Your Mind and How to Use It

Chapter XIV

The Social Emotions

As man became a social animal he developed new traits of character, new habits of action, new ideals, new customs, and consequently new emotions. Emotions long entertained and long manifested by the race become more or less instinctive, and are passed along in the form of either (_a_) inherited stimulus akin to, but lesser in degree and force than, the more elemental emotions; or (_b_) of inherited _tendency_ to manifest the acquired emotional feeling upon the presentation of sufficiently strong stimuli. Hence arises that which we have called “the social emotions.”

Under the classification of “the social emotions” are those acquired tendencies of action and feeling of the race which are more or less altruistic, and are concerned with the welfare of others and one’s duties and obligations toward society and our fellow men. In this class are found the emotions which impel us to perform what we consider or feel to be our duty toward our neighbors, and our obligations and duty toward the state, as expressed in its laws, the customs of men of our country, or the ideals of the community. In another phase it manifests as sympathy, fellow feeling, and “kindness” in general. In its first phase we find civic virtue, law-abiding inclination, honesty, “square dealing,” and patriotism; in its second phase we find sympathy for others, charity, mutual aid, the alleviation of poverty and suffering, the erection of asylums for orphans and the aged, hospitals for the sick, and the formation of societies for general charitable work.

In many cases we find the social, ethical, and moral emotions closely allied with religious emotion, and by many these are supposed to be practically identical, but there is a vast difference in spite of their frequent association. For instance, we find many persons of high civic virtue, of exalted moral ideals, and manifesting ethical qualities of the most advanced type, who are lacking in the ordinary religious feelings. On the other hand, we too frequently find persons professing great religious zeal, and apparently experiencing the most intense religious emotional feeling, who are deficient in social, civic, ethical, and moral qualities, in the best sense of these terms. The aim of all religion worthy of the name, however, is to encourage ethical and moral as well as religious emotions.

We must here make the distinction between those manifesting the actions termed ethical and moral _because they feel that way_, and those who merely comply with the conventional requirements _because they fear the consequences_ of their violation. The first class have the true social, ethical, and moral feelings, tastes, ideals, and inclinations; while the second manifest merely the elementary feelings of self-preservation and selfish prudence. The first class are “good” because they feel that way and find it natural to be so; while the others are “good” merely because they have to be or be punished by legal penalty or public opinion, loss of prestige, loss of financial support, etc.

The social, moral, and ethical emotions are believed to have arisen in the race by reason of the association of individuals in communities and the rise of the necessity for mutual aid and forbearance. Even many of the species of the lower animals have social, moral, or ethical codes of their own, based on the experience of the species or family, infractions of which they punish severely. In the same way sympathy and the altruistic feelings are supposed to have arisen. The community of interest and understanding in the tribe, family, or clan brought not only the feeling of natural defense and protection but also the finer, inner sympathetic feeling of the pains and sufferings of their associates. This, in the progress of the race, has developed into broader and more complex ideals and feelings.

Theology explains the moral feelings as resulting from conscience, which it holds to be a special faculty of the mind, or soul, divinely given. Science, while admitting the existence of the state of feelings which we call “conscience,” denies its supernatural origin, and ascribes it to the result of evolution, heredity, experience, education, and suggestion. Conscience, according to science, is a compound of intellectual and emotional states. Conscience is not an invariable or infallible guide, but _depends entirely upon the heredity, education, experience, and environment of the individual_. It accompanies the moral and ethical codes of the race, which vary with time and with country. Actions which were thought right a century ago are condemned now; likewise, things condemned a century ago are thought right now. What is commended in Turkey is condemned in England, and vice versa. Moral tastes and ideals, like ├Žsthetic ones, vary with time and country. There is no absolute code which has been always true, in all places. There is an evolution in the ideals of morals and ethics as in everything else, and “conscience” and the moral and ethical emotions accompany the changing ideals.

Many of the moral and ethical principles originally arose from necessity or utility, but have since developed into natural, spontaneous feeling on the part of the race. It is held that the race is rapidly developing a “social conscience” which will cause the wiping out of many social conditions which are now the disgrace of civilization. It is predicted that in time the race will look back upon the existence of poverty in our civilization as our generation now looks back upon the existence of slavery, imprisonment for debt, capital punishment for the theft of a loaf of bread, the killing of prisoners of war, etc. It is thought that, in time, wars of conquest will be deemed as utterly immoral as to-day is regarded the murder of a body of men by a band of pirates or bandits. In the same way the economic slavery of to-day will be seen as immoral as now seems the physical slavery of the past. In not far distant time it will seem incredible that society could have ever allowed one of its members to die of hunger in the streets, or of poverty and inattention in the sick room of the hovel. Not only will the ideals and feelings of ethical and moral responsibility change and evolve, but the feelings of personal sympathy will evolve in accordance therewith. At least such is the dream and prophecy of some of the world’s greatest thinkers.

The social, ethical, and moral emotions may be developed by a study of the evolution and meaning of society on the one hand, and the perception of the condition of the lives of less fortunate individuals on the other. The first will awaken new ideas of the history and real meaning of social association and mutual intercourse, and will develop a new sense of responsibility, duty, and civic and social pride. The second will awaken understanding and sympathy, and a desire to do what one can to help those who are “the under dog,” and also to bring about a better state of affairs in general. The study of history and civilization, of sociology and civics, will do much in the first direction. The study of human-kind, and its life problems and condition, will do the same in the second case. In both cases there will be awakened a new sense of “right and wrong”–a new conception of “ought and ought not”–regarding one’s relations to the race, society, and his fellow beings.

Let no one deceive himself or herself by the smug assumption that the race has entirely emerged from barbarism and is now on the top wave of civilization. The truth, as known to all careful and conscientious thinkers, is that we are but _half_ civilized, if, indeed, that much. Many of our customs and conventions are those of a half-barbarous people. Our ideals are low, our customs often vile. We lack not only high ideals but in many cases we show a lack of sanity in our social conventions. But evolution is moving us slowly ahead. A better day is dawning. The signs are in the air, to be seen by all thoughtful men. Civilization is climbing the ladder, aided by the evolution of the social, ethical, and moral emotions and the development of the intellect.

In connection with this phase of the emotions, we invite the student to consider the following excellent words of Professor Davidson in his “History of Greek Education”: “It is not enough for a man to understand the conditions of rational life in his own time. He must likewise _love_ these conditions and _hate_ whatever leads to life of an opposite kind. This is only another way of saying that he must love the good and hate the evil; for the good is simply what conduces to rational or moral life, and the evil simply what leads away from it. It is perfectly obvious, as soon as it is pointed out, that all immoral life is due to a false distribution of affection, which again is often, though by no means always, due to a want of intellectual cultivation. He that attributes to anything a value greater or less than it really possesses, in the order of things, has already placed himself in a false relation to it, and will certainly, when he comes to act with reference to it, act immorally.”

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