Moral Philosophy
Joseph Rickaby, S. J.

Part 6 out of 6

public or private life, may be wickedness, or it may be a laudable
outburst of public spirit, who knows? Which of us is sure that all
property is not theft? Plato's views on marriage and infanticide may
be correct: the Nihilist may be your true politician; and all our
religious knowledge dwindles down to the confession of Protagoras:
"Concerning Gods, I find no clear evidence whether they are or are
not, or what manner of beings they are." These are the sceptical
tremors which this denial induces. But even scepticism has its proof,
which Mill furnishes as follows: "All silencing of discussion is an
assumption of infallibility." The very name _infallibility_ has an
effect upon the modern Englishman like that of _Popery_ upon his
forefathers. It shakes his nerves, obscures his judgment, and scares
his seated reason to leap up from her throne. But after we have
recovered from our fright, we recollect that, whereas infallibility is
an all-round attribute, compassing an entire subject, certainty goes
out to one particular point on the circumference; we may then be
certain without being infallible. Extremely fallible as I am in
geography, I am nevertheless certain that Tunis is in Africa.
Silencing discussion is an assumption, not of infallibility, but of
certainty. The man who never dares assume that he is certain of
anything, so certain as to close his ears to all further discussion,
comes nothing short of a universal sceptic.

6. We are told, free discussion promotes discovery. Yes, free
discussion in philosophical circles, free discussion among competent
persons. But free discussion of a subject among the incompetent and
the incapable, and the passionate and the prejudiced, is not good for
the cause of truth; and if the subject be practical and momentous, it
is not good for the disputants either, nor for the community. If we
allow that the science and practice of morality is not advanced by
free debate of ethical questions in nurseries and boarding-schools, we
must also bear in mind that a vast proportion of the human family
remain all their lives long, for the purpose of such discussions, as
incompetent as children. The multitude cannot be philosophers. They
have neither time, nor intelligence, nor love of hard thinking
sufficient to arrive at the final and adequate _why_ and _wherefore_
of their every duty. Though capable of doing right, they are quite
incapable of doing so philosophically. They do it according as they
are led by custom and authority. Their inheritance is the traditionary
wisdom of mankind, which they live upon as an infant on his estate,
not understanding whence their support comes. It is dangerous to
batter them with objections against the received moral law. You will
overthrow them, not confirm them by the result of your reasonings: you
will perplex their intellect, you will confound their good purpose,
you will awaken their evil passions. Surely it is a more necessary
point to secure that right be done somehow, than that it be
philosophically done. The one is difficult enough, the other quite
impossible for the mass of mankind. Therefore, adapting to our purpose
the old Greek oracle: "let us not disturb the foundations of popular
morality: they are better undisturbed"--

[Greek: Mae kinei Kamarinan akinaetos gar ameinoon]

7. But is it not immoral to interfere with conscience, and to attempt
to stifle sincere convictions? The State, we repeat, has nothing to do
with conscience as such, nor with the inward convictions of any man.
But if the State is sincerely convinced, that the convictions openly
professed and propagated by some of its subjects are subversive of
social order and public morality, whose sincere conviction is it that
must carry the day in practice? It is of the essence of government
that the convictions, sincere or otherwise, of the governed shall on
certain practical issues be waived in the external observance in
favour of the convictions of the ruling power. After all, this talk of
conscience and sincere convictions is but the canting phrase of the
day, according to which conscience means mere wild humour and
headstrong self-will. Such teachings as those which we would have the
State to suppress, _e.g.: An oath is a folly: There is no law of
purity: There is no harm in doing anything that does not annoy your
neighbour_: are not the teachings of men sincerely convinced: they
deserve no respect, consideration, or tenderness on that score. We do
not say, that the teachers of these monstrosities are not convinced,
but that they are not honestly and conscientiously convinced: they
have blinded themselves, and become the guilty authors of their own
delusion. Not all strong convictions are honestly come by or
virtuously entertained.

8. Arraigned for their utterances, men protest their sincerity, as
parties indicted for murder do their innocence. We can set but small
store by such protestations. It is a question of evidence to come from
other sources than from the accused person's own mouth. A man indeed
must be held to be sincere until he is proved to be the contrary. That
is the general rule. But there are what Roman lawyers call
_prasumptiones juris_; circumstances which, if proved, will induce the
court to take a certain view of a case, and give judgment accordingly,
unless by further evidence that view is proved to be a false one. Now
when a man proclaims some blatant and atrocious error in a matter
bearing directly upon public morals--and it is for the restraint of
these errors alone that we are arguing--there is a decided _prasumptio
juris_, that the error in him, however doggedly he maintains it, is
not a sincere, candid, and innocently formed conviction. The light of
nature is not so feeble as that, among civilized men. Let the offender
be admonished and given time to think: but if, for all warning to the
contrary, the wilful man will have his way, and still propagate his
error to the confusion of society, he must be treated like any other
virtuous and well-meaning criminal: he must be restrained and coerced
to the extent that the interests of society require.

9. At the same time it must be confessed that when an error, however
flagrant and pestilential, has ceased to shock and scandalize the
general body of the commonwealth; when the people listen to the
doctrine without indignation, and their worst sentence upon it
pronounces it merely "queer," there is little hope of legal restraints
there enduring long or effecting much. Penalties for the expression of
opinion are available only so far as they tally with the common
feeling of the country. When public opinion ceases to bear them out,
it is better not to enforce them: for that were but to provoke
resentment and make martyrs. No regulations can be maintained except
in a congenial atmosphere. Allowance too must be made for the danger
of driving the evil to burrow underground.

10. The censorship of opinions even in a model State would vary in
method according to men and times. The censorship of the Press in
particular might be either by _Imprimatur_ required before printing,
or by liability to prosecution after. The _Imprimatur_ might be either
for all books, or only for a certain class. It might be either
obligatory, or merely matter of counsel, to obtain it. We are not to
adopt promiscuously all the praiseworthy institutions of our

_Readings_.--Cardinal Newman, _Letter to Duke of Norfolk_, S 5; _The
Month_ for June, 1883, pp. 200, seqq.

* * * * *


Of the precepts of Natural Law, some are more simple and of wider
extension; others are derivative, complex, and extend to fewer cases.
It is a question of more and less, and no hard and fast line of
demarcation can be drawn between them. The former however are called
_primary_, the latter _secondary_ precepts. Again, the nature of man
is the same in all men and at all periods of history for its essential
elements, but admits of wide, accidental variation and declension for
the worse. Thirdly, it is clear that Natural Law is a law good and
suitable for human nature to observe. Starting from these three
axioms, we apply the reasoning of St. Thomas, 1a 2a, q. 96, art. 2,
not to human law alone, of which he is speaking, but to sundry
secondary precepts of Natural Law. These are his words:

"A law is laid down as a rule or measure of human acts. Now a measure
ought to be homogeneous with the thing measured. Hence laws also must
be imposed upon men according to their condition. As Isidore says: 'A
law ought to be possible both according to nature and according to the
custom of the country.' Now the power or faculty of action proceeds
from interior habit or disposition. The same thing is not possible to
him who has no habit of virtue, that is possible to a virtuous man; as
the same thing is not possible to a boy and to a grown man, and
therefore the same rule is not laid down for children as for adults.
Many things are allowed to children, that in adults are visited with
legal punishment or with blame, and in like manner many things must be
allowed to men not perfect in virtue, which would be intolerable in
virtuous men."

This reasoning leads us up to a conclusion, which St. Thomas states
thus (la 2a, q. 94. art. 5):

"A conceivable way in which the Natural Law might be changed is the
way of subtraction, that something should cease to be of the Natural
Law that was of it before. Understanding change in this sense, the
Natural Law is absolutely immutable in its first principles; but as to
secondary precepts, which are certain detailed conclusions closely
related to the first principles, the Natural Law is not so changed as
that its dictate is not right in most cases steadily to abide by; it
may however be changed in some particular case, and in rare instances,
through some special causes impeding the observance of these secondary

The reason for this conclusion, more pregnant, it may be, than St.
Thomas himself discerned, is given briefly as follows (2a 2a, q. 57,
art. 2, ad 1):

"Human nature is changeable; and therefore what is natural to man may
sometimes fail to hold good."

The precepts of Natural Law that fail to be applicable when human
nature sinks below par, are only secondary precepts, and few even of
them. Christianity brings human nature up to par, and _fulfils_ the
Natural Law (St. Matt. v. 17), enjoining the observance of it in its
integrity. This is the meaning of St. John Chrysostom's saying: "Of
old not such an ample measure of virtue was proposed to us; ... but
since the coming of Christ the way has been made much narrower." (_De
Virginitate_, c. 44: cf. his 17th Homily on St. Matt. v. 37; indeed
the doctrine is familiar in his pages.) Thus the prohibition of
polygamy, being a secondary precept of the natural law, failed in its
application in that age of lapsed humanity, when a woman was better
one of many wives, protected by one husband, than exposed to
promiscuous violence and lust. (Isaias iv. i.)


The ruler is the servant of the _good_ of the people, not of the
_will_ of the people, except inasmuch as--

a. the _will_ of the people is an indication of their _good_, of which
they are probable judges;

b. it is usually impossible to do _good_ to the people against their
steady _will_.

* * * * *


Aggregation theory of civil power,


Altum dominium,

differs from hatred,

Appetite in the modern sense,
in the scholastic sense,
appetite and desire,

Archetype Ideas,

Aristotle, imperfect as a moral philosopher,
on happiness,
on the passions,
on the mean of virtue,
on death,
his Magnanimous Man,
distinguishes chastisement from vengeance,
virtue from art,
on property,
defines a State, a citizen, a polity,
on the State's need to punish,

Atheism, effects of social and political,

Autocentric and heterocentric,

Bain, Alexander, on content,
on punishability,

Beatific vision,

Capital Punishment,
not inconsistent with God's dominion over life, nor
with the personality (autocentric) of man,
power of (right of the sword), the distinguishing mark of sovereignty,
sole instance of rightful direct killing,

to enemies,
obligation of, how differing from justice,

Church and State, elementary philosophy of,

Circumstances of act,
distinguished from means,

Civil authority, of God,
binds the conscience,
latent or free,
various distributions of,
not tied to any one polity,
when rightfully resisted,

Comfort, no specific against crime,


Conscience, natural law of,
erroneous conscience,
requires educating,
Conscience and the State,

Contemplation, essence of happiness,


Delight, or pleasure, quality of,
said to perfect activity,
not happiness,

Democracy, may be tyrannical,
not the sole valid polity,
sheer democracy difficult to work,
original and special sanctity attaching to democracy,


Desire, physical and psychical,

Direct and indirect (or incidental) defined,


Duelling, essential wrong of,

Dumb animals, our relations with,

Duty, matter not of mere goodness, but of law;
duties of justice, correlative of a right;
duties negative and positive,

Education, the State's part in,

End in view; end does not justify means;
itself limitless, sets a limit to the means,

English monarchy,

Ethics, strict view of,

Evil, none essential and positive in human nature,

Fear, as an excuse,

Food and fiddling, when better than philosophy,


Francis of Assisi, St.,

General Consequences, principle of,

God, transcends created being,
object of human happiness,
God and possibilities,
cannot but enforce morality,
how entering into Moral Philosophy,
does not dispense from the natural law,
punishes sin,
twofold worship of,
God beyond the sphere of utilities,
duty of knowing Him,
why He cannot lie,
no God, no sin,

Greek taste,

Grotius and Milton, on lying,

Habit, defined,
acquired by acts,
a living thing, needs exercise,
habit and custom,
man a creature of habits,
habits remain in the departed soul,

Happiness, defined,
open to man,
final in contemplation of God,
other than contentment,
desired without limit,
not pleasure,

Hatred and anger,


Hobbes, his _Leviathan_,

Honour and reputation,

Horace, his phrase, _aurea mediocritas_,

Human act,
outward and inward, one,



Ignorance, as an excuse,

Integrity, state of,

Intellectual error, sometimes voluntary,
in that case not mere intellectual error,

Jurisdiction, differs from dominion,

Justice, always relative to another,
legal (or general),distributive, commutative (corrective),
justice and charity differ,

Kant, his Categorical Imperative,

Killing, direct and indirect,
indirect in self-defence,
and in war,
direct only in capital punishment,

Knowledge of God, obligatory,

Labour, qualitative as well as quantitative,
capital not simply an embodiment of labour,

Land, a raw material, nationalisation of,

Law, defined,
the Eternal Law,
irresistible and yet resisted,
extends to all agents, rational and irrational,
co-eternal with, yet not necessary as God,
laws of physical nature,
law of conscience,
fundamental laws of a state,
civil law, necessary complement of natural law,
civil law, how binding in conscience,
the King, _legibus solutus_, how far,
law and liberty,

Lay mind,

Liberty, the meshes of the net of law,
liberty of opinion and the press,

Locke, on the state of nature,

Lying, definition of,
intention to deceive, no part of the definition,
intrinsically and always wrong,
why God cannot lie,
not against commutative justice,
mental reservation not in every case a lie,

Magnanimous man,


Marriage, duty of the race, not of the individual,
two goods of marriage,

Material and formal,

Marx, Karl,

Means to end, truly willed,
four sorts of,
how far and how not sanctified by the end,
distinguished from circumstances,
limited by the end,

Meekness and clemency,

Mental reservation, not in every case a lie,

Mill, John, confounds self-defence with vengeance,
his Utilitarianism,
on Liberty,


Morality, meaning of,
determinants of,

Moral Philosophy, definition and division,
a progressive science,
subtlety of,

Moral Sense, no peculiar faculty distinct from Intellect,

Money, ancient and modern use of,

Nature, does nothing in vain,
living according to nature,
laws of nature, inviolable as tendencies,
state of nature,

Natural, in contrast with supernatural,
natural and physical confounded by ancients,
does not mean "coming natural",

Natural law of conscience,
mutable subjectively,
immutable, situation remaining unchanged,
primary and secondary precepts, some of the latter fail to
hold even objectively, where human nature has sunk below par,
not open to dispensation,

Nominalism, subversion of philosophy,

Obedience, not wholly of the nature of a contract,

Ought, or Obligation, analysis of the idea,

Passion, as an excuse,
definition of,
species of,
not to be extirpated,
never morally evil by itself,
passion and principle, two different sources of sin,

People, the, all government for,
sovereignty of,
not philosophers,

Person, autocentric, as distinguished from a thing (hetero-centric),
to have a right, you must be a person,

Plato, on desires,
on the mean of virtue,
his similitude of the charioteer,
his phrase, "set up on holy pedestal",
fails to discover justice in his _Republic_,
his ignoring of spiritual sins,
ignores retributive punishment,
object of his _Republic_,

Pleasure, or delight, quality of,
perfects activity,
how far wrong to act or live for pleasure,
not happiness,

Polity, defined,
variety of polities,
no one polity best, universal and exclusive,
elementary and original polity,
the polity the standard of the politically allowable,

Polygamy; patriarchal practice,

Powers that be, ordained of God,

Private war, right renounced by civilised man,

Probable opinion, what, how a lawful ground of action,

Property, _res familiaris_,


Punishment, naturally consequent upon sin,
also a divine infliction,
final, eternal,
medicinal, deterrent, retributive,
human punishment perhaps never purely retributive,
capital punishment,
punishment a stimulus to conscience,
war not punishment,

Pyramid of capacities,

Reiffenstuel, on duelling,

Religion, how connected with morality,
duties of religion,
natural religious power,
the State and religion,

Restitution, when due,
not retribution,


Revolution, is it ever right?

Right, a, defined,
connatural, acquired, alienable, inalienable,
one man's right imports another man's duty, but not conversely,
not all rights consequences of duties,
not wholly the creation of the State,

Ritual, needs regulation,

Rousseau, his Social Contract,
his inalienable sovereignty of the people,


Self-defence, differs from punishment and from vengeance,
a wrong maxim of the jurists,
duelling not self-defence,

Simulation and dissimulation,

Sin, material and formal,
differs from vice,
some by mere passion, other on principle,
spiritual sins,
philosophical sin,
sin alone properly unnatural,
entails punishment,
grave and light,
forgiveness of, an uncertainty in philosophy,
sin against God, crime against the State,
atheism the abolition of sin,

Socialism, Collectivism and Syndicalism,
an endeavour to supersede private virtue,

Soldier's death,


State, individual not all blended in,
definition of,
a natural requisite, more than a necessity of nature,
involves authority, to be obeyed,
a perfect community,
commanded and commissioned by God,
a secular concern with a secular end,
the State and virtue,
State and Church,
State and education,
doctrines dangerous to the State,
State and Conscience,
remotely a judge of sin, but does not punish it as such,

Stoics, would extirpate passion,
their _naturae convenienter vivere_,
a paradox of theirs,

Suarez, explains the natural rise of civil authority,
neglects the historical,



Superstitious practices,



Testamentary right,

Usury, defined,
principle upon which it is wrong,
commercial loans not usurious, gradual opening for such,

Utilitarianism, an ill-concerted blend of Hedonism and Altruism,

Value, use value, market value,

Vice and Virtue, habits, not acts,
not in children,
vice not sin,

Virtue, a habit,
not reducible to knowledge,
intellectual and moral,
how moral and intellectual virtues differ,
need of moral virtue,
moral virtue (not theological) observes the mean,
cardinal virtues,
are the virtues separable?,
potential parts of a virtue,
sense of virtue necessary to national greatness,
virtue not "another man's good,",
how differing from art,
how far the care of the State,

Virtuous man, acts on motives of virtue,

War, the self-defence of nations,
not a punitive operation,
direct and proper object, not to kill but to put out of action,

Wild boy of Hanover,

Worship, interior and exterior, reasons for the latter,
not as useful to God, but because He is worthy of it,


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