The origin of the guilty conscience may be in mishaps, such as defeat, capture and slavery. When men from exercising mastery and even cruelty, are subjected to the rule of the stronger and more warlike, their energies are turned inward in bitterness against themselves.
Upon this gnawing of ill humor comes the suggestion from religious belief, that these uncomfortable feelings are sent by the tribal god as a warning. This is readily believed by people who already believe that defeat and misfortune are punishments for some lapse of duty to their deity. The checking of an active career and humbling of the vanquished produces a bilious temper and morbid spirit, ready for ascetic rites on misdirection, because ever ready to attribute misfortunes to something other than their simple natural causes.
The guilty conscience precedes the good conscience. The latter is nothing but the consciousness of the guilty conscience removed-by expiation, atonement or however beliefs run.
Before the guilty conscience there was the spontaneity of the free savage. After the guilty and the good conscience there is the serenity of the self-conscious, sovereign, intelligent Ego. For convenience I will hereafter speak of him simply as the Egoist. While all men are Egoists in so far as they are not visionaries or madmen, nearly all men are in fact partly blinded, ashamed of themselves, not fully possessed of themselves.
They do things for conscience sake–Egoistic method in madness;-they reject religious doctrine, but have a “sense of sin ;” they have a horror of certain acts because condemnedby a “moral standard,” and so forth. They do not even understand that they cannot be “sinners” except by admitting a religious standard of “righteousness ;” that they cannot be “immoral,” wicked, without thinking as saints and Moralists think of “guilt,” “disobedience” in natural acts. They cannot even call themselves Egoists to their satisfaction because the religious world has brande d every natural impulse as vile and “unsanctified;” consequently Egoismself- direction-as the sum of all villainy, and they are hampered by accepting their language from the religious world.
The real Egoist is not even he who has merely seen through the cheat of Moralism, but he who has outgrown its habitual sway, broken its scepter, desecrated every shrine of superstition in his heart or else been more happily born and reared than one in ten thousand of those who live today or ever lived.
The Egoist hears voices saying : “Forgive us our sins .” His thoughts take a humorous turn and he asks : Why do not the idiots think of forgiving themselves each one his own sins? Why cannot they be like the father? If “I and my father are one,” I can do the acts of the father and forgive my own sin. He who dares not say : “I do most cheerfully forgive myself all sins and misdeeds I have ever committed or shall ever care to commit,” is certainly not an Egoist.
Moralists propound the question : “Does the end justify the means?” He who argues on either side of it, shows not the quality of Egoism. It is a question for Moralists, to be answered by reference to their standards of duty. The Egoist will ask whether the game is worth the powder and in this sense he could use the very words quoted in the question; meaning, however, only a particular application of means to a particular end-a question of expenditure or risk and probability of gain. Every case being decided on the principle of economy or of strategy, the general moral question disappears.
The Moralist is left to answer his own question as to whether or not he will venture to break a “moral law” in order to accomplish what he considers a moral good.
Another way of putting our criticism is that the question can be parodied : “Does the evidence warrant the verdict?” But then, you say, we must know what verdict and what evidence are referred to.
Quite so; and the question : “Does the end justify the means?” is equally void of meaning unless we learn what end is sought and what means are proposed.
But suppose we become more specific and ask : “Is the killing of a heretic justified by the probability of saving one thousand souls from perdition?” To this I say it concerns the Moralist, not the Egoist.
In order to kill, no justification before the tribunal of conscience is necessary to, say, the Egoistic statesman; for that is a piece of superstition.
In this respect “all things are lawful” for him, “but all things are not expedient.” The heretic has to thank the thousand other heretics for his immunity from being killed for heresy. A common interest unites them in some measures for self-protection. Their danger is but the greater because fanatics exist who in addition to the brutal instincts of mankind are possessed with the idea of a moral pardoning power encouraging men to do violence as a service, not to themselves but to a creed of church or society.
The Egoist wastes no breath to persuade the fanatic that the end would not justify the means. He knows that the wish was father to the thought. The doctrine of exceptional justification was the inevitable excuse, like the wolf’s brief remarks to the lamb at the stream. That wolf was not a natural wolf, but a moralizing wolf; still, altogether a wolf in fact.
The moralizing man is less frank and more cunning than the wolf.
He would paralyze his enemies by teaching that not all courses are “justifiable;” then when they spare him and he gets them in his power he does not spare them. The end never justifies the means when a
Moralist is being hurt; always when a Moralist is getting the best of the fight by unusual artifice and usurpation.