A Modern Theory of Ethics, by Olaf Stapledon

Chapter 4

Pleasure as Constitutive of Good14

A. Feeling Reinstated in Ethics

CRITICISM of orthodox ethics has taken two opposite courses. Some have argued that, though good is indeed not simply identical with pleasure, it cannot be defined without any reference to the felt satisfaction of desires. Others have declared that good is entirely independent of any subjective activity, and is on the contrary a simple character of objects themselves. In this chapter we will consider the attempt to reinstate pleasure as an essential factor in good.

The ethical theory that Professor Hobhouse gave us in his book The Rational Good is essentially a development of idealist ethics. But from that orthodox system it differs in this insistence that ‘good’ is meaningless if it has no relation whatever to pleasure. ‘In judging an experience good,’ says Professor Hobhouse, ‘so far as the judgment is truly our own, and not a recognition of the judgment effectively passed by some one else, we express towards it a mode of fee1ing which may generically be called favourable; that is to say, it has the generic character of pleasure.'15 And again, ‘if an end is genuinely conceived as good it means that we have at least some feeling for it.'16 And it is this feeling, he holds, that disposes us to action.

We must not, of course, abstract the feeling from the whole ‘object-felt’, and suppose that what is good is pleasure alone; for thus we should fall into the snares of hedonism. But, on the other hand, we must not ignore feeling, and suppose that objects can be good in themselves; for such a statement is (we are told) meaningless. We do, indeed, in ordinary thought project our feeling into the object, and speak as though goodness were strictly a quality of the object. But such language is inaccurate. Goodness is a quality neither of objects alone nor of feelings alone, but of wholes which consist of object and feeling. Or more accurately, by the term’ good’ the individual ‘signifies something which, in the connexion in which it is applicable, moves feeling, and through feeling disposes to action '.17

Thus the judgment that something is good is not only a judgment. It is also ‘an acceptance which may be expressed in the most general terms by saying that something fits in or harmonizes with a mental disposition'.18 When the child’s exploring fingers encounter the candle flame, the effort of exploration is broken in upon by an unexpected experience. 'There is disharmony between the effort and its end',19 and in the moment of disharmony, and essential thereto, pain. ‘Pain characterizes the feeling involved in disharmony, and the mental attitude concerned in the process of checking and cancelling effort.'20 On the other hand, if the explored object turns out to be a sugar plum, there is harmony of effort and result, and the feeling is pleasant and culminates in satisfaction. ‘By harmony is meant, in the last analysis, a form of mutual support. Generally speaking, it is that relation of parts in a whole in virtue of which they maintain and (if they admit of development) further one another.’

Such is the foundation of Professor Hobhouse’s theory of goodness. I suggest that it implies a false view of conation; and that, consequently, his ethical system, though it contains much of real importance to ethics, is subtly vitiated throughout. For, in spite of his protestations, his theory fails to disentangle itself from hedonism. He assures us that feeling alone does not constitute goodness; what is good is an object, felt as pleasant. Yet by ‘good’ the individual ii said to mean something which 'moves feeling '.21 Objects, then, are good in that they afford feelings. Of course feelings cannot as a rule be obtained without objects; and so objects are necessary to goodness. But it is implied that objects are only good in so far as they give feelings. It seems to follow after all that if feelings of pleasure were possible without objects they themselves alone would be good.

It may be said that this is a false interpretation of the theory. Neither objects alone nor feelings alone, we may be told, are good; for ‘good’ is a predicate which applies only to ‘organic wholes’ composed of object and feeling. The same view might be expressed by saying that, though feeling is hot itself good, ‘good’ is a character which ‘emerges’ only on the plane of consciousness. But this view is not justified. When we say that anything is good we mean what we say, namely, that it is good, not that what is good is the whole made up of it and our pleasure in it. We mean that it has a certain character, which we call ‘good’, not that it has the property of affording us, or some one, a certain feeling. The feeling which we have in regard to it is consequent on its having a certain character. It is a mistake to suppose that the only kind of thing which can afford us that feeling must itself have feeling as a constituent in it.22 The only reason for making such a contention lies in a faulty introspection of ‘pleasure’ and a false theory of conation.

Professor Hobhouse is led to his theory of ethics by his belief that it is essentially through feeling that we are disposed to action. Now so far as I can see this is only superficially true. It is never feeling, in its own right, that disposes us to action. On the contrary, pleasure and unpleasure are in principle merely consequent on the success and failure of behaviour-tendencies. We are pleased when our activity is favoured, displeased when it is thwarted. The ground of conation is not feeling, but something that is prior to feeling. We are all indebted to Professor McDougall for his insistence on this ‘hormic’ principle, even though we may have to criticize very radically his over-emphasis of instinct.

Of course it is true that in many cases we do shun ‘pain’ and seek ‘pleasure’. But the pleasurableness of pleasant things is constituted by the success of our impulse to pursue them, and the offensiveness of unpleasant things is constituted by the failure of our impulse to avoid them. The states which we seek and shun are pleasurable and painful in that they are occasions of success and failure. Sensory pleasure and pain, indeed, seem often to be sought and shunned for their own intrinsic characters, independently of any expectation of benefit or damage to the organism. But this fact can be interpreted in a strictly ‘hormic’ psychology. Sensory pleasure and pain are to be thought of as ‘how we feel when we are tending to pursue or shun certain stimuli’. In this view we do not seek sensory pleasure-stimuli and shun sensory pain-stimuli because they have intrinsic characters of pleasantness and painfulness; on the contrary we find them pleasant and painful because we tend to seek and shun them.23

On higher levels of experience it is more obvious that pleasure and displeasure are but symptoms of success and failure. So far from being the ground of conation, they presuppose conation. Failure is grievous because we have striven for success.

Perhaps the real source of the whole ethical dispute lies in the ambiguity of the words ‘good’ and ‘bad’. We seem to mean by the word ‘good’ two essentially different things. In the one sense pure hedonism is justified and in the other even Professor Hobhouse’s theory, which is at heart hedonistic, must be rejected. When the question is asked, ‘Can there conceivably be anything good in a world wholly unrelated with conscious beings?’ common sense replies at once that there cannot. This answer constitutes the solid base of pure hedonism; and hedonists cannot believe that any sane person can answer otherwise. But all depends on what is to be meant by ‘good ‘. The questioner himself invariably means by good precisely pleasure. And the form of his question almost inevitably leads the answerer to reply in the same vein. And certainly if ‘good’ means pleasure, there can be no good apart from conscious beings. But ‘good’ also means ‘that which can, or could, be valued’; and though many things that are most valued include consciousness as a constituent of them, that which could be valued may in principle exist apart from conscious beings. 24

The denial of this contention, though common, seems to be based on faulty introspection of ‘pleasure’. When I examine my own experience as carefully as possible I seem to discover that pleasure is essentially consequent on an act of valuation. Or, more precisely, it is the affective aspect of an act in which the cognitive and conative aspects are logically prior to the affective. Pleasure presupposes value; value does not presuppose pleasure. Pleasure is consequent on conation. And conation (by which I mean a conscious activity), is consequent on a cognitive act of valuation which cognizes the relation of the object to some behaviour-tendency. And the behaviour-tendency is itself essentially objective to any act of ‘espousing’ it, or desiring its fulfilment. This schematic account of conation is doubtless very debatable. It raises more problems than it solves. At a later stage I shall attempt to formulate and solve those problems, and to construct a satisfactory theory of conation to serve as a basis for the psychology of moral obligation. Meanwhile these few remarks are perhaps enough to indicate the kind of criticism which I would make of Professor Hobhouse’s ethical theory.

If the hedonist maintains that only entities that contain consciousness as a constituent can be valued, he is in error; just as the epistemologist were in error who should say that only entities in which consciousness were constituent could be known. But if he maintains that apart from consciousness there can be no valuation, he is justified. And further, while he is justified in maintaining that apart from pleasure and pain there can be no valuation, his justification lies simply in the fact that pleasure and pain are aspects of the acts of valuation.

We seem, then, to have found two entirely different senses of the word ‘good’. Which shall we adopt? Doubtless in practice we shall all continue to use both, according to the demands of the subject of discourse. But for strict ethical inquiry one sense is the more significant, namely, that in which ‘good’ refers, not to acts of valuation, but to the objects of those acts. Common sense uses the word’ good’ in both manners, and does not see that these are inconsistent. On the whole probably ‘good’ as involving consciousness is more familiar to common sense than’ good’ as the object of valuation. Nevertheless I suggest that whatever we do in fact generally mean by ‘good’ in ordinary speech, we confuse our thought by using it to mean states of enjoyment, or even pleasurable impulse-satisfaction. Let us either abolish the word entirely from serious discourse, as hopelessly ambiguous; or let us mean by ‘good’ strictly that which is valued. And let us recognize that’ that which is valued’ is not essentially states of enjoyment or conscious satisfaction of our active nature, but the actual fulfilment itself of these activities and tendencies which are essentially prior to desire, and prior even to pleasure, and to consciousness of every kind.

B. Rationality of the Ideal

But let us for the present waive this basic objection to Professor Hobhouse’s theory of the nature of goodness, and study his account of the good, and of moral obligation. In calling anything good, he says, we ‘express towards it a mode of feeling' which has' the generic character of pleasure '.25 Now a man's pleasures are often incompatible; or rather the objects which afford pleasure are often incompatible. In such a conflict three courses are possible. First, now one and now the other object may be sought, according to the alternating strength of uncriticized impulses. Or, secondly, one impulse may permanently conquer the other, not indeed succeeding in annihilating it, but preventing it from gaining satisfaction. Or, finally, some activity or some object may be discovered which will satisfy harmoniously both impulses. Thus neither, perhaps, will attain the crude and direct satisfaction that it demands; but the sum of satisfaction will be the greatest possible in the circumstances. Such ‘integration’ of conflicting impulses in harmonious satisfaction is the way of prudence, and the ‘rational’ solution of conflict. And in every conflict of impulses it is true that, whatever course is judged to be best, there is one course which would as a matter of fact afford the greatest possible felt satisfaction in the long run. This, within the economy of the individual’s interests, is the prudent course.26 It is prudent because it is rational. If you seek impulse-satisfaction it is rational to take that course which will afford as much impulse-satisfaction as possible.

Let us, then, first consider the nature of rationality in general before we see its application in ethics.. We may agree with Professor Hobhouse’s account of the matter, namely, that to be rational a judgment must fulfil three conditions. 27 In the first place it must be internally coherent, or self-consistent. Secondly, we must be able to connect it with something that goes beyond it, in fact, with other regions of our experience. It must, that is, be not arbitrary but ‘grounded’. Thirdly, it must not be based merely on emotion or desire or any attitude of ours. It must deal with the objective order.

The search for grounds suggests that all judgments must be ultimately based on certain distinct, isolated, and ungrounded judgments, such as immediate sense-experience. But even these are not entirely ungrounded; for we may appeal from one sensory judgment to another, and from one man’s experience to another’s. We may criticize sense-experience in the light of other sense-experience. But ‘we must not deny all value to direct sensory judgment; if we are going to trust the system formed by such judgments, we must allow each such judgment provisional value, such that when confirmed by interconnexion with other judgments of similar provisional value it becomes for us a confirmed or established judgment'.28

Besides ungrounded judgments of sense there are also ungrounded judgments of a general character, intuitions which we call self-evident. But even these intuitive self-evident judgments are not exempt from criticism. Each of them, so long as it is unconnected with others, has only provisional value. Thus to the uninitiated it may be self-evident that the shortest route from Kerguelen to a point due east is the due easterly route. But in fact the shortest route is along a great circle which, starting toward the south, gradually inclines north. Those judgments, then, are considered true which combine together in mutual support or consilience in a vast system. Only in partial systems is there need for any ground outside the system. In the final ideal whole of knowledge the ground lies entirely within the whole, ‘in the very connectedness of parts each claiming immediate acceptance '.29

This account of rationality in general is very useful, and can easily be applied in the sphere of experienced impulses for the description of the prudential ideal. Thus far, however, we have considered only the individual’s interests without reference to the interests of other individuals. Rationality, which is seen to be the principle of harmony in this sphere, applies also, we are told, as between the satisfaction of different individuals. Rationality is essential to the nature of the good, and turns out to be the ground of moral obligation. ‘The rational good must be a consistent scheme of purposes interconnected by universal relations in which subjective disturbance is eliminated.'30 To be rational, purposes must not conflict. If they do, harmony must somehow be found. Further, that which is good must have a universal ground. If it is good in given conditions, it must be good in such conditions always, wherever and in whomsoever found. 31 But further, self-evident principles which are the grounds of value- judgments, will themselves require grounds; and their grounds will consist in ‘the fact that they sum up and generalize more specific and concrete ends so far as these are mutually consistent’. Thus interconnexion is itself the rational principle. The rational good must form ‘a connected whole in which no part is isolated but in the end every element involves every other '.32

In order to be universally grounded it must be objective. It must not depend on any individual’s peculiarity. Thus a double harmony is involved. For, in the first place, there must be an internal harmony of feeling with feeling within the mind itself; and, secondly, there must be a harmony of the mind with the world. The rational principle cannot rest with a narrow harmony; it must embrace the universe.

In order that the ideal may be achieved, many impulses will need to be modified. 33 Satisfaction will have to be given them in objects and acts which do not conflict with the satisfaction of other impulses, or at least with the organized satisfaction which is the rational goal. For there is ‘a distinction between something radical in our impulses and something relatively superficial ',34 and alterable. Thus in the developed personality sex impulses may perhaps be fulfilled in behaviour very different from that which alone satisfies the crude animal instinct. In the rational good, then, it is essential that all our deep-rooted impulses should be satisfied; for only so can we have permanently the feeling of satisfaction. But the precise manner of the satisfaction of these deepest impulses will depend on their inter-relation in a harmonious system.

The ideal, therefore, is said to be the continuous development of personality in society, or the harmonious fulfilment of vital capacity as a whole. 35 The good is not simply harmony, any sort of harmony; it is essentially 'harmony with some disposition of mind', a .harmony of mind with itself and with its object '.36 In short, the good is described as happiness in the fulfilment of vital capacity in a world adapted to Mind.37

Now the foregoing account of rationality is indeed helpful to the student of ethics; but in his application of it in his own ethical system Professor Hobhouse is not convincing. There is a serious difficulty at the outset in this account of the rational good as the completest possible system of felt satisfactions in all minds. For on this theory, in order to know what is good, we must have some means of measuring one satisfaction against another, so that, if they are incompatible, we may know which to sacrifice. And, indeed, apart from our knowing, satisfactions must be in fact commensurable, if there is to be any such rational good at all. But it is hard to see how feelings of satisfaction can, as mere feelings, be compared even in theory.

Within the experience of one individual his satisfactions are in practice evaluated, not according to intensity of feeling, but in relation to the ideal of personal fulfilment. We approve, not simply the most intense pleasures, but those satisfactions which are felt in activities ‘enlarging to the personality’. It is difficult to give a precise meaning to this phrase; but it certainly includes not only intensity of feeling but a reference to something objective. Personalities are ‘great’, or not, quite apart from the individual’s own feeling on the subject. Further, we often distinguish between feelings which are grounded in reality and those which are based on mere phantasy. We incline to condemn a life of mere phantasy, however rich and delightful.

But the most serious difficulty occurs when we try to compare the felt-satisfactions of different individuals. By what right can we say that Jones’s joy in a good meal is more than, or equal to, Smith’s? In practice, even if we attempt such a comparison, we base no final value-judgment on it. Rather we evaluate, not felt-satisfactions, but the activities which afford them. And we judge those activities best which favour, not any vague ideal of felt harmonious satisfaction in all minds, but some tendency which we judge to be the supreme demand of our environment, whether the objective fulfilment of society’s capacities, or the fulfilment of the nature of the universe, or (as some would say) the fulfilment of ‘God’s will’. In every such ideal we imply a reference to reality. Even a society would be condemned in which the goal of all activity were the undisturbed delight in mere phantasies.

C. Moral Obligation

But let us for the moment waive these objections to the account of the rational good in terms of feeling. Admitting its validity, in what sense can the ideal be said to have a claim on us? Why ought we to strive to realize it? What of the consistent and unashamed egoist? I may feel that an essential element in the goodness of anything is that it is mine, a fulfilment of my impulses. I may set as my ideal, as my good, an internally consistent system of my judgments, my actions, my feelings.38 Here, however, we are told, the principle of rationality intervenes. I must admit that you may set up a similar egoism of your own. Our systems will conflict. Both cannot be universal. But the good, to be rational, must be universal. If I am to prefer my own good to yours, what is the universal ground of my preference? There is none; and so egoism fails to be rational.

But what if I do not accept the principle of rationality? What if I have no desire to make my life externally and internally harmonious? I may be content to seek my private ends and damn the public consequences. If I choose thus, what claim has the rationality of the ideal on me? Am I in any sense under a moral obligation to be rational in my choice of ends?

The rationality of the ideal is itself, we are told, the ground of moral obligation. In the case of prudence we saw that a certain course is in fact prudent whether I think it so or not, and whether I adopt it or not. In adopting the prudent course I am constrained by objective circumstances. Similarly, in the moral sphere a certain course makes for the rational good whether I think so or not, and whether I incline to take it or not. Its goodness is intrinsic. Its claim holds ‘of’ me, whether it holds ‘for’ me or not. The rule of morality is as objective as the rule of prudence. Yet, ‘How’, it may be asked, 'can anything practical hold "of" me if no impulse, no desire, no volition of mine urges me to it?'39 It has been argued that all voluntary actions arise from feeling; in what sense then can a man be expected to act in a certain manner if he has not the feeling which alone can induce him to act? What meaning can there be in saying that he ‘ought’ to do so and so although feeling does not dispose him to do so?

To such questions Professor Hobhouse answers only that the rational good is a fact whether I admit it or not. Just as a danger concerns a man whether he knows it or not, so moral obligation concerns him whether he feels it or not. Even when it does not hold for him, it holds of him. In missing it ‘he misses what is really good, the goodness that stands the test of rational examination'.40 If this seems to reduce the matter after all to egoism and prudence, we must remember that ‘the principle which I accept as binding must be one that appeals to me as a decisive ground for action, that is, one that overcomes other grounds for other actions, it being just this supremacy which the term "binding" expresses'.41

In this account of the good and of obligation there is, as in the idealist account, a subtle attempt both to have the cake and eat it. Goodness, we are told, is founded in feeling; yet the ideal, the rational good, is said to be the good whether anyone likes it or not. Of course, those who accept the theory answer that, though the rational good is the good whether anyone likes it or not, yet it is constituted by the sum of pleasant feelings which it would afford in all persons. Pleasure is essential to it, though no single person’s pleasure in it is essential to it. My pleasure is not the ground of the good, but pleasure is.

Now, waiving the difficulty of measuring feelings, let us grant that there is a certain possible course which would, as a matter of fact, give the greatest possible harmonious felt-satisfaction to all minds, and that this ideal does not depend on anyone’s opinion about it. The question is, in what sense, if any, does the existence of this possibility constitute a moral claim over us? Why, and in what sense, ought we to strive to realize it whether it pleases us to do so or not? Professor Hobhouse says that morality concerns a man whether he feels its claim or not, just as danger concerns him whether he is aware of it or not. But, according to Professor Hobhouse’s theory, danger only concerns a man because it threatens him with pain or other unpleasant feelings. True, it threatens him whether he judges the situation dangerous or not; but, on the theory, its dangerousness depends on the fact that what it promises is feelings of pain. Were he anaesthetic or a masochist there would be no question of danger. Thus, if the end of behaviour is feeling, there is after all no objectivity in the prudential ideal. A man may say (and how is he to be confuted?) ‘even though it cripple me for life, I prefer this moment’s thrill to an age of humdrum health’. You may tell him he will be sorry later; but perhaps he won’t. Perhaps he will successfully console himself with a dream-life based on the past ecstasy. If his goal is pleasant feeling, in what is he imprudent? In what sense is he missing the good?

In the case of morality, it is insisted, the good concerns a man even if he happens to be morally anaesthetic. But surely if it is feeling that disposes us to action, and if morality is really in the same case with danger, there is an inconsistency in holding that a social ideal has any kind of claim on a man who is insensitive to his fellows. It is beside the mark, though true, that he is missing the only kind of goodness ‘that stands the test of rational examination’. For, ex hypothesi, he gets more pleasure out of egoism than out of altruism, in spite of irrationality.

Professor Hobhouse sees clearly that the 'reward' of moral conduct is not self-fulfilment.42 He criticizes the idealists on this point. But he makes the mistake of supposing that there must be some sort of ‘reward’. And of course this mistake follows from his theory that only feeling can move us to action. The ‘reward’, he says, ‘consists in this, that the moral order is a connected system which is the basis of an inward as well as an external harmony'.43 True, but if I do not desire this reward, why (in Professor Hobhouse's theory) ought I to seek it?

Clearly Professor Hobhouse’s attempt to save obligation has split his theory into inconsistent theses. For while it is said that primarily things are called good, and sought, because of the feeling that they can afford, it is also said that the ideal is good and ought to be advanced whether anyone feels pleasure in it or not. Now clearly the individual judges the ideal to be good before he is pleased with it. He judges it good for some other reason than that it pleases him. To say that it would please others is not to the point. In this supreme case the individual’s value judgment is admittedly prior to, not subsequent to, the individual’s feeling. He takes pleasure in the ideal (if he does take pleasure in it) because he judges it to be intrinsically good. He serves it because he judges that it has a claim on him. His pleasure is nothing but an attitude of acceptance, or recognition, or applause, toward something which, he supposes, is demanded not by himself but by his world.

And if this is so in the judgment of the ideal, it is surely possible that pleasure is always and essentially, not constitutive of value, but an attitude appropriate to value. It is possible that the feelings of impulse-satisfaction, out of which it is proposed to build the rational good, should be regarded as signs or symptoms of goodness rather than as little units of goodness itself, to be pieced together. And this is important. For if the goodness of the good is but a conglomerate of the goodness of its elements, it matters not what form the edifice be given, so long as we use as many bricks as possible, and avoid unnecessary strains within the structure. But if feelings are, after all, only attitudes of the builders, we must beware lest, like acrobats, we build a pyramid of human antics, which must collapse with every change of mood.

It would seem, then, that we must either reject the view that goodness is grounded in feeling, or exonerate the individual from moral obligation, and explain the curious illusion of duty in terms of some such mechanism as is offered by the psycho-analysts.

But if feeling is consequent on, not prior to, conation, and if conation itself is the outcome of objective tendencies embraced within the mental content; if, in fact, what is intrinsically good is not felt-satisfactions, but objective fulfilments; if conation is essentially, and in its very nature, a kind of disinterested loyalty to the nature of objects; then universal fulfilment has a very real claim on all conative beings, whether they are aware of that claim or not. For on this view objective fulfilment is intrinsically desirable. Not merely in the moral sphere, but equally in the prudential sphere, the tendency of active substances objective to the subject is intuited as having a claim on subjective activity.

It follows in the first place that, within a given mental content, there is an objective ideal, the greatest possible objective fulfilment. This is intrinsically the most desirable goal within the universe of discourse of the particular mental content. If owing to weakness of intelligence or the impetus of the organism’s innate or acquired ‘behaviour set’, this ideal is not desired, it is none the less intrinsically desirable. And any conation which favours a minor as against a major objective fulfilment, is untrue not merely to the nature of conation itself, but to the nature of the objective claim which, even in conating only the minor fulfilment, it has intuited and accepted. And in the second place, beyond the limits of each private mental content are tendencies as essentially ‘conatable’ as those within. Therefore there is an objective ideal of ‘world-fulfilment’ which is intrinsically the most desirable of all desirables. It is the intrinsic desirability of this ideal which, in its own right, imposes a moral claim on all conative beings.

But it must be admitted that the theory here outlined needs very careful criticism before it can be accepted.

D. Illustrations

To emphasize the insufficiency of feeling as the ground of goodness, and even as the essential constituent of goodness, let us imagine the absurd case of a world of sentient beings who have no impulses save the impulse to get gloriously drunk. Let us imagine further that in this absurd world it is possible for every one to indulge this impulse to the full extent without ever causing himself or anyone else any distress. Let us suppose that an intoxicating and sufficiently nourishing manna drops from the sky in such quantities that every one can spend all his time in devouring it. Let us suppose also that the universal tipsy bliss is never marred by a headache. And finally, let us suppose that each ecstatic toper has the comfortable knowledge that every one else is as happy as he, and therefore that there is nothing irrational in his behaviour. Here, it would seem, we have a perfect case of the felt harmonious fulfilment of impulse, and therefore a world wherein the rational good is realized. Are we then mistaken if we judge such a world to be less good than our own world, where there is less harmony of satisfaction? Is the truth just that such a world would not satisfy us, would not give beings like us harmonious fulfilment of our impulses? Or are we right in saying that such a world: would be absolutely less good than ours?

It may be objected that this imaginary world fails merely through its paucity or monotony, through the fact that its inhabitants have only one kind of impulse to satisfy. It may be insisted that satisfaction must be not only harmonious, but also rich and diverse. The rational good, it may be said, entails felt-satisfaction of as many kinds as is possible to the nature of mind. Let us, then, imagine a world in which the inhabitants have very many diverse impulses to play games, and no other impulses whatever. Let us suppose that they spend their time in ceaseless and eager pursuit of all kinds of sports, and further, that their sports are so many and so intricate and so diverse, and so physically difficult, that each person’s time is fully occupied in learning and performing, and that each intelligence is fully taxed. Finally, as before, let us suppose that each has the feeling of perfectly harmonious satisfaction. Must we grant that the rational good is realized in such conditions? Or dare we insist that the kind of object in which satisfaction is felt is not good enough, and that sentient beings ought not to be contented with this kind of behaviour, even if it fulfils all their capacities? Can it be that these beings, though they are highly complex and are taxing their minds to the utmost with intricate knowledge and behaviour, have yet utterly missed the good?

Many persons certainly would insist that this is so. They would say that not all kinds of felt harmonious satisfaction are equally good, and that not even all kinds of equally extensive and equally various felt harmonious satisfaction are equally good. For all depends (they would insist) on the character of the objects which afford satisfaction. In the above absurd cases the good is unrealized because, though in each case there is the fullest possible satisfaction of existing impulses, these impulses themselves are insufficient, in that they are satisfied with objects of an insufficient kind.

To this it might be answered as follows. True, in these absurd cases the good is not realized. But why? Simply because the nature of mind is such that these satisfactions are not really all that it is capable of enjoying. These topers and sport maniacs would miss very much, though unwittingly. They would, for instance, be missing love, art, science, and philosophy. They would have attained harmony of satisfaction but no breadth of satisfaction. The rational good is the fulfilment of all mind’s capacities, not merely the fulfilment of existing impulses. In these absurd worlds the only possible good is realized which can be realized for such mentally deranged beings; but the good can be realized only by beings with richer capacities.

But this answer is not altogether fair. For surely we may suppose that in our absurd world of games the beings have just as complex and diverse capacities as our own, though theirs are capacities for different kinds of activities from ours. As compared, say, with an ideal world of artists, scientists, philosophers, and socially-minded workers of all sorts, they do indeed lack many capacities; but on the other hand they have other capacities for which there is no room in the ideal ‘high-brow’ world. Indeed, we may suppose that the kinds of mental activities which they perform and enjoy are the same kinds of activities (and of the same complexity) as those of artists, scientists, philosophers, and socially-minded workers; but that the objects in relation to which they act are different. Consequently if the one is better than the other, the difference does not lie in quantity of impulse-satisfaction, nor in kind of impulse-satisfaction, but rather in the kind of objects in which satisfaction is felt.

It may, of course, be that in judging some activities better than others, or in assigning to some a greater sphere in the good, and to some a less, we are merely satisfying our own prejudices. But it does seem that there is reason for supposing that some activities are better than others, or ought to be practised more than others, simply in respect of their objects, and quite apart from the amount of satisfaction which they may be expected to give. It seems that in condemning the absurd worlds we are moved by a vague sense that the satisfaction which they attain is in some sense illusory or objectively unjustified. For in them delight is found not in reality but in phantasy. Even though all the capacities of mind are exercised delightfully, they are exercised on vanities. Impulses are derived from, and directed on, and delight is taken in, minor aspects of the real, and minor aspects considered in abstraction from the concrete whole which is reality itself.

The matter may be put thus. In our absurd cases the fault is, not that many capacities of mind are undeveloped and unsatisfied, but that so much of the universe itself is left out of account. The mental process of these beings is complete and satisfying; but their content is a mere fringe of the real. Beyond the objective tendencies and capacities which they ‘espouse’ in their conation lie, ignored by them, other tendencies and capacities in the fulfilment of which the real might express its nature more fully. Their value-judgments are therefore founded on insufficient data, and are erroneous. We feel obscurely that something better might be made of the universe than is made in these absurd cases. Art, science, philosophy, and the loving community are demanded, we are tempted to say, by the universe itself; they are not merely means to the satisfaction of impulses. But a logical ground for this conviction is certainly very hard to find.

14 Based on an article which appeared in the International Journal of Ethics, July 1926.

15 The Rational Good, p. 75.

16 Ibid., p 66.

17 Ibid., p. 67.

18 Ibid., p.67.

19 Ibid., p.68.

20 Ibid., p.68.

21 Ibid., p. 67.

22 This criticism is derived from Prof. G. E. Moore; but at a later stage I shall seek to modify his theory somewhat radically.

23 Ct. W. McDougall, 'Pleasure, Pain, and Conation,' The British Journal of Psychology, January 1927. The sensory quality, sweet, he says, is pleasant only so long as we tend to eat sweet things. When satiety occurs, pleasure is no longer present.

24 Mr. R. B. Braithwaite has pointed out that this 'unobvious' ambiguity of 'good' is at the bottom of many ethical disputes. (‘Verbal Ambiguity and Philosophical Analysis, Aristotelian Society, Proceedings, 19 March 1928.) He also reminds us that the word is very often used without any significance, or perhaps we should rather say with a significance which is merely accidental and confusing. But in spite of such emotive use, and in spite of its ambiguous significance, ‘good’ does appear to have one meaning which is essential to ethics.

25 The Rational Good, p. 75.

26 Cf. R. B. Perry, Tile Moral Economy.

27 The Rational Good, pp. 56-7.

28 Ibid. p. 58.

29 Ibid. p. 61.

30 Ibid., p. 6, Contents.

31 Ibid., p. 78.

32 Ibid., p. 79.

33 Ibid., p. 99.

34 Ibid., p. 99.

35 Ibid., p. 14.

36 Ibid., p. 116.

37 Ibid., p. 117.

38 Ibid., p. 82.

39 Ibid., p. 86.

40 Ibid., p. 87.

41 Ibid., p. 84.

42 Ibid., p. 142.

43 Ibid., p. 152.

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