George Fitzhugh on Morality

Man’s instincts, except that of sucking, are not born with him, but furnished to him by nature as fast as he
needs them. He walks instinctively without a knowledge of anatomy, or of the laws of mechanic forces, and
sees discriminatingly without having learned the science of optics, and learns to talk before he learns grammar
or lexicography. He does not go out to search for knowledge as do scholars, logicians and philosophers, but
knowledge comes to him unsought and without reflection. His judgments and opinions are not the results of
logical induction or deduction, but are intuitively and unconsciously forced upon him by extraneous causes.
Every one must have observed that the most judicious and practical men are generally those who can give
no reasons for their judgments and opinions, or who give wrong ones. It is mere instinct that controls the
conduct of such men, or at least a large percentage of instinct and a very slight one of reason.
– George Fitzhugh, Moral Philosophies, page: 2, 1867

The selfish and social feelings are equally vicious and noxious when indulged to excess, equally virtuous, useful and
healthful when the balance or counterpoise between them is properly adjusted, regulated and preserved. We hold,
then, that the proposed anti-selfish system is, relatively, true-positively, false. True, so long as it holds divided sway
and dominion with free trade, or selfish philosophy. False, the moment it drives the selfish system out of the field of
morals and exercises undivided power. For selfishness, or regard and care of self, is quite as needful and obligatory
a human duty, as social feeling or anti-selfishness, which regards and takes care of others. The individual would
perish without the selfish feeling and action. Society would cease to exist without the social affections, and the
charities. that proceed from those affections. The moral and the physical worlds are governed and controlled by
innumerable antinomes or opposing, yet co-operative laws or forces. Man’s nature is half selfish, half social, and
moral duty consists in moderating the excesses of either of these feelings or propensities, and in adjusting and
preserving a proper balance between them. No exact or universal rules can be laid down for ascertaining, adjusting
and preserving the proper balance between the infinitely numerous, minute and subtle antinomes that sustain
vegetable, animal and moral life; no line of universal and unvarying truth or rectitude has ever been, or ever
will be discovered in the vegetable, animal or moral kingdom-in agriculture, medicine, law or ethics. In morals
we are continually running from one excess to the opposite excess, continually crossing the line of truth and
rectitude, but never treading it, because we can never know when we have arrived at it. Yet we all know when
we have departed and wandered far from this line, and should try to return as near as possible to it-satisfied
with proximate truth, since we never can attain absolute, universal, unvarying truth.
– George Fitzhugh, Moral Philosophies, page: 6, 1867

We will not attempt to define the line that separates instinct from reason, but agree with Falstaff, “that instinct is a
great thing,” a much greater, more useful and necessary thing than ever-erring and deceptive reason. The animal
man, like other animals, might sustain life without the faculty of reason. Without his instincts he would perish. It
seems to us that most of our habitual actions, proceeding at first from reason, reflection and calculation become
in time, by continued practice, instinctive and independent of volitions. We eat, we poise ourselves in walking or
riding. We touch the keys of the piano, and perform on other musical instruments instinctively, after long practice.
– George Fitzhugh, Moral Philosophies, page: 3, 1867

We believe that vital, heart-felt religion is essential to the full development and maturation of human charaoter.
We do not think that man can reason his way through life, because every thing that he sees and meets with in
the path of life is above and incomprehensible to his reason. He must feel his way, guided by instincts, purified
by religious faith and sentiment. Religion is the keystone of the arch of human passions, emotions, affections,
faculties, propensities, etc., that keeps them all in place, and by moderating their excesses, makes them all
conducive to the good of the individual and to the good of society.
– George Fitzhugh, Moral Philosophies, pages: 7-8, 1867

There is no rule without exceptions. Rules are the inductions and results of reason. Human reasoning on all moral subjects,
and on whatever relates to human, animal and vegetable life and health. is based on partial, and therefore false premises.
From all but the eye of Omniscience, the first causes of social, animal and vegetable life’ are hidden, and must ever so remain;
for the finite can never comprehend the infinite, the creature, never understand creation. On these subjects the deductions
or results of human reasoning: proceeding from imperfect and therefore false premises, must be false like the premises on
which they are based; hence the maxim, ” There is no rule without exceptions.” Truth mixed with false-hood, ceases to be
truth, and becomes untruth. There are no true rules. Reason is never, on the subjects of which we are treating, a safe and
practical guide, for its teachings, or rules are, confessedly, liable to exceptions, against which it can make no provision.
Whatever is reasonable is false. In other worth, “There is no rule without exceptions.”
– George Fitzhugh, Antinomic Pathology, Pages: 1-2, 1863

The great defect of modern philosophy is, that it attributes all human actions to selfish motives. The political
economists originated the theory, and Paley followed them. Man’s character is not one-sided, and he as often
errs by loving what is without too much, as by loving self too much. Generosity, extravagance, undue indulgence
of children, slaves, and other dependants, as well as love of pets, are the results of our benevolent affections,
of our outward nature, of anti-selfishness. We are as liable (in the common sense of terms) to be too good, as
too bad, as apt to sacrifice our own interests to promote the interests of others, as to injure others to advance
our own good. Education has not only to correct selfishness, but to teach us what is due to ourselves, as well
as to others; especially to teach us how criminal it is to indulge our affections on unworthy objects.
– George Fitzhugh, Blackwood, page: 4, 1860

Man is a social, not a selfish animal. All social animals, herds, laves, flocks, &c., must needs love one another
-must live for one another-must practise the golden rule. The bee does it, the ant and the beaver do it; and man,
bad as he sometimes is, lives for society; for others as much as for self. Isolated and individualized, he is the
most helpless of animals; but, living in society, and practising the golden rule, he is stronger and more powerful
than all other animals combined. This rule is no paradox, no absurdity, but the corner-stone of a sound philosophy,
and the key-stone of the arch that sustains society. It is a perfect and comprehensive definition of moral duty;
and to expound, expand, and apply it, is the sole province of ethical philosophy.
– George Fitzhugh, Blackwood, page: 7, 1860

“Seeing is Believing,” the first article in the October No., is a labored and logical attempt to expose the fallacious
reasoning of the spiritualists. The essay is an able one, and probably the argument quite as good as the subject
admits. But it is impossible to make a good argument in a very good cause; impossible to make that clearer, which
to most readers is self-evident; impossible to demonstrate what is axiomatic. All reasoning, all demonstration proceeds
to deduce propositions that are less evident, from those that are more evident. If it do not thus proceed, it is not
reasoning at all. The best dialectician, if called at mid-day, when the sky was dear, to prove that the sun was shining,
would find himself at a loss for an argument; but any metaphysician could demonstrate that it was not shining. “The
shining of the sun” is an idea of your mind, but an idea of your mind is not the sun, and as you cannot show that the
sun exists, but only that your idea exists, of course you cannot prove that it shines. You hold the affirmative and
stand convicted, because you fail to prove your proposition. But I will go farther and prove a negative. You admit
the idea, that the sun is shining, exists in your mind. That is enough to account for the phenomenon; you must
not infer another cause for a phenomenon already sufficiently accounted for. You admit “the shining of the sun”
to be an ” idea;” this precludes you from proving it to be “a fact.”
– George Fitzhugh, Blackwood, page: 2, 1860

“Our outward affections are as natural as our selfishness, and their unwise or undue indulgence is as criminal
as too much selfishness. We should “love our neighbor as ourselves,” but not more than ourselves. What we
call virtues become vices, when carried to excess. ‘Tis right to love our children, our relatives, friends and neighbors,
our slaves and servants, our domestic animals; our fields, our gardens, our houses and homes, but it is criminal
to misdirect our affections, and to love most what is farthest off and least deserves love. lie who exhausts his
benevolent affections on a poodle or a terrier, and neglects his neighbors is as silly, contemptible, and criminal
a character as a Lord Broughham, who lets millions of Englishmen die yearly around him from physical want,
and is only zealous to ameliorate the condition of cannibal negroes. Brougham loves strong stimulants, and
feels and sympathizes only for cannibals and murderers.”
– George Fitzhugh, Blackwood, page: 4, 1860

“At present, the world has but one philosophy, and that teaches that trade is the only good thing, and that government
has no duty but “laissez faire,”-let it alone. Letting it alone begets panics, and has well nigh brought ruin on those
countries who practise the system. On this subject, as on all others, the world needs a moral pathology, that shall
watch symptoms, restrain excesses, and try to attain that “juste mi lien,” in which alone truth is found. Political
economy, and every other system of philosophy that has preceded it, are mere charlatanic panaceas, that reduce
all moral diseases to one, and propose to cure them by a single remedy. Men love simplification, and are never
satisfied with a medicine, or a theory in morals, that is not a specific in all cases. Yet, every farmer knows that each
plant he rears, is ” wonderfully and fearfully formed,” and that there is no mode of treatment or culture, no fertilizer,
which, applied at the wrong time, or applied in excess, will not prove noxious and destructive. How much more
“wonderfully and fearfully” is society formed than the plant. How delicats, how complex, how incomprehensible,
its whole organism and operations! Its only philosophy is found in the words of Solomon: “There is a time for all
things.” We oannot foretell or forestall the coming time, nor prescribe beforehand for its treatment, but only
practise on the social phenomena as they arise. This is moral pathology, not philosophy.”
– George Fitzhugh, Trade and Panics, Pages: 163-164, 1859

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