The Unfailing Moral Standard

- from "Toleration" by John Bigelow

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The faculty which constitutes our individual life, and the only one which has any pretension to be regarded as absolutely our own, is that by which we are enabled to choose between what we regard as good and what we regard as evil. However powerless we may be to produce or supply the force necessary for the execution of any purpose, we are never without this faculty of electing the motive for doing it, and every motive is resolvable into a choice of what we consider good or evil, or what we consider right or wrong.

The pretexts, reasons, or excuses we assign for our acts which do not involve that alternative are casual, not final. We send our children to school; if asked why, the reason we should be apt to assign would be, "In order to educate them." But why educate them? To give them the better chance in the struggle of life? But why this expense and trouble to qualify others to struggle? Following up the inquiry, we finally reach the point where the real motive is developed. We may do it to promote the happiness and welfare of the child; we may do it to gratify our vanity or ambition, to have the child out of the way, or merely to escape the criticism of our neighbors. Whichever of these or other motives prevail, if we prosecute our inquiry far enough we are sure to come to a good or evil motive which was the real parent of our action. What we do is buried with our bones, but not our motives: they are our real selves; they rise and live on forever.


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