1. Among recent American thinkers, perhaps among American philosophers generally, John Dewey stands first. He is not the keenest philosophic critic; that place belongs, I think, to Lovejoy. He is not the philosopher whose writing, as writing, is most likely to be read in the future; that honour will probably go to Santayana. Nor is he the most learned and systematic; Royce excelled him in both respects. Nor again is he the philosopher who as a person is most influential or memorable; here one thinks first of William James. But his thought was impressively original; it was carried into every department of philosophy with an inexhaustible energy; by some interpreters it has been taken to express with peculiar fidelity the American mind; and however that may be, its influence in politics, in religion, and in education, has been incalculable. Though my own sympathies in philosophy lie in other directions, it was my good fortune to have been a pupil of Dewey and to have remained in occasional touch with him for more than thirty years. Those who disagree with another's conclusions are not usually the best exponents of his thought, whatever regard they may feel for him personally; and I do not presume to have fully understood Dewey. But his star has undergone an all too rapid eclipse, and since he was one of the most thoroughgoing of naturalists in ethics as in every other philosophic field, it will be well to take him as our representative of this type of ethical theory.
Dewey travelled far in ethics. It is sometimes forgotten that in his early days he was, like Mr Gladstone, ‘the rising hope of the stern unbending Tories’. If one looks at articles he contributed to Mind in his thirties, one will find little in their orthodox pages to suggest what a heretic he was to be at ninety. In those days he was doing sturdy battle for the Absolute, conceived as an all-inclusive consciousness in which everything was connected organically with everything else. He thought that the business of the philosopher was to reproduce this whole as nearly as he could in his own consciousness. The business of the good man was essentially the same; as an enthusiastic disciple of T. H. Green, Dewey considered the goal of life to be self-realization, the fullest and most harmonious experience one could achieve. His ethics was thus founded on his metaphysics. Hence when his metaphysics began to crumble, as it did in the 1890s, the ethics had to be largely rebuilt. Let us try to see what happened.
It was not that at any particular time he found Green to be refuted; that is hardly the way in which philosophies get replaced. It was rather that his interest shifted from metaphysics to science, and that at this new and less lofty altitude the old beliefs turned out to be snow men that melted away. The focus of his attention shifted from the organism as conceived by Hegel to the organism as conceived by Darwin, and this change carried with it a total transformation in his view of the nature and end of thought. For the Hegelian, thought is a misty term of magnificent sweep; everything seems to fall under it; one's consciousness is mostly thought, and wherever it turns in nature, it is greeted by more thought in the form of what Dewey described as ‘the universal intelligence’. But as he became more of a biologist, the metaphysician in him faltered. Thought to the biologist is not a stuff of which things are made; it is a process of thinking; and thinking is a way of behaving on the part of the organism. It must therefore be studied in the way in which we study other such activities—walking, climbing, or swimming, for example. When we set out to explain such activities, we usually ask how they came about, or what we are trying to do by means of them, or perhaps both. Now, said Dewey, if you ask such questions about the activity of thinking, the answer will force you on to a new theory of the nature of thought. That theory is ‘instrumentalism’, and since this forms the core of Dewey's new philosophy, we must try to see what it means.
2. Consider what first made men think. According to Dewey it was not wonder, as Aristotle supposed, but the pressure of practical need. Thinking is the sort of activity an organism resorts to, if it can, when instinct and habit break down. So long as primitive man could satisfy his hunger and thirst by instinct eked out by habit, he no doubt followed that animal pattern. But when he was faced with starvation, it was a case of think or die. If he was to go on living at all, he must devise a spear to help him bring down the elusive deer. Thought is a means, a device, an instrument, engendered by biological need to secure the satisfaction of that need. Now it is the essence of Dewey's theory to say that this account of how thinking first came about holds of thinking today. Why does anyone now think? The answer is roughly, because he has to. The sleepy flow of habitual response is blocked, and a way must be found of getting round the obstacle. You are going out; shall you take your coat? You must have a look at the weather and attempt some forecast. You come home, fumble in your pocket, and find you have forgotten the key; what shall you do to get in? Thinking springs from conflict, says Dewey; it is always the response to a challenge. It first appeared as a means devised by nature to help the organism adjust itself to surroundings that were frustrating. In its latter-day activities it has managed to disguise itself under imposing masks of impersonal science, speculative philosophy, and other adventures in reine Vernunft, but the shrewd naturalist will not be taken in. He will see that beneath all the disguises, thinking remains in essence an instrument of organic adjustment. Dewey has written a book called The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy, and someone has said with point that in writing the title he wrote his own description.
We may well note that by thought Dewey means what most of us would call reflective thought. It is of course common to speak of thought as present in perception and recognition; when we recognize a post-box for what it is and drop a letter in it, there seems clearly to be more in our mind than sensation, and it is natural to call this surplus ‘thought’. Dewey regards this as a major mistake. For him there is no such thing as immediate knowledge or immediate inference. Post-boxes, so long as there is no question about them, are simply given things, and he calls them data. To distinguish within such things between sense-data and the non-sensible-seems to him a falling back on the perverse old notion that thought is a kind of non-sensible stuff. To perceive a pillar-box is to respond to a given whole unquestioningly. To think is to deal with a problem, to surmount a barrier that halts and flouts us.
3. But if thinking is to be seen as it is, we must ask not only what brings it about but what it is for. Dewey's answer is that its true end is implied in its beginning; and what that is we have just seen. Thought is called into existence by a block to our activity; it reaches its end when that block is surmounted or removed. The ideas that suggest themselves when we are in difficulty are really plans of action, devices for relieving the tension, tools for restoring the adjustment between organism and environment. The thought of the savage was a proposal to make a spear as a means of getting the stag; your reflection about the weather was a means of insuring that you stayed dry; your ideas about getting into the house were merely practical substitutes for the key, and designed, like it, to effect an entrance. And if thought is thus always generated as a means to restoring a situation to harmony, its achievement of this end is all we can intelligibly mean by truth. Truth in short means success, success in removing the particular frustration which thought was invoked to deal with. The test of truth does not lie in self-evidence, or in the intellectual grasp of necessity; Dewey devotes much of his Quest for Certainty to trying to show the illusoriness of such notions. It lies in the satisfaction of bringing some divided situation to harmony, a satisfaction which always involves, in his view, a course of physical action. Instrumentalism, then, is the theory that thought is an instrument of organic adjustment whose truth lies in its success.
4. Why talk about Dewey's instrumentalism when our topic is his ethics? Because the ethics of his later days, like his later logic and his philosophies of religion, education, and politics, is the by-product of his instrumentalism, and unintelligible without it. He once held that thinking in science and thinking in ethics were directed toward different ends and must be treated in different ways. He came to think this a blunder, and to hold that the future of ethics and the hope of moral sanity lies in seeing that thinking is the same process in both, that moral judgments are essentially statements of fact and as capable of scientific testing as other statements of fact. He was an empiricist and anti-rationalist in ethics as in logic. Logic for Dewey is not a study of self-evident and changeless principles to which valid thinking must conform; all such principles he regards as themselves hypotheses, to be tested by the way they work out; satisfactory working replaces both truth and self-evidence as fundamental in his system. Logic is thus for him a ‘theory of inquiry’, a study of the process by which doubts are satisfactorily removed. Ethics is the same study with a more restricted subject-matter. Most ethical studies have been concerned with the principles conformity to which makes an act right, or with the nature of the summum bonum. Dewey's ethics is concerned with neither, for he regards such concepts as futile attempts to impose fixities upon a flux. Ethics for him is the study of how to solve problems where values are involved. It is the theory of ethical inquiry. The reader approaching his logic or ethics for the first time is likely to be bewildered. He has expected a study of the laws of thought and of the construction of a deductive system, and he finds a study of the psychology of thinking. He looks for a reasoned argument about the right and the good, and gets instead a description, full of humane insight, but tantalizingly remote from classical ethics, of how impulse and instinct in fact flower out into habit, choice, and will.
Dewey has described these processes over and over again, in his Logic, Quest for Certainty, Experience and Nature, and Theory of Valuation. These accounts are all, to my mind, extremely obscure. The obscurity is not merely a matter of language, though Dewey's habit of writing sentences composed as far as possible of abstract nouns makes for heavy going; the trouble is that he was in reaction against logicality itself as this had been traditionally conceived, with its sharply delimited concepts and its self-evident finalities; and his attempt to make these over into suggestions for action resulted in what, to more orthodox beginners, seems like a perpetual blurring of distinctions, a perpetual stress on what is slightly beside the point. On the other side, every critic of instrumentalism has been accused with wearisome iteration and only too probably with justice, of getting the position wrong. Dewey often urges the importance of keeping close to the concrete. It will be fair enough, then, if in setting out his view on moral judgment, we follow a somewhat unusual course. Instead of stating his view in the abstract, we shall take a simple case of moral choice and ask how his account of it would differ from that of more traditional moralists.
I am a university student, let us say, and someone gives me a ticket to a concert, which he cannot use himself. I am interested in the concert and should like to go. But it happens that my roommate is a musician of parts who has tried to get a ticket without success. What should I do? Most sensitive people would think it right, and perhaps a duty, that I should give the ticket to him, on the ground that, at a small cost to myself, I could give him much enjoyment. With this Dewey would no doubt agree. But his account of what goes on in settling even a simple question like this differs from the one commonly received.
5. (1) He differs as to how moral problems arise. He holds, as we have seen, that they always arise from a psychological conflict. In the case in question, it has been my habit, when something is given to me, to use it for my own pleasure, and that is my first impulse when I am given the ticket. But, living in close association with my room-mate, I have also been in the habit of taking his pleasure and convenience into account. Here the two habits conflict. If I pursue my own advantage, I must sacrifice his; if I pursue his, I must to some extent sacrifice my own. There is an inner rift; I am drawn in both directions at once. It is some such division and tension, Dewey would say, that gives rise to every moral problem.
Does he really differ here from other moralists? Yes and no. To say that every problem involves a conflict between one's inquiring self and stubborn fact seems hardly more than tautology. But Dewey's view is distinctive in at least three ways. For one thing, he holds that a moral problem concerns what the thinker is to do. Most people would say that they often deal with moral problems that require no action at all on their part, as when they read in the newspaper that New York dockworkers have gone on strike, and wonder whether that is justifiable, Again, since the conflict is over what to do, it always has regard, Dewey thinks, to the future, not the past. And this has an air of paradox, since most of us would say that, we were raising a moral problem in asking whether Brutus did right in killing Caesar. Thirdly, Dewey differs from most moralists about the parties to the conflict. Most of them would probably say, as Kant does, that the conflict is between the sense of wanting to do something and the sense, however vague and variously grounded, that one ought to do something else. Dewey's accounts of this conflict vary. In his earlier days, the conflict was a contradiction between judgments; later it was a maladjustment between organism and environment; sometimes it appears as a psychological strain or tension; sometimes it is a mutual inhibition of habits; sometimes—and this seems to be his latest teaching—the situation itself is tensional and conflicting, and demands restoration to harmony. (This I do not understand. How a situation, as distinct from people's wants or needs or beliefs about it, can have tensions or make demands, is not clear; I think Dewey must be talking in metaphors.) The conflict, then, that in Dewey's mind gives rise to ethical reflection is more narrowly conceived in two respects than it is by most moralists, and more vaguely conceived in another.
6. (2) What makes a problem a moral one? For of course not all problems, even problems of practice, are moral. If in cashing a ten-dollar cheque, the teller asks you whether you will have two five-dollar bills, or ten ones, or some small change as well as paper, the issue is not felt to be moral. But there is one condition which, if fulfilled, would at once turn your choice into a moral one, namely that it should involve a conflict of values. Suppose you know that three minutes later you are to take a bus to the station, and that your only change will be what you are now getting. To give a harried bus driver a ten-dollar bill for a fifteen-cent fare is to make oneself a nuisance, and if it occurs to you, as you stand at the teller's window, that this is involved, the choice is no longer indifferent. It becomes moral because it involves competing values. ‘All the serious perplexities of life… come back to a conflict of goods.’ (Quest for Certainty, 253.) A moral choice is always a choice between better and worse. Here most moralists would agree with Dewey, though the deontologists, as we have seen, would not.
7. (3) In holding that a moral conflict is a conflict between values, what does Dewey mean by a ‘value’? Is it a quality that exists in things, independently of our knowing or feeling? Not at all. Take away human needs and feelings, Dewey would say, and there would be nothing of value left in the world. A value is a satisfaction. But what is it in human nature that a thing must satisfy as a condition of having value? Dewey is careful on this point, and if we are to be clear about his position, we must distinguish two attitudes of mind—enjoying on the one hand, and prizing or desiring on the other. The first does not involve values; the second does.
To enjoy something is simply to take delight in it. There is no reflecting about what it means, or what caused it, or what it will lead to. A child's pleasure in a bright new stone, a man's pleasure when he hears that he has been left a fortune, Dewey mentions as examples. In such experiences, he will not admit that, properly speaking, there is any value at all. Why not? It is hard to believe that he could come by such a view through looking directly at the facts; one can only suspect that his instrumentalist theory of knowledge is here moulding his theory of value; nor is it very difficult to see how. If you conceive truth as the successful surmounting of an obstacle in practice, you will go on to deny, as Dewey does, that there is any truth in common perception, since that offers no obstacle to surmount. The good instrumentalist will want to make value, like truth, something achieved in action; and if he does, there will be no immediate valuation any more than immediate knowledge. In speaking of the man who hears that he has been left a fortune, Dewey admits that ‘there is enjoyment’. But if valuation is defined in terms of desire and interest, he goes on, ‘there is no valuation, and in so far, no “value”, the latter coming into being only when there arises some desire as to what shall be done with the money and some question as to the formation of an end-in-view’.1
Value then is not relative to enjoyment, but to desire. How does this differ from enjoyment? It differs as a process of active seeking does from one of passive relishing. It is an activity or effort, Dewey says, and is ‘marked by energy expended to secure the conditions that are the source of the gratification’.2 And this arises as we should now expect, only when there is some need or act that calls it into activity; ‘valuation takes place,’ we read, ‘only when there is something the matter; when there is some trouble to be done away with, some need, lack, or privation to be made good, some conflict of tendencies to be resolved by means of changing existing conditions’.3 When the man who heard about his new fortune began to ask what he would do with it and to want certain things that he could get with it, value first came upon the scene. The mere having of a concert ticket is of no value. But when, in trying to settle the doubt what to do with it, I imagine myself at the concert listening to an accomplished performance, the desire is aroused to go. Then the concert has value for me.
Now if all value depends on desire, it is important to be quite clear what Dewey means by it. Most philosophers mean by it a conscious experience, a feeling of being drawn toward something thought of, a mental as distinct from a bodily affair. The desire may lead to outward behaviour that will help realize it, or it may not, but the desire is one thing and the behaviour another. Dewey will have none of this. He insists that he is a behaviourist, that for him the desire is the behaviour. He objects to introducing into the account of valuation any reference to feelings at all, on the ground that ‘the word is brought in from an alleged psychological theory which is couched in mentalistic terms or in terms of alleged states of inner consciousness or something of that sort’.4 The ground of this objection is that no assertion is fully warranted unless it can be verified by scientific method, that this method requires what it deals with to be open to public inspection and that feelings taken as mental are not open to such inspection. The desire in which valuing consists must therefore be regarded as ‘an active relation of the organism to the environment’ which ‘takes place in the public and observable world’.5
8. (4) Granting now that the desiring or prizing of anything is what confers value on it, is this prizing ever mistaken? Dewey says No. Only judgment can, in the proper sense, be mistaken, and to find something of value is not the same thing as to judge it to be of value. The first may occur without the second, and the second without the first. A mother prizes the welfare of her child, but in doing so she is not necessarily making assertions about how precious the child is. If a question arose in her mind as to whether it was precious, she would no doubt say at once that it was. What is it that such judgments assert? Dewey's answer supplies our fourth point about this theory, which follows from the third. Such judgments, he says, ‘are always propositions about matters-of-fact’; ‘they are valuation-propositions only in the sense in which propositions about potatoes are potato-propositions’.6 To say that a thing is of value is to say that someone desires it; and to say that is to say that someone acts toward it in a certain way. Usually this someone is oneself. To say that the concert is good is thus normally a statement of fact to the effect that one acts toward it in a way that would make an observer report that one liked it. What if one says that a concert is good while giving no signs of acting in this way?—for this does seem to happen. In such a case one presumably means that other people act so. On Dewey's view one never means what most people would probably say they meant, namely that the experience of enjoying a concert is worth while in itself. The question, whether something is of value is a factual question to be settled by looking and seeing; ‘that a mother prizes or holds dear her child… may be determined by observation’.7
9. (5) But suppose the question now arises, not whether someone does prize a thing, but whether he ought to prize it, whether he is attaching the right value to it. This brings us, fifthly, to what Dewey regards as the purest and most typical value judgment, the judgment of appraisal, the valuation of a value.
Suppose that, wanting to go to the concert and also to further my friend's enjoyment, I find that both wants cannot be satisfied. What do I do? I appraise them. I ask myself the question, Which of these two values, or desires, is the more important? How am I to settle that? There is no more crucial question for any writer on ethics. Dewey's answer to it is this: that to appraise something is to present to ourselves the means we must adopt in order to reach it and the further consequences to which it tends, and to allow our desire to be remoulded in the light of this enlarged situation. Let us see more concretely what this means.
I have the desire to go to the concert, and hence for me the concert has value. How much value? Is there any sense in saying that I can intuit the amount directly, or by placing it on a scale of satisfactions? According to Dewey, none. What I must do instead is to consider the causes and effects of the satisfaction. First I must consider the causes, that is, the means I must adopt if my desire is to be fulfilled. I find that the concert is to be given in a distant part of the city, which would take some two hours to reach, and that if I am to get there, I must go partly by underground and partly by bus, with the connections uncertain, or else take a taxi, which in view of the distance would be expensive. In the light of these means, my valuation of the end undergoes a change; my desire flickers and threatens to go out. Nor does this end the matter. The revaluation continues as I turn from means to consequences. For going to a concert is not so simple a matter as occupying a seat for an hour or two; it is a stage in a longer process which unfortunately involves getting myself home at the end. Even if the affair is over at eleven, I shall not be at home till well past midnight, which probably means a bleary-eyed following day. And that day I may have to devote to construing Mr Dewey, an exacting enough business for the most clear-headed day. When I contemplate the concert in this lurid context of causes and consequences it looks very different and I find that my desire has vanished.
I then turn to the alternative. Unfortunately, the difficulties my room-mate would have in attending are the same as mine, and as for the consequences, they will no doubt be worse. The poor man has recently had the flu, and his artistic temperament has cursed him with an excitability that would keep him awake afterward half the night. I consider that it would be an indiscretion for him to go, and no kindness in me to tempt him. When placed thus in their contexts, both my desires get reappraised at zero or rather less.
What this reappraisal has done, however, is not to remove the conflict, but to redraw its lines. I still have the ticket. I no longer want to use it, or want my friend to use it, but neither do I want to throw it away. I am forced into reflection again in order to find a way out. Suddenly I have it. It occurs to me that my old friend Middlemarch lives in that part of the city, and that he would no doubt like to go very much. I slip the ticket into an envelope with a note of greeting, and that is that.
This is typical of what happens when a moral problem arises in Dewey's world. The attempt to appraise the competing values by placing them in their context of means and consequences alters those values; sometimes it gives a clear advantage to one, sometimes to the other; sometimes, as here, it abolishes both, reconstitutes the parties, and compels us to go hunting for a new way out. When this further way suggests itself, it becomes in turn the object of another desire.
10. (6) Now if this reconciling course of action is thus the object of desire, it is of course itself a value. We must therefore ask, sixthly, how this value is appraised. It presents itself as good to us, but how do we know that it is not a snare and a delusion? Still, since it has emerged out of the process of taking all the involved circumstances into account, it would seem that we could hardly appraise it in the same way. Dewey answers that every appraisal or re-appraisal must in the end be tested by results. What sort of results? The results required to bring this particular conflict to harmony. Desire always springs from conflict, as we have seen, and what it seeks in every case is to remove the conflict. The test of its goodness, then, is whether it does in fact bring about the harmony it was invoked to produce. That this really is the end being sought in ethical reflection and practice is of course a point of the first importance, and we should have it in Dewey's words. ‘The end-in-view’, he writes, ‘is formed and projected as that which, if acted upon, will supply the existing need or lack and resolve the existing conflict.’8 Ends are ‘means to unification and liberation of present conflicting, confused habits and impulses’;9 ‘an end is a device of intelligence in guiding action, instrumental to freeing and harmonizing troubled and divided tendencies’.10 ‘The end-in-view of desire is that object which were it present would link into an organized whole activities which are now partial and competing.’11 The true value of this end, as it presents itself to our desire, will then be tested by the extent to which it brings this satisfaction. And this is a matter that can be observed. In our model case, there was the desire and the tendency to make use of the ticket somehow; there was also the desire and tendency to avoid subjecting myself or my room-mate to great inconvenience. Sending the ticket to Middlemarch satisfied both desire-tendencies at once, and brought the conflict to a harmonious close.
11. (7) Have we reached the end of the line? Can I say that with the removal of the conflict I have reached a good of definite amount, in terms of which I can measure all it cost? Even here, Dewey says, we do not really come to rest. Every good, every end, is tentative and provisional. Though the settlement of the conflict marks the end of one chapter, it also opens another; it releases energies which must themselves be strategically used and is therefore as truly a means as an end. Ends, says Dewey, are not terminating points; ‘they are redirecting points in action’:12 ‘there are no fixed self-enclosed finalities’.13 Does this imply that there are no such things as intrinsic values, or ends in themselves? Yes, Dewey would answer—here is our seventh and final point—this is what it implies. The good does not He beyond the process in some El Dorado or Vale of Avalon in which all our strivings cease; it lies in the process itself; indeed it is the process, so far as this is a process of releasing and integrating energies. ‘The sole meaning of aims and purposes’ is ‘to liberate and guide present action out of its perplexities and confusions’,14 and to this enterprise there is no end that can be internally set. Accordingly, Dewey sometimes describes the goal and test of right action as lying in progress. This he defines, none too clearly, as ‘present reconstruction adding fullness and distinctness of meaning,’15 or, a little more in detail: ‘progress means increase of present meaning, which involves multiplication of sensed distinctions as well as harmony, unification’.16 To the question what is the test whether apparent progress is really progress, Dewey would answer that no test is possible except that of still further progress. He will admit no ends whose value is not determined by the fact that they are also means.
12. These are the bones of the theory. Of course one learns nothing from them of the wealth of psychological description and sensible ethical commentary with which Dewey covers them. We have been concerned only with his answer to the central question, How is one to go about it to find what one ought to do?, which resolves itself in his hands into, How is one to find what is good? What are we to say of the theory?
My main criticism of it, as it is of other theories like positivism that allege themselves to be empirical, is that it is not empirical enough. Instead of looking at moral judgment directly, Dewey seems to look at it through the lenses of a preconceived theory of knowledge, a theory that unfortunately does not inspire confidence. Instrumentalism as a description of how thinking is commonly aroused and the stages it goes through may be illuminating; Dewey, like James, is at his best as a psychologist, and when he sets himself, as he did in his little book called How We Think, to produce a psychology of thinking, he is admirable. But instrumentalism as a logical theory seems to me scarcely more than an oddity.17 At any rate, we can see that where the theory most directly affects Dewey's ethics, it makes him say some very strange things.
13. (1) Take at once the three most typically instrumentalist points, that thinking always arises out of a conflict, that what it offers us is a proposal to act, and that what it is aiming at is therefore future consequences. We make many ethical judgments, I think, in which no one of these features can be found.
In the course of reading Froude's great history lately, I came to his dramatic account of the divorce of Catherine of Aragon by Henry VIII. Innumerable thoughtful people have branded Henry's action as monstrous. Froude goes into the matter painstakingly and concludes that in view of all the circumstances Henry was justified. Which view is nearer the truth? As an issue between right and wrong, this is clearly an ethical problem. And in a sense it involves a conflict, for there is so much evidence on each side that one may find decision difficult. But the conflict is here very different from the sort Dewey has in mind. It is not a conflict between impulses, habits, or desires, but between masses of evidence which seem to make for different conclusions. So far as one can see, there are no impulses present to do contrary things, no habits pulling one in opposite directions, no desires to do incompatible things at once, no block to organic behaviour which must be surmounted. Of course I may be interested in the question primarily for the light it may throw on some practical problem of my own, or of a friend, but I need not be; and even if I were, the question whether Henry did right is not the same as the question what I should do now.
14. (2) Instrumentalists deny this. They say that even in judgments about the past what we are really doing is trying to lay out a course of action for ourselves. ‘Ideas’, they say, ‘are statements not of what is or has been, but of acts to be performed’; Dewey tells us that he conceives of ‘all knowledge’ as ‘an instrument for further action’.18 If I judge then that Henry was right, what I am really doing is solving a problem of how I should act now. Here again—and this is my second criticism—Dewey's instrumentalism has surely made him mis-describe the facts. What is the course of action which, in judging about Henry, I am supposed to be adopting? I cannot conjecture. No doubt there are actions I might perform that would help me indirectly to solve my problem, such as going to the library and getting down other histories, but such behaviour would not itself settle the problem. Strictly speaking, any action I may take is irrelevant; what is relevant is the evidence which that action may turn up. Dewey is advancing here a theory of the most radical kind regarding what we are about when we think; and a difference of opinion at this level is almost beyond the reach of argument. The difference concerns not merely the point at issue, but also the meaning of every assertion advanced on either side. It is for each of us to examine as well as he can what he is trying to do in judging. In cases where the problem before us is what to do next, it is plausible, though I think inaccurate, to say that all we mean by determining truth is finding a means to an end. But when we are trying to settle what was or would be right, to identify the interest in knowing with the interest in doing seems to me a confusion between two aims that are each definite and quite distinct.
The fundamental trouble with pragmatists is that they disown this distinction. They want to absorb all the uses of thinking into its use as a biological tool. Now we need not deny that what first drove men to ethical thinking, and indeed every other kind of thinking, was practical need. The man faced with starvation must either make a spear or die; and if he is not too dim of wit, necessity will prove the mother of invention. But granting that his thought is an instrument of action, it does not follow, even here, that it was wholly or merely that. Practical need rouses his sluggish attention and starts it looking for the means of making a weapon. But when he goes on to note that this sapling is straighter than that, and has fewer branches to cut off, he is interested in the facts about it, and this interest in knowing is already different, though not discriminated, from the interest in doing.
Through the mass of instrumentalist writings there runs the assumption that because it is practical need that brought thinking into play in the first place and usually does today, therefore thinking in its very nature is a tool of this need, with no end of its own. To recognize a purely theoretical goal and try to reach it by reflection seems to the pragmatist the symptom of an incipient disease. The whole history of moral philosophy therefore carries a taint. The entire succession of moralists from Socrates to Ross have been pursuing a will-o'—the-wisp. They have been trying to determine the characteristics of right action as such, as distinct from bad; and since there is no conceivable course of action that could settle this question, it is unreal and meaningless. Those who supposed themselves pre-occupied with it did not understand themselves; their thought was really a tool to some other and disguised end prescribed by their social class or by their need for ‘rationalizing’ practical deficiency, a need more readily brought to light by the psycho-analyst than by the philosopher.19 Now it must be admitted that the treatment of speculative philosophy as a psychological abnormality has gained some support within the philosophic community itself since Dewey wrote, though this theory of philosophy shows a singular reluctance to apply the theory to itself. Suffice it to say that if I had to decide which is the more likely, that moral philosophers generally before 1900 were pursuing illusions or that there is an error somewhere in the instrumentalist account of thought, I should feel compelled to choose the latter.
15. (3) Moral problems, then, do not always grow out of a conflict of desires, nor are they always practical problems, in the sense of being problems of what to do. It is worth noting, thirdly, though this has been implied already, that ethical problems do not always have to do with the future. The instrumentalist says they do. This follows from his view of ideas as ‘anticipatory plans and designs’.20 Like some of the more extreme of present-day positivists, Dewey holds that in thought about the remote past it is ‘the present or future’ that ‘constitutes the object or genuine meaning of the judgment’,21 and that the truth of such judgment lies in what he calls the interlocking of two sets of future consequences, those of the past event on the one hand and those of my present belief on the other. On this point the criticisms of Lovejoy and others seemed to many to be decisive, but they apparently left Dewey unmoved. In discussing moral judgment he writes: ‘The reference in blame and every unfavourable judgment is prospective, not retrospective.’22 It seems to me on the contrary that if I say Henry did wrong in divorcing Catherine, my reference is clearly retrospective, not prospective. It may be true that if I blame him, it is on the ground of consequences which came after his own decision and which he might have foreseen, but these can hardly include consequences that after four centuries are still to come, and the case would be unaltered if they did. For when I say that Henry did what he ought not to have done, my reference is surely to an act long past and to a guilt belonging to that act at the time. Henry's act did not wait for its guilt till we turned our attention to it; unless he was guilty when he lived and acted, he was never guilty at all.
16. (4) These are comments on Dewey's ethics as applied instrumentalism. Now for some further comments. Is it true, then, fourthly, that when we say anything is good, we mean that it is desired? Dewey would say that it is, if we mean by desire the desire that leads to active seeking. He would say that my prospective presence at the concert has value, so far as it arouses an active desire to go. Now it is true, I think, that nothing would have value in the absence of some kind of experience. Would a prehistoric boulder on the other side of the moon have any sort of value? I think not. Nor do I understand how a sunrise can have any value if no one sees it, except as meaning that something exists which under the right conditions would give rise to a valuable experience. There is even a sense, yet to be seen, in which all that is good is so because it contributes to the satisfaction of impulses. But to say that value—all the goodness and badness in things—is derived from our desires and dependent on them seems to me untrue.
Take another simple case of conflict and active desire. Jones retires to his room at bedtime, and discovers that his dog has been in the room. The little pest has climbed with muddy feet on the fresh white counterpane, has left dirty traces all over it, and in the course of pawing it up has managed to tear a gaping hole in it. Jones is devoted to his dog, but this is too much. His habit of making allowances for his pet tends in one direction, his angry desire to find the offender and give him a drubbing tends in the other. Let us suppose that the second, however unreasonable, wins, and he works off his anger by beating the dog unmercifully. He wants to hurt him and he does. Now if it is true that something becomes good by being the object of desire, the pain of the dog is made good by Jones's desiring it. That I cannot accept. Is the amendment offered that the dog's pain may more properly be called bad, because men are normally averse to it? This may be more humane, but it is still not true. The truth is that the goodness or badness of the dog's suffering does not depend on whether we or others desire it or dislike it; the misery of a solitary dog, crayfish, or earthworm, if these creatures are capable of misery, would be evil even if it were the only sentient being in the universe and even if it were itself below the level of desire. If this is true, to say that values and disvalues generally derive from desire must be untrue.
When we say that something is good, then, we do not mean merely that it is desired. This conviction becomes stronger when we realize that we can judge a course of action to be good while at the same time acting in the opposite direction. Men have been known to take another drink or to embezzle money in the consciousness that what they were doing was wicked. Suppose the question arises in their own minds whether they regard embezzling or excessive drinking to be good or bad. On Dewey's view, this is to be settled by observing their behaviour. If they actively drink to excess or embezzle, then they must regard these things as good, for this is all that so regarding them means. Is not Ovid's insight a shrewder one that we may see and approve the better while actually doing the worse? It is, I suppose, generally sound that one can judge what a man regards as really good by observing what he does, that actions speak louder than words. But to say that a man's valuations are so accurately reflected in his conduct that the two can be identified implies that we never act against our better judgment. And we sometimes do.
17. (5) But fifthly, Dewey not only admits but insists that the goodness or badness that belongs to anything in virtue of the desire it first awakens is not final. We are able to appraise these values, and we often find that what seemed at first glance to be very desirable indeed has little value; our desire to attend the concert, and hence the value of the concert, dwindle as we think of it. What is the method of this appraisal? It is the method of means and ends. Every end, says Dewey, falls in the flux of experience; it has causes that lead up to it and consequences entailed by it; and to appraise it is to revise our desire in the light of the values involved in its causes and effects. ‘The position that ends have value independent of appraisal of means involved and independent of their own further causal efficacy’23 is branded as a major confusion. ‘The value of enjoyment of an object as an attained end is a value of something which in being an end, an outcome, stands in relation to the means of which it is the consequence. Hence if the object in question is prized as an end or “final” value, it is valued in this relation or as mediated.’24 ‘Propositions in which things (acts and materials) are appraised as means enter necessarily into desires and interests that determine end-values.’25
Now it is true that when we are considering whether it is worth while to pursue some end, we usually go about it by weighing the value of the end against the disvalues of the means, and perhaps of the later consequences. We want very much to hear the concert, but when we consider the whole course of action involved in attending it, we see that the discomforts and inconveniences outweigh the advantages and the proposal loses its attractiveness. To many readers Dewey seems to be talking mere obvious sense like ‘look before you leap’.
As a matter of fact he is saying something quite at odds with common sense. Common sense believes that you can look at the disvalues of the means, then at the values of the ends, and weigh them against each other. Dewey seems to hold this impossible, because the only way you could appraise either means or end is to see them as interdependent, as parts of a single proposal. He is inveighing, he tells us, against the very belief ‘that there are such things as ends having value apart from the valuation of the means by which they are reached’.26 If this is true, the weighing against each other of means and ends whose values are independently fixed is out of the question. If the value of the end depends on that of the means, and that of the means in turn upon that of the end, you cannot tell the value of A till you find that of B, but since to find that of B you must already know that of A, you can never fix the value of either, and comparison is impossible. To attach value to an experience or to anything else simply in itself would be, Dewey thinks, entirely arbitrary. Since, apart from causes and consequences, there is no way of appraising what is desired, there is nothing to prevent one's taking it as justifying any means at all. In illustration he takes Charles Lamb's whimsy about the origin of roast pork, to the effect that the first roast pork resulted when a Chinese house burned down with some unfortunate pigs inside; whereupon certain gourmets, discovering the delights of roast pork, proceeded to build more houses with pigs in them and burn them down in order to get more roast pork. ‘Now,’ says Dewey, ‘if ends-in-view are what they are entirely apart from means, and have their value independently of the valuation of means, there is nothing absurd, nothing ridiculous, in this procedure…’27
The first comment to make upon this is that it is at odds with the facts. We are constantly assigning values to means and ends independently, and weighing them against each other, to all appearances successfully. I do not know why it is impossible to contemplate at this moment the delights of roast pork and to assign some value to them without any reference whatever to the means that might enable one to achieve them. To say that I cannot so value them without committing myself to the corollary that it would be all right to burn houses down to get them seems to me astonishing reasoning. If the case seems somewhat fantastic, take a very commonplace one. Near the house where I have spent many summers in Vermont lies Burke Mountain, with an observation tower on top. This commands a magnificent view of the countryside, from the White Mountains on the east to the Green Mountains on the west; and in company with friends I have sometimes made the ascent for the sake of the splendid outlook. Now climbing Burke Mountain puts some tax on wind and limb. One soon learns by not wholly pleasant experience that it requires an effort which in a lazy mood, or in illness or fatigue, is to be avoided. When one considers, therefore, whether to make an ascent to the view on a certain afternoon, one would be silly beyond words to think of the view alone, and not of the cost of getting it; the view and the effort are parts of one enterprise whose worthwhileness as a whole depends on the values and disvalues of its parts. But to go straight from this to the conclusion that no value can be placed on the view at all apart from the thought of the climb and its attendant discomforts—which is what Dewey is saying when he denies ‘that there are such things as ends having value apart from the valuation of the means by which they are reached’—seems clearly illicit. The value one attaches to the view may remain completely unchanged, whatever may be one's means of achieving it. There happens to be a motor road up Burke Mountain, and if Dewey's account is correct, the view, which is my end, ought to have two quite different values on Wednesday when I climb the mountain, and on Thursday when I ride up at ease in a friend's commodious Lincoln. But surely its value is the same. Indeed it is because it does remain the same that I can weigh it so readily against the disvalues of the varying means.
18. What is it that has led Dewey to this strange theory that we can attach no value to ends in themselves? There seem to me to be two errors at work, both connected with his instrumentalism. The first is that a judgment of value is a tool for the securing of consequences. We have seen that, according to the instrumentalists, judgment in its essence is such a tool. Hence if a kind of judgment were to appear that halted in the immediate and stopped with the here and now, if my judgment that the view was glorious were really a means to nothing and was tested by nothing beyond the view itself, instrumentalism as a theory of judgment would have run on a disastrous reef. If the theory is to be kept intact, an analysis is therefore necessary that will prevent any judgment from absorbing itself in the here and now. The judgment of value, even of intrinsic and immediate value, must be a process of flight, not of perching. Ends, however seemingly self-validating, must be seen as links in a chain; the instrumentalist never really knows; as Lovejoy says, he is always about to have known. In short what Dewey seems to me to be doing here, of course with transparent honesty, is rewriting what experience tells us about the independence of ends from their means in the interest of an antecedent theory of thought.
Secondly, behind Dewey's account of appraisal is his insistence that judgment always deals with some specific situation, not with generalities or as-suches. To most of us it would make sense to say that the view we should get from a mountain top would be worth having in itself, that we could say this without reference to what might precede or follow the experience, and that to insist on considering these was to confuse the worth of an experience with the worthwhileness of trying to get it under such and such conditions. Dewey seems at first reading to be making just this confusion. But he is too sophisticated for that. He is not confusing two different judgments; he is deliberately denying that the first kind of judgment is meaningful, or therefore, a judgment at all. If the question is whether you should ascend under such and such conditions, the decision does obviously have to be made in the light of a sequence of experiences which will include both means and ends. But if the question is whether a certain kind of experience is worth having as such or in itself, we have a problem which could not possibly work itself out in any sort of action, and a problem of this kind is in Dewey's opinion a pseudo-problem. And because it is a pseudo-problem, the judgment that tries to solve it must be put down as a pseudo-judgment. Just as the Dewey of later years virtually ceased to talk about truth and spoke instead of warranted assertibility, so he is reluctant to mention values, as suggesting something fixed and outside the process of actively remoulding things, and speaks instead of ‘valuations’. Strictly speaking, there are no values; there are only more or less successful activities of valuation. To talk about the value of an ideal state of things, considered in itself, is therefore to talk idly. I do not think that Dewey adheres to this theory consistently, or that anybody could. As has been remarked by Professor Mitchell, when he writes on politics, he attaches great value to projected social arrangements, regardless of his degree of clearness as to the means of ushering them in. ‘Dewey is no more able than Plato was to show how the necessary conditions are to be realized. If Plato could not show how philosopher-kings are to be found, neither can Dewey show how we can have academic freedom in state-supported schools, free art depending on popular approval, free dissemination of information through commercial publishing and broadcasting, industrial democracy along with private enterprise, or free science supported by industries or tax-supported universities.’28 For him all these ends were worth working for, even if we did not now see the means to them, and would be worth having at the price of any number of different means.
19. In insisting that ends do have values of their own, dependent on neither means nor consequences, I do not want to suggest that these values are final and unalterable. Although Dewey does seem to have stressed out of all proportion the special means-end relation, he is surely right that the new relations in which we place things may affect profoundly the values we attach to them. The man who returns in middle age to the garden where he played as a child sees in it something very different from what he saw in childhood; his estimate of its size, its variety, its mysteriousness, its attractiveness, has changed because he now sees it against the background of an immensely larger world of which in his childhood he was unaware. This is the way, not the way of means and ends, by which our present valuations are in fact revised. If we outgrow our childish taste for comic strips, moving picture ‘westerns’, and certain kinds of novel, it is because we can now see them in perspective, a perspective in which their infantile notions of what is true and important are incongruous at a hundred points with the human nature we have come to know. In the same way, truths and attitudes that seem trivial at first may move from the periphery of importance to the centre as we come to see their implications for thought and life as a whole. Not that this change is a matter of explicit thinking; the man who returns to the garden may never have thought of it in the interval; the shift in value of ‘childish things’ may come to him as a surprise. No one has described this process of re-appraisal more finely than John Henry Newman, and I will indulge myself in the pleasure of quoting his famous paragraph on how even fugitive fragments of verse may change their significance for us with the passing years.
‘… consider, too, how differently young and old are affected by the words of some classic author, such as Homer or Horace. Passages which to a boy are but rhetorical commonplaces, neither better nor worse than a hundred others which any clever writer might supply, which he gets by heart and thinks very fine, and imitates, as he thinks, successfully, in his own flowing versification, at length come home to him, when long years have passed, and he has had experience of life, and pierce him, as if he had never before known them, with their sad earnestness and vivid exactness. Then he comes to understand how it is that lines, the birth of some chance morning or evening at an Ionian festival, or among the Sabine hills, have lasted generation after generation, for thousands of years, with a power over the mind, and a charm, which the current literature of his own day, with all its obvious advantages, is utterly unable to rival. Perhaps this is the reason of the medieval opinion about Virgil, as if a prophet or magician; his single words and phrases, his pathetic half lines, giving utterance, as the voice of Nature herself, to that pain and weariness, yet hope of better things which is the experience of her children in every time.’29
It is by focusing our experience as a whole on a poem or novel that we judge it. An inferior work we outgrow; a masterpiece, as someone has said, is a work contemporary with every age; its significance is not only maintained but deepened when placed in the appraising context of fuller experience. At times Dewey too seems to say this: ‘to think,’ he writes, ‘is to look at a thing in its relations with other things, and such judgment often modifies radically the original attitude of esteem and liking’.30 Excellent. But when he goes on to say what relations, out comes the stock instrumentalist answer: the ‘meaning’ of an intuition of value is identified out of hand with ‘the consequences which will accrue from acting upon it’.31 And this, we must repeat, it is not,
20. We have been considering Dewey's doctrine that valuation is a process of active desiring, and that it gets revalued through being set in a prospective chain of means and consequences. But such valuation remains only tentative. It is still a proposal to act in a certain way, a way that is attractive in prospect but has still to be tested in practice. It is this test in actual practice that validates or refutes all our judgments of value, and it is therefore extremely important to see what it consists in. Unfortunately, to see this is not easy. But Dewey makes two assertions about it which are repeated so often that we may be sure he attaches weight to them. One is that the test is the same kind as that used for scientific judgments; the other is that the consequences which serve as test must take the form of bringing a prior conflict to a close. Let us look at these requirements.
Dewey insists that he is a naturalist, and by naturalism he appears to mean the theory that every legitimate question can be dealt with by the methods of physical science. He thinks that ethics must either adopt the methods of such science or forfeit its claim to intellectual respect. What these methods require he sometimes states in a disarming way. Scientific method, he says, ‘after all is but systematic, extensive, and carefully controlled use of alert and unprejudiced observation and experimentation in collecting, arranging and testing evidence’.32 Of course we are all for that. If we pause anywhere, it will be over the words ‘observation and experimentation’. Does Dewey mean that problems of value are merely problems of fact, that questions of duty, of right and wrong, of better and worse, are to be settled by observation in the same sense that the question can be so settled whether a chair has four legs? The answer is Yes, he does. What is being appraised is valuations, and ‘valuations are empirically observable patterns of behaviour’,33 not mental responses but bodily ones. A mental response in the old sense would be unobservable. But then there are no such things as mental responses in the old sense. ‘Conceptions derived from a mystical faculty of intuition,’ he writes, ‘or anything that is so occult as not to be given to public inspection and verification (such as the purely psychical for example) are excluded.’34 ‘Personally, I doubt whether there exists anything that may be called thought as a strictly psychical existence’;35 and if there did, it could not count in a scientific test, since ‘the first requirement of scientific procedure—namely, full publicity as to materials and processes’36 would rule this out. Dewey is content to describe himself as a behaviourist. When he talks about processes of valuation as successful or not, he is talking about activities that are as public and palpable as the rolling of billiard balls.
When we appraise, then, we are appraising processes that are (a) active and (b) physical. A word must be said about each of these characteristics.
21. (6) (a) To report that we find value in anything, Dewey says, is to report that we do things about it. The question at once suggests itself, Do I not often find value in things without doing anything about them, but by merely enjoying them? Dewey admits that there is value in what he calls ‘consummatory enjoyments’, that is, experiences in which we realize that a conflict is being harmonized. He admits also that there exist ‘enjoyments of things directly possessed without desire’.37 For example, ‘take the case of a child who has found a bright smooth stone. His sense of touch and sight is gratified. But there is no valuation because no desire and no end-in-view, until the question arises of what shall be done with it… The moment he begins to prize and care for it he puts it to some use and thereby employs it as a means to some end, and, depending on his maturity, he estimates or values it in that relation, or as means to end.’38 One could hardly have selected an example, I suggest, that would bring out more clearly the artificiality of the instrumentalist account of value. In that account, the child's natural and simple remark that the stone was wonderful would not be a statement of value at all because it would contain no suggestion of the use to which he could put it. It is only when a problem arises regarding this use, and he can view the stone as a means to an end, that he can make a significant report of value. Surely no one thinks of value in this limited means-end way, and it is hard to believe that Dewey normally did. Note that in the last sentence quoted he puts the two things involved in their right order in spite of himself. Speaking of the child he says, ‘The moment he begins to prize and care for it he puts it to some use’, suggesting that the prizing leads to the use, not that the finding of a use leads to the prizing. When he holds that in none of our ‘passive enjoyments’ does prizing take place, Dewey implies, since value depends on prizing, that nothing rightly called value is present at all. I cannot accept that conclusion. Many people, perhaps most, if asked for cases in which, beyond any question, they were finding things of value, would mention the experience of listening quietly to great music, or following with absorption the unfolding of a tale, or watching a superb piece of acting. These are not, at least not necessarily, cases of consummated desire, nor are they cases in which we find use for something in practice. For all that, they are instances of the experience of value; they are instances par excellence of that experience.
22. (7) (b) But if the experience of value is not to be found in the mere enjoyment of something, where is it to be found? It is to be found, Dewey answers, in active desire, and this means doing something; it consists in bodily behaviour. These processes, he tells us, ‘are to be considered in terms of observable and identifiable modes of behaviour’; if they are described as ‘affective-motor’, ‘care must be taken not to permit the “affective” quality to be interpreted in terms of private “feelings”… the word “liking” is used as a name for a mode of behaviour (not as a name for a private and inaccessible feeling).…’ ‘If there are “feelings” existing in addition, their existence has nothing to do with any verifiable proposition that can be made about a valuation.’39 Dewey's naturalism here reaches its extreme point. Mind is banished, if that means anything different in kind from bodily behaviour. If the word ‘mental’ is to be kept at all, he thinks, it should be reserved for the sort of organic response that is made to the doubtful as doubtful.40 Even ‘sensations in immediate consciousness’, he says, ‘are elements of action dislocated through the shock of interruption’.41
I must confess that there is no part of Dewey's theory which I find it harder to understand or sympathize with than this. To call it empirical is to abuse a respectable word. Looked at empirically, there are no two things in the universe more obviously different than a sensation of pain and a bodily movement, and to suppose that this difference can be somehow transcended by lumping them together under the head of ‘action’ or ‘organic response’ is mere delusion. Why should anyone want to say such things? Apparently in this case because it is required by what Dewey sometimes calls ‘the primacy of method’. He has convinced himself, like the positivists, that if a statement is to be meaningful, it must be verifiable, but unlike the more critical of them, that to be verifiable means to be publicly verifiable. It follows, then, from this method that any statement not publicly verifiable will be meaningless. Now an assertion that I am feeling a pain or finding something of value, if this is the report of a private experience, is not publicly verifiable. Hence it cannot be a meaningful, and is neither true nor false. In all this I find nothing even faintly plausible. It seems to me one more instance of something too common in extreme empiricists, namely the twisting of what experience reports in the interest of a method seemingly adopted a priori.
Is it true that my valuation of my friend, of Mr Eliot's criticism, or of my new pipe, consists in my behaviour towards them? No doubt liking and desiring do normally take effect in action; if I like my friend, I write to him occasionally; if I like Mr Eliot's essays, I buy or borrow his books; if I like my pipe, I shall probably smoke it. It must be admitted, further, that unless my liking for something did display itself in some observable way, either by doing such things as these or by making remarks, no one would have any means of knowing whether I liked something or not. True enough; but that is not at present the point. The point is whether by liking or desiring something I mean on the one hand a feeling or attitude, something distinctively mental and conscious, or on the other hand a bodily change. On this point I cannot hesitate. Liking is a feeling and exclusively that. If consciousness were abolished, I think it would take all value with it, even if every bit of bodily behaviour in the universe remained precisely what it is.
Now it is notorious that we cannot refute the behaviourist when he says all he means by mind is bodily process; for he is in a better position than we are to say what he means. All we can do is to point out the consequences of such identification and ask him in the light of them whether he has not been confused as to what he does mean? I do not propose to list again the paradoxes he falls into;42 it will be enough to fall back on the ideal experiment suggested long ago by a psychologist of insight who was himself a trained scientist but would have had little use for the ‘scientific method’ of some of his successors. Imagine a human body, James suggested,43 that was like other human bodies except in the one respect that it had no trace of consciousness, that is, of the sensations, feelings, and ideas which, because ‘private and inaccessible’, are dismissed by Dewey. It opens its eyes and seems to look at things, but it sees no shapes or colours. It steps on tacks, and reacts sharply with the appropriate remarks, but never feels a twinge of pain. It goes to college, attends lectures, sits in the front row taking notes copiously, passes its examinations, and winds up with a summa cum laude; only it never has an idea. It meets a comely damsel. It says all the right things, sends strategic chocolates and seasonable flowers, plays the perfect squire and cavalier, always with a light in its eyes, and responds like a weathervane to the thoughts and moods of its inamorata. It is irresistible; the lady is transported. Then comes an evil day. Some well meaning soul whispers to her the truth. The perfect lover will go on with his perfect love; in that she may rest secure. There is just one little point she should know about—it would, of course, make no difference, for it is quite unobservable and hence irrelevant. Her lover happens to lack consciousness. It is true that in the old-fashioned sense he has never seen her, never heard her words or attached a meaning to them, never recognized her when present, never remembered her in absence. And of course he has never liked her. But since this liking was in any case an unverifiable hypothesis, a truly emancipated girl would not miss it. His behaviour has been, and will be, exactly as if he did have feeling about her. Her situation therefore is unchanged.
James, if I remember rightly, thought this utter nonsense, and so do I. The next time the automaton appeared, to look at her with its sightless eyes, address her with its meaningless words, and attempt its galvanized embraces, she would run from it as a grisly horror. So long as she could believe that behind the acts there was fondness for her, the fact that this was not visible to the eye would be nothing to her. With all that they expressed removed, they would be the acts of a Frankenstein monster.
This simple common sense expostulation seems to me the most effective comment on behaviourism, and it is likely to succeed where technical argumentation will not. For behaviourism is less a technical doctrine than a temporary lapse from common sense under the influence of some idol of tribe or marketplace. It is to my mind at once revealing and depressing that a mind of Dewey's calibre should have succumbed to it. In any case when he says that in talking about valuations we are talking about bodily responses, I can only demur.
23. (8) It is not in the mere observing of such behaviour, however, that the test of an appraisal lies; it is in the apprehension of it as performing a certain office, which is, to use Dewey's words, to ‘supply the existing need or lack and resolve the existing conflict’, to bring about the ‘unification and liberation of present conflicting, confused habits and impulses’. What strikes one first about these statements is their vagueness. Are there not innumerable ways, of bringing conflicts to an end, some of them moral and some not? A man feels a strong desire to lie abed in the morning, and the desire gives such behaviour value. He begins to wonder whether the behaviour is justified; there is a conflict within him between his laziness and his sense of duty. He may conclude after reflection that he ought to do his duty, and may do it; this brings the conflict to an end. On the other hand, he may decide that he will give himself a holiday, and may turn over and go to sleep; this too brings the conflict serenely to an end. If the test is merely the bringing of a conflict to a harmonious close, either of these consummations is as good as the other; in short we have no test at all, since we can solve and remove a conflict without doing so morally. If the test is that we should solve the conflict in the right way, the proposal is that we should recognize the right solution by its Tightness, which is not helpful. To such criticisms the instrumentalist would probably answer that he had never suggested that any way of solving a conflict was a successful one; only that way was the right one which brought to rest the specific tension, which removed the particular conflict involved.
Now when someone proposes a test for conduct, how is the test to be tested? I know of no other way than by asking whether it squares with the actual judgments of sensitive and thoughtful men, which means in practice ourselves when we seem to be judging most responsibly. If a course of action fails conspicuously to conform to the test and yet is rated high by all of us, if a course of action fulfils the test and yet is rated low by all of us, one is bound to suspect the test. It is not difficult, I think, to show that the instrumentalist test meets neither requirement. Take two cases that have lately been much in the contemporary mind.
We may recall that the life of Kierkegaard was one of continual conflict. He wanted to devote himself altogether to his studies; he wanted also to marry Regina Olsen; and between the two desires he was torn in two. This conflict he never solved. He jilted Regina without ceasing to love her, and he continued to tear himself in eloquent pieces through a long succession of volumes. Suppose that he had settled the conflict as men have done so often, by some sort of ‘higher synthesis’ of the two desires—by marrying Regina, for example, accepting a local professorship, and supporting a wife and family on the proceeds. It seems not at all unlikely that if he had done this there would have been far more ‘linking into an organized whole of activities which are now partial and competing’ than he ever in fact achieved. Would this, therefore, have been the more desirable course? On the theory before us it obviously would; unresolved conflict seems to supply what evil means. But is this, after all, quite clear? Professor Kierkegaard in carpet-slippers, with Regina knitting at the table and his children round his knees, would not have been Kierkegaard. It was his unending inner conflict, his chronic storm and stress, that made him what he was by perpetually feeding the flames of his passionate self-analysis. It was not in spite of inner conflict and suffering that he achieved such distinction as he did; it was because of these; and if the conflict had ended in peace, as it gave some promise of doing at twenty-seven, it is not improbable that we should never have heard of him or his work. No doubt he desired the removal of the conflict, and perhaps he would have welcomed it when it came; but this only shows once more how impossible it is to equate the desirable with the desired. It seems to me at least an arguable thesis that it was better for Kierkegaard and the world that his road should have wound up hill all the way, though such a suggestion must make nonsense if value is to be measured by the removal of conflict.
Look now at a case in which a conflict was solved so successfully as to make a man a battering-ram of uninhibited power. The case is the more enlightening because one knows where Dewey stood politically; he was the most devoted and steadfast defender of democracy and a gallant foe of authoritarianism in all its forms. For Hitler and all he stood for, Dewey's abhorrence was unequivocal and profound. Was the test Dewey offered as a philospoer an adequate base for the condemnation he so generously felt as a man? In the early pages of Mein Kampf, the author describes how he emerged from the bitter conflicts of his youth. He writes: ‘My ideas about anti-semitism changed also in the course of time, but that was the change which I found most difficult. It cost me a greater internal conflict with myself, and it was only after a struggle between reason and sentiment that victory began to be decided in favour of the former. Two years later sentiment rallied to the side of reason and became a faithful guardian and counsellor.’ ‘I now realized that the Jews were the leaders of Social Democracy. In the face of that revelation the scales fell from my eyes. My long inner struggle was at an end.’44 Hitler was looking for an objective which, in the words of the ethical theory before us, ‘would link into an organized whole activities which are now partial and competing’, which would be a ‘means to unification and liberation of conflicting, confused habits and impulses’. Can it be denied that he found precisely that? His life from this time forward was a supreme example of it. ‘Good’, for the instrumentalist, ‘consists in the meaning that is experienced to belong to an activity when conflict and entanglement of various incompatible impulses and habits terminate in a unified orderly release in action.’45 In this case they did so terminate, and if such ‘unified orderly release in action’ is an achievement of goodness, then Hitler was achieving goodness. From this conclusion one can only suppose that Dewey would draw back as heartily as any of us. What these examples seem to show is that there is a great gulf fixed between the instrumentalist formula for value and the test we actually use. It is not the solving of conflict as such that makes a course desirable, nor the maintenance of a conflict as such that makes it undesirable.
24. To all this it may be replied that the justification of conduct for Dewey does not lie in the solving of individual conflicts, but in dealing with them to the advantage of society. In Dewey and Tufts’ Ethics, it is said expressly that the end in terms of which present desire is to be appraised is the satisfaction of desires in the ‘long run’, and the desires of others as well as one's own.46 Sometimes Dewey protests against taking the conflicts and satisfactions of which he is speaking as those of persons at all. Thus when Russell objected that he made truth dependent on personal satisfaction, Dewey replied:
‘by changing doubt into private discomfort, truth is identified with the removal of this discomfort. The only desire that enters, according to my view, is desire to resolve as honestly and impartially as possible the problem involved in the situation. “Satisfaction” is satisfaction of the conditions prescribed by the problem. Personal satisfaction may enter in as it arises when any job is well done according to the requirements of the job itself; but it does not enter in any way into the determination of validity, because, on the contrary, it is conditioned by that determination.’47
Instead of speaking of a conflict of desires in Jones's mind, Dewey preferred to speak of ‘situations’ as conflicting and problematic, and as making those demands the successful meeting of which is the test of truth and rightness.
Now this places beyond doubt that it is not one's proximate good that is to be sought, nor even one's own good in the long run, but the long-run good of humanity. This is excellent, and in accord with Dewey's public-spirited practice. But (a) it then becomes difficult to understand his constant emphasis on the solution of this particular problem in its own way. When he writes as a psychologist or biologist, he has in mind the problems of adjustment of some individual organism, and insists that any solution that is to satisfy must remove the particular conflict which that particular organism is facing. Is Kierkegaard now to be told, for example, that he had best not remove his conflict at all, since it is in the interest of the larger social value that he maintain It? If so, then the rule to proceed by overcoming specific conflicts seems to be suspended.
(b) What is to take its place? If Dewey had answered: ‘the rule of producing the greatest happiness on the whole’, or ‘the completest practicable fulfilment of human impulses’, or even ‘the widest possible removal of personal conflicts or tensions’, the rule would have been intelligible, however hard to apply. I do not find it intelligible if it reads, ‘bring into harmony the conflicting demands of the situation’. Situations do not, as such, make demands or exhibit conflicts. Demands are imposed on persons by their own ends or ideals in the light of the situation they are in, and the only moral conflicts are those within or between human beings. In his desire not to make truth and goodness relative to personal demands, Dewey speaks as if situations broke themselves into halves, and these halves then fell into conflict with each other and made demands of their own. There is a touch of mythology here. And if the advice to remove individual conflicts is not enough to give moral direction, neither is the advice to remove men's conflicts generally. ‘There is no such thing as the single all-important end,’ says Dewey; ends, as we have seen, are ‘means to unification and liberation of present conflicting, confused habits and impulses’.48 This seems to mean that such liberation and unification is ipso facto good and is itself the end. The trouble with this is partly that it is so vague, partly that its goodness is itself open to question. How could one apply such an end in the making of a particular choice? And on the face of it, some liberations and unifications of impulse seem good and some not. How can they give what we mean by ‘good’?49
25. It may seem absurd after this spate of criticism to say that Dewey was, after all, on the right track. His theory as he presented it was heavily involved with instrumentalism in logic and behaviourism in ontology, and any theory that entails either of these, let alone both, is bound to end in insolvency. Nevertheless, two at least of Dewey's main theses seem to me sound and important, and there is no reason why we should not free them from their entanglements and take them with us. (1) He is right, I think, in insisting that moral choice should be directed not to conformity with rule but to the production of good. (2) His conception of good, however vague, is a step forward. He is a naturalist in ethics in the large sense in which Aristotle was. Goodness is not for him a non-natural quality inhering in things regardless of their relations to human needs and desires; it is bound up with these so intimately that its very meaning is in satisfying them, and so fulfilling human nature. Here again I think he is right on a point of the first importance. Not that the good can be defined in Dewey's manner as the solution of conflict or the harmonization of desire, but that the goodness of things does bear some relation to their satisfying actual need, impulse, or feeling. What that relation is we have yet to determine. The most influential of recent attempts at an answer will be considered in the next chapter.