Chapter V: Ethics in Relation to Conduct.

§ 104.

But there is another question with regard to virtues and duties which must be settled by intuition alone—by the properly guarded method which was explained in discussing Hedonism. This is the question whether the dispositions and actions, commonly regarded (rightly or not) as virtues or duties, are good in themselves; whether they have intrinsic value. Virtue or the exercise of virtue has very commonly been asserted by moralists to be either the sole good, or, at least, the best of goods. Indeed, so far as moralists have discussed the question what is good in itself at all, they have generally assumed that it must be either virtue or pleasure. It would hardly have been possible that such a gross difference of opinion should exist, or that it should have been assumed the discussion must be limited to two such alternatives, if the meaning of the question had been clearly apprehended. And we have already seen that the meaning of the question has hardly ever been clearly apprehended. Almost all ethical writers have committed the naturalistic fallacy—they have failed to perceive that the notion of intrinsic value is simple and unique; and almost all have failed, in consequence, to distinguish clearly between means and end—they have discussed, as if it were simple and unambiguous, the question What ought we to do? or What ought to exist now? without distinguishing whether the reason why a thing ought to be done or to exist now, is that it is itself possessed of intrinsic value, or that it is a means to what has intrinsic value. We shall, therefore, be prepared to find that virtue has as little claim to be considered the sole or chief good as pleasure; more especially after seeing that, so far as definition goes, to call a thing a virtue is merely to declare that it is a means to good. The advocates of virtue have, we shall see, this superiority over the Hedonists, that inasmuch as virtues are very complex mental facts, there are included in them many things which are good in themselves and good in a much higher degree than pleasures. The advocates of Hedonism, on the other hand, have the superiority that their method emphasizes the distinction between means and ends; although they have not apprehended the distinction clearly enough to perceive that the special ethical predicate, which they assign to pleasure as not being a mere means, must also apply to many other things. (§ 104 ¶ 1)