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morality versus obedience

Universal Cosmic Natural Moral Law

"The need of adhering inflexibly to general rules of conduct is plain. Even the qualifications to rules must be drawn according to general rules of conduct.

An "exception" to a rule of conduct must not be capricious, but itself capable of being stated as a rule, capable of being made part of a rule, of being embodied in a rule.

The great principle David Hume discovered and framed was while conduct should be judged by its "utility," by its consequences, by its tendency to promote happiness and well-being, it is not specific acts that should be so judged, but general rules of conduct. " - Henry Hazlitt


"Our continual observations upon the conduct of others insensibly lead us to form to ourselves certain general rules concerning what is fit and proper either to be done or avoided.

The regard to those general rules of conduct is what is properly called a sense of duty, a principle of the greatest consequence in human life, and the only principle by which the bulk of mankind are capable of directing their actions.

Without this sacred regard to general rules, there is no man whose conduct can be much depended upon.

It is this which constitutes the most essential difference between a man of principle and honor, and a worthless fellow.

The one adheres on all occasions steadily and resolutely to his maxims, and preserves through the whole of his life one even tenor of conduct.

The other acts variously and accidently, as humor, inclination, or interest chance to be uppermost.

Upon the tolerable observance of these duties [ justice, truth, chastity, fidelity] depends the very existence of human society, which would crumble into nothing if mankind were not generally impressed with reverence for those important rules of conduct." - Adam Smith




"It seems at first sight a very rational way of testing any proposed rule of conduct is to ask - how will it work?

Taking men as we know them, and institutions as they are, what will result from carrying such a theory into practice?

This very common-sense style of inquiry is that by which most opinions on morals and politics are formed.

People consider of any system, whether it seems feasible, whether it will square with this or the other social arrangement, whether it fits what they see of human nature.

They have got certain notions of what man is, and what society must be; and their verdict on any ethical doctrine depends upon its accordance or discordance with these.

If moral systems are adopted or condemned, because of their consistency or inconsistency, with what we know of men and things, then it is taken for granted that men and things will ever be as they are.

And yet we know human nature to be infinitely variable.

Unable as the imperfect man may be to fulfil the perfect law, there is no other law for him.

One right course only is open; and he must either follow that or take the consequences.

The conditions of existence will not bend before his perversity; nor relax in consideration of his weakness.

When they are broken, no exception from penalties are to be hoped for.

Confounded by the multiplied and ever-new aspects of human affairs, it is not perhaps surprising that men should fail duly to recognize the systematic character of the natural moral order.

Yet in the moral as in the material world, accumulated evidence is gradually generating the conviction, that events are wrought out in a certain inevitable way by unchanging forces.

In all ages there has been some glimmering perception of this truth; and experience is ever giving to that perception increased distinctness.

Indeed even now all men do, in one mode or other, testify of such a faith.

Every known creed is an assertion of it.

What are the moral codes of the Mahometan, the Brahman, the Buddhist, but so many acknowledgments of the inseparable connection between conduct and its results?

Do they not all say you shall not do this, and this, because they will produce evil; and you shall do that and that, because they will produce good?

We imply such a faith, too, in our every day conversations; in our maxims and precepts, in our education of children, in our advice to friends.

In judging men and things we instinctively refer them to some standard of ascertained principles.

We predict good or evil of this or the other scheme, because of its accordance or discordance with certain perceived social laws of life.

Surely, then, if all believe in the persistency of these secondary laws, much more should they believe in the persistency of those primary ones, which underlie human existence, and out of which our every day truths grow.

Either society has laws, or it has not.

If it has not, there can be no order, no certainty, no system in its phenomena.

If it has, then are they like the other laws of the universe - sure, inflexible, ever active, and having no exceptions.

How infinitely important is it, that we should ascertain what these laws are; and having ascertained, implicitly obey them!

Only by submission to them can anything permanently suceed.

Only as it complies with the principles of moral equilibrium can it stand.

Our social edifice may be constructed with all possible labour and ingenuity, and be strongly cramped together with cunningly-devised enactments, but if there be no rectitude in its component parts—if it is not built on upright principles, it will assuredly tumble to pieces.

As well might we seek to light a fire with ice, feed cattle on stones, hang our hats on cobwebs, or otherwise disregard the physical laws of the world, as go contrary to its equally imperative ethical laws.

We cannot always be strictly guided by abstract principles.

Prudential considerations must have some weight.

It is necessary to use a little diplomacy.

Very specious are your reasons for advocating this or the other exception.

Rest satisfied that they are no more impossibile than are your proposed exceptions, which similarly conflict with the essential social laws of life.

One breach of moral law leaves a gap for numberless subsequent trespasses.

If the first move has been taken with impunity, it will be followed by others.

Make a hole through a principle to admit a solitary exception and so many other exceptions will be thrust through after as to render the principle void.

If its consequences are closely traced, this same plea for licence in special cases turns out to be the source of nearly all the evils that afflict us.

The rule breaker confesses his act is at variance with moral law, which he admits to be, and in some sort believes to be, the best guide.

The rule breaker thinks that his interest requires him to make exceptions.

All rule breakers do this; and see the result.

A rule breaker is laying claim to the perfect knowledge of precognition.

In short, he is assuming omniscience, which is requisite for the successful carrying out of such a system.

Any departure from principle to escape some anticipated evil, is a return to the proved errors of expediency.

And it is yet further enforced by the reflection, that to think we can better ourselves by deserting the road marked out for us, is an impious assumption of more than divine omniscience.

If the foolishness of such conduct needs illustrating by facts, there are plenty.

The constant failure of schemes devised without consulting ethical principles has been already exemplified.

Let us now, however, take a few cases specially applying to the present point - cases in which benefit has been sought by going in palpable opposition to those principles - cases in which men, dissatisfied with the road whose finger-post declares that "Honesty is the best policy," have diverged into the byways of injustice, in the hope of more readily attaining their ends.

The enslavement of the negroes serves as a good example.

Nothing could have seemed more conclusive than the reasoning of unscrupulous colonists on this matter.

Rich soils, a splendid climate and a large market for the sale of produce.

Now, could but a sufficiency of labourers be imported and reduced to servitude, what profit they would bring to their possessors!

Maintained at a cheap rate; made to work hard, and to keep long at it, what a surplus would they not create!

Here was a mine of wealth!

Their golden visions have been far from realized however.

Slave countries are comparatively poverty stricken all over the Earth.

The southern states of America are far behind their northern neighbours in prosperity and are in process of abandoning slavery one after another, in consequence of its ruinous results.

Somehow the scheme has not answered as was expected.

Though worked in some cases sixteen hours out of the twenty-four; supported on "a pint of flour and one salt herring per day;" kept to his work by whips, the slave did not bring to his owner the large profit calculated.

It has turned out that under like circumstances wage labor is cheaper.

Then there came results that were never looked for.

Slavery brought in its train the multiplied curses of a diseased social state; a reign of mutual hatred and terror; of universal demoralization; of sin-begotten recklessness; of extravagant expenditure; of bad cultivation, exhausted soils, mortgaged estates, bankruptcy, beggary.

After all, the moral law would have been the safest guide.

Let us remember also, the failure of those attempts to profit at the expense of our American colonies; and the disastrous results.

Our governors thought it would be highly beneficial to the mother country, if the colonies were constrained to become her customers; and in pursuance of this conclusion, not only prohibited the settlers from purchasing certain goods from any other country than England, but actually denied them the right to make those goods for themselves!

As usual the manœuvre proved worse than abortive.

That outlay was wholly thrown away, and worse than thrown away; for it turns out that artificial trades so obtained entail loss upon both parties.

Then too came the punishment, the resistance of the settlers, the war of independence, and the hundred and odd millions added to our national burdens!

What an astounding illustration of the defeat of dishonesty by the eternal laws of right conduct we have in the history of the East India Company!

Selfish, unscrupulous, worldly-wise in policy, and with unlimited force to back it, this oligarchy, year by year, perseveringly carried out its schemes of aggrandisement.

It subjugated province upon province; it laid one prince after another under tribute; it made exorbitant demands upon adjacent rulers, and construed refusal into a pretext for aggression; it became sole proprietor of the land, claiming nearly one-half the produce as rent; and it entirely monopolized commerce: thus uniting in itself the character of conqueror, ruler, landowner, and merchant.

With all these resources, what could it be but prosperous?

From the spoils of victorious war, the rent of millions of acres, the tribute of dependent monarchs, the profits of an exclusive trade, what untold wealth must have poured in upon it! what revenues! what a bursting exchequer!

Alas! the Company is some 50,000,000l. in debt.

These are but a few samples from a universal experience.

If diligently traced, the results of abandoning the ethical to pursue the expedient will uniformly be found to end thus.

Men who are insane enough to think that they may safely violate fundamental laws of right conduct , may read in such defeats and disasters their own fate.

Let them but inquire, and they will find that each petty evil, each great catastrophe, is in some way or other a sequence of injustice.

Yet this commentary on the moral code - history as we call it - men for ever read in vain!

Poring with microscopic eye over the symbols in which it is written, they are heedless of the great facts expressed by them.

Instead of collecting evidence bearing upon the all-important question - what are the laws that determine national success or failure, stability or revolution? - they gossip about state intrigues, sieges and battles, court scandal, the crimes of nobles, the quarrels of parties, the births, deaths, and marriages of kings, and other like trifles.

Minutiæ, pettifogging details, the vanity and frippery of bygone times, the mere decorations of the web of existence, they examine, analyze, and learnedly descant upon; yet are blind to those stern realities which each age shrouds in its superficial tissue of events - those terrible truths which glare out upon us from the gloom of the past.

From the successive strata of our historical deposits, they diligently gather all the highly-coloured fragments, pounce upon everything that is curious and sparkling, and chuckle like children over their glittering acquisitions; meanwhile the rich veins of wisdom lie utterly neglected.

Why all this laboured examination into the propriety, or impropriety, of making exceptions to an ascertained ethical law?

The very question is absurd.

For what does a man really mean by saying of a thing that it is "theoretically just," or "true in principle," or "abstractedly correct "?

Simply that it accords with what he, in some way or other, perceives to be the established arrangements of natural moral order.

When he admits that an act is "theoretically just," he admits it to be that which, in strict duty, should be done.

By "true in principle," he means in harmony with the conduct decreed for us.

The course which he calls "abstractedly correct," he believes to be the appointed way to human happiness.

There is no escape. The expressions mean this, or they mean nothing.

Though told that such and such are the true roads to happiness, he opines that he desire shorter ones!

To the Creator's silent admonishment - commit only moral acts; he replies that, all things considered, he thinks he can do better!

This is the real infidelity;

the true atheism:

to doubt the foresight and efficiency of the natural moral order along with presumption to suppose a human judgement less fallible!

If there be any weight in the considerations above set forth, then, no matter how seemingly inexpedient, dangerous, injurious even, may be the course which morality points out as "abstractedly right," the highest wisdom is in fearless submission to the natural moral order." - Herbert Spencer




Many people falsely judge others by their own personal rules of conduct which may or may not be standard within a social culture and which may or may not conform to the natural moral order.


A few moral themes seem to be universal - harm, fairness, community, authority and purity.

Most people think it's bad to harm others and good to help them.

People have a sense of fairness: that one should reciprocate favors, reward benefactors and punish cheaters.

They value loyalty to a group, sharing and solidarity among its members and conformity to its norms.

They believe that it is right to defer to legitimate authorities and to respect people with high status.

And they exalt purity, cleanliness and sanctity while loathing defilement, contamination and carnality.

For a moral maxim to be true it must have universality, which is to say that it must be disconnected from the particular physical details surrounding the proposition, and could be applied to any rational being.

First formulation of the categorical imperative:

"Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." - Immanuel Kant

Second formulation of the categorical imperative:

"Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means to an end." - Immanuel Kant

Third formulation of the categorical imperative:

"Therefore, every rational being must so act as if he were through his maxim always a legislating member in the universal kingdom of ends." - Immanuel Kant
Examples of actions that can not become universal if a civilization is to continue to function:

Deception - If it is universally acceptable to lie, then no one would believe anyone and all truths would be assumed to be lies.

Theft - If it is universally acceptable to steal then there could be no ownership.

Suicide - If it is universally acceptable to commit suicide when faced with the realization that life might not give you what you desire then it is likely most life would be taken as many human desires can not be naturally fulfilled.

The moral sense is as vulnerable to illusions as the other senses.

A corrupt moral sense confuses morality with purity, status and conformity.

A corrupt moral sense tends to reframe practical problems as moral crusades and thus see their solution in punitive aggression.

A corrupt moral sense imposes taboos that make certain ideas indiscussible.

A corrupt moral sense is the result of falling into spiritual corruption.



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