Chapter III: Hedonism.

§ 37.

There is, therefore, ample reason to suppose that Hedonism is in general a form of Naturalism—that its acceptance is generally due to the naturalistic fallacy. It is, indeed, only when we have detected this fallacy, when we have become clearly aware of the unique object which is meant by good, that we are able to give to Hedonism the precise definition used above, Nothing is good but pleasure: and it may, therefore, be objected that, in attacking this doctrine under the name of Hedonism, I am attacking a doctrine which has never really been held. But it is very common to hold a doctrine, without being clearly aware what it is you hold; and though, when Hedonists argue in favour of what they call Hedonism, I admit that, in order to suppose their arguments valid, they must have before their minds something other than the doctrine I have defined, yet, in order to draw the conclusions that they draw, it is necessary that they should also have before their minds this doctrine. In fact, my justification for supposing that I shall have refuted historical Hedonism, if I refute the proposition Nothing is good but pleasure, is, that although Hedonists have rarely stated their principle in this form and though its truth, in this form, will certainly not follow from their arguments, yet their ethical method will follow logically from nothing else. Any pretence of hedonistic method, to discover to us practical truths which we should not otherwise have known, is founded on the principle that the course of action which will bring the greatest balance of pleasure is certainly the right one; and, failing an absolute proof that the greatest balance of pleasure always coincides with the greatest balance of other goods, which it is not generally attempted to give, this principle can only be justified if pleasure be the sole good. Indeed it can hardly be doubted that Hedonists are distinguished by arguing, in disputed practical questions, as if pleasure were the sole good; and that it is justifiable, for this among other reasons, to take this as the ethical principle of Hedonism will, I hope, be made further evident by the whole discussion of this chapter. (§ 37 ¶ 1)

By Hedonism, then, I mean the doctrine that pleasure alone is good as an end—good in the sense which I have tried to point out as indefinable. The doctrine that pleasure, among other things, is good as an end, is not Hedonism; and I shall not dispute its truth. Nor again is the doctrine that other things, beside pleasure, are good as means, at all inconsistent with Hedonism: the Hedonist is not bound to maintain that Pleasure alone is good, if under good he includes, as we generally do, what is good as means to an end, as well as the end itself. In attacking Hedonism, I am therefore simply and solely attacking the doctrine that Pleasure alone is good as an end or in itself: I am not attacking the doctrine that Pleasure is good as an end or in itself, nor am I attacking any doctrine whatever as to what are the best means we can take in order to obtain pleasure or any other end. Hedonists do, in general, recommend a course of conduct which is very similar to that which I should recommend. I do not quarrel with them about most of their practical conclusions. I quarrel only with the reasons by which they seem to think their conclusions can be supported; and I do emphatically deny that the correctness of their conclusions is any ground for inferring the correctness of their principles. A correct conclusion may always be obtained by fallacious reasoning; and the good life or virtuous maxims of a Hedonist afford absolutely no presumption that his ethical philosophy is also good. It is his ethical philosophy alone with which I am concerned: what I dispute is the excellence of his reasoning, not the excellence of his character as a man or even as moral teacher. It may be thought that my contention is unimportant, but that is no ground for thinking that I am not in the right. What I am concerned with is knowledge only—that we should think correctly and so far arrive at some truth, however unimportant: I do not say that such knowledge will make us more useful members of society. If any one does not care for knowledge for its own sake, then I have nothing to say to him: only it should not be thought that a lack of interest in what I have to say is any ground for holding it untrue. (§ 37 ¶ 2)