A Modern Theory of Ethics, by Olaf Stapledon

Chapter 12

Essentials of the Concrete Ideal

A. Ideals and the Ideal

HITHERTO I have been engaged in discussing the nature of ‘good’ and the logical ground of moral obligation. It is now time to attempt an inquiry into the concrete ideal which is implied in the nature of our world.

Human ideals are changeful as the clouds. To-day our enthusiasts, by constant preaching and example, kindle us at last with a spark of their own zeal for some goal or other; to-morrow, not merely is the goal still to be gained, but (far worse), while we are plodding toward it, some superior intelligence among us discovers its unsoundness and ridicules our labour. Then we are divided. Some, unable to grasp the criticism, continue their toil, content but futile. Some catch a gleam of the truth, but shun it, lest their satisfying activity should cease to satisfy. Some learn all too clearly their error, and fall into despair.

And how tawdry look the ideals of yesterday! Pietism, moralism, the cult of wealth and power, nationalism, the liberal and the communist utopias, and the cult of ‘personality’— how they stir men, and how tedious they may become! Indeed there is nothing more insipid and nothing more pathetic than to-day’s account of yesterday’s aims, or indeed any man’s view of his neighbour’s ideal. The disillusionment lies not merely between one generation and another, nor between one and another contemporary culture or private taste, but even between diverse moods of one mind.

Must we conclude that the whole business of ideal mongering is a folly, and a disreputable folly, as tending toward fantasy and toward emotionalism? Has it all been a waste of time, this effort to envisage the desirable? Do the fashions in ideals change with no more reason than the fashions in dress? Or is there perhaps some continuity and progress to be discerned in the history of the supreme ends that men have conceived? Certainly in these latter days anyone who ventures to preach an ideal must be either ridiculously lacking in humour or prepared to join in the inevitable laugh at his own gaucherie. For it is certain that he will produce only a caricature of that which is in fact desirable. And it is certain that, even if some few of his contemporaries should see as he has seen and be blind with his particular blindness, his successors will revile his idols and set up images of their own.

Indeed it must be admitted that the aims of men, their ‘ideals’, are crude and contradictory. But this is not seriously disheartening unless we suppose ‘ideals’ to be creatures purely of desire, rather than records of man’s groping toward the Ideal which in fact is posited by the actual capacities of the world, and is to be discovered, not created, by minds. On this latter view, which is involved in any realistic ethics, the discrepancies and crudities of ‘ideals’ are attributable to no subjectivity of value but to the limitations of individual minds and particular cultures. At the heart of every ideal lie certain true value-judgments, apprehensions of certain goods that are indefeasibly members in the Ideal, or at least instruments for the Ideal. But, owing to the limitations of human experience, these goods have been imperfectly correlated with other goods. Thus minor goods appear as major, and many major goods may be entirely missed. Further, since every man’s ‘ideal’ is to some extent systematic, each ‘ideal’ is controlled through and through by some basic value-judgment or other, or a group of value-judgments; and if these basic judgments happen to be imperfectly conceived or objectively without claim to their basic position, the whole ‘ideal’ is vitiated. And owing to the very diverse idiosyncrasies of our experience, our ‘ideals’ are not only crude but profoundly different from each other. It is therefore very difficult in the midst of our conflicting loyalties to realize that ‘ideals’ are one and all judgments of the Ideal, be they never so erroneous.

It would be interesting to embark on a detailed study of all the types of ‘ideals’ that men have entertained, and to show how in each case a real and important objective need has come to be espoused and over-emphasized at the expense of other needs equally important. But here I can only mention a few of the main conclusions that such a discussion would reach, so that we may be forewarned against certain extravagances of ideal-mongering, and may at the same time note certain very diverse principles, all of which must be taken into account in attempting to envisage the outlines of the objective ideal. Thus, though we must not fall into the error of evolutionism, we may agree that the ideal must include whatever biological forces there be. The discovery of the biological evolution of ever more highly organized types of life suggested that the distinction between good and bad must be simply derived from the supposed fact that a ‘life force’ in the world was ever pressing toward greater complexity of living. Whereas in the older view good was thought to be derived from the will of God, the newer theory based it on the trend of Nature. In an age conscious of its ‘progress’ this doctrine was plausible; in a decaying civilization, however, no one would ever be persuaded that goodness is identical with survival-value. Only because men supposed that evolution was in some manner directed toward more complex vitality and mentality, were they tempted to derive good therefrom, forgetful that the fulfilment of ‘evolution’ is good only so long as it makes possible ever more complex activities upon ever higher planes of emergence. But though in this they erred, they were justified in identifying good with the fulfilment of the activities of active substances.

In other accounts of the ideal we find the same mixture of chaff and grain. Thus, while we must not be deceived by hedonism and utilitarianism, neither must we deny that pleasure itself is a good to be sought for its own sake. The greatest happiness of the greatest number is not a sufficient account of the ideal, but the claim to happiness is valid, and not to be ignored even in the ideal.

Similarly with moralism, it is unjustifiable to think that the good consists merely in conduct of a certain form. But it is demanded in the ideal that certain very general principles of conduct should be accepted as obligatory upon all individuals, even to the detriment of their private needs, and sometimes even to the detriment of other individuals; but it is demanded that those principles themselves should be determined by the needs of all individuals in social relation.

Again, the Christian ideal of Love, or Brotherhood, though a far richer ideal than most, cannot be sufficient. When it began to be seen that mere moralism degenerated into self-centred legalism, a new insight was gained into the relationship between individuals. The ideal was seen to be that individuals should conatively espouse each other’s needs in the same manner as they espouse their own, so that each mind should be invaded and possessed and enlarged by all others. The unity of men should be a unity of internal relations, not only a system of external legal relations. This discovery is, of course, of supreme importance. But it sometimes led to an apothesis of the mere abstraction, ‘love’, as in some extravagant interpretations of the great proposition, ‘God is Love’. To set up abstract love as the end of human existence is almost as though we were to say that the end of the cells of a man’s flesh were merely the abstract form of their organicity rather than the mind which their organicity calls into being. On the other hand, of course, the ideal must include the loving community, since it is by the mutual 'ingression'90 of individuals in love that new capacities and activities emerge.

Another ideal associated with Christianity, and also with the East, is that in which the individual is urged to turn his attention from the things of this brief world and live for a world that is eternal and unseen. This ‘other-worldliness’ may result in a rejection of all the urgent claims of our daily life for the sake of a fantasy. But let us remember that the ideal entails not only that men should be sensitive to obvious mundane obligations, but also that they should strain to hear, and to respond to, the appeal of whatever higher spheres there be.

So with stoicism, divorce from all desire is no sufficient account of the desirable; but only through this resignation and detachment can the mind preserve its integrity and glimpse that excellence of reality which, it may be, transcends the sphere of human striving. Stoics have often been men of action, fulfilling the social claim tirelessly, even heroically. But though the stoical ideal includes action, it demands also complete detachment; and this is well, since detachment is the way to spiritual dignity and freedom. But the desire to be emancipated from desire is itself a desire. And the idealization of detachment is after all a disguised self-assertion; or at best a mistaking of the means for the end.

Again a thoughtless ritual of ‘good works’ is insufficient, both because in its uncritical haste it may do more harm than good in the world, and also because in disparaging the inner life of contemplation and admiration it disparages the highest known kind of individual fulfilment. But this ideal, no less than the others, has living roots. For, in the first place, mind’s capacity is not only for contemplation but for conduct. Even from the point of view of the individual, therefore, fulfilment entails not only the truest and richest cognition, but also the most just conation. And in the second place it is urgent that individuals should subordinate even their own highest personal development to the development of the social whole. And in respect of the issue between personal and social types of ideal, it is easy to see that though each may run to extravagance, each is soundly based. The former rightly insists that the goal must be no abstract sociality but the increasing enrichment of actual individual minds, individual mental processes. But the latter with justice claims that the goal for the individual mind should be to become a fully social mu1d, in fact that the extreme ideal for mind is that all minds should be emancipated from their private limitations, and be, each one of them, the mind of society, nay of the universe.

B. The Abstract Form of the Ideal

The most abstract formula which expresses the concrete ideal is (as we have seen) that the ideal is the greatest possible fulfilment of the tendencies of the universe. But by ‘tendencies’ must be understood, not simply those tendencies which at present occur, but also those which might emerge from a rearrangement of the members of the universe. For the fulfilment of tendencies emergent in wholes is in principle greater than the fulfilment of tendencies of their parts in disunion; therefore it is desirable that ever more complex emergent tendencies be brought into being, even though this should entail the thwarting of existing tendencies. On this account it is well to exchange the word ‘tendencies’ for the word ‘capacities’, and describe the ideal as the greatest possible fulfilment of the capacities of the universe. From this it follows further that the ideal includes the greatest possible fulfilment of tendencies emergent in the universe as a whole.

Such is the most abstract formula which expresses the concrete, objective, and universal ideal. It is not inconceivable that the ideal for the cosmos as a whole might entail the thwarting of every present extant tendency of the cosmos, and the refashioning of the whole for the attainment of some higher degree of emergence which (we may suppose) is impossible in the present course of events. But such a fantastic possibility does not concern us. Our knowledge of the nature of the universe is as yet so slight that we cannot form any clear concept as to what, in the cosmical view, the ideal entails. We must perforce restrict our attention almost entirely to our own planet, and seek to discover what it is that, if our planet were all, would be the ideal. Perhaps in one respect we are entitled to venture further than this. Until we have reason to suppose otherwise, we may guess that our planet, even though planets be rare among the stars, is in some sense typical of the whole; and therefore that the ideal suggested by it will not be utterly beside the mark in the cosmical view. But of this we must not be over-confident, so little is the grain that we inhabit, and so multitudinous are the stars. It is not impossible that, from other stellar systems, minds of a subtlety inconceivable to us are now condemning, and justly condemning, our best ‘ideals’ as products of a mentality scarcely worthy to be called mental. It is not impossible that, as a matter of fact, all that can ever come to be most valued within the widest possible limits of this planet’s culture is utterly beside the mark, and man’s championship of it a hindrance to the fulfilment of the objective and universal ideal. It is possible, moreover, that ecven in supposing ourselves to know the highest tendencies of our own planet we seriously mistake our planet’s nature.

These, however, are but abstract possibilities; and they concern us only in that the thought of them should prevent us from claiming that we are moral legislators for the universe, or that ‘God is on our side’. We can but note the gulfs around us, and then turn to envisage the ideal as best we may, in terms of our own pathetically anthropomorphic culture. But at least we need have no doubt that there is an objective and universal ideal, which, had we but sufficient data and sufficient insight, and were we emancipated from the compulsions peculiar to our human nature, we should joyfully salute as the perfection toward which the highest terrestrial aims were at least a crude approximation.

C. Comparative Evaluation

Within the limits of the known world, then, what capacities do we find, what claims that must be admitted in any judgment of the ideal?

There are, for instance, those multitudinous and obscure tendencies that are ever being fulfilled and hindered on the physical plane within the system of each atom, and in the inter-relation of atoms in all ‘dead matter’ and all living flesh from Polaris to the Cross. Must the ideal take into account even physical tendency?

We have already been forced to admit that if there is no essential difference between teleological and mechanical activity, if the activities of the ultimate physical units are after all ‘microscopically teleological’, or if all teleology is ultimately reducible to physics, then in the essential meaning of ‘good’ it is implied that the fulfilment of physical tendency is a case of goodness. This view certainly violates common sense, but only because physical activity is so remote from the human fulfilments that we have at heart. But after all, if there is no ultimate difference between teleological and physical activity, we are indeed of the same stuff as ‘dead matter’, and should regard the activities of the ultimate physical units with sympathy. And whatever the prejudices of common sense, it is clear that if there is no essential distinction between teleological and physical activity, physical activity is not, in theory, irrelevant to the ideal. Theoretically, then, when there is a conflict of physical ‘forces’, so that each inhibits the other’s expression, it is demanded in the ideal that the situation be so altered that each achieve free activity. If the physical were all, the ideal for the universe would be, not indeed merely the slow process of ‘running down’ which is said by some to be the upshot of all the conflicting turmoil of energies, but rather that the ‘balance wheel’ of the cosmic clock be disengaged, or all conflicts resolved, so that immediate and complete physical fulfilment should be attained.

But the physical is not all. There are higher levels of activity, and richer capacities which cannot be expressed save through interference with the physical. In physical activity the real expresses, so to speak, only its most superficial nature. Thus in so far as physical activity can be fulfilled without hindrance to higher emergent activities, its fulfilment is demanded in the ideal. But practically it need only be considered as instrumental to the fulfilment of higher activities.

There is another aspect of this subject to be taken into account. Of any given physical unit we must say, not that the ideal is merely that its physical activity should proceed without hindrance, but rather that it should be caught up into some higher organic system and assume the emergent nature of that system. And of all the ultimate physical units (whatever they be), we must say that the ideal (utterly unrealizable, no doubt), is that they should all, through cosmical organization, assume the nature of a cosmical organism, and continuously fulfil themselves not as atoms but as members of that organism, active upon the highest of all planes of emergence. Such a state of affairs may seem to us quite impossible and fantastic; but such evidently is the ideal. And short of this if is best for any given unit that it take part in the activity of as complex a system as possible upon as high an emergent level as may be. For we have agreed that the ideal is that the real be so organized as to give birth to tendencies and activities expressive of its deeper nature.

These emergent tendencies are, in the first place, the biological tendencies of even the simplest organisms. With some confidence, perhaps, we may claim that the fulfilment of these is good intrinsically; and that, for the sake of these, whatever merely physico-chemical conflict and resistance be necessary ought to be incurred. But just as the physico-chemical must be subordinated to the biological, so also the simpler biological centres of activity must be subordinated to the more complex, and in particular to the richest kind of living known to us, namely to the human. Thus not only by prejudice do we approve the sheep that eats the grass, yet lament the sheep’s destruction by the liver fluke. Not only by prejudice do we tolerate man’s eating mutton (if flesh is really a suitable diet for him). And if the amoeba should still claim, through Mr. Bertrand Russell, to be man’s equal, we may pertinently ask her, is she capable of as rich a fulfilment as man? And if she cannot establish this claim, we must indeed admit her right to the full development of her capacities; but only in so far as she can thrive without hindering her betters.

Biological tendencies certainly differ in rank in respect of delicacy and complexity of their response to the environment, and the versatility of the organisms in which they inhere. Compare, for instance, the parental behaviour of birds and of fishes. But a more important difference, one which amounts to a difference of kind, is that between the more and the less mental among biological tendencies. For, as we have seen, there is reason to think that in the higher grades of organization ever subtler psychical capacity emerges. And in man fulfilment is distinctively mental. He is such that he can fulfil his own nature only by intelligent cognition of the universe (including himself) and unbiassed conation of its ends. And, as we have seen, this mental capacity of human organisms is by far the most important tendency of the real known to us. It is, so far as we can judge, the release or realization of the real’s deepest nature, namely its capacity for mentality, or, if it be preferred, for spirituality.91 And through this subjectivity, the capacity of the world (as object) may be increasingly fulfilled. In fact through it both subject and object express their nature.

In thus comparing biological tendencies in respect of their objective importance we come again upon a grave problem. Granting that a man is better than an amoeba, how many amoeba’s fulfilments equal one man’s fulfilment? Or are we to suppose that the fulfilment of one honest man is immeasurably more important than the fulfilment of all the amoebae that ever were and will be? We incline to think so; but when this principle is applied within the limits of mankind, we hesitate. Few would hold that any man, be he never so richly endowed, is so precious that the rights of any, even the crudest, of his fellow men are to be utterly disregarded when they are opposed to him. Somehow we look with disfavour on the utopia in which a multitude of serfs exists only to maintain a cultured aristocracy. Yet we see nothing wrong in the servitude of our horses and cattle. We may recognize, indeed, that these have rights; but most of us would not hesitate to sacrifice them for any considerable human advancement.

Is there any rational principle behind these common moral judgments, or are they but habitual prejudices?92 Clearly they result from an apprehension, however vague, that, while the living of each living thing is an intrinsic good, and constitutes in the universal view a claim to a certain minimum of free activity even against certain needs of its superiors, that claim, even that minimum claim, is not to be sanctioned if it conflicts with the superiors’ most essential needs. The nearer the superiors and inferiors in intrinsic excellence, the greater the rights of the latter against the former. On this principle we should readily destroy a plague of locusts, and with scarcely more compunction we poison our rats. But our human enemies receive, or expect to receive, more consideration. Indeed as between man and man, though men surely differ greatly in their capacities, and, quite apart from their social instrumentality, some are intrinsically more excellent than others, yet so fallible are our judgments in this region that it is often in practice safer to insist on the minimum rights of the typical human individual than to seek out and favour those capable of higher development.

But clearly even on the human plane we do attempt to single out at least the more intelligent for more careful upbringing; and within limits we expect that dullards should toil so that these naturally favoured ones may seek higher self-expression. In this policy we commonly have in mind, not to favour one individual against another, but to achieve the best for all, or for ‘society’, or for ‘the race’. And in the last resort we must seek what is best for the cosmos. Intelligence is rare and precious, since without it we fall into chaos. But if the intelligent have a right to better conditions than the obtuse, this is certainly not because they have made a comer in a precious commodity; it is because their capacity is greater, and because without leisure and richness of experience they cannot serve the universal end to the full extent of their capacity.

But the superior rights of the intelligent, or (if it be preferred) of those of richer spiritual capacity, do not rest only in their superior instrumentality. The fulfilment of every human being is an intrinsic good; and the fulfilment of those capable of higher development is intrinsically better than the fulfilment of the obtuse and the insensitive. For each contributes to the ideal not only through his instrumentality but also by his intrinsic virtue. The ideal is just the fulfilment of the reals’ capacity; and every individual, stupid and intelligent alike, is a member of the real.

Every human being, then, has an intrinsic right to free development in so far as his development does no harm to others. But when a choice must be made between one individual and another, we have to compare them not only as to instrumentality, but also as to intrinsic excellence, and again not only as to intelligence and richness of content, but also as to the capacity to will and serve the best that they know, rather than be the slaves of their own automatism.

Such comparison is indeed difficult, and within the present limits of our knowledge often impossible. But in daily life we have often to attempt it; and in principle it is valid, even though the method of our valuation may be false. And though comparative evaluations may err, compare we must; and must act upon our decisions. Occasions may even arise, for instance in a shipwreck, in which it were objectively desirable to save one unique intrinsically and instrumentally valuable individual even at the cost of very many less precious lives. And further, though this conflicts with our traditional idealization of self-sacrifice, that individual himself ought, if necessary, to sacrifice his fellow passengers in order to ensure his own survival. It may, however, be doubted whether any human being is ever justified in acting thus, simply upon his own estimate of his own importance; for there is no field in which a man’s judgment is more fallible than in self-valuation.

In all comparative evaluation we are prone to take into account one true principle only, ignoring others equally important. Thus we may sometimes judge one individual intrinsically better than another simply because his mental capacity is more subtle and his mental content more complex. But subtlety and complexity are not themselves intrinsically good. Subtle mentality is good in so far as it cognizes and conates the subtle tendency of the real as it really is; and a complex mental content is good in so far as its complexity is the true expression of the intricacy of the real, and no mere complex of error. For example, the social mind is more complex than the unsocial. But sociality is not a means to mere complexity. The complex organization of society, and its ingression in the individual mind, is good just because the real is highly complex and demands a complex mentality for its apprehension.

D. The Social Aspect of the Ideal

Even when we are thinking of the intrinsic worth of individuals, and not of their usefulness to society, we take into account their social aspect. For, all else being equal, we judge that man the more excellent whose mind embraces within itself more of society, whose mental content is such that, (in idealist phrase) it approximates more to the best will or ‘real will’ of society. And this we do in the conviction that, apart from his instrumental value as a means to social fulfilment, the individual’s intrinsic worth is greater the more subtly his content corresponds with the actual intricacy of the real. And many would say that there is no richer content than the social content, since human society, in spite of its disorder, is after all the highest system of emergent tendencies known to us. Thus in the fulfilment of the social individual mind there is a greater fulfilment than in the fulfilment of one who lacks social content.

But it is permissible to regard every individual, even the very flower of his age, as instrumental to the fulfilment of something greater than any or all human individuals. What is this something? Many would reply that it is society. Nor do they thus pledge themselves to the view that society is itself an experient mind. They hold rather that society is that vast system of activities and values in which any individual mental process is a partial participent, but which is not united in anyone experience. This it is, this objective social content, that is said to be the end for which every experient is an instrument. The ideal, therefore, is the progressive co-ordination and enrichment of this social whole, which, they insist, is itself mental though it is objective. For it consists of the psychical activities and felt needs of men and women. Or rather, we are told, it consists not of particular psychical processes at all, but of the universal content of those processes. In the ideal there must be so many individuals, neither more nor less, as are needed for the perfection of the form of society. Each will have his function, his particular contribution to the all-embracing ‘concrete universal’ which is society. Thus some will contribute art, some science, some government, and some beauty of character in simple duties. Each in degree will fulfil ‘his station and his duties’. And the whole will be the music of a very diverse orchestra, whose end is neither the players nor merely the present sound, but the eternal form which this sound embodies.

What must we say of this account of the ideal? Clearly we must insist that the ideal is not primarily a universal but a particular, characterized by a universal. It is a universal realized in a particular case. But, further, that universal is good just because it is demanded as the fulfilment of a particular active substance, even though, in the case of the ideal, that substance be the organized universe. To the contention that the ideal is a ‘concrete universal’ we need but reply that whatever this may be, the ideal is simply that the capacities of the cosmos should be fulfilled, that the cosmical substance should assume a certain character. If this is what is meant, we can readily agree. But we must insist that the ideal is that the world’s capacity should be fulfilled, not that a certain abstract form should be attained.

Within the practical sphere it is society, the present system of human individuals in a certain environment, that prescribes the nature of the ideal. For the ideal fulfilment of any society, doubtless, a certain form is demanded, a certain number of individuals fulfilling certain definite functions. And so it may seem that the particular individuals exist for the sake of the universal form which they collectively embody. But to say this is to ignore that the goodness of the form of the ideal society is derived from the needs and capacities of its individuals, and primarily of extant individuals.

A certain important class of facts does suggest that the good is primarily a universal. We refuse to admit that mere duplication of mental achievements doubles their value. If per impossibile Brown and Jones were to produce two identical works of art or scientific discoveries or mechanical inventions, we might say that no more value had been produced than if only one of them had done so. This suggests that goodness is in the universal itself rather than the instance. But in such cases we are apt to value the result only from the point of view of society. It makes no difference to society that these achievements should be duplicated. Nevertheless it is the capacity of the particular society that creates the goodness of these achievements. The unimportance of the duplication arises only from the fact that society cannot be twice fulfilled in an identical respect. But we must remember also the individual artists or discoverers. In each of them the achievement is good, though socially its duplication is negligible; for in each of them it is a fulfilment of capacity. Even from the universal point of view it is good that the capacity of Brown and the capacity of Jones should be fulfilled. But in so far as the fulfilments are identical, the capacities were identical. Brown and Jones each embraced within his mental content an identical excerpt from the one real. The objective fulfilment is therefore not duplicated. But, on the other hand, two psychical capacities are fulfilled, in Brown and Jones; and in this respect at least there is double value in the double achievement.

Every individual, once he is in existence, is a ground of intrinsic ends. The needs of his private nature constitute a demand for fulfilment which must not be simply ignored even in the cosmic ideal; though of course it may well be that his needs must be partially or even wholly rejected for the sake of higher needs. Every individual, then, once he exists, is a ground of ends; but what individuals there ought to be, how many and of what characters, is prescribed by the needs of society in its particular environment, and ultimately by the needs of the universe.

The immediate practical ideal is clearly the greatest possible fulfilment of the needs (or capacities) of extant human beings. But since new human beings keep flooding the earth, we cannot take into account only the present generation. The immediate practical ideal must include the production of individuals capable of the richest fulfilment rather than of individuals crippled before birth. But again, since the richest fulfilment of individuals entails social organization, the number and character of the individuals to come must depend on the demands of the ideal form of the future society in its particular environment. And this in turn depends on the capacity of the future individuals that it may be possible to produce.

The ideal, then, is that this real world, or, as some would say, a future real world continuous with this, should be characterized by a certain universal. But this universal itself is prescribed by the nature of the world as it is in fact. It is demanded, namely, that the richest possible capacities should ‘awake’ in this world, and that the greatest possible fulfilment of those capacities should be attained. In fact, the ideal is that the real should be so organized that the highest possible tendencies should emerge and be fulfilled. The ideal is prescribed fully by the character and potentiality of the real as it now is, by the character and potentiality of a certain particular, though that particular be the universe. The ideal is that this particular universe, that happens to exist, should be fulfilled as richly as possible, not (per impossibile) that this universe should be wiped out and another of a more elegant kind substituted for it.

The practical ideal, the only ideal which we can envisage, is human; and being human it is social. But its sociality is derivative, not essential. Essentially the practical ideal is the fulfilment of human mental capacity, and its exercise upon the richest possible objective content; but this fulfilment quite certainly entails sociality. The practical ideal, in fact, is that the human race should achieve the highest possible mentality and the richest possible culture. And this mentality and culture must be particularized in just so many individuals, neither more nor less, as are necessary for its perfection. But so long as there is an excess of individuals (if there be), they also have their rights. The immediate ideal must not simply neglect them, even for the sake of the ultimate mental perfection of the race.

But the more remote ideal is that there should be just so many individuals as are needed to perfect human capacity and culture. Further, lest some individuals should lack fulfilment, it is demanded in the ideal that every one should be, not merely fulfilled up to the limit of his capacity, but of the very highest capacity. For a man who achieves less than full humanity is so far a cripple, an unfortunate, and a scourge to society. Thus it is demanded that each individual should know all that is known and will the good. If this encyclopaedic knowledge seems preposterous, let us say that each should know at least schematically all that is known, so that he may will the good. For if any were to know less than the schema of all knowledge, or will less than the ideal, the harmony of all would be destroyed, and the activity of the whole would be discrepant with itself, and the progressive discovery and achievement of yet higher ideals would be hindered. But if each is to know all and will the ideal, why, it may be asked, should there be more individuals than one all-knowing individual? The answer is twofold. In the first place, though each must share in the achievement of all, each must contribute to the whole his unique original quota. For the work to be done in the world demands many hands and many exploring brains. But though each cannot do all the work, it is demanded by the ideal that each should know and value all that is done, lest he should hinder the great common enterprise. It is important to note, however, that this psychical ‘pooling’ of the proceeds of industry is to be achieved not for the sake of repeating many times over psychic acts with identical content, but simply for the better advancement of the ideal of objective fulfilment. For the duplication of psychic acts (of cognition and conation and affection) in no way increases the fulfilment of the identical object of all.

There is another and more important reason for the sociality of the ideal. In groups of individuals certain high tendencies emerge which are not possible in the isolated individual. The man in the moon must lack the fulfilment of companionship, loyalty, and love. Society, in fact, is not only a means to fuller knowledge of the real, and more just conation of its ends; it is also itself an emergence of the real into richer being.

Our practical ideal, then, must be the achievement of the highest mentality with the widest and richest content. Each individual is good intrinsically in so far as he approaches this ideal, and instrumentally in so far as he is a means to its realization. This practical ideal should be the main guiding principle of all our politics. The extant needs of human individuals and societies must, of course, be considered, even though they are opposed to the remote ideal; for the ideal is the fulfilment of the real. And the extant human beings are no less members of the real than whatever beings are to come. It may often be very difficult to know how far the remote ideal should be postponed for the sake of immediate fulfilment, and vice versa. But however difficult it may be to solve such problems, they are not in principle insoluble. For what ought to be sought is not merely the greatest subjective delight but the greatest objective fulfilment of the one world. But, of course, the fulfilment that is to be sought is not simply the greatest fulfilment at some remote millennium, but the greatest fulfilment throughout all time.

This abstract form of the ideal may seem to have but the remotest bearing on our practical politics. For we may agree as to the abstract ideal, yet violently differ as to how it is to be realized in Europe to-day. Yet there is some reason to say that our general, though perhaps remote, aim must be a ‘personalistic socialism’, a socialism whose aim is the levelling up (but not down) of the capacities and activities of persons, rather than the establishment of a certain form of social organization. Of course it is possible that in transitional stages such as ours this ideal may be altogether impracticable and therefore a snare. It may be that, so long as there is low-grade work to be done, society must include low-grade minds to do it, since finer minds cannot devote themselves to such work without lack of fulfilment. It may be, therefore, that society should be hierarchical. But such an ideal can only be transitional. The low-grade human mind is yet human, having in its nature rudiments of the highest. Our beasts perhaps may achieve fulfilment in servitude, but the normal human mind is capable, in favourable circumstances, of something more than a life of drudgery. Therefore, by hook or by crook, we must contrive that lives of drudgery be no longer necessary to society. And since even the mentally deficient are not simply animal, but ‘spoiled’ bits of humanity, incapable of a merely animal harmony, we cannot be content simply to allocate them to low-grade work. There must be an end to the production of individuals who are defective physically or mentally, and an exploration of the means of producing higher individuals, that is to say, individuals capable of a wider span and deeper penetration of cognition, and of more generous conation. Further, since the aim is that every mind should be ingredient in every other, we must seek to break down the barriers between societies and between individuals, that all culture, all aspirations, all values, may justly determine the behaviour of all. Lastly, the practical ideal clearly implies that there should be a ceaseless exploration of the universe, not only for the discovery of means for the fulfilment of known needs, but for the discovery of new needs, and even perhaps for the creation of needs upon new and higher planes of emergence. For the ideal is the fulfilment, not merely of human mentality, but of the capacities of the universe.

E. The Cosmical Ideal

Such a description of the ideal must indeed seem far removed from practical politics; yet even this is obviously not a description of the objective ideal, but only of the aim which is implied in our own limited experience. Let us not forget our littleness. Of the true ideal which is implied in the nature of the universe itself, and not merely in our fragmentary view of it, we can scarcely form the vaguest conception. But this we know. We experience the distinction between good and evil; and this distinction is given not merely in the nature of our subjectivity but in the nature of the whole objective real which we experience, though so erroneously. Further, we seem able by our activity to increase the good and decrease the evil; and we find ourselves under obligation to do so. We are bound, then, to go on, as best we may, exploring the universe to learn what it is that is most desirable, and to find means for its realization. And at every stage of our inquiry we must live up to our lights, such as they are; although it may be that they are but Jack-o’-lanterns leading us utterly astray. And the best light that we have is the ideal of the fulfilment of mind’s capacities. For not only is this objectively the best that we know; it is also quite certainly the necessary means for the discovery and fulfilment of anything better that may at present be inconceivable to us.

On the other hand, if there be no organicity of the universe, nor any possibility of achieving this cosmic ideal, then it is from the needs of humanity alone that the ideal arises. For goodness is essentially the fulfilment of tendency and capacity, and so long as there is any tendency, of whatever rank, there is a possibility of good. As to the good, the ideal, it is the greatest possible harmonious fulfilment of whatever capacities are inherent in the substance of the universe. If the highest possible activities are human social activities, or if the highest that can be brought about is some development of these, then these must be the chief ground of the ideal. But to assert that human capacities are in fact the highest, would be very rash.

The human ideal is clear at least in its barest outlines. Though in practice it gives rise to a thousand conflicting policies and bitter hatreds, the aim of all who adopt the standpoint of humanity is to fulfil and progressively enrich human capacity. This, as we have seen, means in the last resort to increase and refine the content of man’s mind and to conform his will to the need cognized in that content. But this is not the last word to be said. If we may take man as a true sample of the nature of the real, we may find in the human ideal hints of the cosmical. Man’s subjectivity, we say, fulfils itself in cognizing as widely and deeply as possible the nature of the objective real, and in willing as justly as possible its fulfilment. But man’s subjectivity itself, we have supposed, is emergent in the same kind of real (suitably organized) as that which it embraces as its object. In man, then, the real fulfils itself by knowing and being known, by exfoliating into ever subtler kinds of activity, and by willing the ends of that activity. That, which in mere physical and chemical action expresses its nature superficially, achieves in the human organism a new sphere of activity. It becomes a centre from which the universe begins to know itself and to will universal fulfilment.

The cosmical ideal, then, would seem to be as follows. In the first place the Whole, as a whole, shall know all. There shall be no fragment that does not partake (through organization and emergence) in the subjectivity of the Whole. And there shall be no fragment excluded from the universal objectivity. But in the second place, within time, the Whole shall be not static but dynamic. It shall achieve ever new forms and new capacities. And these in turn must be cognized within the mental content of the growing Whole, and their fulfilment justly willed. Thus within time the ideal would seem to be that the world should for ever exfoliate in richness of being, and that mind should keep pace with this endless development by knowing all, and by willing and serving its progressive fulfilment.

But if the temporal view be not the finally true view, the ideal is other than this endless exfoliation of being, and of cognition and conation. There is some reason to believe that, though indeed our temporal experience is not positively false, it fails to reveal some essential character without which time must inevitably appear in a discrepant and illusory form. This is not the occasion to discuss the implications of temporal experience; but we cannot close our inquiry into the ideal without noting how the problem of time bears upon the status of the ideal. If reality is in some sense supra-temporal, then a certain degree of excellence is eternally actual in the universe. Thus if it is a fact that the ideal will be achieved in the process of time, then the ideal is an actual feature of supra-temporal reality; if, however, it will never be more than only partially achieved (for instance, in that very low degree in which it is achieved to-day), then the supra-temporal reality eternally excludes anything better. In either case our striving seems vain.

Metaphysical bogs surround all who speculate about time. But without going more than ankle deep, we may surmise that, after all, the temporal and the supra-temporal mutually support one another as aspect and whole. If so, then whatever degree of excellence the supra-temporal reality may eternally have, that excellence may well be the achievement of that factor in reality which we know as temporal striving. But again, just as time itself may be both real and yet illusorily presented, so the ethical distinction itself may be both a true aspect of reality and yet an aspect which must deceive, so long as some other and essential character remains unrevealed. This possibility will be considered in the course of the very speculative inquiry upon which I shall now venture.

90 I borrow the word from Prof. A. N. Whitehead, though he uses it in a different connexion

91 But of spirituality I shall speak in the last two chapters.

92 It will be remembered that at all earlier stage I attempted to generalize the results of an induction from such preferences by saying that in judging one thing better than another we judge it to constitute a greater fulfilment of the capacity of active substance. In the above examples the preference would surely be reversed were we to discover that after all the greater fulfilment were attained by that which at first was condemned.

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