Chapter VI: The Ideal.

§ 111.

I have just said that it is upon a correct answer to this question that correct answers to the two other questions, What is the Absolute Good? and What is the Human Good? must depend; and, before proceeding to discuss it, it may be well to point out the relation which it has to these two premises. (§ 111 ¶ 1)

(1) It is just possible that the Absolute Good may be entirely composed of qualities which we cannot even imagine. This is possible, because, though we certainly do know a great many things that are good-in-themselves, and good in a high degree, yet what is best does not necessarily contain all the good things there are. That this is so follows from the principle explained in Chap. I. (§§ 18—22), to which it was there proposed that the name principle of organic unities should be confined. This principle is that the intrinsic value of a whole is neither identical with nor proportional to the sum of the values of its parts. It follows from this that, though in order to obtain the greatest possible sum of values in its parts, the Ideal would necessarily contain all the things which have all these parts might not be so valuable as some other whole, from which certain positive goods were omitted. But if a whole, which does not contain all positive goods, may yet be better than a whole which does, it follows that the best whole may be one, which contains none of the positive goods with which we are acquainted. (§ 111 ¶ 2)

It is, therefore, possible that we cannot discover what the Ideal is. But it is plain that, though this possibility cannot be denied, no one can have any right to assert that it is realised—that the Ideal is something unimaginable. We cannot judge of the comparative values of things, unless the things we judge are before our minds. We cannot, therefore, be entitled to assert that anything, which we cannot imagine, would be better than some of the things which we can; although we are also not entitled to deny the possibility that this may be the case. Consequently our search for the Ideal must be limited to a search for that one, among all the wholes composed of elements known to us, which seems to be better than all the rest. We shall never be entitled to assert that this whole is Perfection, but we shall be entitled to assert that it is better than any other which may be presented as a rival. (§ 111 ¶ 3)

But, since anything which we can have any reason to think ideal must be composed of things that are known to us, it is plain that a comparative valuation of these must be our chief instrument for deciding what is ideal. The best ideal we can construct will be that state of things which contains the greatest number of things having positive value, and which contains nothing evil or indifferent—provided that the presence of none of these goods, or the absence of things evil or indifferent, seems to diminish the value of the whole. And, in fact, the chief defect of such attempts as have been made by philosophers to construct such an Ideal—to describe the Kingdom of Heaven—seems to consist in the fact that they omit many things of very great positive value, although it is plain that this omission does not enhance the value of the whole. Where this is the case, it may be confidently asserted that the ideal proposed is not ideal. And the review of positive goods, which I am about to undertake, will, I hope, shew that no ideals yet proposed are satisfactory. Great positive goods, it will appear, are so numerous, that any whole, which shall contain them all, must be of vast complexity. And though this fact renders it difficult, or, humanly speaking, impossible, to decide what is The Ideal, what is the absolutely best state of things imaginable, it is sufficient to condemn those Ideals, which are formed by omission, without any visible gain in consequence of such omission. Philosophers seem usually to have sought only for the best of single things; neglecting the fact that a whole composed of two great goods, even though one of these be obviously inferior to the other, may yet be often seen to be decidedly superior to either by itself. (§ 111 ¶ 4)

(2) On the other hand, Utopias—attempted descriptions of a Heaven upon Earth—commonly suffer not only from this, but also from the opposite defect. They are commonly constructed on the principle of merely omitting the great positive evils, which exist at present, with utterly inadequate regard to the goodness of what they retain: the so-called goods, to which they have regard, are, for the most part, things which are, at best, mere means to good—things, such as freedom, without which, possibly nothing very good can exist in this world, but which are of no value in themselves and are by no means certain even to produce anything of value. It is, of course, necessary to the purpose of their authors, whose object is merely to construct the best that may be possible in this world, that they should include, in the state of things which they describe, many things which are themselves indifferent, but which, according to natural laws, seem to be absolutely necessary for the existence of anything which is good. But, in fact, they are apt to include many things, of which the necessity is by no means apparent, under the mistaken idea that these things are goods-in-themselves, and not merely, here and now, a means to good: while, on the other hand, they also omit from their description great positive goods, of which the attainment seems to be quite as possible as many of the changes which they recommend. That is to say, conceptions of the Human Good commonly err, not only, like those of the Absolute Good, in omitting some great goods, but also by including things indifferent; and they both omit and include in cases where the limitations of natural necessity, by the consideration of which they are legitimately differentiated from conceptions of the Absolute Good, will not justify the omission and inclusion. It is, in fact, obvious that in order to decide correctly at what state of things we ought to aim, we must not only consider what results it is possible for us to obtain, but also which, among equally possible results, will have the greatest value. And upon this second enquiry the comparative valuation of known goods has a no less important bearing than upon the investigation of the Absolute Good. (§ 111 ¶ 5)