IT is sometimes said that all morality involves social relations. There can be no question that a large part of it does. What is justice but a certain kind of conduct or relation between man and man ? What is love, what is kindness, what is generosity, what is chivalry, save as there are objects to which these feelings go out ? What is truth, if there is no one to whom to be truthful? What are fidelity and loyalty but ideal types of social relationship ? I need not speak of patriotism, of public spirit, so patent are their references. Even what are called personal virtues, are they, after all, entirely personal ? Veracity is sometimes called a personal virtue; but plainly it means keeping one's word with another. Chastity is called a personal duty; but surely chastity is not a denial of the relation of the sexes, but a pure relation of the sexes. Temperance is a personal duty ; yet temperance is hardly an end, but a means to an end, namely, the maintenance of the supremacy of the rational and moral in us. The temperate man is so much more a man ; but as a man his sphere and duty are, in large measure, with men, and temperance is to fit him to take his part well in the life and work of humanity.
Even when we assert some stricter truth, some nobler strain of honor than ordinarily obtains among men, it is not so much that we sever ourselves from society as that we yield to the claims of an ideal society ; if we see and will a higher justice than the State commands, it is that we own ourselves members of a higher State, which exists as yet only in idea. Every rising above custom or written statute is an assertion that the ideal is our true home; it is but an espousing of the ideal as over against the incompleteness of the actual and the sensible. For it is not so much to society as actually constituted, as to the social ideal that we belong.
But though our life is properly in society, it is possible for us to live apart and according to our own individual caprice, if we will. Such individualism is the primal sin. Falsehood, unchastity, every form of social wrong are but exalting personal caprice over against the law of social well-being. Morality, in other than its strictly personal form, consists in taking account at least of two, another with myself, in determining my action. And morality widens and embraces new duties as the circles of relationship widen, and as the law of each larger circle becomes in its turn the law for me. As matter of history, so long as a man was bent on self-preservation merely, he was hardly more than an animal; he began to be human, when the thought of his family determined him, when he owned himself a part of it and acted for it, to maintain and defend it. He became still more human, when he was a member of a community, and felt the welfare and the honor of the community to be his own; still more human was he when he won the thought of humanity, and would tolerate no interests of his own, nor action of his community, which tended to hurt or injure or wrong any, even the humblest, child of man. It is evident that the universality of our social feeling is the measure of its real worth. If I feel an insult to myself or my family, or the community in which I live, and yet have no sense of wrong when some one outside these circles is similarly affronted, plainly I do not value man as man, — that is, am not really human, — but have simply a peculiar feeling for those who are near me. Some sense of the claims of every human being, though he be the lowest and the worst, and that will not allow us to trample upon him though he be fairly in the dust at our feet; some feeling of indescribable awe, even though it be blended with pity, when any human form passes before our eye, — this is the measure and the test, yes, the very significance, of morality.
It is this that determines the form of the social ideal. And let me say, before proceeding farther, that I do not attempt to describe, to picture, the social ideal. This has been a pleasing and ennobling occupation for many men, but I have neither the wit nor the imagination requisite thereto. I can only in a simple way indicate its principle. And this principle is, in a word, that in the ideal order every man shall be an end as well as a means. I need not point out that this principle has not been generally recognized in the past. Not only has slavery been almost universal, but there have been elaborate justifications of slavery by some of the greatest philosophers. We now hardly know what a battle the Antislavery reformers before our late war had to fight. The notion of the universal rights of man is a modern one. It is neither in the Old Testament nor in the New. I doubt if it be in the Scriptures of any of the religions of the world. Plato took slavery for granted, and appears to have justified it in remarking that the statesman should reduce to that condition those who are ignorant and base.1 Aristotle argued for slavery, that it was not only a legal part of the economy of society, but that it was grounded in nature, in the difference between those endowed with bodily strength and those who possessed mental power.2 In fact, against a very wide experience and against the clever reasonings of some of the thinkers of the race, our brave reformers had but to plant themselves on the ideal ground of the rights, the claims, of every human being, and say, "What though these rights have been denied in almost all the past; what though the cries of outraged human nature have been suppressed, and the slaves become willing slaves, — do not the rights exist, shall not the cries now be heard, and shall the slaves not themselves be summoned to arise out of their deathly sleep ? " How specious may you find the defences of past slavery, made even now! Only the other day I was reading a writer who says, " Refinement is only possible where leisure is possible; and slavery first made it possible. It created a set of persons born to work that others may not work, and not to think that others may think. . . . The patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob could not have had the steady calm which marks them, if they had themselves been teased and hurried about their flocks and herds."1 One need not deny that as matter of history there is some truth in this ; none the less does morality say that it would be better that refinement should not exist, than that it should rest on so unrighteous a foundation. History tells us what was, not what might have been; and there are other ways in which an equal and a better refinement might have come without any enslaving of one human being by another. I do not think there is any genuine refinement that does not consist with a fine respect for the rights of others. Every deference, every courtesy, every kindness that is not in some degree shown to all with whom we come in contact, indicates a hidden root of selfishness from which they spring.
1 Zeller's Philosophie der Griechen, ii. 1 (3 Aufl.), S. 755. Cf. Plato's Statesman, 309.
2 Ibid., ii. 2, S. 690. Cf. Aristotle's Politics, i. 5.