Chapter I: The Subject-Matter of Ethics.

§ 22.

But finally (3) the sense which has been most prominent in recent uses of the term organic whole is one whereby it asserts the parts of such a whole have a property which the parts of no whole can possibly have. It is supposed that just as the whole would not be what it is but for the existence of the parts, so the parts would not be what they are but for the existence of the whole; and this is understood to mean not merely that any particular part could not exist unless the others existed too (which is the case where relation (1) exists between the parts), but actually that the part is no distinct object of thought—that the whole, of which it is a part, is in turn a part of it. That this supposition is self-contradictory a very little reflection should be sufficient to shew. We may admit, indeed, that when a particular thing is a part of a whole, it does possess a predicate which it would not otherwise possess—namely that it is a part of the whole. But what cannot be admitted is that this predicate alters the nature or enters into the definition of the thing which has it. When we think of the part itself, we mean just that which we assert, in this case, to have the predicate that it is part of the whole; and the mere assertion that it is a part of the whole involves that it should itself be distinct from that which we assert of it. Otherwise we contradict ourselves since we assert that, not it, but something else—namely it together with that which we assert of it—has the predicate which we assert of it. In short, it is obvious that no part contains analytically the whole to which it belongs, or any other parts of that whole. The relation of part to whole is not the same as that of whole to part; and the very definition of the latter is that it does contain analytically that which it is said to be its part. And yet this very self-contradictory doctrine is the chief mark which shews the influence of Hegel upon modern philosophy—an influence which pervades almost the whole of orthodox philosophy. This is what is generally implied by the cry against falsification by abstraction: that a whole is always a part of its part! If you want to know the truth about a part, we are told, you must consider not that part, but something else—namely the whole: nothing is true of the part, but only of the whole. Yet plainly it must be true of the part at least that it is part of the whole; and it is obvious that when we say it is, we do not mean merely that the whole is a part of itself. This doctrine, therefore, that a part can have no meaning or significance apart from its whole must be utterly rejected. It implies itself that the statement This is a part of that whole has a meaning; and in order that this may have one, both subject and predicate must have a distinct meaning. And it is easy to see how this flse doctrine has arisen by confusion with the two relations (1) and (2) which may really be properties of wholes. (§ 22 ¶ 1)

(a) The existence of a part may be connected by a natural or causal necessity with the existence of the other parts of its whole; and further what is a part of a whole and what has ceased to be such a part, although differing intrinsically from one another, may be called by one and the same name. Thus, to take a typical example, if an arm be cut off from the human body, we still call it an arm. Yet an arm, when it is a part of the body, undoubtedly differs from a dead arm; and hence we may easily be led to say The arm which is a part of the body would not be what it is, if it were not such a part, and to think that the contradiction thus expressed is in reality a characteristic of things. But, in fact, the dead arm never was a part of the body; it is only partially identical with the living arm. Those parts of it which are identical with parts of the living arm are exactly the same, whether they belong to the body or not; and in them we have an undeniable instance of one and the same thing at one time forming a part, and at another not forming a part of the presumed organic whole. On the other hand those properties which are possessed by the living, and not by the dead arm, do not exist in a changed form in the latter: they simply do not exist there at all. By a causal necessity their existence depends on their having that relation to the other parts of the body which we express by saying that they form part of it. Yet, most certainly, if they ever did not form part of the body, they would be exactly what they are when they do. That they differ intrinsically from the properties of the dead arm and that they form part of the body are propositions not analytically related to one another. There is no contradiction in supposing them to retain such intrinsic differences and yet not to form part of the body. (§ 22 ¶ 2)

But (b) when we are told that a living arm has no meaning or significance apart from the body to which it belongs, a different fallacy is also suggested. To have meaning or significance is commonly used in the sense of to have importance; and this again means to have value either as a means or as an end. Now it is quite possible that even a living arm, apart from its body, would have no intrinsic value whatever; although the whole of which it is a part has great intrinsic value owing to its presence. Thus we may easily come to say that, as a part of the body, it has great value, whereas by itself it would have none; and thus that its whole meaning lies in its relation to the body. But in fact the value in question obviously does not belong to it at all. To have value merely as a part is equivalent to having no value at all, but merely being a part of that which has it. Owing, however, to neglect of this distinction, the assertion that a part has value, as a part, which it would not otherwise have, easily leads to the assumption that it is also different, as a part, from what it would otherwise be; for it is, in fact, true that two things which have a different value must also differ in other respects. Hence the assumption that one and the same thing, because it is a part of a more valuable whole at one time than at another, therefore has more intrinsic value at one time than at another, has encouraged the self-contradictory belief that one and the same thing may be two different things, and that only in one of its forms is it truly what it is. (§ 22 ¶ 3)

For these reasons, I shall, where it seems convenient, take the liberty to use the term organic with a special sense. I shall use it to denote the fact that a whole has an intrinsic value different in amount from the sum of the values of its parts. I shall use it to denote this and only this. The term will not imply any causal relation whatever between the parts of the whole in question. And it will not imply either, that the parts are inconceivable except as parts of that whole, or that, when they form parts of such a whole, they have a value different from that which they would have if they did not. Understood in this special and perfectly definite sense the relation of an organic whole to its parts is one of the most important which Ethics has to recognise. A chief part of that science should be occupied in comparing the relative values of various goods; and the grossest errors will be committed in such comparison if it be assumed that wherever two things form a whole, the value of that whole is merely the sum of the values of those two things. With this question of organic wholes, then, we complete the enumeration of the kind of problems, with which it is the business of Ethics to deal. (§ 22 ¶ 4)