Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER V.

DUTY OR OBLIGATION.

(INTUITIONAL THEORY.)

1. BESIDES the knowledge we have of rightness and wrongness as qualities of actions, we have the knowledge of duty, obligation, or oughtness, as a condition of personal activity. The general conception of obligation is subjection of personality to moral law. The measure of this obligation is therefore found in the full application of the whole law to the whole life.

Duty is officium, in contrast with honestum: kaoñkov in contrast with kalóv; Die Pflicht, in contrast with Das Recht; devoir, in contrast with droit. The officium of Cicero, like the Kaokov of Zeno, is used in a wider sense than moral obligation, properly so called, applying to rational selection of desirable objects. Quod ratione actum sit, id officium appellamus.' -Cicero, De Fin. III. 17. According to Diogenes Laertius, Lib. vii., Zeno was the first to use kaoîkov in the strictly Ethical sense.

See also Cicero, De Officiis, 1. 3. 2. Personal obligation is recognised in consciousness by means of a judgment affirming present personal subjection to clearly recognised moral law. Such a judgment invariably affirms a definite measure and direction of obligation as resting upon me at the time.

3. The judgment of oughtness is so distinct from the judg

6

88

:

ment of rightness, that the former applies to the agent, the latter to the action.

4. The judgment of oughtness is so related to the judgment of rightness, that each implies the other, and both draw their warrant from the same moral law. The first principles of rectitude are the basis of all morality: in relation to intelligent beings, these principles wear the aspect of moral laws; each moral being is thus by a necessity of his existence placed in subjection to moral law; subjection to law, or liability to obedience, is in each case commensurate with the application of moral law to the life of the moral being; and rightness is that quality in action which is recognised by its conformity with moral law.

5. The judgment of oughtness is such as to imply complete and uniform subjection to all the laws of morality. I am under constant and complete obligation to moral law, because it is known to me as moral law. Partial or incomplete obligation to moral law is impossible.

A distinction has been drawn in Morals and Jurisprudence between obligations 'perfect and imperfect,' otherwise named • determinate and indeterminate.' The distinction has more commonly been maintained from the standpoint of Positive Law, by reference to what civil authority can enforce in view of human relations. From this standpoint, the distinction is concerned with the due limits of civil power in the enforcement of personal rights, and not with the real nature of moral obligation. The distinction has also been maintained from the standpoint of Philosophy by Hutcheson and Reid, and conspicuously by Kant and many of his followers.

6. A condensed account of the history of this distinction may be best presented by a classification of three examples of the use of the distinction between perfect and imperfect obligation.

FIRST,-AN ETHICAL USE, That some duties are always binding, others only in certain circumstances. The former are perfect duties, the latter imperfect; karópowua, officium derfectum, and kalnkov uérov, officium medium.

This is the view given by the Stoics, and accepted by Cicero as their avowed follower. It does not properly indicate two kinds of obligation. It is a classification of duties, not a philosophy of the fact of obligation. It points to the obvious truth that moral law not only imposes common obligation upon all, but has speciality of application according to the circumstances of each. The Stoics seem really to have used katópOwna to signify an action done in acknowledgment of duty (recte factum, rather than officium perfectum), rather an action done in a perfect manner, than a perfect obligation requiring its performance. Cicero has complicated technical phrase. ology by the use of rectum qualifying officium as equivalent to perfectum.- Diogenes Laertius, B. vii., Life of Zeno; Cicero, De Officiis 1. 3 ; Ueberweg's Hist. of Philos. I. 197 ; Zeller's Stoics, etc., p. 269; Grant's Aristotle 1. 262 ; Reid's Active Powers, Essay 111. iii. 5, Hamilton's ed., p. 588, and two notes, p. 588, and p. 649.

SECOND,—A JURIDICAL USE, That in the dispensation of justice there are only some duties which can be enforced under sanction of positive law, whereas others must be left to individual choice for their performance. The former are perfect obligations, with equivalent perfect rights; the latter are imperfect obligations, with imperfect rights.

This is looking at the distinction from a point of view altogether different Instead of considering what is common and what special in personal obligation, it is concerned with the question, how much of common obligation can be enforced by civil authority. It grants common obligation resting on Ethical warrant; acknowledges such obligation as the basis of natural law, but admits that social authority is not competent to enforce all obligations. This restriction is so far a thing of nature, as the limitation arises from the fact that there are obligations which belong to the internal sphere which social

are.

authority cannot enforce. But it is also in considerable measure a matter of general agreement, according to times and circumstances.

This view of perfect and imperfect obligation has been supported very generally by Jurists, and amongst moralists by Hutcheson, System of Mor, Phil. 11. iii. 3; and Reid, Active Powers, Ess. III. pt. iii. c. 5.

THIRD,—A TRANSCENDENTAL USE, That inasmuch as Moral law discovers only a maxim of conduct, and does not prescribe definite actions, all moral obligation is indeterminate, and only obligations enforced by positive law could be described as examples of determinate obligation.

This shifts the whole ground. It is not maintained that only some of our obligations are determinate, but that none

It is the product of the transcendental philosophy of Kant which makes the essence of the law consist in its form, and so separates it from positive enactment. It is no doubt true that moral laws are general principles of action, which an intelligent being must apply for himself in the guidance of conduct, but the obligation which encircles the whole life, and has sway over all its activity, is certainly obligation determinate and perfect. The opposite view led Kant to regard the subjective principles only as 'not unfit to be elevated to the rank of law in a system of universal moral legislation.' But this gave them only a negative character.' His translator, Mr. Semple, goes a step further, and ventures the assertion that 'Duty is a negative conception only.'—Kant's Metaphysic of Ethics, 3d ed., p. 204.

There is a very valuable discussion of this subject in Professor Lorimer's Institutes of Law, c. xi., Edin. 1872.

6. The subjection to moral law, which is recognised in a judgment of obligation, may be described as "moral necessity. It is moral necessity as determining the lines of activity which alone are in harmony with the laws of moral being.

For man, there are three forms of necessity, differing essen tially in their nature. These are physical, intellectual, and moral. Physical necessity is concerned with our physical nature, and is not dependent on our will, as that we breathe, eat, and sleep, in order to support bodily life. Intellectual necessity concerns the exercise of our rational powers, determining the conditions on which they may be used for the discovery of truth, as in application of the laws of identity, non-contradiction, and causality. This form of necessity the will cannot alter, but may often disregard without loss of rational power. Moral necessity is that which imposes as a law of life implicit obedience to moral law. The will cannot alter this law, but may transgress it, yet only on penalty of destroying the harmony of the whole nature, and leading a life antagonistic to the moral government of the universe.

7. Common obligation is fixed for all by the necessities of moral law, but the recognition of it by each one for himself is dependent upon personal application of moral law to personal activity in the relations in which he is placed. Personal obligation in present time is determined between moral law and present personal situation.

8. Every judgment as to personal obligation has a threefold reference, viz., to moral law, as affording the rule of action; to personal power, as regulating the possibilities of action; and to present opportunity, as indicating the line of action open at the time. The decision may involve either obligation to act, or obligation to refrain from acting. Beyond this sphere of judgment, because apart from the application of moral law, there is liberty of action according to personal preferences.

9. From personal obligation, there follows by necessary consequence, moral responsibility, or answerableness to God for the degree in which obligation has been fulfilled. The rational explanation of the universe is found in the existence of the self-sufficient One (v. Metaphysic of Ethics) : to Him as sovereign belongs the moral government of the universe : and

ز

« PreviousContinue »