a punishment for their sins. (U.E.p74/5)

There are logical difficulties in the notion of Sin. We are told that Sin consists in acting contrary to God's commands, but we are also told that God is omnipotent. If He is, nothing contrary to His will can occur; therefore when the sinner disobeys His commands, He must have intended this to happen. St Augustine boldly accepts this view, and asserts that men are led to sin by a blindness with which God afflicts them. But most theologians, in modern times have felt that, if God causes men to sin, it is not fair to send them to Hell for what they cannot help. We are told that sin consists in acting contrary to God's will. This, however, does not get rid of the difficulty Those who, like Spinoza, take God's omnipotence seriously, deduce that there can be no such thing as Sin. This leads to frightful results. What! said Spinoza's contemporaries, was it not wicked of Nero to murder his mother? Was it not wicked of Adam to eat the apple? Is one action just as good as another? Spinoza wriggles, but does not find any satisfactory answer If everything happens in accordance with God's will; God must have wanted Nero to murder his mother; therefore, since God is good, the murder must have been a good thing. From this argument there is no escape. (U.E.p80/1)

The Roman Catholic Church demands legislation such that, if a woman becomes pregnant by a syphilitic man, she must not artificially interrupt her pregnancy, but must allow a probably syphilitic child to be born, in order that, after a few years of misery on earth, it may spend eternity in limbo (assuming its parents to be non-Catholics). The British State considers it the duty of an Englishman to kill people who are not English whenever a collection of elderly gentlemen in Westminster tells him to do so. Such instances suffice to illustrate the fact that Church and State are placable enemies of both intelligence and virtue. (E.S.O.p72)

Suppose we wish- as I certainly do- to find arguments against Nietzsche's ethics and politics, what arguments can we find? . . . The question is: If Buddha and Nietzsche were confronted, could either produce an argument that ought to appeal to the impartial listener? I am not thinking of political arguments. We can imagine them appearing before the Almighty, as in the first chapter of the Book of Job, and offering advice as to the sort of world He should create. What could either say?
Buddha would open the argument by speaking of the lepers, outcast and miserable; the poor, toiling with aching limbs and barely kept alive by scanty nourishment; the wounded in battle, dying in slow agony; the orphans, ill-treated by cruel guardians; and even the most successful haunted by the thought of failure and death. From all this load of sorrow, he would say, a way of salvation must be found, and salvation can only come through love.
Nietzsche, whom only Omnipotence could restrain from interrupting, would- burst out when his turn came: 'Good heavens, man, you must learn to be of tougher fiber. Why go about sniveling because trivial people suffer. Or, for that matter, because great men suffer? Trivial people suffer trivially, great men suffer greatly, they are noble. Your ideal is a purely negative one, absence of suffering, which can be completely secured by non-existence. I, on the other hand, have positive ideals: I admire Alcibiades, and the Emperor Frederick II, and Napoleon. For the sake of such men, any misery is worth while. I appeal to You, Lord, as the greatest of creative artists, do not let Your artistic impulses be curbed by the degenerate, fear-ridden maunderings of this wretched psychopath.'
Buddha, who in the courts of Heaven has learnt all history since his death, and has mastered science with delight in the knowledge and sorrow at the use to which men have put it, replies with calm urbanity 'You are mistaken, Professor Nietzsche, in thinking my ideal a purely negative one. True, it includes a negative element, the absence of suffering; but it has in addition quite as much that is positive as is to be found in your doctrine. Though I have no special admiration for Alcibiades and Napoleon, I too have my heroes: My successor Jesus, because he told men to love their enemies; the men who discovered how to master the forces of nature and secure food with less labor; the medical men who have shown how to diminish disease; the poets and artists and musicians who have caught glimpses of the Divine beatitude. Love and knowledge and delight in beauty are not negations; they are enough to fill the lives of the great men that have ever lived.'
'All the same,' Nietzsche replies, 'your world would be insipid. You should study Heraclitus, whose works survive complete in the celestial library. Your love is compassion, which is elicited by pain; your truth, if you are honest, is pleasant, and only to be known through suffering; and as to beauty, what is more beautiful than the tiger, who owes his splendor to fierceness? No, if the Lord should decide for your world, I fear we should all die of boredom.'
'You might,' Buddha replies, 'because you love pain, and your love of life is a sham. But those who really love life would be happy as no one can be happy in the world as it is.' (H.W.P.p770-2)

According to St. Thomas, evil is unintentional, not as essence, and has an accidental cause which is good. All things tend to be like God, who is the End of all things. Human happiness does not consist in carnal pleasures, honor, glory, wealth, worldly power, or goods of the body, and is not seated in the sense. Man's ultimate happiness does not consist in acts of moral virtue, because these are means; it consists in the contemplation of God. But the knowledge of God possessed by the majority does not suffice; nor the knowledge of Him obtained by faith. In this life, we cannot see God in His essence, or have ultimate happiness; but hereafter we shall see Him face to face. (Not literally, we are warned, because God has no face.) This will happen not by our natural power, but by the divine light; and even then, we shall not see all of Him. (H.W.P.p458/9)

Those who first advocated religious toleration were thought wicked, and so were the early opponents of slavery. The Gospels tell how Christ opposed the stricter forms of the Sabbath tabu. It cannot, in view of such instances, be denied that some actions which we all think highly laudable consist in criticizing or infringing the moral code of one's own community. Of course this only applies to past ages or to foreigners; nothing of the sort could occur among ourselves, since our moral code is perfect. (H.S.E.P.p39/40.)

Protestants tell us, or used to tell us, that it is contrary to the will of God to work on Sundays. But Jews say that it is on Saturdays that God objects to work. Disagreement on this point has persisted for nineteen centuries, and I know no method of putting an end to the disagreement except Hitler's lethal chambers, which would not generally be regarded as a legitimate method in scientific controversy. Jews and Mohammedans assure us that God forbids pork, but Hindus say that it is beef that he forbids. Disagreement on this point has caused hundreds of thousands to be massacred in recent years. It can hardly be said, therefore, that the Will of God gives a basis for an objective ethic. (H.S.E.P.p121)

I know men, by no means old, who, when in infancy they were seen touching a certain portion of their body, were told with the utmost solemnity: 'I would rather see you dead than doing that.' I regret to say that the effect in producing virtue in later life has not always been all that conventional moralists might desire. Not infrequently threats are used. It is perhaps not so common as it used to be to threaten a child with castration, but it is still thought quite proper to threaten him with insanity. Indeed, it is illegal in the State of New York to let him know that he does not run the risk unless he thinks he does. The result of this teaching is that most children in their earliest years have a profound sense of guilt and terror which is associated with sexual matters. This association of sex with guilt and fear goes so deep as to become almost or wholly unconscious. I wish it were possible to institute a statistical inquiry, among men who believe themselves emancipated from such nursery tales, as to whether they would be as ready to commit adultery during a thunderstorm as at any other time. I believe that 90 per cent of them, in their heart of hearts, would think that if they did so they would be struck by lightning. (M.M.p275/6)

The Platonic Socrates was a pattern to subsequent Philosophers for many ages. What are we to think of him ethically: (I am concerned only with the man as Plato portrays him.) His merits are obvious. He is indifferent to worldly success, so devoid of fear that he remains calm and urbane and humorous to the last moment, caring more for what he believes to be truth than for anything else whatever. He has, however, some grave defects. He is dishonest and sophistical in argument, and in his private thinking he uses intellect to prove conclusions that are to him agreeable, rather than in a disinterested search for knowledge. There is something smug and unctuous about him, which reminds one of a bad type of cleric. His courage in the face of death would have been more remarkable if he had not believed that he was going to enjoy eternal bliss in the company of the gods. Unlike some of his predecessors, he was not scientific in his thinking, but was determined to prove the universe agreeable to his ethical standards. This is treachery to truth, and the worst of philosophic sins. As a man, we may believe him admitted to the communion of saints; but as a philosopher he needs a long residence in a scientific purgatory. (H.W.P.p142/3)

Since reason consists in a just adaptation of means to ends, it can only be opposed by those who think it a good thing that people should choose means which cannot realize their professed ends. This implies either that they should be deceived as to how to realize their professed ends, or that their real ends should not be those that they profess. The first is the case of a populace misled by an eloquent fuehrer. The second is that of the schoolmaster who enjoys torturing boys, but wishes to go on thinking himself a benevolent humanitarian. I cannot feel that either of these grounds for opposing reason is morally respectable. (H.S.E.P.preface,p10)

One critic takes me to task because I say that only evil passions prevent the realization of a better world, and goes on triumphantly to ask, 'are all human emotions necessarily evil?' In the very book that leads my critic to this objection, I say that what the world needs is Christian love, or compassion. This, surely, is an emotion, and, in saying that this is what the world needs, I am not suggesting reason as a driving force. I can only suppose that this emotion, because it is neither cruel nor destructive, is not attractive to the apostles of unreason. (H.S.E.P.preface,p9)

Intellectually, the effect of mistaken moral considerations upon philosophy has been to impede progress to an extraordinary extent. I do not myself believe that philosophy can either prove or disprove the truth of religious dogmas, but ever since Plato most philosophers have considered it part of their business to produce 'proofs' of immortality and the existence of God. They have found fault with the proofs of their predecessors. Thomas rejected St. Anselm's proofs, and Kant rejected Descartes'- but they have supplied new ones of their own. In order to make their proofs seem valid, they have had to falsify logic, to make mathematics mystical, and to pretend that deep-seated prejudices were heaven-sent intuitions. (H.W.P.p835)

All who are not lunatics are agreed about certain things: That it is better to be alive than dead, better to be adequately fed than starved, better to be free than a slave. Many people desire those things only for themselves and their friends; they are quite content that their enemies should suffer. These people can be refuted by science: Mankind has become so much one family that we cannot insure our own prosperity- except by insuring that of everyone else. If you wish to be happy yourself, you must resign yourself to seeing others also happy. (S.S.S.p33)

The Stoic-Christian view requires a conception of virtue very different from Aristotle's, since it must hold that virtue is as possible for the slave as for his master. Christian ethics disapproves of pride, which Aristotle thinks a virtue, and praises humility, which he thinks a vice. The intellectual virtues, which Plato and Aristotle value above all others, have to be thrust out of the list altogether, in order that the poor and humble may be able to be as virtuous as anyone else. Pope Gregory the Great solemnly reproved a bishop for teaching grammar. (H.W.P.p177)

 There is no presence of justice, as we understand it, in the punishment following an act forbidden by a tabu, which is rather to be conceived as analogous to death as the result of touching a live wire. When David was transporting the Ark on a cart, it jolted over a rough threshing floor, and Uzzah, who was in charge, thinking it would fall, stretched up his hand to steady it. For this impiety, in spite of his laudable motive, he was struck dead (II Samuel vi. 6-7). The same lack of justice appears in the fact that not only murder, but accidental homicide, calls for purification. (H.S.E.P.p29)

It must be admitted that there is a certain type of Christian ethic to which Nietzsche's strictures can be justly applied. Pascal and Dostoevsky- his own illustrations- have both something abject in their virtue. Pascal sacrificed his magnificent mathematical intellect to his God, thereby attributing to Him a barbarity which was a cosmic enlargement of Pascal's morbid mental tortures. Dostoevsky would have nothing to do with 'proper pride'; he would sin in order to repent and to enjoy the luxury of confession. (H.W.P.p768.)

Forms of morality based on tabu linger on into civilized communities to a greater extent than some people realize. Pythagoras forbade beans, and Empedocles thought it wicked to munch laurel leaves. Hindus shudder at the thought of eating beef; Mohammedans and orthodox Jews regard the flesh of the pig as unclean. St. Augustine, the missionary to Britain, wrote to Pope Gregory the Great to know whether married people might come to church if they had had intercourse the previous night, and the Pope ruled that they might only do so after a ceremonial washing. There was a law in Connecticut- I believe it is still formally unrepealed- making it illegal for a man to kiss his wife on Sunday. (H.S.E.P.p29/30)

It is true that if we ever did stop to think about the cosmos we might find it uncomfortable. The sun may grow cold or blow up; the earth may lose its atmosphere and become uninhabitable. Life is a brief, small, and transitory phenomenon in an obscure corner, not at all the sort of thing that one would make a fuss about if one were not personally concerned. But it is monkish and futile- so scientific man will say- to dwell on such cold and unpractical thoughts. Let us get on with the job of fertilizing the desert, melting Arctic ice, and killing each other with perpetually improving technique. Some of our activities will do good, some harm, but all alike will show our power. And so, in this godless universe we shall become gods. (I.S.S.p15)

Law in origin was merely a codification of the power of dominant groups, and did not aim at anything that to a modern man would appear to be justice. In many Germanic tribes, for example, if you committed a murder, you were fined, and the fine depended upon the social stews of your victim. Wherever aristocracy existed, its members had various privileges which were not accorded to the plebe. In Japan before the Meiji era began a man who omitted to smile in the presence of a social superior could legally be killed then and there by the superior in question. This explains why European travelers find the Japanese a smiling race. (N.H.C.W.p75)

The Christian ethics inevitably, through the emphasis laid upon sexual virtue, did a great deal to degrade the position of women. Since the moralists were men, woman appeared as the temptress; if they had been women, man would have had this role. Since woman was the temptress, it was desirable to curtail her opportunities for leading men into temptation; consequently respectable women were more and more hedged about with restrictions, while the women who were not respectable, being regarded as sinful, were treated with the utmost contumely. It is only in quite modern times that women have regained the degree of freedom which they enjoyed in the Roman Empire. The patriarchal system . . . did much to enslave women, but a great deal of this was undone just before the rise of Christianity. After Constantine, women's freedom was again curtailed under the presence of protecting them from sin. It is only with the decay of the notion of sin in modern times that women have begun to regain their freedom. (M.M.p60/1.)

As men begin to grow civilized, they cease to be satisfied with mere tabus, and substitute divine commands and prohibitions. The Decalogue begins: 'God spoke these words and said.' Throughout the Books of the Law it is the Lord who speaks. To do what God forbids is wicked, and will also be punished. Thus the essence of morality becomes obedience. The fundamental obedience is to the will of God, but there are many derivation forms which owe their sanction to the fact that social inequalities have been divinely instituted. Subjects must obey the king, the slaves their master, wives their husbands, and children their parents. The king owes obedience only to God, but if he fails in this he or his people will be punished. When David took a census, the Lord, who disliked statistics, sent a plague, of which many thousands of the children of Israel died (I Chron. xxi). This shows how important it was for everybody that the king should be virtuous. The power of priests depended partly upon the fact that they could to some extent keep the king from sin, at any rate from the grosser sins such as worship of false gods. (H.S.E.P.p33)

Kant was never tired of pouring scorn on the view that the good consists of pleasure, or of anything else except virtue. And virtue consists in acting as the moral law enjoins, because that is what the moral law enjoins. A right action done from any other motive cannot count as virtuous. If you are kind to your brother because you are fond of him, you have no merit; but if you can hardly stand him and are nevertheless kind to him because the moral law says you should be, then you are the sort of person that Kant thinks you ought to be. But in spite of the total worthlessness of pleasure Kant thinks it unjust that the good should suffer, and on this ground alone holds that there is a future life in which they enjoy eternal bliss. If he really believed what he thinks he believes, he would not regard heaven as a place where the good are happy, but as a place where they have never-ending opportunities of doing kindnesses to people whom they dislike. (H.S.E.P.p49)

Kant invented a new moral argument for the existence of God, and that in varying forms was extremely popular during the nineteenth century.... The point I am concerned with is that, if you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, you are then in this situation: Is that difference due to God's fiat or is it not? If it is due to God's fiat, then for God Himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God's fiat, because God's fiats are good and not bad independently of the mere fact that He made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong come into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God. You could, of course, if you liked, say that there was a superior deity who gave orders to the God who made this world, or you could take up the line that some of the gnostics took up- a line which I often thought was a very plausible one, that as a matter of fact this world that we know was made by the devil at a moment when God was not looking. There is a good deal to be said for that, and I am not concerned to refute it. (W.N.C.p12)

To a modern mind, it is difficult to feel enthusiastic about a virtuous life if nothing is going to be achieved by it. We admire a medical man who risks his life in an epidemic of plague, because we think illness is an evil, and we hope to diminish its frequency. But if illness is no evil, the medical man might as well stay comfortably at home. To the Stoic, his virtue is an end in itself, not something that does good. And when we take a longer view, what is the ultimate outcome? A destruction of the present world by fire, and then a repetition of the whole process. Could anything be more devastatingly futile? There may be progress here and there, for a time, but in the long run there is only recurrence. When we see something unbearably painful, we hope that in time such things will cease to happen; but the Stoic assures us that what is happening now will happen over and over again. Providence, which sees the whole, must, one would think, ultimately grow weary through despair. (H.W.P.p255)

When I was a child the atmosphere in the house was one of puritan piety and austerity. There were family prayers at eight o'clock every morning. Although there were eight servants, food was always of Spartan simplicity, and even what there was, if it was at all nice, was considered too good for children. For instance, if there was apple tart and rice pudding, I was only allowed the rice pudding. Cold baths all the year round were insisted upon, and I had to practice the piano from seven-thirty to eight every morning although the fires were not yet lit. My grandmother never allowed herself to sit in an armchair until the evening. Alcohol and tobacco were viewed with disfavor although stern convention compelled them to serve a little wine to guests. Only virtue was prized, virtue at the expense of intellect, health, happiness, and every mundane good. (P.F.M.p3)

For over two thousand years it has been the custom among earnest moralists to decry happiness as something degraded and unworthy. The Stoics, for centuries, attacked Epicurus, who preached happiness; they said that his was a pig's philosophy, and showed their superior virtue by inventing scandalous lies about him. One of them, Cleanthes, wanted Aristarchus persecuted for advocating the Copernican system of astronomy; another, Marcus Aurelius, persecuted the Christians; one of the most famous of them, Seneca, abetted Nero's abominations, amassed a vast fortune, and lent money to Boadicea at such an exorbitant rate of interest that she was driven into rebellion. So much for antiquity. Skipping the next 2,000 years, we come to the German professors who invented the disastrous theories that led Germany to its downfall and the rest of the world to its present perilous state; all these learned men despised happiness, as did their British imitator, Carlyle, who is never weary of telling us that we ought to eschew happiness in favor of blessedness. He found blessedness in rather odd places: Cromwell's Irish massacres, Frederick the Great's bloodthirsty perfidy, and Governor Eyre's Jamaican brutality. In fact, contempt for happiness is usually contempt for other people's happiness, and is an elegant disguise for hatred of the human race. (P.F.M.p215)