HITHERTO we have been considering questions of fact, not questions of value, or of good and bad. The word "value" is very ambiguous, but it is a useful " hold-all" word to include all the sought and shunned aspects of experience. Pure science and pure logic are supposed to be concerned only with questions of fact, and not at all with the pleasantness, usefulness, goodness, or beauty of the facts which they discover. The physicist studies the behaviour of electrons without passing moral judgments on it. Utilitarian, moral, or aesthetic motives may direct his attention to certain fields of study rather than to others; but he must so far as possible prevent these motives from influencing his actual study of facts. Truth itself is in a sense a value, not only for the utilitarian motives but for the motive of pure intellectual curiosity; since it is indeed something which is sometimes sought and admired for its own sake. On the other hand, values themselves are in some sense facts. It is a fact that, men being what they are, food has value for them. It is a fact that for the lover the beloved is a thing of value. It is a fact that for Christians love itself has value or is a value. These statements are all in some sense true statements of fact. It is our concern in this chapter to form as clear an idea as possible of the nature of their common element, namely, value.
To avoid confusion let us make a few preliminary distinctions. Some of them may turn out to be mistaken or superficial, but it is necessary to grasp them clearly at the outset, if only to be able to dismiss them.
First we must distinguish between the thing that is valued and the activity of valuing it, between a drink, or the act of drinking-a-drink, and the enjoying of drinking-a-drink; between the beloved and the act of cherishing her; between loving and the act of valuing love itself.
We must also distinguish between external objects valued and one's own activity valued. In the case of drinking, the object is the actual liquid, the activity is what we do with the liquid, namely, drinking. Strictly, what we value is drinking-a-drink. Both drink and drinking are distinct from the valuing or enjoying. In this case it is clear that what we value or enjoy is a complex made up of certain objective sensory characters (coolness, bitterness, fragrance, etc.) and a certain muscular activity of our own. In the case of the beloved also we must distinguish the object (a physical and mental "person"), what we do with the object (activities physical and mental), and the act of valuing or enjoying. Once more we value or enjoy both the object and our activity. But while in the case of the drink we may incline to say that we value the object merely as a means for the activity, in the case of the beloved some would probably insist that they valued her mainly for her own sake and not merely as a means. They might say that they appreciate her intrinsic excellence.
In both cases another problem arises. Do we value the "pleasure" which the object or the activity affords, or is "pleasure" itself simply the activity of valuing something other than itself? According to the doctrine of Hedonism we value intrinsically only our own pleasure; other things we value' only as means to our own pleasure. Is this true?
Clearly, whatever the truth about pleasure, we must make a general. distinction between "ends" and " means," or between the things that we value for their own sake and the things that we value only as instruments for the attainment of other things. We may call things that are valued for their own sake "intrinsically good," and things that are valued only as means "instrumentally good." When a man is thirsty he values the act of drinking as intrinsically good, though he may also value certain sensations. At other times he may value it only as a means to health or to social intercourse; that is, as instrumentally good.
Things that we originally valued only as means may come to be valued as ends. Money, or rather the activity of acquiring it, which for most of us is a means, becomes for the miser an end. On the other hand, things that we formerly valued as ends may come to be discarded, or sought only as means. We outgrow our childish tastes.
The question arises, are there any things, or is there anyone kind of thing, which we cannot but value intrinsically? Many answers have been given to this question. Besides the Hedonist's answer, that we value only "pleasure" for its own sake, there is the Idealist's that we value only "self-fulfilment," sometimes in partial and imperfect forms, more reasonably as fulfilment of the "personality" as a systematic whole. There are also other possible answers.
Another problem which arises is this. Is "goodness" a character actually belonging to some things and not to others, in the manner in which roundness is thought to belong to things; or is the supposed goodness of a thing illusory? Is the truth merely that we call a thing good when it fulfils a certain function in relation to ourselves or to the human race?
The word "good" is certainly very ambiguous. When we say that a thing is good, we may mean simply that it pleases us, or we may mean to attribute a certain unique character to it, or we may mean simply that it ought to be.
When we say that a thing "ought" to be, or happen, we may mean merely that, assuming a certain purpose, the thing is necessary as a means to the achievement of that purpose. (If you want to understand Frenchmen you ought to take lessons in French.) Or we may mean a moral "ought." (A man ought to befriend his fellows.) Can this moral "ought" also be derived from some purpose? And if so, is it God's purpose, or whose? If, on the other hand, the moral "ought" is not connected with any sort of purpose, what sense can there be in the notion of a moral claim which binds us whether we will or not? Or is moral obligation an illusion?
Let us begin by briefly noticing some of the most important ethical theories.
(a) Plato and Aristotle — We have already seen that Plato distinguished sharply between particular things and the universal forms toward which they approximate, and that for him the form was not only a. form but an ideal which the thing strove to embody. He thus distinguished between two spheres of being, the realm of imperfect things and the realm of perfect forms. The form of man was the ideal to which all men approximate, and it existed independently of actual men. Justice was the ideal form of all just acts, which each act in turn "strove" to embody. Truth, goodness, and beauty were logically independent of all examples of them.
This view is repugnant to the typically modern mind. We have come to suspect every kind of theory in which the actual world is less real than some unseen ideal world. We know too well, by bitter experience, that such views may encourage complacency toward the ills of our fellows in this world. Moreover, our obsession with physical science makes us impatient with the idea that there may be a reality beyond the flux of time and the passions of this world.
Neither of these motives affords a reasonable criticism of the Platonic theory. Indeed, the fact that we feel as we do suggests that we are unduly impressed by the physical and the ephemeral.
Nevertheless we must, I think, reject the Platonic; theory as a straightforward account of the status of good and evil as we actually experience it. We have, after all, no good reason to believe that the ideal form of man is a pattern subsisting independently of the actual world. It is simply a possibility implied in the nature of actual men. In our experience we find that certain human characters and activities are good. We intuit them as such. Love, for instance, and courage are known only in actual instances. We find them always imperfect, mingled with other characters which detract from their full being. The ideal is simply an abstraction from the imperfect instances.
Plato's great pupil Aristotle developed his master's theory in his own manner. For him the ideal was, in fact, something implicit in our own nature. The ideal form of manhood was implicit in the imperfect desires of particular men. "Good" was to be derived from desire. But since desires conflict, and are moreover of different ranks of importance, we must not allow any of them extravagant expression to the detriment of others. Hence the famous doctrine of the Mean. One capacity only may be given free rein, namely, the capacity for reasoning and for desiring the truth; since the special function of this is to rule and judge between all the others. Thus from Aristotle we learn two important principles which play a great part in subsequent ethical thought, namely, that the good, to constitute a motive for action, must appeal to something in our own nature, and that the ideal is the systematic or harmonious fulfilment of human capacities.
(b) Hedonism and Utilitarianism — Under the influence of Hume and of modern scientific materialism there arose a very different attitude toward ethical problems. In this view the individual mind was simply a sequence of mental states, some of which were pleasant and some unpleasant. Good and evil were therefore identical with the pleasure and displeasure of the individual mind.
The word "Hedonism" covers two distinct theories, one psychological, the other ethical. According to Psychological Hedonism a man always desires his own pleasure and cannot possibly desire anything, else. Is this true? The claim is that, when we seek anything, what we are "really" seeking is the pleasantness which it is expected to afford us. Thus if a man wants to drink, or to excel over his fellows, or to champion a cause, what he is really seeking in each case is identical, namely, the experience of pleasure. The theory abstracts the pleasantness of the act and regards it as the sole object of desire.
This account is psychologically incorrect. It is true of course that the attainment of our ends gives us pleasure. But why do we desire those ends? Not because they promise pleasure, but for their own sake. Certain situations stimulate us to certain actions, and our free functioning in these actions pleases us. Pleasure is nothing but the "pleasedness " that we feel in the success of our enterprises. This is equally true of complex, highly developed activities and of simple, animal activities. Superficially we may, of course, say that a child eats sweets "for the pleasure of eating them." More correctly, it is pleased with eating them because it wants to eat them, in the sense that some active factor in its psycho-physical make-up is felt to be afforded free activity by eating sugar. If it goes on eating sugar for long enough there will come a time when it becomes aware of the impact of sugar more as thwarting than as fulfilling. Then the pleasure gives place to disgust. In a sense, of course, it is true that a man desires only his own pleasure, since, obviously, in desiring any object whatever he ipso facto makes that object become an object of his desire; and when he attains the object he will be pleased. But what made it seem desirable? Not, in the first instance, the abstracted "pleasedness" afforded by having it, but its felt favourableness to his own active nature. To abstract the feeling from the rest, and then affirm that what a man seeks is this abstraction, is a mistake.
Psychological Hedonism, then, is false. Ethical Hedonism is based on Psychological Hedonism. It says in effect not only that a man can only desire his own pleasure, but, further, that his own pleasure is what he ought to desire. Pleasure, one's own pleasure, is the sole good. But if we can only desire our own pleasure, what significance is there in saying that we ought to desire it? The word "ought" surely implies the possibility that we might not do what we ought.
Hedonism, psychological and ethical, is the foundation of the ethical theory of Utilitarianism. Of Utilitarianism as a principle for the direction of public affairs much good might be said; but Utilitarianism as a philosophical doctrine is a tissue of false argument The theory may be summed up as follows: "A man can only desire his own pleasure. Therefore pleasure alone is desirable. Pleasure is pleasure whether it is my pleasure or another's. Therefore what I ought to desire is the greatest amount of pleasure for as many people as possible," or "the greatest happiness of the greatest number."
In this argument the word "desirable" is ambiguous. It may mean either "able to be desired" or "ought to be desired." Professor G. E. Moore has exposed the consequent fallacy. The proposition, "A man can only desire his own pleasure," implies the proposition, "Pleasure alone is desirable," only if "desirable" means "can be desired." The proposition, “therefore pleasure alone is desirable" cannot imply ethical consequences unless "desirable" is taken not in the psychological but the ethical sense, namely, as equivalent to "ought to be desired." But in this sense the proposition, "Pleasure alone is desirable" does not follow from the proposition, "A man can only desire his own pleasure."
Moreover, the starting-point of the argument is the proposition that a man can only desire his own pleasure. How then can he possibly be under obligation to desire other people's pleasure, the greatest happiness of the greatest number?
Another serious difficulty has to be faced by Utilitarianism. How are we to form a calculus of pleasure? It is essential for Utilitarianism that pleasure should be always one and the same measurable thing, wherever it occurs. If there are different kinds of pleasure, how are we to measure one kind of pleasure against another, say, the pleasure of football against the pleasure of philosophy? Still worse, how are we to measure one man's pleasure in philosophy against another's; or, worse again, against another man's pleasure in (say) martyrdom? It is true that in a given situation we can roughly estimate which of two acts will give us more pleasure. But very often we incline to feel that the act which (we should say) gives less pleasure is in fact the better act in some obscure but important sense. For instance, it is commonly agreed that helping the needy, though irksome, is better than feasting. The Ethical Hedonist and the Utilitarian assure us that actually we shall get more pleasure out of helping than out of feasting. But when this is true, which is not always, the greater pleasure is surely consequent on our belief that the act of helping is socially desirable, or right.
Faced with this difficulty, John Stuart Mill, the greatest Utilitarian, admitted that pleasures differ in quality as well as in intensity or quantity of pleasurableness, and declared that those of higher quality were more desirable (morally) than those of lower quality. But this admission undermines the whole doctrine, since it introduces something other than the single criterion of pleasurableness.
(c) Idealist Ethics — Modern Idealist philosophers riddled Hedonism and Utilitarianism with much shrewd criticism and offered theories of their own. The pioneer was Kant, impressed by "the starry heaven above and the moral law within." So far was he from agreeing with the subjectivistic doctrine of Hedonism that he went to the extreme of objectivism. The moral law, though "within," must be wholly objective, independent of human desires. He even went so far as to say that a "good" act done with pleasure was not really a morally good act at all, since a morally good act must have no motive but the goodness of the act itself. There is nothing good, he said, but it good will. For him the central principle of morality was rationality. His "categorical imperative" was expressed in the formula, "Act only on that maxim which thou canst at the same time will to become a universal law." Thus we must not lie and we must not murder, because we cannot will lying and murder to be universal. To this principle Kant added another, namely, that "man, and generally any rational being, exists as an end in himself." From this it followed that we must treat human beings always as ends, not merely as means. But they were to be treated as ends simply because they were rational beings, not because they were active, desiring beings.
The fundamental criticism of Kant's moral theory is this. Good cannot be derived from sheer rationality. Lying, for instance, may in some circumstances be right. Kant apparently failed to see that what I can and cannot will to become a universal law depends in the last resort not on sheer rationality but on my active dispositions or needs. In fact, he did not recognise that good must be in some way connected with human capacity, otherwise it could never afford a motive for action.
Later Idealist philosophers, for instance F. H. Bradley, avoided this error, by stressing Kant's other principle, namely, that individuals must be treated as ends. According to them a man can only desire the fulfilment of his self, by which they meant something very different from pleasure. Like Kant, they thought of a man not as a mere centre of pleasant and unpleasant experiences, but as a system of experience or of "mental content "— in fact, a universe of experience which included, along with experience of his own body and his own individual personal needs, his experience of other persons. It followed, they said, that he could not gain true self-fulfilment so long as the demands of the self as a whole system, including the known needs of other selves, were left unfulfilled. Necessarily there would be conflict within the self, and some needs would have to go unsatisfied; but any such frustration must be subordinate to, or an actual means to, the fulfilment of the self as a whole system of active capacities, some of which were subordinate to others.
Of course, we do not actually desire the ideal self-fulfilment which involves the fulfilment of society as a whole. We desire all sorts of less comprehensive ends, some very trivial, some flagrantly in conflict with the good of others, or of society as a whole. Idealist Ethics admits this, but distinguishes between a man's "actual" but imperfect will, and his "real" and perfect will, which demands complete self-fulfilment, and therefore the good of society. Though he does not ever effectively will this goal, or at best seldom does, it is logically implied (we are told) in his actual will. For to will some of the ends demanded in his experience, and not all, is irrational. The fact that some are needs of his private self and some are needs of other selves is said to be irrelevant to their being needs experienced within the horizon of his mind. The needs of his body and private person as opposed to those of others (we are told) are simply one set of needs within his experience. Though he is apt to feel them with greater intensity than the needs of others, they have no peculiar status in relation to his "real" will.
It follows from the theory that though the actual wills of individuals differ and conflict, their "real" wills, which will the fulfilment of all men, are harmonious, nay identical. The "real" will of each individual, it is claimed, is the completely rational will, the completely social will, the Good Will.
Moral obligation, in this theory, is the claim exercised by the real will over the imperfect actual will. Once you begin to will at all, you must, logically-morally, will the Good Will. To do less is to defeat your own essential nature.
I shall now try to state some of the main criticisms that have been made against Idealist Ethics. What reason is there to say that the will for the lower activities logically implies the will for the higher ones? Does the cynical will for self-aggrandisement at the expense of others imply the social will? From the pure egotist's point of view the social will is flagrantly irrational, for the cogent reason that the good of others happens to them and not to him. Even those who do at least spasmodically will the social good may well doubt whether the social will is logically implied in the self-regarding Will. Rather it seems' to demand a genuine awakening of new sensibility to something novel which could not be deduced from the more familiar ends. However this may be, we must insist that, if in his blind state a man cannot recognise the logical implication of his will, the moral claim has no application to him.
Moreover, what if, in his moral perversity, he snaps his fingers at rationality itself? It may well be true that, as a matter of fact, he cannot find self-fulfilment unless he does will the rational; social Good Will; but what if he rejects the goal of logically perfect self fulfilment and insists on desiring only partial and perhaps thoroughly immoral ends? Is there any sense in saying that his obligation to will something better than this lies in the fact that, to a being superior to him, his conduct appears irrational and immoral?
We may put the criticism in another way. For the theory to work it is essential that the good will should be my will in the sense that it actually does appeal to me as the way of self-fulfilment for me, for this particular conscious being with all its limitations. But if it is my will in this sense, morality is reduced to prudent self-regard. On the other hand, if we stress the objectivity of the moral claim, insisting that the good is independent of my actual will, then the theory's explanation of the moral claim is a mere play upon words.
But though the Idealist theory of moral obligation should be rejected as it stands, we must, I think, agree that rationality plays a very important part in moral experience. In a very real sense the good will is the rational will; and one motive of moral conduct is the will for rationality, the will to detach the will from personal favouritism, to regard all men, including oneself, as on the same footing. This motive of objectivity and rationality has played a great part; and does provide, for those who actually will it, a logical basis for obligation.
(d) Ethics of Evolutionism — The theory of biological evolution is sometimes made the basis of a confused and dangerous ethical theory. The discovery that certain species have evolved from simpler types, and that man himself is in this 'sense the flower of the evolutionary process, suggested that there must be some sort of "life force" striving to produce ever more developed types, and that "good" and "bad" must mean at bottom "favourable to" and "unfavourable to" the evolutionary process.
This theory is only plausible because in the case of man's evolution the direction of change has led on the whole to the increase of those characters which we do admire, such as intelligence and affection. Were we living in an epoch of biological degeneration we should not be tempted to derive goodness from evolution. Progress is by no means general. Many biological types have stagnated; many have declined. Evolutionary ethics, moreover, could only seem plausible during a spell of social advancement, such as that which was occurring in Western Europe when Evolutionary Ethics became popular. To-day, when our society threatens to collapse, the theory looks less plausible.
Such considerations are not really relevant to the truth or falsity of the theory. What matters is rather that we know very little of the causes and direction of evolution; while good and bad are experienced every day in our own lives. It is certainly arguable that what is intrinsically good is richness and depth of experience and fullness of creative living (if I may be pardoned a very vague phrase). It is true also that in some cases evolution has moved in that direction. It is even possible that there is some sort of bias in this direction in the universe. But to derive our moral experience from that bias is to derive the known from the unknown and problematical. "Good" is not good because it is the goal of evolution; rather evolution is good (if it really is good) because its goal is something which we recognise as good.
Moreover, to explain "good" by evolution is like explaining the falling of a stone by saying that it has a capacity for falling. In the case of gravitation, the only kind of explanation that can be usefully given is a systematic description of gravitational happenings, not an explanation in terms of an entirely unknown metaphysical entity. Similarly with moral experience, we can explain only by systematically describing all kinds of moral experience and relating them to other descriptive facts about human nature and the objective world. It is useless to postulate an unknown metaphysical entity.
(e) Intuitionism — I shall now describe and criticise a theory which starts by insisting that moral experience is unique, and not to be explained in terms of anything other than itself. Philosophers who hold this theory claim that "good" and "bad" are unique objective characters which belong to some things and not to others; and that in apprehending them we simply intuit that "good" ought to be, and "bad" ought not to be, and that "good" ought to be striven for and "bad" striven against. In this view the word "good" and the phrase "ought to be and be striven for" have identical meaning. And that meaning is unanalysable and indefinable. We all know intuitively what that meaning is, but according to the theory we can no more explain or describe it to a non-moral being than we can explain or describe colour to a man born blind.
In this country Professor G. E. Moore has been the chief exponent of this view. He argued that "good" could not be simply identical with "pleasant " or with "self-fulfilling " or with "fit to survive" or any other character, because if it were identical with any of them we should not be able to distinguish between it and the other.
In particular, "good," he says, is not to be identified with "desired." The good is not good because we desire it, or because God desires it, or because the fully enlightened mind would desire it. On the contrary, we desire it (so far as we do desire it) because it is good. We simply intuit it as desirable, in the moral sense. It is such that it imposes moral obligation onus.
If "good" is intuited in this direct manner, it may be objected, how is it that moral judgments conflict, and are therefore capable of error? If we intuit " good" and "bad" in the same sense as we intuit sensory characters, such as "red" and "salt," how comes it that we can make mistakes about them? We cannot make mistakes about sensory intuition. To this objection it is answered that we cannot really make mistakes about moral intuition. Moral situations, however, are often very complex situations in which the moral factor itself may be very easily overlooked or mis-described. We may, it is said, fail to analyse out from the situation that in it which is good (or bad); but if once we do see the situation accurately, we cannot but see the good and the bad in it, if we are morally sensitive beings.
We must note one serious difficulty in the Intuitionist theory. It is claimed that the unique, objective character "good" constitutes a motive for action in the moral agent. He recognises that he ought to establish it. But, as Aristotle long ago pointed out, nothing wholly external to the self can provide a motive for action. Obligation, that is, must, after all, appeal to something in a man's own nature. If this is true, the Intuitionist account of the matter is quite unintelligible. On the other hand, if "good" is, after all, identical with fulfilment of capacity, then it does appeal to something in our own nature. And the moral claim exercised over us by other individuals for their fulfilment springs from our cognition of their capacities as capacities, as needs of the same order as our own, and as appealing to us through the medium of our imagination and our will for rationality.
But though this fundamental criticism must be made against Intuitionism, the theory remains true, I suggest, in a special sense. In experiencing some particular activity (say, love) one does experience the activity as morally good, as "ought to be" and "ought to be fostered by all who can see what it is." And the goodness of the activity is intuited as a character objective to the intuitive recognition of it. On the other hand, this "good" character of love can only constitute a motive for action in so far as one does experience it (in the first instance) as a character of one's own activity, of one's own being. Only because it is first recognised as a character of one's own activity is it known to be also a character of the activity of others. And the moral claim to foster love in others constitutes a moral motive for one's own action only through one's own will for rationality. But before accepting this view we must examine two kinds of radical ethical scepticism, both of which have come into prominence during the present century.
(a) The Subjectivity of Value — We have considered several types of ethical theory, none of which can be regarded as entirely satisfactory. I shall now set forth and criticise the main arguments of those who regard "good" and "bad," "right" and "wrong" as entirely subjective.
Value, they assert, is essentially value for some conscious individual. Even if psychological hedonism is false, the truth remains, we are told, that a man cannot value anything other than the fulfilment of his own activities, and the means thereto. Nothing, then, can be good in itself, apart from anyone's valuation of it. The idea of an objective good is not merely false, it is meaningless. Meaningless, too, is the idea that moral obligation has some mysterious kind of objective sanction. No intelligible account can be given of these ideas. On the other hand, a perfectly satisfactory account can be given of their historical origin. They are, in fact, superstitions generated in men's minds by social forces. They can be described scientifically in terms of the established principles of psychology and anthropology.
(b) Social Determinants of Morality — Man is a gregarious animal. Morality is a consequence of his social habits. For creatures that are not gifted with formidable weapons gregariousness has survival value. The more the individuals of a group tend to live together and act together, the better the group's chance of circumventing its enemies. Consequently those groups tended to survive in which the individuals were knit together by strong group-feeling; that is, in which there was a strong disposition to conform with other members of the group in physical and mental behaviour, and a strong disposition to enforce conformity upon those who were in any way eccentric. Thus by natural selection (we are told) there grew up a craving to conform to the customs of the group and to feel mentally at one with the group. Along with this appeared the impulse to condemn those who dared to infringe the customary ways of behaving and thinking and feeling. Such, it is claimed, are the biological and psychological roots of all moral aspiration and moral censure.
One of the main factors determining the particular customs and moral feelings of a group would obviously be survival value. Useful customs would tend to be perpetuated, harmful ones would tend to vanish. But we should indeed be innocent if we were to suppose that social utility was the sole determinant of morality. In the first place we must remember that customs tend to fall out of date. The circumstances to which they were originally adapted give place to new ones in which the customary mode of behaviour may be positively harmful. Then the moral feelings that sanctify and maintain that custom, and are inculcated in each successive generation by education, will resist any attempt to change the custom to suit the new circumstances. Thus archaic customs, formerly beneficial, may survive for ages, supported by irrational prejudice and defended by all manner of specious and subtle argument.
But this is not all. Groups have leaders, individuals who by their real service to the group or by mere personal dominance over their fellows, or by some purely factitious glamour, focus on themselves the loyalty of the rank and file, and are taken as patterns which all humbler individuals seek to imitate. Of course, if the example of the leaders too flagrantly violates the group's sanctified customs, it will be rejected. But the prestige of leadership may afford the leaders considerable freedom to found a morality of their own. In one obvious respect their behaviour tends to differ from that of the masses. They develop customs suited to their particular position; and since they have prestige and power they inculcate in the masses, by force and propaganda, certain customs and moral feelings which are likely to strengthen their own position as leaders. Thus there will appear a special morality for leaders and a somewhat different morality for lowly folk. But at the same time much of the morality of the leaders will be adopted as an ideal by the lowly also, though it may be quite unsuited to their condition.
These principles must be applied not only to the early but to the later stages of the history of morals. But in the later stages the complexity and weight (so to speak) of past morality tends more and more to hinder new situations from bringing about adequate moral changes. On the other hand, in the modern world industrialisation has produced very rapid changes in the structure of society itself; so that even the huge dead weight of moral tradition has begun to be shifted more rapidly than ever before, though not without resistance.
Another important difference distinguishes the modern from the primitive ages of human development. In the modern phase, and indeed throughout the whole period of civilisation, the morality of the leaders is no longer a simple code of chieftainship but a mixture made up of such elements as: vestiges of archaic moralities; incursions from the morality of the subordinate classes during times of moral revolution (e.g. early Christianity); vestiges of the moralities of subsequent dominant classes (e.g. feudal or military or commercial aristocracies); and, finally, new principles or new applications of old principles, forced on the dominant class by its struggle to maintain its power (e.g. some characteristics of Fascism).
Roughly, the more secure the leaders feel themselves to be, the more generous their morality. On the other hand, the more precarious their hold, the more will they be forced to the conviction that, for the good of society itself, they must at all costs maintain the existing order and their dominant position in it. In all sincerity they will tend in the long run to believe that practices of the most deceitful, ruthless, and even brutal kind are not merely permissible. but obligatory, if they seem to promise the maintenance of the status quo.
(c) Economic Determinants of Morality — Clearly the main underlying factor which determines the history of morality as sketched above is the economic factor. Different kinds of morality will develop in different economic environments. A hunting community will perhaps stress hardihood, an agricultural community industriousness. A feudal aristocracy will glorify the martial prowess by which it maintains its position. The virtues prized in a commercial class are likely to be those which helped it to gain and retain power — in fact, the business virtues of prudence, reliability, and individual initiative. A commercial oligarchy will also tend to regard as morally right the principle of unrestrained commercial competition between individuals, and as morally wrong the workers' attempt to combine to secure better conditions. A society organised on the basis of private enterprise will probably incline to take as its effective ideal that of the outstandingly successful commercial individual — in fact, the millionaire. A society in which modern industrial activity has reached a very high pitch and is not consciously planned for social welfare will tend to glorify industrial power as an end and not merely a means. A society in which a proletarian class has achieved a successful social revolution by combining against the employers will glorify comradeship, group-loyalty, and the proletarian virtues of manual toil.
In a later chapter I shall discuss the theory of Economic Determinism in relation not merely to morality but to the whole of the life of society. Meanwhile let us pass from the social determinants of morality to another class of influences which seem to support Ethical Scepticism.
(d) Psycho-analysis and Morality — Ethical Scepticism can be defended by arguments derived from Psycho-analysis and from General Psychology.
We must distinguish between those psycho-analytical doctrines which are common to all schools of Psychoanalysis and those in respect of which there is serious difference of opinion. Those on which there is agreement among psycho-analysts are also accepted by most psychologists and deserve careful attention. It is not merely the doubtful doctrines, but those on which there is general agreement, which seem to support Ethical Scepticism.
One doctrine which is accepted as a working hypothesis by all psychologists is the doctrine of Psychological Determinism, according to which any particular experience or activity is determined by the preceding state of the organism and the environment. The justification for this hypothesis lies in the fact that up to a point men do behave in a regular and predictable manner, and that psychologists have discovered much more system, and therefore determinism, than was formerly supposed to exist. The concept of moral obligation is generally thought of as involving freedom to do either the right or the wrong act. Psychological Determinism seems to rule out this possibility.
Psychology has certainly not yet been able to demonstrate that human behaviour is systematic or determinate through and through. It has merely brought to light an increasing number of regularities in behaviour. But let us suppose that some day it succeeds in proving determinism conclusively. Then, though the arbitrariness of moral choice would be excluded, it might still be that one among the many factors determining behaviour was, indeed, the moral motive, but that this motive, like all others, took effect in a regular manner and was therefore predictable. Different individuals in different circumstances might have determinate degrees of the power of freely and spontaneously resisting temptation and holding to the path of moral rectitude.
Leaving aside this general question, let us note the more special ways in which Psychology, and particularly Psycho-analysis, seems to support Ethical Scepticism.
Conscious behaviour, it is claimed, is largely determined by needs or cravings which are "unconscious," which are not accessible to introspection. Long before the days of Freud "unconscious prejudice" was recognised as an important fact; but Freud used this familiar concept as the basis of a comprehensive theory of human behaviour. In particular he used it to explain our moral experience. If all moral judgments are at bottom cases of unconscious and irrational prejudice derived from past experiences that are not really relevant to the present judgment at all, it is nonsense to suppose that conscience is a unique faculty, by which we distinguish between the objectively right and the objectively wrong.
Freud's great contribution to psychology was undoubtedly the concept of mental conflict and repression, with consequent unconscious motivation. His own detailed account of the mechanism of repression and the "content of the unconscious" is disputed by other schools, but the general principle is accepted. The essential concept of the "unconscious mind," with its "unconscious mental processes," its unconscious desirings and thinkings, is open to very serious philosophical objections; but there is agreement that, however confusedly Freud has described the concept, it really does mean something of very great importance for the understanding of human behaviour. We may perhaps make " unconscious mental process " more intelligible by describing it as mental processes which we are incapable of introspecting. We cannot attend to the fact that we are having them.
According to the general theory, when one set of our needs (or cravings) conflicts with another set, repression may occur. Cravings which are violently repugnant to the main system of experience (the dominant, conscious personality) may be "thrust below the threshold of consciousness," may cease to be introspectable. But though they are in this sense "unconscious," they continue to influence behaviour and emotion, and particularly our moral judgments.
Our moral experience, it is claimed, is of the same nature as taboo in primitive society. Certain acts are "not done." The very contemplation of them arouses horror and shame. The taboos of primitive races, which they themselves accept uncritically as self-evidently right and divinely sanctioned, often seem to us irrational and fantastic. Certain animals must not be killed by any member of the tribe. Men must not marry women of the same tribe. Certain obscure ritual acts must be performed at certain seasons. Such irrational and highly emotional taboos (we are told) are expressions of unconscious needs generated in each member of the tribe by his own mental conflicts in connection with his relations with his own parents, and handed on and embroidered from generation to generation. The taboo animal and the taboo act symbolise emotionally cravings repressed since childhood. We easily forget that many of our own most cherished moral convictions would seem quite as arbitrary as savage customs to those who were not brought up to accept them. It is probable (we are told) that the true explanation of our own morality is of precisely the same type as that of primitive morality.
The defender of ethical objectivity may reply that, of course, much of our moral experience is indeed irrational and arbitrary, but that there are certain fundamental simple moral intuitions which cannot be undermined. For instance, it may be said, the commandment, "Love thy neighbour," is the expression of a genuine intuition.
Many psychologists, however, would deny this. They would insist that even the most refined and generalised moral intuitions must be explained by the same principles as, the most primitive. In one way or another everything in moral experience must have developed out of the infant's behaviour, which, they assure us, is completely ego-centric and irresponsible. There may be room for doubt as to the particular "mechanism" by which this evolution has come about, but the general principle, it is claimed, is certain.
In the Freudian view, the depth and intensity of moral experience, both the horror of guilt and the passionate aspiration for moral purity, must be traced to the infant's relations with its parents. The violence of moral emotions and their resistance to criticism point to an infantile source. In the child's early days mother and father dominate its experience, and mould its character for ever after. In respect of each parent its mind is tom (we are told) by a conflict of love and hate, love on account of benefits received and hate on account of restrictions imposed. The love, it is insisted, is in the first instance sheer "cupboard love;" and the hate is of the same order. The conscious personality is taught to be ashamed of the hate; which is in consequence re- pressed, to generate in the "unconscious" all manner of irrational prejudices and needs for destructive action. Love, on the other hand, which the parents applaud, is idealised all the more through revulsion from repressed hate. All moral guilt is at bottom (we are told) guilt for the infringement of taboos enforced in childhood. Even if we hesitate to accept the Freudian contention that in origin it is the guilt of hostility to the father or the mother, and of forbidden sexual love for the mother or the father, the general tenor of the argument must, I think, be taken very seriously.
(e) Criticism — The foregoing arguments for Ethical Scepticism are very strong, but they should not be accepted as final.
Let us begin by considering the arguments derived from Psycho-analysis. Of course, the detail of the explanation is little more than guess-work, and has been supported by a good deal of faulty argument. But what of the general principle that conscious value- judgments are the expression of unconscious and often trivial wishes? This principle must, I think, be accepted as at any rate true of many particular moral feelings. It follows that moral intuitions must not be taken simply at their face value. They must certainly be subjected to severe criticism, even if radical Ethical Scepticism is not justified.
The nerve of the argument derived from Psychoanalysis consists of the charge that all moral feelings develop from the experience of the infant, and that the infant is wholly egotistical. To this contention serious objections must be made. The first is a very general and very important objection. The analytic method, which has been so successful in the case of physical science, may be the right method for the understanding of human behaviour; but there is always a danger that, in our zeal for analysis and explanation in terms of constituent parts, we shall overlook some subtle aspects of human behaviour which are not actually reducible to simple factors. Whatever the state of the infant mind, it may be that, through the operation of intelligence and imagination, the individual comes to conceive essentially new ends, not reducible to the ends sought in infancy. In the present sketchy state of psychology a confident denial of this possibility smacks of sheer prejudice in favour of analysis.
A more particular criticism must be made. The vogue of Psychoanalysis was partly due to the cogency of evidence and partly to the emotional release which the doctrine afforded to minds that had been dominated by Victorian self-righteousness and prudery. Inevitably emotional acceptance of the new doctrines blinded people to their intellectual weaknesses. After a while, however, many of those who had welcomed Psychoanalysis felt misgivings about some of its arguments. Wohlgemuth, once a follower of Freud, exposed the weakness of some analyses by Freudians. More recently Ian Suttie has criticised Psycho-analysis from a somewhat different angle. He suggests that in modern Europe there occurred a widespread emotional reaction against kindly feeling, and a consequent "taboo on tenderness." The psycho-analysts themselves, he argues, were deeply influenced by the prevailing prejudice, and by it they were sometimes led into false reasoning. Suttie points out that the infantile attitude is not, strictly speaking, egotistical, since it does not discriminate between self and not-self. As soon as this discrimination does begin to occur, as soon as the distinction is made between "me" and "you," genuine tenderness toward the mother emerges along with genuine egotism.
If this analysis is correct, then the orthodox Freudian theory is in error, and moral experience must be derived from the conflict between tenderness and egotism. Tenderness is not merely a kind of "conditioned egotism" but a direct "espousal" of the active needs of another individual, an "espousal" which is of the same primary order as the "espousal" of one's own needs, though, of course, generally much less constant and vigorous.
The Ethical Sceptic, however, may circumvent this criticism. He may grant that tenderness is a psychologically primary impulse, and yet insist that this fact has no bearing on ethics. Citing the ethnological argument, he may say that tenderness is simply a response which has survival value in social organisms. It is merely the affective or emotional side of sociality. The fact that individuals who do not feel it are censured by society means only that society condemns reactions that are socially harmful.
True, but more must be said. We must remember once more the fundamental criticism which was made against the analytic method. We must not too readily assume that, because the method has succeeded so well in physical science, therefore it is infallible in psychology, and particularly in the study of the more subtle reaches of human experience. If we use it we must continually check it by reference to the actual experience which it is claiming to explain, so as to be sure that it really is explaining that and not something else, connected with or like that, but essentially distinct. It is notorious that many of those who have keen sensibility in the most developed spheres of human experience, in literature, art, the appreciation of personality, and in moral perception, find the psycho-analytical account of these experiences ludicrously inadequate. To them it seems that the Ethical Sceptic never really apprehends the experience that he undertakes to explain; or that, if he does apprehend it, he allows his clear vision of it to be obscured in the interest of a theory. He attends to, and correctly explains in terms of his science, certain aspects of its growth, yet completely misses the nerve of the matter.
Roughly, what he does is this. He traces the growth of moral customs from certain primitive origins, and claims that he has completely accounted for morality. If he could have divested himself of his prejudice for analysis, if he could have faithfully observed the activity itself without preconceptions, he would have realised that, whatever the historical origins of it, in its fully developed form it included something different in kind from its primitive sources, in fact, that a genuine novelty had somewhere emerged. He would allow for a gradual awakening and refinement of moral sensibility from the infant's earliest precarious tenderness, or the tribe's primitive social cohesion, to the saint's perception of the absolute goodness of love.
(a) The Claims of the Logical Positivists — A still more radical kind of ethical scepticism can be derived from Logical Positivism. The argument runs as follows. Ethical statements cannot be verified in any sort of sense-experience. Therefore they are meaningless. The fundamental ethical concepts are not really concepts at all but pseudo-concepts. They do not say anything; they merely evince approval or disapproval. And these are simply feelings, facts in the speaker's mind, unrelated to any objective ethical facts or principles. The statement "X is good" does not even say something about one's own feelings, since it expresses no real proposition. It is merely an emotional response, like a cry of delight.
It may be objected,that, if ethical statements were really meaningless, we should not be able to dispute about questions of value. If they are mere cries of approval and disapproval, if they are not really statements at all, if they do not mean something intelligible about a common or public object, there can be no disputing about the truth of their meaning. Yet seemingly we do dispute a great deal about moral questions.
To this objection the Logical Positivist replies as follows. The truth is that we never do actually dispute about questions of value. When we think we are doing so, we are really either making noises which, though composed of meaningful words, are as wholes mere meaningless noises of approval and disapproval; or else we are disputing about questions not of value but of fact. If one man says that stealing is bad, and another contradicts him, the ensuing argument always consists of a dispute as to what stealing really is. Each hopes to show the other that he is wrong about the facts. Each believes that, if his opponent could see the facts as he does himself, the two of them would at once feel the same approval or disapproval (or indifference) about them. Very often the hope is justified, since we are all constituted much alike in many important respects. But sometimes the dispute does not end in agreement. Disputants who have been nurtured in very different traditions may find that the discussion ends in a deadlock. That is, though they are both considering the same facts, they feel differently about them. And there the matter ends, however much more talking there may be. Each probably charges the other with having an undeveloped or distorted moral sense. According to Logical Positivism, this kind of situation arises because ethical statements, though they are. worded as if they were statements about fact, are really meaningless, like grunts of pleasure and disgust. There comes a point when the disputants merely, so to speak, grunt louder and louder at each other.
If this theory is true, it follows that there can be no such thing as an ethical science, a study of objective good and bad. All that there can be is a psychology of morals, a study of the ways in which people do, as a matter of fact, feel approval and disapproval.
(b) Criticism of Logical Positivism on Ethics — It is obviously true that ethical statements cannot be verified in sense-experience. There is no conceivable kind of sense-experience that could afford verification of the statement, "murder is wrong." But it is a mistake to suppose that therefore the statement is meaningless, and a mere grunt of disapproval, if by "disapproval" is meant a subjective state which has no intention beyond itself. As a matter of fact, "disapproval" is the right word for the matter, since it has essentially an ethical significance. Of course, it is very difficult to say precisely what it is that we mean by disapproval in the strict moral sense. Indeed, "disapproval" and "approval" are probably, as Professor Moore has pointed out, strictly indefinable, like "red." But to suppose that, because their meaning is unverifiable in sense-experience, therefore they are meaningless is as grave a refusal to face the facts as the priests' refusal to watch Galileo drop weights from a tower. We all know quite well that we do mean something by these words, even though we find it extremely difficult to say what we mean. Some Ethical Sceptics reluctantly concede that we do mean something; but they insist that we mean merely, "I like X, and I wish all men did." But this is not enough. Rightly or wrongly we mean something more than this. And the something is in some way concerned with what X is and what any normally developed mind cannot but feel about such a thing as X. When we say, for instance, that murder (the destruction of human life for private ends) is wrong, we mean at least "Murder is such that (or contains an element which is such that) any mind capable of apprehending murder accurately cannot but condemn it." Murder is such that, and mind is such that, mind must condemn murder when it realises what murder is. But the word "condemn" probably itself means the identical indefinable thing meant by "disapproval."
According to Logical Positivism, these moral statements are not merely false but meaningless, because not verifiable in sense-experience. But the Logical Positivist should recognise that they can be verified (i.e. put to the test) in another kind of experience, namely moral experience. That is, one can go round telling people precisely what one means by "murder," helping them to imagine it accurately, and if possible enabling them to watch a murder or two (not so difficult to-day); and one can demand what they feel about it. In nine cases out of ten they will reply that they "disapprove" of murder, in the universal sense above described. The small minority who failed to give this reaction might have to have their imaginations aided still further. It might be necessary to start murdering the murder-apathetic himself, so as to clear his mind of moral perversion or of the false theory of Ethical Scepticism. Probably not more than one per cent. would fail to be enlightened before their death.
But the ground for the assertion that murder is in the universal moral sense wrong is not merely inductive, not merely the fact that most people do condemn it. The claim is made that any mind that is sufficiently developed to see murder as it really is must necessarily condemn it. And to verify this claim it is enough for anyone, who is morally neither blind nor perverted, to contemplate murder as clearly as possible and see for himself that this is so. Moral truth is in one respect like arithmetical truth. To recognise the universal truth that 2+2 = 4 it is necessary only to see one concrete example of it, say, two marbles added to two marbles. Similarly, to recognise the universal truth that murder is wrong we have only to contemplate one concrete example of it. That is, contemplating one example of it, we affirm that, murder being such as it is, any conscious being who sees it as it is must necessarily condemn it. The affirmation may be false, but it is not meaningless. Nor, as a matter of fact, is it unverifiable in direct experience (though not in sense-experience), for you have only to get a clear idea of murder to see that this is so.
Consider for a moment a case of intuited good instead of intuited evil. The mutual awareness and mutual valuing of two persons is experienced by lovers as intrinsically good, as something which any conscious being who recognises it for what it is must necessarily prize and applaud, because it is experienced as a notable fulfilling of the knowing-feeling-willing capacity 'which is the essence of "a conscious being."
To all this the Logical Positivist will reply that the universality and necessity of these moral judgments are sheer illusion. We have no right, he will say, to read all this into our mere private feelings of liking and disliking. To this the only possible answer is that he must look into his experience a little more closely and without bias in favour of a theory. He may then discover that he has ignored an essential feature of it.
Perhaps he will then fall back on the contention that, after all, love is not universally applauded nor murder universally condemned. As for murder, many people to-day glory in it. What right have we to accept the verdict of the one party and reject that of the other? It is all very well to claim that the condemners of murder are more developed, more enlightened, more aware; but do we call them so for any more cogent reason than that they agree with us, about murder and other matters?
To this we must make a twofold reply. First, of the many who justify murder, most "know not what they do," or else are perverted and blinded by special conditions. Second, the statement, "Murder is wrong," is supported not only by the intuitive disapproval experienced by all normal minds, but also by a more general principle (itself founded on intuition), namely, "Living is good"; or, more accurately, "The free performing of the multifarious activities known as living is good." The most developed, the most awakened minds of all lands and ages have emphatically condemned murder. If Logical Positivism denies that there is any valid distinction between the mentally less developed and more developed, we must reply that, though the concept may be misused, it is a concept of great service, which is used effectively every day in our relations with one another. Moreover, it is a concept which can be defined objectively. A mind is "more developed" in which cognition is more accurate, penetrating, and comprehensive, and affection and conation' more appropriate to the mind's whole situation. As between one mind and another we may often disagree as to which is in fact more developed in this manner, but in many more cases we decide quite easily. The concept of developed mentality is a generalisation both from scientific and from intuitive experiences. Of the concept itself we have seldom any doubt. Of this I shall have more to say in the next chapter.
I shall now draw together the threads of the foregoing discussion. In the first place, then, we must recognise that Intuitionism is right in its fundamental contention. "Good" is a unique objective character which we intuitively apprehend as "ought to be," and "ought to be striven for." When we clearly see a possibility of good we recognise that any being who can strive for it ought to do so. This is the fundamental unanalysable moral experience. No theory which does less than justice to it is to be accepted.
On the other hand, in the first instance we recognise this character of "ought to be" only as a character of our own free activity. It constitutes a motive for our action because in the first instance it is experienced as a character of our own activity.
Our powers of recognising possibilities of good and bad vary immensely from the level of simple bodily appetite to the level of saintliness. Even bodily appetite, I should say, includes a moral aspect. When I am hungry I do not merely crave food; I feel that I ought to be fed. My hunger, I feel, constitutes a claim on all beings who know what hunger is and that this creature is hungry. This moral aspect of one's own bodily appetites is obscured by traditional views of morality; but for those who can divest themselves of the tradition it is discoverable. In the case of another's hunger I do not recognise the moral claim unless either I imagine it very vividly or I have already formed moral theories about it.
Moral judgments may conflict with one another. Two conflicting moral judgments cannot both be right. This does not mean that the moral intuition itself is subject to error, but merely that we may fail to disentangle the intuition itself from irrelevances, or may unconsciously pretend to have an intuition when we actually have it not. The intuition itself is infallible; but we can never be sure that we have it, or that we have not confused it, or expressed it falsely in words. In the same way sense-experience is infallible, but we may unconsciously pretend to have it when we have, it not, and we may misdescribe it, and so on.
What kinds of things, then, are characterised by this unique quality of "good," and what by "bad"? In the most general sense, only one kind of thing is good, namely, free activity, and only one kind of thing is bad, namely, frustration. But we are complex beings, capable of many kinds of action and frustration. The full answer to the question, then, depends on the answer to the question, What kinds of activity are most fulfilling to our active nature? This question is to be satisfactorily answered only by minds that are in two manners qualified to answer it. They must have reached a fairly high level of moral sensibility; but also they must have a fair degree of intellectual acuity. What sort of an answer do such people as a matter of fact give? No doubt their answers conflict; but is it not true that, on the whole, apart from idiosyncrasies peculiar to their personality or their social conditions, and apart from differences of verbal formulation, which may be very serious, they show remarkable agreement? Whatever else may be intuited as good intrinsically, one thing at least is so intuited. One thing at least we all, in our most lucid moments, recognise as good. But though in some degree this thing is familiar to us all, it is difficult to name adequately or to describe. Let us call it, for the moment, very vaguely, the free functioning and full development of the capacity for knowing-feeling-striving; or, since individuality and community are inextricably mingled, the fulfilling of the capacity for personality-in-community. Need I say that the word "knowing" in the phrase "knowing-feeling-striving" must not be taken to mean merely intellectual knowing? It must include every kind of awareness or cognition.
Many kinds of things, of course, are sometimes judged good. But of most of them it can be maintained that they are not intuited as good, in the same sense as that in which we intuit free activity as good. For the word "good," as we have seen, is ambiguous. It sometimes refers to an activity in relation to some object and sometimes to the object itself. Thus, when we say that a picture is good, what we actually intuit as good in the one sense of the word is the picture, but in the other sense what we intuit as good is what we can do with the picture. To take a very different case, the sadist may judge that torturing is good, intrinsically. No doubt he does intuit it as good in so far as it is a fulfilling of some obscure need of his own personality, but he does not intuit (though he may declare) that the thwarting of the other person's personality is good intrinsically.
It may be objected that such phrases as "free functioning" and "fulfilling of capacity" are too vague to be useful, and that they obscure the great difference between the activities that have a genuine moral aspect and those which have not. There is a world of difference, it may be said, between such morally indifferent activities as eating and such morally desirable activities as charity.
It is true that there is a world of difference between such activities. But the difference is not such that one kind has a moral aspect and the other not. Of course we must not fall into the error of hedonism, and suppose that by "fulfilment" we mean always one and the same experienced quality, namely, pleasure, which can be simply measured by its intensity. Pleasure, no doubt, is the abstracted sense of fulfilment, or "how fulfilment feels"; but it is not simply identical with fulfilment. At any given time one's fulfilment as a whole, as a personality, may simply not be open to consciousness. Consequently, conscious fulfilment (pleasure) may be a very misleading measure of fulfilment. Under the spell of a minor conscious fulfilment we may overlook the fact that this minor fulfilment entails a major frustration beyond the present reach of consciousness. Indeed, habitual indulgence in minor pleasures may render for ever impossible a major fulfilment which, had it occurred, would have been recognised as more worth while than those pleasures which were chosen. We must certainly allow different orders of fulfilment on different planes of mental development. And the final measure of the relative worth of activities on the different planes must be intuitive. But the verdict of intuition is not valid unless both the activities to be judged are fully open to conscious inspection, and unless the judgment is not warped by the pressure of grave frustrations. It is important to realise that, though biological and psychological theory may afford a useful elucidator of the relations of mental levels, the final test must be intuition. We must boldly affirm that to the developed mind the more developed activities do afford a deeper or more comprehensive fulfilment than the primitive activities; and that the former are intuited as in some sense more truly the goal of living than the primitive activities. But this statement needs much more careful discussion than is possible here.
In the next chapter I shall enlarge upon the subject of the more developed human activities. For the moment it is enough to say that they are those which psychological analysis reveals as the most complex, most subtle, most integrated activities. They are, in fact, the most penetrating and comprehensive modes of knowing-feeling-striving. They include the most precise self-awareness, the most delicate personal intercourse, the most accurate social awareness, the most subtle practical and theoretical intelligence, the most creative art, and, I believe, certain experiences and activities which may be called mystical.
We have already examined the practical and theoretical intelligence. We shall examine personal and social experience, and at the close of our enquiry we shall consider mystical experience. Aesthetic experience, the kind of experience with which art is concerned, we must leave untouched, owing to lack of space. Aesthetic theory is so confused that no adequate brief discussion of it is possible. I will say only that, in my view, art is to be explained in terms of symbolic satisfactions — personal, social, and perhaps mystical; that there is no need to introduce a unique kind of aesthetic value, to be called "beauty" or "significant form."
One point about primitive and developed activities must be emphasised. We must distinguish between the urgency of the primitive activities and the ultimacy of the developed activities. In starvation the urgency of eating eclipses all else; but a human life in which there were no activity superior to eating would be a poor thing.
On the other hand, a life in which the primitive activities were regarded solely as necessary means to the higher activities would be not merely physically but also mentally and spiritually unwholesome. For the primitive activities, such as eating, bodily exercise, and physical sexual activity, can afford not only a purely physical but also a spiritual refreshment and elucidation. So to speak, the developed human mind can actually discover more in these activities than the animal or child can discover. For the child and the animal they may be more intense; but the well-grown adult, unhampered by puritanical taboos and unspoiled by excess, experiences them with more discrimination and penetration. Seeing them in relation to one another and to the rest of his experience, he may discover in them a significance which would not otherwise be revealed, a significance which may be called spiritual.
The word "spiritual" is dangerously ambiguous and emotive. I use it to refer solely to those activities which the developed mind intuits as expressing the most developed part of human nature, as being, in fact, at the upper limit of human capacity.
For each individual there is implied in his nature as a knowing, feeling, and striving thing an ideal of personal fulfilment. For him what is desirable, what is good, whether he consciously wills it or not, is that he should know, feel, and strive as fully as possible, as coherently as possible, as creatively as possible. If he recognises this fact about his nature, and if he has it in him to feel appropriately toward it (that is, if he really is a moral being), he ought to strive to realise his potentiality to the full. He ought to seek to know the world around him as truly as possible through whatever channels of experience are open to him. He ought to seek to correlate truly all the diverse modes of his experience. He ought to seek to prevent his understanding from being distorted by the influence of cravings, conscious or unconscious. He ought to seek to feel and strive appropriately to the world that he experiences. For instance, he ought not to let self-regard distract him from the service of the community. He ought to seek to "espouse" all good causes in just proportion. Not only so, but, so far as he can, he ought to strive not merely to foster the vital capacities of himself and others but also actually to evoke in himself and others new capacities of higher order. Here lies his opportunity of creative action.
The foregoing statement of the personal ideal is, of course, extremely abstract. For any particular person, with particular equipment and in particular circumstances, the direction will be something much more concrete and limited.
Practical morality is in the main concerned with the relations between human beings. Whatever the origins of the sense of obligation, in the developed mind it is bound up with two features of experience, namely, sympathy and rationality. The fulfilment of another individual personally known to the subject himself is easily intuited as good, and his frustration as bad. Moral development involves, among other things, the widening of the scope of spontaneous sympathy to embrace not merely personal beloveds, not merely companions whose character affords fulfilment to one's own personal needs, but even alien beings who are known to be in need.
Moral development also involves something more than this expansion of spontaneous sympathy. The rational impulse, which is also the impulse for objectivity in thought and action, is very relevant to morality. That which in oneself is intuited as exercising a moral claim on others for help, namely, "my personal need," exercises that claim wherever it occurs, whether or not I have close acquaintance with it or merely learn of it, whether or not I have enough of sensibility and imagination to feel spontaneous sympathy for it. On the strength of my own experience of my own needs and my experience of obligation toward particular individuals other than myself, I have formed a generalisation to this effect, and I recognise an obligation to make my conduct conform to the general good.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:13