Chapter VI: The Ideal.

§ 110.

The title of this chapter is ambiguous. When we call a state of things ideal we may mean three distinct things, which have only this in common: that we always do mean to assert, of the state of things in question, not only that it is good in itself, but that it is good in itself in a much higher degree than many other things. The first of these meanings of ideal is (1) that to which the phrase The Ideal is most properly confined. By this is meant the best state of things conceivable, the Summum Bonum or Absolute Good. It is in this sense that a right conception of Heaven would be a right conception of the Ideal: we mean by the Ideal a state of things which would be absolutely perfect. But this conception may be quite clearly distinguished from a second, namely, (2) that of the best possible state of things in this world. This second conception may be identified with that which has frequently figured in philosophy as the Human Good, or the ultimate end towards which our action should be directed. It is in this sense that Utopias are said to be Ideals. the constructor of an Utopia may suppose many things to be possible, which are in fact impossible; but he always assumes that some things, at least, are rendered impossible by natural laws, and hence his construction differs essentially from one which may disregard all natural laws, however certainly established. At all events the question What is the best state of things which we could possibly bring about? is quite distinct from the question What would be the best state of things conceivable? But, thirdly, we may mean by calling a state of things ideal merely (3) that it is good in itself in a high degree. And it is obvious that the question what things are ideal in this sense is one which must be answered before we can pretend to settle what is the Absolute or the Human Good. It is with the Ideal, in this third sense, that this chapter will be principally concerned. Its main object is to arrive at some positive answer to the fundamental question of Ethics—the question: What things are goods or ends in themselves? To this question we have hitherto obtained only a negative answer: the answer that pleasure is certainly not the sole good. (§ 110 ¶ 1)