You are here

5: Value and Personality

WE have already seen that all judgments of value depend upon judgments or assumptions of existence. A thing does not need actual existence in order to be declared of value; but it must at least be assumed to exist. A hundred dollars—to use Kant's illustration in his criticism of the ontological argument—are of value, if they exist in the pocket but not if they are only an idea, something thought about. The proposition ‘a hundred dollars are of value’ means ‘a hundred existing dollars are of value’; there is no value in the mere thought of a hundred dollars. The same holds when the thing of which we are speaking is of intrinsic value and not merely something of instrumental value, like the hundred dollars. Moral perfection is of value, of supreme value; but the mere concept ‘moral perfection,’ apart from any actual realisation of it or approximation to it, is not of value. When we examine it strictly, therefore, the proposition ‘moral perfection is of value’ is hypothetical—moral perfection, if realised, is valuable; or it proceeds on an assumption or presumption of existence: in so far as moral perfection is realised, just so far is there value. The predication of value thus implies or assumes something existing which can be said to possess the value; the true bearer of value is an existent or something conceived as existing. Were there no existence there would be no value; value out of relation to existence has no meaning.

Thus, on analysis, we find that the subject or bearer of value is always something which we describe by a concrete term and not by an abstract term. If a general term is used, as when we say, ‘money has value’ or ‘love has value,’ the general term denotes a class of objects: actual coin, for instance, or all those actually and possibly existing states of conscious experience to which we refer when we use the term ‘love.’ That to which we ascribe value is accordingly a singular or group of singulars—an individual being or a combination or series of things which exists or is contemplated as possibly existing.

This does not make the determination of value possible apart from universals. Universals, as we have seen, are required in order to understand the nature of the individual things in which we are interested in the quest for value. There are also, in the theory of value itself, many propositions of purely universal import. The distinction of the various kinds of value, and of the relations of values to one another, when combined or opposed, may all be set forth in universal propositions; and they may make up a formal theory of value, which shares the generality of scientific theory. This formal theory, by its generality, belongs to the region of abstraction. It deals with value and the relations of values apart from the things in which value is found and through which only it is realised. But we get at that value only in connexion with the individual, with something that exists or is assumed as existing. The predicate ‘good’ has always an existent or possible existent for its subject. We cannot even say ‘good is good.’ That would be true only as a mere tautology, and of use for the purpose of emphasis only, but not of information. The mere concept ‘good’ is not itself good—it has no value. Accordingly it is only when our business is with the individual, and not where our interest centres in the universal, that the consideration of value enters at all. And thus we come to see how the value-conception and the whole train of thought which is connected with it are at once so insistent in our experience (which is of individuals) and yet alien to the procedure and ideas of the physical sciences (which deal with universals).

Our intellectual interests fall into two distinct classes according as they are centred in the universal or in the individual. In the whole region of what is commonly called the sciences the interest in the universal is supreme1. What we are in search of is general principles or general laws. The ideal of all the sciences is a statement in the form of a mathematical equation, perfectly general in its expression. Things are ‘explained’ when they can be expressed by this formula; and individual things are treated as examples of the general principle. The scientific interest in the individual processes of nature or of the laboratory is to find the law of their action; and this law is a universal which covers equally an indefinite number of processes. No one of these processes interests us on its own account so long as we keep to the point of view of the physical and natural sciences. Any one process is as interesting as any other, and its interest depends upon the general principle which it illustrates. The fall of an apple and the orbit of the earth are illustrations of the law of gravitation; and as such are of equal interest from the point of view of natural science. Here nothing is unique; repetition shows the law which we aim at formulating. Things and processes are not regarded as individuals or as interesting for their individuality—for what distinguishes them from everything else—but for what they have in common with other things or processes. The uniformity of nature is the supreme principle, and individuals are but examples which prove the law or cases which illustrate its operation.

As long as we keep to this scientific interest thoughts of value do not arise. The pleasure of the quest, the splendour and havoc of the earth, the worth of human life, are all of them considerations which divert the understanding from the purpose of natural science and are irrelevant to its enquiry. The reason why the natural sciences ignore the whole region of values is a good and sufficient reason. Value lies outside their scope because they are concerned with the universal and not with the individual, and the latter is the home of value.

But intellectual interest is not restricted to the universal. That restriction is the characteristic of the physical and natural sciences. And there is a region of investigation where the interest terminates in the understanding of the individual. In biography it is the life of a particular human being, in history the life of a nation or the stages in the progress of some movement. In these cases the individual is the object of interest, and the universals which we use in the enquiry are merely means towards a true understanding of it. Without universals there would be no knowledge of the individual, just as, on the other hand, there would be no natural science unless there were individual things to suggest and to verify the enquiry for general laws. But, although we must describe the individual by means of general terms, each of which by its generality is equally and indifferently applicable to an indefinite number of other things, yet by and through these universals we seek to comprehend something which is unique, or has happened once for all. The historical person or occurrence is not regarded as a mere type or as an example of a general principle, but as something whose character as it existed there and then is matter of interest to us, and open to our understanding.

Into this historical process values may and do enter. In this respect also historical study differs from natural science; and the difference is due to the different objects—individual and universal—to which they are directed. Neither biography nor history is intelligible without reference to the values which guided the action of individuals or of groups. The deciding feature of a career is commonly the kind of values which appeal to the subject of the career, the degrees of force with which they appeal to him, and his consistency and persistency in their pursuit. It is the same with races and nations; the national life shows unity and purpose not so much by wealth or power being possessed by the people or equally distributed among them, as by a community of interest such that the same values appeal to all. The object valued may be economic prosperity, or military power, or religious belief; and one value may be higher or purer in the judgment of the moralist; but whatever it is, if it is shared by the great mass of the people, they are united as a nation thereby far more than by mere purity of race or identity of language. Thus, when we are dealing with the individual or community of individuals, we ask questions which natural science rightly looks upon as irrelevant for its purposes. We ask, On what did the man set his heart? What were the national aims? What was the end or purpose of the movement? Value belongs here, whereas for scientific enquiry the universal law or principle is the only concern, and into it value does not enter.

It is therefore in the existent, the individual, that value is found, not in the general or universal. Now the individual is always unique. How this comes about is not the question: the fact is so. No event repeats another exactly; as was said of old, “no one descends twice into the same stream.” And no two individual persons or things are quite alike in all their characters, as Leibniz demonstrated to the gentlemen of the Prussian court when he bade them seek in the gardens of Charlottenburg for two blades of grass without conspicuous differences between them. Heterogeneity in this sense is the mark of nature. Science has the problem set to it of overcoming this heterogeneity by finding general laws which hold true in spite of individual differences; and for this purpose it must disregard the peculiarities which distinguish any individual thing from every other and make it unique.

As value belongs to the existent or individual, and as the individual is unique, we tend to think of uniqueness as essential to value. In the class of instrumental values dealt with in economics, rarity contributes to the increase of value; and when any object of value is not merely rare but a unique specimen of its kind and nothing else can supply its place, its value may be indefinitely enhanced. This estimate extends to intrinsic values also as realised in persons. A man prizes his own individuality and resents any confusion with another self. “Very nice young ladies they both are,” said Admiral Croft, “I hardly know one from the other”; but the young ladies would have resented this divided praise. ‘Doubles’ usually feel antagonistic to one another. When he is regarded simply as one of a class, as a specimen, a man feels himself robbed of his value; and he therefore sets store by everything which gives him a character of his own and marks him off from the rest of the world. Repetition too is distasteful to him, because this also is a generalising of what he esteems as existing once for all. For this reason the doctrine has never been accepted gladly that life is a recurrence of cycles, and that with the completion of the great year the whole world's history and the lives of the men who make up that history will run once more the course which they have already run and are running now. Value seems to us to be lost if the ‘second turn’ is a mere reduplication of the first. Who, indeed, would wish to live his life over again if everything were to be repeated exactly as it was before, and he were to gain nothing from the present adventure? When you repeat you generalise, and when you generalise you devaluate. The heartless words “She is not the first2” are an excuse for evil put into the mouth of Mephistopheles.

This view represents a very common attitude of mind: an evil thing seems to lose its badness if it is common; a good is enhanced in value by the rarity of its attainment. Yet I think that the opinion is a mistaken one and that it is based upon a misunderstanding of the true ground for the individuality of value. Evil is not less evil because the like has happened before, any more than your present toothache is less painful because you had one yesterday. It is because Mephistopheles was a sophist that he tried to quiet Faust's conscience with the words “She is not the first”—only an example of a general rule. An event is not less real because there have been other similar events and we may make certain general propositions which are valid for them all. Each is yet a true individual event. We may choose to consider that or anything else as a mere example of a universal; but its individuality remains and would remain, even if there were (as there never is) some other event exactly like it. The individual is indeed unique; but it is because it is an individual, not because it differs in some points from every other thing, that it is capable of being the bearer of value. Again, it is true that a mere repetition of the present life would seem to us to take away from its value; but that is because it takes away from its meaning—or at least from the meaning which for the most part we find in it. If we have to begin all over again just to reach a point already attained, we lose this meaning, which lies in the promise of an attainment in character or in ability which does not pass away with the moment; and we therefore lose value; for the value of life consists not merely in present achievement but in the fulfilment of purpose—not in mere doing or in present being, but in making something which will not be unmade, so that things will never again come to be as if the present had not been. If it were not for this view of the whole, which is always implied in our estimate of the value of life, if the value of the stretch of life which we can observe were to be estimated simply for and by itself, then this value would not be affected by the fact that somewhere and in some distant age the cycle would begin anew. It is not because our life is a once-for-all that can never be repeated, but because it is an individual life, that it possesses or can possess value. Repetition is abhorrent to us because it implies the transitoriness of attainment, the impermanence of progress, the illusoriness of the promise of perfection3. But, apart from this, things and persons do not lose in value because their like may be found elsewhere or at other times. Given existence, value is always possible; it attaches itself to uniqueness only because it is the individual that exists and the individual is always unique.

So far, the result is that value does not belong to a mere quality or relation or any other universal. A quality or relation or some other universal may be a condition of the presence of value; but value postulates the existence of something valuable. We must now go on to ask the question, Among the class of existents what members are or may be the bearers of value

In order to decide this question, it will not be necessary to go much beyond the obvious and prima facie distinction of existing beings. On the one hand there are mere things; on the other hand persons. Perhaps both do not exist in the same way; but it is enough that both are there, the objects of reflexion and possible claimants of value. Nor is the classification exhaustive. It does not ask how we are to deal with the existence of human societies. And it says nothing of the whole animate world apart from man, which cannot rightly be grouped with the inorganic realm as mere things, nor yet assumed to share the personality of man. This intermediate region causes difficulties of its own, when we come to assign values; indeed, difficulty rather than safety always lies in the intermediate; and that difficulty can only be overcome by first understanding what holds true of the extremes.

Does value then belong to the mere thing, that is, to things which are not persons? To this question the first answer of common sense is that it does. The interest of the world seems to consist just in the varying values of the things which it comprises. Some things are beautiful, others ugly, some things good, others evil; and it is for us to make selection between them, and by our activity to add to the goodness and beauty of the world. But when we examine more closely this first answer of common sense, we see that the values which it finds in mere things are—at any rate the great mass of them are—merely instrumental values. What we call the ‘goods’ of the world are appraised in relation to persons—by ministering to their desires, furthering their ideals, or offering scope for their activities. The fruits of the earth are called good if they nourish man or satisfy any human wants; the forces of nature, the arrangement and order of the world, are valued for their effects on the lives of persons—for the personal and social qualities and conditions which they encourage and foster. Man makes the world his instrument, and seeks in it the means for promoting a human good. These values, therefore, are strictly instrumental values; and instrumental values—real and necessary as they are—are not in themselves values but only instruments of value or means for its attainment. They are the conditions by which intrinsic values are realised; and these latter, it would appear, are found only in personal life.

But is it only of persons, or of things in relation to personal life, that intrinsic value can be predicated? Is it not possible for material things to have a value of their own apart from beings who are able to appreciate that value? The question could not be fully answered without asking another question, What sort of reality belongs to material things out of all relation to consciousness? and this is a question which it is not desirable to raise at the present moment. If we must content ourselves, then, with a less complete answer to the question, it may be admitted that the case is not so clear in respect of æsthetic values as it is in respect of moral values. As regards the former, the question need hardly arise concerning works of art. It is true, as has been said before, that for their appreciation it is not necessary to go behind the work itself and to ask what kind of a man the artist was or what the motive was that guided his work. But nevertheless it is as a product of mind that the statue or the picture or the poem is admired or valued; it clothes an idea in sensuous material; and, in its perfection, spirit breathes through the material. But it is more difficult to make and to defend the same statement regarding the beauties of nature. No thought of a divine artist is necessary for their appreciation. Their beauty is there for the seeing eye; and even if the eye is blind to the vision, the beauty (it may be said) remains and only needs the gift of sight on the part of the observer that it may be appreciated. So at least it has been held4; and, from our present point of view, little more can be done than appeal to immediate consciousness. Let us, if we can, suppose conscious factors of every kind to be absent and yet nature somehow to exist. What is that which we call its beauty, when there is no mind expressed in it and no eye to admire it? Can we say more that there would be a certain arrangement of forms and colours? We who see it admire it as beautiful, and we call some other arrangement ugly. But if mind were completely extruded would there be any ground for attributing greater worth or value to the one order than to the other? If it did not express a mind, or any idea such as mind forms and imposes upon the world, and if, at the same time, there were no observing mind whose admiration might heighten its own worth, would there be any beauty, any value, in the assortment of material particles that is supposed to remain? We bring mind upon the scene when we say that this particular order would have been worth producing or that it would be rightly admired; and, unless this can be said, the arrangements of light and shade, of colour and form, are not themselves values, but only certain of the conditions which contribute to there being value.

But, whatever doubt may be felt regarding the æsthetic values, the point seems clear with regard to moral values—the values with which we are more specially concerned. Goodness—when we distinguish it from beauty and from truth—does not belong to material things, but to persons only. As Hume says in criticising the doctrine of moral relations found in Locke and developed further by Clarke and Wollaston, “Inanimate objects may bear to each other all the same relations which we observe in moral agents.… A young tree which over-tops and destroys its parent, stands in all the same relations with Nero, when he murdered Agrippina; and if morality consisted merely in relations, would no doubt be equally criminals.5.” The inference which Hume draws is that moral quality does not belong to the object at all, but to the state of mind which the circumstances produce in the observer. Nero's action produces hatred in those who read of it; the matricidal growth of the young tree does not: hence the one action is wicked, the other is not. The explanation is insufficient; it refers to the difference of subjective reaction in the two cases, but it does not show why it is that the subject reacts differently. The true explanation must go back to this cause, which indeed is not hard to find. We are affected differently because the objects are different, because in the one case we observe the operations of natural forces only and in the other we see the conscious and voluntary action of a person.

The widespread but unreflective application of moral predicates—of ‘good’ and ‘bad’—to the operations of mere things is due to neglect or ignorance of this difference; and it is really a survival of the primitive animism which attributed to material things a life and mind similar to those of man. Without this support, it is seen to be without ground in the reason of things. Once the physical connexion of events is clearly apprehended, the causal judgment supplants the moral. It does not, indeed, interfere with the judgment of instrumental value, for that is strictly a causal judgment; but it puts out of court the judgment of intrinsic moral value, which only found admission before because things were not accurately distinguished from persons.

There is one case of the judgment of value, however, which remains and which applies moral predicates to things; and that is when nature as a whole is spoken of, and the optimist exclaims ‘how good the world is!’ or the pessimist says ‘how bad!’ These judgments, no doubt, often refer as much to the persons in the world as to their natural environment. But the latter is included in the judgment. The hedonist may approve the course of nature as the source of pleasures, or condemn it for the surplus of pain it brings; others, who are not given over to hedonism in their estimate of values, may applaud the order of the world as understood by the human mind or deplore the perplexities which make it unintelligible, or in other ways they may praise or disparage. Sometimes these judgments are little more than a reflexion of the subjective mood of the observer, who describes his own attitude rather than the characteristics of reality. Yet it must be admitted that they are often more than this: the observer's gaze is turned outward not inward, and he sees the world as objectively good or bad. In so judging it, however, he is not thinking of its material aspects alone. The world to which he refers is the environment in which persons live and in which they seek a response to their desires or ideals. If it seems to respond favourably to the demands made upon it, it is called good; if, on the other hand, it seems to entail misery or to lead to confusion of thought or failure of purpose, as it does in the eyes of the pessimist, then it is called evil. In both cases the moral judgment is passed upon it because of its effect upon persons and their lives; it is because it defeats their desire for happiness, or their attainment of their ideals, that it is condemned, and because it furthers these that it is approved. In either case it is judged good or bad as an instrument towards personal ends, and the real or intrinsic goodness which it is praised for aiding, or blamed for thwarting, is the good or value of the persons whose fortunes are made or marred by this environment.

The value-judgments upon nature or the world of inanimate things are thus properly judgments of instrumental value, not judgments of intrinsic value. But their instrumental character is sometimes overlooked by optimistic writers and still more often by the pessimist. The famous indictment of the order of nature, which is found in J. S. Mill's essay on Nature, is a case in point. “ Nature,” he says6, “ impales men, breaks them as if on the wheel, casts them to be devoured by wild beasts, burns them to death, crushes them with stones like the first Christian martyr, starves them with hunger, freezes them with cold, poisons them by the quick or slow venom of her exhalations, and has hundreds of other hideous deaths in reserve, such as the ingenious cruelty of a Nabi or a Domitian never surpassed. All this, Nature does with the most supercilious disregard both of mercy and of justice.” In this judgment—and there are pages of similar moral denunciation—the reference to the happiness of persons is obvious and intentional. But to probe the causes of unhappiness or misfortune does not justify a moral condemnation of these causes if there was no purpose behind them. It is because Mill personifies nature that he allows himself to use the language of moral denunciation; or because he is arguing against the view that the order of nature is the result of an omnipotent benevolent will. The moral judgment upon nature—whether it be a judgment of approval or of disapproval—becomes appropriate when nature is contemplated as the work of a supreme being or person: and it is only when nature is thus contemplated that the judgment is in place. It is to persons, therefore, and not to mere things that the moral predicate can apply7.

But, while the subject or bearer of value is always found to be in the last resort personality, the living conscious being and not the inanimate thing, it is equally true that the thing may be essential for the realisation of the value of which the conscious person is capable. The world is the environment of personal life; ideals have to be realised by making it their instrument; mind must infuse itself into the mass that the goodness which it conceives may become actual.

From this point of view history in the widest sense may be looked upon as the gradual process of the spiritualisation of matter; we shall see in it the successive steps by which mind gains the lead and things become contributory to values. At the beginning, throughout the whole course of inorganic evolution, we can trace causal connexions only; on the level where we ourselves stand we find men acting with more or less clear consciousness of ideals, finding and producing values. Of the intermediate stages—among the lower or sub-human forms of life—it is more difficult to say with certainty whether intrinsic or independent values are to be found. All degrees of life and mentality are there, short of the human. But we can form little idea of their nature. All we can do towards interpreting the behaviour of animals depends upon a comparison of that behaviour with human conduct, and then an uncertain inference by analogy. We subtract something from the life of mind as we know it, and attribute the remainder, or aspects of it, to the different species of animals, in proportion as they approach man biologically.

We must distinguish two things: value and the consciousness of value. They do not necessarily go together. Health is of value to a man; but if he is healthy he thinks little about his health, is hardly conscious of it at all. Similarly, the wise or just man is not the man most conscious of his wisdom or justice. These values are often most clearly apparent to the observer, when their possessor has hardly any consciousness of them himself or may modestly but sincerely disclaim them. Now to the sub-human consciousness we can hardly ascribe any consciousness of value; but that will not be a reason for denying the presence of value. The value may still be there, though unrecognised by its possessor. “The animal,” says Varisco8, “cooperates without knowing it to develop life, to increase its value—that is, to render possible to other animals which will come after the realisation of higher values.” But this does not make its values merely instrumental for that more developed life. Human values also are preparatory for a higher range of attainment. As Varisco says in the same connexion, “life develops itself towards an end which is not in the consciousness of any one individual subject, but which goes on realising itself—by means of the conscious aims of the individual subjects.” The values which are prophetic of the future may be of intrinsic worth in their present realisation, even when realised on the level of the animal consciousness. The animal has a life of its own; it is for itself; and in this life and what furthers it value may lie. On the other hand, these values can only be such as we count low on the scale, and can involve little, if anything, more than biological preservation and its attendant feeling. For all those values which we count higher, consciousness is needed of a kind and degree which can hardly be attributed to the animals. They are not mere things, as Kant held they were; they have a life and values of their own; but their life is from moment to moment, probably without clear recollection of the past or anticipation of the future. There are few traces of the existence of ‘free ideas’ in their mental process; there is no evidence for their possession of ideals; and the possession of ideals is a condition of the production of the higher values. For all these higher values, consciousness is necessary—not a consciousness of possessing them, perhaps; but a consciousness of the kind of objects and activities which contribute to them. Wisdom, for instance, does not involve, on the wise man's part, a consciousness that he is wise; but it does involve a highly developed intelligence. The whole question of the existence of values in sub-human life must therefore be left without exact determination. They are on the line of potentiality, or of approximation, rather than of actual attainment. The individual centre of life, which is the ground of being-for-oneself, is there and makes the realisation of value a possibility, though the values actually realised may be subordinate and few: but they increase in number and worth as the life approaches the full characteristics of personality.

Human nature also displays many different grades of value and of capacity for the realisation of value. Different ages, different races, different social and intellectual conditions carry with them differences in value. The values appropriate to youth or middle life are not identical with those of childhood or old age; primitive man finds values in activities and enjoyments which seem of little account in the estimate of an intellectual civilisation; and differences of a similar kind cling to our distinctions of class and profession. We cannot get to the unity of value—even of moral value—by a process of abstraction from these differences. If we eliminate everything that belongs to a particular age or race or condition, what is left will be too vague and indefinite to constitute a worthy ideal for human personality. The spirit of morality cannot be found apart from its embodiment, but the same spirit may clothe itself in many forms.

Nor is it allowable to select one special form as our standard and to treat all other forms as ancillary or instrumental thereto. If we did, would not each select his own age, his own race, his own status as the normal, and regard all others as merely means or approximations to this standard? The category of means and end is always inadequate for the interpretation of personal worth. Carried out in all its narrow completeness it has led to the subjection of race to race and given us the institution of slavery; it has subordinated class to class and invented the conception of the proletariate; it has looked upon infancy and youth as without value in themselves and only stages towards manhood, and it has clouded the joy of childhood in more than one generation. It is but an exaggeration of the same view to look upon each stage and moment of life as worthless in itself and as only a means of getting on to the next, which again is treated as a means to a later achievement, until all life is emptied of intrinsic value. It would be strange indeed, as Kant admits9, if the toil and glory of past generations and of the present were without worth of their own and derived all their value from their contribution to an achievement still in the distant future.

Intrinsic value should not be denied to any period or to any condition in the life either of the individual or of the race. Each moment even may have its own value10. And yet that value is never altogether independent; one moment is not a mere means to the next, but its value is connected systematically or organically with that of other moments in the individual life; and the individual life, in its value as well as in its causes and effects, is connected with the life of the race. The connexion is not merely instrumental; it is organic or systematic. Nature and the laws of nature are instruments for the realisation of values; in personal life the values are realised. But it is only a fragmentary value that is realised at any moment; its meaning and worth depend upon the purpose of the individual life to which it belongs. And the individual life itself and its values are also themselves fragmentary, portions of a still larger whole. Of this larger whole social institutions and the various forms of community are imperfect expressions. Among these communities stands the Church whose life should be consecrated to the service of the higher values, inspiring and organising the purposes and efforts of individuals. It may be taken, in its idea, as representing the organised system into which these values and attainments of value enter. Only in relation to such a system could the full meaning and full worth of the individual life and its values be understood.

I have spoken of the person as the bearer of value; and I have been content to use the word personality in its popular sense, confident in agreement as to its denotation, whatever difficulty there may be in its definition. But the question may be raised, Is it only to the individual person—the subject of an inner life of thought emotion and will—that value belongs? or does it not also belong to the community of persons—a society or the State—although we cannot attribute to this community an inner life of its own similar and in addition to the inner lives of its various members?

This distinction has to be kept in mind if we speak of the value of a community of persons and not merely of individuals. The community has not a feeling or apprehension of this value over and above the feelings and apprehensions of it which belong to its members. Nor can we even say that it has a value separate from the value of the members. That value is shared in and realised by the members—though by them only as forming the community. In the interest of clear thinking, and to avoid a misplaced mysticism, this much, I think, must be allowed. If we speak of the common consciousness, or general will, or spirit of the time, we must remember that these phrases do not denote a consciousness will or spirit which has an existence apart from and parallel to the minds of individual men. The social mind is realised and real in individual minds and nowhere else.

But this is only one side of the truth. If society is unreal apart from the individual, it is also true that each individual mind is dependent upon the minds of others. It is impossible to point to any fragment of the individual's mental content which does not imply, or which is independent of, the intercourse of mind with mind. There remains, indeed, as his own the unity which makes each mind a separate centre of conscious life; but even this unity would remain imperfect—indeed, no more than a mere possibility—if it were not fixed and defined by opposition and relation to the similar mental unity of others. It is impossible to say even that a man is conscious of his own life as a unity of many factors before he is conscious of similar selves with whom his own self can be contrasted. It is not good for man to be alone. It is not possible for him really to be alone. Solitude is an artificial condition which only society makes possible. Into the solitary state the hermit carries a crowd of social memories and an idea of his own independent self which is really a social construction. When we speak of self and society, therefore, we are not speaking of two independent existents. Personality has been held to be the bearer of value; but personality itself is a social category: it indicates not merely the individual unity of life and consciousness, but also the social place and function which belong to the person and without which he could not be what he is.

The phrase ‘the social mind’ is not a mere metaphor. But the unity of the social mind is of a different kind from the unity of the individual mind. The limits of the latter are determined by circumstances which are largely social; but the content is all related to a central point, an inner or subjective unity of feeling striving and apprehension, which is the first condition of there being any mental life at all, and which neither psychology nor sociology has been able to explain. With the social mind it is different. Its unity is a result which can be traced historically. Social factors must always be assumed; but social unity is a growth in time, and it does not start from a principle such as the subject of individual life, without which the existence of his mental experience is inconceivable.

Thus we find a variety of degrees of social unity, from the almost haphazard collection of individuals to the definite forms of a business company, or a trade-union, or the modern State. Their unity is in the making; and, such as it is, it is determined, not by mere numbers or by common situation, but—if it is a society at all—by community of purpose. It has to create its own organs to carry out its purposes; it is seldom able to act with the decision and directness of an individual person; but it does achieve a measure of unity through its purpose and by producing an organisation adequate to its purpose. It has thus to select means and end, and it can be guided by ideals. The kind of unity which it attains is, therefore, primarily ethical rather than psychical. The State—and the same may be said of any community—is a subject of rights and duties. These rights and duties are not the rights and duties of its individual members but of the community itself: even although it be necessary for the community to appoint certain of its number to be its agents in securing and fulfilling them.

Seeing that these rights and duties are, in strictness, the rights and duties of the society, and not merely of the members of the society, we must allow that the society is or can be a subject of moral value. Moral value is attained by it in fulfilling its duties and in performing its function in accordance with its rights; and there are human values which can be realised only in and by the society: which in this sense—if in this sense only—must be regarded as a person and a bearer of value.

  • 1.

    Cp. H. Rickert, Kulturwissenschaft and Naturwissenschaft, 2nd edit. (1910).

  • 2.

    Quoted in this connexion in Windelband's address ‘Geschichte und Naturwissenschaft,’ Präludien, 3rd edit., p. 374.

  • 3.

    Cp. Bosanquet, The Value and Destiny of the Individual, p. 182.

  • 4.

    G. E. Moore, Principia Ethica, pp. 83 f.

  • 5.

    Hume, Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, app. i, ed. Selby-Bigge, p. 293; Essays, ed. Green and Grose, vol. II, p. 264.

  • 6.

    J. S. Mill, Three Essays on Religion, p. 29.

  • 7.

    Cp. T. H. Green, Prolegomena to Ethics, § 184: “Our ultimate standard of worth is an ideal of personal worth. All other values are relative to values for, of, or in a person.”

  • 8.

    Varisco, The Great Problems, Engl. transl., p. 152.

  • 9.

    Idee zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte, prop. 3, Werke, ed. Hartenstein, vol. IV, p. 146.

  • 10.

    W. Dilthey, ‘Das Wesen der Philosophie,’ Kultur der Gegenwart, part I, div. vi, p. 33.