26 Elementary Morality
The Oracle in Erewhon
The answer given by the oracle was originally written
concerning any vice—say drunkenness, but it applies to many
another—and I wrote not " sins " but " knows " : *
He who knows aught
Knows more than he ought;
But he who knows nought
Has much to be taught.
The true laws of God are the laws of our own well-being.
The question whether such and such a course of conduct
does or does not do physical harm is the safest test by which
to try the question whether it is moral or no. If it does no
harm to the body we ought to be very chary of calling it
immoral, while if it tends towards physical excellence there
should be no hesitation in calling it moral. In the case
of those who are not forced to over-work themselves—and
there are many who work themselves to death from mere
inability to restrain the passion for work, which masters
them as the craving for drink masters a drunkard—over-
work in these cases is as immoral as over-eating or drinking.
This, so far as the individual is concerned. With regard
to.the body politic as a whole, it is, no doubt, well that there
should be some men and women so built that they cannot
be stopped from working themselves to death, just as it
is unquestionably well that there should be some who cannot
be stopped from drinking themselves to death, if only that
they may keep the horror of the habit well in evidence.
* The two chapters entitled " The Rights of Animals " and " The
Rights of Vegetables " appeared first in the new and revised edition
of Erewhon 1901 and form part of the additions referred to in the
preface to that book.