Chapter V: Ethics in Relation to Conduct.

§ 102.

With regard to interested actions, the case is somewhat different. When we ask the question, Is this really to my interest? we appear to be asking exclusively whether its effects upon me are the best possible; and it may well happen that what will effect me in the manner, which is really the best possible, will not produce the best possible results on the whole. Accordingly my true interest may be different from the course which is really expedient and dutiful. To assert that an action is to my interest, is, indeed, as was pointed out in Chap. III. (§§ 59—61), to assert that its effects are really good. My own good only denotes some event affecting me, which is good absolutely and objectively; it is the thing, and not its goodness, which is mine; everything must be either a part of universal good or else not good at all; there is no third alternative conception good for me. But my interest, though it must be something truly good, is only one among possible good effects; and hence, by effecting it, though we shall be doing some good, we may be doing less good on the whole, than if we had acted otherwise. Self-sacrifice may be a real duty; just as the sacrifice of any single good, whether affecting ourselves or others, may be necessary in order to obtain a better total result. Hence the fact that an action is really to my interest, can never be a sufficient reason for doing it: by shewing that it is not a means to the best possible, we do not shew that it is not to my interest, as we do shew that it is not expedient. Nevertheless there is no necessary conflict between duty and interest: what is to my interest may also be a means to the best possible. And the chief distinction conveyed by the distinct words duty and interest seems to be not this source of possible conflict, but the same which is conveyed by the contrast between duty and expediency. By interested actions are mainly meant those which, whether a means to the best possible or not, are such as have their most obvious effects on the agent; which he generally has no temptation to omit; and with regard to which we feel no moral sentiment. That is to say, the distinction is not primarily ethical. Here too duties are not, in general, more useful or obligatory than interested actions; they are only actions which it is more useful to praise. (§ 102 ¶ 1)