You are here

Chapter V: Modes of Interest

Interest will hereinafter be employed as the unit in terms of which to clarify values. It will not be necessary to break interest down into ulterior elements of micro-psychology or micro-physiology. Its characteristic modes yield a vocabulary in terms of which to describe the historic values which play the major roles in the life of man. These do not as a rule coincide with the modes here distinguished, but are mixed, complex, and organized rather than pure or simple. The listing and definition of these modes at this stage of the inquiry will serve as a brief recapitulation of what has gone before, and at the same time as an introduction to what comes after. The verbal and conceptual apparatus here presented will not be rigidly employed; the language of common sense, or of the established sciences, is to be preferred when it is not flagrantly misleading.

The terms ‘primitive’ and ‘advanced’ as applied to interest refer to several distinctions which, while they tend to coincide in their applications, are not strictly identical. Thus the “primitive” interest may be taken to mean the “original” as opposed to the “acquired.” This is not precisely the same as the distinction between ‘inherited’ and ‘non-inherited,’ since it is possible that an original interest should be non-inherited: it might arise as a “spontaneous variation” or mutation. ‘Advanced,’ furthermore, may be taken to be the opposite, not of ‘original,’ but of the relatively “less advanced.” And while ‘primitive’ and ‘advanced’ do (by definition) refer to “early” and “late” in some order of progression, there are many such orders which give different meanings to the distinction. All interests, even original interests, are advanced in the order of cosmic or biological evolution. When interests are referred to as ‘advanced’ they are so considered in relation to the order of mental evolution. Their advancement refers to a degree of complexity such as distinguishes perception from sensation, or conscious purpose from tropism, reflex, or “instinct” in the loose use of this term. Taken as signifying a degree of mental complexity interest implies a lesser degree which falls just short of interest, and which may be termed ‘near-interest.’ It is in this sense that interest may be said to be advanced because of the emergence of mediating cognition on its successive levels. ‘Sub-interest’ then refers to that which possesses the other characters of interest but lacks mediating cognition. As applied to interest, furthermore, the term ‘acquired’ refers not to its being attained by nature at large, but by mind in the course of its own operations. It may, therefore, refer to an interest acquired by the exercise of interest.

The phylogenetic meaning of ‘primitive’ or ‘advanced’ is not the same as its ontogenetic meaning. The theory of recapitulation to the effect that the history of the individual repeats the history of the race is at best a plausible hypothesis. The “childhood of the race” is a figure of speech. Primitive societies, like all societies, are made up of adults. There is nothing peculiarly childish about them, nor does the behavior of the child (naïve, elemental, appetitive) resemble what we know about aboriginal tribes.

‘Primitive’ and ‘advanced’ in all their varieties and ambiguities of meaning are to be distinguished from ‘strong’ and ‘universal.’ There is no presumption that the original or early in the history of either race or individual is stronger than the acquired or late. To assume this is what has been described above as the Atavistic Fallacy. The primitive does not necessarily coincide with the universal. Even assuming that all men have a “common ancestry,” it does not follow that all inherited traits are universal, since there are different lines of ancestry, and since inherited traits may cease to be inherited. Similarly, the original may disappear and the acquired may, by imitation and suggestion, become universal. In short, although strong and universal interests such as hunger and sex are primitive, primitiveness is not a decisive or final test as to what interests are either strong or universal.


There are various descriptions of interest that imply a deficiency of the interest as interest. Thus interests may be dormant or latent. Cain's hatred of Abel did not cease when Cain slept; but it then differed from his activated hatred as this occurred at the moment of fratricide. Most interests are latent most of the time — for reasons of fatigue, surfeit, inopportuneness, or the limitations of the span of consciousness, but they nevertheless exist as dispositions, to be reckoned with against the moment of their awakening. Their latency is analogous to that of stored memories, as distinguished from “calling them to mind.” Latency itself differs in its proximity to enactment. A disposition may be in reserve or it may be alerted; in the rear, or advanced toward the firing line. Interest varies between complete latency, and some residual degree of latency mingled with activation, as is the case of the coiled spring which is partially released.

“Unconscious” or “subconscious” interests, or “hidden motives,” may be interpreted in terms of latency. Their condition may be taken to mean that they can be brought to the surface by certain techniques, and that meanwhile they exist in the form of dispositions, like untapped memories. More than this is implied in the doctrine of psychoanalysis. It is supposed that they operate as forces when they have not as yet been brought to the surface. But this does not require that they shall at such times be active as interests. A great deal goes on in the unconscious organism which affects consciousness, such as circulatory changes or muscular tensions and relaxations.

The psychoanalytical doctrine is not clear on this point. Sometimes it may be taken to mean that the subject is not aware of the interests which consciously move him. He may be consciously afraid in that his objects are tinged with fearfulness, without his attention's being drawn to the fact. Sometimes the unconscious interest is a conscious interest which is charged with erroneousness, as when it is pointed out to the subject that it is not love but hate which “really” moves him; or that his hate is based on erroneous assumptions or “fixations.”

There is a difference between latency and potentiality of interest. In the first case the interest is existent, whereas in the second case all conditions required for its existence are present, save one. Sub-interest may be said to be potential interest, when it is conceived as lacking only the factor of cognition. But there is a second and more important sense in which one may speak of “potential” interest, when, namely, there are entities which are qualified to be its objects. Interest, whether activated or latent, may be directed to objects of a certain class, but not to a given member of the class. If “gentlemen prefer blondes,” any given blonde is qualified for preference, but may not in her individual capacity be an object of preference because no gentleman has met her. Any cause of an object of interest is thereby qualified to become the object of a dependent interest; and becomes such when its causal virtue becomes known to an interested subject. So-called “natural resources” are potentially useful because of the demands for which they are qualified.

Closely related to potential interest is playful as distinguished from executive interest. Every interest has its phases of incompleteness to which it extends something of its own motivation. The kitten sheathes its claws, and the puppy bites gently, thus carrying the predatory impulse to a certain point. The boy who plays at war, or the girl who plays with dolls, is not merely imitating the behavior of others, but is enacting an interest which can only be conceived in terms of combativeness and maternal solicitude. The materials of play — the wooden gun or the plaster doll — the social situation in which play occurs, and an inner check which arrests the activity short of the actual injury or feeding of its object, thus combine to define a limit at which the playful activity desists from its course.

Life abounds in unfinished activities, in beginnings which are not carried through, in experiments without commitment. Seriousness is mixed with playfulness, and playfulness with seriousness. But amidst all this interweaving the difference remains. The difference can be stated only in terms of the partial and the complete; and the partial can be stated only in terms of that specific completeness of which it is a part.

Interests may be described as “unreal,” “non-existent,” or “false.”1 Without at this time entering into refined distinctions it is to be pointed out, in the first place, that the status of value shall follow the status of the interest. If the interest is unreal, then so is the value. It is essential, in the second place, to distinguish the status of the act of interest from status of its object. Thus an existent interest may have a non-existent or problematic object; the object may be unreal when the interested activity is real; a real interest may be engaged in “realizing” its object.

The case of ‘truth’ is troublesome because this term is often used to refer to being, rather than to knowledge. If one corrects this unfortunate habit of saying ‘truly is’ when one means simply ‘is,’ and confine the term ‘truth’ to a characteristic of cognition, there remains the confusion between the cognition of interest and the mediating cognition which conditions interest. The judgment that there is such and such an interest may be true when the interest in question is founded on error. One judges, for example, that there was great rejoicing in 1918 over the “false armistice.” It was not the armistice that was false, but the rumor; it is true that there was rejoicing mediated by this false rumor. If truth is to be strictly conceived as a characteristic of cognition, it can be attributed to an interest only by reference to its cognitive constituent. The “true interest” is then the interest whose mediating cognition is true, and the “false interest” is the interest whose mediating cognition is erroneous.


Interest may take the form of prolonging, or of altering (making different); and an altering interest may be achieving or terminating, as when one sets a definite goal, or progressive as when a longing is insatiable. Thus he who enjoys the landscape is moved to continue it as it is; the landscape gardener is interested in bringing about something which as yet does not exist; the man who is greedy for land is interested in its endless increase.

Prolonging or recurrent interest has been thought to contradict that prospective character which the present definition imputes to all interest.

Does not the futurity of the object of interest exclude being “pleased with things as they are”? Does it provide for that dwelling on the present state of affairs which is characteristic of joy and sorrow, or of liking and disliking?

This difficulty arises from two sources: the mistaken view that feeling is passive; and the failure to distinguish the sameness of an object through time, with the sameness of time itself. Enjoyment is not instantaneous — it goes on; and insofar as it is interested it looks ahead. If a situation is to be enjoyed as it is, both the situation and the activity which engages it must persist through time. A man who says to himself, “I like this as it is, and would not have it otherwise,” does not arrest his dealing, but arrests, preserves, or reinstates the occasion so that the dealing may continue. That which is prospective is the prolongation through future time of that which already is. If an interruption or obstacle intervenes or threatens, the activity then takes the form of removing it, in such wise as to enable the activity to be resumed.

Lest it be supposed that the prolonging form of interest is merely static or repetitive it must be further recognized that the occasion is extended and complex, and therefore takes time for its exploration. In order that a landscape may be enjoyed the observer must move his eye from one part to another, and discriminate its details successively. He may then retraverse the same content, or pass from a given content to a different content, but within a whole which persists or is being completed. Or, it may take time to exhaust the whole, as when the heard part of the melody is accompanied by the impulsion to hear the parts as yet unheard. This incitement to “more of the same,” “the same again,” or “the rest of the same” is to be distinguished from the incitement to create, annihilate, or modify.

When a terminating interest is fulfilled it ceases, and when it ceases the value which it confers ceases with it. It is to be noted, however, that the terminating interest is often, though not necessarily, succeeded by a prolonging interest; and that as the end-point is approached the two types of interest tend to overlap. One begins to enjoy that which is partially achieved; and the altering interest is thus reinforced during a protracted period of effort.


The antithesis of positive and negative interests is recognized by common sense in the verbal ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ in the nod and the head shake, and in the double incentive of the “carrot and the stick.” While psychologists also recognize this pair of opposites there is no agreement on its precise meaning. ‘Adience’ is sometimes construed as activity giving more, ‘abience’ as activity giving less, of the stimulus; but this distinction is designed to apply only to drives oriented to the external sensory environment. E. C. Tolman distinguishes between appetites, which are “set in motion” by an internal condition, and culminate in a specific “consummatory response” — a “getting to”; and aversions, which are “set off” by an environmental object and culminate in “getting away” from an internal state of “sufferance.” But this distinction fails to take account of the fact that there is a getting away, and a getting to, in all drives; as, for example, in hunger, which may be excited either by pangs, or by the smell or sight of food; and which manifests itself equally in a relief of pangs and in an enjoyment of food.2

The distinction can be adequately described only in terms of the realization or de-realization of the object, which is problematic in the sense that it permits of either of these alternatives. All interests, whether positive or negative, are subject to the vicissitudes of fulfillment and non-fulfillment, success and failure. Positive interest is characterized by actions which promise to bring the object to pass, negative interest by action which promises its prevention or undoing; and each is successful or unsuccessful accordingly. It is essential that the positivity and negativity should be thus conceived as attaching to the act of interest and not to its object; otherwise it would not be conceivable that the same object should have both positive and negative value.

Positive and negative interests cannot be distinguished, as has been frequently proposed, by simple direction of motion, such as approach and withdrawal. Movement from may be a manifestation of love, movement toward of hostility, and immobility either of fascination or of fear. There is no way of describing the difference save in terms of consistency of behavior. Thus the movements of fear and combativeness may be in large part the same — running, hiding, climbing, manipulating tools — but they are both negative not because of these movements which they share with many positive interests, but because they both have the character of negating an object. Combativeness goes about it by destroying the occasion, fear by removal to a distance at which it no longer has to be dealt with; and this difference can be discovered only by plotting the total operation, and noting what it is headed towards or leads to.

It may be thought that negative interest can be converted into positive interest in a negative object, but this would be a hasty conclusion. The real merits of this question are empirical rather than logical or dialectical. Peace and not-war, war and not-peace, may mean the same thing; but peace may mean home and “business as usual,” and war may mean violence and military routine, in which case to love peace and to hate war are not the same thing. To desire and like the life of peace is not the same thing as to avoid and dislike the life of war despite the fact that, practically speaking, they are allied. Love of life, and fear of death, or finding the thought of death repugnant, are not the same thing. There is a perpetual interplay of positive and negative motivation in most, if not all, trains of action; but this must not be taken to mean that the motivations are the same — if they were, there could be no interplay. It is to be further noted that persons may be classified according as they are characteristically positive or negative: some are lovers, some are haters, regardless of their objects.

Combining the distinctions between prolonging and altering, and realization and de-realization, with the distinction between positive and negative, clarifies these distinctions and at the same time reveals other distinctions. Thus positive prolonging interest starts with the realization of its object and moves from realization to realization. Avoiding or preventive interest starts with the non-realization of an object and moves to its non-realization: it is a negative prolonging interest. Positive altering interest starts with its object's non-realization, and moves to its realization. Interruptive interest starts with the realization of its object and moves to its de-realization.

It is sometimes contended that only positive interests are original, and that all negative interests are acquired; or that only negative interests are original, and that all positive interests are acquired. Both of these opposite contentions represent the prejudice in favor of sweeping generalizations. It is quite true that negative interests are generated by the frustration of positive interests, but it is equally true that positive interests are generated by negative interests, when these proceed to their end by a series of positive steps. The positive interests of hunger and sex and the negative interests of aversion to pain and flight from danger are equally original. There is no evidence of absolute originality that does not apply to both.


The modes of interest which follow embrace the several senses in which interests may be broadly classified as primary and secondary; meaning that one interest takes precedence of another. Interests may be independent or dependent. The test of an interest's dependence lies in the observable fact that it would not be save for another interest. An independent interest is automotive, from which it draws its motivation. It is to this distinction that we must look for clarification of the distinction between final and instrumental interests, familiarly known as the distinction between end and means.

The distinction between ends and means must not be confused with that between occasion and dealing. Because both the ends and means are objects of interested activity each has its own occasion and dealing. Nor, for the same reason, must this distinction be confused with that between the consummatory act and the subordinate or transitional acts. Nor must the distinction between ends and means be identified with the case in which the mediation of interest is relatively formal. The relation of means to end may or may not be “calculated”; it appears just as truly on the level of perceptual meaning as on the more articulate level of concept and judgment.

A means is the object of an interest which is asymetrically dependent on an ulterior interest whose object is the end. Thus a man may covet wealth in order to achieve political power. He does covet wealth, and adopts a course of action which promises this object. But he would not covet wealth unless he coveted political power. His acquisitiveness flows from his ambition. Extinguish his ambition and his acquisitiveness ceases. The reverse is not true: if his acquisitiveness were extinguished his ambition would still remain. Both ends and means have value — the one independent or final value, the other dependent or instrumental value.

If this usage is to be employed we must be prepared to say that all ends are “ends in themselves.” This is what we mean when we call them “ends.” We must also be prepared to say that all means are justified by their ends; that is, their value as means is derived from the value of their ends. When the means to an end is repudiated, it will be because of another end. Or, if the means affects the choice of ends this will be because the means is also an end and not a means only.

There is nothing of which it can be said that it is the end; namely, the only thing that can fill this role. There is nothing of which it can be said that being an end it may not become a means, or being a means may not become an end. Such fluctuation is perpetual and all-pervasive. But when such changes occur it is the thing which has shifted roles: what was end has become means; what was means has become end. The roles themselves remain distinct: means does not become end, or end. means.

Since in the present view an object's value is defined in terms of the interest taken in it, there is no such thing as “intrinsic” value, if this is taken to mean an object's possessing value in the absence of relations to an entity other than itself. Intrinsic becomes the same as ‘independent.’ The intrinsic value is the value which an object possesses by virtue of the interest which is taken in it “for its own sake”; its extrinsic value is that which it borrows or derives from other value. When, for example, food owes its value to hunger, its value can be said to be intrinsic; whereas its value is extrinsic when it is derived from the desire of profit from its exchange for other commodities. Money desired for what it can buy possesses extrinsic value; it acquires intrinsic value for the miser.

‘Intrinsic’ is sometimes identified with ‘immediate’: with the felt value, which is supposed to be unquestionable, as distinguished from the judged value, which is liable to error.3 This identification of intrinsic value with the manner of knowing it does not agree with the present analysis; according to which all value is fallible in some degree, and sensory cognition of the external manifestation of interest is just as immediate as affective cognition of its internal manifestation.

The distinction between dependent and independent interests is often confused with another and no less important distinction which applies to interests whether dependent or independent. Two independent interests may be so related that the first overrules the second. Thus a man's love of his friend may be so related to his ambition that he will sacrifice the second to the first. His ambition is not dependent on his love of his friend; if he did not love his friend he would still be ambitious. But the love of his friend sets bounds to his ambition; the ambition stops at the point where it violates the love. The love operates on the ambition negatively, but not positively; it censors, but does not induce. The overruling interest is the stronger interest, whenever the two compete for the energies of the organism. It is the dominant, ruling, or governing interest, as distinguished from submissive or obedient interest. It is to be noted that neither the independent nor the ruling interest is on that account “superior” in the sense of comparative value.

An interest which is independent may nevertheless reinforce another interest; and may then be designated as an auxiliary interest. Thus combativeness may reinforce any interest which requires the removal of an obstacle. Curiosity plays a highly important role as an auxiliary interest, since the mediating cognition of interest may always provide an occasion for it. Scarcely less notable is the role of emulation as auxiliary to any interest which operates in the competitive situation.


All interests are personal, in the sense that they are the interests of some person, and in proportion as the individual achieves a certain degree of integration. Some interests are personal in another sense, in the sense, namely, that they are interests in a person. When we speak of a certain person's interests as “impersonal” we mean that he is characteristically interested in objects other than persons — objects such as art or science. It is in this sense that women are said (whether rightly or wrongly) to be more personal than men. When the person ‘of’ and the person ‘in’ are different persons the interest belongs to the social mode of interest, which will be examined below.

There remains the case in which the possessor or subject of the interest is the same as its object: when the person that the interest is “of,” or to whom the interest belongs, is the same as the person “in” whom the interest is taken. In this case, the personal interest is reflexive; and the term ‘self’ becomes appropriate. If the idea of personal reflexive interest is to retain any meaning there must be a duality of role played by the same person. The problem is the same as the problem of self-consciousness, which can mean nothing unless the person who is conscious is the same person as the person who is the object of consciousness. There is every likelihood of confusion, but there is no logical impediment, if it be recognized that the two terms of a relationship may be regarded as in one respect the same and in another respect different.

The expressions ‘self-interest,’ ‘self-love,’ and ‘selfishness’ have a morally disparaging meaning when the self in question is comparatively devoid of social interests. Apart from this social aspect of the self there remains the difference between a subject's total self-interest and his partial self-interest. The former requires an idea of his integrated personality — not only of what his self comprises, but of the order among his interests. The latter requires only that his object shall be one of his own states or activities.

Inasmuch as the interested subject or agent is a whole of many parts, he lives in an internal as well as an external environment. Each activity of the organism has its repercussions within the body; each organ is interdependent on other organs; each interest of the subject has its commerce with other interests of the same subject; sensory experience embraces somatic or interoceptive, as well as exteroceptive, sensations. This distinction is not to be confused with the distinction between the dealing and its occasion. The dealing is always internal, but the interest as a whole is internal only when the occasion is also internal, as when a person is impelled to remove his own pain, or restrains his impulse to sleep in the interest of his own ambition. The social consequences of the distinction are far-reaching. Insofar as the objects of a person's interests are internal they are not of immediate concern to others; they do not impinge on the common environment, and create no occasion for dispute or necessity of social regulation.

Social interest, in the broad sense, is interest of one person in the interest or interests of a second person. As in the case of personal interest, interest “in” must not be confused with interest “of.” All interests are of society, in that they are interests of persons who are members of a society. And when the interests of the members of a society are organized, and find modes of collective expression, then we may speak of an interest of society as a whole; though such organization would be impossible if there were no interests of its members in one another. As in the case of personal interest social interest may be total, as distinguished from partial; there may be an interest in, as well as of, the whole of society.

Social interest is to be distinguished from interest in a second individual where this second individual's interests are disregarded. If

Diogenes was interested, as Plutarch said, in having Alexander “stand a little on one side, and not keep the sun off,” he was not interested in Alexander's interests but only in his body. “Cupboard love,” so-called, is the interest of the child in an indulgent person as a mere source of supply.

Interest in another's interest may be positive or negative, and dependent or independent. The child's affection for his mother after it has passed the stage of mere interest in the warmth or food of her body, is likely at first to be a gratitude for past favors or a bribery for favors to come — for what “he can get out of her.” The mother's love is likely to be an independent interest, an interest in the child's interest “for its own sake,” no benefits received or looked for; whereas the father may be thinking of the child as a potential breadwinner. Most positive social interests are a mixture of dependent and independent.

The term ‘benevolence’ which plays so prominent a role in the literature of ethics, had best be reserved for positive, independent interest in the fulfillment of another's interest, whether this be positive or negative. To seek to discover another's interest, or to seek to implant it, is not benevolence: benevolence is to seek to further it. Malevolence is negative interest in the fulfillment of another's interest; or the desire to frustrate it.

Personal benevolence or malevolence (personal love or hate) is a relation of person to person, rather than of interest to interest. The benevolence of one person towards a second person means, in the extreme sense, that the first person is positively interested in the fulfillment of the totality of the interests, positive or negative, of the second person; the malevolence of one person to a second person means that the first person is interested in the frustration of the totality of the interests, positive or negative, of the second person. The same principles may be extended to the interests of all persons of a group; or, in the limiting cases of universal benevolence (philanthropy) and universal malevolence (misanthropy), the interests of the total aggregate of persons. A person may be characterized as benevolent or malevolent on the whole when his independent and overruling interests are benevolent or malevolent.

It is to be noted that benevolence and malevolence as here defined are distinguished from beneficence and maleficence by the presence of the will to fulfill or frustrate the interests of others. They are quite distinct from mere helpfulness and hurtfulness, and imply an attitude of friendliness or enmity. It is to be noted, furthermore, that the ‘good’ component of benevolence and the ‘evil’ component of malevolence are relative to the interest of the second person and not of the first. The determining factor in both cases is the interest of the second party as it moves him, and not as it is imputed or projected by the first party.

Selfishness is clearly not the same as malevolence. Malevolence is selfish, but selfishness need not be malevolent; it consists in the mere absence of benevolence. In this sense every interest is selfish which does not consist in, or is not modified by, a positive, independent regard for the fulfillment of another's interests. The common appetites, taken in themselves, are of this sort; as is the person who is completely indifferent to the interests of others. It is quite possible that a selfish person should be entirely free from “thought of self.”


There are two senses in which interests are conflicting, namely, contradiction and incompatibility. Contradictory interests are positive and negative interests in the same object. We have seen that positive and negative interests are not distinguished by their objects, but as the realizing and de-realizing of the object. It follows that the positive and negative interests in the same object cannot both be fulfilled. But they can coexist. The explanation lies in the fact that their contradiction is prospective — they are on their way toward a point at which the contradiction would take effect. Two projectiles moving in opposite directions toward a point of junction can coexist, despite the fact that the occupation of that point by one implies its non-occupation by the other. Similarly, two propositional attitudes (“I hope that it will rain,” “I hope that it will not rain”) can coexist when the propositions are contradictories. The object of both is a problematic future raining.

The conflict of interests in the sense of contradictoriness is to be distinguished from their accidental incompatibility. Two non-contradictory enjoyments of the same monument may be incompatible when one enjoyment interferes with the other through requiring the exclusive occupation of the same post of observation. Contradictoriness and incompatibility are further distinguished by the fact that while the former requires that their objects shall be the same, the latter is independent of the object. Thus an interest in the contemplation of the landscape may be disturbed by the noise of building or traffic.

There are two spheres of incompatibility, the social sphere and the personal sphere. The most notable case of social incompatibility is provided by acquisitive or “preëUmptive” interests, which are distinguished by the fact that their dealings require the exclusive use of their external occasions. At least in degree there is a difference between the interest which usurps its occasion, cannot share it with others because it alters it, and the non-preëmptive interest which leaves its occasion as it finds it. The preëmptive interest leads to the institution of property, and is one of the most prolific causes of quarrels. But the principle of incompatibility is of scarcely less importance in describing the relation of the several interests of the same person, which, though they be directed to quite different external occasions must nevertheless in their dealings employ the time, energies, faculties, and other resources of the same organism.

Incompatible interests tend to become contradictory. Thus when the aesthetic interests of the two subjects are incompatible because of the requirement of the same post of observation, each tends to assume the form of preventing its occupation by the other. And when this situation arises, contradictoriness tends to pass over into malevolence or enmity, in which each person is interested in the frustration of the interest of the other.

Harmony, taken as the opposite of conflict, is to be explained in the same terms. It means non-contradiction and compatibility. Interests may exist, relatively to one another, in a state of innocence, which enables them both to be fulfilled without interference. Such a state of affairs exists whenever interests are sufficiently separated in space and time. Harmony in this sense is diminished by propinquity, and by all the technological advances in transportation, communication, and range of action, which bring men together into a single interactive system. But the same conditions which diminish the innocence of remoteness make possible that organized harmony which distinguishes the personal and social life of man on the level of conscious will. When men's interests are so related as to create incompatibility and contradiction they devise methods of achieving compatibility and consistency which in turn breed not only non-hostility, but benevolence and coöperation.


Interests can be ranked, so as to give meaning to ‘higher’ or ‘lower,’ or superior and inferior values. This question has been obscured by the assumption that there is only one ranking of interests, so that the so-called “supreme good” is supreme absolutely, or in all respects. As a matter of fact, however, interests can be ranked by many standards. This does not mean that interests have no rank, or that they do not really and objectively possess the ranks imputed to them; nor does it imply that one or more of their rankings may not have certain peculiarities which qualify them to be singled out for special emphasis.

Good, or the object of positive interest, is better than evil and worth-lessness, the objects of negative interest and indifference. The objects of greater interest, however measured — as by preference, intensity, strength, duration, and number — are better than the objects of lesser. The object of true or enlightened interest is better than the object of false because there is a positive interest in truth, and because the fulfillment of true interests is more likely to lead to enjoyment, and to promote other interests. There is no objection to the admission of all these standards provided they are not confused with one another.

If objects are to be deemed better in terms of comparative interest, then no standard should be invoked unless it is definable in terms of interest. Such standards as “modern” and “human” must be viewed with suspicion. “Modern” is not better than ancient when this means merely a historical difference, but only when it implies a greater magnitude of interest, as for example, through advancing enlightenment or social organization. These considerations apply equally to the standard of “human.” Objects of interest to men are not to be accounted better than objects of interest to animals, unless human interests can be shown to be higher on some ground other than biological species.

There is an inveterate tendency to assume that an interest that is superior in one respect is superior in all respects. There is only one respect of which this can be said, namely, inclusiveness. If one interest includes another interest it possesses and exceeds all the magnitudes which the included interest possesses. A whole must be more than its parts — otherwise the term ‘partial’ would lose its meaning. The standard of inclusion escapes the problem of commensurability by not raising it. To say that a total interest is greater than any of its partial interests whatever their magnitudes escapes the necessity of comparing these magnitudes among themselves.

Here again it is necessary to resist the temptation to claim too much. The standard of inclusiveness does not annul or supersede other standards, but omits them without prejudice. It defines the framework within which life may rise through other rankings of inferiority and superiority. It is the principle of inclusiveness which provides the warrant for the claims of morality — to which we now turn.

  • 1.

    For a discussion of the “ontological” distinctions, “being,” “existence,” “real,” etc., cf. below, Ch. XXII.

  • 2.

    The double aspect of drives is recognized by this writer in the case of “social drives”; but why it is restricted to these, he does not make clear; cf. his “Motivation, Learning, and Adjustment,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 84 (1941), pp. 543–55.

  • 3.

    Cf. C. I. Lewis, Analysis of Knowledge and Valuation, 1946, pp. 382, 388–9.

From the book: