Chapter V: Ethics in Relation to Conduct.

§ 87.

So much, then, for the first step which established that good is good and nothing else whatever, and that Naturalism was a fallacy. A second step was taken when we began to consider proposed self-evident principles of Ethics. In this second division, resting on our result that good means good, we began the discussion of propositions asserting that such and such a thing or quality or concept was good. Of such a kind was the principle of Intuitionistic or Ethical Hedonism—the principle that Pleasure alone is good. Following the method established by our first discussion, I claimed that the untruth of this proposition was self-evident. I could do nothing to prove that it was untrue; I could only point out as clearly as possible what it means, and how it contradicts other propositions which appear to be equally true. My only object in all this was, necessarily, to convince. But even if I did convince, that does not prove that we are right. It justifies us in holding that we are so; but nevertheless we may be wrong. On one thing, however, we may justly pride ourselves. It is that we have had a better chance of answering our questions rightly, than Bentham or Mill or Sidgwick or others who have contradicted us. For we have proved that these have never even asked themselves the question which they professed to answer. They have confused it with another question: small wonder, therefore, if their answer is different from ours. We must be quite sure that the same question has been put, before we trouble ourselves at the different answers that are given to it. For all we know, the whole world would agree with us, if they could once clearly understand the question upon which we want their votes. Certain it is, that in all those cases where we found a difference of opinion, we found also that the question had not been clearly understood. Though, therefore, we cannot prove that we are right, yet we have a reason to believe that everybody, unless he is mistaken as to what he thinks, will think the same as we. It is as with a sum in mathematics. If we find a gross and palpable error in the calculations, we are not surprised or troubled that the person who made this mistake has reached a different result from ours. We think he will admit that his result is wrong, if his mistake is pointed out to him. For instance if a man has to add up 5 + 7 + 9, we should not wonder that he made the result to be 34, if he started by making 5 + 7 = 25. And so in Ethics, if we find, as we did, that desirable is confused with desired, or that end is confused with means, we need not be disconcerted that those who have committed these mistakes do not agree with us. The only difference is that in Ethics, owing to the intricacy of its subject matter, it is far more difficult to persuade anyone either that he has made a mistake or that that mistake affects his result. (§ 87 ¶ 1)

In this second division of my subject—the division which is occupied with the question, What is good in itself?—I have hitherto only tried to establish one definite result, and that a negative one: namely that pleasure is not the sole good. This result, if true, refutes half, or more than half, of the ethical theories which have ever been held, and is, therefore, not without importance. It will, however, be necessary presently to deal positively with the question: What things are good and in what degrees? (§ 87 ¶ 2)