“ALL, men desire the good.” Yes, but does the converse hold? Is the good, or what is judged to be such, the universal object of desire? Most philosophers have assumed, with the Greeks, that all rational desire is sub ratione boni. “Every man, in everything he does,” said Butler, “naturally acts upon the forethought and apprehension of avoiding evil, or obtaining, good.”1 We have seen, however, that this cannot be so, since reason directs man to act from a sense of duty as well as from desire of good, and the two types of rational action are distinct in principle. When we pass to consider the latter type of action, a swarm of collateral problems rises to mind. Within the field of action sub ratione boni, what is the relation between the goodness of the object on the one hand, and desire, or the satisfaction of desire, on the other? Further, is goodness an objective character of that which is good, or is it relative through and through to the approval or disapproval of the valuer? Was Spinoza right in holding that we do not desire things because of their goodness, but that their ‘goodness’ means simply that we desire them?2 Finally, is there a summum bonum knowable by man, from which all other goods derive their goodness? Or is the concept of an absolute good an ignis fatuus, luring ingenuous philosophers all down the ages to their destruction?3
These problems can only be answered with the help, as Aquinas would say, of a distinguo. The term “good” is even more ambiguous than the term “right” In its widest meaning, goodness is almost equivalent to value. We apply the term to knowledge, friendship, natural beauty, and to God, as well as to human characters and actions; we talk also of economic goods, material goods, and with the implication of pleasure-value, of “having a good time”.4 Plato distinguished three classes of goods: those that are good for their own sake, e.g. good pleasures; those that are good merely as means, e.g. medical treatment; and those such as health or wisdom, that are good both in themselves and for the sake of other goods; and awards the palm to the class last mentioned.5 We may leave on one side (1) such goods as are purely instrumental, as also (2) what have been called exemplary goods, meaning that something—say, a horse or a tennis racquet—is good of its kind,6 and confine ourselves to (3) goods that are intrinsically good—i.e., good in themselves and for their own sake. A further distinction must be noted. We speak of a man pursuing “his own” good as distinct from that of “others”, or that of “others” as distinct from “his own”, and of the good of a finite group of individuals, such as family, class, or nation; implying that the good in question is private to the individual or group, capable of being possessed by one, or some, to the exclusion of the rest. When, on the other hand, we talk of a good man or good act, or say that a poem or knowledge is good, the goodness is ascribed to the object, whether person or thing, inherently, in entire independence of any ownership by individual possessors.7 The question whether such good is private or common is irrelevant. Indeed, as Prof. Moore has argued, the term “private good”—and the same might equally be said of “common good”—involves a contradiction in terms. For if the thing be good in itself, its goodness cannot lie in its possession or enjoyment by anybody.8 It is with goodness as with truth; the truth of a mathematical proposition belongs to it, independently of the student's apprehension of it; to speak of “my” truth as distinct from “yours” contradicts the idea of truth. If each of us had our own private truth, there would be no such thing as truth at all. Now we have here clearly before us two different meanings of the term “good”. The distinction is admirably elucidated be Descartes in a letter to the Princess Elizabeth.9 “There is a difference,” he writes, “between (a) beatitude, (b) the sovereign good, and (c) the ultimate end or aim towards which our actions should be directed. For beatitude is not the sovereign good; rather, it presupposes it and is the peace or satisfaction of mind which comes from possession of it. But by the end of our actions, we may mean either the one or the other. For the sovereign good is undoubtedly the end we ought to set before ourselves in all our actions; while the peace of mind that comes from it, being, the attraction leading us to seek it, is also rightly to be our end.” In the fruition of such an objective good, desire is quieted in enjoyment, praxis in theoria, but the theoria is of a goodness independent of its relation to the enjoying subject. The good is not good because it satisfies; it satisfies because it is the good. An objective good, when contemplated, may arouse desire for the possession of it; and even the enjoyment thus desired, though subjective in the sense of a personal experience of the enjoyer, may be judged by impartial reason to be an objective good.10
Let us now, confining ourselves to good as the ground of human action, elicit, as in the case of duty, certain implications. (i) Good is desired purposively, as an end. “The nature of man,” said Butler, “is so constituted as to feel certain affections upon the sight or contemplation of certain objects. Now the very notion of affection implies resting in its object as an end.”11 But the end is not necessarily a result, supervening on the steps that minister to its attainment. The category of means and end, in its plain and natural use, is very inadequate to the interpretation of human conduct. For it involves an abstraction, One moment in the practical process is set up in isolation as the end for which all else is the means; the continuous course of action is broken up into fragments, which are regarded is externally related one to another.12 There is undoubtedly a value in such analysis, as when we study the score of a musical composition piecemeal, in order to gain insight into its structure. But in so doing we lose for the time out sense of the unity and life that inspired its creation and performance. Human conduct suffers a like violence when dissevered into means and end. Instances may certainly be found, such as Schliemann's pursuit of trade to amass money for archæological research, where the category can be applied without falsification of the facts. But its extension, as by Aristotle in the Ethics, to cover the whole field of moral action is open to grave objection. It fails even to account for much prudential action, such as the building up of a business or the carrying through of an Act of Parliament. The successive phases distinguishable in the execution of a design are no more “means” to the final result than are the successive phases in a drama. The end is throughout immanent in the so-called “means”, which are therefore never merely “means” at all. Nor is the end a result, supervening late in time upon its antecedents; it is rather the form that gives unit), and coherence to the whole process. In any serious course of action, directed towards an end or good, the plan, initially envisaged in indeterminate or schematic form, grows in definiteness as the process unfolds itself, not by external addition, but by inner adjustment to the changing situation of fact. The category of means and end only comes into play when we analyze the situation prior to volition, or attempt to justify out action after the event. Strictly the term “means” applies, not to the action, but to the data which provoke to action—i.e., to the facts amid which we have to act and which need to be surveyed theoretically before we determine what we ought to do.13 The time of the train I have to catch, the structure of the rock I am about to climb, or the state of my banking account and the actual needs of the person I propose to benefit, are “means” in this sense of conditions relevant to the prospective action. The refusal to apply the category of means and end to action does not, however, imply that such action is not purposive. “Means” implies “end”, but the converse is not valid; the term “end” is not to be confined to cases of “end and means”.14 For instance, I purpose an act of duty when I will it simply because I ought to do it. What, then, about acts willed for the sake of their goodness? Here the end, like the obligation, is immanent in the action; and, like duty, it also points beyond it. We see the reason why Aristotle refused to rest satisfied with a summum bonum that was merely the immanent form of man's practical life. Ideal good is transcendent of any finite embodiment. Of this inadequacy of finite ends to satisfy the desire for good, we shall speak more fully later.
(2) Secondly, action sub ratione boni is, like moral action, rational. A person, act or thing is judged to be good by reason, and the consequent desire is a rational desire. The judgement “this is good” claims universal validity. The same problem confronts us here as in the case of duty. Our judgements are manifestly fallible; are we not doomed, in the quest for what is really good, to be for ever deluded by the semblance? The answer is the same as in the case of duty; the form of the good can be known and willed only in and through particular goods, each and all of which fall short of the ideal perfection which is the goal of our endeavour. Two things at least are clear: (a) that the ideal form is no subjective fantasy, and (b) that only by holding it steadily before our eyes as an ideal is it possible to realize the finite goods which are its imperfect manifestations. As particular duties are willed as expressions of duty universal, so particular goods are willed as expressions of universal good. The impulse of the intellect towards truth affords a parallel. The human mind is driven onwards, by a natural craving, from finite truth to finite truth; nor can it rest, so long as the remotest fragment of the universe remains veiled to its comprehension. Though each step in the advance of knowledge brings with it a fuller realization of what is yet unknown, “leagues beyond those leagues, there is more sea,” the advance has been conditioned by the unquenchable faith of reason in a truth that is absolute and complete. Desire for the good is as rational as desire for truth. I am speaking, of course, of the conscious aspiration after good, which involves an apprehension, however indeterminate, of the desired end. Of the unreflective activity of natural impulse we shall speak later. St. Thomas Aquinas indeed held that all that a man desires, whether impulsively or with full consciousness of the object, he desires on account of the ultimate good. There is in man, as a rational being, a natural desire, that can only find satisfaction in the enjoyment of God, the infinite and perfect good. Aquinas, as we have noted, followed the Greek thinkers in believing that in action directed to the good—i.e., in all action—cognition of an end precedes the awakening of desire. Modern philosophers have questioned this assumption; Croce, for example, maintaining that practical judgements, so far from being antecedent, are always consequent upon an act of will. I first choose and then pronounce the object I have chosen to be good. The issue between these extreme positions can perhaps be solved by a discrimination. It is obvious that man's earliest wants precede any consciousness of the end in which they will find satisfaction. The baby's hunger is prior to the baby's first meal. As Professor Alexander has argued, the conative process discloses to cognition the nature of the object it blindly seeks.15 With the development of intelligence, this primitive form of experience ripens into reasoned knowledge of ourselves and of the world. It is questionable, indeed, whether the term “desire” should be applied to this early stage in human development. But on the plane of rational conduct, with which alone we are here concerned, the case is different. A qualification is, however, necessary. Apprehension of the desired good may vary almost indefinitely in clearness and precision, from the relatively determinate forecast of a tour on the Continent or a measure to be introduced in Parliament to a relatively schematic and indeterminate aspiration for the promotion of social welfare or scientific knowledge or the kingdom of God. Indeed, as Croce has pointed out, indetermination inevitably haunts our consciousness of the future; action is always, though in varying measure, in the dark. Thus, while in studying rational action it is the moment of clear insight which naturally arrests attention, there may be implicit in the desire more than the desiring subject has explicitly before the mind. As Plato showed once for all in the Meno, the process of learning or coming to know is to be explained, not as the passage from sheer ignorance to knowledge or from one self-contained item of knowledge to another that is wholly different, but as the transition of the mind from less determinate to more determinate apprehension within a given field of experience.16 The movement of thought is at once the expansion of a system and the differentiation of its internal structure. That men can thus desire better than they know, the great medieval thinkers were well aware. They held that desire for the absolute Good is implicit in man's nature, conditioning, dimly as he may be conscious of it, every step in his pursuit of relative and finite goods.
(3) We come thirdly to the feature that most clearly differentiates action for the good from moral action, its spontaneity. This aspect of spontaneity, aspiration, harmonious self-expression, is as pronounced in the life sub ratione boni as are discipline and conflict in the life of duty. The thought of duty, indeed, stirs desire; but the desire is to obey a constraining authority, a “stern lawgiver” who speaks to “chastean and subdue”. The desire is sui generis and derivative from the thought of obligation. The desire for good, as such, knows nothing of the constraint of obligation. The object judged to be good by the understanding, elicits a willing response from the heart. There seems to be in human personality an upward nisus, an almost irresistible attraction towards the vision of good, from which it draws nourishment and growth. And, as we have noted, there are those whose whole life is a following of this guiding star, those who can say with Augustine that they are in love with love. There is here no analogy to the life regulated by the consciousness of obligation. I am not thinking of desires for satisfaction of natural wants, but of a good that is rational and independent for its goodness on personal desire and satisfaction; though, as we shall see later, the natural affections can be, and in good men always are, exercised on the plane of reason as desires for a rational good. If this aspiration after the ideal were present everywhere in full measure, and if it were capable of unbroken sustainment, there would be no place left for moral action. In fact, however, it is fitful and transitory, and even when operative entails sacrifices, often more painful than those demanded by moral duty. There is here no contradiction, for the sacrifices are integral to the fruition, and are prompted and sustained by the vision of good.17 Theoria is primary over praxis, the vision of the ideal over the process of its actualization.
I offer no fresh arguments to show that the goodness of an object lies neither in the fact that men desire it, nor in the fact that it is worthy of desire, nor in the fact that it satisfies desire; are they not written in many manuals of ethics? There are bad desires, and if they are satisfied, the fact of their satisfaction makes things worse. The goodness is ex hypothesi a prior condition both of the desire and the satisfaction. Nor when, as often happens, I judge an event or a character in the past to have been good, does any desire accompany the appreciation. Further, it is obvious that if anything is good because it is desired, its goodness cannot lie in the satisfaction; and conversely, if the goodness lies in the satisfaction, it cannot be due to the fact that it is desired. Can we say, then, that good means not simply what is desired nor what satisfies, but what is ideally desirable, the end in which all desires find harmonious satisfaction? Is not this palpably to argue in a circle? What is ideally desirable means what it is good to desire, and the desires thus harmoniously satisfied are just the desires which are good.18 Evil desires are excluded ex hypothesi, as is also the moral desire, the desire to do out our duty, which, as we shall show in the next lecture, is irreducible to desire of good. Nor can the goodness of that which satisfies lie in the mere fact of possession or satisfaction. If it did, the good would be private to its possessor, and would lose all claim to objectivity—i.e., it would not be good at all. Moreover, since desire is necessarily for what is not yet in existence, its proper object cannot be an existing good, but my prospective and as yet non-existent enjoyment of a good which itself may exist or not. God, for instance, is believed to exist and to be the sovereign good; nay more, he is conceived, as by the scholastic thinkers, to be not merely good (bonus) but goodness (bonitas). The goal of human desire, therefore, is not God, but the fruition of God in an experience that still awaits realization. We have seen that to speak of an objective good as private to an individual is a contradiction in terms. At most, we are entitled to say of a given good that part of its goodness is to be realized in an experience personal to an individual.19 Nor does the judgement that a thing is good imply, as Green and Bradley, for instance, take it to imply, the thought of satisfaction for self. Action sub ratione boni cannot be subsumed under the rubric of self-realization. The rational. soul, wrote Green, “in seeking an ultimate good necessarily seeks it as a state of its own being”.20 This may or may not be true as an interpretation of desire, but it will not serve as an explanation of good. That the self is often realized in the life directed towards good is no evidence that self-realization constitutes the goodness of the ideal. The good may be one in which I can have no share, such as the welfare of my friends or my country after, or even through, my death. Thus the conception of ultimate good need not imply participation by the self in its attainment. The final goal may even be conceived as precluding any such experience, as the sheer negation of consciousness and individuality. Western thought, it is true, finds such a conception theoretically paradoxical and practically repellent. For Christian mystics, as well as for monistic philosophers like Spinoza, the ideal is a state of positive beatitude, in which individuality, far from being annulled, attains its full perfection in union with God, But the Last has travelled on a different path; and the mind of Indian thinkers has ever been haunted by the conviction that individuality, and even otherness, bears the mark of evil, and that its survival, however it be transfigured, would cast an intolerable blemish on the state of consummation. Certain Buddhist schools, for example, have interpreted nirvāṇa as not merely cessation of individual existence, but as total nullity of being (sunyata).21 A similar, if less extreme, view of the state of emancipation (mokṣa) is found among the Vedantist teachers. In the face of the fact that such conceptions have been cherished by many of the profoundest I Eastern thinkers, we cannot, on the score of our inability to appreciate their value, rule them out of account in (our inquiry into the good.
(4) It follows from this character of spontaneity that action directed towards the good points to a freedom of a different order front the freedom of choice that is implied in the discharge of obligation. Were a man's nature wholly conformed to the moral law, the moral life would be consummated on a plane beyond morality. But the good would still remain as the object of desire. Since apprehension of the good would be unclouded by ignorance or passion, the will would respond inevitably to its call. It would be impossible to sin against the light; and the practical response would be due, not to extraneous compulsion, but to the unhindered spontaneity of our nature. Such necessitation would be perfect freedom. It is in this sense that freedom is ascribed in religious thought to God, and to the spirits of just men made perfect in the vision of the divine essence. Plato and Spinoza both believed that man could share in this freedom, thanks to the intuitive knowledge of the eternal and absolute reality that is the guerdon of his philosophic pilgrimage. Praxis, they held, follows necessarily—but by a necessity that is wholly free—upon theoria. Spinoza, indeed, went so far as to relegate freedom of choice, and there with moral obligation, to the realm of illusion; whereas Plato conceived it rather as characterizing a lower grade of goodness, the popular or “demotic” virtue attainable by the non-philosophic multitude, and based upon right opinion and moral habituation. Medievil Christian thinkers found room for both types of freedom. Here, on earth, where the vision of the true good is veiled and indirect (per speculum aenigmatis), it is man's task to choose rightly among partial and fragmentary expressions of the good; his freedom is that of choice (libertas arbitrii) between good and evil, characteristic of moral endeavour. Hereafter, beholding God “face to face”, he will be liberated from bondage to obligation and enjoy the indefectible liberty of his perfection. Thus, in Dante's poem, Virgil, who as the type of moral virtue has guided the poet through Hell and Purgatory to the threshold of the earthly Paradise, leaves him awaiting the coming of Beatrice with the words: “Free, upright, and whole, is thy will, and ‘twere a fault not to act according to its prompting; wherefore do I crown and mitre thee over thyself”.22 Dante henceforward is his own master in things secular and spiritual. He can freely follow the unerring impulse of his own nature towards the good. Action sub ratione boni, even as experienced here and now, suggests this conception of freedom as an ideal for human guidance.
The two types of conduct that have been distinguished in this and the preceding chapters—viz., moral action, where praxis is for praxis’ sake, and action for a good, where praxis reaches its consummation in theoria—are rather abstract moments in practical experience than self-contained and isolable courses of action. A single act may indeed exhibit one motive to the exclusion of the other, nay, more, as we have seen, one or other may be predominant over a whole life; but in no man is either motive entirely absent. No philosopher will discount the importance of analyzing the concrete into its component factors before rectifying the abstraction—which, after all, is a matter of degree—by showing how the factors cooperate in actual experience. When once the distinction has been grasped, it is easy to see how they come to be associated, and “by just exchange” to effect a mutual enrichment. Let me give two illustrations, first, of the appropriation of good from the side of duh, and, secondly, of the appropriation of duty from the side of good.
(1) From the side of duty, the relationship to good is indicated by the term “moral goodness”. Moral goodness is the specific form of goodness attributed to the moral agent in virtue of his habitual discharge of duty. A man's character cannot be divorced from its expression in conduct. As Aristotle showed long ago, it is formed by conduct and manifested in conduct. Motives, emotions, dispositions exist only in relation to possible acts of will. It is natural, and, for practical purposes, entirely legitimate to abstract from the living actuality, and to think of the standing features of a man's character as given fact, furnishing materials and opportunity for subsequent embodiment in action. Aristotle, again, said that we may call a man, I good orator or surgeon, though at the time he is asleep or on a journey. He has the capacity to speak or to operate, should occasion call.23 So is it with the man of moral virtue, though the virtue be not actually in exercise at the moment. But the habitual exercise is none the less presupposed. Potentiality is relative to actuality, not vice versa. The capacity which has itself been fashioned by doing is either a capacity to do or is nonexistent.
“If our virtues
Did not go forth of us, ‘twere all alike
As if we had them not. Spirits are not finely touch'd
But to fine issues.”
Moral goodness presupposes that the actions which produce it have been motivated by the desire to do duty for duty's sake. Further, the thought of moral goodness may reinforce a man's desire to do his duty. Thus, when a courageous act, done from sense of duty in face of strong natural fear, is appreciated as morally good, the result is not merely to strengthen, as all discharge of duty strengthens, the agent's power of moral volition, but also to furnish an additional motive for like actions when subsequent situations call for them. The man will desire to act bravely, knowing the worth of brave action in the fashioning of a good character. Duty thus acquires a certain sweetness in the doing. Yet there is a peril in fixing the attention on the goodness of dutiful action. The moment that it rouses the thought “how good am I in thus doing my duty!” or even “how good a thing it is to do one's duty!” it gives an opening to the most deadly enemy of morality, self-complacency. It may indeed be my duty to sacrifice my own moral goodness to other things.24 Stevenson's dictum, that my business on earth is to make myself good and. others happy—if I may—requires amendment in this particular. Normally in the case of others, and always in our own, moral goodness comes by the way, like happiness, through concentration on the ordinary duties of my station. The religious life, indeed, is inspired by the desire to become like God (ομοιωσις τω θεω) But the motive lies poles asunder from moral perfectionism. To seek self-perfection for God's sake is one thing, for self's sake quite another. This is why the saint's conscious effort after goodness never fails to win the hearts of his fellowmen, while that of the moralist is unamiable and apt to provoke resentment.
(2) The transition from action sub ratione boni to the idea of moral obligation is equally natural. The higher and more remote the goal of desire, and the clearer the recognition that it is not to be quenched save in the fruition of a res infinita et aeterna, the steeper is found to be the path leading to its attainment. It grows steeper and steeper all the way. There will thus be many stages in the ascent when, despite deepening of ardour in aspiration and of insight into the desired good, the will is beset by the allurements of transitory satisfactions and falters in its freely chosen purpose. At such moments the clouded insight needs to be clarified by the reminder that it is a moral duty to be faithful to the vision of the good. Dutifulness comes into play, as a motive to particular actions, within the general scheme of a life dedicated to love of goodness. For it is not only moral goodness, but goodness in every form, whether as beauty or as knowledge or as love, that is a potential source of obligation. There are, indeed, other sources besides the promotion of good—e.g., a promise made in the past—which are fruitful in generating duties. We have seen that none of these general prima facie obligations can serve as a complete explanation of particular obligations. Moreover, the duty when recognized commands obedience as an end in itself, independently of the good it bids us realize. The co-operation of love of good and duty may be illustrated by the familiar example of a mother's relation to her child. Normally the motive of affection suffices to secure action for the child's welfare; nor should we wholeheartedly commend the mother who needed habitually to remind herself that its promotion was a duty. Yet in the not infrequent cases when natural affection errs either by excess or by defect, the principle of duty (always supposing that it has been trained by exercise in other relationships) is ready to spring into conscious activity, as regulative of a strong but capricious impulse. Further, the natural affection itself is refined and ennobled by the discharge of duty in other fields of life. A wide gulf separates the display of affection at the level of what is almost animal instinct—think of the “possessive” mother— from the wise and beneficent love that bears the impress of reasoned thought and moral habituation. Lastly, the moral motive is often found in association with other motives, such as love of beauty or personal affection, prompting to one and the same act. The moral worth, it is true, depends solely on the moral motive; but, as we have seen, moral worth is not the only kind of worth; and the value of an act, prompted by love in conjunction with a sense of duty, may be enhanced, and not diminished, by what Kant would describe as its impurity.
We have now to consider action sub ratione boni as displayed on different levels of development.
(1) In our survey of moral action we noted a premoral stage, where a situation of fact compels to a practical adjustment, without thought of moral obligation. The “must” is prior to the “ought”. We saw that action of this sort persists side by side with moral action, for example, in unreflective conformity to the pressure of normal social requirements. A similar distinction is found on the line of action for the good, between acts done unreflectivity from natural inclination and those prompted by conscious apprehension of ideal good. Quenching our thirst is an instance of the one, devotion to scientific research or social betterment, of the other.25 A spontaneous act of kindness to a child is normally unattended by any thought of a bonum. Man's environment presents objects which tally with his impulses by providing them with their natural satisfactions. The dominant feature in such experiences is not effort. “The world,” in Ancient Pistol's phrase, “is mine oyster”. It clamours to be explored, revealing itself not as a stem taskmaster, as on the line of duty, but as a kindly and responsive friend. An illustration will help to make this difference of levels clear, in relation to both moral and optimistic action. Consider the case of a University lecturer, deciding to give a lecture on a certain subject. He may do this (i) simply because he wants to do it, without thought either of moral obligation or of a good to be achieved in or by his action. He has something to say, and here is the opportunity of saying it. It might even be that he likes hearing the sound of his own voice. Or (2) he may recognize that by giving the lecture he will realize in object, say, the rousing of interest in an important discovery, which he judges to be good. Here we have the distinction of levels on the line of action sub ratione boni. On the other hand, he may have no wish to give the lecture, but may do so (3) because the task has fallen to him, in the course of academic business, through the sudden illness of a colleague. There is, we may suppose, no sense of obligation in his mind; it is merely—the case is not infrequent—a job that “has got to be done”, and lie is the obvious man to do it. Lastly (4) he may give the lecture, moved by the explicit recognition of a moral obligation. Here we have the distinction of levels on the line of duty. In the last case only is the action, in my view, properly to be called moral. But in (3) we may say that morality is implicit. The relation Of (3) to (4) on the line of duty is analogous to that between (1) and (2) on the line of good. The fundamental contrast is that between (2) and (4).
(2) As experience widens, an interest is aroused that is contemplative as well as practical. Curiosity is excited, as when a child finds pleasure in following the movements of a cat or in watching “the wheels go round”. The craving so common in our own days, to see “the pictures” is but a crude instance of this speculative impulse, which, on a higher level, bears fruit in scientific or historical research. The difference of levels is all-important. Plato gave classical expression to it in the fifth book of the Republic, when he discriminated, among lovers of theoria, between those whose interest was fixed on the spectacle of sensible events—the lovers of sights and sounds—and the philosopher, who rises from theoria of the ever-changing sensuous show to that of intelligible truth. He, and he alone, is a lover of the good. But the levels are not discontinuous; the exercise of reason has its rise, as Plato also pointed out, in the puzzles of sense-perception.26 Where, then, is the line to be drawn? At what point are we entitled to say: this act is done sub ratione boni? I think we may follow a suggestion of Bradley's and hold that where “conviction and preference” come into play, as distinct from mere “liking”, we have action motivated by desire of good.27 The transition can be illustrated by rational Hedonism, where—though reason may be the “slave of the passions”—pleasures are measured one against the other, and the means to their attainment are determined by rational calculation. Hedonism, of course, is, at this stage, a misnomer, for pleasure is seldom desired as such, and never save at a highly intellectualized stage of civilization; the voluptuary, who “takes the cash and lets the credit go is a rare and artificial product. It is the desires that terminate upon their objects”, yet minister to self-satisfaction, that we have in mind. Or we may say that the consciousness of good and evil implies self-consciousness. Deep-rooted in man's nature lie two sources of energy; the one driving him to self-assertion and the gratification of personal desire, the other to union and co-operation with his kind. With the growth of self-consciousness, both come to exercise a regulative function as rational powers in the soul's economy. Plato recognized this by his distinction of the spirited (το θυμοειδες) and the rational (το λογιστικον) powers; Butler by his distinction of self-love and conscience. Plato's distinction was drawn with the firmer band; for he was less liberal in his “concessions to the favourite passion” and at the same time realized its capacity for noble exercise on the plane of reason.28 We cannot here follow out the process by which, when self-consciousness is fully developed, the self-assertive principle, in interaction with that of sociality, not only serves to liberate man from bondage to the authority of tradition, but prompts to the vision of a perfect society, wherein the individuality of each and all finds satisfaction in conformity with the will of God. Our immediate concern is with the fact that the first-fruit of self-consciousness is the knowledge of good and evil. It is thus with every individual as he steps out of the state of innocence into the world; and so was it in the early history of the race. There is an old story which tells how God set a man and a woman in a garden, bidding them dwell there in easy indulgence on one condition, that they should refrain from tasting of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They disobeyed; having eaten of the forbidden fruit, their eyes were opened; they saw that they were naked and were ashamed. The knowledge of good and evil had been awakened; with the awakening, they had passed for ever from the state of innocence. It was no angel with a flaming sword that barred henceforth the gateway to the earthly Paradise. The barrier lay within themselves, in the free act by which they had defied the law and chosen the chequered destiny that knowledge bears as its fruit. The curse and the promise were respectively the natural and the providential consequence of their volition. Man must shoulder his self-appointed burden, eating bread won from the stubborn soil in the sweat of his face; woman must bring forth children in sorrow; yet, though the serpent is to bruise man's heel, man should in the far-off event crush the serpent's head. The act of rebellion that closed to man the earthly Paradise, opened the gates to the steep and narrow way leading, though redemption and grace, to his eternal felicity.29
(3) We have seen that as duty can only be willed by willing particular duties, so good can only be desired as embodied in particular goods. And as no particular duty or series of particular duties can exhaust the requirements of duty, so no particular good or series of goods can satisfy the aspiration after goodness. No finite goods, taken in their finitude, can be the good. just in so far as they make this claim and are desired as absolute ends, they are bound to reveal their in-adequacy alike to theoretical analysis and in practical experience. A distinction must here be drawn among finite goods. There are (a) those which are not merely incomplete as failing to cover the whole field of goodness, but are further bound by limitation to a finite set of spatio-temporal happenings. Examples of this type are the economic prosperity or power or even the moral welfare of a given social group, be it family or tribe or nation-state. Such goods as these are easily proved defective in the course of experience; they are indefinitely variable and transitory, and what satisfies the needs of one race or generation fails to satisfy the next. The world did not have to wait for the advent of Dialectical materialism and the gospel according to Karl Marx to learn that all human societies are relative, alike in their structure and in their aspirations, to the historical process of civilization. They are of their time, and reflect the scene of claims and counterclaims of which they are the product; they come into being and persist for the twofold purpose of co-operation and self-defence. On the one hand, they unite their members by strong ties of loyalty, not only. to the political institutions of a given society but to its language, its art and literature, and its ways of thought and life. On the other, they are directed towards mutual protection against other limited communities, whose existence, potentially or actually, threatens them with disintegration. The “closed” society, as Bergson has shown in his recent book, is thus dipolar in intention, designed both for inner solidarity and for external war.30 Its aim is none the less potentially militant when, as a century ago in revolutionary France, and recently in revolutionary Russia, it conceives itself as called upon to head an international missionary crusade. Hence the good aimed at, though social, is essentially finite. It is a common fallacy to imagine that devotion to such closed groups can be transformed, by a process of continuous expansion, into devotion to humanity. The two ideals are parted by an abyss. “Ce n'est pas en élargissant des sentiments plus étroits qu'on embrassea l'humanité.” For this a new and wholly different principle is requisite. “That it is expedient that one man should die for the people,” says a living writer, “both the people and that one man himself have at times equally believed, and believed that thereby the best is realized for both. That it is expedient that one people should perish for another, or for the world, no people has ever yet believed, if it was they that must perish.”31 The history of the last two centuries, especially in France and Russia, abundantly illustrates how the ideal of humanity, when divorced from the religious context in which it had its origin, degenerates into an empty abstraction, proving either an object for ridicule, as in its apotheosis by Comte, or a menace to the liberty of mankind. But there is (b) a second class of goods, which though finite in the sense that they are mutually exclusive as specific types of goodness, have a stronger claim on man's allegiance. For these goods are free from limitation to the temporal process of human history, and are each in suo genere infinite.32 Such are knowledge, beauty, moral perfection, love of our fellows, and, if we include religious good, the reciprocal love of God and man.33 Each of these goods is infinite, in that it provokes and responds to a desire for a perfection, which no finite achievement can fully satisfy. Each, again, can be desired under limitations which, when thought out, are found to contradict the nature of the good in question. The fact that it is the nature of the intellect to remain unsatisfied with any attainment short of the possession of all truth, was selected by Aquinas as the foundation-stone of his argument to revelation and immortality. Yet the summum bonum cannot be contracted within the bounds even of final truth. Such contraction would prove defective in the eve of the intellect itself. It seems to be a paradox of the intellect that it cannot rest satisfied in what satisfies the intellect alone. Reason demands that beauty perfection of character and love should be synthesized with truth in the ideal of perfect goodness. Of the possibility of such a synthesis we shall have something to say in a later chapter.34 Our immediate point is that truth is normally pursued in actual human experience without explicit awareness of its infinitude. The specialist, intent on a particular inquiry, will often affirm principles, say, of materialism or physical determinism, which have a restricted or purely methodological application, as though they were laws holding of all experience. The search for truth may even be subordinated to finite practical ends such as the promotion of an industry or the interests of national defence. The like holds of the artist, when he imposes rigid canons—e.g., of dramatic unity—on the expression of beauty which evidence their incompatibility with the ideal by provoking other artists to overthrow them. Similarly, the love of our fellows, seeking particular means of expression for a good that in its universality defies restriction to any finite states of character or groups of persons, suffers, as we have seen, unnatural contraction when devotion is confined to a single individual or family or class (égoisme à deux, à trois, etc.).35 It is hard for the human spirit, in its secular striving for the good, to shake off the trammels of the finite.
(4) That finite goods fail to satisfy is a truism, voiced all along the ages alike by saints and philosophers. “There is no mind, however ignoble,” wrote Descartes in the Preface to his Principles, “that remains so firmly attached to the objects of sense as not sometimes to turn away from them in aspiration for some greater good, although often ignorant wherein that good consists. Those who are most favoured of fortune, who enjoy health, honours, riches in abundance, are not more exempt than others from this desire; nay, I am persuaded that it is hey who long most ardently for another good more sovereign than those which they possess.”36 A generation later Spinoza recorded, in his unfinished treatise on logical method, how early in life fie had weighed the goods in which the generality of men seek happiness—pleasure, riches, honour—and had found them wanting; and how love of an object that is infinite and eternal (amor erga rem infinitam et aeternam) alone could bring enduring and complete felicity.37 Parted in all else by a chasm, the mind and heart of East and West are here at one. “All that is clung to falls short,” said the Buddha; and he declared, as the second “noble truth” of his doctrine, that the origin of suffering, lay in “the craving thirst that causes the renewal of becomings, that is accompanied by sensuous delights, and seeks satisfaction, now here, now there”.38 It fell to the philosophers to display the logic of this transition from the pursuit of finite goods to that of a good which is transcendent, by unfolding the implications both of the good as an objective reality and of the desire of that good inherent in man's rational nature. The former path was followed by Spinoza in his Ethics, the latter by Plato in the fifth book of the Republic.39 Plato shows there, when treating of the principle of desire or love, that the hallmark of all love, irrespective of its specific type of object, is catholicity. Whatever is desired with single-minded devotion—be it truth and goodness or “wine, woman and song”—is desired in its entirety. In the case of all finite objects, such desire entails self-contradiction. One object alone, he tells us later, can be loved whole-heartedly without breach of harmony, the essential Form of Good, the one all-inclusive good from which fragmentary and finite goods draw their goodness by participation, and apart from which their value is appearance and not reality.
Thus action for the good, like moral action, implies the thought of an absolute; in the one case of an absolute good, in the other of an absolute principle of obligation. Whether the ideal be an other-worldly reality, transcendent in relation to the world of spatiotemporal experience, as Plato and Plotinus held; or whether it be merely, in Kant's phrase, a “regulative idea” for our knowledge of the world we live in, it is not for ethics to decide. But, on the border-line that parts ethics from wider fields of inquiry, the problem arises in the form of an antimony. We have noted this already in regard to the ideal of duty. An absolute good, which would be the prius of all finite goods and the source of their relative worth, is nowhere realizable within human experience. In the light of the perfect, the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them suffer remorseless condemnation. But if the good be merely an ideal, how can it be practical? Men are not moved to action by desire of a perfection which is unattainable. Let us consider, once again, how it stands in the case of truth. Not a step could have been taken on the path of knowledge, save for purely practical purposes, but for the unquenchable faith of the intellect in a truth that is wholly and completely true. Yet the human knower can only apprehend by aid of discursive and inferential processes, which, though they are illuminated at every turn by intuition, preclude immediate intellectual vision.40 The world he strives to know, including his own self, comes to him as an unfinished and fragmentary series of particular occurrences, which defy reduction to a unitary and coherent system. So, too, in human affection, the ideal of perfect union with our kind is but imperfectly realizable through the love of a few by each, and of these few with varying grades of intensity. At best, individual divergencies and contrasts remain unsynthesized into a real identity of differents. We are thus both infinite and finite, potentially infinite and actually finite; finite but too manifestly, as limiting and limited by persons and things that are related to us externally; infinite, in that we are conscious of our finitude and transcend it in cognition and desire.41 It is through this consciousness that we can conceive an Absolute transcendent of the spatio-temporal world. flow this ideal can be unrealized and Net real is a problem which ethics asks and cannot answer.42 Alike by its inner contradictions and by the other-worldly references implicit in its principles, ethics points beyond its own borders to the fields of metaphysics and of religion.
Analogy, 1, 2; cf. Aristotle, E.N, 1. 1.
Ethics, Part 1, Appendix; cf. Hobbes, Leviathan, 1, 6. “Whatsoever a man desireth, that he for his part calleth good.” “For these words of good, evil, and contemptible, are ever used with relation to the person that useth them: there being nothing simply and absolutely so.” In other words, the term “good” means “being an object of desire”.
Carritt, Theory of Morals, p. 74. The term “absolute” might be so taken as to allow the possibility of a plurality of absolute goods. I am here speaking of the question of a single absolute good. We shall see in the sequel that it can only be answered on the terrain of religion.
I saw recently in an Edinburgh shop an advertisement stating that a certain article would bring to the purchaser “everlasting good”. The vendor appeared to have forgotten the Shorter Catechism.
Rep. II, 357B–3588A.
On exemplary goods, see Ross, The Right and The Good, ch. III.
On the problem of inherence, whether as a consequential quality or as “covering the whole being” of the object, see Ross, op. cit., pp. 114 ff. Joseph, Some Problems in Ethics, ch. VII, p. 79. Joseph is surely right in saying that a good poem is judged good as a whole. Cf. Garrod, The Profession of Poetry, 62–63. “The trouble of Byron is that the best of him is the whole of him, true and false together.… For myself, I think his best poetry to be all of it. But posterity has ever had a passion for scraps, and she is mostly too busy for exact justice.” You cannot take a work of art (or a human character) to bits, and pronounce, like the curate on the egg, that “parts of it are excellent”. This is only the case with inferior works or characters, of which you would never judge “this is a good poem” or “a good man”.
Princ. Eth., pp. 98–99. This is not to hold, as does Prof. Moore (op. cit., pp. 83–84) that anything can be good, or true, apart from any consciousness of its goodness or its truth. The point is that the compresence of consciousness is not constitutive of the truth or goodness.
Letter of August 18, 1645, Adam and Tannery, iv., 275 (quoted by Gilson in his Commentaire on Descartes’ Discours, p. 255). Il y a la différence, entre la béatitude, le souverain bien, et I dernière fin on le but auquel doivent tendre nos actions; car la béatitude n'est pas le souverain bien; mais elle le présuppose, et elle est le contentement on la satisfaction d'esprit qui vient de ce qu'on la possède. Mais, par le fin de nos actions, on peut entendre l'un et l'autre; car le souverain bien est sans doute la chose que nous nous devons proposer pour but en toutes nos actions, et le contentment d'esprit qui en revient, étant l'attrait qui fait que nous le recherchons, est aussi en bon droit nommé notre fin. Cf. Aquinas, Sum. Th., 1a—11 q. 2, a. 7, ad. Resp., “beatitudo est aliquid animam”; sed id in quo consistit beatitudo, est aliquid extra animam”. Of course, Descartes accepts the traditional doctrine that all action is sub ratione boni (see letter to Mersenne, A. and T., I 366).
These considerations throw light on the question of the value of pleasure. Pleasure is not an entity with an objective character; it is the sense of experiencing and therefore necessarily private to the experient. If the desire be for a good, it is not for pleasure. To desire the pleasure of others, or the general pleasure, is no more to desire pleasure than to desire that others, e.g., a friend or institution, shall be rich is to desire riches. Doubtless it implies that pleasure, or riches, are objects that can be judged objectively good, for certain persons in certain circumstances; but when thus judged the object of desire is not the pleasure but the goodness.
Sermon VIII, Upon the Love of Cod.
On this question and on the purposiveness of moral action, see Stocks, The Limits of Purpose, and Joseph, Essays in Ancient and Modern Philosophy, VII (on “Purposive Action”).
See Croce, Filosefia della Pratica, Part 1, Sect. 1, ch. 3.
Mr. Joseph will not allow this wider use of “end”. “If we were erroneously to call the system, by their relations to which, and to one another in which, our actions are purposive, the end of those actions” (op. cit., p. 206).
Space, Time and Deity, III pp. 31 f, 118 f.; cf. Croce, F. Pr., 1, 1, 3.
Meno, 80 ff.
For religion, suffering may even be an essential moment in fruition, which, apart from the suffering, would be impaired in value. In Christianity, for instance, the Cross is not an antecedent condition, but a constitutive part, of the Crown. Christus ex arbore regnavit. Even in ethical experience, of which we are here speaking, suffering for a good object is not merely instrumental.
If we say, “what ought to be desired”, we imply that the notion of good is dependent upon that of right (see the next chapter). On the question of the alleged dependence of good upon desire, see The Right and the Good, ch. IV, pp. 80 ff.
Mr. Joseph has pointed out to me that it is part of the truth about the sensible world that it appears privately to me as it does not to you.
Green, Prolegomena to Ethics, P. 370.
Cf. Questions of King Milinda, iii, 5. 10: “The Blessed One passed away by that kind of passing away in which no root remains for formation of another individual. The Blessed One has come to an end, and it cannot be pointed out of him that he is here or there.” For the Madhyamaka school of Buddhists, nirvana is neither a positive state of being nor a negative state of non-being; even the knowledge that phenomena have ceased to appear is absent; bondage, liberation, and Buddha himself, are alike phenomenal. Parallels are also to be found in persian Sufism.
Purgatrio, xxvii, 140–142: see below, pp. 194, 195. Compare also Kant, Lectures on Ethics, p. 28 (E.T.). “In the case of a free being, an action can be necessary—and necessary in the highest possible degree—and yet it need not conflict with freedom.… An honest man cannot tell a lie, but he refrains of his own free will from telling lies.” Cf. 29: “The more he can be morally compelled, the freer a man is.… the more he gives way to moral grounds of compulsion, the freer he is. The less he is obliged, the freer a man is.… When obligation ceases, he is free.”
E.N. 1. viii. 8, 1098b 30–1099a 3.
Muirhead, Rule and End in Morals, p. 88 asks: “Who would not resent being practised on for the benefit of another's virtue? and who that was merely practising himself upon an object, however worthy, would gain in character by the act? Is there not a paradox of duty as of pleasure?” Cf. p. 55, where Stocks is cited: “Morality may call on a man at any moment to surrender the most promising avenue to his own moral perfection”. St. Paul expressed his willingness to be “accursed from Christ” for the sake of his Jewish brethren (Rom. ix. 3).
Prof. Alexander, in a kindly reference to an earlier statement of my views in Beauty and other Forms of Value (pp. 254 ff.), criticizes my distinction of the two types of conduct on the following grounds. (a) Interpreting my distinction as that between (i) “ends pursued and acts done naturally and automatically”, and (ii) “ends chosen because they, are right”, he urges that the “real contrast” is between two kinds of action sub ratione boni, viz.: those done from a good natural inclination and those prompted by conscious apprehension of an ideal good. I readily admit that, in the articles in Philosophy to which Prof. Alexander is referring, I blurred the distinction, within the field of action sub ratione boni, between unreflective and reflective desire of good; and I am grateful to him for pointing out the defect. I have endeavoured to remedy it in the text of this chapter. But his criticism leaves untouched the main distinction which I am concerned to stress. The “real contrast” seems to me to lie between acts done deliberately and reflectively for the sake of duty, simply because we judge we ought to do them, and acts done deliberately and reflectively for the sake of an ideal good, immanent in and transcendent of the action itself. Prof. Alexander would, I think, refuse to regard this contrast as a “real” one; for in his book he treats “right” and (ethical) “good” as equivalent terms. This is where we differ, and the difference, in my view, is radical. The “contemplative” factor which I find only in the judgement of good, he finds equally—thanks to the “passion of sociality”—in the judgement of duty. This brings me to his second objection (b), my “refusal to admit the specifically social character of moral goodness”. To this I reply, in scholastic fashion, with a distinguo. If in “social character” is included reference to an other-worldly community, such as Kant's kingdom of ends, I certainly hold that the thought of sociality is essential to the good life, implicitly on the ethical, explicitly on the religious plane. It is in this sense that Christianity speaks of “the mystical body of Christ”, which is “the blessed company of all faithful people”. If, on the other hand, the reference be narrowed down, as is Prof. Alexander's intention, to my station in a historical society, the ideal, whether of duty or of good, carries us beyond its borders. In Bergson's phrase, la moralité ouverte cannot be imprisoned within la société close. I entirely agree with Prof. Alexander's criticism on Bergson (p. 258), that the two forms of social conduct—close and ouverte—are abstractions, and that morality is always morality “in the making”. My own point is that “open morality” is exhibited in a twofold forward movement, according as it is “in the making” on the line of duty or on the line of good.
Rep. 475D–480A; 523A–525E.
Essays, Intr., p. 2.
The parallel must not be pressed too hard. το θυμοεδες is directed towards glory and success νιχη, τιμη; self-love to the promotion of happiness. Emulation, for Butler, is one of the passions that terminate on their specific objects. Moreover, Butler's “self-love” is always rational, and its regulative function, though not unconditioned (self-love itself needs regulation) is inherent in the economy. το θυμοεδες, on the contrary, is inherently non-rational, though readily responsive to reason, and never opposed to reason when once reason has spoken. See Rep. 439E–441C; Butler, Sermons I—III, on Human Nature, and Preface to the Sermons. On the life of self-assertion, aiming at power, see Mr. P. Leon's striking book, The Ethics of Power. For religion, such a life is sinful, as directed by love of self as opposed to the love of God. It rests on choice of a lower good in preference to a higher. Augustine's De Civitate Dei interprets human history in the light of this antithesis. We are here treating this type of life from the standpoint of ethics; as such, it falls under the head of action sub ratione boni. It is exemplified in the doctrine put forward by Callicles in Plato's Gorgias. The power aimed at may be that of the individual who strives to enslave society, or that of the community, as in the Melian dialogue in Thucydides or in the picture of the timocratic state in the Republic (547B–548C).
See Hegel, Encycl., Part I (Logic), § 24 Zusatz (E.T., Wallace, pp. 54 ff.). Hegel's error lay in regarding sin as leading to good by a process of natural development. This is well brought out by Mackintosh, Types of Modern Theology, pp. 115–116: “It is not merely that sin may lead to increase of virtue, or that virtue may be based on sin. Hegel's teaching is definitely to the effect that sin must lead to virtue, and that there is no virtue which is not based on sin”; and he refers to McTaggart's Studies in the Hegelian Cosmology, pp. 151 ff. It is a far cry from Hegel to Augustine's O felix culpa. On the sense of shame, Hegel writes that it “bears evidence to the separation of man from his natural and sensuous life. The beasts never get so far is this separation, and they feel no shame.” As Walt Whitman has it, they do not “weep for their sins”. Cf. Solovyof, The Justification of the Good, ch. 1, § 11 (E.T., pp. 28 ff.).
Cf. Bergson, Les Deux Sources, esp. ch. 1, and Appendix II below.
Joseph, Some Problems, p. 134. On the concept of humanity, taken as an ethical end apart from religion, see Bradley, Ethical Studies, p. 205 (“Humanity is not a visible organism”), pp. 231–232, 343–345. What has been said above of visible political societies holds also of the visible Church, if regarded as an end in itself, apart from its other-worldly foundations. Dante knew well that its institution and functions were relative to man's life militant here on earth (see below, ch. VI).
On the use of the term “infinite” I follow Bradley, Ethical Studies, pp. 74–78. I am well aware that mathematicians refuse to admit the term in any sense save that in which it is defined in mathematics. But I can appeal to a noble array of philosophers in declining to submit to this restriction.
The love of God is all-inclusive and not merely in suo genere infinite. Yet, as Bowman has well shown (op. cit, ch. XVI), religion itself compels recognition of the distinction between the religious and the secular. If God is to be thought of as God, man must be thought of as man, and nature as nature.
See chapter VI.
See Niebuhr, An Interpretation of Christian Ethics, p. 125. “A narrow family loyalty is a more potent source of injustice than pure individual egoism, which, incidentally, probably never exists. The special loyalty which men give their limited community is natural enough; but it is also the root of international anarchy. Moral idealism in terms of the presuppositions of a particular class is also natural and inevitable; but it is the basis of tyranny and hypocrisy.”
“Il n'y pas d'âme tant soit pue noble quie demeure si fort attachée aux objets des sens qu'elle me s'en détourne quelquefois pour souhailer queque autre plus grand bien, nonobstant qu'elle ignore souvent en quoi il consiste. Ceux que la fortune favorise le plus, qui ont abondance de santé, d'honneurs, de richesses, ne sont pas plus exempts de ce désir que les autres; au contraire, je me persuade que ce sont eux qui soupirent avec le plus d'ardeur après un autre bien plus souverain que ceux qu'ils possédent.”
Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione, ad init.
“To find or to be able to find a thing here is to prove that it cannot be the good ”, Karl Barth, The Word of God and The Word of Man, E.T., pp. 137–138.
Rep V, 474C–475 C.
See Prof. A. H. Taylor, Knowing and Believing (Presidential Address to Aristotelian Society 1928), esp. pp. 19 ff.; and chapter 1 (on Logic and Faith) in my book Towards a Religious Philosophy.
See Bradley, Ethical Studies, PP. 74 if.
The Good must be real, yet evil is a positive fact; and, over and above positive evils, defect of good is everywhere to be found in the world of finite experience. For ethics the ideal value remains an unrealized ideal. This severance of fact and value is overcome in different ways, both by religion anti by metaphysics. But for moral experience, and also for action sub ratione boni, the severance presents and unsolved and insoluble antinomy. See Ethical Studies, concluding remarks, esp. pp. 313, 322, 326.