You are here

Chapter XI. Human Nature and Goodness

1. There are two ways of studying our processes of valuing things, an internal way and an external. We turn in this chapter to the external way. So far we have followed exclusively the internal one, which proceeds by analysing meaning, and have considered many suggestions as to what the treacherous word ‘good’ means. We have seen that though it is one of the commonest words in the language, analysts are deeply divided about its import. Some think it means a simple indefinable character, the same in all good things. Some think that ‘x is good’ means x is pleasant, some that I like it, some that people generally like it, some that it means nothing at all, but is expressive of an attitude, though if they do say this, they promptly divide again as to what this attitude is—an emotion, for example, a desire, or a command.

Now one can only suspect that when acute analysts differ so flatly and so widely about a common term, they are looking for a sharpness of definition which is not there to be found. G. E. Moore sometimes spoke as if for such common-sense terms there was one primary and definite meaning, which could be captured with complete distinctness if only one made the necessary effort. In dealing with the linguistic philosophers, both in our earlier volume and in this one, we have been able to find no good reason for this assumption. Indeed there is something absurd in the notion that the most tortured problems of speculation can be cleared up by catching the meaning with which plain men use common words. The fact is that plain men use these words as one would expect them to—effectively enough for their purposes, but most loosely and uncritically for the philosopher's purpose; and the more fundamental the term, the more vaguely they use it.

The words ‘hammer’, ‘nail’, ‘cup’ and ‘saucer’ they use with some exactness. The words ‘life’, ‘feeling’, ‘thought’ and ‘good’ they use with such a wealth of woolly meanings that the attempt to extract any precise and common significance is misguided effort. Such vagueness and ambiguity are entirely natural. A term that is at once important and of frequent recurrence is used in widely differing circumstances; it acquires voluminous and various associations; its use may become charged with feeling; and both meaning and feeling are diversely modified as it is applied in different situations. In the end a term like ‘good’ comes to carry a vague cloud of cognitive and other meaning, so that philosophers who offer a dozen conflicting analyses can do so with equal plausibility. In such circumstances, what are we to do?

It may be thought that we should simply acquiesce in this diversity. Why not take the hospitable course of saying that all the cognitive, emotive and imperative meanings offered by all the analysts are equally present and equally primary? Because it would lead straight to self-contradiction. When two people differ as to whether an experience is good or an action right, it is idle to say that the cognitive and emotive meanings, for example, are both primary, for if one says the first, one is saying that this is a case of differing opinions; if one says the second, one is saying that it is not; and if one says that they are equally primary, one is saying both that it is and that it is not. Democracy in this matter is mere incoherence. And analysis, if it will not carry us all the way, will at least carry us part of the way. It is good enough, as we have seen, to deal fairly effectively with the claims of emotivism and imperativism. But after such theories have been dealt with, we are still faced with a variety of more or less plausible conceptions of what goodness means.

2. It is at this point that the second way of approaching the matter may help. This is the external way. It has been employed illuminatingly by Hobhouse in Britain and in a varying manner by Parker, Dewey, Perry and Pepper in America. I do not mean the method of behaviouristic study, though Dewey and Perry dallied with that method; for a behaviouristic study of values is inept and strictly impossible. What I mean is the method of which Aristotle was the pioneer, a study of goodness that places it in its wider human and biological context. Aristotle would have regarded Moore's attempt to make goodness of unvarying meaning, identical in a symphony, a mathematical intuition and the taste of a sandwich, as essentially misguided, for there was no suggestion in it of how deeply goodness was implicated with human nature and faculty. Looked at from the inside, goodness might easily appear to be such an abstraction. Looked at from the outside, from the point of view of an observer of the human and animal scene as a whole, this abstraction would seem singularly thin and rootless. Man is a creature of impulses, needs, and faculties; what he seems to be bent on is the fulfilment of those impulses, the satisfaction of those needs, the realization of those faculties. The suggestion of the external approach is that good is as various as they are, and that to conceive of goodness rightly, when cut off from these roots in human nature, is impossible.

Goodness may be studied either as the predicate of a judgment or as an object of pursuit. It was of course clear to Aristotle that we pursue some things merely as means to others, and it was these others in which he was interested. The intrinsically good is what is prized and pursued for its own sake. We may study such goods directly by asking ourselves what it is that above all we want. But the fact is that we do not know what we want with any clearness and definiteness. Hence we must fall back, Aristotle thought, on the consideration of what kind of beings we are. We occupy a certain place in the scale of living things; we have powers and impulses that make some ends natural for us and others impossible. It would be futile for a man to set his heart on acrobatic prowess that would be easy for a monkey, or an aquatic or aeronautic prowess that for a fish or a bird would be effortless. The main principle of the life of reason, for Aristotle as for his modern disciple Santayana, was that every ideal fulfilment had its natural basis and every natural impulse its ideal fulfilment. Neither could be understood in separation from the other. We could no more know what man essentially was without knowing what he was striving to become than we could know what an acorn was without knowing that it was in potency an oak. On the other hand, we could know the appropriate end only in the light of actual powers. The two lines of inquiry must therefore advance together, each set of results serving as a check on the other.

The external approach has been ignored by recent analytic philosophy. This I think is a mistake. Value is so fundamental in human life that its true character can be seen only against the background of human nature. If the intrinsically good is that which this nature finds in itself attractive, it is reasonable to suspect that its attractiveness has something to do with its answering that nature's needs and demands. I am convinced that if we find certain things good, it is not merely because they fulfil needs; such fulfilment enters into the very meaning of goodness. A sound theory of value can be developed only from an understanding of the soil or setting in which value arises.

3. The kind of consideration on which we are embarking is so different from our earlier analyses that it may be well to set down briefly and at once the view of goodness that will gradually emerge from it. We shall hold that only experiences are directly or immediately good. When they are good intrinsically, they perform a double function: they fulfil an impulse, drive or need, and in so doing they give satisfaction or pleasure. Both components, fulfilment and satisfaction, are necessary, and they vary independently of each other. But both are always partial in the sense that they apply to a limited set of needs; and they are always provisional or incomplete, so that goodness is a matter of degree. It is to be measured against an ideal good, which is the kind of life which would fulfil and satisfy wholly.

Every point here is controversial. It is obvious that this view of goodness and the good is bound up with a theory of how the mind is constituted, of how values arise in experience, and of how they are connected with needs and impulses. Instead of launching at once into controversy, it is better, even at the cost of moving slowly, to set out the background from which our view emerges. I shall do this In a series of propositions, with a brief commentary on each.

4. (1) Conscious process is goal-seeking from the beginning. A vast mass of evidence, which it is needless to review, has been marshalled by Ward and James, McDougall and Woodworth, Freud and the Gestaltists. From the outset the stream of consciousness has a direction, and does not merely meander; it is carried along by seekings and strivings. The infant at the start is very largely an impulse to suck and to avoid discomfort. The chief interest of things, when they begin to be discriminated, is as cues for action; the ball is something to bounce or roll, the cat to be felt, pulled about, and stroked, the blocks to be piled up, the gleaming bits of glass to be triumphantly seized. Some of these adventures turn out well, that is, they provide experiences that satisfy; and when the opportunity comes to have them again, the impulse is strengthened by its past success. Sometimes the experiments turn out badly; the piece of glass gives a stinging cut. These adventures serve to define the end of the impulse. The child does not know what it wants; it merely sends out exploratory horns as a snail does, ready to draw them back instantly or to explore further according to the encouragement received. A satisfying experience is a signal to go on with the exploration so long as it continues to satisfy, and a sting or an ache is a warning not to try that sort of experiment again.

So far, there is nothing beyond the reach of the animal mind. That mind is moved by impulse and instinct, but apparently never, in the full sense, by desire. It is time to define some of these terms. Impulse is an ‘urge’ or felt tendency toward a certain course of behaviour. Instinct is such an urge based on a pre-formed structure of the organism. Desire is again such an urge but now with a consciousness of its end.

The greatest advance of the human over the animal mind lies in its escape from perceptual to free ideas, and the advance from perceptual to free desire parallels that escape. Take the first form of advance. A dog can obviously think, if that means that it can attach meaning drawn from its experience to what is given it in sensation; even a moron among canines can recognize its master or tell a bone from a stick. But the most brilliant of canine thinking remains perceptual; that is, it remains anchored to sense. So long as the master is present, or even something sensibly connected with him—his shoes, his voice, the door that he went through—the animal mind can read the sign; and it may be restless and despondent when the master is away. But careful observers seem to agree that there is one thing it cannot do: it cannot sit down and think about its master, still less elaborate its thought of him, in the absence of a sensible sign to wake the idea and hold it. Man can do that; that is largely what makes him man.

Look now at the parallel escape into free desire. Lloyd Morgan's classic chick, after a single bitter experience of orange peel placed among its wheat, eyed suspiciously the next piece of orange peel offered it. Animals on the higher levels may learn quickly even complicated mazes that have led to getting food, and take alarm at signals that even remotely portend pain. In this sense they can desire perceptually just as they can think in this way; the two are forms of the same power. But like the independent thought of the absent, desire proper, the power to ‘look before and after and pine for what is not’, seems to be the prerogative of man alone. When the dog sees food in the offing, its mouth waters; when Pavlov's dog heard a bell rung that had been associated with getting food, its mouth still watered; man alone, in the absence of food or bell, can make his mouth water at will by dwelling in imagination on the delights of the gourmet or gourmand.

5. (2) Thus desire grows out of the experience of satisfaction and is limited by it. When the child seeks the nipple of the bottle, it is from ‘blind’ impulse, but having done this with satisfaction, it now has something to desire. It could not have manufactured this desire out of nothing. Desire must live chiefly on the spoils that impulse brings home from its adventures. Strength and variety of impulse are therefore the materials of the good life in the sense that the child who is interested in doing little or nothing will lack the clay out of which ideal goods can be modelled. The experience of things done variously, eagerly, and with zest, supplies us the palette of colours with which to paint our future, and we are likely to paint this in bright or sombre colours, to ‘greet the unseen with a cheer’ or meet it timidly and fearfully as our early experiments in living have been successful and remunerative in satisfactions or niggardly and rebuffing. Bertrand Russell has suggested that the most important years of a man's life are the years from one to two. Whether the numbers are right or not, it is certain that our early years are the momentous ones not only for the acquisition of habits but also for the accumulation of a capital of ‘goods’. Hence Dewey's humane insistence on freedom for the small experimenter. Hence too, the importance of praise judiciously given. Since our satisfaction lies largely in the belief that we are doing something well, whether we are doing it thus or not, the current of many a life has no doubt been turned for better or worse by the pleasure of finding that in solving equations, in doing a dance, in repairing a car, we have cut a happy figure in others’ eyes. Hence, once more, the truth of the ancient saw that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. We have already noticed Mill's account of how, because he was cut off from the activities that in boyhood are interesting, he found himself on the threshold of manhood incapable of desiring anything. Ruskin's Praeterita tells a significant story of how the values of a life were determined by carefully canalizing a child's activities so that it should find its satisfaction not where most boys find them, but along pre-appointed and adult channels. To be sure, we should think twice before wishing Mill's or Ruskin's boyhood otherwise if that was the price of their being what they were. The point is merely that the human mind is extremely plastic and can be engineered into responsiveness to strangely different realms of value.

6. We must add that not all the attractiveness of things is based on successful dealings with them. The Gestaltists have shown that some patterns in nature have an appeal for us that is native, not acquired; and Drever pointed out that there is such a thing as congenital emotive meaning, in the sense that a chick, for example, finds some things interesting and inviting even before impulses have had any play with them; from the start it finds grains of wheat interesting and marbles indifferent. And as James reminds us, when the chick becomes a hen and regards its nest of eggs as fascinating and ‘never-to-be-too-much-sat-upon’, this is no result of earlier discovery. Instinct, as McDougall insists, is a tendency to notice and feel as well as to act, and it invests some things with an aura of attractiveness that never has to be learned. Nature leaves more to learning and less to prior appointment as it goes up the animal scale. But even in man it loads some dice. J. B. Watson showed that we do not acquire our fear of loud sounds, but find them fearful from the outset. Mozart was confident that tones, those of church bells for example, meant more to him in the way of excitement than to other men, and Ruskin thought the same of his responsiveness to shapes and colours. They may or may not have been right, but it is obvious that at certain times of our lives we begin to find interesting what we had not found so before, not because impulses have sallied out and met with success, but because they have ripened inwardly. The boy who has been indifferent to girls finds at a certain age that they have become unaccountably interesting. And these budding satisfactions shape his desires.

It would be a mistake to infer, however, that desire can only repeat and echo past satisfaction. It must start from there, but once given its cue, it may develop the cue very richly, and spin vast and complicated dreams of what more of the same would be like. For example, though a person who had in no degree experienced romantic love could not in any definite way even desire it, since he would not know what to desire, still a very limited experience of it—or of pride or jealousy or ambition—may provide a capital which, imaginatively invested, will yield astonishing returns. Not all, we may be sure, that came out of the drab parsonages of Steventon or Haworth could have come out of the actual experiences of Jane Austen or the three young Brontës. And it is heartening to recall that the mind which added such riches to the empire as to lead Carlyle to propose the intriguing question ‘Shakespeare or India?’, was one whose experience at firsthand was sharply limited.

7. (3) Just as desire grows out of satisfaction, so our ideas of what is desirable grow out of what we desire. If we were to list at any given time the goods we genuinely prize, they would be the things that satisfy us as reflected and developed in desire. For the boy who has enjoyed games and wants more of them, games are good. If he has got nothing but boredom from poetry, and wants no more of it, poetry to him is worthless. He knows, of course, that there are people who find it good, just as he knows that there are people who find trigonometry true, and he therefore accepts the goodness and truth of these things on authority. But they are not good or true for him. Nothing is really desirable to us that we are incapable of desiring. And whatever we do desire presents itself to us as, so far, desirable or good.

This raises a question that is theoretically important. When we see how straight the line runs from satisfaction through desire to good, and then reflect how largely our satisfactions are the product of contingent factors like native interest and early success, the question is bound to arise whether the whole realm of our goods is not a chapter of accidents. Might not most or all of what we call good have been indifferent to us if fate had taken a slightly different turning? Most young Americans find baseball absorbing. But suppose that the immortal Cobb and Ruth themselves had tried their hands at it prematurely and been sharply rebuffed; is it not wholly possible that they should have turned to other things and found baseball distasteful to the end? Or take a more radical supposition. Suppose, as Clarence Day does in This Simian World, that human nature had emerged, not from the Simians but from the felines, so that in the instinctive stratum of our being we were akin to the tigers rather than to the apes. In such a world our satisfactions and hence our desires, and hence again our stock of desirables, would be very different from what they are. What would become of all the values connected with human gregariousness, the values of love, friendship, and communal life? Would not St Francis be an absurd figure and Christian ethics a kind of lunacy? Would not the great hero probably be some tremendous human ‘cat that walked by itself’, a glorified, more ruthless and less sociable Captain Kidd?

Such reflections are no doubt chastening to those who confound the values of Main Street with the eternal verities. But if this line of thought is supposed, as it sometimes is, to conduct us to a wholesale scepticism about values, it must be pointed out that it is based on defective logic. It is true that nothing is good for us if we can take no satisfaction in it. It must hence be admitted that even love and understanding would be without value for us it we found no satisfaction in them. And it is easy to argue that since, when you add satisfaction you have goodness and when you subtract it you do not, the goodness lies in the satisfaction solely, and hence all that is good in human goods could be generated or abolished by redirecting our satisfactions.

But the case is not so simple. Such an argument confuses a necessary with the sufficient condition of goodness. You cannot argue validly that because a certain factor is necessary to a certain result, it is therefore the only contributor to that result. For instance, you cannot argue that since giving water to a plant makes it grow, and withholding water makes it die, water is the whole secret of its life and growth. By such logic you could equally prove that the whole secret lay in air or light or soil, any of which conclusions would contradict the first. The truth is that these things are all equally necessary, and taken alone, equally insufficient. Similarly, it is true that the boy who, through some chance rebuff, takes no interest in music, will find no good in it. But what exactly does that show? Does it show that the whole good of the music, even as he experiences it, lies in the satisfaction he takes in it, so that the goodness depends solely on his liking or disliking it? This clearly does not follow. All it does show is that the boy's satisfaction in music is one condition of his finding it good. Similarly with our case of instinct. If nature had turned out even more ‘red in tooth and claw’ than she has shown herself to be and had spawned a tiger with human craft and cunning, it might have regarded St Francis with indifference or contempt except as a somewhat unappetizing form of prey. But while we are endowing our super-cat with so much cunning, we might as well give it enough to see its own inconsequence in arguing from the lack of satisfaction in the Franciscan life to the worthlessness of that life for those who do find it satisfying. We saw long ago that the goodness of music or love does not lie in an abstract quality, identical in both, which somehow attach to them. Neither is it exhausted in the fact that someone finds them satisfying. The goodness is a function of the satisfaction plus something else.

8. (4) Thus, what makes things desirable is not exhausted in the fact that they are desired, or what makes them satisfactory in the fact that they satisfy. The very notion that the goodness lies in the satisfaction or pleasure alone as distinct from the object, shows that one is trying to introduce into a value experience a kind of distinctness of parts that is found only outside it. There is no trouble in distinguishing the water you give to the plant from the later growth to which it contributes. But can you distinguish in the same sharp way within an experience of music, for example, the enjoyment from what is enjoyed, so that you can locate the value of the whole in one part rather than the other? If A and B sit side by side listening to Beethoven, and A is utterly indifferent while B is deeply stirred, are we to say that B hears exactly what A heard, only with the addition of a stirring emotion? That is surely to put the case too mechanically. The music and the appreciation of it are so blended that B would probably say that A could not have heard what he did without being stirred. On the other hand, the notion that A or anyone else could know what B found good in the experience merely by knowing in the abstract that he was enjoying something and without any notion that what satisfied him was music, and indeed this particular music, would seem grotesque. What has value is neither the music nor the satisfaction as abstracted from each other, but the two in this particular union. Whoever experienced that union would be in possession of the value.

Hence when it is suggested that if we had been equipped with different instincts, we should have valued different things, and therefore that all goods are in the end biological accidents, that if man had been a super-tiger rather than a super-ape, Christian love would have been valueless or bad, we can see that confusion is at work. Such a being might be unable to experience this love; and if so, it would not know what was meant by it, and thus would not find it good. This is all true. But that something is not good because it is not found good by someone who does not know what it means is an extraordinary argument. The evidence does not show that if the creature did experience such love it would not find it good. Indeed if what we have just said is true, it would necessarily find this good. For love is not the sort of experience in which satisfaction and that which satisfies can be marked off and set over against each other. To love in the sense in question and to find satisfaction in the love are inseparable. The notion that some super-cat might have the one without the other and hence find the experience worthless is thus not strictly thinkable. It seems to be thinkable only because one stays outside the experience and thinks of it as the wrong kind of whole. To anyone who actually had it, its goodness would be undeniable.

We have said that our desires grow out of our satisfactions, and that our inventory of ideal goods is drawn up by our desires. We must qualify this later to make clear the sense in which the desirable exceeds the desired. Still, what we genuinely desire is a fairly reliable index to what we take as good. It has often been held that in our inventory of goods there is only one kind of article. What we desire, it has been argued, is satisfaction—not the experience of knowing or loving or doing, but the feeling of pleasure or satisfaction in it; and then the step is short to saying that since satisfaction is the only thing desired, it is the only thing that is good. To be sure, the inference is not a compelling one. It is conceivable that everyone should in fact desire pleasure and pleasure only, and also that there should be things other than pleasure which, if we came to know about them, we should desire and regard as good. But this mere theoretic possibility has not weighed greatly with moralists. The doctrine of psychological hedonism, that we desire only pleasure, seems always to have been accompanied by ethical hedonism, the doctrine that pleasure is the only good; that one is the real foundation of the other. To see that the first is false is to leave the other baseless. And psychological hedonism is false. It ought to have died once for all of the wounds inflicted on it by Butler. But it seems to be as irrepressible as the phoenix, and has cropped up again and again, to be successively scotched with elegance by Sidgwick, Rashdall, Broad, and many others. For anything I shall say of it here, it may go on with these reincarnations; the criticisms already offered seem to me decisive. We desire to eat food, and not merely to have the pleasure of eating; we desire to hear music, and play games, and understand, not merely to gain satisfaction out of objects and activities themselves indifferent. And if our goods reflect the content of our desires, we see again that those goods are not exhausted in pleasure or satisfaction. They consist of satisfying experiences as wholes.

9. (5) Our major goods answer to the main types of impulse-desire. One major drive has been much studied by philosophers, namely the impulse to know, and its career may serve as a suggestion of what we should probably find if we studied other drives in similar detail. Instinctive curiosity, which passes on at a higher level into the desire for understanding, is a distinguishable impulse with an end of its own. That end is not at all what the pragmatists have supposed; it is not an impulse to do something to things, for example to make them over into something more satisfying to our non-cognitive impulses; that is to confuse the impulse to know in fatal fashion with impulses of a different kind. Knowing is of course an activity, but its end is contemplation, not action. The desire to know is the desire to see things as they are. Now such seeing is and must be more than a mere registry of fact. What we want is not only to know, but to understand, that is, lay hold of the connections among facts that make them intelligible. Thought at its simplest is judgment, and in the most rudimentary judgment we are grasping a linkage between terms. That linkage as it stands may be unintelligible to us. ‘That cat purrs’; with this we have entered the field of judgment. But from the first there is awaking within such judgment the spirit of inquiry; we have connected the purring with the cat; can we connect it more specifically with anything else about the cat? In short, why does the cat purr? With that question we have begun our career in science and philosophy. The intellectual quest from the lowest judgment to the most complicated theories of modern physics may be regarded as one persisting effort to answer the question, Why? To answer it calls for a continually widening knowledge and a continual re-ordering of that knowledge in the direction of consistency and interdependence of parts, for the end sought by the theoretic impulse is an intelligible whole. Every advance toward such understanding brings satisfaction. We repeat, however, that it is not satisfaction merely that the impulse is seeking, but that which will satisfy it, namely this particular kind of light. But neither is it light merely; for what is the point of a knowledge in which one takes no satisfaction? What is sought is something which, because of its special character, fulfils the aim of the cognitive impulse, and which because of this fulfilment, satisfies. This double service of fulfilling and of satisfying is what makes knowledge good. It is also what makes anything good.

How many of these conative drives of impulse-desire, with their varying ends, can be distinguished in human nature”? The point is a controversial one which we shall make no attempt to settle. Even if our list were perfect as of the present date, nature would probably antiquate it by evolving others. And such a listing is the less necessary because in any case the ends are not wholly independent of each other. Take the well known principle that one should not multiply entities beyond need,—the principle of ‘Occam's razor’. Is that an intellectual or an aesthetic requirement? It is both. Bertrand Russell has contended that the satisfaction derived from an ‘elegant’ mathematical proof is as much aesthetic as intellectual. And yet one can hardly deny that there is an aesthetic impulse with its own special end, distinct from the cognitive. Both impulses require for their satisfaction a certain structure in their objects, but that peculiar implication of parts that gives intelligibility is not necessarily the same as the harmony and proportion that satisfy the sense of beauty. Such harmony and proportion satisfy us in a way that logical system does not; because they do, we seek more of them; and, as present and satisfying, they constitute what we call beauty. Beauty is therefore a good. It is true, though somewhat dangerous, to say simply that beauty is good, for that may suggest that goodness is an attribute which beauty may assume or put off; whereas the truth is that beauty is goodness; it is a form of goodness, the way in which some things are good. Subject to further explanation, we may say that goodness is satisfactoriness, which consists jointly in the fulfilment of impulse-desire by the content it demands and the attendant satisfaction. A good is what is thus satisfactory. The good is what would be satisfactory in the end. The demand of the theoretic impulse is for understanding, the demand of the aesthetic impulse for what we have called, somewhat roughly, harmony and proportion; as the one is fulfilled, we gain the good called knowledge; as the other is fulfilled, the good called beauty. Both goods are good as being satisfactory. They are goods of different kind as being satisfactory to different trends of impulse-desire.

10. It is implied here that within each type of impulse-desire goodness is autonomous. The impulse to know, for example, is governed in its development by its own implicit standards, and it is for its own court to judge how far the impulse has won success. If knowledge is a good at all, then, other things equal, the more of it the better. But nothing standing outside it can say what is to pass as better within its own jurisdiction. That is for the logical sense to determine by its own special tests. Critics have often done violence to the forms of goodness by weighing them in alien balances. Dewey appraised the good of Platonism in terms of social consequences, whereas the good that Plato was aiming at was the vision of truth, and the value of any such vision must be fixed by the canons of truth. Tolstoy would have us judge a poem by its moral influence, Lenin by its utility in the class struggle. Both views are surely myopic. So far as art is under constraint from something outside the aesthetic ideal, it is not art at all, any more than the plea of an attorney retained to prove a case is to be called scientific inquiry. We return here to Aristotle's view that goodness, like being, differs profoundly as one passes from category to category,1 or as we should prefer to say, from form to form of impulse-desire; and there are probably none of us to whom the Aristotelian warning against mixing categories would not at times prove helpful. In the west, and particularly in the Puritan tradition, goodness has sometimes been conceived in exclusively moral terms, and the special goods of understanding and taste dismissed as inconsequential. It is an advantage of the view here offered that it would outlaw such parochialism. Goodness has many mansions. Hellenism, with its insistence on form, intellectual and aesthetic, offers a lease on some of these mansions which Hebraism has not cared to take up. It is a singular fact that in the religion of the west, though nature is conceived as the work and expression of Deity, the scientist who unravels that work and the artist who discloses its beauty are hardly considered to stand even in the forecourt of the temple, while the man who cultivates conscience as the vox Dei is supposed to inhabit the inner sanctum. Such partisanship among values suggests defective education. It is conceivable that if their education had been more catholic, some of the saints who have been obscurantists would have joined Erasmus in exclaiming ‘Sanctus Socrates, ora pro nobis’.

11. (6) In the realization of the good, that which is coming to be directs the process of its realization. This sounds mysterious. It is in fact a matter of everyday experience. We may illustrate it again from the achievement of intellectual good, since that has a special interest for us. A man sets out to solve a problem of arithmetic, the problem, let us say, of how many yards of carpet, two and half feet wide, he needs to cover a square floor of a certain area. Is the process of solving this problem a hit-or-miss bungling through, in which, if the right answer at last appears, it comes by luck? Not if the mind is competent and the problem really engages it. In such a mind, the end in view appoints the path to the solution. Since the end in this case is clarity on an abstract problem of Space and number, it will resist intrusions by the man's ailments or affairs of state; and since the area and width of strip are precisely known, the calculations are kept within the narrow lane leading to the length of the strips and their number. The man knows what he wants, and yet in a sense he does not know. The Greeks found in this a diverting dilemma, which seemed to show that the quest for knowledge was impossible. If a man knew what he was after in seeking the answer to a problem, then there was no problem to answer. If he did not know what he was after, he could not recognize it when he saw it. Hence in neither case did the search for knowledge make sense. The solution is to distinguish between a general and a special meaning of ‘know what one is after’. In our example, the man clearly knows in general what he wants; he wants to know how many yards it will take to cover a certain area; but he does not know this definitely for that is the particular figure he is in search of. He knows, that is, the conditions that must be fulfilled, and this knowledge both governs the course of his seeking, and enables him to identify the answer when it comes.

Here is a case in which the process is controlled by a purpose that is as fully explicit and definite as a requirement can be while yet leaving something to be known. But in most teleological processes the end is much less explicit and definite. Take the process of writing a poem. It would be absurd to say that such creation was not a purposive process at all, but who knows, when the impulse comes and he begins to write, what exactly he is going to produce? He is rather like the sculptor who, when asked, as he chiselled away, what he was making, replied, ‘That is as it may turn out’. This inability to specify the end does not imply that the process is purposeless or blindly mechanical, for the poet may go straight to his end in a way that astonishes himself, rejecting impertinent suitors for his notice with a curiously sure sense of what he is about. Plainly the process is governed by purpose, but by a purpose that only defines itself in the course of its realization.

This gives the type of those impulse-desires of which we have been speaking. The problem about the carpet was one of the countless little problems that theory undertakes to solve as an aid to practice. But theory is not tied to practice. It has a career of its own, as we have just been seeing. In that career, it does not proceed at random, and even advance by trial and error implies a standard by which error may be found out. Thought carries its compass and criterion within itself. It blunders and gropes; its self-guidance in the early stages is so feeble that it often goes quite off course; it is pushed about and browbeaten by other interests which are more blustering and insistent. But it is not to be put off entirely. Its movement from youth to maturity in the individual, from barbarism to science in the race, is the movement toward an end which, as we look backward, we can see to have been implicit from the beginning and to have gained explicitness and definition with advance. That it is this sort of movement is an insight that we owe perhaps to Hegel, and one in which he was surely right against the exponents of a mechanical evolution. There is such a thing as implicitly directed intellectual advance, in which the ideal of reason, though imperfectly formed, works within the process to extend knowledge and order it. What that ideal is we see only dimly. In the great tradition of rationalism which runs from Plato down through Spinoza to Hegel and Whitehead, it has presented itself as a system in which nothing is merely an accident, but is connected intelligibly with everything else by necessary relations. But, as is almost pitifully obvious, no systems yet devised, even by these masters themselves, have come within many leagues of the ideal; and no sooner is a system achieved that seems to approximate it than the ideal itself is revised, so that the quest of it must be reorganized. Some of the most significant studies of recent philosophy have concentrated on these very points of what a satisfactory system would be, and what necessity means; and because the ideal itself is in course of such critical examination, it has seemed to some impatient observers that philosophy has lost all sense of direction and is merely marking time. I cannot accept this view. Such periods of self-examination are what we should expect. The ideal of knowledge is projected from a moving base, and after times of rapid advance, such as that which has recently occurred in logic and mathematics, it is natural and indeed necessary that the end toward which we are moving should be reexamined in the light of the advance. Such scrutiny does not imply scepticism. It implies, in fact, the reverse. Criticism is the application of standards, which are present, if only implicitly, within the critical process.

12. (7) Hence the good or desirable always outruns the desired. We have said that, subject to a qualification, the inventory of our goods could be drawn up from our desires. It will now be evident what this qualification must be. We cannot, as Mill did in an unguarded moment, simply equate the desired with the desirable. To be sure, it is tempting to say roundly that a man either desires something or not, that if he does desire it, it is for him a good, and if not, it is indifferent or bad. The desirable and the desired will then coincide. But, as so often with neat dichotomies, this does not correspond to the facts. Desire is not the sort of experience that either has a definite object or does not exist at all. Much of life is a seeking for we know not what. Our reach continually exceeds our grasp. We cannot say that what we desire exhausts the desirable, because (a) there is so much we do not care about which we recognize we might very well care about, and (b) so much that we now find attractive whose attraction will inevitably fade as our desires grow beyond it.

(a) We may illustrate again from the good of knowledge. Everyone knows that in the last few decades physics has made remarkable advances and opened up great realms unknown before. Most people have at least heard of the new discoveries, if only through their daily paper. Can it be said that they have any desire to understand them? Not, certainly, a very effective one. In some cases it might lead them to borrow a book from the local library and try to puzzle it out; in a much larger number of cases it would not outlast a brief popular article, and no doubt in a good many it would flicker out before the end of that. Can these later persons be said to desire an understanding of such matters? It is not likely that if they were asked to list their desires, it would occur to them to include this in their list. On the other hand, if they were asked whether they regarded such understanding as a good thing, they would pretty certainly say yes. It is clear therefore that we cannot reduce the desirable to what we are conscious of desiring.

Yet that there is a connection with desire seems also plain. Everyone has known the delight of suddenly seeing through a difficulty and having some crooked thing made straight; the point of Archimedes’ shout of ‘Eureka’ is not simply lost on us. We know that we have picked up a few pebbles only on the shore, and that a limitless sea stretches before us; we cannot surmise what a full exploration would reveal; but we know that, whatever it was, it would be continuous with what we now know; and since in our little knowledge, we find fulfilment and satisfaction, we are confident that in its extension we should find more. Without seeing in detail what full understanding would be like, we see the direction in which it lies. Do we desire advance in that direction? Yes and no. No, if that means, Do we desire a future good anticipated explicitly and definitely? Yes, if the question is the rather more complicated one whether the impulse to know is still alive in us, whether we continue to take satisfaction in its fulfilment, and whether we recognize that we should find further fulfilment good. In short, the desirable outruns the desired if that means what is explicitly desired at the moment. It is identical with the desired if that means what fully developed impulse-desire would find satisfactory.

Because this unformed desire does not know definitely what it wants, it usually shows itself in a negative form, the form of a persistent dissatisfaction with what one has actually achieved. ‘Man never is, but always to be blest’. The point could be illustrated from every kind of human activity. There are achievements in sculpture and music which enthusiastic admirers have acclaimed as perfect; but it is safe to say that no such claim would be made for them by their creators. A student of the manuscript of Beethoven's Fidelio found that the composer had made nineteen revisions of a certain passage, one pasted on top of another, and that at the nineteenth he was trying the first again; it seems hardly likely that he would have claimed final perfection for any of them. The good man seeks to be just in his dealings with others, but it is notoriously the best men who feel most keenly the breadth of the interval between what they have done and what they might have done. In the artisan's adjustment of means to ends, in the use of speech, in social tact, in citizenship, perfection remains indefinitely far away, do what we will. Now the dissatisfactions that spring from this perpetual falling short are not those of the spoiled child, or the weakling who complains of his luck; they are the growing pains of human nature. They have been called, and perhaps with justice, ‘divine discontent’, because there is at work in them a demand that exceeds any imaginable limit, a demand that becomes, indeed, more imperative as advance proceeds. In this illimitable demand lies the reason why the desirable so far outruns the desired.

13. (b) Just as the existence of this over-desire shows that there are goods or desirables that we do not now desire explicitly, so it makes it all but certain that some of the things we do desire will in time seem undesirable to us. No actual good is absolute, if that means one in which we should be contented to rest permanently. One may see this by looking at the continual transformation that goes on as the various trends of impulse-desire work themselves out. Take again the cognitive impulse with its germane goods. At fifteen we believe many things that at fifty we believe improbable or untrue. We found some genuine light in them, and satisfaction; they were therefore, to that extent, satisfactory or good. They were probably never refuted, for that is not the way, as a rule, in which intellectual advance takes place. Professor G. E. Moore, in a sketch of his life that one wishes were longer, has described how, as a boy, he held a set of ultra-evangelical religious beliefs which seemed immensely important to him, and how, driven by a sense of duty, he distributed tracts along the promenade at a seaside resort in order to promote these beliefs. It is an arresting picture for those who knew only the Moore of later years. These vivid beliefs seem to have disappeared rapidly, not in the way in which tenpins disappear, by successive sharp eliminations, but in the way snowballs disappear in the sun. What seems to happen in such cases is that one acquires a mass of new knowledge which renders the old beliefs increasingly unplausible, and that the implications of the new knowledge, perhaps without any explicit reflection, insinuate themselves throughout the structure of the older beliefs like the progeny of the deathwatch beetle. Then one wakes up one morning to find that the riddled structure has quietly collapsed. There is no use in trying to patch the fragments together again; the structure can never be what it was. It is better to build anew. Except time itself, there is nothing as little resistible as the immanent logic of advancing knowledge.

So everywhere else. The desired becomes the undesired and then is stowed quietly away in the cellar of the undesirable. The small boy thinks wistfully of the cowboy life, with its feats in the saddle and its roaming of the plains. To the banker or business man that he becomes, these particular things are perhaps still mildly inviting, but if their price is the cowboy life as a whole, they would seem unendurable. Or consider the growth of taste. It has been said that no true poet admires Macaulay's Lays. I hope that is wrong. It must be admitted, however, that the Lays are the sort of verse that, bright with excitement for us at first, and pleasantly enough returned to at moments later on, do make a somewhat feeble show when their vivid little candles are surrounded by the illumination of great poetry. Again, the code of morals that appeals to the man or the race in adolescence, with its exaltation of the fighting spirit, is felt after a time to be hardly compatible with the greater goods of order and peaceful growth. And so on throughout. In feeling as well as in practice, as one becomes a man, one puts away childish things.

14. It will now be clear what are the virtue and weakness of those theories which, following Hobbes, would equate the good with what is in fact favoured, liked, or desired. Their virtue lies in the major insight that good is somehow connected with satisfaction. This insight is enough to eliminate the ‘eternal goods’ of Nicolai Hartmann and Dean Inge, existing in sublime indifference whether they will ever be wanted or not. On the other hand, there are two conspicuous weaknesses in these theories. First, they fail to take due account of the elastic and expansive character of desire, because they fail to connect it with the fundamental teleology of mind. Mind just is, in the view here taken, a set of activities directed to ends. It is these ends alone that are, or would be, good without qualification, for only they are fully satisfactory; that is, in them alone would the activities that constitute mind gain fulfilment and satisfaction. But at any given stage of our advance, these ends are indefinitely far ahead. Hence to take the objects in which our desires, cognitive, moral, or aesthetic, find satisfaction at the moment, and call them good without qualification, is to freeze into immobility what in its very nature is in motion and self-creative. It is true that what satisfies is so far, good. But if present satisfaction is looked at in the light of the history and prospects of mind, it is equally true to say that what satisfies is never good. There is no real paradox here. There is only the requirement that we see things in perspective, that we view the career of mind as the long pilgrimage that it actually is, in which the values of a given time offer us, not a continuing stay, but rather a halting-place for the night. Once we see this plainly, we cannot go on saying without qualification that whatever is liked or desired is thereby good.

The second error is to infer that because the good must satisfy, its goodness varies with satisfaction or pleasure alone. This is untrue because goodness depends also on fulfilment, and fulfilment is not the same as satisfaction. Fulfilment is achieving the end that our impulse is seeking; satisfaction is the feeling that attends this fulfilment. We see the difference clearly in Spinoza's account of the conatus toward ‘adequate ideas’. What the conatus seeks is a comprehensive view of things, so ordered internally as to satisfy the logical sense. This comprehension or understanding is that which, when it comes, will fulfil the impulse or desire, but this fulfilment is not the same as the satisfaction felt in its coming.2 If the goodness of knowledge is to be attained, both must be present, since it is a function of the two jointly. The error of the satisfaction theories is to suppose it to be the function of feeling alone. If it were, the only way in which good could be increased would be to alter the factor of feeling. That it can be thus increased we may agree. An insight achieved with delight is more worth having than the same insight without it. But good can also be augmented by enlarging the insight itself, even though the satisfaction remains the same. To solve the problem of free will would be far more worth achieving than to know the name of one's neighbour down the street, even though, at the moment, one had no more interest in one than in the other, and would get equal satisfaction from them. It would be more worth achieving because it would provide a more complete fulfilment of the desire to understand one's world. It is entirely possible that the ecstasy felt by some primitive beater of a tom-tom is a more intense satisfaction than that of an accomplished musician playing a masterpiece. But it is hard to see why for that reason we should have to call it better. In spite of the high authority of Sidgwick, we cannot reduce the good of an experience to the pleasure it gives us, nor can we even take this, with McTaggart, as an accurate index of the good. It is one of two variables in whose presence the good lies jointly, and which may vary independently of each other.

15. It is an argument of weight for this view that it clears up in straightforward manner the old difficulty of the hedonists about the quality and quantity of pleasure. Bentham, Mill and Sidgwick all maintained that what made an experience good and measured the amount of its goodness was the pleasure it contained. But when Mill worked out the implications of this view, he found it leading on to an absurdity from which any sensible person must recoil. It is entirely possible that if you took equal intervals in the life of Socrates and that of a moron, indeed even that of a pig, the amount of pleasure felt by the moron or the pig would be greater than that of Socrates. If pleasure were the sole component in goodness, their lives for that period should therefore be better than that of the Socratic life. Mill agreed with his critics that this was absurd. He therefore introduced a second component which he called quality of pleasure, and held that the higher quality of Socrates’ pleasure outweighed the greater quantity of the porcine pleasure. Most later moralists have recognized that this would not do. A man is not really making pleasure the sole criterion of good if he admits that, of two experiences, the second may be more pleasant and yet less good. Mill thus ended in self-contradiction.

On the theory here proposed, the difficulty is dealt with as follows: the feeling of satisfaction or pleasure taken in an experience is a condition of its goodness; in this the insight of the hedonists was sound. But it is one condition only, and there is another. This other is the fulfilment of impulse-desire. Socrates’ life was better than that of the pig or the moron because it involved a fulfilment of impulse-desire, a development and flowering of powers, beyond the reach of commonplace minds, and of course still further beyond the reach of the animal mind. Comparison in this respect is possible because the three levels of life are not simply discontinuous; the desires for knowledge and companionship, for example, that were fulfilled so remarkably in the life of Socrates are sturdily at work in the plainest citizen and are at least stirring in the form of impulse well down in the animal scale. It is therefore entirely intelligible to say that Socrates’ life was the best, whether it was the most pleasant or not. The place taken in Mill's theory by quality of pleasure, is taken in ours by fulfilment of impulse-desire. This can no longer be confused with pleasure, since it is recognized as a different dimension; and while higher and lower rank among the qualities of pleasure has proved a most obscure notion, degrees of fulfilment of the same impulse-desire is a straightforward and indeed inevitable notion. An old puzzle of ethical theory thus receives a clear solution.

16. (8) The good, in the sense of the ethical end, is the most comprehensive possible fulfilment and satisfaction of impulse-desire. By a comprehensive fulfilment I mean one that takes account not only of this or that desire, but of our desires generally, and not only of this or that man's desires, but of all men's. That there is and must be such a good, supreme over all others, we can see by considering how conflicts are resolved. Two distinct and important trends of impulse-desire have been repeatedly mentioned, the cognitive and the aesthetic, each with its special type of good, measured by its own immanent standard. Suppose these two conflict. Suppose that a youth has interests and talents for philosophy on the one hand, and music on the other, and feels drawn in both directions, but that one or the other must be sacrificed, if proficiency is to be reached in either. In any concrete case he would no doubt need to take into account the importance of these two activities to his community, but by way of taking one difficulty at a time, let us exclude these considerations. The youth must then decide the conflict by considering his good as a whole. He will have to ask himself the question, How may I, as a person who can gain some measure of fulfilment through each of these channels, gain most of this on the whole—by making myself a philosopher, by making myself a musician, or by making myself some sort of hybrid between them? And if he is really free in the matter, the obvious way to settle it is to take stock of his interests and powers. If he has a very strong interest and bent for speculative analysis, and a feeble enjoyment and skill in music, then, as between these two, the choice will be easy; his good will be in philosophy, since he would find a completer fulfilment there. If the reverse holds, the choice will similarly go to music. But the case in fact may well be harder; he may discover an approximately equal bent for each. Then, if he must drop one or the other, he will consider which of the two would carry with it the larger range of subsidiary satisfactions. The two walks of life will involve different incomes, associates, surroundings, holidays, hours of work and freedom; the one activity may stimulate and support more fruitfully than the other all sorts of minor interests, scientific, political, and literary. In practice he will probably select one or the other as his principal business and try to keep the other alive in a secondary role.

If all this is very obvious—and I must admit that it seems so to me—it none the less shows how naturally our theory of the good explains what is involved in such major choices. I cannot think that other theories do so with equal naturalness. There are moralists who would say that philosophy as such is better or higher than music, whereas neither of them in the abstract has any value at all; where they do have value, it is only as an activity in somebody's mind. Hence, if one is to compare them, one must compare certain amounts of each, realized in individual lives and in particular circumstances. One may gain a far greater fulfilment and happiness through being a good farmer than through being a bad philosopher; indeed William James complained that our graduate schools were full of the bald-headed and the bald-hearted, who were the ruins of excellent farmers. Again, the emotivists would say that the decision about relative good was not a judgment at all, which is very much harder to believe than that it is a judgment, concerned with comparative fulfilments of capacity and desire. Professor Perry would say that the goodness resolves itself into the fact of awaking interest, and the hedonists that it resolves itself into the fact of being pleasant, whereas we hold that the content is as indispensable to the goodness as the interest or the pleasure. Dr Ewing holds that if in a given case the philosopher's experience is better than the musical, that means that it is more fitting to favour it. I agree that this is more fitting, but think it possible to go further and say why it is more fitting. Many moralists of weight, such as Rashdall, Moore, and Ross, would say that the goodness of either type of experience is a simple, unanalysable quality or attribute. I do not consider it unanalysable. There is always, I think, some content that fulfils impulse-desire, and a feeling of satisfaction attendant on this fulfilment. Goodness is neither the fulfilment apart from the satisfaction nor the satisfaction apart from the fulfilment; it is the two in union. If a synonym is wanted, perhaps the best is satisfactoriness.

17. Though this account of the good lays stress on desire, it is not so much on de facto desire, the want or wish of the moment, as on reflective desire, the desire that emerges after correction by thought and experience. The good is what brings fulfilment and its attendant pleasure to desire of this self-amending kind. These desires arise because we are the sort of beings we are, and wisdom lies in making them more accurately and fully expressive of human nature; ‘our aims’, said Emerson, ‘should be mathematically adjusted to our powers.’ There is nothing novel in such an account of the good; indeed it is as old as the Greeks. We shall not try to show this by chapter and verse. It will perhaps be enough to quote a passage in which A. E. Taylor sets out the drift of the ethical thought of Plato and Aristotle. In philosophy there are no authorities, but at least there is some comfort in having such august names on one's side. Taylor notes that

ευνδαιμονια, for both of them, is not primarily getting something which I desire; it is living the kind of life which I have been constructed to live, doing the “work of man”, and if we want to know what life rather than any other should be pronounced ευδαιμων, we have to begin by asking what is the “work” which man, and only man, in virtue of his very constitution, can do. It is true, no doubt, that Plato holds that all of us also do desire ευνδαιμονια, if only most of us were not as unaware as we are of the real nature of our most deep-seated desires. But the very reason why we all have this insuperable desiderium naturale for a certain kind of life is that it is the life we have been constructed by God or by Nature to lead. We are unhappy, without clearly knowing why, so long as we are living any other kind of life, for the same reasons that a fish is unhappy out of water. The true way to discover what it is that we really want out of life is to know what kind of life we have been sent into the world to lead. We do not lead that life as a “means” to the “enjoyable results” of doing so, any more than the fish lives in the water, or the bird in the air as a means to the pleasure of such a life; we enjoy the pleasure (as the tenth book of the Nicomachean Ethics explains) because we are living the kind of life for which we were made.’3

From the book: