1. The attempt of analysts to find a meaning for ‘good’ which should be at once recognizable as its major meaning and also precise has led to such a variety of conflicting definitions that we were moved in the last chapter to try another approach. We would study how values arose in human experience and how they are connected with impulse and desire. Such a study might reveal features in goodness which were likely to elude direct analysis, but which analysis might confirm when once suggested. Has anything of the sort come to light?
It has. As was gradually disclosed in this study, ‘good’ is not the name of a simple abstraction, but is, on the contrary, a term with a complex meaning that has long roots in human nature and its history. It is a term like ‘life’ and ‘mind’, which are clear enough for practical purposes without examination, but whose definition, once it is attempted, takes us far. ‘Good’ has the meaning it does because we are the sort of beings we are. Human nature is essentially a set of activities directed toward ends, and human life is a striving toward these ends. As this striving, beginning in impulse, passes on into desire, it comes to have some awareness of its ends, but it never knows them wholly. Good is relative to this process of seeking. Only that would be good altogether which wholly satisfied by wholly fulfilling this end-seeking process. Anything else is good in the degree in which it thus fulfils and satisfies.
Before asking where this carries us by way of implications, let us see where it places us among the theories of the day. It requires us to take a middle course in controversies about the objectivity of goodness and its naturalness. As regards objectivity, it would agree with the emotivists that goodness does not belong to things in complete independence of attitudes and feelings about them; a thing is good because, and in so far as, it fulfils and satisfies. On the other hand, whether it does or would fulfil and satisfy is an objective fact about it, and the stress we have laid on fulfilment makes this a fundamentally different fact from that of merely being liked. As regards naturalism the theory again steers a middle course. The non-natural quality of goodness, even fittingness as a non-natural character, both of which have proved so hard for naturalists to detect, are no longer required. Whether an object does in fact fulfil and satisfy is something that can be determined without going outside nature as we conceive it. But then on the other hand we do not conceive human nature as naturalists commonly do. It is so thoroughly teleological that it cannot be understood apart from what it is seeking to become. What is good, then, in the sense of what would wholly fulfil and satisfy, is not to be determined by an empirical study of what men actually like, desire, or approve. That is evidence, to be sure; whatever does in fact fulfil and satisfy is good so far; but human desires, and therefore human good, run immeasurably beyond this. No such good is ever final.
2. Neither the analytic nor the genetic path to goodness is sufficient by itself. Any account of it that is to be acceptable, must be one upon which the two paths converge. The ascetic, reflecting fastidiously on the quality of his yearnings, may conclude that the good life lies in the repression of all ‘animal impulse’, but human nature will correct his theory by expunging him and his kind. He might say that extinction is not refutation, which is true enough. But most men would think, and rightly I suspect, that if a course of life is such as to invite extinction, there must be something wrong with the intuition that sponsors it. A proposal regarding the good which elicits a veto from human nature is doomed. On the other hand, goods recommended as ‘natural’ are themselves many and conflicting. The suggestion has been made, for example, that the ethical struggle is simply a continuation of the biological struggle, and that whoever is victor in that struggle, however ‘red in tooth and claw’, is best. It is to the credit of Huxley that when called upon to endorse the suggestion, he replied that men's ordinary sense of what ‘good’ meant put it out of court. Claimants to the role of natural must submit themselves, like others, to the judgment of this inner tribunal. Will our own theory of goodness pass its scrutiny?
The only way to tell is to bring cases before it and see. Take any case you will of experience regarded as intrinsically good, and ask yourself whether its goodness does not turn on two facts about it—first that it brings satisfaction in the form of some degree of pleasure, and second that it fulfils a want. Try it with any experience of love, of friendship, of intellectual insight, of sex, of beauty, of victory in contest, of success in skill or creation. Our suggestion is that both these characters, and only these, will be invariably there.
The most obvious objections to such an account are perhaps (1) that experience may be good when pleasure is absent, (2) that it may again be good when fulfilment is absent, and (3) that even when both are present, this does not give us what we mean by ‘good’.
3. (1) We often call experiences valuable when they are not obviously pleasant. The bearing of suffering, a hard football game, the dangerous ascent of a mountain, the throes of examination, the vigil of the doctor with a patient critically ill, the personal or material loss that leaves one stronger, the mere cold bath of a cold morning—are not these good? But how could anyone call them pleasant?
It is true that all of these may plainly be goods, in the sense of instrumental goods. And no one who is not ready to take foul weather with fair in trying to reach ulterior ends is likely to reach them at all. But it is one thing to face pain and suffering hardily in the interest of such an end, and quite another thing to welcome them as goods in themselves. As for the experiences just mentioned: the examination and the doctor's vigil are cases of strain accepted as unavoidable means to a much desired result. The football game, the ascent of the mountain, and the cold bath are certainly not cases of unmixed pain; there are disagreeable elements in them, but also exhilaration, without which (or the consequences) the experiences would surely not be sought. As for the others, suffering and the shock of loss are not goods in themselves, however useful they may be in steeling one against the future. When people deliberately inflict pain on themselves, they generally do it as a means to an end perhaps imperfectly realized, such as the approval of a Deity or their own or others’ admiration; to seek suffering for its own sake would be thought the sign of a morbid and disordered mind.
It may be said that experience may be good when, though not positively painful, its affective quality is merely neutral. But this is questionable. We saw long ago in considering the Stoics and Mill that with the loss of power to take satisfaction in the exercise of a faculty there goes also the sense that the exercise is worth maintaining. The total loss of this power is, to be sure, a rare affliction. Normally there is a mild satisfaction attending even the most prosaic activities of common life; and few people, however unhappy they call themselves, would prefer to be dead than alive. But if satisfaction does vanish completely from these activities, an apathy supervenes that, far from being the greatest of goods, as the Stoics hoped, is merely grey and insipid. ‘All values are vain, unless we can feel, as well as see, their value. Knowledge without feeling is like an electric motor without current.’1
4. (2) Are there not valued experiences that, conversely, are pleasant without fulfilling any sort of want? Someone tells me a funny story, and I laugh; but I was not hungering for his funny story. Mozart hears the church bells at three, and takes an instant delight in them, but he could hardly have wanted them before first hearing them. I turn a corner on a mountain drive, and am confronted with a glorious sunset; but it is something I neither expected nor desired.
The objection is sound if it means that experiences found good are not always the object of preceding desires. Definite desire must draw its material from satisfied impulse, and impulse is at first exploratory and without definite guidance. But we are not straining language when we say that a want or need may exist without being in active and conscious exercise. Mozart may have a disposition to notice and respond to musical sounds before he hears them, and if he hears them with exceptional delight, we take that as evidence of the disposition. If he had been deaf, or tone-deaf, or as indisposed to respond to such things as the cow in the neighbouring field, he would have felt no interest in the bells and found no value in listening to them. It was because he did have a faculty and disposition, even though previously unawakened, that he responded as he did. So of our response to the humorous story and to the sunset at the turn of the road. If we lacked a sense of humour or a sense of beauty, such things would fall on deaf ears and blind eyes. These senses need not be in perpetual exercise. But unless they were there, the funniest of stories and the most gorgeous of sunsets would elicit nothing from us.
It may be said that at this rate every response will be the sign of a capacity and a disposition, and hence that no response will give more indication of their presence than another. But this latter conclusion does not follow. The sense of humour or of beauty is a matter of degree, so that one person's response to a given stimulus will be much more complete than another's. If our theory is true, we should expect that the person who could respond more completely would find more value in his response than a person of feeble sensibility. This, so far as we can tell, is just what happens.2
5. (3) It may be objected, again, that satisfaction and fulfilment may both be present in an experience and yet not give what we mean by calling it good. The proof is (a) that if this is really what we mean, then, regarding anything that we do not believe to possess these characters, we should be contradicting ourselves in calling it good, whereas in fact we should not; and (b) that, regarding an experience which we do know to be satisfactory and fulfilling, we can still ask with meaning whether it is good, whereas this would be impossible if having these characters was all we meant by good.
(a) The word ‘good’ has many meanings; Dr Ewing has usefully distinguished ten of them.3 And if a person says that there is nothing self-contradictory in calling the suffering of a serious illness a good thing, he may of course be right; such suffering may be far from fulfilling or satisfying, and may still be instrumentally good; to say this is no contradiction. But that does not show that our definition is wrong. All it shows is that there are other senses of the word. The goodness we are talking about is that which belongs to an experience thought worth having in itself. And if we are clear regarding such an experience as suffering that it neither fulfils any impulse or demand of our nature nor carries with it any feeling of satisfaction, could we consistently ascribe to it this kind of goodness? I do not think we could. In calling it so we should be contradicting our own belief. Of course we may use the word without realizing quite what we mean by it, so that when someone proposes this meaning, our first impulse is to reject it. But if when he goes on to ask whether we should really apply the word where these characters are seen to be absent, we have to say No; we could not, consistently with our meaning, say anything else. This objection to our definition turns into evidence in its favour.
(b) Our analysis of goodness would probably be called a naturalistic analysis. As such, is it not open to the famous objection by which G. E. Moore dismissed all naturalistic notions of goodness? Take any such definition you will, said Moore—length and breadth of life, being pleasant, being the object of desire, being what we desire to desire, or any other; could you not meaningfully ask regarding something known to have these qualities whether it is good? If the question is meaningful at all, your definition must be wrong. For if having the property in question is what ‘good’ means, and you know the object to have it, then you know the answer already, and to ask what it is would be pointless. If ‘good’ means pleasant, for example, you could not honestly ask if pleasure was good, for that would be asking whether pleasure is pleasant, which nobody in his senses would ask. The fact that we can meaningfully ask whether pleasure is good shows that ‘good’ cannot mean merely pleasant. Similarly the fact that we can meaningfully ask whether that which fulfils and satisfies is good shows that ‘good’ does not mean having of these properties. That is the objection.
Now I think Moore's argument does dispose of most naturalistic definitions of ‘good’. But, as Mr Frankena has shown,4 to say before examination that it disposes of all of them is to beg the question. The only way to tell whether a proposed definition will fit your meaning is to try it. And we are quite ready to face this test. Take any experience you wish that at once fulfils a drive of human nature and brings pleasure or happiness with it, ask about this experience whether it is intrinsically worth having, and we suggest that you have the answer already. The experiences you would naturally think of as meeting the requirements—the experiences of beauty, friendship, sex, play, creation, knowledge—are those about which it is least possible to have any genuine question as to their goodness. If these things are not good, what in the world is?
A reader may protest, however, that he does genuinely doubt whether they are good. This may show indeed that we have failed to catch the true meaning of the term as he uses it. But it may equally show something else. It may show simply that his meaning is so indefinite that any crystallization of it into words would strike him as failing to equate with what he had in mind. If this is the case, his rejection of our proposed meaning has no significance, for he would reject any other definite suggestion with equal promptitude. A definition of good is not to be dismissed merely because it fails to comport with a mental cloud. One may argue, to be sure, that good is indefinable not, as Moore believed, because it is simple and unanalysable, but because it is so amorphous and complex. The term may be used to focus upon an object a composite but nebulous mass of impulses, affects, emotions, and ideas of which no possible verbal formula would be admitted to give the equivalent. Press such reflections home, and one will soon be saying that no two people ever use the word with the same meaning, nor the same person twice. In a sense that is true. But unless we could go beyond this anarchy to some community of meaning, the business of dictionaries, of science, and indeed of ordinary intercourse would be at an end. No definition of ‘good’ will fit exactly the shifting wracks of meaning that float through our minds as we use it. All we claim for what we have proposed is that it gives the minimal common character that we assign to an experience in calling it worth while.
6. Without stopping to discuss the many less obvious difficulties, let us go on to ask what our theory commits us to regarding some other ethical terms. Granting for the moment, that an experience is good which satisfies and fulfils, what light does this throw on the meaning of ‘right’? Our answer can be predicted readily enough. We have argued that there is no means for determining the right apart from the good. If one is to defend an action as right, one must do so by showing what it entails; and for us this means showing that it tends to bring into being as much good as any alternative. In the light of what we have seen about good, this means in turn that an action is right if, and only if, it tends to bring into being as much experience that is at once satisfying and fulfilling as any alternative action.
This somewhat awkward way of putting the case is required by certain facts of a technical kind. (a) Why not simply say that the right act is that which produces the most good? Because it is possible that the largest good should be attainable in several different ways. In that case to speak of the right act would be misleading, for any one of several acts would be right. We must therefore say that an act is right if it tends to produce not less than the greatest good attainable.
(b) But why ‘tends’ to produce? Why not say simply ‘produces’? Because in some cases this would have consequences that no one would care to accept. A child becomes suddenly ill and the anxious mother goes to the medicine closet for a remedy she has found effective in such cases. But a pharmacist has confused the labels, and she inadvertently gives the child a medicine that causes its death. Should we appraise the rightness or wrongness of her action here by its actual consequences? That is certainly not what we actually do. We appraise actions as right and wrong, not in virtue of their actual consequences, but in virtue of the consequences which we conceive that actions done in these circumstances and with this intention would normally produce. Hence the awkward phrase ‘tends to produce’.
(c) Again, we have said, ‘an action is right if, and only if, it tends’, etc.; why not say rightness means’ so-and-so? Because there has been a protracted and somewhat unprofitable controversy over whether productivity of good is what rightness actually means or whether it is merely a ‘right-making characteristic’; and I should prefer at the moment not to get involved in the controversy. If a dogmatic answer to the question were called for, I should say that such productivity is not the meaning of right in the sense that it is the plain man's explicit meaning; but then I suspect that he has no sharply definite meaning in mind at all, and that this sense comports as well as any other with what he means.
Finally (d) we have spoken of our actions bringing into being certain goods or experiences; why not simply producing good consequences? There is generally no harm in saying this; but it has a danger that is perhaps worth averting. Not all the goods by which we appraise an action are necessarily results that follow it in time. Some of them may be states of mind, or relations between these, which are brought into being by the action but are simultaneous with it. The state of mind in which an act of justice, generosity, or loyalty to truth is done may itself be of value.
7. A right act, then, is one that tends to bring into being at least as much in the way of satisfying and fulfilling experience as would any available alternative. But experience for whom? For me, or you, or some third party? We can only answer that from the point of view of value, this query is irrelevant. We are often called upon, of course, to choose between producing goods for ourselves and goods for others, but the choice is in principle the same as in choosing between goods of our own. If what makes anything good is the fulfilment and satisfaction of impulse-desire, and a given experience of my neighbour's performs this office as well as one of my own, it is as good as my own, and in the reckoning of rights and duties must count as equal to it. Goodness is no respecter of persons, only of the potentialities of persons. If my neighbour's capacities are such as to carry him further than mine toward a rich and satisfying life, his life is more significant, more important, than mine. If the village fathers in Stratford had known what they had in a certain boy named William, outwardly very much like the Thomas, Richard, and Henry that sat on the benches beside him, and, knowing what they had, had been as ready to make of him a road-cleaner or a chimney-sweep as any of the others, they would have been acting neither in his interests, nor their own, nor the community's. Each of us is a quiverful of assorted arrows of desire. In general design these arrows are alike in all of us; we all undoubtedly have desires to know and love, to make things, to dominate, to be admired. But in some of us certain arrows are very long and others very short; in others these lengths are reversed; and the chances are that in no two of us is the combination of longs and shorts exactly the same. But such as they are, we always shoot them at infinity. Each man blunders along after the good that his powers make possible for him, not knowing quite what these are, or how far they will carry him. Nevertheless, it is his potentiality of good that is the ground of his rights. We owe him duties because he has wants that our action may frustrate or fulfil. We do not feel called upon to provide educational facilities for our cows and horses, because they could get no good from them if we did. But if, when we are providing such things, we ignore deliberately the possibilities of any youth, however obscure, we are plainly failing in our duty. We may not be able to provide for all; we may have to leave some out entirely; there are no rights independent of circumstances. But we must at least consider the claims of all. I am not clear what is meant by the sacredness of human life as such, and should think the maintenance of hopeless imbeciles at the expense of normal persons a dubious practice morally. But there can be no doubt of the immorality of allowing people to come into existence and then denying the facts of their possibility and desire, and the right to consideration based on these facts. The dignity of man rests as much on what he might be as on what he is.
There may be readers disposed to complain that we have talked too much of non-moral goods, to the neglect of specifically ethical ones. But all goods are ethical goods. Any value or disvalue which, by being thrown into the scale, could affect a decision on right or wrong is of ethical moment. The good whose production makes an act right may be of any kind. The question whether to award a scholarship to X or Y is a moral problem, even though the capacities considered are intellectual only. The question whether, in one's will, one should leave money toward an art gallery, a college, or a playing field, is as truly a moral problem as the question whether one should tell a lie or break a promise. A question becomes a moral question at the moment when competing values, of any kind whatever, enter upon the scene.
8. To this account of the rightness of actions, and to all accounts that derive the right from the good, there is a formidable objection, which may as well be faced now. The rule we have proposed is the simple and sweeping one: So act as to bring about the greatest good. This rule, if valid at all, should be valid without exceptions, for if here and there it guided us wrongly, how could we rely on it anywhere? Now the deontologists hold that it does have exceptions.5 They hold that the rule of the greatest good sometimes requires of us actions that would by general agreement be wrong. The two types of case most commonly adduced are those of promises and punishment.
Suppose I have borrowed some money from A, who is a man of means, and promised to return it on the first of the month. On that day, with the money in my pocket, I start out for A's house to repay him. I meet on the way a friend B, who is badly in need of help. I have the money in my pocket that would give him the help he needs. Should I give it to him? I call to mind my principle of producing the greatest good. Is it not probable that a greater good would be produced by my giving the money to the man in need than to my creditor who would not miss it? And yet is it not perfectly clear that men generally would have no patience with me if in this case I were to act on that principle? They would say that if I promised to pay, my first obligation was to keep my promise, not to give the money away, even to someone who would get more good out of it than my creditor. My obligation is not to produce the greatest good but to honour my engagement.
Now of course we agree with the deontologists that in such a case one ought normally to keep the promise. We agree further that if an ethical theory is to be taken seriously, it must agree with ordinary responsible judgment about what is right and wrong, since what it is looking for is the ground on which that judgment is implicitly based. Where we cannot agree is in saying that keeping the promise in such cases would break the rule of the greatest good. We admit that it seems to do so. But we should hold that even in cases like this the reason for keeping the promise is the greater good involved in it.
Let us note, to begin with, that the deontologists themselves do not hold that one should keep one's promise though the heavens fall. If one's child has fallen suddenly ill, and can be saved only by an expensive prescription, and for this prescription the only available money is what was meant for one's creditor, they would agree that one should break one's promise and save one's child. Why? Because the good achieved by this course would outweigh the obligation to keep the promise. Yet the curious thing is that what is outweighed by this good is declared itself not to be a good at all; the obligation to keep my promise is not based on any good whatever that is entailed by such action. In throwing the prospective courses into the scales, I have on one side a foreseen good, on the other the keeping of a promise in which there is declared to be no good, but which is obligatory none the less. There is something strange about such a situation. Must there not be some good about keeping the promise that can be compared with and in extreme cases outweighed by, the good of not keeping it?
9. Now for keeping an inconvenient promise there are many reasons which we do not commonly think of in the act of keeping it, but which come to light with a moment's thought. Most of them take the form of the evils we should bring about by not keeping it. In this case We should forfeit the confidence of our creditor; we should not only disappoint him, but leave ourselves deeper in difficulty; we should encourage in ourselves an insidious habit which makes the meeting of obligations harder; above all, perhaps, we should lower in some measure the general confidence in promises—a serious matter, since the commerce of men with each other would grind to a stop if such confidence were destroyed. We all know these arguments. And yet they leave us dissatisfied. It does not seem difficult to meet them one by one by inventing special cases in which the breaking of a promise would involve none of these evils, while we should insist nevertheless on its being kept. Suppose the debt were a secret one; then public confidence would not be lowered by our default. Suppose we knew that our creditor had quite forgotten both loan and promise; then he would not be disappointed. Suppose we broke the promise after explicit calculation of the goods involved on both sides; then we need not worry about bad habits, for any habit we have initiated is a good one. These arguments all seem relevant. Yet they leave us cold. We watch the evils involved in promise-breaking disappearing one by one from before our eyes, and if the greatest good theory is right, we ought to find ourselves ready at the end to acclaim the promise-breaker and go ourselves and do likewise. But the fact is that we do not. We feel that there is something sophistical about this whole line of argument, and that in spite of all the evidence it adduces that we could break the promise with no ill results, we ought to keep it just the same.
10. Why is this? It is because we feel that in the rule of promise-keeping as such there is something of value that would be compromised by light-hearted violations of it, and that it is somehow illegitimate to consider the advantages and disadvantages in the particular case apart from the practice of which it is an instance. A long succession of moralists have obviously been moved by this conviction. Plato held that we cannot pass upon the rightness of a particular act without taking into account the frame of life to which it belongs. Kant went so far as to hold that in considering whether to break a promise, the principle was all-important; to break a promise—any promise—was to subscribe to the view that promises could be broken at will, which was virtually to deny that there were such things at all. Joseph argues that in keeping a promise there is a good which deontoiogists fail to recognize, a good that lies in acting in accordance with the rule, and ultimately in the ‘pattern of life’ to which the rule itself belongs. These moralists are clinging tenaciously to an element in common thought that is clearly present and important. But the question is whether one can do justice to the importance of rules while still adhering to the principle of the greatest good.
I think one can. But to do so one must penetrate into the kind of choice which the plain man conceives himself as making in such a case. In deciding whether to keep a promise, he is not choosing between two particular acts whose particular effects provide the whole ground of choice between them. He is deciding whether a kind of conduct, a public practice, shall be maintained, and he feels that if he decided to break it, he would be voting against the practice itself, which he is most reluctant to do. He is reluctant because he feels that the practice is bound up in a vital way with his order of life, and that to undermine it would involve dimly-seen but far-reaching and disastrous consequences. In short, he refuses to consider the value of keeping this particular promise without considering the value of the practice of which it is an example. Is this mere confusion on his part?
11. That it is really not confusion has been ably argued by Mr Rawls.6 He points out that rules may be conceived in two very different ways. On the one hand a rule may be a summary of what has been decided in cases of a certain kind. When the community has considered the matter of promises, it has generally found keeping them to have better results than breaking them, and the rule records this verdict. If we do conceive the rule in this way, we may approach our particular problem with a free mind, and consider the case on its merits. We may find that the advantages lie where the rules would lead us to expect, and then we shall conform to it; or we may find that they lie on the other side, and then there is no call to conform to it, for the case is evidently one of the exceptions to which the rule does not apply. Now when the utilitarian is charged with holding lightly the rule of keeping promises, it is this statistical conception of rules that is attributed to him. And if this is all there is to a rule, the charge is true.
But it has too seldom been noticed, says Professor Rawls, that there is at work in our minds a very different idea of what a rule is. A rule may define a practice. In some very important areas of conduct, we can see that if everyone were to act on independent calculation, it would be impossible for anyone to count on how others would act, and the result would be a general uncertainty amounting perhaps to chaos. ‘As an alternative one realizes that what is required is the establishment of a practice, the specification of a new form of activity; and from this one sees that a practice necessarily involves the abdication of full liberty to act on utilitarian and prudential grounds.’7 One cannot even conceive correctly what keeping a promise is unless one sees it as part of a wider convention. To make a promise is to accept this convention; it is to say that one will not decide whether to keep the promise by appeals to its special effects in this case, but will be bound by the over-riding commitment. To decide the particular case as if it stood alone is to break this commitment; and to break the commitment is to strike at one of the main strands that bind society together. For if I claim the privilege of deciding this case on its isolated merits, I must in mere consistency grant the same privilege to others, and their acceptance of that privilege would be disastrous. What is at stake is not merely the value of my act, but the value of the practice of which that act is a part.
12. One may illustrate this notion of a rule as a practice by analogy to a game.8 Outside the game of baseball, a man may do something that looks very like sliding for a base, ‘taking a called strike’, or hitting a home run. But he is not really doing so. For these performances are by definition parts of a game and cannot occur except as the game is being played. And just as it is unreasonable for a man who hits a tennis ball a long way with a broomstick to claim that he has hit a home run, so it is unreasonable for a man who is playing the game to claim the freedom of the man who is not. By undertaking to play at all, he has given up that freedom and accepted the rules of the game. If after hitting a home run he decided that in this case it was best, all consequences considered, not to run the bases, his teammates would regard him not as a philosopher but as an idiot, and the umpire would quite rightly call him out. Now when we make a promise, we enter, so to speak, into a social game, of which promise-keeping is one of the rules. We cannot play that game and also choose whenever we wish not to play it, to pretend that we are as free to keep a promise or not as we are to take, or not to take, our umbrella. If we and others claimed that sort of freedom, the game would be at an end, which means that the sort of community we know would be at an end.
Of course we may decide not to play at all. If the player who has hit the home run sees that his small son in the stands is about to fall over the railing, he may decide to run to his aid rather than to run the bases. But that is not breaking a particular rule; it is temporarily forsaking the game itself in the interest of what seems more important. That is what we do when we break a promise in the interest of some great alternative good. If, having promised to repay a debt, I find that if I repay it I shall not have the wherewithal to save the life of my child, I act of course in the child's interest. But that is not to treat keeping my promise as I would the taking of my umbrella. I am ready to break with the whole convention so far as it stands in the way of my doing this, or if one prefers, I am interpreting the convention itself as containing these built-in exceptions, and am quite willing that everyone else should interpret it that way also.
13. We said that when deontologists attacked the maxim of the greatest good, their most telling arguments were based on promises and punishment. We have considered promises. We shall delay over punishment only long enough to say that we should deal with it in the same way. The trump card is usually the judge who is tempted at a time of social strain to convict an innocent man for the sake of maintaining order in the community. It is argued that action in line with the greatest good would call for conviction of the innocent man, and that this is outrageous. Outrageous it certainly is. The judge is plainly not free to take this line, but the question is, Why not? Our answer is that the judgment of a court is not like taking an umbrella; it does not stand alone; by definition it is performed under rigid conditions. The court has been expressly appointed, and has given its pledge, to render judgment in accord with the evidence only, rejecting all appeals to expedience or advantage; to act otherwise in this case would betray the judicial system as a whole and indeed the wider official system of which this is a part. That was why the French people took the Dreyfus conviction so seriously, and why they were generally thought to be right in so doing. They felt by a sound instinct that what was at stake was more that the fate of a single officer, more even than the reputation of the high command; it was the integrity of France on its official side.
We hold, then, that the maxim of the greatest good still stands. The cases adduced to overthrow it are cases out of context, and usually cases whose very description serves to reveal the missing context. When this is taken into account, the calculation that seemed to make for an anarchic looseness is seen to support that loyalty to principle which common sense so plainly feels. This does not mean that we recognize two different and independent ways of justifying an action, one by bringing it under a rule, and another by appealing to the good involved. We recognize only one way, the latter. But if we are to do justice to actual thought, we must take some actions as embodying practices which go beyond them, and which must be accepted or rejected as wholes.
14. We have been discussing what makes an action right, and we have implied from time to time that if we see an action to be right, it is our duty to do it. We must now ask what is meant by calling an action our duty. In the light of what has been said we can exclude some common suggestions. Duty is not a divine command, at least in essence, since it binds the atheist, who does not recognize a divine being, in exactly the same way as it binds the devotee. It is not a categorical imperative if that means that its commands have no regard to consequences or desires. Is it then what Kant described as a hypothetical imperative? To say so has often been supposed inconsistent with the rigour of duty. ‘If you want health, then have a care for diet and exercise’; ‘if you want friends, be considerate of others’. But then suppose you are the sort of eccentric who is indifferent to health and friendship; does not that mean that you are absolved from such duties? And are we not making duty likewise rest on the mere contingency of having certain impulse-desires?
We answer, and stress the answer, that this is not a contingency, and that therefore with us too the command of duty is really categorical. A human nature that did not have these impulse-desires would not be human nature. Mind itself is a set of activities directed toward ends, and to halt or remove them would blot us out altogether. Look again at the theoretical impulse. This is an impulse which, as we have seen, is already at work in the most rudimentary perceptive judgment and is still there, pushing for completion, in the most complicated theories of physics or metaphysics. One could not carve this impulse out of man without annihilating him as man. His whole common-sense world may be regarded as a single complex judgment, elaborated through millenniums of pressure on the part of this central impulse. We could no more divest ourselves of this impulse and its work than we could leap off our own shadows. Even in denying that we have such an impulse, we are obviously exercising it. To cease to exercise it would be to cease to remember or expect or infer or even recognize; in short, it would be to resign from the world.
So of other central impulses, the aesthetic for example. The Gestaltists have shown us that we cannot really choose whether to be interested or not in certain forms or shapes, since nature has settled this for us; certain sounds carry emotional meaning from the start; in the rhythm of the drumbeat or the dance there is an appeal as ancient as the race. We can develop the interest or stunt it; we cannot remove it, or sensibly deny it is there. Some people have tried to rid themselves of the whole embarrassing problem of good by refusing to admit that there is such a thing, of any type whatever; there are things and happenings, but none of them is better or worse than any other. But if a man chooses to make this point, it is presumably because he regards it as better to make it than not, and then he is back with a grotesque suddenness in the world of values he is trying to escape.
Nature itself has thus determined that we should seek certain forms of self-fulfilment. It is only through the seeking of these ends that we have become what we are, only by continuing to seek them that we can become what we may be. The command to continue the search is thus addressed by human nature to itself: ‘If you are to be what you want to be, and what you cannot help wanting to be, do this.’ I am not, of course, suggesting that a person cannot help wanting to learn trigonometry or read Ruskin; I am suggesting that from his very constitution he does and must regard knowledge and beauty as goods to be pursued. He is so made as to desire them, and fulfilling and satisfying such desires is what ‘good’ means. And of course the fulfilment and satisfaction in which goodness consists are not mine alone, but those of anyone capable of them,
15. Now this gives the meaning of ‘ought’. To say that I ought to do something is ultimately to say that if a set of ends is to be achieved, whose goodness I cannot deny without making nonsense of my own nature, then I must act in a certain way. There is of course no compulsion to act in this way. I am free to follow the lesser good if I choose. And if I do so choose, no outward penalty may overtake me. But ‘the greatest penalty of wrongdoing’, Plato said, ‘is to grow into the likeness of the bad man’, and that penalty is inescapable. The ethical ought is like the logical ought; indeed the logical ought is a special case of the ethical. The logical ought says, ‘If you want to attain truth, think consistently’. It does not say that you cannot contradict yourself; we are all more or less experts in that ancient art. It only says that if you do contradict yourself, you will nullify the aim of your thinking because you cut yourself off from truth. The ethical ought is to desires generally what the logical ought is to the particular desire to know. It stands over them all; it is the voice not of this or that end, or of this or that possible good, but of the end, the good, to which all desire is directed, which all men alike are seeking. That is what gives it its authority. It concentrates, in a sense, the whole weight of human hope and desire. I do not mean, of course, that what our sense of duty says at any moment is infallible; for it remains true enough, as Leslie Stephen said, that conscience is the voice of racial experience speaking in the individual ear, and regarding the particular prescriptions of duty, the race itself may be mistaken. But that there is some greatest good purchasable by my present act cannot be denied without stultification; if error comes, it comes in construing what this is. Our account leaves the fact of duty palpable and its supremacy secure. Duty is the imperative laid upon us by a summum bonum which is prescribed by human nature itself. As Butler said of conscience, ‘if it had power, as it has authority, it would absolutely govern human life’. It speaks with so great an urgency because it is dimly felt to be representative of the hope and will of mankind.
16. Here a serious difficulty crops up. Does not our account do away with any distinctively moral good altogether? It seems to make of moral goodness, that is, dutifulness or the good will, something that is good merely as instrumental to other and non-moral goods. If it really does this, it is sharply at variance with much weighty teaching on this matter. Kant began The Metaphysic of Morals by saying that the only thing in the world that was good without qualification was the good will, by which he meant loyalty to duty as such; and moralists who differ from each other as widely as Rashdall and the deontologists agree that dutifulness is not only an intrinsic good, but the greatest of all such goods. Is this teaching to be rejected?
There is at least a genuine paradox in it. Duty, as we have seen, is always a duty to produce good; the goodness, then, of dutifulness, or the disposition to do one's duty, would seem to lie in its being the condition and promise of this good. But to make dutifulness itself a good, in the sense of something to be sought in its own right and independently of other goods, seems unintelligent and hardly intelligible. If it is my duty to do my duty, it is because this latter duty is to produce some good, and unless it promised to do so, it would not be my duty at all. Thus the duty of being dutiful is not independent and self-justifying; it is derivative from the good that such regard for duty brings about. To make dutifulness, as Kant did, an end in itself, indeed the only end that ethics as such could recognize, is to leave the chain of duty hanging in the air, without any concrete good to which it can attach itself. Hence the curious emptiness of Kantian ethics. We are to go on cultivating and refining our sense of duty; we are to hold the moral law in awe above the starry heavens; we are to do our duty though those heavens fall; but if we venture to ask Kant what it is our duty to do, he can only repeat that we are to be dutiful; that is itself the good that morality is to aim at. Yet by itself it is a vacuous good. The very nature of duty is to aim beyond itself, and if it has nothing but itself to aim at, it can only stand despondently still. There can no more be a duty to act, if there is no good to attain by it, than to think, if there is no truth to be won by thinking.
Are we to say, then, that dutifulness, the disposition to seek and do one's duty, is an extrinsic, not an intrinsic, good? No, that will hardly do either. The truth would seem to be that it is a mixture of the two. That it is an extrinsic good, and a very great one, is undeniable. Indeed it is probably the most important single fact about a man, since without it, opportunity, position, and powers may be useless or used for evil, while with it, we have the warrant that he will at least try to play his part in the world. In a sense it is more important than any of the goods it may lead him to realize, for it stands as guarantor of all of them. But there is no reason to deny that, on our theory, it may be an intrinsic good also. Such a good is for us the fulfilment and satisfaction of impulse-desire. Now while impulse-desires are commonly aimed at the goods that duty might produce, they can also be aimed at the perfection of the moral mechanism, so to speak, by which goods are engendered and judged. Just as a musician may transfer part of his interest from the music that he is playing to his technique in playing it, or a philosopher some of his interest from the solution of his problem to the logical skill required for solving it, so the person interested in achieving good for himself or others may come to take an interest in his own sensitiveness of distinction among goods and firmness in following what appears the best; he may pursue these as a distinct end. And so far as he finds fulfilment and satisfaction in the pursuit, moral goodness becomes a good, in the sense that knowledge and the experience of beauty are goods.
Nevertheless, on our view its primary goodness is, and should remain, extrinsic. This is not to make it unimportant, any more than to regard health as only extrinsically good is to make it unimportant. And it serves to suggest a genuine danger in making dutifulness an end in itself. Rashdall somewhere remarks that the moral sense is a sense of the relative importance of ends. That, I think, is the right way to conceive it. A healthy moral interest should be fixed rather upon the goods to be achieved than upon the mechanisms or attitudes of our own mind in achieving them. Moral obligation is, we saw, the claim upon us of ends appointed by our own nature. As Kant recognized, a perfectly healthy moral will—what he called the holy will, that is, one in which desire and the sense of duty exactly corresponded—would have no worries about the state of its conscience; it would simply do its duty with delight. It is even possible that a preoccupation with goodness should stand in the way of goods that would otherwise be achieved, just as an attempt at introspection when we have a certain desire will destroy the desire by diverting attention from its end. Moral goodness is one of those priceless things, of which culture is another, that tend to wither away when placed in too bright a light. I have been told, indeed, that an eminent woman contemporary, having concluded early in life, that she was neither good-looking nor socially gifted, decided that she would go in for goodness, and 1 must admit that the result has been excellent. But if one looks more closely, one sees that far more is at work than the interest in goodness, for there is an absorbing interest also in the goods that she is busy about.
Without such enthusiasms, the mere devotion to goodness has something artificial about it, and even a touch of morbidity. Artificial, because of the unnaturalness of working laboriously to produce goods for which the worker has no heart. One likes to receive a gift from a friend when it is a testimony to his liking and his pleasure in one's own pleasure; one receives it gingerly when one knows that it springs from the sender's sense that he must do his duty, come what may; gifts without the giver are bare. In the preoccupation with moral goodness there is sometimes a touch of morbidity too. The man with sound health is more disposed to eat than to finger his pulse. It is probably the preacher, with his professional obligation to fix his eye upon goodness as such, and urge its claims, who feels the danger most acutely. A Greek of classic times would have been astonished and nonplussed at the Hebrew's concern over the state of his soul, and I suppose there is no parallel in other literatures to his passionate ‘Create a clean heart within me’, or to his passionate aversion to sin as ‘the body of this death’. To deprecate this strain in our western culture or to depreciate its power to keep a refractory human nature in order would be absurd.
It is not absurd, however, to point out that without strong independent desires which it can stimulate and moderate, the pursuit of goodness as a state of the ‘heart’ may easily cross the line that separates health from morbidity. In Thomas à Kempis, in the Theologia Germania, in St Theresa, in George Fox, in Amiel, in Kierkegaard, there is, of course, much that is noble; there is also something of the hothouse and the sick-room. When the emphasis in preaching is very strongly on the ‘inward parts’, as it is in the admirable sermons of James Martineau,9 one gets, at times, the same sense of the need for opened windows; and in the continual stress on sin of some of the later Kierkegaardians—the insistence that the human will, even at its best, is one vast festering sore—we see the pursuit of goodness virtually turned against itself and eating out its own vitals. The prayer book confession that there is no health in us seems to me simply untrue, the relic of a theology committed to the doctrine of the fall, though perhaps if often enough repeated, it does tend to become true.
17. Besides the question of moral goodness, there is one other that our account of the good is sure to raise immediately, namely what is meant by evil. Like ‘good’, the term ‘evil’ is most ambiguous; it covers, if we may say so, a multitude of evils. When called upon to give examples, people would think of very different things. Some would mention Black Deaths and Great Fires and Lisbon earthquakes; others would name ignorance and ugliness; others, old age and death; others still, sin; some few, perhaps, would talk of the niggardliness of nature, and point out that most of the planet and indeed of the known universe is uninhabitable by man. Some of these evils fall outside our present interest, since they are clearly instrumental. Uninhabitable snowfields and deserts, epidemics, fires and earthquakes, are commonly called physical evils, but strictly speaking there are no such things. What are called so are instrumental only; they are not bad in themselves; they induce experiences that are bad. Disease as a mere state or process within the body has nothing evil in it; neither does a big fire or a big wave or a barren soil. Most of the universe, as far as we can see, is neither good nor evil. When certain events in it directly give rise to suffering or privation, we call them bad by metonymy, because they are the immediate causes of what is intrinsically bad, namely conscious states or their relations. It is only with intrinsic evil that we are here concerned.
Now if goodness consists in the fulfilment and satisfaction of impulse-desire, one would expect evil to consist in one or other of the following things: (a) the failure of impulse-desire to reach its goal, (b) its active defeat or frustration, (c) the coercive presence of that from which impulse-desire is seeking to escape. We find all these types of evil illustrated in fact, and they seem between them to exhaust the types of intrinsic evil.
18. (a) Everyone has impulse-desires, strong or weak, for such things as knowledge, beauty, and easy relations with others. Suppose one conspicuously falls short of these; suppose, for example, that one is too stupid or too ignorant to enjoy any but the most elementary grasp of the world about him; we call such a state an evil. Why? Not because the man is actively suffering in any way or feels that he has anything to complain about; he may be extremely self-complacent. We call his state evil nevertheless, because it marks so evident a failure of the impulse-desire for knowledge to reach even a normal level of fulfilment; that it has not even gone far enough to become aware of its own failure does not better the situation. Again, we consider bad the sort of insensitivity that is content to live in a squalid litter, with no taste for order, no eye for beauty, no sense for the graces of speech or movement. Once more, when one hears of persons who feel at the end of their lives that they have nothing to repent of, meaning that they have never done anything that would land them in jail, we feel again a failure that we must call evil, even though the agent may be unaware of it. Our own theory of good and evil covers such cases fully, in the sense that, in the light of it, we can see plainly why we call them bad. If good means the fulfilment and satisfaction of impulse-desire, these are evil because in this respect they are failures.
Since, in our view, there are two factors in goodness, fulfilment and satisfaction, it is conceivable that a given experience should fall short on one account, but not on the other; it might fulfil without satisfying, or satisfy without fulfilling. I think that approximations to both these states occur, and that when they do, we recognize that we have at best a defective good. We saw in discussing the passionless sage of the Stoics that much light of an intellectual kind may be achieved with very little of the satisfaction that such achievement commonly brings. We saw too that while such a state could not be called an evil, its value or goodness had largely vanished. Fortunately such states are abnormal and rather rare. In ordinary life the achievement of a desired end is the most certain of all things to bring satisfaction. On the other hand the mere continued possession of the end is no guarantee that the satisfaction will remain. When T. H. Huxley was awarded the medal of the Royal Society, he was in raptures; a little later he wrote: ‘The thing that a fortnight ago (before I got it) I thought so much of, I give you my word I do not care a pin for. I am sick of it and ashamed of having thought so much of it, and the congratulations I get give me a sort of internal sardonic grin.’10 Even such a prodigy of success as Goethe said of his life when he was an old man: ‘at bottom it has been nothing but pain and burden and I can affirm that during the whole of my 75 years, I have not had four weeks of genuine well-being. It is but the perpetual rolling of a rock that must be raised up again forever.’11 Frank Chapman Sharp thinks that such cases, in which the good seems to have vanished because, though the fulfilment is still there, the satisfaction in it has gone, show that the goodness lies in the satisfaction alone, and he ends as a hedonist.12 But the inference is illicit. What such cases show is that satisfaction is essential to goodness, not that it is exclusively essential. Indeed, attentively considered, they seem to show that satisfaction cannot be the only factor. Suppose that the satisfaction felt by Huxley or Goethe in his own level of achievement was small (that it was really zero or less I take leave to question), can we say that the goodness of such lives is really no greater than that of other men with similarly low satisfaction but a tithe of their attainment? That is certainly at odds with what we actually think. We should say that the goodness of an experience was greater if the achievement or fulfilment was greater, even though the satisfaction remained the same. If the satisfaction actually went down as the fulfilment went up, a situation that is conceivable, I think we should be genuinely puzzled as to whether the experience was better or not; we should begin to talk in terms of comparative amounts. In any case our present point is clear, namely that a fulfilment that is without normal satisfaction is to that extent a defective good.
19. The same holds where there is satisfaction but low fulfilment. There appear to be diseased minds who live in a state of perpetual euphoria, cackling and cooing with idiot's delight over the little nothings of their daily round. In sheer satisfaction—with themselves and the world, they would make the Huxleys and the Goethes seem like melancholiacs. If the hedonists were right, such a state would be highly desirable. But we certainly do not so regard it. We think, rather, that for an experience to be genuinely good, there must be not only satisfaction, but something worth taking satisfaction in, and the worth of this object will be measured, not by the satisfaction itself, but by the immanent standard of the activity involved, cognitive if it is an activity of knowing, aesthetic if one of appreciating, ethical if it involves diverse activities and ends. It is no doubt better that the idiot's life should be a perpetual grin than a perpetual groan, even if his life is a ‘poem in praise of practically nothing’; but it would be very much better still if, answering to the delight, there were the sort of object that would fill a normal mind or engage a normal sensibility. Satisfaction, even great satisfaction, without the corresponding fulfilment is at best a defective good.
Indeed, even when fulfilment and satisfaction are both present, there is a point of view from which every life may be regarded as evil, and our theory renders such judgments, otherwise perverse and peevish, at least intelligible. It was the cheerful and courageous R. L. Stevenson who wrote, ‘failure is the fate allotted’; ‘our business is to continue to fail in good spirits.’ ‘Take the happiest man’, said James, ‘the one most envied by the world, and in nine cases out of ten his inmost consciousness is one of failure. Either his ideals in the line of his achievements are pitched far higher than the achievements themselves, or else he has secret ideals of which the world knows nothing, and in regard to which he invariably knows himself to be found wanting.’13 The goodness of such achievements is clearly a matter of degree; and a climb that, regarded from below, is a triumph, may also, when seen from above, be a falling short. The two judgments are equally true. Goodness in its essence is relative to an endeavour, and any stage of that endeavour is called good or evil, depending on the point of the journey from which it is regarded. This is, or ought to be, an embarrassing reflection to a theory that holds goodness to be a simple quality like yellow, which, in a given experience, is either present or absent. On the theory here offered, such a reflection is natural and inevitable.
20. (b) Besides evils of failure there are evils of frustration. Failure and frustration are perhaps the same thing in the end; they are both defeats that spring from a disproportion between inner power and outer circumstance. But what specially distinguishes failure is some deficiency in one's self; what distinguishes frustration is some marked untowardness of circumstance. We say that the inadvertent burning by Mill's maid of Carlyle's manuscript of The French Revolution was an evil; that Milton's blindness and Beethoven's deafness and Wilson's paralysis and Maupassant's insanity were evils; that the cutting off of Schubert and Shelley at thirty was evil; that the removal of Lincoln from the scene at the height of his power and usefulness was an evil. Why are these things called evils? Partly, no doubt, because of the loss of what would have been very valuable, but surely also because of the frustration of promise and endeavour. Death, though the common lot, is the greatest of evils because it writes such an uncompromising Finis to all our efforts. These estimates are what one would expect on our theory of good. If good consists in fulfilment and satisfaction, their frustration will be regarded, naturally and universally, as evil.
21. (c) What about ugliness, a foul smell, a grating noise, and above all, pain? Many reflective persons have tried to take evil as the privation of good, but it is hard to hold this convenient theory in the face of evils like these. Intense pain is certainly more than the absence of something; it is positive, and positively horrible. In such phrases as ‘pleasure and pain’, there is the suggestion that it is the same sort of experience as pleasure, only opposite in quality, which is of course untrue, since pain is not an ‘affection’ like pleasure at all. It is a sensation, a sensation at times of appalling intensity, to which there is perhaps nothing corresponding among the experiences we call good. Again, the experience of a foul smell, or a jarring discord, or a finger-nail grating on a blackboard, is not a mere lack or absence, but something positive, something aggressively disagreeable. Such cases require us to hold, I think, that just as there are experiences marked out as natural ends by reason of their fulfilling impulse-desire, so there are others from which there is a natural averson and desire to escape. Pain is the type and chief of such evils. At every level of sentience, it is something to be fled from. Instead of feeling satisfaction as the experience of it increases, one feels satisfaction in the degree of one's relief from it. The claim has been made that there are exceptions, that some people take satisfaction and pleasure in pain as others do in heard harmonies. In the east I have often seen fakirs pushing themselves about on beds of upturned nails. But I am unconvinced by such cases. There is no reason to think these men prefer pain; it is precisely because they regard it as an evil difficult to be borne that they think to curry favour with God and man by the hardihood with which they bear it. Nor is it necessary, I should suppose, to say that the masochist finds satisfaction in pain itself as distinct from all that may attend it in an abnormal mind—the obscure stimulations of sex, the relief of feelings of guilt, the thought of oneself as suffering in some imagined cause. There are strange cases like that of Albert Jay Chapman, who permanently crippled one hand by plunging it into a fire as a symbolic atonement for a wrong done; there is the large company of martyrs who faced pain almost eagerly; there are the people who give thanks sincerely for the discipline of pain. But it is mere muddle to think that these things settle the question whether in any case whatever pain is good, as opposed to productive of good results. If there is any case on record of a person finding intense pain good in itself, I do not know of it. It may be said that the issue is pre-judged, since part of what we mean by pain in thus generalizing about it is that it is disliked. That may be true. But this is not all that we mean. Pain, as we have said, is not an affection primarily, but a sensation, with a content of its own.
It was argued in an earlier chapter that when we call a past pain evil, we do not mean to say merely that a pain occurred. But we found it hard to discriminate the pain from the badness or evil of it. I know of no satisfactory analysis of this distinction, and do not profess to have arrived at one. But it seems clear that when we say a painful experience is evil, we do not mean merely that what is painful is painful. We have seen that in describing an experience as intrinsically good we are saying that it satisfies and fulfils. In saying that it is evil, we say correspondingly that it flouts satisfaction or fulfilment or both. Pain flouts both, and it seems to have an added way of doing this that is peculiarly its own. (i) Pain, particularly if intense, makes a free and normal exercise of powers impossible; it tends to contract our being to one dreadful point. (ii) It carries with it dissatisfaction, that opposite of pleasure for which we have no convenient word, but which the Germans call Unlust as distinct from Schmerz. (iii) Schmerz or pain proper has a character of its own. Its evil is not exhausted by Unlust and frustration, though these are both there; and it is hence to be doubted whether an account of evil can precisely parallel an account of good. What makes an experience good is the satisfying fulfilment of faculty. What makes an experience bad is the flouting of such fulfilment with its attendant blight on satisfaction; but the blight may take more than one form. It may be the mere failure of satisfaction where this was normal or possible; it may be the presence of Unlust; or it may be the presence of pain.
22. (d) As for moral evil, the disposition to, or choice of, the worse rather than the better, it is to be understood in the same way as moral goodness. We condemn it primarily because it is the potentiality and the generator of all kinds of other ills. There is a distinction between vice and the vices, just as there is between goodness and the virtues. A vice is a disposition either to produce evil in a particular way—indolence and carelessness are examples—or to produce evil of a particular kind, as mendacity and cruelty do. The vice that is opposed to moral goodness is the disposition toward the bad because it is bad. It is plain enough why we should regard these as evils, and the latter as by far the greater evil. Malice is a seed-plot for every kind of evil that the human will can produce. Anger and hatred are not necessarily malicious, for they may be directed only against what is harmful in other men, and thus tend to good rather than evil, though unhappily they are not as a rule so economically used. But a man who was malicious generally would be a standing enemy to every kind of good of everyone around him.
Some writers have questioned whether pure malice, either of the special or the general form, exists. I have already questioned whether anyone takes satisfaction in pain as such, but unfortunately it is harder to doubt that some people take a genuine satisfaction in inflicting it on others. As one reads Macaulay's account of Jeffreys, for example, one can scarcely resist his conclusion that this hateful creature showed ‘the most odious vice which is incident to human nature, a delight in misery merely as misery’.14 On our own theory we should expect that most such cases would be explicable in other ways than as examples of mere ‘motiveless malignity’, for example, as instances of the love of power accompanied by relative lack of fellow-feeling and imagination; and we should regard a man who took delight in inflicting misery when there was nothing to gain by it as not merely morally bad but as abnormally or inhumanly constructed, a monster lacking natural perception and sympathy. That, I think, is how we do feel. Futhermore, we should regard pure moral badness, the attitude that took as its motto ‘Evil, be thou my good’, as not really possible. It is hard to see how anyone could consistently take what we regard as the great evils as goods, or the great goods as evils; those goods are appointed for him by his nature as human. Even Iago, in deceiving, betraying and murdering, did not elect evil simply for evil's sake; his creator seems to have felt that this would make him unreal. Granting that Iago was thoroughly selfish, completely unsympathetic, and remarkably adroit, ‘the most delightful thing to such a man would be something that gave an extreme satisfaction to his sense of power and superiority; and if it involved, secondly, the triumphant exertion of his abilities, and thirdly the excitement of danger, his delight would be consummated’.15 Odious as Iago was, he was not a mere and pure devil.
23. Nor is anyone else. Our own theory of human nature is nearly the opposite of that which, founded on the myth of the fall, regards man as rotten at the core and utterly to be condemned except as divine grace, distributed on inscrutable principles, interposes to save him. He is, on the contrary, so made as to seek, inevitably and universally, a set of great goods; his whole life is a groping after them. Even the criminal, as Socrates saw, does not choose evil merely as evil; no one is such a complete fool and knave as to do that. When vicious and harmful acts spring, not from a rush of passion, as they often do, but from something that can be called a motive, the motive is never simply to work evil, conceived as such. Some twist of thought makes the worse appear the better reason; the act, looked at through the vapours of anger, fear, or jealousy, is seen in a false light; even sin, I have heard a theologian say, is ‘an effort to be blessed in ways not approved by God’. If human nature is governed, as we hold it is, by certain powerful impulse-desires whose fulfilment and satisfaction provide the meaning of good, we should expect that there would be no such thing as moral badness, if that means a settled will toward the bad because of its badness, that choices of the bad as such would seldom or never occur, and that when they did seem to occur, they would generally turn out, on examination to be choices of evil sub specie boni. All these expectations, I think, are confirmed by fact.