Chapter IV: Metaphysical Ethics.

§ 82.

I will now sum up account of the apparent connections between will and ethical propositions, which seem to support the vague conviction that This is good is somehow identical with This is willed in a certain way. (1) It may be maintained, with sufficient show of truth, that it is only because certain things were originally willed, that we ever came to have ethical convictions at all. And it has been too commonly assumed that to shew what was the cause of a thing is the same thing as to shew the thing itself is. IT is, however, hardly necessary to point out that this is not the case. (2) It may be further maintained, with some plausibility, that to think a thing good and to will it in a certain way are now as a matter of fact identical. We must, however, distinguish certain possible meanings of this assertion. It may be admitted that when we think a thing good, we generally have a special attitude of will or feeling towards it; and that, perhaps, when we will it in a certain way, we do always think it good. But the very fact that we can thus distinguish the question whether, though the one is always accompanied by the other, yet this other may not always be accompanied by the first, shews that the two things are not, in the strict sense, identical. The fact is that, whatever we mean by will, or by any form of the will, the fact we mean by it certainly always includes something else beside the thinking a thing good: and hence that, when willing and thinking good are asserted to be identical, the most that can be meant is that this other element in will always both accompanies and is accompanied by the thinking good; and this, as has been said, is of very doubtful truth. Even, however, if it were strictly true, the fact that the two things can be distinguished is fatal to the assumed coordination between will and cognition, in one of the senses in which that assumption is commonly made. For it is only in respect of the other element in will, that volition differs from cognition; whereas it is only in respect of the fact that volition, or some form of volition, includes a cognition of goodness, that will can have the same relation to ethical, which cognition has to metaphysical, propositions. Accordingly the fact of volition, as a whole, that is, if we include in it the element which makes it volition and distinguishes it from cognition, has not the same relation to ethical propositions which cognition has to those which are metaphysical. Volition and cognition are not coordinate ways of experiencing, since it is only in so far as volition denotes a complex fact, which includes in it the one identical simple fact, which is meant by cognition, that volition is a way of experiencing at all. (§ 82 ¶ 1)

But, (3) if we allow the terms volition or will to stand for thinking good, although they certainly do not commonly stand for this, there still remains the question: What connection would this fact establish between volition and Ethics? Could the enquiry into what was willed be identical with the ethical enquiry into what was good? It is plain enough that they could not be identical; though it is also plain why they should be thought so. The question What is good? is confused with the question What is thought good? and the question What is true? with the question What is thought true? for two main reasons. (1) One of these is the general difficulty that is found in distinguishing what is cognised from the cognition of it. It is observed that I certainly cannot cognise anything that is true without cognising it. Since, therefore, whenever I know a thing that is true, the thing is certainly cognised, it is assumed that for a thing to be true at all is the same thing as for it to be cognised. And (2) it is not observed that certain words, which are supposed to denote only peculiar species of cognition, do as a matter of fact also denote that the object cognised is true. Thus if perception be taken to denote only a certain kind of mental fact, then, since the object of it is always true, it becomes easy to suppose that to be true means only to be object to a mental state of that kind. And similarly it is easy to suppose that to be truly good differs from being falsely thought so, solely in respect of the fact that to be the former is to be the object of a volition differing from that of which an apparent good is the object, in the same way in which a perception (on this supposition) differs from an illusion. (§ 82 ¶ 2)