1. The duty of a given moment is to try to find the right act and do it. The right act is one that produces the greatest good (or, to cover the case of equal goods, not less than the greatest). What is good is what fulfils those impulses or strivings of which human nature essentially consists, and in-fulfilling them brings satisfaction. The ends sought, and therefore the goods recognized, at any given time are provisional only; the fulfilment of present desire always leaves much to be desired; and hence our conception of the good is in course of constant revision. The good is nothing short of what would fulfil and satisfy wholly. These are the main positions we have so far taken. We now have to ask what the function of reason is in determining and moulding the good.
The exercise of reason is a matter of degree. The theoretic impulse has as its end a system whose parts are necessarily and intelligibly interconnected, but such a system is realized only very imperfectly even in the most advanced of the sciences, and still more imperfectly in the common-sense order. And if we ask as to the place of reason in the moral life, we find this to be analogous to its place in the theoretical life. Reason is in neither case a form imposed from without on a content alien to it. It is already working immanently in desire just as it is at work in perception. Its business in the moral life is to order and unify desires, just as in its theoretical career its business is to order into a coherent whole the world of the perceptually given. The analogy is so illuminating that we shall do well to remind ourselves of the function of reason in knowledge.
Experience begins for each of us in a state of awareness that clearly falls short of knowledge. It is true that in the first days of post-natal life we use our eyes and our ears, our mouths and noses, and thus no doubt we experience colour and sound, taste and smell, pain and pleasure, discomfort and fear. But it is an experience unimaginably different from our present experience. Nothing is discriminated from anything else, nothing is recognized for what it is, nothing is grasped as connected with anything else. There is a welter of sensations, affections, emotions, impulses, but as yet there are no ideas, no desires, no self as opposed to objects, and no objects as opposed to self.
In our maturity we live in a world of things. It takes some effort to realize that for the child at the beginning there are no things, and that it must work its way out of this primitive welter into the world of things by a long effort of discrimination and synthesis among the qualities that are presented to it. If the colour red is presented over and over again, first in a ball, then in a dress, then in a goldfish, and a name repeatedly attached to it, the child comes to single out and recognize red as red; if roundness is presented in a succession of balls, plates, and cups, he comes slowly to discriminate that too, and, after a further interval, to use concepts of these qualities, to think of redness and roundness as such. How are the various qualities linked with each other? That also takes much learning. Some are commonly presented together, move together, and are found to have a joint utility; these will probably be grouped as forming a single thing, a spoon, for example, or a table. Then when one of them is presented in future, a characteristic shape perhaps, the thought of the others will be aroused, not necessarily in explicit expectation, but at least in the form in which their presence is taken for granted. This is the type of experience that we call the perception of a thing.
But this mere togetherness is not the sort of relation in which the impulse to know can rest. Although to know is always to connect, some connections fulfil the demand of the cognitive impulse more completely than others. It is interesting to discover that the cat purrs, but the alert young mind is not content with that; it goes on to ask why the cat purrs, indeed why the ball should be red, perhaps in time why the ball should take up less room than a square block of the same width. And if the reflective impulse is insistent, it finds that it can gain more satisfying answers to some of these questions than to others. If it asks why the round thing should be also red, there seems to be no answer but chance; the two qualities sometimes go together, sometimes not, and from one to the other there is no straight path. But it is certainly not chance that cats purr, since their purring follows causally from something else about them; as a first venture, they purr because they are pleased, and of course there is a cause why they are pleased, and a cause for that, so that we can follow a speculative train as long as we care to think. But the connection between the volume of the ball and the volume of the cube with the same diameter is something else again. Of the various relations we have mentioned, it answers most completely the interest of the theoretic impulse, since it is a necessary relation; one can see that the first volume must be smaller than the second, and to go on asking Why? after one sees this clearly would be foolish, since no clearer answer is possible. Thus mathematics has always had a special fascination for rationalists, for the clearness and inevitability of its connections satisfied the desire to understand in a degree that no other science could approach. To be sure, we do not usually confine reason to the sphere of the mathematically necessary; we take it as an exercise of reason to find the cause of anything, or to study its likeness to other things, or its differences from them. But reason is generally thought to be most at home when it is moving along the lines of the logically necessary. Such necessity is not exhibited alone, however, in the entailment of one quality by another, for it may also be seen in the mutual exclusion of qualities. The same surface cannot be at once brown and green, the same line at once straight and curved, the same figure at once round and square. Incompatibility is as necessary a relation as entailment.
To sum up on the operation of reason among the qualities with which experience begins; the intellectual impulse is at work from the beginning, seeking to order the welter of impressions into accordance with its own pattern. It works in the following principal ways, (1) It recognizes in particular impressions examples of universals or as suches. (2) On the ground chiefly of association, it organizes groups of these universals into things, with the result that in perception it can take one of them as indicating the presence of the rest. (3) It grasps some of these characters as mutually exclusive. (4) Between the others it grasps a great variety of connections, some apparently accidental, some necessary, some—like the causal connection—that are neither wholly the one nor the other. But relations that fall short of necessity also fall short of full intelligibility, and hence it is perpetually trying to resolve them into the necessary relations with which it can rest content. (5) In like manner, it is perpetually trying to expand the field of knowledge. If it follows the lines of causality or logical entailment, or space, or time, it will be carried right off the map of its present little world. To put the whole matter more briefly still, the theoretic impulse is a persistent nisus to throw back the frontiers of knowledge on all sides, while organizing its conquests in such a way as to avoid inconsistency and render the interconnection of parts intelligible.
2. Now the function of reason among impulse-desires is very much like its function among sensory impressions. Consider the parallel between the way it turns sensation into perception and the way it turns impulse into desire. The child soon comes, on seeing the shape of the chair to expect certain other qualities to put in their appearance; it completes the given by the expectation of the non-given. In very similar fashion it completes impulse into desire. It has experienced hunger followed by food that allayed the hunger, and thirst followed by an allaying drink. When they first arise, the impulses of hunger and thirst are blind, just as, according to Kant, sensations are blind without conceptions; the child wants, without knowing what he wants. Desire removes the blindness by supplying impulse with the idea of its own completion, and from that point on, impulse no longer needs to grope in the dark, for, knowing now what it wants, it can go relatively straight to its goal.
If the implications of such facts were understood, the question whether thought enters into the determination of the good would be very quickly settled. It would be no more possible to deny that thought plays a part in determining what is good than that it has a part in determining what we shall accept as the order of nature. This order is not, of course, a web spun by pure reason out of its own vitals. If thought is to work at all, it must have something to work with, and this material, in the form of the given, must be supplied to it, not by it. But this material may be ordered in any number of ways—for example, as the ant presumably orders it, or the ape, or the savage, or the scientist, or as an intelligence might order it that was as far beyond the scientist's as his is beyond the ant's; and to say that the world of our common experience, as it stands, is mere presented fact, which reason contemplates from the outside is a superficial notion. The relations between impressions are no less real than the impressions themselves, and these relations are in course of a continual slow remoulding at the hands of intelligence. Whether this remoulding is essentially discovery or creation, a process of accommodating our thought more closely to relations that are independent of it, or of remaking the order of experience into conformity with the ideal, or both together, as I should hold, we need not further explore. In any case, the world as we know it is largely the construct of reason—not wholly, for the building must have its bricks, and reason finds these; it does not make them. The house is not merely bricks, however, but bricks in a design; and this design is supplied, or, if one prefers, disclosed at varying levels of completeness, by reason.
Substitute, now, for the welter of impressions the welter of impulses. These impulses are the raw material of the good life, just as sensation is the raw material of knowledge. Without them there would be no goods. Food and drink would not be good if there were no hunger or thirst to satisfy, nor Maxwell's equations if no one cared about knowing them. But the goods of actual life are not mere impulsive satisfactions. When thought supervenes upon impulse, it transmutes it into desire by supplying it with conscious ends. Our goods, from that point on, lie in the fulfilment not of bare impulses, but of desires into whose nature thought has entered once for all, with its own demands for consistency, integration, and expansion. It is one of the merits of T. H. Green's great book on ethics to have driven this truth home. Thought and desire are different, he agrees, but so intimately bound up together that thought is impossible without desire, and desire without thought. To think is to desire, because it is to seek the answer to a question, and ‘in every stage of the process we are moved by a forecast, however vague, of the result’. On the other hand, to desire is to go beyond impulse to the thought of what would fulfil it, and normally farther still, to the thought of steps to that fulfilment. Thought and desire are means to the same general end, the removal of a maladjustment between idea and fact. Each deals with the maladjustment in its own way. Thought is an attempt to modify idea into greater conformity with fact. Desire, if given its way, would modify fact into conformity with idea. The two, though different, are inseparable; and ‘our conclusion must be that there is really a single subject or agent, which desires in all the desires of a man, and thinks in all his thoughts, but that the action of this subject as thinking… is involved in all its desires, and that its action as desiring is involved in all its thoughts’.1 It is thus absurd to say that reason and goodness are extraneous to each other. So far as thought enters into desire, it is the architect of the good.
3. If Green is right about this, we can see already that in the debate about reason and feeling Hume and his succession were wrong. It is not empirically true that ‘reason is the slave of the passions’. The Humians were right, indeed, in holding feeling to be so linked with goodness that its presence was a condition of goodness; we have argued that satisfaction is necessary, and satisfaction is a feeling. But it is not this feeling that impulse-desire is seeking; it is a special kind of fulfilment which, when attained, brings the feeling with it. To lodge the goodness in the feeling alone, as many of Hume's successors have done, and as all hedonists do, is arbitrary. To say, as Hume himself did, that reason is merely a servant or instrument to ends independently set by feeling, is to misdescribe plain fact. What is good is the achievement of the end; in this end the fulfilling content is as important as the satisfaction; and in the determination of that fulfilling content, reason is absolutely essential.
Consider an example. A mathematician wants to solve a problem. This, Green would rightly point out, is a case of desire. There is a specific desire which gives the theoretic impulse its direction, a desire to round out the conditions of the problem with an answer following from those conditions with logical necessity. We have held that the achievement of such insight is a good which consists of fulfilment and satisfaction jointly. It is absurd to call reason the slave of passion here, and passion the source of the goodness. It would be at least equally true to say that passion is the slave of reason. For it is reason operating in and through desire that has specified the end to be achieved, and it is reason again, not feeling, that decides when the end has been attained. Dr Schiller used to argue that the test of logical validity was the feeling of satisfaction that arose at a certain point in the thinker's mind. Most logicians were unconvinced, for it was too obvious that if the satisfaction appeared at one point rather than another, it was because thought had achieved an end other than the satisfaction itself, in which satisfaction could be taken. That end was appointed by reason; it was the solution of a given problem in accordance with logic. The surge of satisfaction was merely the chorus off-stage applauding the denouement. To make reason the slave of feeling here is to get the cart conspicuously and awkwardly before the horse.
It may be thought that this is an exceptional instance, since the desire that is at work is so clearly in the service of the intellectual impulse. But the case is not essentially different if we take other impulses instead. Consider the aesthetic. A composer sits down to begin a sonata. Its completion is the good that he sets before him, and to achieve this good he must satisfy the requirements of the impulse that is at work in him. But what exactly will bring this satisfaction? Impulse alone cannot say. The composer discovers what he wants only when the end takes form as a composition in a certain time and key, and gets progressively specified with the addition of each bar. The kind of structure that will satisfy is plainly different here from what it was in the last example, for it is the aesthetic not the intellectual impulse that is seeking expression. But the work of reason or intelligence is no less essential. The consistency of time and key, the elaborate demands of harmony and counterpoint, could be dealt with only by an intelligence of a high order, though working within the boundaries of a specifically musical desire. The fulfilment of the impulse would be as decisively defeated by defect of intelligence as by lack of musical sense itself; indeed a musical sense without intelligence at its service would not be such a sense at all. Remove from the desire the intelligence that is at work in it, and it would collapse in an unrecognizable mass. So would the good achieved in the fulfilment of the desire. Reason is integral to aesthetic and to every other kind of good, just as it is to intellectual good.
4. We must now add that reason operates not only within desires, but between them. Consider first how it brings to light their occasional inconsistency. We have already seen how it performs this office in the sphere of qualities. Qualities, taken by themselves, are not inconsistent with each other; brown and green, straight and curved, are not incompatible as such, but merely different. Incompatibility appears only when they are asserted of the same subject—the same surface or the same line. (Their mutual exclusiveness when so considered belongs to the nature of things and is perceived by reason; current attempts to represent it as a linguistic convention have proved unconvincing.) Similarly, desires in the abstract do not conflict; the desire to be a saint and to be a thug, to be a free untrammeled spirit and the faithful knight of a particular fair lady, are merely different until they are proposed as a policy for a particular man, and then if he is endowed with normal intelligence, he will see that they are exclusive of each other. The conflict between desires may break out at various points. Sometimes it appears in the ends themselves, as when a man realizes that to be a free untrammeled spirit and also the knight of a particular lady are incompatible ends. Sometimes the conflict lies in the means to ends that would in themselves be consistent enough, as when a man sees that he cannot prepare himself at once to be a competent doctor and a competent lawyer. Sometimes it breaks out between the means that a given end requires and something else that one wants, as when the boy who would like to go to an engineering school perceives that if he is to master the mathematics required, he must ‘scorn delights and live laborious days’. A man can, of course, merely surrender himself to impulses and desires as they come, without taking note of their bearings upon each other. But that is to live as the animals live.
Indeed the importance of intelligence in revealing and allowing for the incompatibility of desires could hardly be more prettily illustrated than in some of Köhler's experiments on the intelligence of apes. Once when a chimpanzee was on a chain, he put a banana a little outside the orbit of the chain. On a wall near by he hung a stick long enough, if used by the ape, to rake the banana within reach. The animal, in contemplating the situation, obviously got the idea of using the stick for this purpose, and repeatedly started toward it. Unfortunately, in order to reach the stick it had to pass the point at which the banana lay nearest to its orbit. Confronted with this temptation, its intelligence invariably broke down in vainly renewed attempts to get at the fruit directly. The notion that to indulge this impulse was to exclude the only means of getting what it wanted was too much for its struggling wit. A human intelligence, even of low order, would grasp this at once and save itself futile effort.
5. More important, perhaps, than what a desire excludes is what it implies, and the apprehension of this too is the work of intelligence. Hume would admit to the full the importance of intelligence as determining the means that must be adopted if the end is to be achieved, but he seems to have ignored its role in developing and elaborating the end itself. The desires of a mature man are not simple. There are usually many impulses in us that are pressing for satisfaction, and desire is a funnel through which we pour as many of them as we can. We have the hours from two to four free on a given afternoon, and we can spend them in reading a novel, in taking a walk, or in many other ways. We may solve the problem as an animal does, by surrendering to impulse or habit. Apparently the animal mind does not choose, for choice lies between represented alternatives, and it is doubtful whether that mind can rise to the level of such alternatives. When in our own minds we reach that level, we soon find that the competing desires represent, not the ends of single impulses, but complex ends that would satisfy many together. Suppose we choose the walk; why do we do so? As we give ourselves to the thought of it, we find the idea burgeoning; it is not simply the suggestion that we escape for a while from a stuffy room; it becomes in a moment the suggested fulfilment of half a dozen wants or interests all converging upon the same proposal. I shall work better for a swing along a country road; it is spring, and where the road winds through the woods there is a bank of blue-bells that will be at its best; I shall pass Smith's house, and I haven't seen him for weeks; perhaps he will come along, and if he does, I can get his views on whether Jones is the right man to add to our staff; further, I missed the newspaper this morning, and I can pick up a copy on my way home. What looks like a single projected course of action may thus fulfil many wants at once. The intelligence at work within desire, starting from the end of a single impulse, widens and modifies the prospect so that the final election is by the massed votes of many independent impulse-desires.
According to Hume and his followers, the office of reason in all this is simply to disclose means to ends determined by feeling. I cannot think this an inspired analysis. That reason does perform this means-end calculation is undeniable; it tells me that if I want the goods of refreshed work, of a sight of the blue-bell patch, of a talk with my friend, of the morning's news, I must go about it in a certain way. But surely that is not all it does. At least two further functions must be noted. (a) It enters into my thought of the nature and amount of each separate fulfilment. How much, if anything, shall I get from the newspaper? That is not a matter of feeling only. We have already considered this point and need not return to it. (b) Reason discloses the mutual implication of goods. As I think of the talk with Smith, it comes to me, not explicitly perhaps, but none the less effectively, that this exchange of ideas would at once keep the lines of friendship open, settle my doubts about Jones, and increase the exhilaration of the walk. Of course feeling is involved in this, but so also is intelligence. Thus when election time comes, the impulses vote in blocks. The ordering and contemplation of alternative goods en bloc is not itself carried out by impulse or feeling. This must be set down as the work of intelligence operating through desire.
6. We may now go further. In important ways, reason, instead of being the slave and tool of impulse; is its master. Thought can remould the ends of impulse without destroying the satisfaction proper to it. This power has taken the race some millions of years to achieve, and remains very imperfect, even in man. It will repay us to take a few moments to look back over the course of this extraordinary achievement.
In the lower orders of life, instinctive behaviour is so fixed that some biologists have regarded it merely as a chain of reflexes; a slight change in the situation to which it is called on to respond may defeat it utterly. Take an example or two from far down the scale. The insect Chalicodoma lives till its maturity in a small clay cell from which, when it is grown, it eats its way out. Fabre found that if he pasted a paper over the cell, the insect would eat its way through without difficulty, but if the paper was not pasted on the cell but was kept a hair's breadth away from it so as to form a separate encasing cell, it would die rather than make a second attempt. ‘The Bembex carefully feeds her grubs, and never makes a mistake in finding her way to her cell, although it is covered with sand and is then undistinguishable to us from the surroundings, but when M. Fabre removed the earth and exposed the cell, the Bembex did not appear to recognize the young that she had so carefully tended.’2 Here instinct is ready to deal, and deal expertly, with one situation, but it is almost as helpless as a machine would be to adjust itself to any other. The stupidity of these remote creatures is often astonishing. The wasp will seal up her hole as carefully when there is nothing in it as when her eggs have been laid there. Fabre redirected a line of pine processionary caterpillars in such a way that the leader was following the rear member, whereupon they went round and round on the top of a flowerpot for seven days before breaking the parade. Such creatures seem almost as truly mechanisms as toy electric trains.
Yet I believe Hobhouse is right in holding that not only in man, but also very far down in the biological scale, there is at least a rudimentary intelligence working within the domain of instinct. The very insects that appear so much like mechanisms reveal at times an unmistakable power to adjust themselves to the circumstances of the case and to fulfil in novel ways the impulse that apparently moves them. Instinctive action differs from reflex action in being, to all appearance, the expression of a felt need, and even at low points in the scale this need can fulfil itself variously. For example, the hermit crab, soon after hatching, ‘goes in search’ of a suitable shell to live in. If it finds a vacant snail shell, it moves in. If it fails to find a vacant one, but does find one with a live snail in it, it stands guard till the snail, unable to come out and get food, dies, whereupon the crab pulls out the body, eats it, and triumphantly moves in. This looks very much as if it were using some sort of intelligence which enabled it, if one way of reaching its end proved a failure, to devise another. But of course such inferences are treacherous. It may be so constructed that if one stimulus is offered it will respond to it in a predetermined way, but that failing that, it will respond to another in an equally predetermined way.
Still, the attempt to explain behaviour by instinct without intelligence is bound to break down sooner or later, and the evidence suggests that it breaks down early. The Peckhams, in their famous study of the solitary wasps, thought it had already broken down at this lowly level. When a wasp has laid her eggs and provisioned her nest so that her young will have food when they hatch, she seems to feel it necessary to close securely the hole where she has left these treasures. But not only do wasps vary greatly in their way of doing this; an individual wasp will suit its expedients to the material at hand, trying successively pebbles, pellets of clay, and leaves, and not stopping till the job is effectively done. When trying to drag a spider into her hole, the wasp may show an extraordinary persistence and ingenuity in doing it. She may try at first to pull the spider in while it is standing up; this will not do, because its legs then spread out, umbrella fashion; so she turns it over on its back; then when pulled from below its legs fold up on its thorax and, if it is not too big, down it goes. But sometimes it is too big, and something else must be tried. The Peckhams saw one of their wasps, who had got a spider part way down by this method, but could not pull it farther, drag it out again, and vigorously squeeze its legs together, after which, with much tugging, she succeeded in getting it in. These are cases of instinctive behaviour undoubtedly. But it is certainly not rigid or merely mechanical behaviour. It is as if the need or impulse were already directed to a generalized end; the wasp must get the prey into its hole somehow, or she must get something to roof the hole with; but any one of a variety of expedients will satisfy the impulse equally well, and if defeated in one, she will turn to another. As we go up the ladder of animal mind, the range of adjustment becomes far wider. The bird will vary the architecture of its nest to suit the facilities that are open to it. Anyone who has kept and observed various species of mice, as I have, will have noted how prompt and ingenious they all are, when they build their nests, in utilizing in appropriate ways the material they are supplied with, such as paper and cotton batting, whether it is of the sort they would have found in nature or not. Their behaviour is the product of instinct, but with intelligence built in. Instinct, instead of giving an inflexible penny-in-the-slot response, takes the form of a need that can be variously satisfied.
7. This plasticity is at its highest in man. It is so high, indeed, that the notion of distinguishable and definite human instincts has been all but abandoned by present-day psychologists. They would agree that there are hereditary tendencies to behave without prevision in ways that benefit the agent, but the last half century has revealed so wide a divergence as to their number and classification that the notion has virtually been given up as hopeless. Hocking would group them all under one main drive, directed toward power; Freud recognized two, those of sexuality and destruction, or love and death; Thouless recognizes three types of instinctive drive, self-preservative, reproductive, and gregarious. McDougall in the earlier editions of his Social Psychology enumerated twelve instincts, which grew in later editions to eighteen; William James numbered about fifty; Thorndike preferred to have over two hundred. This looks more like anarchy than in fact it is. It represents the gradually made discovery that there is no right and single way of classifying drives or propensities. Once you abandon the notion of instinct as the fixed automatic response to a stimulus, and introduce the notion of end-seeking (and no psychology that fails to do this will throw much light on human nature), you find that instinctive activities are exceedingly hard to pin down. The same end may be secured by different sorts of behaviour and different ends by the same behaviour; and when you have specified both behaviour and end, you may perfectly well take the process as serving a more general end. Splinter sufficiently the ends that instinctive responses serve and you can get instincts by dozens or hundreds; group the responses under successively more general ends, and you get eighteen, or two, or one.
The rise and fall of instinct psychology has established an important conclusion. The wants that come welling up from lower evolutionary levels are increasingly indeterminate, and when they reach the human level, most of them may be satisfied in varying ways. Instinct loses its rigidity, and becomes plastic to intelligence. The centre of gravity, so to speak, shifts from mechanism to purpose, and purpose is thought. Even the drives that, biologically considered, are most fundamental are inhibited or redirected under the influence of ideas. Take hunger. ‘There is no society in which the entire range of edible objects is included in the diet.’3 The religious convictions of the orthodox Hindu lay an interdict on beef, those of the Mohammedan on pork; in some societies a given animal is conceived as related to the group, and to use it for food would be like cannibalism; in others, again, the ban is placed on fruits or certain plants. There have been many ascetics who conceived that there was something gross in eating and drinking at all, and have reduced them to a minimum; they would no doubt have abolished them wholly except that by an unco-operative arrangement of nature they would then also have abolished themselves.
Or take the maternal instinct. This was formerly supposed to prescribe a fairly definite pattern of behaviour for the mother toward the child. Anthropologists have left little of this prepossession standing. They insist that the matter must be discussed in terms of cases, not a priori’.4 Margaret Mead has shown that among the Arapesh the child is kept close to its mother, fed when it cries, and constantly caressed. On the other hand, when one moves over to the Mundugumor, one finds that ‘the infant is kept in a hard uncomfortable basket, is not suckled unless clearly in need of milk, is not fondled or caressed, is made early to fend for itself and in general is so harshly treated that only the strongest survive’.5 In short, even the maternal instinct has no fixed pattern.
8. What is replacing the notion of instinct? My impression is that most psychologists, while retaining the notion of end-seeking drives, are discontented even with the degree of fixity that would be accepted by James, Freud, and McDougall; they are accounting for less and less by inborn factors, and more and more by experience. In the writings, to name but a few, of Stern in Germany, of Sprott and Thouless in Britain, and Woodworth and Gordon Allport in America, there is an increasing stress, under varying names, on the ‘functional autonomy of motives’. This phrase, coined by Airport, means simply the independence of an interest, motive, or drive, from any innate structure or instinctive tendency. It implies that human nature is plastic enough to acquire as a result or experience new ends of goals, which, though not marked out by instinct, have all the strength and organizing power that were once assigned to it. The sailor's love of the sea is not born in him; it is probably a gradual acquisition; but, for all that, it may be the dominant force in his life. ‘Workmanship is not an instinct, but so firm is the hold it may acquire on a man that it is little wonder Veblen mistook it for one. A business man, long since secure economically, works himself into ill-health, and sometimes even back into poverty, for the sake of carrying on his plans. What was once an instrumental technique becomes a master motive.’6
Once this autonomy of acquired motives is recognized, the older explanation by instinct seems strained. Freud would no doubt explain the love of fine workmanship as an obscure expression of sexuality, perhaps of narcissism; McDougall would probably attribute it to the instincts of construction, submission, and others, operating jointly. There is, to be sure, some force in these explanations. No sensible person can deny that there are inborn tendencies to seek certain things, to satisfy the demand, for example, of hunger, thirst, and sex; and there is no reason why the list of such tendencies should not be long. Why, then, the general shrinking from them? Because they explain so little in detail. Even the fundamental drives just named never account for the particular form their fulfilment takes, and the less fundamental ones are far vaguer still. If they are invoked at all, it can be only as slight pressures or inclinations whose actual outworking must be explained by special experiences. Further use of them is likely to be mythology. To go behind the conscious motive and tell a man who takes an interest in fine watch-making that he is thereby fulfilling a sexual drive is, at best, to commit the ‘psychologist's fallacy’ of identifying a present process with what it sprang from, for even if the interest did spring from this source, which is improbable, it has now thoroughly emancipated itself and follows a line determined by its own subject-matter and by acquired associations. McDougall used to conceive of each of us as having a limited supply of psychophysical energy which was entirely at the disposition of a dozen or two instincts, each with its own aim. If any project were to be carried through, it must therefore link itself up with one of these pipelines of energy; otherwise it would fall flat like a toy balloon when one's breath gives out in inflating it. I should not want to reject this theory wholly. The notion that there is a conative and purposive process running through the entire evolutionary series, that each man is a branch from the same trunk, and that each of his activities is a twig growing from that branch and fed by it, is, I think, a better founded metaphor than that of nature as a machine. It is a conception which, since Aristotle's time, has proved irrepressible, in spite of the mechanistic trend of modern science. McDougall belonged to this Aristotelian tradition, and he wrote with an understanding of its philosophical force that not many psychologists have had. Still one cannot now accept the view that the energy placed at our disposal by the life force flows through the set of pipes he enumerated, or that a complex and reflective activity is to be explained by saying that a special set of taps has been turned on. We are less exclusively pushed from behind than this suggests, and freer to follow the lead of ideas. ‘Human nature’, as Margaret Mead has said, ‘is almost unbelievably malleable’.
9. It is time to return from this little expedition into contemporary psychology. We come back fortified. We had suggested that the good is to be conceived as that which fulfils and satisfies impulse-desire. But what was the function of reason or intelligence in determining this good? We had gone some way with our answer. We had seen that thought enters into the very nature of desire; it formulates and sets before us the end that will satisfy impulse, and in so doing, introduces complexities into the end—as we saw in the case of the composer—which impulse alone could not have supplied. Furthermore, it reveals conflicts between goods, and mutual implications between them. Could it go further still? Could it actually remould impulse by transforming the ends in which it found satisfaction? This seemed to be denied both by classic writers like Hume and more recent writers like McDougall. The sole function of reason in morals, said Hume, was to reveal means to ends with whose position as ends reason had had nothing to do. McDougall agreed. An end was an end and was good simply because it satisfied feeling, and he added that it must satisfy feeling in one of the forms appointed by instinct. If this teaching were true, it was extremely important for our view of goodness. It would mean that the whole range of human goods was pre-appointed by a set of instinctive demands which were not only non-rational in nature and origin, but presumably unalterable by rational methods. This claim could not be left unnoticed. We therefore asked the psychologists whether it was corroborated by their more recent findings, and have learned that it was not. Though contemporary psychology can certainly not be accused of any weakness for theories that would make man rational, still, on the question whether our ends are inflexibly appointed by instincts, its voice is clear and decided: these instincts on the human level are so malleable and plastic, they demand so little in the way of definite ends or routines, that we can make almost anything of them. Instinct indeed provides the frame of the picture; it surrounds our life with certain confinements and pressures within which the portrait must be drawn; but it leaves human nature a very large freedom to fill in the features as it will.
10. Our question now is as to the office of reason in filling in these features. May we say that the good is a genuinely rational good? Is it in any important sense shaped by reason and defensible by it, or are we to say that ultimate ends are not matters to be argued about, but are fixed by de facto liking or preference? I am convinced that this latter view is wrong. And the best way to show it wrong is to go again to fact, to show that our actual goods are moulded and remoulded by reason. This moulding is a continuous process in which reason acts, not like a modeller working from without, but like a yeast within. As we look back over the course of this inward activity, we can see more clearly both the character of the process and the ultimate form toward which reason is exerting its pressure. Let us look more closely at this process of shaping our ends.
What fulfils and satisfies impulse, we have said, is, so far, good; let us start with that. It is better to indulge an impulse—any impulse—than to inhibit it, unless there are reasons to the contrary; the burden of proof is on any veto to such indulgence. This view is not likely to pass unchallenged. ‘So you would call it good, would you, to indulge any impulse at all?’ Very well; I have an impulse today to throw up my work, to go and lie on a sunny bank and listen to the birds. I have an impulse to tell Mr Z, who employs me, in richly descriptive terms exactly what I think of him. Is it quite obvious that it would be good to obey these impulses? And what about impulses that are brutal and sadistic? Boys have an impulse at times to pull the wings off flies. Judge Jeffreys took genuine satisfaction in inflicting misery and pain. These are people whose impulses would lead them, unless firmly checked, to every known variety of wickedness. Are you telling us that the fulfilment of such impulses is good?
This is a perfectly fair question. The answer is this: that if the indulgence of these impulses is wrong, as of course it is, this is not because impulse is being indulged, but because of some further circumstance attending the indulgence. There is nothing wrong in principle about lying on a bank and listening to the birds, or telling the naked truth to someone; what is wrong is to do these things under circumstances where they do more harm than good. In the more formidable case of cruelty, what is so repellent about the impulse is that, unlike those we have just considered, it is not sometimes happy in its results and sometimes not; its nature is such as inevitably to produce, and to go on producing, gratuitous misery. But abstract from it all harm-producing prospect and tendency, consider it simply as a want in whose fulfilment satisfaction can be taken, and its evil seems to vanish.
We cannot say, then, as Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard did, though for different reasons, that the natural man and normal human life are evil. If that has any meaning at all, it is the reverse of the truth. Just to be alive and to have one's animal wants fulfilled is good. To eat when one is hungry, to drink when thirsty, to sleep when tired, or—rising a little higher—to drive a nail or peel a potato well, to have someone that one cares for near at hand, to talk things over of an evening with a friend—these are goods; they are what most men rely on to make life worth living; and happily they are within most men's range. If life were as barren of good as some pessimists say it is, one would expect them to adopt the obvious and sovereign remedy for such a state of things which lies always ready to hand, but of course they seldom do; they find the satisfactions of the life they deride, including that of deriding it, too good to let go.
Sometimes what is complained of, however, is not that life is so lacking in intrinsic goods but that men are morally wicked by nature. Hobbes thought that in the natural state all men hated, feared, and made war upon, each other. But this also is untrue. The notion of original sin is a malignant myth, for which there is no sort of respectable evidence and whose retention in some quarters is a theological disgrace. Human impulse as such is neither good nor evil, and if it gets directed to evil ends, that is no necessity of human nature, but, in general, a matter of ignorance, of special defect, or of ill conditioning. ‘On the whole’, as Professor Sprott says, ‘it would appear that we are prepared to like people who are like us and who live with us, and that hatred is a secondary development based on frustration.’7 In biological descent, and hence in instinctive complexion, we are connected far more closely with the most gregarious of animals than with the tiger or python. There is, to be sure, some truth in Dean Inge's remark that when the ape and tiger in us die, we are still left with the donkey, a very intractable animal. But some measure of intelligence too is given us by nature, and the inner pressure of intelligence is everywhere toward justice and the elimination of cruelty.
11. Now to look at the course taken by that pressure: it begins virtually at birth. The child is equipped at the outset with senses, feelings, and impulses, out of which he must fashion goods. How does he do it? To begin with, by restless experimentation. In early months he is a little monkey who will try anything once, and is only prevented from bringing his career of adventure speedily to an end by the careful watch of nurse or mother. As he becomes able to attend, some things fascinate him more than others—brightly coloured things, for example, noisy things, and, above all, things that move. He does not need to acquire an interest in these, for his tendency to respond to them is innate. So is his tendency to do something about them. If he can manage to get hold of them and push, pull, bounce, throw, smash, roll, or suck them, he may be depended upon to do so. He is like Lloyd Morgan's chick, which would peck at anything indiscriminately if it were about the right size—beads, bits of thread, cigarette-ash, its own toes, its neighbour's eyes, anything. But among these things it was quick to learn where its profit lay. It pecked at yolk of egg, and evidently liked it, for it went on pecking at similar bits. Then Morgan played his classic trick on it. He cut some orange peel into tiny bits that looked very like yolk of egg, and the chick seized on one of them. It dropped it at once, shaking its head. It tried another, dropped it again, scratched at its beak as if to wipe away the bad taste, and then swore off from orange peel once for all; indeed for a time thereafter was gingerly and distant even about yolk of egg. Before long it had the two permanently sorted out. The egg-yolk it would greet with avid peckings; the orange peel had acquired an aura for it of the distasteful and the forbidding. The fact is that without knowing it the chick had eaten the fruit of the tree of good and evil. This is a little paradigm of the entrance of valuation into the world. The child follows the same route. He dips his spoon in the sugar, revels in the tasty mouthful, and takes the earliest opportunity to do it again. Only, the next time, what he dips his spoon into happens to be salt, and then the iron enters his soul. He is forced to discriminate between two things that look alike, one of which is good and the other bad.
With this the process of valuing has begun, and intelligence is already at work in it. Of course neither chick nor child is at this stage making a judgment of good or bad in the full sense; to think these ideas or to use the words for them, is an achievement that still lies far ahead. Yet something very like judgment is going on. The child is carrying over and pertinently applying the results of past experience in the estimation of what is now before him. As a result of his experience with the sugar, he has formed an expectation from the salt. This expectation, if he could put it in words, would be that the salt would fulfil and satisfy his impulse in the way the sugar did. He finds that it does not. He has made a value judgment—or, if you prefer, the sort of response that on a somewhat higher level would become a judgment. Moore, Inge, and Hartmann would have it that at this point a non-natural element of goodness or value insinuates itself into the process. I see no necessity for this element. The expectation that the impulse will be fulfilled and satisfied is the belief—in incipient form—that the salt is good; with the experience of frustration begins the experience of evil; with the expectation, on the next appearance of salt, that this, if eaten, would frustrate again, we have the incipient judgment of badness.
It may be said that in this action of intelligence there is no remoulding of impulse, and none of that modification of our idea of good which we were going to show. This is true of two of the responses, but not of the third. When the child sees a second bowl of sugar, exactly like the first, and expects from it what he got from the earlier one, impulse is not being modified, except in the way of intensity; the expectation does arouse the impulse more strongly, but it does not attach it to any new object or break any former attachment. Similarly of the response to the salt, once this has become a habit; in the future avoidance of the salt as bad there is no modifying of impulse. But it is otherwise with the judgment passed when, upon expecting sugar, the child gets salt instead. Here there is a genuine modification of impulse and a genuine corrective of what was taken as good. What was taken as good turns out to be a fraud. To be sure, it is revealed as bad not by any rational process, but by the experience of frustration. The child saw something that he wanted; it turned out to be ashes, or worse than ashes, in his mouth; when next he saw it, he valued it differently because intelligence had come into play and interpreted the present in the light of the past.
12. This is the beginning of a course of correction and re-correction that goes on throughout his life. Let us carry the child down the years and complicate the picture slightly, while retaining, at the risk of boredom, the gastronomic emphasis. The young man has oysters for dinner. He has enjoyed oysters very much whenever he has had them, and they come to him clothed in vestigial delight. But unfortunately this is not the only meaning they carry for him. Every time without exception that he has eaten them, his pleasure has been followed the next day by headache and low spirits. What he is responding to in this case is therefore a relatively complicated prospect; his intelligence sees to that; he is accepting or rejecting, not simply the delight of a plate of oysters, but a causal sequence starting in delight and ending long after in the doldrums. Apparently no animal is ever faced with quite such a problem, for though an immediate ill effect will register itself and prevent a like response in the future, the animal mind cannot link with the present response an effect as distant as this, nor therefore respond to an extended sequence as a whole. Man can do just that. And because he can do it, the modification of impulse by intelligence in his history is far more profound. It is not that the young man with the oysters before him feels alternating surges, first of appetite at the thought of attacking them, then of revulsion at the thought of to-morrow; the complex prospect presented by his intelligence of today-followed-by-tomorrow calls out a response that is different from either of these, a response to the prospect as a whole. He may of course refuse to exercise his intelligence and fix his thought on one point of the sequence alone, for example the sating of hunger that is just ahead. But if he does exercise his intelligence, impulse is transformed by it. For the impulse that is now evoked is neither one that would have been appropriate to a part of the object, nor a chorus of impulses responding to all parts alike, but a new sort of impulse, adjusted to a new whole.
13. His notion of the goodness of indulging his impulse is similarly affected. It will not do to say that its good remains just what it was, but that now it must be offset by the prospective apathies of tomorrow. The thought of the consequences is not something tacked on to the present action while leaving it the same as before, as a trailer can be hitched to a motor-car. Intelligence enters into the character of the action and transforms it. The dinner is not simply the ingesting of something, boa-fashion, nor even the doing so with delight. Looked at from the inside, an action is what the agent takes it to be; for example, a man who shoots at someone he thinks is the president is essentially an assassin, whether he is mistaken or not, and whether he succeeds or not; choice is of appearance, not reality. The man who chooses or rejects the dinner is choosing a course of experience as it appears to him, and if it appears not in isolation but as an item in a sequence that is responded to as a whole, then its value will be modified, if only because his satisfaction in it will be altered, and satisfaction is a component of value. The proposed act has been set in a larger context where it no longer shines like a detached jewel; its attractiveness is diminished by its setting.
Here, then, we have intelligence modifying both the impulse and the good involved in its satisfaction through bringing remote but foreseen effects to bear on present activity. There is hardly any limit to such modification. It may proceed so far that the impulse is blotted out. Many a man who once enjoyed hunting or shooting has lost all taste for it after hearing the screaming of a mutilated hare. Persons who have been enthusiastic about driving a car may want nothing more to do with one after they have had a serious accident. To a man who has worked hard for the sake of a son on whom his hopes were focused, and has suddenly lost him, the whole of his work may now be pointless and spiritless; he is like Wordsworth's Michael who went out into his fields again, but ‘never lifted up a single stone’. All this is familiar enough, and if we call attention to it, it is because, in a time when there is so much talk about the influence of impulse on thought, we may well note that thought or knowledge may not only influence impulse but even extirpate it. What has been added in recent times is the insight into how impulse may be affected by what Freud would describe as the unconscious operation of ideas. It has been shown that if, instead of the normal kindly feelings toward pets, a man displays dislike and fear of them, it is often because of retained but suppressed memories of frightening experiences in early days; and the proof consists in showing that when these memories are brought to light and seen to have no present bearing, the unnatural impulses tend to die away. Even so powerful an impulse as the sexual may be effectively killed, at least in its normal form, by some early disastrous adventure with it, whose effects are so retained as to overcast and blight it.
14. We have been considering how impulse, and therefore the goods that satisfy impulse, may be modified by bringing to bear the knowledge of effects. But the knowledge of many other relations besides the causal may serve in the same way. I recently heard a well-read novelist, Sir Compton Mackenzie, describing the books that had aroused his enthusiasm as a boy. One of the authors that he devoured with relish was G. A. Henty (I may add a parenthetical ditto to that). After ‘Winning His Spurs’, ‘By Sheer Pluck’, ‘Through Fife and Storm’, ‘With Clive in India’, ‘With Wolfe in Canada’, and ‘With Kitchener in the Sudan’, and going on through some thousands of pages of this, he had had an intermission of Henty for several years. Then he tried him again. A few pages now and he was yawning. He closed his Henty, and never opened him again. What had happened? No analysis was offered, but one can surmise the line it might have taken. When the boy read Henty first, he had no set of appraising ideas to apply to him. The account of a youthful prodigy of valour, a hairbreadth escape, or an East Indian scene complete with Nabobs and elephants, was accepted gapingly at face Value by a mind that could surrender itself to the tale without doubts or criticism. Even in maturity we could do that if a hypnotist got hold of us and put to sleep all the areas of our mind except those concerned with his own suggestions; we could then abandon ourselves to proposals that would normally be surrounded and smothered by inhibitions. But in a mind that is normal and mature, impulses are under the influence not merely of what is immediately suggested, but of a great mass of implied ideas which, through altering the object of impulse, alter the impulse itself, and may change its value-sign from positive to negative. When the man of letters or the man of the world reads the boyish adventure book, it is likely to be with an impatient running comment: ‘but no sixteen-year-old boy would talk that way’; ‘but he could never have made that escape if the guard was what it is said to be’; ‘why all the respect for such a stuffed shirt of an officer?’, and so on indefinitely. That is, the implications of the tale clash continually with what the reader has come to know of nature and human nature. The values first put upon the book are frozen out by the new context of ideas.
Happily the process that discredits some enjoyments confirms and increases others. Sir Richard Livingstone has deplored the fact that poetry is often read only in youth, whereas, as a rule, it means far more to us in maturity. We have already quoted Newman on how passages in Homer or Horace which, to the schoolboy are but ‘rhetorical commonplaces’, ‘at length come home to him, when long years have passed, and he has had experience of life, and pierce him, as if he had never before known them, with their sad earnestness and vivid exactness’. The good found in these passages is very different in kind and amount at the earlier stage and at the later. Why the change? Because the reader is now ready for the meaning the author charged them with, because they come freighted with a significance brought to bear on them from a wide experience of his own. Outwardly, the reading or repeating of the lines is the same as before. In fact it is profoundly different, because it is now infused with a hard-won knowledge of life.
15. We are sure to be met here by an objection. When we suggest that the value found in the dinner, the story, or the classic authors, is changed by the entrance of ideas, and that these ideas are in part constitutive of their goodness, we may expect the demurrer to arise again that the office of intelligence is purely instrumental, that it marshals before the contemplative eye the implications, associates, and consequences of a certain kind of behaviour, but can only leave it to impulse and feeling to assign the value. This protest must be firmly rejected. It assumes that functions of the mind are divisible from, and external to, each other in a way that the facts belie. It imagines the mind that is considering what course to choose as a sort of parade ground, with alternative actions and their consequences trooping by, and impulse as the reviewing officer, standing apart and contemplating with changing emotions, now of approval, now of enthusiasm, now of repulsion, the units that file before him. But this officer does not exist. If one is going to use the metaphor, one must say that as the contingents troop through the agent's consciousness, some of them have bands playing and colours flying, while others are dispirited and bedraggled. But it is safer to abandon metaphors. The fact is that the impulse is not an entity that can exist, or be designated, or intelligibly talked about apart from its content or filling. The impulse to scratch one's nose and to read Shelley are equally impulses and perhaps equally strong, but is there not something a little dubious in putting their fulfilment therefore on the same level? What distinguishes them is far more important than any likeness between them, and of course what distinguishes them is their object. They are both wants; their fulfilment will in each case bring satisfaction; but it is surely arbitrary to lodge the value exclusively in this one aspect of the experience. In any case such a view can hardly pretend to agreement with our actual valuations. No one does in fact put the fulfilment of these impulses on a level. The reason is that they take their character from their objects, and are unthinkable apart from these. No one announces ‘I have an impulse’, and stands ready to direct it at request upon scratching or Adonais, either of which, since it satisfies, is to be regarded as equally good. The impulse is an impulse to what would fulfil it; and if we recognize a difference in the value of the fulfilments, that is not on the ground that one satisfies and the other does not, for both do, but on the ground that the object, the content, the filling, of one impulse is more worth having than that of the other.
So we see again how myopic the theory is that would make value a matter of feeling alone. It is not merely that of two experiences whose value as satisfaction of impulse is the same, one may be, and often is, more highly valued than the other, though in point of mere logic that would be decisive; it is also that the very element in which, on the emotive theory, the goodness lies exclusively is itself largely at the mercy of the intellectual factor. We are not denying the importance of feeling; we have admitted that in the form of satisfaction it is indispensable to value. What we are pointing out is that there is another and independent variable—we have called it fulfilment—which is indispensable too, that this element is organic to the impulse, endowing it with its special character, and that this formative element is itself so plastic to intelligence, so shaped and reshaped by it, so susceptible to its excisions and corrections and enlargements, that one may almost say it is constituted by intelligence. Human good, in short, is a rational good.
16. But it is never rational wholly. Let us return to the path that must be followed by any advance in rationality. The course runs at the beginning, we suggested, through the discovery that some ways of fulfilling impulse—swallowing the salt, eating the oysters, reading the adolescent novel—carry with them implications that nullify their promise and force a revaluation downward, while others—the assimilation of great poetry, for example—have their value confirmed and intensified when their filaments with a wider experience have had time to take hold. We have no space to follow this development in detail. But it will throw much light on our particular topic, the rational character of moral advance, if we consider how close the parallel is between advance in knowledge and advance in the attainment of good generally. The two essential processes in the advance of knowledge may be called quantitative and qualitative, the addition of new facts to one's existing store, and the improved internal ordering of that store. Advance in the achievement of good follows the same pattern.
In the first place, just as it is good to know more rather than less, so, other things equal, the larger the range of impulses we can fulfil the better. If a boy wants to whistle or whittle, or a girl to sing or dance, if a man wants to play with his tool-chest in the cellar or a woman to re-decorate the dining-room, the burden of proof is on anyone who would say no to them; anyone who represses them arbitrarily is reducing human good.
It follows that Freud is right about repression being evil. What does not follow is the preposterous suggestion, sometimes confused with it, that it is good to indulge impulse regardless of circumstances. It does not even follow that we should allow the young to learn for themselves which indulgences are profitable and which not. The race has acquired an immense capital of experience as to what kinds of behaviour irritate, what kinds of risks are over-dangerous, what are the most useful rules about sleeping and eating and exercising, even what studies it is profitable or otherwise to pursue; and if we decline to discourage firmly a good many youthful impulses, we are exhibiting not so much liberalism as a gratuitous denial of aid. Age owes more to youth than a bare sustenance; it owes it also such of its wisdom as is transmissible. The remarkable American experiment with the free elective system, based on the assumption that the content of university education is best determined by student interest, is now presumably a closed chapter. Critics justly protested that there is something absurd in asking each generation to start its experimentation afresh, that there are some things, indeed many things, which may now be regarded as settled, that there is some knowledge and poetry and music that in virtue of having been found fulfilling and satisfying by actual ventures into it, repeated ten thousand times, may now be held without presumption to be really good, and enormously superior to some others. If experience can establish nothing, one wonders what education is for.
17. All this is true enough. But our present concern is with the other side of the picture. Though some of these activities have proved far more remunerative than others, still a second-rate activity pursued because capacity and impulse prompt one to it—and these almost always prompt in the same direction—may be more remunerative than a first-rate one pursued without such promptings. That is why impulse must be left as free to experiment as is consistent with its own safety and that of others. Hazlitt has some fine pages on a certain John Cavanagh,8 who was distinguished by one thing only; he could play a rubber ball against a wall in the game of ‘fives’ better than anyone else in the world. Was this worth doing? Let us try to be clear about it. With those hedonists who would say that an activity of this kind, if it gave equal satisfaction in the way of pleasurable feeling, was as good an activity as that of a statesman or a great scholar, we cannot for one moment agree. Democracy in the realm of values, if that means that one activity is as good as another, or one man's vote as weighty as another's, or one man's life of as much worth as another's, is an impossible notion; it takes us in one more step to the conclusion that nothing is better than anything else, and then all values are abandoned together. One of the needs of our time, marked by so much half-fraudulent art and so much hesitation to talk of superior and inferior cultures, is a vigorous reassertion of the existence and all-importance of differences in value. The notion that equalitarianism in values is somehow scientific is mere confusion. Natural science places activities and cultures on the same level only in the sense that it does not consider their values at all. But once we have entered the sphere of value, as practical men must, our proper course is not to lump all activities together, but to discriminate between them as judicially as we can. If we are called on to do that in the case of John Cavanagh and his like, we shall say, not that fives-playing is as rewarding an activity as statesmanship or scholarship—that would be obtuse or invertedly snobbish—but that, being what he was, the good he derived from playing fives superbly was a greater good than he could have derived from being an incompetent statesman or scholar.
This suggests that each man's good is to be found in a different place. Probably no two living persons have quite the same set of bents and powers. And few if any persons who have ever lived can have enjoyed precisely that set of circumstances which gave those bents and powers their freest outlet. The pursuit of good is therefore a continually renewed experiment in inner discovery and outer adjustment. We know that scholarship and carpentry and mending broken watches and broken bodies are admirable and satisfying employments, but this does not tell us where our good lies, and we shall never find out except by trying. Our case is far less hopeless than if our instincts, like those of the lower animals, inflexibly appointed our manner of life for us, to lose which was to lose all; we can find some measure of fulfilment along many different roads. Still, with our particular powers these roads are not all equally profitable; and hence the importance for human happiness and good of a society that is unregimented, where youth—and, for that matter, maturity—can try its wings in various directions. Here modern society has made an enormous advance over the social stratification that marked even the democratic countries two or three generations ago. The pervading zest and hopefulness of American life are surely connected with the fact that the American boy and girl have so much freedom of motion in finding their individual place and that so many of them are allowed to try out their powers not only in schools but in colleges and universities. One cannot think it likely that in present-day America or Britain there are many ‘mute inglorious Miltons’ eating their hearts out in obscure frustration; free schools, scholarships, workers’ education classes, cheap classics, radio and television, give countless suggestions as to what one might be and do, and opportunities for doing it, which were denied to earlier times.
18. If what we have been saying is true about the goodness of fulfilling impulses, it enables us to take the measure of a practice that has been adopted by surprisingly large numbers in both east and west, that of asceticism; and we may close with some remarks upon this practice. The ascetics have held that the good life is not stunted but furthered by the repression of at least a large range of our impulses. In Christianity itself there has been an ascetic strain from the beginning, though it was less marked in the founder himself than in his followers of later centuries. From the third century to the fifth it became a matter of rivalry among persons who tried to live the religious life exactingly which could treat the desires of the natural man with most contempt. ‘If one man lived on top of a low pillar, his neighbour must mount a higher one; if one dragged about a weight of eighty pounds, a rival would tie himself to a hundred and fifty pounds. One would become famous by living at the bottom of a well, another by wallowing in a marsh infested with mosquitoes. Some rolled in thorn-bushes, a sovereign remedy, it was thought, for the lust of the flesh; others went about on all fours, and tried to eat grass, like cattle.’9 The almost incredible details are given in a memorable chapter of Lecky.10 In less violent forms asceticism still has its devotees in Christian society, particularly in Catholicism, where large numbers still lead a monastic life, and some cut themselves off even from those nearest to them by vows of Trappist silence. Nor is this voluntary renunciation of so large a part of life a peculiarly Christian development. It has been practised by Greeks and Jews, Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus; at the beginning of this century the number of ascetics in India was estimated at close to five millions,11 and it must still be large. Hindu asceticism has frequently taken extreme forms, such as spending one's life on a bed of spikes, or keeping one's arm fixed above one's head till the cartilage sets and the arm atrophies. The views we have suggested as to how the good is to be achieved run so flatly counter to this curiously ancient and widespread trend that a brief comment seems desirable.
19. The assumptions on which asceticism has proceeded are, I think, all false, though in different degrees. (1) Behind most, if not all, ascetic practices there has been the conviction that they have religious merit. They are evidence of one's devotion, one's detachment from the natural life and dedication to the supernatural; and there is the conviction that in another world this loyalty will be rewarded and this suffering, even if self-inflicted, will receive its compensation. The conviction seems incoherent. If the Creator were really so pitiless toward his creatures, if his moral standards were so different from ours, that he could endow us with capacities and desires for happiness and then, to all appearance arbitrarily, decree that the path to his favour lay through flouting and crushing them, what reason should we have to suppose that he would be interested in what we call justice at all? In the face of protest from the Kierkegaardians, who are not bound by mere ‘natural reason’ when they discuss the Deity, we must insist that one cannot say of him that he takes toward us the attitudes both of the loving father and of the cat toward the mouse. To say both these things is to say nothing, since the two sides cancel each other out. And if one has no better warrant than incoherent dogmas of this kind for approving human frustration and misery, one has no warrant at all. The goods of health and society, however modest, are certain goods. The dogmas that would preclude them are, to say the least, uncertain.
20. Impulse is at times curbed and thwarted not in religious interests but for the sake of discipline. William James thought it was a useful practice to do something daily on the express ground that one did not want to do it, by way of keeping one's hand in at the very necessary business of doing the disagreeable. One would hardly have supposed that special contrivances of such tasks were needed, since ordinary duty is so liberal with them; but the spirit of such self-discipline is wholly admirable. Character means the habitual dominance of certain ends; this dominance implies the power to repress impulses at variance with these ends; and if a man's life is to have any architecture about it, he needs iron in his composition, a touch of that military quality that, having counted the cost of an enterprise in discomfort and difficulty, is ready to pay it unflinchingly. Asceticism draws its name from the Greek term ασκησις, which means a course of self-discipline, such as that undertaken by the athlete; and so far as it has revealed to us the power of the human will in ‘bringing the body under’, it has served a useful purpose. Of such self-training, limited by a clear perception of its end, we have only praise to offer. But this is not asceticism at all in the ordinary meaning of the term.
21. (2) Asceticism has commonly assumed that the impulses connected with the body are base and are to be treated accordingly. The appetites were to be overruled by periodic fasts; the love of bodily ease and comfort was to be countered by hair shirts, coarse garments, and hard beds; sex was, if possible, to be disregarded totally, and the celibate life set up as an ideal. It is true that the so-called bodily satisfactions have an intensity that make their solicitations dangerously powerful and may lead us to prefer them to the more difficult and complex goods of the cultivated mind. A warning of their poverty and transience as compared to some other satisfactions is therefore quite in order. (May I confess in passing that I find something singularly unattractive in the amount of time and care devoted by such a distinguished mind as A. E. Housman on his French holidays to running down the towns and hotels that had the most tasteful vintages of wine, just as I think Beau Brummel's pre-occupation with his shirts and buttons hardly worthy even of his own smaller spirit.) Still there is no reason to say that because food and drink and comfort and pleasing appointments are not the greatest of goods, they are not goods at all. Nor is there any reason for dismissing them on the ground that they are bodily goods. Strictly speaking there are no such things. All goods are equally bodily, in the sense that all the experiences that have value are equally dependent on bodily conditions. On the other hand, all goods are equally non-bodily if that means that they are dependent on minds. Some satisfactions, like those of eating and drinking, involve physical activities a little more obviously than others like composing music or metaphysics, but a smart blow on the head will end all of them equally. The attempt to discredit some goods as merely bodily rests on a half-thought-out dualism that has itself been long discredited. The impulses to such goods are wholly natural and innocent, and those who would place a ban on their fulfilment as somehow base or sordid do so with no rational ground.
22. (3) But Puritans and others of ascetic temper have often taken a different line. They have held that the satisfactions of the natural man were not so much evils as distracting baubles, frivolities that were better dispensed with because they got in the way of more serious concerns. Pictures and images in church diverted attention from higher things; the theatre, the dance, games, fictions, music, were vanities rather than evils, pleasing apples of Sodom with only ashes inside and no nutriment for the spirit; the man of serious mind would have none of them. This too was short-sighted. Puritanism, though a nobler ethic than hedonism, made a curiously similar mistake; it did not conceive of human good as a sufficiently organic whole, and by concentrating its interest unduly, impoverished that interest itself. Worship is not necessarily richer in the bare meeting-house than in the cathedral; and while pure meditation requires a higher flight of the spirit than the ministries of eye and ear, these are not really rivals and distractions; in most minds they are aids to it. The whole hierarchy of ideas in which the world and the flesh are associated with the devil, and the body is ‘Brother Ass’, an alien beast of burden, is the relic of a theology and metaphysic that in the west have largely disappeared for lack of any ground in experience, and will similarly fade out in the east as evidence makes its way.
For the evidence leaves no doubt that Brother Ass, far from being an enemy or an alien, is the appointed means by which if at all, the spirit must reach its destination, and that if one neglects to feed and water it, it will not only refuse to proceed, but will manage to breed strange humours in one's own brain. The mediaeval mystics were inclined to regard the feverish imaginings of self-imposed starvation and torment as signs and wonders from another realm, and sought them deliberately. They paid the price, first in illusion and later in disillusion. ‘Attempts to force on artificially these very abnormal mental states inevitably lead to severe nervous reactions, in which the depression, wretchedness, and fear of being abandoned by God are quite as violent as the joys of the mystical state.’12 It has been notorious since Freud that the sex impulse also, if repressed, will probably avenge itself by cropping up in perverse forms, of which a vaguely erotic mysticism has been identified as one.13 I do not suggest that periods of retreat from ‘the world’ into silence and self-assessment are not on occasion most valuable, but these are not attempts to suppress or frustrate impulse, but rather to freshen it. Our principle is a simple one; when impulses do not actually get in each other's way, their fulfilments tend to support and enhance each other. Milton and Purcell were not less religious, but more, by reason of the poetry and music by which their religion was expressed, as is prettily intimated indeed in Purcell's epitaph in Westminster Abbey: ‘he hath gone where alone his harmonies can be exceeded’. A George Fox brought up on Shakespeare as well as the Bible, a Mather mellowed by fiction as well as drilled in Exodus and Leviticus, would have been different men from what they were, and possibly less effective. But they would have been less fanatical, more understanding, and more sane.
In sum, our view that goodness lies in the fulfilment and satisfaction of impulse conflicts with the ascetic assumptions on which countless earnest persons of both east and west have conducted their lives. Should this give us pause? A brief review of these assumptions suggests, on the contrary, that they are profoundly mistaken. Why have they been so widely accepted? Not, certainly, because of any warrant provided by experience. The proximate cause has usually been a religious belief as to the merit acquired by suffering, but behind this belief is no process of rational argument; it springs, rather, from the desperate desire, in times when life is cheap, or when the material conditions are grinding, or when coarseness and sensuality are widespread, to find some haven of dignity for the human spirit. The desire is natural and pathetic. Unfortunately neither fulfilment nor satisfaction is to be found along that road.