1. THE notion of the good of man which will be discussed in this chapter is the central notion of our whole inquiry. The problems connected with it are of the utmost difficulty. Many things which I say about them may well be wrong. Perhaps the best I can hope for is that what I say will be interesting enough to be worth a refutation.
We have previously (Ch. III sect 6) discussed the question what kind of being has a good. We decided that it should make sense to talk of the good of everything of the life of which it is meaningful to speak. On this ruling there can be no doubt that man has a good.
Granted that man has a good—what is it? The question can be understood in a multitude of senses. It can for example be understood as a question of a name a verbal equivalent of that which we also call ‘the good of man’.
We have already (Ch. I sect. 5) had occasion to point out that the German equivalent of the English substantive ‘good’ when this means the good of man or some other being is das Wohl. There is no substantive ‘well’ with this meaning in English. But there are two related substantives ‘well-being’ and ‘welfare’.
A being who so to speak ‘has’ or ‘enjoys’ its good is also said to be well and sometimes to do well.
The notion of being well is related to the notion of health. Often ‘to be well’ means exactly the same as ‘to be in good bodily and mental health’. A man is said to be well when he is all right fit in good shape generally. These various expressions may be said to refer to minimum requirements of enjoying one's good.
Of the being who does well we also say that it flourishes thrives or prospers. And we call it happy. If health and well-being primarily connote something privative absence of illness and suffering; happiness and well-doing again primarily refer to something positive to an overflow or surplus of agreeable states and things.
From these observations on language three candidates for a name of the good of man may be said to emerge. These are ‘happiness’ ‘well-being’ and ‘welfare’.
The suggestion might be made that ‘welfare’ is a comprehensive term which covers the whole of that which we also call ‘the good of man’ and of which happiness and well-being are ‘aspects’ or ‘components’ or ‘parts’. It could further be suggested that there is a broad sense of ‘happiness’ and of ‘well-being’ to mean the same or roughly the same as ‘welfare’. So that on one way of understanding them the three terms could be regarded as rough synonyms and alternative names of the good of man.
The suggestion that ‘the good of man’ and ‘the welfare of man’ are synonymous phrases I accept without discussion. That is: I shall use and treat them as synonyms. (Cf. Ch. I sect. 5; also Ch. III sect. 1.)
It is hardly to be doubted that ‘happiness’ is sometimes used as a rough synonym of ‘welfare’. More commonly however the two words are not used as synonyms. Happiness and welfare may in fact become distinguished as two concepts of different logical category or type. We shall here mention three features which may be used for differentiating the two concepts logically.
First of all the two concepts have a primary connexion with two different forms of the good. One could say though with caution that happiness is a hedonic welfare again a utilitarian notion. Happiness is allied to pleasure and therewith to such notions as those of enjoyment gladness and liking. Happiness has no immediate logical connexion with the beneficial. Welfare again is primarily a matter of things beneficial and harmful i.e. good and bad for the being concerned. As happiness through pleasure is related to that which a man enjoys and likes in a similar manner welfare through the beneficial is connected with that which a man wants and needs. (Cf. Ch. I sect. 5.)
Further happiness is more like a ‘state’ (state of affairs) than welfare is. A man can become happy be happy and cease to be happy. He can be happy and unhappy more than once in his life. Happiness like an end can be achieved and attained. Welfare has not these same relationships to events processes and states in time.
Finally a major logical difference between happiness and welfare is their relation to causality. Considerations of welfare are essentially considerations of how the doing and happening of various things will causally affect a being. One cannot pronounce on the question whether something is good or bad for a man without considering the causal connexions in which this thing is or may become embedded. But one can pronounce on the question whether a man is happy or not without necessarily considering what were the causal antecedents and what will be the consequences of his present situation.
The facts that happiness is primarily a hedonic and welfare primarily a utilitarian notion and that they have logically different relationships to time and to causality mark the two concepts as being of that which I have here called ‘different logical category or type’. It does not follow however that the two concepts are logically entirely unconnected. They are on the contrary closely allied. What then is their mutual relation? This is a question on which I have not been able to form a clear view. Welfare (the good of a being) is somehow the broader and more basic notion. (Cf. Ch. III sect. 12.) It is also the notion which is of greater importance to ethics and to a general study of the varieties of goodness. Calling happiness an ‘aspect’ or ‘component’ or ‘part’ of the good of man is a non-committal mode of speech which is not meant to say more than this. Of happiness I could also say that it is the consummation or crown or flower of welfare. But these are metaphorical terms and do not illuminate the logical relationship between the two concepts.
2. By an end of action we shall understand anything for the sake of which an action is undertaken. If something which we want to do is not wanted for the sake of anything else the act or activity can be called an end in itself.
Ends can be intermediate or ultimate. Sometimes a man wants to attain an end for the sake of some further end. Then the first end is intermediate. An end which is not pursued for the sake of any further end is ultimate. We shall call a human act end-directed if it is undertaken either as an end in itself or for the sake of some end.
What is an ultimate end of action is settled by the last answer which the agent himself can give to the question why he does or intends to do this or that. It is then understood that the question ‘Why?’ asks for a reason and not for a causal explanation of his behaviour. (Cf. Ch. IV sect. 8.)
In the terms which have here been introduced we could redefine Psychological Hedonism as the doctrine that every end-directed human act is undertaken ultimately for the sake either of attaining some pleasure or avoiding something unpleasant. The doctrine again that every end-directed human act is undertaken ultimately for the sake of the acting agent's happiness we shall call Psychological Eudaimonism. A doctrine to the effect that every end-directed act is ultimately undertaken for the sake of the acting agent's welfare (good) has to the best of my knowledge never been defended. We need not here invent a name for it.
Aristotle sometimes talks1 as though he had subscribed to the doctrine of psychological eudaimonism. If this was his view he was certainly mistaken and moreover contradicting himself. It would be sheer nonsense to maintain that every chain of (non-causal) questions ‘Why did you do this?’ and answers to them must terminate in a reference to happiness. The view that man in everything he does is aiming at happiness (and the avoidance of misery) is even more absurd than the doctrine that he in everything he does is aiming at pleasure (and the avoidance of pain).
I said that if Aristotle maintained psychological eudaimonism he was contradicting himself. (And for this reason I doubt that Aristotle wanted to maintain it though some of his formulations would indicate that he did.) For Aristotle also admits that there are ends other than happiness which we pursue for their own sake. He mentions pleasure and honour among them.2 Even ‘if nothing resulted from them we should still choose each of them’ he says.3 On the other hand those other final ends are sometimes desired not for their own sake but for the sake of something else. Whereas happiness Aristotle thinks is never desired for the sake of anything else.4 Pleasure e.g. pleasant amusement can be desired for relaxation and relaxation for the sake of continued activity.5 Then pleasure is not a final end.
I would understand Aristotle's so-called eudaimonism in the following light: among possible ends of human action eudaimonia holds a unique position. This unique position is not that eudaimonia is the final end of all action. It is that eudaimonia is the only end that is never anything except final. It is of the nature of eudaimonia that it cannot be desired for the sake of anything else. This is so Aristotle seems to think why eudaimonia is the highest good for man.6
It is plausible to think that a man can pursue i.e. do things for the sake of promoting or safeguarding his own happiness only as an ultimate end of his action. A man can also do things for the sake of promoting or safeguarding the happiness of some other being. It may be thought that he can do this only as an intermediate end of his action. The idea has an apparent plausibility but is nevertheless a mistake. The truth seems to be that a man can pursue the happiness of others either as intermediate or as ultimate end.
The delight of a king can be the happiness of his subjects. He gives all his energies and work to the promotion of this end. Maybe he sacrifices his so-called ‘personal happiness’ for the good of those over whom he is set to rule. Yet if this is what he likes to do it is also that in which his happiness consists. To say this is not so distort facts logically. But to say that the king sacrifices himself for the sake of becoming happy and not for the sake of making others happy would be a distortion. It would be a distortion similar to that of which psychological hedonism is guilty when it maintains that everything is done for the sake of pleasure on the ground that all satisfaction of desire may be thought intrinsically pleasant.
Can a man's welfare be an end of his own action? The question is equivalent to asking whether a man can ever be truly said to do things for the sake of promoting or protecting his own good. It is not quite clear which is the correct answer.
On the view which is here taken of the good of a being to do something for the sake of promoting one's own good means to do something because one considers doing it good for oneself. And to do something for the sake of protecting one's own good means to do something because one considers neglecting it bad for oneself.
For all I can see men sometimes do things for the reasons just mentioned. This would show that a man's welfare can be an end of his own action.
Yet the good of a being as an end of action is a very peculiar sort of ‘end’. Normally an end of action is a state of affairs something which ‘is there’ when the end has been attained. But welfare is not a state of affairs. (Cf. the discussion in section 1.) For this reason I shall say that welfare the good of a being can only in an oblique sense be called an end of action.
Obviously the reason why a man does something which he considers good for himself is not always and necessarily that he considers doing it good for himself. Similarly the reason why a man does something which he considers bad for him to neglect is not always and necessarily that he considers neglecting it bad for himself. This shows that a man's own welfare is not always an ultimate end of his action. It also shows that a man's own welfare is not always an end of his action at all. It does not show however that a man's own welfare is sometimes an intermediate end of his action. Whether it can be an intermediate end I shall not attempt to decide. If the answer is negative it would follow that when a man's own welfare is an end of his action it is necessarily an ultimate end.
Sometimes a man does something because he considers doing it good for another being and neglects something because he considers doing it bad for another being. It is obvious that another man's good can be the intermediate end of a man's action. The reason why the master takes heed to promote and protect the welfare of his servants can be that he expects them to serve him more efficiently if they thrive and are happy. Then his servants’ welfare is an intermediate end of the master's. It may be suggested that when the end of a man's action is another being's welfare then it is necessarily an intermediate end. This suggestion I think is false. We shall return to the topic later (Chapter IX) when discussing egoism and altruism.
Beings can be handled or treated as means to somebody's ends. This is the case e.g. with domestic animals and slaves. Philosophers have sometimes entertained the idea that beings could also be treated as ‘ends’ or ‘ends in themselves’. It is not clear what it means to say that a being e.g. a man is an ‘end in itself’. But treating a man as an end in itself could mean I suggest that we do certain things because we consider them good for that man (and for no other ulterior reason) and abstain from doing certain things because we consider them bad for that man. In other words: whenever a being's good is an ultimate end of action that being is treated as an end in itself. A man can treat other men thus but also himself. That men should be thus treated is an interesting view of the nature of moral duty. We shall briefly talk of this in Chapter X.
In the next five sections of the present chapter we shall be dealing with various aspects of the concept of happiness and in the last five sections with questions relating to the concept of welfare.
3. Happiness we said is a hedonic notion. It is of course not the same as pleasure. Nor can it be defined as has been suggested as ‘pleasure and the absence of pain’.
Moralists who have written about happiness have sometimes associated the notion more intimately with one sometimes with another of the three principal ‘forms’ of pleasure which we have in this book distinguished. One could accordingly speak of three types of ideals of happiness or of the happy life.
The first I shall call Epicurean ideals. According to them ‘true happiness’ derives above all from having things which please. ‘Pleasure’ need not here be understood in the ‘grosser’ sense of sensuous pleasure. It includes the enjoyment of agreeable recollections and thoughts of good company and of beautiful things. Moore's position in Principia Ethica can I think be called an Epicureanism in this broad sense.
Can a man find happiness entirely in passive pleasure? i.e. can following an Epicurean recipe of living make a man completely happy? I can see no logical impossibility in the idea. If a man's supreme desire happened to be to secure for himself a favourable balance of passive pleasure over passive ‘unpleasure’ i.e. of states he enjoys over states he dislikes and if he were successful in this pursuit of his then the Epicurean recipe of living would by definition make him happy. It may be argued—from considerations pertaining to the contingencies of life—that the chances are strongly against his succeeding. It may also be argued—this time from considerations pertaining to the psychology of human nature—that very few men are such pleasure-lovers that the supreme thing they want for themselves in life is a maximum of passive pleasure. But the facts—if they be facts—that Epicurean ideals are risky and not very commonly pursued throughout a whole life must not induce us to deny that a man—if there be such a man—who successfully pursued such ideals was genuinely happy and flourishing. To deny this would be to misunderstand the notions of happiness and the good of man and would be symptomatic I think of some ‘moralistic perversion’.
The second type of ideals of the happy life probably comes nearer than the Epicurean ideals to something which the classical writers of utilitarianism had in mind. It seems to me true to say that the utilitarians thought of happiness not so much in terms of passive pleasure as in terms of satisfaction of desire. Happiness on such a view is essentially contentedness—an equilibrium between needs and wants on the one hand and satisfaction on the other.
Yet one of the great utilitarians—protesting against unwanted consequences of a view which he was himself though not wholeheartedly defending—made the famous dictum ‘It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied’. I am not a utilitarian myself. But I would like to protest in a sense against Mill's remark. The ultimate reason why it is not good for man to live like a pig is that the life of a pig does not satisfy man. The dissatisfied Socrates to whom Mill refers we may regard as a symbol of man in search of a better and therewith more satisfying form of life. If his cravings were all doomed to be nothing but Vanity and the vexation of spirit’ then to idealize the dissatisfied Socrates would be to cherish a perverted view of the good life.
If one adopts the view that happiness is essentially an equilibrium between desire and satisfaction one may reach the further conclusion that the safest road to happiness is to have as few and modest wants as possible thus minimizing the chances of frustration and maximizing those of satisfaction. This recipe of happiness I shall call the ascetic ideal of life.7 When carried to the extreme this ideal envisages complete happiness in the total abnegation of all desire whatsoever.
Ascetism in this sense can be termed a crippled view of happiness. In order to see in which respect it is crippled it is helpful to consider the contrary of happiness i.e. unhappiness or misery. It would seem that there is a more direct connexion between unhappiness and dissatisfaction of desire than there is between happiness and satisfaction. Frustration of desire is a main source of unhappiness. Never or seldom to get that for which one is craving never or seldom to have a chance of doing that which one likes to do this is above all what makes a man miserable.
To call extreme ascetism a crippled ideal is to accuse it of a logical mistake. This is the mistake of regarding happiness as the contradictory and not as the contrary of unhappiness. By escaping frustration a man escapes unhappiness—provided of course that it does not befall him in the form of such affliction which accident or illness or the acts of evil neighbours may cause him. The man of no wants if there existed such a creature would not be unhappy. But it does not follow that he would be happy.
The third type of ideals of the happy life which I wanted to mention here seeks happiness neither in passive pleasure nor in the satisfaction of desire but in that which we have called active pleasure i.e. the pleasure of doing that on which we are keen which for its own sake we like doing. In the activities which we are keen on doing we aim at technical goodness or perfection. (See Ch. II sect. 12.) The better we are in the art the more do we enjoy practising it the happier does it make us. Therefore the more talented we are by nature for an art the more can the development of our skill in it contribute to our happiness.
It may be argued—chiefly against Epicureanism I should think—that the pleasures of the active life are those which are best suited to secure the attainment of lasting happiness. It is more risky to be for one's well-being dependent upon things we have or get than upon things we do (or are). That is: it is more risky to seek happiness in passive than in active pleasure. There is probably a great deal of truth in the argument. But it would certainly be wrong to think that the road to happiness through an active life were completely risk-free.
4. The factors which determine whether a man will become happy we shall call conditions of happiness. Of such conditions one may distinguish three main groups. Happiness we shall say is conditioned partly by chance or luck partly by innate disposition and partly by action. ‘Action’ here means action on the part of the individual concerned himself. That which is done to a man may for present purposes be counted as chance-factors conditioning his happiness.
Illness can befall a man or he can become bodily or mentally injured without any fault of his own. If such misfortune assumes a certain permanence it may affect a man's happiness adversely. It may do so either as a cause of pain or as a cause of frustration of desire or because it prevents the victim from engaging in activity which for its own sake he enjoys. However luck may also favour a man's good. The benefit a person draws from good friends or good teachers or financial benefactors has partly if not wholly the character of luck. It is something which life has in store for some men but not for others to make them happier independently of their own doings and precautions.
It is an aspect of that which we called the ascetic ideal of life that man is well advised to make himself as independent as possible of chance and luck as conditions of his happiness. This he can try to do in various ways: by hardening himself to sustain pain by withdrawing from political and social engagements or by not aspiring too high even in those activities which he enjoys for their own sake. The belief that a man could make himself altogether independent of external affectations of his good is a conceit peculiar to certain ‘ascetic’ and ‘stoic’ attitudes to life. It overrates man's possibilities of conditioning his happiness and peace of mind by assuming a certain attitude to contingencies.
The innate dispositions of happiness have to do both with bodily health and with mental equipment and temper A man of weak health is more exposed to certain risks of becoming unhappy than a man of good health. A man of many talents has more resources of happiness than a man of poor gifts. A man of good temper and cheerful outlook will not let adversities frustrate his efforts as easily as the impatient and gloomy man. To the extent that such temperamental dispositions can be developed or suppressed in a man they fall under those conditions of happiness which a man controls through his action.
Human action which is relevant to the happiness of the agent himself is of two types. Action of the first type are things which the agent does measures which he takes for the sake of promoting or protecting his happiness. Such action is causally relevant to his happiness. Action of the second type are things which the agent does or practises for their own sake as ends in themselves i.e. simply because he wants to do or likes to do them and for no other reason. Action in which a man delights one could call constitutive of his happiness ‘parts’ of his happiness.
Now it may happen that action which is thus constitutive of a man's happiness also affects his happiness causally. It may affect his happiness promotingly but also affect it adversely. For example: a man is immensely fond of playing various games. He plays and enjoys playing them all day long. In so doing he neglects his education and his social duties and maybe his health too. Thus the very same thing which is constitutive of his happiness may by virtue of its consequences accumulate clouds of unhappiness over the agent's head while he is rejoicing in this thing. This possibility is responsible for the major complications which are connected with a man's own action as a conditioning factor of his happiness and welfare generally.
5. When is a man happy? It is obvious that a man can be truly praised happy even though many painful and unpleasant things have happened to him in the course of his life. But not if he never had any pleasures. What must the preponderance of the pleasant over the unpleasant be if he is still to be called happy?
Here it is helpful to consider the states which we call gladness and sadness. They occupy a kind of intermediate position between happiness and unhappiness on the one hand and pleasure and its contrary on the other hand. It may be suggested that pleasant and unpleasant experiences and activities are constitutive of gladness and sadness in a manner similar to that in which states of joy and depression are constitutive of happiness and unhappiness. A man can be glad although he has toothache and he can be a happy man even though he chances to be very sad for a time. But he could not be glad if he had no pleasures to compensate such pains as he may have at the time of his gladness; and he cannot be happy if he is not on the whole more glad than sad. But we cannot tell exactly what must be the balance.
Pleasure joy and happiness are things of increasing degrees of permanence and resistance to changes. Something can please a man without cheering him up and cheer him up without making him happy. Something can be a terrible blow to a man and make him sad but whether it makes him unhappy is another matter.
Consider for example a man whom we praise happy and who is hit by a sudden blow of bad luck say the loss of a child in an accident. He will experience painful agonies and extreme sadness. ‘News of the disaster made him dreadfully unhappy’ we might say thinking of these emotional effects on him. If however we were to say that the news made him an unhappy man we should be thinking not only or maybe even not at all on those emotional effects but on effects of a less immediate showing and of a longer lasting. If we can say of him some such things as ‘For years after he was as paralysed; none of the things which used to delight him gave him pleasure any longer’ or ‘Life seemed to have lost meaning for him—for a time he even contemplated suicide’ then the accident made him unhappy as distinct from merely sad. But whether things bearing on the distinction can be truly said of the man is not to be seen in an inkling.
Analogous things can be said about changes in the reverse direction A piece of news say of an unexpected inheritance can make a man jump with joy. But whether it makes him happy as distinct from merely glad can only be seen from effects of a longer lasting and less obvious showing on his subsequent life.
Should we say ‘the whole of his subsequent life’? I think not. Happiness is neither a momentary state nor is it a sum total to be found out when we close our life's account. A man can become happy be happy and change from happy to unhappy. Thus in the course of his life a man can be both happy and unhappy. And he can be happy and unhappy more than once. (See section 1.)
We could make a distinction between a happy man and a happy life and regard the second as a thing of wider scope. This would make it possible to say of somebody that he had a happy life although for some time he was a most unhappy man.
6. A judgment to the effect that some being is happy or is not happy or is unhappy we shall call an eudaimonic judgment.
I think it is illuminating to compare the logic of the eudaimonic judgment to the logic of the statement ‘This is pleasant’. Of the sentence ‘This is pleasant’ we said that it conceals a logical form. (See Ch. IV sect. 6.) It suggests that pleasantness is a property which we attribute to some object or state whereas in fact to judge something pleasant is to verbalize a relationship in which the judging subject stands to this thing. To judge something hedonically good is to manifest an attitude one could also say to certain things (activities sensations the causes of sensations). The logically most adequate form of the verbalization is therefore it seems the relational form ‘I like this’ or some similar relational form.
In an analogous sense the sentence ‘He is happy’ may be said I think to conceal a logical form. It suggests a view of happiness as a property which the happy individual exhibits—which shines forth from him. Whereas in fact to be happy is to be in a certain relationship. A relationship to what? it may be asked. A relationship to one's circumstances of life I would answer. To say ‘He is happy’ is similar to saying ‘He likes it’ the ‘it’ not meaning this or that particular thing or activity but so to speak ‘the whole thing’. One could also say ‘He likes his life as it is.’
On this view if a man says of himself ‘I am happy’ he manifests in words an attitude which he takes or a relationship in which he stands to his circumstances of life. Happiness is not in the circumstances—as it were awaiting the judgment—but springs into being with the relationship. (Just as hedonic goodness does not reside in the taste of an apple but in somebody's liking the taste of an apple.) To judge oneself happy is to pass judgment on or value one's circumstances of life.
To say ‘He is happy’ can mean two different things. It can mean that the man of whom we are talking is in the relationship to his circumstances which if he were to verbalize his attitude he could express in the words ‘I am happy’. Then ‘He is happy’ is not a value-judgment. It is a true or false statement to the effect that a certain subject values certain things i.e. his circumstances of life in a certain way. We could also call it a statement to the effect that a certain valuation exists (occurs takes place).
Quite often however ‘He is happy’ is not a judgment about that which he is at all but about that which we should be if we happened to be in his circumstances. ‘He is happy’ then means roughly ‘He must be happy viz. considering the circumstances he is in.’ Such judgments are often an expression of envy. To say with conviction ‘Happy is he who…’ is usually to pronounce on that which we think would make ourselves happy.
We shall henceforth disregard the case when the third person judgment ‘He is happy’ is only a disguise for our own valuations and thus really is a first person judgment.
7. On the view which I am defending here judgments of happiness are thus very much like hedonic judgments. The third person judgments are true or false. In them is judged that so-and-so is or is not pleased with his circumstances of life. They are judgments about valuations—and therefore are no value-judgments. The first person judgments are not true or false. They express a subject's valuations of his own circumstances. They are genuine value-judgments and yet in an important sense of ‘judgment’ they are no judgments.
Ultimately a man is himself judge of his own happiness. By this I mean that any third person judgment which may be passed on his happiness depends for its truth-value on how he himself values his circumstances of life. This is so independently of whether he verbalizes his attitude in a first person judgment or not.
In a sense therefore a man's own verdict ‘I am happy’ or ‘I am unhappy’ should he happen to pass it will be final—whatever we may think we should say if we were in his circumstances. We must never make the presence or absence of circumstances which would determine our own first person judgments of happiness the criteria of truth of third person judgments.
What may make it difficult to see clearly this ‘subjectivity’ of the notion which we are discussing is the fact that not every man is the best and most competent judge of his prospects of happiness. A man may strongly want to do something think his life worthless if he is not allowed this thing. But another more experienced man may warn him that if he follows his immediate impulses he will in the end become a most miserable wretch. The more experienced man may be right. But the criterion which proves him right is not the mere fact that certain things—illness destitution and what not—befall this other man as a predicted consequence of his folly and wickedness. The criterion is that these consequences make that other man unhappy. If our fool accepts the consequences with a cheerful heart the wise man cannot insist that he must be right. He cannot do so on the ground say that those same consequences would have made him or most people miserable. Nor can he pretend that the lightsome fellow is ‘really’ unhappy though unaware of his own misery.
But cannot a man be mistaken in thinking that he is happy? In a sense he can not but in another he can. ‘He says he is happy but in fact he is not’ can express a true proposition. But does not the truth of this proposition entail that the person who professes to be happy is lying? And is this not uninteresting? The answer is that beside uninteresting lies there exist profoundly interesting lies in the matters which we are now discussing. First person judgments of happiness can be insincere and insincerity may be regarded as a species of lying.
The same incidentally holds good for first person hedonic judgments too. A youngster may profess to like the taste of tobacco which in fact he detests just for the sake of showing off. He may even make himself believe this in some involved and twisted sense of ‘believe’. A polite man may say he likes the taste of a wine merely to please his host. The insincerity of such first person judgments may be relatively easy to unmask.
In the case of first person judgments of happiness and misery the problem of sincerity is most difficult—both psychologically and conceptually. I shall not here try to penetrate its logical aspects which I find very bewildering. (I am not aware of any satisfactory discussion of the topic in the literature.) I shall make a shortcut through the difficulties and only say this much in conclusion:
However thoroughly a man may cheat himself with regard to his own happiness the criterion of cheat or insincerity must be that be admits the fraud. A judgment is insincere when the subject ‘in his innermost self’ admits that it is not as he says it is. If his lips say ‘I am happy’ and he is not then in his heart he must already be saying to himself ‘I am not happy’. He as it were does not hear the voice of his heart. These are similes and I am aware of the temptation to misuse them. (They are the same sort of similes that are used and misused in psychoanalysis—the similes of the subconscious the super-ego etc.) What I mean by them could perhaps be said most plainly as follows: The fact that first person judgments of happiness can be insincere must not be allowed to conflict logically with the fact that whether a person is happy or not depends upon bis own attitude to his circumstances of life. The supreme judge of the case must be the subject himself. To think that it could be otherwise is false objectivism.
8. Judgments of the beneficial and the harmful i.e. of that which is good or bad for a man involve two components. We have called them the causal and the axiological component. (See Ch. III sect. 5.) We must now say some words about each of them.
When something happens i.e. the world changes in a certain respect there will usually also be a number of subsequent changes which are bound (by so-called ‘natural necessity’) to come about once the first change took place. These subsequent changes we here call the consequences of the first change. If the first change is of that peculiar kind which we call a human act then the subsequent changes are consequences of action. The change or changes upon which a certain further change is consequent (i.e. the consequence of which this further change is) we shall call the cause(s) of this further change.
Most things which happen perhaps all would not have happened unless certain antecedent changes had taken place in the world. These antecedent changes we shall call the causal prerequisites or requirements of the subsequent change. They are sometimes also called ‘necessary causes’. The necessary causes may be but need not be ‘causes’ in the sense defined above.
These explanations are very summary. Not least of all considering the importance to ethics of the notion of consequences of action it is an urgent desideratum that the logic of causal relationships be better elaborated than it is. We shall not however attempt this here. Only a few observations will be added to the above.
The notions both of consequences and of prerequisites and of causes of a change are relative to the further notion of a state of the world. Thus e.g. a change which is required in order to effect a certain change in the world as it is to-day may not be required in order to effect this same change in the world as it is to-morrow.
It is sometimes said that every event (change) ‘strictly speaking’ has an infinite number of consequences throughout the whole of subsequent time and that for this reason we can never know for certain which all the consequences of a given event are. These statements if true at all hold good for some different notion of consequence but not for the notion with which we are here dealing. Exactly what could be meant by them is not clear. Yet we need not dismiss them as nonsense. When for example something which happens to-day is said to be a consequence of something which took place hundreds of years ago what is meant is perhaps that if we traced the ‘causal history’ of this event of to-day we should find among its ‘causal ancestry’ that event of hundreds of years ago. Here the notions of causal ancestry and causal history could be defined in terms of our notions of cause consequence and prerequisite and yet it need not follow that if an event belongs to the causal ancestry of another event the first must be a cause or prerequisite of the second or the second a consequence of the first. For example: Let event b be a consequence (in our sense) of event a and a causal prerequisite (in our sense) of event c. It would then be reasonable to say that event a is a ‘causal ancestor’ of event c or that tracing the ‘causal history’ of c takes us to a. In some loose sense of the words a may be said to be a ‘cause’ of c and c a ‘consequence’ of a. But in the more precise sense in which we are here employing the terms a is not (necessarily) a cause of c nor c (necessarily) a consequence of a.
The causes and consequences of things which happen are often insufficiently known and therefore largely a matter of belief and conjecture. Sometimes however they are known to us. The statement should it be made that they cannot (‘in principle’) be known either is false or applies to some different notions of cause and consequence from ours.
By knowledge of the causes and consequences of things which happen I here mean knowledge relating to particulars. An example would be knowledge that the death of N. N. was due to a dose of arsenic which had been mixed into his food. Such knowledge of particulars is usually grounded on knowledge of general propositions—as for example that a dose of arsenic of a certain strength will (unless certain counteracting causes intervene) ‘inevitably’ kill a man. Whether all such knowledge of particulars is grounded on general knowledge we shall not discuss.
When in the sequel we speak of knowledge of the causes and consequences of things or of known causes and consequences ‘knowledge’ is short for ‘knowledge or belief’ and ‘known’ for ‘known or believed’. The consequences which are known (i.e. known or believed) at the time when the thing happens we shall also call foreseen consequences.
So much for the causal component involved in judgments of the beneficial and the harmful. We now turn to the axiological component. A preliminary task will here be to clarify the notions of a wanted and an unwanted thing.
9. The notion of a wanted thing which I shall now try to explain is not the same as that of an end of action. I shall call it the notion of being wanted in itself. How things which are wanted in themselves are related to things which ate wanted as ends of action will be discussed presently. Correlative with the notion of being wanted in itself is the notion of being unwanted in itself. ‘Between’ the two falls a notion which we shall call the notion of being indifferent in itself.
The notion of being wanted in itself is the nearest equivalent in my treatment here to the notion of intrinsic value in Moore and some other writers. Moore when discussing the notion of intrinsic worth often resorts to a logical fiction which mutatis mutandis may be resorted to also for explaining the meaning of a thing being wanted unwanted or indifferent ‘in itself’.
This fiction is that of a preferential choice between two alternatives. A major difficulty is to formulate the terms of the choice correctly for the purpose of defining the axiological notions under discussion. (Moore's explanation of intrinsic value in terms of betterness of alternatives cannot be regarded as logically satisfactory—apart from questions of the meaningfulness of the very notion.8) Our proposal here of a solution to the problem is tentative only.
Assume you were offered a thing X which you did not already possess. Would you then rather take it than leave it rather have it than (continue to) be without it? The offer must be considered apart from questions of causal requirements and of consequences. That is: considerations of things which you will have to do in order to get X and of things which will happen to you as a consequence of your having got the thing X must not influence your choice. If then you would rather take X than leave it X is wanted in itself. If you have the opposite preference X is unwanted in itself. If you have no preference X is indifferent in itself.
As readily noted the ideas of the in itself wanted and unwanted which we have thus tried to explain in terms of a fictitious preferential choice are necessarily relative to a subject. Nothing is wanted or unwanted ‘in itself’ if the words ‘in itself’ are supposed to mean ‘apart from any rating or valuing subject’. The words ‘in itself’ mean ‘causal prerequisites and consequences apart’. A thing which for one subject is a wanted thing may be regarded as unwanted by another subject. A thing furthermore which is wanted now may be unwanted at another time—the subject being the same. The notion of being wanted or unwanted in itself is thus relative not only to a subject but also to a particular time in the life of this subject.
Moore did not think that intrinsic value was relative to subject and time. In this respect his ‘objectivist’ notion of the intrinsically good and bad differs from our ‘subjectivist’ notion of the in itself wanted and unwanted.
It is important to note that from our definition of the in itself wanted unwanted and indifferent it does not follow that if X is wanted in itself then not—X (the absence of X) is unwanted in itself. That not—X is wanted unwanted and indifferent in itself corresponds on our definitions to the following set of preferences:
Consider a thing X which you have. Would you rather get rid of it than retain it rather be without it than (continue to) possess it? The proposal must be considered apart from things which you will have to do in order to get rid of X and from things which will happen to you as a consequence of your having got rid of X. Then not—X is wanted in itself if you prefer to get rid of X unwanted in itself if you prefer to retain X and indifferent in itself if you have no preference.
10. Anything which is an—intermediate or ultimate—end of action can be called a good (for the subject in pursuit of the end). (Cf. above Ch. I sect. 5 and Ch. III sect. 1.) Anything which is an end of action can also be said to be a wanted thing.
Also every thing which is wanted in itself can be called a good (for the subject to whom it is wanted). And every thing which is unwanted in itself can be called a bad (for the subject who shuns it).
Ends of action and things wanted in themselves thus both fall under the category ‘goods’. Ends of action also fall under the category ‘things wanted’.
The question may be raised how ends of action and things wanted in themselves are mutually related. The question is complicated and I shall not discuss it in detail. It is reasonable to think that only things which are attainable through action can be ends of action. ‘Craving for the moon’ is not aiming at an end. But things other than those which are attainable through action can be wanted in themselves—sunshine on a chilly day for example. The only simple relationship between ends of action and things wanted in themselves which I can suggest is that ultimate ends of action are also things wanted in themselves.
Intermediate ends of action are either things wanted in themselves or things indifferent in themselves or not infrequently things unwanted in themselves. To get the in itself unwanted can never be an ultimate end of action since the assumption that it is involves a contradiction. But to escape the in itself unwanted sometimes is an ultimate end of action. The unwanted is that which we shun except when occasionally we pursue it as intermediate end for the sake of something else or suffer it as a necessary prerequisite of something coveted.
When a man gets something which is to him wanted in itself without having pursued it as an end we shall say that this wanted thing befalls him. Similarly when a man gets something which is to him unwanted in itself and which he has not pursued as an intermediate end we shall say that this thing befalls him.
The question may be raised whether a thing which befalls or happens to a man can appropriately be said to be ‘wanted’. ‘Wanted’ in English has many meanings and must therefore be used with caution. Sometimes it means ‘desired’ sometimes ‘needed’ sometimes ‘wished for’. When the wanted thing is an end of action the nearest equivalent to ‘wanted’ is ‘desired’. Perhaps things which happen to a man and which satisfy our explanation of the in itself wanted should better be called ‘welcome’. They are things we ‘gladly accept’ or are ‘happy to get’. Often we just call them ‘good’. When I here call them ‘wanted’ it is by contrast to ‘unwanted’ which word is certainly correctly used for shunned things that befall or happen to a man.
11. Consider something which an agent pursues as an ultimate end. Assume that he gets it. Attaining the end is usually connected with a number of things as its causal prerequisites and a number of other things as its consequences. Of the things which are thus causally connected with his end some are perhaps known and others not known to the agent. Some moreover may be known to him already at the time when he pursues the end others become known to him after he has attained it. That is: their causal relationship to the end is (becomes) known to him.
The thing which the agent pursues as an ultimate end is to him a good and something he wants in itself. Of those things again which are causally connected—either as prerequisites or as consequences—with his attainment of the end some are wanted in themselves (by him) others are unwanted in themselves (by him) others indifferent in themselves (to him). The sum total of those things which are unwanted in themselves we shall call the price which the agent has to pay for the attainment of his ultimate end.
This notion of ‘price’ be it observed includes consequences as well as causal prerequisites. On this definition of the notion not only those things which the agent has to endure in order to get his wanted thing but also those which he has to suffer as a consequence of having got it count as part of that which he has to pay for the good. One can define the notion of a price in different ways—for other purposes. This is how we define the notion for present purposes.
For anything which is wanted in itself the question may be raised: Is this good worth its price? The question can be raised prospectively with a view to things which have to be gone through as a consequence of starting to pursue this good as an end or it can be raised retrospectively with a view to things already suffered.
To answer the question whether a certain good is (was) worth its price is to pass a value-judgment. It is to say of something a good that it is better or worse more or less worth than something else its price. How shall this value-judgment be properly articulated?
I think we must resort here for a second time to the logical fiction of a preferential choice. We said (in section 9) that things which we do not have are wanted in themselves when ignoring their causes and consequences we would rather get them than continue to be without them and unwanted in themselves when we would rather continue to be without them than get them. This question of taking or leaving having or being without we can also raise for things considering their causes and consequences. A correct way of presenting the choice which we should then be facing is I think as follows:
Assume that X is something which is not already in our world (life) i.e. is something which we do not already possess or which has not already happened or which we have not already done. Would we then want X to become introduced into our world (life) considering also the causal prerequisites of getting (doing) X and the consequences of having got (done) X? Or would we prefer to continue to be without X? In making up our mind we should also have to consider the causal prerequisites and the consequences of not having this change in our world (life). It may for example be necessary for us to take some in itself unwanted action to prevent X from coming into existence if we wish to avoid having X and it may be necessary for us to foresake some other in itself wanted thing Y as a consequence of not having had X.
We introduce the symbol ‘X+C’ for the complex whole consisting of X and those other things which are causally connected with it either as prerequisites or as consequences of its coming into being i.e. of the change from not-X to X. The symbol ‘not-X+C′’ shall stand for the complex whole consisting of the absence of X and the presence of those things which are causally connected either as prerequisites or as consequences with the continued absence of X.
The question which is presented for consideration in the fictitious preferential choice we are discussing is whether we should prefer X+C to not-X+C′ or whether we should have the reverse preference or whether we should be indifferent (have no preference).
Let the answer to the proposal be that we should rather have than continue to be without X i.e. prefer X+C to not-X+C′. Then we shall say that X+C or the complex whole consisting of X and the causal prerequisites and consequences of the coming into being of X is a positive constituent of our good (welfare). Of the thing X itself we say that it is good for us or beneficial. This we say of X independently of whether X is wanted or unwanted or indifferent in itself.
Let the answer to the proposal be that we should rather continue to forego than have X i.e. prefer not-X+C′ to X+C. Then we shall say that X+C is a negative constituent of our good. Of the thing X itself we say that it is bad for us or harmful. This we say independently of whether X is wanted or unwanted or indifferent in itself.
The answer can of course also be that we should be indifferent to the alternatives. Then X+C is neither a positive nor a negative constituent of our good and X is neither beneficial nor harmful.
Let us call X the nucleus of that complex whole which consists of X and the causal prerequisites and consequences of the coming into existence of X. We could then say that the things which are beneficial or harmful good or bad for a man are nuclei of those complex causal wholes which are positive or negative constituents of his good (welfare).
We can now state the conditions for answering the question whether a certain good is worth its ‘price’. When a certain causal whole is a positive constituent of our good and its nucleus is a thing which is wanted in itself then we say that this thing or good is worth its price. When however the whole is a negative constituent of our good although its nucleus is a thing which is wanted in itself then we say that this thing or good is not worth its price.
From our definitions of the beneficial and the harmful it does not follow that if not-X is harmful then X is beneficial and vice versa. If however not-X is harmful then X will be called needed. The needed is that the lack or loss of which is a bad thing an evil. The needed and the harmful are opposed as contradictories in the sense that the contradictory of the needed is harmful and vice versa. The beneficial and the harmful are opposed as contraries.
To provide a being with that which is beneficial for it is to promote its welfare. To provide it with that which it needs and to take care that it does not lose the needed is to protect its welfare. Things (acts events) which are protective of a being's welfare are good for the being in the sense of ‘good for’ which can also be rendered by ‘useful’ but not in that sense of ‘good for’ which we call ‘beneficial’. (Cf. Ch. III sect. 1.)
12. The preferential choice in the terms of which we have defined the notions of the beneficial and the harmful we have called a ‘logical fiction’. That it is a fiction implies two things. First it implies that we are talking of how a man would choose if he were presented with the choice and not of what he actually chooses. Secondly it implies that we assume the causal component involved in the value-judgment to be completely known to the subject at the time of the choice. This second assumption entails that there are no imperfections in the subject's knowledge which are such that if they were detected and corrected the subject would revise his preferences.
Thus on our definitions the answer to the question whether a certain thing is good or bad for a man is independent of the following two factors: First it is independent of whether he (or anybody else) judges or does not judge of the value of this thing for him. Secondly it is independent of what he (and everybody else) happens to know or not to know about the causal connexions of this thing. Yet in spite of this independence of judgment and knowledge the notions of the beneficial and the harmful are in an important sense subjective. Their subjectivity consists in their dependence upon the preferences (wants) of the subject concerned.
Considering what has just been said it is clear that we must distinguish between that which is good or bad for a man and that which appears i.e. is judged or considered or thought (by himself or by others) to be good or bad for him.
Any judgment to the effect that something is good or bad for a man is based on such knowledge of the relevant causal connexions which the judging subject happens to possess. Since this knowledge may be imperfect the judgment which he actually passes may be different from the judgment which he would pass if he had perfect knowledge of the causal connexions. When there is this discrepancy between the actual and the potential judgment we shall say that a man's apparent good is being mistaken for his real good.
Of certain things it is easier to judge correctly whether they are good or bad for us than of certain other things. This means: the risks of mistaking our apparent good for our real good are sometimes greater sometimes less. It is on the whole easier to judge correctly in matters relating to a person's health than in matters relating to his future career. For example: the judgment that it will do a man good to take regular exercise is on the whole safer than the judgment that it will be better for him to go into business than study medicine. Sometimes the difficulties to judge correctly are so great that it will be altogether idle and useless to try to form a judgment.
Sometimes we know for certain that a choice which we are facing is of great importance to us in the sense that it will make considerable difference to our future life whether we choose the one or the other of two alternatives. An example could be a choice between getting married or remaining single or between accepting employment in a foreign country or continuing life at home. But certainty that the choice will make a great difference is fully compatible with uncertainty as to whether the difference will be for good or for bad. The feeling that our welfare may become radically affected by the choice can make the choice very agonizing for us.
Also of many things in our past which we did not deliberately choose we may know for certain that they have been of great importance to us in the sense that our lives would have been very different had these things not existed. This could be manifestly true for example of the influence which some powerful personality has had on our education or on the formation of our opinions. We may wonder whether it was not bad for us that we should have been so strongly under this influence. Yet if we know only that our life would have been very different but cannot at all imagine how it would have been different we may also be quite incompetent to form a judgment of the beneficial and harmful nature of this factor in our past history.
It is a deeply impressive fact about the condition of man that it should be difficult or even humanly impossible to judge confidently of many things which are known to affect our lives importantly whether they are good or bad for us. I think that becoming overwhelmed by this fact is one of the things which can incline a man towards taking a religious view of life. ‘Only God knows what is good or bad for us.’ One could say thus—and yet accept that a man's welfare is a subjective notion in the sense that it is determined by what he wants and shuns.
13. Are judgments of the beneficial or harmful nature of things objectively true or false? When we try to answer this question we must again observe the distinction between a first person judgment and a third person judgment. (Cf. Ch. IV sect. 5 and this chapter sections 6 and 7.)
When somebody judges of something that it is (was will be) good or bad for somebody else the judgment is a third person judgment. It depends for its truth-value on two things. The one is whether certain causal connexions are as the judging subject thinks that they are. The other is whether certain valuations (preferences wants) of another subject are as the judging subject thinks that they are. Both to judge of causal connexions and to judge of the valuations of other subjects is to judge of empirical matters of fact. The judgment is ‘objectively’ true or false. It is properly speaking not a value-judgment since the ‘axiological’ component involved in it is not a valuation but a judgment about (the existence or occurrence of) valuations.
The case of the first person judgment is more complicated. Its causal component is a judgment of matters of fact. In this respect the first person judgment is on a level with the third person judgment. Its axiological component however is a valuation and not a judgment about valuations. With regard to this component the judgment cannot be true or false. There is no ‘room’ for mistake concerning its truth-value. In this respect the first person judgment of the beneficial and the harmful is like the first person hedonic or eudaimonic judgment.
Although the first person judgment cannot be false in its axiological component it can be insincere. The problem of sincerity of judgments concerning that which is good or bad for a man is most complicated. It is intimately connected with the problems relating to the notions of regret and of weakness of will. A few words will be said about them later.
A subject can also make a statement about his own valuations in the past or a conjecture about his valuations in the future. Such a statement or conjecture is logically a third person judgment. It is true or false both in its causal and in its axiological component.
Whether a judgment is logically a first person judgment cannot be seen from the person and tense of its grammatical form alone. A man says ‘This will do me good’. In saying this he could be anticipating certain consequences and expressing his valuation of them. But he could also be anticipating certain consequences and anticipating his valuation of them. In the first case the judgment he makes is of the kind which I here call a first person judgment of the beneficial or harmful nature of things. In the second case the judgment is (logically) a third person judgment. The subject is speaking about himself i.e. about his future valuations.
Sometimes a judgment of the beneficial or the harmful is clearly anticipative both of consequences and of valuations. Sometimes it is clearly anticipative with regard to consequences and expressive with regard to valuations. But very often it seems the status of the judgment is not clear even to the judging subject himself. The judgment may contain both anticipations and expressions of valuations. Perhaps it is true to say that men's judgments of what is good or bad for themselves tend on the whole to be anticipative rather than expressive with regard to valuations.
The distinction between the apparent and the real good it should be observed can be upheld both for third person and for first person judgments of the beneficial and the harmful. In this respect judgments of the beneficial and the harmful differ from hedonic and eudaimonic judgments. (For the two last kinds of judgment the distinction vanishes in the first person case i.e. in the genuine value-judgments.) Because of the presence of the causal component in the judgment a subject can always be mistaken concerning the beneficial or the harmful nature of a thing—even when there is no ‘room’ for mistake with regard to valuation.
14. A man's answer to the question whether a certain good is worth its price or whether a thing is beneficial or harmful may undergo alterations in the course of time. Such alterations in his judgments can be due either to changes in his knowledge of the relevant causal connexions or to changes in his valuations. For example: a man attains an end which he considers worth while to have pursued until years afterwards he comes to realize that he had to pay for it with the ruin of his health. Then he revises his judgment and regrets.
There are two types of regret-situation relating to choices of ends and goods in general. Sometimes the choice can in principle if not in practice be repeated. To profess regret is then to say that one would not choose the same thing again next time when there is an opportunity. But sometimes the choice is not repeatable. The reason for this could be that the consequences of which one is aware and which are the ground for one's regret continue to operate throughout one's whole life. There is no opportunity of making good one's folly in the past by acting more wisely in the future. Then to express regret is to pass judgment on one's life. It is like saying: If I were to live my life over again I would when arrived at the fatal station act differently.
The value-judgments of regret and no-regret like hedonic judgments and judgments of happiness are neither true nor false. But they may be sincere or insincere. A person can say that he regrets when in fact he does not and he can stubbornly refuse to admit regret which he ‘feels’. How is such insincerity unmasked? For example in this way: If a man after having suffered the consequences says he regrets his action but on a new occasion repeats his previous choice then we may doubt whether his remorse was not pretence only. He was perhaps annoyed at having had to pay so much for the coveted thing and therefore said it was not worth it but at the bottom of his heart he was pleased at having got it. These are familiar phenomena.
Yet to think that a repetition of the professed folly were a sure sign of insincere regret would be to ignore the complications of the practical problems relating to the good of man. A good if strongly desired in itself and near at hand may be a temptation to which a man succumbs when the evil consequences are far ahead and the recollection of having suffered them in the past is perhaps already fading. There is no logical absurdity in the idea that a man sincerely regrets something as having been a mistake a bad choice with a view to his welfare i.e. with a view to what he ‘really’ wants for himself and yet wilfully commits the same mistake over again whenever there is an opportunity.
When a man succumbs to temptation and chooses a lesser immediate good i.e. thing wanted in itself rather than escapes a greater future bad i.e. thing unwanted in itself then he is acting wilfully against the interests of his own good. It is in such situations that those features of character which we call virtues are needed to safeguard a man's welfare. We shall talk about them later (in Chapter VII).
That a man can do evil to himself through ignorance of the consequences of his acts or through negligence is obvious. That he can also harm himself through akrasia or weakness of will has a certain appearance of paradox. He then as it were both wants and does not want welcomes and shuns one and the same thing. When viewed in the short perspective ‘prerequisites and consequences apart’ he wants it; when viewed in the prolonged perspective of the appropriate causal setting he shuns it. One could say that if he lets himself be carried away by the short perspective then he was not capable of viewing clearly his situation in the long perspective. Or one could say that if a man has an articulated grasp of what he wants he can never harm himself through weakness of will. But saying this must not encourage an undue optimism about man's possibilities of acting in accordance with cool reasoning.
- 1. See, e.g., Ethica Nicomachea (EN), 1094a 18–21, 1095a 14–20, and 1176b 30–31.
- 2. EN, 1097b 1–2. See also 1172b 20–23.
- 3. EN, 1097b 2–3.
- 4. EN, 1097b 1 and again 1097b 5–6.
- 5. Cf. EN, 1176b 34–35.
- 6. There is no phrase in Aristotle's ethics which corresponds to our phrase ‘the good of man’. Eudaimonia (happiness, well-being) Aristotle also calls the best or the highest good. The notion of a summum bonum, however, is not identical with the notion of the good of man as we use it here. But the two notions may be related.
- 7. Ascetism as an abnegation of worldly desire for the sake of the good of the soul must be distinguished from that which I here call ascetism as an ideal of life. To the first, ascetism is no ‘end’ or ‘value’ in itself, but an exercise and preparation for the good life.
- 8. See Ethics, pp. 42–44 and, in particular, Moore's reply to his critics in The Philosophy of G. E. Moore, pp. 554–557.