III. Right and Wrong.


One apparent objection at once suggests itself to the definition. Very few acts are of sufficient importance to justify such elaborate and careful consideration as is required for forming an opinion as to whether they are the wisest. Indeed, the least important decisions are often those which it would be hardest to make on purely reasonable grounds. A man who debates on each day which of two ways of taking exercise is likely to prove most beneficial is considered absurd; the question is at once difficult and unimportant, and is therefore not worth spending time over. But although it is true that unimportant decisions ought not to be made with excessive care, there is danger of confusion if this is regarded as an objection to our definition of objective rightness. For the act which, in the case supposed, is objectively wrong is the act of deliberation. And the deliberation is condemned by our definition, for it is very unlikely that there is no more beneficial way of spending time than in debating trivial points of conduct. Thus, although the wisest act is the one which, after complete investigation, appears likely to give the most fortunate results, yet the complete investigation required to show that it is the wisest act is only itself wise in the case of very important decisions. This is only an elaborate way of saying that a wise man will not waste time on unimportant details. Hence this apparent objection can be answered. (§ 17 ¶ 1)