The Theory of Good and Evil (1907)


If we were to enter at greater length into the relation between the different parts or elements or activities of our nature, with which we have just been dealing, we should find ourselves involved in many difficult and important matters of psychological controversy. Such psychological problems I wish in the present work to avoid in so far as their solution is not directly and immediately necessary for the purpose of Ethics. But by way of explaining my use of them, a few remarks may be added. I do not adopt the usage of those Psychologists who make feeling equivalent merely to pleasure and pain. Such a usage seems to imply an abstraction of the pleasure from its content, which is not what we really mean when we talk about feeling, and which tends to encourage the idea that we are interested in nothing but the hedonistic intensity of our consciousness apart from its content. By Thought or Reason I do not mean merely discursive thought to the exclusion of immediate perception, but the whole intellectual side of our consciousness; I include in it every kind of awareness. Desire I regard as belonging to the conative or striving side of our nature, though it implies also, and cannot exist apart from, both the intellectual and the feeling side of it: we must know in some measure what we desire, and the desire is itself a state of feeling, though it is more. An emotion is simply a name for a kind of feeling, but the term is usually and properly reserved for those states of feeling which are not, and do not immediately arise from, physical sensations, but imply the existence of ideas and of those higher desires which are directed towards ideal objects. It is obvious that in these distinctions we are concerned with aspects of consciousness rather than with distinct and separable things or facts or states. In some cases the distinction between them is clear and capable by an easy abstraction of a pretty sharp differentiation in our thought: in other cases they are simply the same thing looked at from a slightly different point of view. We have no difficulty for instance in distinguishing processes of mathematical calculation from the pleasant feeling by which they are accompanied in the mathematical mind, or the unpleasant feeling which those processes create in the unmathematical. On the other hand a simple perception of colour must be treated as an intellectual activity when we think of the recognized relation between the person or subject and his object, as a state of feeling when we think of it merely as a state of the subject and from the point of view of his interest in it. Similarly one and the same desire may be looked upon simply as a particular state of the subject and so as feeling, or as involving the intellectual idea of an end, or again as a conative activity tending to realize that end. Further to illustrate both distinctions between, and the inter-dependence of, these fundamental aspects of consciousness does not seem necessary to enable us to proceed with our ethical enquiry. All that need here be emphasized is that the value which we recognize in consciousness is not dependent upon any one of these aspects taken in absolute abstraction from another. The extremest Hedonist will find it impossible to attach a clear meaning to the idea of pleasure taken apart from all awareness that one is pleased, or of what one is pleased at; the extremest Rigorist would find it difficult to say what would be the value of a good will which did not know what it willed and did not care whether it willed it or not. And the moral consciousness does not encourage us to approximate to any such feats of abstraction, even in so far as this may be possible. It pronounces its judgement upon the value of consciousness as a whole. For the purpose of weighing one good against another and choosing between them in cases of collision, it may often have to attempt a relatively complete abstraction of one aspect from another; but it does not pronounce that any aspect has exclusive value, or that the value of one aspect is to be estimated entirely without reference to the others, or that the good can be conceived of under any one of them. The man is Reason, Feeling, Will; and the ideal state for man is an ideal state of all three elements in his nature in their ideal relation to one another.(Bk. 1 Ch. 3 § 5 ¶ 1)

At this point it is probable that the reader who is inclined to utilitarian ways of thinking will be disposed to ask, How do you know that knowledge is good, or (if you like so to express it) that the pleasures attending its pursuit and attainment are intrinsically superior to those of eating and drinking? The answer must be, I do as a matter of fact so judge: I judge it immediately, and, so far, a priori: my Reason so pronounces: judgements of value are ultimate, and no ethical position, utilitarian or other, can rest on anything but judgements of value. What is this, the reader is likely to exclaim, but sheer Intuitionism? How far I am prepared to accept this identification will appear from the next chapter[64].(Bk. 1 Ch. 3 § 5 ¶ 2)

Bk. 1 Ch. 3 § 5 n. 1. The logical contradiction involved in Egoism has been powerfully argued by von Hartmann in his criticism of Nietzsche and Max Stirner (Ethische Studien, pp. 33–90). More recently Mr. Moore has incisively expressed the difficulty as follows: What Egoism holds, therefore, is that each man's happiness is the sole good--that a number of different things are each of them the only good thing there is--an absolute contradiction! No more complete and thorough refutation of any theory could be desired. Yet Professor Sidgwick holds that Egoism is rational, a conclusion which he proceeds to characterise as absurd (Principia Ethica, 1903, p. 99 [§§ 59–60]). I should agree with him that the position is self-contradictory in a sense in which univerasalistic Hedonism is not, and that with all his subtlety Sidgwick failed altogether to escape what was really an inconsistency in thought, even if he escaped an actual or formal contradiction. But to point out this logical contradiction does not seem to me quite so easy and final a way of refuting Sidgwick's position as it does to Mr. Moore for these reasons: (1) The Egoist with whom Professor Sidgwick is arguing would probably not accept Mr. Moore's (and my own) conception of an absolute objective good, though I should admit and have contended in this chapter that if he fully thought out what is implied in his own contention that his conduct is reasonable he would be led to that conception. (2) Sidgwick only admitted that the Egoist was reasonable from one point of view--reasonable as far as he goes, i.e. when he refuses to ask whether his judgements are consistent with what he cannot help recognizing as the rational judgements of other men, and limits himself to asking whether he can make his own judgements consistent with themselves from his own point of view. No doubt Sidgwick ought to have gone on to admit that this imperfectly reasonable point of view was not really reasonable at all, and to some extent he has done this in his last Edition. And (3) after all, even if we admit that the Egoist is unreasonable, there remains the question Why should he care to be reasonable? It was largely the difficulty of answering this question on universalistic Hedonist principle which drove Professor Sidgwick to admit a dualism of the Practical Reason, and I am not sure that the question has been very satisfactorily answered by Mr. Moore who, though he is no Hedonist, appears to be unwilling to give the good will the highest place in his scale of goods.