Chapter III: Hedonism.

§ 53.

It seems, then, clear that Hedonism is in error, so far as it maintains that pleasure alone, and not the consciousness of pleasure, is the sole good. And this error seems largely due to the fallacy which I pointed out above in Mill—the fallacy of confusing means and end. It is falsely supposed that, since pleasure must always be accompanied by consciousness (which is, itself, extremely doubtful), therefore it is indifferent whether we say that pleasure or the consciousness of pleasure is the sole good. Practically, of course, it would be indifferent at which we aimed, if it were certain that we could not get the one without the other; but where the question is of what is good in itself—where we ask: For the sake of what is it desirable to get that which we aim at?—the distinction is by no means unimportant. Here we are placed before an exclusive alternative. Either pleasure by itself (even though we can’t get it) would be all that is desirable, or a consciousness of it would be more desirable still. Both these propositions cannot be true, and I think it is plain that the latter is true; whence it follows that pleasure is not the sole good. (§ 53 ¶ 1)

Still it may be said that, even if consciousness of pleasure, and not pleasure alone, is the sole good, this conclusion is not very damaging to Hedonism. It may be said that Hedonists have always meant by pleasure the consciousness of pleasure, though they have not been at pains to say so; and this, I think is, in the main, true. To correct their formula in this respect could, therefore, only be a matter of practical importance, if it is possible to produce pleasure without producing consciousness of it. But even this importance, which I think our conclusion so far really has, is, I admit, comparatively slight. What I wish to maintain is that even consciousness of pleasure is not the sole good: that, indeed, it is absurd so to regard it. And the chief importance of what has been said so far lies in the fact that the same method, which shews that consciousness of pleasure is more valuable than pleasure, seems also to shew that consciousness of pleasure is itself far less valuable than other things. The supposition that consciousness of pleasure is the sole good is due to a neglect of the same distinctions which have encouraged the careless assertion that pleasure is the sole good. (§ 53 ¶ 2)

The method which I employed in order to shew that pleasure itself was not the sole good, was that of considering what value we should attach to it, if it existed in absolute isolation, stripped of all its usual accompaniments. And this is, in fact, the only method that can be safely used, when we wish to discover what degree of value a thing has in itself. The necessity of employing this method will be best established by a discussion of the arguments used by Prof. Sidgwick in the passage last quoted, and by an exposure of the manner in which they are calculated to mislead. (§ 53 ¶ 3)

§ 54.

With regard to the second of them, it only maintains that other things, which might be supposed to share with pleasure the attribute of goodness, seem to obtain the commendation of Common Sense, roughly speaking, in proportion to the degree of their productiveness of pleasure. Whether even this rough proportion holds between the commendation of Common Sense and the felicific effects of that which it commends is a question extremely difficult to determine; and we need not enter into it here. For, even assuming it to be true, and assuming the judgments of Common Sense to be on the whole correct, what would it shew? It would shew, certainly, that pleasure was a good criterion of right action—that the same conduct which produced most pleasure would also produce most good on the whole. But this would by no means entitle us to the conclusion that the greatest pleasure constituted what was best on the whole: it would still leave open the alternative that the greatest quantity of pleasure was as a matter of fact, under actual conditions, generally accompanied by the greatest quantity of other goods, and that it therefore was not the sole good. It might indeed seem to be a strange coincidence that these two things should always, even in this world, be in proportion to one another. But the strangeness of this coincidence will certainly not entitle us to argue directly that it does not exist—that it is an illusion, due to the fact that pleasure is really the sole good. The coincidence may be susceptible of other explanations; and it would even be our duty to accept it unexplained, if direct intuition seemed to declare that pleasure was not the sole good. Moreover it must be remembered that the need for assuming such a coincidence rests in any case upon the extremely doubtful proposition that felicific effects are roughly in proportion to the approval of Common Sense. And it should be observed that, though Prof. Sidgwick maintains this to be the case, his detailed illustrations only tend to shew the very different proposition that a thing is not held to be good, unless it gives a balance of pleasure; not that the degree of commendation is in proportion to the quantity of pleasure. (§ 54 ¶ 1)

§ 55.

The decision, then, must rest upon Prof. Sidgwick’s first argumentthe appeal to our intuitive judgment after due consideration of the question when fairly placed before it. And here it seems to me plain that Prof. Sidgwick has failed, in two essential respects, to place the question fairly before either himself or his reader. (§ 55 ¶ 1)

(1) What he has to shew is, as he says himself, not merely that Happiness must be included as a part of Ultimate Good. This view, he says, ought not to commend itself to the sober judgment of reflective persons. And why? Because these objective relations, when distinguished from the consciousness accompanying and resulting from them, are not ultimately and intrinsically desirable. Now, this reason, which is offered as shewing that to consider Happiness as a mere part of Ultimate Good does not meet the facts of intuition, is, on the contrary, only sufficient to shew that it is a part of Ultimate Good. For from the fact that no value resides in one part of a whole, considered by itself, we cannot infer that all the value belonging to the whole does reside in the other part, considered by itself. Even if we admit that there is much value in the enjoyment of Beauty, and none in the mere contemplation of it, which is one of the constituents of that complex fact, it does not follow that all the value belongs to the other constituent, namely, the pleasure which we take in contemplating it. It is quite possible that this constituent also has no value in itself; that the value belongs to the whole state, and to that only: so that both the pleasure and the contemplation are mere parts of the good, and both of them equally necessary parts. In short, Prof. Sidgwick’s argument here depends upon the neglect of that principle, which I tried to explain in my first chapter and which I said I should call the principle of organic relations. The argument is calculated to mislead, because it supposes that, if we see a whole state to be valuable, and also see that one element of that state has no value by itself, then the other element, by itself, must have all the value which belongs to the whole state. The fact is, on the contrary, that, since the whole may be organic, the other element need have no value whatever, and that even if it have some, the value of the whole may be very much greater. For this reason, as well as to avoid confusion between means and end, it is absolutely essential to consider each distinguishing quality, in isolation, in order to decide what value it possesses. Prof. Sidgwick, on the other hand, applies this method of isolation only to one element in the wholes he is considering. He does not ask the question: If consciousness of pleasure existed absolutely by itself, would a sober judgment be able to attribute much value to it? It is, in fact, always misleading to take a whole, that is valuable (or the reverse), and then to ask simply: To which of its constituents does this whole owe its value or its vileness? It may well be that it owes it to none; and, if one of them does appear to have some value in itself, we shall be led into the grave error of supposing that all the value of the whole belongs to it alone. It seems to me that this error has commonly been committed with regard to pleasure. Pleasure does seem to be a necessary constituent of most valuable wholes; and, since the other constituents, into which we may analyse them, may easily seem not to have any value, it is natural to suppose that all the value belongs to pleasure. That this natural supposition does not follow from the premises is certain; and that it is, on the contrary, ridiculously far from the truth appears evident to my reflective judgment. If we apply either to pleasure or to consciousness of pleasure the only safe method, that of isolation, and ask ourselves: Could we accept, as a very good thing, that mere consciousness of pleasure, and absolutely nothing else, should exist, even in the greatest quantities? I think we can have no doubt about answering: No. Far less can we accept this as the sole good. Even if we accept Prof. Sidgwick’s implication (which yet appears to me extremely doubtful) that consciousness of pleasure has a greater value by itself than Contemplation of Beauty, it seems to me that a pleasurable Contemplation of Beauty has certainly an immeasurably greater value than mere Consciousness of Pleasure. In favour of this conclusion I can appeal with confidence to the sober judgment of reflective persons. (§ 55 ¶ 2)

§ 56.

(2) That the value of a pleasurable whole does not belong solely to the pleasure which it contains, may, I think, be made still plainer by consideration of another point in which Prof. Sidgwick’s argument is defective. Prof. Sidgwick maintains, as we saw, the doubtful proposition, that the conduciveness to pleasure of a thing is in rough proportion to its commendation by Common Sense. But he does not maintain, what would be undoubtedly false, that the pleasantness of every state is in proportion to the commendation of that state. In other words, it is only when you take into account the whole consequences of any state, that he is able to maintain the coincidence of quantity of pleasure with the objects approved by Common Sense. If we consider each state by itself, and ask what is the judgment of Common Sense as to its goodness as an end, quite apart from its goodness as a means, there can be no doubt that Common Sense holds many much less pleasant states to be better than many far more pleasant: that it holds, with Mill, that there are higher pleasures, which are more valuable, though less pleasant, than those that are lower. Prof. Sidgwick might, of course, maintain that in this Common Sense is merely confusing means and ends: that what it holds to be better as an end, is in reality only better as a means. But I think his argument is defective in that he does not seem to see sufficiently plainly that, as far as intuitions of goodness as an end are concerned, he is running grossly counter to Common Sense; that he does not emphasise sufficiently the distinction between immediate pleasantness and conduciveness to pleasure. In order to place fairly before us the question what is good as an end we must take states that are immediately pleasant and ask if the more pleasant are always also the better; and whether, if some that are less pleasant appear to be so, it is only because we think they are likely to increase the number of the more pleasant. That Common Sense would deny both these suppositions, and rightly so, appears to me indubitable. It is commonly held that certain of what would be called the lowest forms of sexual enjoyment, for instance, are positively bad, although it is by no means clear that they are not the most pleasant states we ever experience. Common Sense would certainly not think it a sufficient justification for the pursuit of what Prof. Sidgwick calls the refined pleasures here and now, that they are the best means to the future attainment of a heaven, in which there would be no more refined pleasures—no contemplation of beauty, no personal affections—but in which the greatest possible pleasure would be obtained by a perpetual indulgence in bestiality. Yet Prof. Sidgwick would be bound to hold that, if the greatest possible pleasure could be obtained in this way, and if it were attainable, such a state of things would be a heaven indeed, and that all human endeavours should be devoted to its realisation. I venture to think that this view is as false as it is paradoxical. (§ 56 ¶ 1)

§ 57.

It seems to me, then, that if we place fairly before us the question: Is consciousness of pleasure the sole good? the answer must be: No. And with this the last defence of Hedonism has been broken down. In order to put the question fairly we must isolate consciousness of pleasure. We must ask: Suppose we were conscious of pleasure only, and of nothing else, not even that we were conscious, would that state of things, however great the quantity, be very desirable? No one, I think, can suppose it so. On the other hand, it seems quite plain, that we do regard as very desirable, many complicated states of mind in which the consciousness of pleasure is combined with consciousness of other things—states which we call enjoyment of so and so. If this is correct, then it follows that consciousness of pleasure is not the sole good, and that many other states, in which it is included only as a part, are much better than it. Once we recognise the principle of organic unities, any objection to this conclusion, founded on the supposed fact that the other elements of such states have no value in themselves, must disappear. And I do not know that I need say any more in refutation of Hedonism. (§ 57 ¶ 1)