the moral sense

There are authors who can make you laugh. There are authors who can make you think. Then there are authors that can make you do both. I think Mark Twain is in the last class.

In Mysterious Stranger, he does this so well. The character Satan, ably represented by Philip Traum, cautions against misuse of the word brutal. He insists, and you would agree, that the things treated under this heading no brute has been found guilty. He suggests we respect the higher animals.

The things were classify inhuman too are wrongly classified. Only humans are capable of them. Think rape, slavery, torture, war, exploitation all very human. It is our nature to do these things. We find them abhorrent, that I admit, but it is in our nature to do them. No lion kills another out of malice or kills a zebra because it can. And he says we are capable of these abuse because of the moral sense – the judge of good and bad.

He writes

No brute ever does a cruel thing, that is the monopoly of those with the Moral sense. When a brute inflicts pain he does it innocently; it is not wrong; for him there is no such thing as wrong. And he does not inflict pain for the pleasure of inflicting it, only man does that. Inspired by that mongrel Moral Sense of his! A sense whose function is to distinguish between right and wrong, with liberty to choose which of them he will do. Now what advantage can he get out of that? He is always choosing and in nine cases out of ten, he prefers the wrong.

I think, here

There shouldn’t be any wrong; and without the Moral Sense there couldn’t be any. And yet he is such an unreasoning creature that he is not able to perceive that the Moral Sense degrades him to the bottom layer of the animated beings and is a shameful possession

he took a lot of liberty with facts. Would we be better off without the moral sense? Would we find slavery abhorrent or it would be as natural as marrying off a nine-year old?

Is Mark Twain right [ the Moral Sense again] in defending the brutes? Should we find a word to replace brutal in our description of cruelty to one another. No other animal, I think, treat their fellows as we do. And whatever we describe inhumane, acts very human, can we find a more proper word for them?

This brings to mind the issue ofย whether human persons are naturally good or bad or whether these traits are learned. Jean Jacques Rousseau, I think, argued that we are naturally good. Another philosopher, I can’t recall claimed we are not good and are in need ofย salvation but the one I agree with is we are not any of the above. It is our actions that should be judged. If I dispatch the president and his cabinet, do I become a bad person or a person guilty of murder?

And while talking about murder, if in a revolution, we kill the president, his family and cohorts, no one gets arrested, why should I be, if I do it on my own for the public weal?