IT is proper that I should now attempt some summary, with a few fresh elucidations, of the line of thought which I have tried to present. I have, following a phrase of Lord Gifford's will, taken as my theme the foundations of ethics. I have not tried to discuss by any means all the subjects that are usually included in a text-book of ethics, but to restrict myself to the foundations. Not that I can flatter myself that the foundations have always been well and truly laid by me. The whole subject is so difficult—in some respects indeed it is the hardest branch of philosophy—that one must just do one's best, and hope that where one's suggestions do not commend themselves, they may lead to some modified view which will be nearer to the truth, and that where they are flatly wrong, they may by reaction against them help some one to see more clearly what is true. I have, at least, tried to stick to my task by avoiding the discussion of theories which are of merely historical interest, and by confining myself to problems which are in the forefront of ethical interest to-day. At the same time, there are, of course, many recent theories which I have not dealt with. I have tried to stick to my own line of thought, and to deal only with theories which lay on or near it.
The general conception of ethics on which I have worked is this: Ethics is often described as a normative science, as laying down norms or rules of right or of good behaviour. That seems to me to be in a sense true, and in a sense untrue. In a sense, ethics would be guilty of great officiousness in undertaking this task. There are many plain men who already know as well as any moral philosopher could tell them, how they ought to behave. Not only do they see their concrete duty, in the difficult situations of life, with admirable clearness and correctness, but they have principles, of a certain degree of generality, on which no moral philosopher can improve—tell the truth, keep your promises, aim at the happiness of those round you, and so on. But these general principles, while perfectly sound when properly understood, are apt to lead to difficulties, familiar even to the plain man, when their nature is not properly understood; for they are apt to conflict, at least in appearance, with one another. What is the plain man to do when he cannot tell the truth to A without breaking a promise to B, or when he cannot give pleasure to C without hurting D? Moral philosophy cannot relieve his practical difficulty by telling him in advance what he ought to do in such a case. What he ought to do will depend on the precise circumstances, including his precise state of knowledge and opinion, and some of these circumstances he must know better than any one could tell him; if he can get help in his practical difficulty anywhere, it will be not by reading a treatise on moral philosophy, but by stating his case to some one in whose goodness and wisdom he has confidence, a good and wise ‘plain man’. But besides his practical difficulty, he is apt to be plunged in a more deep—seated perplexity. ‘What can be the authority of moral rules’, he is apt to say, ‘if, when we try to apply them to the problems of daily life, they are found to contradict one another?’ And there is another source of perplexity for him. He finds that some of the moral rules he habitually accepts—not the very general ones of which I have given instances, but rules such as those which prescribe monogamous marriage and forbid unchastity—have been and are by no means accepted even as an ideal among all races of mankind; and this, again, is apt to lead to doubts of the authoritativeness of any of the accepted rules.
These two difficulties, at least, moral philosophy can do something to remove.
The first difficulty it relieves in this way. Rules such as ‘tell the truth’, ‘injure no man’, cannot survive if they continue to be taken as absolute rules of such a kind that any and every act which is an instance of telling the truth is thereby rendered right, and any act which is an instance of injuring another man is thereby rendered wrong. The rules cannot both be true, when thus understood, if there is a single case in which one cannot tell the truth without inflicting pain. And we find, further, that we cannot believe that there is any one of them which is universally true, as thus understood. At any rate we all feel sure that it is sometimes right to say what is not true, that it is sometimes right to break a promise, and so on with any one of such rules. The only way to save the authority of such rules is to recognize them not as rules guaranteeing the rightness of any act that falls under them, but as rules guaranteeing that any act which falls under them tends, so far as that aspect of its nature goes, to be right, and can be rendered wrong only if in virtue of another aspect of its nature it comes under another rule by reason of which it tends more decidedly to be wrong. Kant overshot the mark when he tried to vindicate for such rules absolute authority admitting of no exception; but he would have been right if he had confined himself to insisting that any act which violates such a rule must be viewed with suspicion until it can justify itself by appeal to some other rule of the same type.
The second difficulty moral philosophy can relieve by an examination of the moral rules current in a given society, with a view to dividing them into their different classes. Of these, it seems that four may be distinguished. There are, or may be, some whose correctness is self-evident (as, for instance, the rule that we should produce as much good as we can); some whose rightness can be deduced from a self-evident rule by applying the rule to the universal conditions of human nature; some which can be derived from a self-evident rule by applying the rule to the actual conditions of the particular society; and some which cannot be justified even on that basis and must be discarded as based on incorrect views about human nature or physical nature, or on views which were true in past conditions of society but have ceased to be true to-day.
These two perplexities, one arising from conflict between the rules current in a single society, the other arising from conflict between the rules accepted in different societies—the pointing out of the conflicts, and the attempt to reconcile them—lay at the origin of ethics in western lands, as we can see from studying the Greek sophists, Socrates, and Plato; and we may conjecture that they lie at the basis of all ethical inquiry. If ethics does in fact relieve these perplexities, it to that extent has a practical value, by removing a great discouragement from the moral life. But it is essential that it should be pursued in a purely theoretical spirit, guided only by the wish to discover what is true; the cause of morality has really been hindered, as Kant pointed out with great force,1 by cheap and easy defences of the accepted moral code. And of course the study has great theoretical interest, quite apart from any practical value that it may be found to have.
Thus ethics has grown up, as an attempt to attain greater clearness in our thinking about questions of conduct. A little reflection shows that two kinds of judgement play the chief parts in this department of our thought, those in which we judge certain acts, or kinds of act, to be right, and those in which we judge certain kinds of things other than acts, such things as virtue or knowledge or pleasure, to be good or worth aiming at; and it becomes one of the chief tasks of ethics to reach clarity as to the meaning of the predicates of these judgements. In the inquiry into the meaning of such terms there are two stages. At the first we content ourselves with pointing out any ambiguities there may be in the usage of the terms, and distinguishing what seems to be the primary meaning in moral thought, as distinguished from any meanings of lesser moral importance and any which are not moral at all but, for instance, logical or aesthetic. At the second stage we try to inquire into the nature of that thing which we primarily mean by the term in question, in ethical thought—whether it falls under any more general category such as that of quality or relation, whether it can be defined by the use of simpler terms, and if so whether its definition involves the use of some other ethical term (as it would if right could only be defined in terms of good, or good in terms of right) or whether it can be defined by the use of purely non-ethical or naturalistic terms. The first stage of the inquiry is an inquiry into the use of language, and reaches results such as might properly be stated in a dictionary; the second inquiry is an inquiry into the nature of certain characteristics; but of course it should not be assumed without inquiry that characteristics such as we have in mind in our use of terms really exist. The last-named inquiry should precede the second-named inquiry. For unless we are satisfied that these characteristics—rightness and goodness—exist, there would be little point in inquiring what would be their nature if they did exist. Now, taking rightness first, I think we can satisfy ourselves that it exists; i.e. I think we can see that in many situations that occur there is an action possible which because it would be of a certain type—for instance, because it would produce more that is good than any other act possible in the circumstances—would be in that respect suitable to the circumstances (in the particular way which we describe by the words ‘morally suitable’);2 and further, that there is at least one possible action than which no other, in view of its whole character, would be more suitable morally. The first of these facts seems to me to be apprehended as self-evident; the second naturally follows from it. That seems to me the proper order; when we face a moral situation, what we see first is the existence of component suitabilities, or responsibilities, or claims, or prima facie obligations—whichever language we prefer. And because we see the existence of these we see that there must be some action (or possibly several alternative actions) which would have a higher degree of resultant suitability than any of the other actions that could be done in the circumstances, though we may have no certainty as to which action (or actions) would have this characteristic.
The next step is to reflect on the nature of this characteristic which we call rightness; and this involves the inquiry whether it is definable or not, and if so, in what sort of terms it is definable. One may inquire first whether it is definable in non-ethical terms. I have examined, I believe, the most important attempts to define it in such a way, and have, I hope, given sufficient reasons for holding that no combination of non-ethical terms expresses the nature of what we mean by rightness, however much we may think that actions having such-and-such a non-ethical characteristic must necessarily be right. And then, passing to attempts to define rightness by the use of another ethical term, e.g. as productivity of what is good, I have tried to show that this does not express what we mean by ‘right’, even if we were to think that all acts having this character are right, and that no others are so. If these contentions are correct, moral rightness is an indefinable characteristic, and even if it be a species of a wider relation, such as suitability, its differentia cannot be stated except by repeating the phrase ‘morally right’ or a synonym; just as, while red is a species of colour, what distinguishes it from other colours can be indicated only by saying that it is the colour that is red.
From this it is natural to pass to asking what are the proper subjects of the predicate ‘right’. Now here, even within the moral sphere, we find that ‘right’ is applied to a variety of kinds of thing. We can say that certain emotions and desires are the right emotions and desires to have in certain situations, and it seems clear that ‘right’ here has a moral meaning, not reducible to non-ethical terms. But ‘right’ is used mainly, and ‘obligatory’ is used only, of actions; and ‘obligatory’ is used only of them, because they and they alone, in distinction from emotions and desires, are what is directly willed. We should be justified, then, in treating actions as the most important subjects of the predicate ‘right’. It seems, further, that actions can be called right for a variety of reasons, so long as ‘right’ is used in a rather wide sense as equivalent to ‘morally suitable’; for an action is in one respect morally suitable if it proceeds from good motives, in another respect morally suitable if it (whatever motive it proceeds from) in fact produces results which are the maximum possible fulfilment of the various moral claims that exist against the agent. But if we use ‘right’ in the narrower sense in which a ‘right’ action is an obligatory action, we can, I think, see that neither of these is the proper subject of rightness. The former cannot be obligatory, because only that is obligatory which can be chosen, or which, at least, the agent could choose if he were a better man; but however good a man he were, he could never choose his immediate motive, since what we choose is acts and never anything else. And the latter cannot be obligatory, for the same reason, viz. that we cannot choose to produce results, but only to exert ourselves to do so. We are apt to be misled here, because we usually describe our duties as duties to do such things as paying our debts, relieving distress, and so on, where the phrases we use seem to refer simply to the achievement of certain results; but on reflection we see that such a phrase as ‘paying one's debts’ includes a reference to two different though connected things—an activity of setting oneself to pay one's debts and the receipt of money by our creditor which normally results. Of these two things only the first is an activity of ours at all; and therefore it alone can be that which is obligatory.
It is quite natural that both the view which includes the motive, and that which includes the achievement of a certain result, in that to which we are obliged, should have received much support among moral philosophers; for both the well-motived action and the action in which we not only exert ourselves in the right way but achieve what we set ourselves to do, have undoubtedly a certain moral suitability on that account. But it is not moral suitability of the special kind which can alone involve obligatoriness, since neither the desire to be felt by us here and now, nor the result to be achieved by us, can be chosen, and only what is capable of being chosen can be obligatory.
I need hardly add that in saying that motives are not an element in what is obligatory, I am not suggesting that a man who never acted from a good motive could do the whole duty of man. That this could not be so follows from two reasons. If a bad or indifferent motive ever leads to a right act, it can only be by accident, and therefore in a succession of acts from such motives very few are likely to be the right acts in the circumstances. And secondly, good desires being the most essential element in a good character, and one of our main duties being that of producing what is good wherever we can, and the betterment of our own character being one of the good things that are most under our own control, it is one of our main duties to set ourselves to improve our own character, and that will almost inevitably lead to our later acts being to some extent well motivated.
In saying that it is setting oneself to produce this or that change that is obligatory, I may seem to have come perilously near to saying what I have expressly disavowed, that it is by its motive that an act is made right or wrong. It is, of course, always from some motive or other that we set ourselves to bring about changes. But the setting oneself is quite different from the doing so from any particular motive. If I set myself to produce a state of affairs in which one thing will be in the state A and another thing in the state B, I may do so either from the wish to effect the first of these changes, accepting the other indifferently or even unwillingly as a necessary accompaniment of the first, or from the wish to effect the second of them, accepting the other indifferently or even unwillingly as a necessary accompaniment of the second; then my self-exertion is the same in the two cases, but the motives are quite different. And further, in deciding what I ought to do, it is evident that I must consider equally all the elements, so far as I can foresee them, in the state of affairs I shall be bringing about. If I see that my act is likely to help M, for instance, and to hurt N, I am not justified in ignoring the bad effect, or even in treating it as less important than the good effect, merely because it is the good effect and not the bad one that I wish to bring about. It is the whole nature of that which I set myself to bring about, not that part of it which I happen to desire, that makes my act right or wrong.
If we are right in holding that the general nature of the things that are obligatory is that they are activities of self-exertion, what can we say about their particular character? Perhaps the most widely current view on this question is that the special character of all the acts that are right, and that which makes them right, is that they are acts of setting oneself to produce a maximum of what is good. This seems to me far from being, as it is often supposed to be, self-evident, and to be in fact a great over-simplification of the ground of rightness. There is no more reason, after all, to suppose that there is one single reason which makes all acts right that are right, than there is for supposing (what I fancy no one who considers the matter will suppose) that there is a single reason which makes all things good that are good. And in fact there are several branches of duty which apparently cannot be grounded on productivity of the greatest good. There appears to be a duty, for instance, of fulfilling promises, a duty of making compensation for wrongs we have done, a duty of rendering a return for services we have received, and these cannot be explained as forms of the duty of producing the greatest good; we are conscious of duties to behave in these ways even when we have no conviction that the greatest sum of good will be thus produced, and this is so even when we take account of more distant results such as the increase in general mutual confidence which the keeping of a single promise is likely to produce; for we are conscious of the duty even when owing to the secrecy of the promise this result is not likely to happen. Again, we are conscious of a duty to do what is just, and this refers not to the production of a maximum of good, but to the right distribution of it. This may perhaps be brought within the formula of ‘producing the maximum good’ by recognizing enjoyment of happiness in proportion to merit as a more complex good to be distinguished from the merit and the happiness; but it seems impossible to explain the other duties just referred to by similar hypotheses, because the results to be produced, if good at all, are good only because there is a duty to set oneself to produce them. We seem to be driven to conclude that there is not one single ground of the rightness of all right acts; but the number of separate grounds appears to be quite small. And the ultimate propositions at which we arrive seem not to express mere brute facts, but facts which are self-evidently necessary. For instance, the very object of a promise being to encourage some one to believe that one will act in a certain way, it is self-evident that he has a moral claim to our behaving in that way if he wants us to do so.
If we now turn to ask how we come to know these fundamental moral principles, the answer seems to be that it is in the same way in which we come to know the axioms of mathematics. Both alike seem to be both synthetic and a priori; that is to say, we see the predicate, though not included in the definition of the subject, to belong necessarily to anything which satisfies that definition. And as in mathematics, it is by intuitive induction that we grasp the general truths. We see first, for instance, that a particular imagined act, as being productive of pleasure to another, has a claim on us, and it is a very short and inevitable step from this to seeing that any act, as possessing the same constitutive character, must have the same resultant character of prima facie rightness. But we are perhaps in one respect better off than we are in geometry, at least; for while in geometry the diagrams by whose aid we come to see the general truths merely approximate to having the two characteristics which we see to be necessarily united, we have before us in ethics acts already done, in which we can recognize the two characteristics to be actually present and necessarily united—the characteristic, for instance, of being productive of pleasure to another person and that of being prima facie right.
On the other hand, we cannot, in general, claim intuitive or any other kind of certainty as to the actual (or resultant) rightness of particular acts. For prima facie obligations differ in the degree of their obligatoriness, and we often cannot say which of two or more prima facie obligations involved in a particular situation is the more or the most obligatory. When we are dealing with obligations of the same kind, we have certain criteria for measuring their obligatoriness; we can see that, ceteris paribus, there is a greater prima facie obligation to produce a great good than to produce a small one, and a greater prima facie obligation to fulfil a very explicit and deliberate promise, than to fulfil one which is casually made and not taken very seriously by the promisee, or again to fulfil a prior promise rather than a later one inconsistent with it. But if we try to balance an obligation to produce a certain good against an obligation to fulfil a certain promise, we move in a region of uncertainty. In some such cases, all or almost all conscientious men agree in their answer, and then we may hope that the judgement they agree in is true. In others they would be pretty evenly divided, and then all that any of them can say is ‘this seems to me to be the right course’. And one who does what seems to him to be right is doing what in another sense is right,3 and is doing an action of moral worth.
This is the gist of what I have been trying to say about judgements of which the predicate is ‘right’; I turn now to those of which the predicate is ‘good’. Here too we have to recognize the existence of various senses in which the word is used. We must recognize that ‘good’ is often used merely in the sense of ‘good of its kind’. We must recognize that it is often used in the sense of ‘a means to something good’, the sense in which a hedonist who thought pleasure the only thing good in itself might nevertheless call virtue good if he thought it a useful means to pleasure. We must recognize that it is often used of whole states of affairs in which good is thought to predominate over evil. But there is clearly another sense in which ‘good’ is used as meaning ‘good absolutely’ and not merely ‘good of its kind’, as meaning ‘good in itself’ and not as a means, as meaning ‘good through and through’ and not merely predominantly. And it is this sense that is the most important for ethics; for it is things that are good in this sense that are involved in what is the widest of all our duties, the duty of producing as much that is good as we can. But, within this sense, it seems that we can distinguish two sub-senses. Suppose we take three things which we think it incumbent upon us to produce, to the best of our ability—virtuous activity, the use of the intelligence, and the happiness of other people—we find that they fall into two classes. We can distinguish them first by noting the difference between the mental states of which they are worthy objects. All alike are worthy objects of interest—of satisfaction when they are present, of desire when they are absent, of regret when they are lost. But the first two are also worthy objects of admiration; they are fine activities of the spirit; and no one would say that of pleasures just as pleasures. Or again, we may distinguish them by noting that whereas the first two confer goodness on their possessors, pleasure as such confers no goodness on its possessor. And finally, we may note that while virtuous activity and the use of the intelligence are morally worthy objects of interest for any one, no matter who is to exercise them, it is only the pleasures of other people and not his own pleasures that are morally worthy objects of interest to any one, his own pleasures being completely neutral in this respect—natural objects of interest, but morally neither worthy objects of satisfaction nor worthy objects of dissatisfaction. It seems, then, that there are two senses in which things good in themselves are good, and that virtuous activity and the use of the intelligence are good in both senses, pleasures are good only in one, and for any man only the pleasures of other people are good in that one sense.
Have we, in describing things good in themselves as worthy objects of interest or as worthy objects of admiration, made their goodness consist in certain relations to those who take interest in them, or admire them? I think not, in the latter case; for admiration includes not only a certain emotion, but also the thought that the object of that emotion is good, and therefore only that which is already good in itself can be a worthy object of admiration. On the other hand, thefact that only the pleasures of others, and not his own, are a morally worthy object of interest to any one, at once indicates that their goodness consists in a certain relation to him, which they have not to their owners and which his pleasures have not to him. This relation is not one which can be stated in purely non-ethical terms, as the relation of being an object of interest can be stated; it involves the ethical or non-naturalistic term ‘worthy’ or ‘suitable’. And we can get further light on its nature by noting that to be an object worthy of interest is the same—not as being the object of a right interest, for a thing worthy of interest is worthy of interest even when no interest is taken in it, but as being a thing, interest in which, if such interest exists, is right or morally suitable. Thus this secondary type of goodness is defined by reference to rightness.
And now that we have recognized in the pleasures of others things that are good in this secondary and relative sense, we may perhaps recognize other things that are good in the same sense. I suggest that the complex good which consists in the proportionment of happiness to moral worth is good in this sense. It is obviously not in itself a worthy object of admiration; our admiration would be only for him who had effected it. But it is a worthy object of interest. And the relativity of this good, in contrast with the absoluteness of the goodness of virtuous activity and of the use of the intelligence, betrays itself in the fact that, just as his own pleasure is not a morally worthy object of interest to any man, so the right proportioning of pleasure between himself and others is not a morally worthy object of interest to him, but only the right proportioning of pleasure between others. There is clearly nothing morally right in desiring happiness proportioned to one's own merits—though of course there is nothing morally wrong either; for rightness and wrongness are not contradictories but contraries.
In discussing rightness or obligatoriness, I attempted, after considering the nature of this characteristic itself, to throw some light on the nature of the things which possess this characteristic. Similarly, after discussing the nature of goodness, I tried next to answer the question, what kinds of thing are good. A first answer to this question was indeed given in the consideration of the meanings of ‘good’; for we found that the two main meanings of good which I have indicated—‘good as worthy object of admiration’ and ‘good as worthy object of interest’—were applicable to two different sets of things, the first to certain moral and intellectual activities, the second to certain pleasures. I did not attempt to indicate more precisely which intellectual activities are good; those which are good are good because of their intrinsic characteristics, and it is the business of two other branches of philosophy, logic and aesthetics, to specify these characteristics. But it is part of our business to indicate which kinds of moral activities are good. It is usually to activities of will that we apply the description ‘morally good’, but it would be a mistake to limit moral goodness to these; for emotions, such as delight at the good fortune of another, and desires which do not lead to action, can be morally good, no less than actions; and actions themselves are good, in the main, by reason of the desires from which they spring. We may perhaps generalize by saying that what is morally good, besides certain actions, is interests of certain kinds, and that these owe their goodness, and their degree of goodness, to what they are interests in. With one exception, to be mentioned later, the highest interest is the interest in something that is good in the strictest sense, i.e. in the bringing into being, in oneself or in another, of good moral or intellectual activity or disposition or capacity. Next to that comes the interest in the pleasure of others. Interest in pleasure to be enjoyed by oneself is neutral in respect of goodness or badness, except where the pleasure is itself the proper pleasure of a good or of a bad activity. Interest in inflicting pain on others is itself morally bad, but less bad than interest in the bringing into being of bad activities in oneself or in others. Interests falling within any one of these classes tend to be better or worse according to their generality, a wide altruism being, for instance, better than a narrow, and a wide malevolence being worse than a narrow. They also tend to be better or worse according to their intensity, an intense altruism being better than a tepid, and an intense malevolence being worse than a tepid.
When we consider interests as forming motives to action, we have to recognize that there is a better motive than any of these, the wish to do one's duty; for it is clear that it is always morally better to act from the sense of duty than to do an alternative act from any other motive, however good, and if the sense of duty is the best motive when it is in conflict with others, it is also the best motive when it conspires with others in pointing to the same action. It is the best because, while the other good desires are desires to bring into being this or that good thing, without considering whether it is the greatest good one could bring about, in conscientious action an attempt, at least, has been made to do this.
While the desire to do one's duty is thus different in kind from all other motives, it seems true to say, not, with Kant, that it alone has moral value, but that it has the highest moral value. Certain other motives also have moral value, because of the affinity of nature that there is between them and the sense of duty, since they include a part of the thought which is included in the sense of duty. The other good motives are attractions towards certain actions as being of a certain character; the sense of duty is an attraction towards them as being right as being possessed of that same character.
Again, it does not seem to be correct to say, with Kant, that the addition of any other motive to the sense of duty necessarily makes the motivation of an act less good than it would be without that addition. So long as the strength of the sense of duty is equal in both cases, the addition of another good motive improves the motivation, and the addition of a neutral motive, i.e. of the desire for one's own happiness, does nothing to make the motivation worse.
Motive is the main factor that makes an action good or bad, but it is not the only one. The motive of the great majority of bad actions is one which is not bad at all, the desire for pleasures which are themselves morally neutral—such as the pleasures of eating and drinking, of warmth and shelter. Theft, for instance, rarely proceeds from any form of malevolence; it springs from the wish to get easily such comforts as money will buy; yet theft is bad. It is bad, not because it has a bad motive, which it has not, but because it lacks a good motive which a man of ideally good character would have in the same situation. It is bad because of a moral insensitivity which it manifests, an insensitivity to the rights of others to what they own. Again, many acts which we think bad are bad not by reason of springing from a desire to inflict pain on others, but by reason of the insensitivity to their pain which they manifest. Thus an action is judged good or bad not by reference merely to its motive, but by a comparison of that with the whole range of motives that would ideally be present. If a man is not repelled by some feature of a proposed action that an ideally good man would be repelled by, his action is to that extent bad. In other words, intention as well as motive plays a part in fixing the degree of goodness of an action. But it plays a smaller part; for if we intend by an action to help A, for instance, and to hurt B, our action is a better one if what we want is to help A, than if it is to hurt B. The fact, however, that intention plays some part in fixing the goodness of an action implies that only the doing of what is the right action in the circumstances can have the greatest moral value that an action in the circumstances can have. At this point, then, the right and the good converge. But of course the doing of the right action will be the best action only if it is done from the best motive to which the circumstances could give rise. Further, the ightness of actions is not, in general, proportional to their goodness; for the rightness of an action necessarily depends equally on the nature of all that is intended in it, while its goodness depends primarily on what is desired, and only in a lesser degree on what is intended but not desired.
It is further to be noted that the admission of intention as well as motive in what makes an action good helps to explain the high esteem in which self-sacrifice is held. The motive of an act of self-sacrifice may be no better than that of another in which no self-sacrifice is involved; but the former action includes also the intention to accept pain to ourselves as the price we are ready to pay to bring about the good we desire to bring about; and, our own pleasure being morally neutral, willingness to give it up in a good cause is a component which has moral worth and gives additional worth to the action that involves it.
Lord Gifford directed that his Lectureships should be used for ‘Promoting, Advancing, Teaching, and Diffusing the study of Natural Theology’, but he added ‘in the widest sense of that term’, and he expressly included as part of what he meant by it ‘the Knowledge of the Nature and Foundation of Ethics or Morals, and of all Obligations and Duties thence arising’. I have confined myself to this part of the whole subject, as being that to which I have devoted a good many years of reflection. Perhaps the parts of this course of lectures which correspond most closely to what Lord Gifford had in mind are those in which I have examined whether what may broadly be called the objective or what may be called the subjective view of obligations and values is the true one—whether they are rooted in the nature of things or are names expressive merely of human preferences, emotions, or opinions. This inquiry is certainly germane to natural theology proper; for if the subjective view were true, man in investing God with moral attributes would indeed be making God in his own image, while if the objective view is true, the way is left open for a further inquiry whether morality involves a religious basis.
At the same time, the consideration I have attempted of a number of difficult questions of detail with regard to the moral judgements we habitually make is also germane to the subject of natural theology. The objectivity of the moral system would be impossible to maintain if we were to find that in passing particular moral judgements we were necessarily involved in self-contradictions; just as it would be impossible to maintain the truth of our apparent intuitions into the nature of number and of space, if our particular intuitive judgements on these subjects led to self-contradiction. It is therefore a necessary preliminary to any natural theology which is going to ascribe any moral attributes to God—and a natural theology which did not do this would not interest us much—to examine the whole field of our moral judgements in search of apparent contradictions, and then to examine these to see if clearer thinking removes them or is powerless to do so. How far I have been successful in this search I am unable to say, but at one point at least I have to admit failure. It seems to me that something like half of our ordinary thinking on moral questions implies a belief in the indetermination of the will, and something like half a belief in its determination; and I have neither found elsewhere nor discovered by my own reflections any adequate solution of this difficulty. But the truth can never be inconsistent with itself, and we may hope that better thinking will in the long run remove this apparent contradiction, as sound thinking has already removed many others.