Part 1: Section 3 - The World as a Moral Order
THERE WERE THREE CENTRAL AND GOVERNING PHILOSOPHICAL ideas which, as we saw, were implicit in the medieval world-picture—God, world-purpose, and the world as a moral order. In the last chapter I discussed the first two. In the present chapter I shall discuss the third. My purpose here, as there, will not be history. It needs no documentation to show that medieval man believed that the world is a moral order. This will be obvious so soon as we understand what the idea means. As before we shall be concerned with discussing what this idea does mean, and what its logical implications and difficulties are. For this is what we have to understand if we are to make any attempt to fathom the perplexities of our own age.
What does it mean, then, to say that the world is a moral order? The idea, as thus expressed, is certainly extremely vague. Yet it has been of superlative importance in the intellectual and spiritual history of mankind. It is a part of the religious view of the world. It permeates not only Christianity, but all the great religions, at any rate those which are theistic in type.
It will help us at this stage to introduce a little modern phIloosophical jargon. Jargon is to be avoided, if possible, but sometimes it is useful. Some modern philosophers have said that "moral values are objective," while others have said that "moral values
are subjective." In this chapter I shall maintain that the assertion that "moral values are objective" is identical in meaning with the asscrtion that "the world is a moral order." If this is so, then obviously the view that moral values are subjective is the same as the belief that the world is not a moral order. It is not perhaps obvious, and I shall have to prove, that "moral values are objective" means the same thing as "the world is a moral order." But for the moment I propose to take this for granted.
The words "objective" and "subjective" are extremely ambiguous, and have unfortunately been used in different senses by different wnters, or by the same writers in different contexts. I shall therefore begin by giving rough definitions of the meanings of the terms as I propose to use them here and throughout this book. I call my definitions "rough," because they do not pretend to very great precision. But they will be sufficiently clear to guide us in our inquiries and to prevent us from falling into fallacies due to ambiguity of language.
Any value will be called subjective if the existence of the value depends, wholly or in part, on any human desires, feelings, opinions, or other mental states. An objective value will, of course, be the opposite of this. It will be a value which does not depend on any human desire, feeling, or other mental state.
There are, of course, different kinds of values. We attribute vaue to anything if we call it, in any sense, good, or use any equivalent term for it. We may be said to attribute a dis-value to it if we call it bad in any sense. We certainly use such words as "good" and "bad" in different senses, of which we may distinguish three of the most important. If we call a picture or a poem good or bad, beautiful or ugly, we are usually speaking of aaesthetic value. If we call a man good or bad, or an action right or wrong, we are usually speaking of moral values. If we call a motor car, a house, a pen, or a typewriter, good or bad, we are generally referring to what may be called utilitarian or economic values.
We can most easily illustrate the meaning of the words "subjective" and "objective" by reference to economic values. For
no one, I think, would dispute that economic values are subjective according to the definition I have given. A house or an automobile would have absolutely no economic or utilitarian value if no human beings ever desired such things. Moreover the more human beings desire them, the greater becomes their ecoonomic value, the less they are desired the less becomes their economic value. The strength of human desires for an object and the number of people who desire it—what economists call the demand—is one of the factors on which depends the so-called law of supply and demand, the other factor being, of course, the supply. All this makes it evident that economic values depend for their existence on human desires, feelings, or opinions, and are therefore, according to our definition, subjective.
Another value which is plainly subjective—whether we call this too an economic value or give it some other name—is the pleasant or unpleasant taste of foods. A man who says, "Caviar is nice" is not attributing an objective quality to the caviar, as he would be if he described its weight or chemical properties. He means nothing more than "I like caviar," so that his statement really describes his own feelings or preferences, and does not describe any characteristic of the caviar. Clearly, then, caviar is not nice unless someone likes it, so that its niceness depends on human likings or desires, and is accordingly subjective. Another consequence follows from this. If one man says, "Caviar is nice," and another says, "Caviar is nasty," they are not contradicting each other as they would be if they were attributing opposite chemical properties to it. For the first is merely saying, "I like caviar," while the second is saying, "I do not like it," and both these statements may be true.
Since it is admitted that economic values are subjective, it is a very natural suggestion that all kinds of value must be like them in this respect. Let us then raise this question regarding moral and aaesthetic values. We are not in this book directly concerned with aaesthetic values, but we shall find that it will be instructive to consider them also to some extent in this chapter. A great many philosophers in the modern period, and at the present day, have
thought that both moral and aaesthetic values, subjective Co' v ues must be, like economic values, subjective. Consider the following passage which refers to moral values and was written by the English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, who was born in 1588 and died in 1679, and was a contemporary of Galileo:
Every man, for his own part, calleth that which pleaseth, and is delightful to himself, good; and that evil which displeaseth him; insomuch that while every man differeth from another in constitution, they differ also from one another concerning the common definition of good and evil. Nor is there any such thing as absolute goodness, considered without relation... And as we call good and evil the things which please and displease; so we call goodness and badness, the qualities or powers whereby they do it. 
This is one of the earliest modern statements of the view that moral values are subjective. For it makes good and evil depend on human feelings of pleasure and displeasure, and is therefore, by our definition, a subjective theory. Such a passage, utterly out of tune with medieval thought, marks a revolutionary change in the climate of European opinion. Moral subjectivism is characteristic of the modern mind, and was, in general, absent from the medieval mind. Something had happened in the interval, say between the thirteenth century and the time of Hobbes, which caused this change, and later on we shall have to discuss what it was. For the present we note only that the opinion expressed by Hobbes, or something essentially like it, has become common in the modern world.
It is true that at the present day almost no one holds the very crude version of subjectivism which is expressed in the above passage. It is crude because it implies that the distinction between good and evil depends on the likes or dislikes of each individual man. If thius were taken literally, it would follow that if a man liked something he could never call it bad or evil. This, however, is not the case. We do all often admit that something would give us pleasure, which is the same as saying that we like it, but that
1 Thomas Hobbes Works, ed. Molesworth (London: J Bohn, 1839-45) vol IV, p. 32.
nevertheless it would be morally wrong. We may call the view which Hobbes—perhaps carelessly—stated in this passage individual subjectivism. According to the most fashionable version of moral subjectivism now current, good and evil, right and wrong, are not relative to single individuals, but to cultures or civilizations or large social groups. Hobbes here writes as if he thought that what "pleaseth" each individual is what that individual considers good. The typical current view is that the standard of right and wrong in any society or culture is rather what "pleaseth" the society or culture as a whole. It is the desires or feelings of the group—and this presumably means the desires or feelings of the majority of the group—which make the standard both of that group as a whole and of the individuals who compose it. We may call this view group subjectivism, as distinguished from Hobbes's individual subjectivism. We should note, however, that both views come within our definition of the theory of the subjectivity of moral values. For in both cases moral values are dependent "on human desires, feelings, or opinions."
That a radical change had come over European thought on the subject of moral values by the time of Hobbes has been noted. We also noted that Hobbes was a contemporary of Galileo. Further, the philosophy of Hobbes in general was based upon the new science of his time. It expresses the sort of view of the world which was at that time suggested to philosophers by the work of the scientists. It may be difficult to detect at first sight any connecction between the physics of Galileo, Kepler, or Newton and a change of view about the nature of moral values. The seventeenth century scientists confined their inquiries to the properties of matter, to astronomy and mechanics for the most part. What bearing can physics or astronomy possibly have upon morals? What difference can it make to any ethical theory whether the sun goes round the earth or the earth round the sun, whether the planetary orbits are circular or elliptical, whether the laws of motion and of falling bodies are those accepted by Aristotle or those put forward by Galileo? Yet we shall find, when we come to discuss the question, that it was precisely the new science which
was the ultimate and basic cause of that radical change of opinion from moral objectivism to moral subjectivism which we are now discussing.
Although moral subjectivism, in one form or another, has become the prevalent opinion of the intellectuals of our time, it is by no means the universally accepted opinion. There have been throughout the modern period, and there still are, some distinguished and many competent thinkers, who repudiate it and accept rather some form of belief in the objectivity of moral vulues. What does this mean? We may remind ourselves of our definition. Moral objectivism is the view that moral values are not dependent upon any human desires, feelings, opinions, or other mental states. This, however, is merely a negative statement. It tells us only what moral values do not depend on. And we may well ask at this stage upon what, according to moral objectivists, they do depend. A preliminary answer might be that any view which holds that moral values are dependent on anything whatever which is not merely a part of the human mind, but is something which we should ordinarily speak of as being outside the human mind, would be a form of objectivism. One of the simplest kinds of objectivism would be the opinion that good and evil depend upon "the will of God," that, for example, good is to be defined not, as Hobbes would have it, as that which "pleaseth" man, but rather as that which "pleaseth" God, and that evil is that which "displeaseth" God. Since the will of God, or that which "pleaseth" God, is independent of any human mental state, this would be, according to our definition, an objectivist view of morals. There are, however, many other possible forms of objectivism which are much more sophisticated and less simple-minded. They may differ from one another in their positive views as to what moral values depend on. But they all agree in the negative condition that, according to them all, moral values do not depend merely upon human psychology.
Let us look at some of the reasons why many philosophers think that moral values cannot be subjective. We saw that economic values are admittedly subjective, and that it therefore
seems natural and plausible to suggest that moral and aesthetic values are like them in this respect. In fact this is perhaps one of the reasons why people easily think that moral and aesthetic values must be subjective. We should, however, note in the first place that this does not at all follow. For there may be important differences between economic values, on the one side, and moral and aesthetic values, on the other. For instance, some people would say that moral and aesthetic values are in some way "spiritual" in their nature, while economic values are "material," and that the former concern "higher" things, while the latter concern "lower" things. It is very difficult to say what this means, or whether the distinction has any real foundation. But it is at least possible that it indicates some genuine difference. We note at any rate that whereas apparently only men have moral feelings—whether this is also true of aesthetic feelings seems a little doubtful—animals may be said in a sense to have or be aware of ecoonomic values. They do, that is to say, value such things as food, a shelter, and so on. These vague ideas, of course, prove very little. The utmost that they can be said to show is that perhaps there is some important difference between economic values and moral and aesthetic values—though we have not been able to show what it is—which should put us on our guard against assuming too hastily that whatever is true of economic values, for instance that they are subjective, must necessarily also be true of moral and aesthetic values. We must, however, try to see whether there may not be better arguments than this which have made some philosophers doubt that moral values are subjective. We shall find that there are better arguments, but that none of them can be said to be conclusive—which is the reason why there are still honest differences of opinion about the matter.
It is pointed out by those who reject subjectivism in moral and aesthetic matters that a subjectivist theory implies the followwing three things, which do not seem to be true of moral and aesthetic values. First, if the value of a thing is subjective, this is equivalent to saying that whether it has value or not is no more than a matter of taste. This is especially obvious in the case of
individual subjectivism. Whether caviar is nice or nasty is plainly a matter of personal taste. It is nice for one person and nasty for another. And if we take the Hobbesian view of morals, we shall have to say such things as that whether murder is right or wrong is merely a matter of personal taste. It is right if you like it and wrong if you don't. It is true that this is to some extent avoided, or at least mitigated, if we adopt the theory of group subjectivism. Whether murder is right or wrong will not then be a matter of personal taste, but it will still be a matter of the mere tastes of social groups.
Secondly, subjectivism implies that, properly speaking, no value judgment is ever either true or false. That caviar is nice is neither a true statement about the caviar, nor a false one. For it only means "I like caviar." This may be a true statement about me, but it is not a statement about the caviar at all, and therefore it does not tell us anything either true or false about the caviar. The same will be true of moral and aesthetic value judgments, if these values are subjective. If we say, "Murder is wicked," this is not really a statement about murder at all, and tells us nothing true or false about it, though it may imply something true or false about us or the group to which we belong.
A third implication of subjectivism is that, if it is true, there cannot be any rational discussion about moral or aesthetic matters, nor can there be any such things as moral or aesthetic education. If we adopt the individual subjectivism of Hobbes, it will be meanningless to discuss whether a thing is good or bad, or whether an action is right or wrong, because which they are is only a matter of the personal tastes of each individual. Not quite the same crude conclusion follows from group subjectivism. There may be, on that theory, a genuine difference of opinion between two indiividuals about a moral question, and it will be sensible for them to argue it. For if one says, "X is good," and the other says, "X is bad," the first means "our social group likes X," while the second means "our social group dislikes X," and it is possible to discuss rationally which of these two opinions is true. Moreover, on this view there may in a sense be such a thing as moral education,
since there will be a necessity to indoctrinate the young with the preferences of the social group. But it will still be the case that as between social groups there can be no rational discussion of moral differences, and no such thing as the education of one group by another. For if the group to which I belong disapproves, shall we say, of slavery, this only means that my group dislikes it. And if some other social group approves of slavery, this only means that they like it. Thus the two groups stand to each other in the same way as the two individuals who respectively like and dislike caviar. No discussion between them will then be sensible, for each group is right about its own tastes.
Now the main argument of the moral objectivists has been that, although the three implications of a subjective theory of values namely, that values are merely matters of taste, that value judgments are neither true nor false, and that no discussion of them is possible-are quite true of economic values and of questions such as whether the taste of a food is nice or not, they are wholly unacceptable if we apply them to moral and aesthetic values. We find if we try to apply them to these values that we are forced to conclusions which jar on, or even outrage, our moral and aesthetic feelings. And it is urged that a theory of morality which outrages our moral feelings cannot be a true theory; and that the same thing will be true of an aesthetic theory.
The case is perhaps rather stronger in the case of moral values than it is in the case of aesthetic values. We will take the weaker case first.
Undoubtedly there is, in differing judgments on artistic quesstions, a large measure of what may be called "mere" personal taste. One competent critic may prefer the poetry of Shelley, while another equally competent critic prefers that of Keats. One music lover may enjoy Beethoven more than Mozart, another Mozart more than Beethoven. In such cases we may be prepared to admit that tastes may legitimately differ. We are not inclined to insist that one opinion, our own, is simply "right," the other simply "wrong," although even here we may suspect that there is some failure of aesthetic perception on the part of the critic who differs from us.
We think that he may have a blind spot as a result of which some aesthetic quality which we perceive escapes him. But we admit the possibility that we on our side may have a blind spot which renders us incapable of fully appreciating the aesthetic quality which he stresses. And so we are not disposed to insist dogmatically on our own opinion, and may be content to say that the difference is a matter of personal taste. But even here there is the suggestion that the question is not really one of personal taste, since we are inclined to suspect failure of perception on one side or the other or both. But since the issue seems undecidable, we are wIllmg to let it go, to drop the argument with the polite or ambiguous phrase that "tastes differ."
But if a man prefers the poetry of Edgar Guest. or Mrs. Hemans to that of Milton, the case is different. We are quite sure that he is aesthetically blind. We do not usually use such words as "wrong," "incorrect," "untrue," or "mistaken." We are more likely to acccuse him of "bad taste." But the word "bad" carries with it the implication of wrongness, the implication of some sort of objective truth in the value judgment whIch we oppose to his. And the word "taste" does not here have the same meaning as it does in the phrase "merely a matter of personal taste." If anything is merely a matter of personal taste, the implication is that one man's taste is as good as the other's, and that there is no question of a right and a wrong opinion. But to accuse a man of bad taste in art implies that there is a right and a wrong opinion, or at least a better and a worse opinion. This implies that the question at issue is not "merely a matter of personal taste," but that it is rather a question of true and false values, and in consequence that discussion of it is possible. No sensible person would seriously discuss whether caviar is or is not nicer than oysters. But critics do discuss the values of a work of art, and this is evidence that they do regard their disagreements as more than differences of personal taste.
What, it may be asked, is the technIque of such a discussion? How does one side hope to convince the other? How can anyone involved in such a dispute ever prove his case? To what observ-
able facts can he appeal? If two men should dispute whether the earth is round or flat, there are definite facts which can be obbserved which will settle the question. But surely no such procedure is possible when the question is one of the aesthetic value of a work of art. And if there is no conceivable way of settling such a dispute, no observable facts which support one side or the other, surely we shall have to admit that the question is one of personal taste regarding which it is senseless to argue, or in other words that the value is subjective.
But critics actually do argue such matters, and their discussions are not regarded, either by themselves or by other people, as merely senseless—as we should regard the argument about caviar and oysters. There must therefore be some method or technique which is in principle capable of settling their disagreements, though it may, of course, fail in particular cases. And it is, I think, usually something like this. Each side thinks that the other has failed to perceive some value or dis-value which is perceivable in the work of art. He assumes, or at least hopes, that his opponent has the aesthetic sensitivity required to perceive the value, but that he has somehow missed seeing it. He therefore attempts to point it out. He draws attention to some quality of the work of art which he thinks has escaped notice. He may succeed, in which case the dispute is settled. But if he fails, this may be due to either of two causes. It may be that his opponent does have the required aesthetic sensitivity, that he could perceive the value in question, but that the procedure of pointing it out has so far been unsuccessful. Or it may be that he simply does not possess the required sensitivity, or in other words that he has a blind spot. In either case the preesupposition of the discussion, the assumption which renders the argument rational and not senseless, is that there either is or is not some value to be perceived, and that there is in consequence a right and a wrong opinion about the matter. This is inconsistent with aesthetic subjectivism.
The possibility of education in aesthetic appreciation points to the same conclusion. A student hopes to learn what are true and what are false values in art. But if all aesthetic questions were no
more than matters of personal taste, then the opinion of the most uneducated freshman student about a work of art would be just as good as the opinion of the most experienced artist or art critic. Why then should he trouble to go through the arduous process of art education?
Now none of these arguments against aesthetic subjectivism is decisive. The instructed subjectivist is well aware of them, and thinks that he has good answers to them. I shall not discuss his possible answers at present, because my aim at the moment is not to solve the problem of the objectivity or subjectivity of aesthetic and moral values, but only to present it to the reader as a problem, and to point out how difficult a problem it is. The arguments just put forward against aesthetic subjectivism are not conclusive, but on the other hand they are far from negligible. The objectivist has at least an arguable and a tenable case. His opinion may in the end be mistaken, but it cannot be dismissed as foolish. We see at least that we cannot argue that, because economic values are obviously subjective, aesthetic values must necessarily be subjective too. We see that there are difficulties in holding that aesthetic values are subjective which do not arise in the case of economic values. The truth about the matter, whatever it may be, is cerrtainly not obvious, and is very difficult to discover.
Exactly the same arguments which have just been put forward against aesthetic subjectivism apply—but I think with greater force—against moral subjectivism. Are moral questions merely matters of personal or group taste? In order to test this we will take an extreme case, because in an extreme case the principles involved will stand out strongly. Suppose that there is a man who is by nature so cruel, so sadistic, that he enjoys burning children alive. We should, of course, condemn his pleasure as a moral abomination. But should we admit that this judgment was, after all, only a matter of taste? Apparently this is what Hobbes would have to say on the basis of the passage quoted above—though we may be sure that Hobbes would not have said it. If burning children alive pleases a man, then it is, on the basis of the passage from Hobbes, good. If it displeases him, it is evil. And the one opinion
is no better or truer than the other. As I pointed out before, indiividual subjectivism of the Hobbesian type, is not now held, so far as I know, by any philosopher. It is group subjectivism which is nowadays popular. So let us consider the question on that basis. In our culture burning children alive would be universally condemned. But suppose anthropologists discovered some other cullture in which such actions were considered highly meritorious. Should we admit that the moral question involved was only a matter of group taste, and that the moral standard of this other culture was not evil or bad or inferior to ours, but was merely different from ours? Would not the moral sense of every decent man rebel against such an interpretation? But if so, how can we admit subjectivism?
The fact that the example taken, that of burning children alive for pleasure, is extreme, even absurd, makes no difference to the argument. We should feel the same, only less strongly, if a weaker example were chosen. We cannot admit that stealing or lying are good things merely because some person, or group of persons, likes or approves of them. We cannot admit that moral questions are only matters of taste, that all opinions about them are equally true, and that all discussions of them are senseless.
Again the argument may not be conclusive, for the subjectivist may perhaps have a reply ready, but we can hardly help feel that there must be something wrong with a theory of morals which so outrages our conscience. At least the onus of proof seems to be on the subjectivist, and to be a heavy one.
Suppose we admit, then, that moral objectivism, whether ultiimately true or not, is at least a view which has something to be said for it. We may then go on to ask what sort of a theory of the nature of moral values will be consistent with it. The phrase "the nature of" moral values needs explaining. Consider Hobbes again. His theory was that the nature of goodness consists in the fact that the good thing pleases the man who calls it good. This is, in fact, his definition of goodness. To give a definition of anything is to state its nature. Hobbes's definition makes moral values subjec-
tive. So we may rephrase our question in the form: what definitions of good and evil could be suggested according to which good and evil would be objective?
There are many such possible definitions. One example has already been given. We might suppose that the proper definition of a morally right action is that it is an action which is in accordance with the will of God. A wrong action will then be defined as one which is contrary to the will of God. This is a view which has often been taken, for instance by the theologian Paley in the eighteenth century. Whether this theory is true or false is not what I am now discussing. The point is that it is an example of a theory according to which moral values are objective. For an objective value is, by definition, one which is independent of any human desire, feeling, purpose, opinion, or other mental state. And God's will, if there is such a thing, is plainly independent of any such human mental states. For instance, if it is God's will that we love one another, then this will be good whatever any human being, or set of human beings, thinks or says or feels or wants. If moral values are fixed by God's will, and not by any human wills or desires, they are objective.
To give another example of an objectivist definition of morals.
Suppose that someone believes that there is such a thing as a cosmic purpose. He might believe this without accepting any theology or any belief in God. He might speak of it as just "nature's purpose." He might then define good actions as those which tend to advance the world-purpose, bad actions as those which tend to thwart it. Moral values would then be objective because the cosmic purpose is presumably as independent of human ideas or wishes as is God's will. As we have seen, a nontheistic teleology of this kind is quite possible. The purpose will be immanent in the world itself, not a conscious plan in the mind of a being external to the world. Presumably the world will have to be in some sense alive, but it does not follow that it must necessarily be conscious. A tree is a living being, but not a connscious one. We sometimes talk as if a tree, reaching upwards to the sunlight, or downwards towards the moisture in the soil, were
actuated by purpose. We speak of its "trying" to reach the sunlight or the moisture. It may be said that this is only a metaphor; or that, although it is useful to talk as if there were a purpose, we cannot really mean that there is one, because a purpose is necessarily a conscious idea. The Freudian concept of the unconscious renders this doubtful however. It is possible to suppose that the world, or nature, is governed by an immanent purpose or purposes which in some blind unconscious way it has in itself, without this purpose being a conscious plan in the mind of any transcendent personal being. And if any such philosophy is posssible, then it will also be possible to suppose that moral values can be defined in terms of the immanent world-purpose, thus making them objective.
A third possible objectivist theory of moral and aesthetic values may attempt to define them in terms of the Absolute. The connception of the Absolute was developed by certain German idealistic metaphysicians at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and their thought penetrated into England and America during the latter half of the century. The Absolute was supposed to be a "universal" mind, but not a personal mind like the popular conception of God. This universal mind may then be thought of as the source of all spiritual values, particularly of the so-called trinity of values, goodness, beauty, and truth. Such a philosophy will regard these values as objective, since the Absolute is independent of the human mind.
A more humdrum objectivist theory—which makes no mention of any ultimate reality or absolute being—is that which holds simply that moral and aesthetic values are objective qualities of things, actions, or situations. By an objective quality of a thing is meant one which it is believed to possess independently of any perceiving mind. The roundness of a penny is such a quality, since it is believed that the penny will continue to be round independently of what any human or other mind either thinks or desires. It does not become square if any human being, or all human beings, should want it to be square or believe it to be square. It is quite possible to suppose that goodness and beauty are objective
qualities in the same sense. It could be thought that a picture is beautiful even if no eye is seeing it and no mind thinking of it, in other words that it just has in itself a quality of beauty. In the same way it could be thought that a situation or action has an objective quality of moral goodness.
I do not myself think that this is at all a plausible view, and my purpose in mentioning it is only to illustrate the fact that it is not impossible to hold that moral and aesthetic values are objecclive, since a number of theories of the nature of such values can be suggested any of which will be consistent with their objectivity.
Thus the upshot of our discussion is: first, that there are arguments, drawn from our moral and aesthetic feelings, which, though not conclusive, suggest that the corresponding values are objective; and, second, that such a view, since several possible theories of the nature of these values are consistent with it, is a respectable and tenable hypothesis, although we have not yet made up our minds whether it is true.
Medieval men would never have used the language which we have been using in this chapter. They would not have talked of "objective" and "subjective" or even of "values." This is modern jargon. But that the idea which we have expressed by the phrase, "the objectivity of moral values," was implicit in all their thinking there can be no doubt. For as I shall proceed to show this idea is really a necessary part of any sort of religious belief about the world.
It is, in the first place, identical with the thought that the world is a moral order. For consider what is implied by the assertion that moral values are subjective. This means that they depend upon the purposes or desires or opinions or other mental states of human beings. Hence if there did not happen to be any human beings in the universe, there would be no moral values in it; nor are there any now, apart from human beings. Nothing in the universe is, in itself, either good or bad. There are no values—economic, aesthetic, or moral—in the non-human universe. Values are purely human things. Such a view is common enough nowa-
days. The universe, it is sometimes said, is "indifferent" to our values, whether of beauty or goodness. Nature has no preference for good over bad things. Its mills turn out any kind of grist indifferently. This is the view that the world is not a moral order.
The view that it is a moral order—in other words that moral values are objective—was not only implicit in medieval thought, but is held, consciously or unconsciously, by religious men everywhere. It is an essential part of the religious attitude. It still finds expression in many things which plain people, who do not profess to be either philosophers or theologians, often say. Often enough those who give expression to it do not profess belief in any religious creed, and would perhaps deny that they are religious. The thoughts of the majority of plain men on such matters are apt to be vague and incoherent. But they may yield strong evidence of the persistence among us of ideas which intellectuals are doing their best to obliterate.
For instance, many people seem to believe such propositions as that "the good must triumph in the end"; or that truth has some inherent power which will enable it ultimately to win out over falsehood; or that there is some "force" in things making for goodness, a drive towards goodness immanent in the world. During the blackest period of World War II, when Britain was fighting alone after the fall of France, and when many people in America believed that Britain was about to collapse before a barbarian assault, a correspondent in England wrote to me with complete confidence that Britain would win the war even if the United States did not intervene. When I inquired what basis he had for this belief he replied that "it is impossible for a system based on lies, such as Hitler's, to prevail." He was an agnostic. The empirical or historical evidence for his belief is wholly inadequate. Such a belief stems rather from a vague feeling that the world is a moral order.
In the last chapter I remarked that belief in the teleological character of the world was not invented by Christianity, but has been characteristic of the thinking of the western world since at least the time of Plato and Socrates. The same is true of the view
that the world is a moral order. According to Plato the world is moved not only by purpose, but by good purpose. It moves everywhere in the direction of the "form of the good."
It may be relevant to add that this belief is not confined to the western world. The idea of a world-purpose can be traced in Hinduism, which is in some sense theistic, but not perhaps in Buddhism. But the idea of the world as a moral order appears in both religions in the conception of "karma." The essence of the doctrine of karma is that every living being receives at some time—if not in his present life then in some later reincarnation—exact justice in the way of punishment or reward for his good or evil deeds. Thus at least the ethical quality of absolute justice is attributed to the world-order.
The truth is that the ultimately moral character of the universe, whether it is personified in the form of a righteous and transcendent God or is conceived as immanent in the world-process itself, has been a part of all advanced religious cultures. It has been, until recent times in the West, a universal belief of civilized humanity. The opposite conception, that of a blind universe which is perfectly indifferent to good or evil—though it appears occaasionally in the ancient world, as in Lucretius—is characteristic only of the western world during the last three centuries, and is the product of the seventeenth century scientific revolution. That values are subjective and relative, that the world is not a moral order, is the fashionable belief of the intellectuals of our time. And this view of the world has seeped down to the masses. But since the older religious view persists under the surface, this gives rise to perplexities and contradictions in men's minds in contrast to the monolithic clarity and simplicity of the medieval mind.