The Picture of Dorian Gray
by Oscar Wilde
The Picture of Dorian Gray Morality and Ethics Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
"There is no such thing as a good influence, Mr. Gray. All influence is immoral -- immoral from the scientific point of view."
"Because to influence a person is to give him one's own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of some one else's music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him. The aim of life is self-development. To realize one's nature perfectly -- that is what each of us is here for. People are afraid of themselves, nowadays. They have forgotten the highest of all duties, the duty that one owes to one's self. (2.8)
In Lord Henry's moral system, the only thing one must do is follow one's urges – or something. We're not entirely sure how much Henry really buys this self-centered philosophy, but it intrigues Dorian.
Lord Henry laughed. "I don't desire to change anything in England except the weather," he answered. "I am quite content with philosophic contemplation. But, as the nineteenth century has gone bankrupt through an over-expenditure of sympathy, I would suggest that we should appeal to science to put us straight. The advantage of the emotions is that they lead us astray, and the advantage of science is that it is not emotional." (3.12)
Here, Lord Henry addresses ethics for the first time. In his view, we should all be as emotionless and "scientific" as possible, which leaves very little room for altruism, sympathy, or human kindness.
Experience was of no ethical value. It was merely the name men gave to their mistakes. Moralists had, as a rule, regarded it as a mode of warning, had claimed for it a certain ethical efficacy in the formation of character, had praised it as something that taught us what to follow and showed us what to avoid. But there was no motive power in experience. It was as little of an active cause as conscience itself. All that it really demonstrated was that our future would be the same as our past, and that the sin we had done once, and with loathing, we would do many times, and with joy. (4.20)
We see more of Lord Henry's unconventional view of ethics and morality. He really is quite a cynic, and doesn't seem to believe that we have the power to change or make ourselves better people. Furthermore, he doesn't seem to think it would be important, anyway.