This is the question which was set as subject for a prize essay by the Royal Society of Holland at Harlem, 1810, and solved by J. C. F. Meister; and in comparison with the task before us, the inquiry presented no extraordinary difficulty. For:—
(1) The present question of the Royal Society has to do with nothing less important than the objectively true basis of morals, and consequently of morality. It is an Academy, be it observed, which invites this inquiry; and hence, from its position, it has no practical purpose in view; it asks for no discourse inculcating the exercise of uprightness and virtue, with arguments based on evidence, of which the plausibility is dwelt on, and the sophistry evaded, as is done in popular manuals. Rather, as its aim is not practical, but only theoretical, it desires nothing but the purely philosophical, that is, the objective, undisguised, and naked exposition of the ultimate basis of all good moral conduct, independent of every positive law, of every improved assumption, and hence free from all groundwork, whether metaphysical or mythical. This, however, is a problem whose bristling difficulties are attested by the circumstance that all philosophers in every age and land have blunted their wits on it, and still more by the fact that all gods, oriental and occidental, actually derive their existence therefrom. Should therefore this opportunity serve to solve it, assuredly the Royal Society will not have expended its money amiss.