Book III: The Moral Ideal and Moral Progress.

Chapter I: Good and Moral Good.


We are now in a position to return to the difficulty which was raised at the beginning of the last chapter, and which led to our attempt to ascertain the nature of Will, in its relation to desire and thought. That difficulty was as to the ground of distinction between the good and the bad will; a distinction which in some form or other—whether we consider the goodness of a will to be an attribute which it possesses on its own account or to be relative to some result to which it contributes beyond the will itself—must lie at the root of every system of Ethics. What becomes of this distinction, we supposed an objector to ask, if the doctrine previously stated is admitted, that in all conduct to which moral predicates are applicable a man is an object to himself; that such conduct, equally whether virtuous or vicious, expersses a motive consisting in an idea of personal good which the man seeks to realise by action (§115)? Further consideration has confirmed this statement. If it is a genuine definition that we want of what is common to all acts of willing, we must say that such an act is one in which a self-conscious individual directs himself to the realisation of some idea, as to an object in which for the time he seeks self-satisfaction. Such being an act of willing, the will in actuality must be the self-conscious individual as so directing himself, while the will in possibility, or as a faculty, will be the self-conscious individual as capable of so directing himself. (§154 ¶1)

The above, however, is merely a formal account of willing and the will. It does not tell us the real nature of any act of will, or of any man as willing, or of any national will—if there be such a thing as one will operating in or upon the several members of a nation—or of the human will, if again there be such a thing as one will operating throughout the history of mankind. For the real nature of any act of will depends on the particular nature of the object in which the person willing for the time seeks self-satisfaction; and the real nature of any man as the subject of will—his character—depends on the nature of the objects in which he mainly tends to seek self-satisfaction. Self-satisfaction is the form of every object willed; but the filling of that form, the character of that in which self-satisfaction is sought, ranging from sensual pleasure to the fulfilment of a vocation conceived as given by God, makes the object what it really is. It is on the specific difference of the objects willed under the general form of self-satisfaction that the quality of the will must depend. It is here therefore that we must seek for the basis of distinction between goodness and badness of will. (§154 ¶2)


The statement that the distinction between the good and bad will must lie at the basis of any system of Ethics, and the further statement that this distinction itself must depend on the nature of the objects willed, would in some sense or other be accepted by all recognised schools of moralists, but they would be accepted in very different senses. On the one side the modern Utilitarian would only accept the former statement in the sense that, unless an action is done intentionally, it is not the subject of moral predicates. The action, in his view, derives its moral quality not from the motive or character which it expresses, but from the effects which it produces. Those effects, indeed, do not entitle the act to be reckoned morally good or bad, unless it is one which the agent intends or wills to do; but, given the intentional act, it is not on the motive which leads to its being intended, but on its effects in the way of pleasure or pain, that its morality depends. This is very plainly put by J. S. Mill: The morality of the action depends entirely upon the intention—that is, upon what the agent wills to do. But the motive, that is, the feeling which makes him will so to do, when it makes no difference in the act, makes none in the morality: though it makes a great difference in our moral estimation of the agent, especially if it indicates a good or bad habitual disposition—a bent of character from which useful or from which hurtful actions are likely to arise. In other words, while there are two distinct objects of moral approbation or disapprobation, or two objects which admit of the designation morally good or bad, (a) intentional action, (b) the motive or character of an agent, the latter is only to be judged relatively to its effects as producing pleasure or pain. The motive or character is morally good, if likely on the whole to issue in intentional actions which are good in the sense of producing on the whole, one person taken with another and one time with another, an excess of pleasure over pain. (§155 ¶1)

Clearly, upon this view, our statement that Ethics is founded on the distinction between the good and the bad will could only be accepted under the proviso that by good and bad will is understood good and bad intentional action, and further that intentional action is understood to be good or bad according to its relation to an ultimate good and evil, which are constituted not by any kind of action, intention, or character, but by pleasure and pain. The other statement that the distinction between the good and bad will must depend on the nature of the objects willed would be subjected by the Utilitarian to a similar qualification. He could accept it if by will is understood intention, and if by the objects willed are understood the effects of the intentional act in the way of producing pleasure and pain. If by will is meant habitual disposition, and by objects willed motives, he could only accept the statement on the understanding that the nature of the objects willed is itself taken to depend on the tendency of the motives to issue in actions productive of a preponderance of pleasure or pain as the case may be. (§155 ¶2)

It is in a precisely opposite sense that the propositions in question would have to be understood, in order to be approved by a strict follower of Kant. With him an act of will would never be understood merely of an intention to do a certain deed, in abstraction from the motive or object for the sake of which the deed is done; and with him again the good will is good, not in virtue of any effects extrinsic to it, but in virtue of what it is in itself, not as a means, but as an absolute end. The first of the above statements, therefore, he would accept in the sense which it naturally bears. In the second he might see a loophole for error. To say that a will is good in virtue of the nature of the objects willed, does not exclude the notion that it may be good in virtue of desired effects other than its own goodness, or as directed to objects which are willed otherwise than for the reason of their being prescribed by a universal practical law. So far as the statement in question is understood according to any such notion as this, Kant—at any rate if interpreted according to the reiterated letter of his doctrine—would reckon it fundamentally erroneous. (§155 ¶3)


It is not according to the plan of the present treatise to examine critically either the moral doctrine of Kant as stated by himself, or that of Utilitarianism as stated by leading authorities, until it has been attempted to give the outline of a positive doctrine in regard to the nature of goodness and of our moral progress. This done, the criticism may be undertaken with less liability to its drift being misunderstood, and without conveying the impression that no truth is thought to remain where some error has been detected. What then are the questions naturally raised for us by the considerations which we have so far pursued, and which a positive ethical doctrine should begin by attempting to answer? The first of them may perhaps be stated thus. Granted that, according to our doctrine, in all willing a self-conscious subject seeks to satisfy itself—seeks that which for the time it presents to itself as its good—how can there be any such intrinsic difference between the object willed as justifies the distinction which moral sense seems to draw between good and bad action, between virtue and vice? And if there is such a difference, in what does it consist? (§156 ¶1)

A possible answer to the question would of course be a denial that there is any such difference at all. By an intrinsic difference between the objects willed we mean a difference between them in respect of that which is the motive to the person willing them, as distinct from a difference constituted by any effects which the realisation of the objects may bring about, but of which the anticipation does not form the motive. Now according to all strictly Hedonistic theories the difference between objects willed is, according to this sense of the terms, extrinsic, not intrinsic. The motive to the persons willing is supposed to be in all cases the same, viz. desire for some pleasure or aversion from some pain. The conditions of the pleasures which different men desire, or which the same man desires at different times, are of course most various; but it is not the conditions of any pleasure but the pleasure itself that a man desires, if pleasure is really his object at all. On the Hedonistic supposition, therefore, every object willed is on its inner side, or in respect of that which moves the person willing, the same. It moves him as anticipated pleasure, or anticipated escape from pain. The difference between objects willed lies on their outer side, in effects which follow from them but are not included in them as motives to the person willing. Two objects having been equally willed as so much anticipated pleasure, the realisation of the one does in the event produce a preponderance of pleasure over pain to the agent himself or to others, while the realisation of the other produces a preponderance of pain over pleasure. Thus and thus only, according to this theory—extrinsically not intrinsically—is the difference constituted between a good object of will and a bad one. (§156 ¶2)


A detailed criticism of this doctrine would be out of place till we come to the examination of Utilitarianism. If the αἴτιον τοῦ ψευδοῦς can be explained, it will not stand seriously in our way; for though excellent men have argued themselves into it, it is a doctrine which, nakedly put, offends the unsophisticated conscience. Whatever the process may have been, we have reached a state in which we seem to know that the desires we think well of in ourselves differ absolutely as desires, or in respect of the objects desired in them, from those which we despise or condemn. If asked straight out to admit that all objects of desire, as desired, are alike, since it is pleasure that is equally the desired thing in them all; that it is only in the effects of the actions arising out of them, not in what they are for the desiring consciousness, that good desires differ from bad ones; upon first thoughts we should certainly refuse to do so. Hesitation would only ensue if the enlightened enquirer asked us to reflect, whether we ever find ourselves desiring any thing from which we do not anticipate pleasure of some sort, and whether it is not this anticipation that makes us desire it. Thus challenged, we feel ourselves in a difficulty. This account of desire has a plausibility which we do not at once see our way to explaining. Yet to accept it seems to involve us logically in an admission of the intrinsic identity of all desires, good and bad, which offends our moral conviction. If we could explain away the apparent cogency of the plea that it is some anticipated pleasure, as such, which we always find ourselves desiring, the conviction of the difference between good and bad desires, as states of consciousness on the part of the persons desiring, would hold its own undisturbed. (§157 ¶1)

§157, n. 1: The attempt to combine the doctrine that pleasure as such is the sole object of desire, with the assertion of an intrinsic difference between good and bad desires, on the ground that pleasures differ in quality, will be considered below.


Now, according to the account previously given of desire, it is not difficult to explain the confusion which makes pleasure seem to be its only object. We saw that, in all such desire as can form the motive to an imputable act, the individual directs himself to the realisation of some idea, as to an object in which he seeks self-satisfaction. It is the consciousness that self-satisfaction is thus sought in all enacted desire, in all desire that amounts to will, combined with the consciousness that in all self-satisfaction, if attained, there is pleasure, which leads to the false notion that pleasure is always the object of desire. Whether in any case it really is so, or no, depends on whether pleasure is the object with which a man is seeking to satisfy himself. If it is not, pleasure is not the object of his dominant desire. However much pleasure there may prove to be in the self-satisfaction, if any, which the attainment of his object brings with it—and our common experience is that the objects with which we seek to satisfy ourselves do not turn out capable of satisfying us—it cannot be this pleasure that is the object which he desires. Its possibility presupposes the desire and its fulfilment. It cannot therefore be the exciting cause of the desire, any more than the pleasure of satisfying hunger can be the exciting cause of hunger. Only if the idea which in his desire the man seeks to realise is the idea of enjoying some pleasure—whether a pleasure of the kind which we commonly call sensual in a special sense, i.e. one incidental to the satisfaction of animal appetite, or a pleasure of pure emotion—can we truly say that pleasure is the object of his desire. (§158 ¶1)


When the idea of which the realisation is sought is not that of enjoying any pleasure, the fact that self-satisfaction is sought in the effort to realise the idea of the desired object does not make pleasure the object of the desire. It may very well be that a man pursues an object in which he seeks self-satisfaction with the clear consciousness that no enjoyment of pleasure can yield him satisfaction, and that there must be such pain in the realisation of the idea to which he devotes himself as cannot be compensated, in any scale where pleasure and pain alone are weighed, by any enjoyment of an end achieved. So it is in the more heroic forms of self-sacrifice. Self-satisfaction is doubtless sought in such sacrifice. The man who calmly faces a life of suffering in the fulfilment of what he conceives to be his mission could not bear to do otherwise. So to live is his good. If he could attain the consciousness of having accomplished his work, if he could count himself to have apprehended—and probably just in proportion to the elevation of his character he is unable to do so—he would find satisfaction in the consciousness, and with it a certain pleasure. But supposing this pleasure to be attained, only the exigencies of a theory could suggest the notion that, as so much pleasure, it makes up for the pleasures forgone and the pains endured in the life through which it has been reached. Such a notion can only be founded on the see-saw process which first assumes that preference in every case is determined by amount of anticipated pleasure, and then professes to ascertain the relative amount of pleasure which a given line of action affords a man by the fact that he prefers to act. (§159 ¶1)

§159, n. 1: Cf. Arist. Eth. Nic. III. ix. 5. Οὐ δὲ ἐν ἁπάσαις ταῖς ἀρεταῖς τὸ ἡδέως ἐνεργεῖν ὑπάρχει, πλὴν ἐφ’ ὄσον τοῦ τέλους ἐφάπτεται. Thus the rule that the exercise of virtue is pleasant does not hold of all the virtues, except in so far as the end is attained.


Even if it were the case, however, that self-satisfaction was more attainable than it is, and that the pleasure of success to the man who has spurned delights and lived laborious days really admitted of being set against the pleasure missed in the process, it would none the less be a mere confusion to treat this pleasure of success as the desired object, in the realisation of which the man seeks to satisfy himself. A man may seek to satisfy himself with pleasure, but the pleasure of self-satisfaction can never be that with which he seeks to satisfy himself. This is equally true of the voluptuary and of the saint. The voluptuary must have his ideas of pleasures, unconnected with self-satisfaction, before he can seek self-satisfaction (where it is not to be found) in the realisation of those ideas; just as much as the saint must have ideas, not of pleasures but of services due to God and man, before he can seek self-satisfaction in their fulfilment. Most men, however, at least in their ordinary conduct, are neither voluptuaries nor saints; and we are falling into a false antithesis if, having admitted (as is true) that the question of self-satisfaction is the form of all moral activity, we allow no alternative (as Kant in effect seems to allow none) between the quest for self-satisfaction in the enjoyment of pleasure, and the quest for it in the fulfilment of a universal practical law. Ordinary motives fall neither under the one head nor the other. They are interests in the attainment of objects, without which it seems to the man in his actual state that he cannot satisfy himself, and in attaining which, because he has desired them, he will find a certain pleasure, but only because he has previously desired them, not because pleasures are the objects desired. (§160 ¶1)


Such interests, though not mere appetites because conditioned by self-consciousness, correspond to them as not having pleasure for their object. This point was sufficiently made out in the controversy as to the disinterestedness of benevolence, carried on during the first part of the eighteenth century. When philosophers of the selfish school represented benevolence as ultimately desire for some pleasure to oneself, Butler and others met them by showing that this was the same mistake as to reckon hunger a desire for the pleasure of eating. The appetite of hunger must precede and condition the pleasure which consists in its satisfaction. It cannot therefore have that pleasure for its exciting object. It terminates upon its object, and is not relative to anything beyond the taking of food; and in the same way benevolent desires terminate upon their objects, upon the benefits done to others. In the termination in each case there is pleasure, but it is a confusion to represent this as an object beyond the obtaining of food or the doing a kindness, to which the appetite or benevolent desire is really directed. What is true of benevolence is true of motives which we opposite to it, as the vicious to the virtuous, e.g. of jealousy or the desire for revenge. Iago does not work upon Othello for the sake of any pleasure that he expects to experience when his envy is gratified, but because in his envious state an object of which the realisation seems necessary to the satisfaction of himself is Othello’s ruin, just as the consumption of food is necessary to the satisfaction of hunger. What he desires is to see Othello down, not the pleasure he will feel when he sees him so—a pleasure which he could not feel unless he had desired the object independently of such anticipation. (§161 ¶1)

It is true that any interest or desire for an object may come to be reinforced by desire for the pleasure which, reflecting upon past analogous experience, the subject of the interest may expect as incidental to its satisfaction. In this way cool self-love, according to the terminology of the last century, may combine with particular desires or propensions. If there is to be any chance, however, of the expected pleasure being really enjoyed, the self-love of which pleasure is the object must not supersede the particular propension of which pleasure, in the case of ordinary healthy interests, is not the object. The pleasure incidental to the satisfaction of an interest cannot be attained after loss of the interest itself, nor can the interest be revived by wishing for a renewal of the pleasure incidental to its satisfaction. Hence just so far as cool self-love, in the sense of a calculating pursuit of pleasure, becomes dominant and supersedes particular interests, the chances of pleasure are really lost; which accounts for the restlessness of the pleasure-seeker, and for the common remark that the right way to get pleasure is not to seek it. (§161 ¶2)


It may seem presumptuous to charge clear-headed moralists with the mistake of supposing that a desire can be excited by the anticipation of its own satisfaction. But such a mistake certainly seems to be accountable for the acceptance of the doctrine that pleasure is the sole object of desire by so powerful a writer as J. S. Mill. He, as is well known, differs from the older Utilitarians in holding that, although pleasure and freedom from pain are the only things desirable as ends, some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and valuable than others, not as involving a greater amount of pleasure, but in their intrinsic nature. Every one must feel that the Utilitarian theory receives a certain exaltation from his treatment of it, and especially from his assertion of this point. But the question is, whether the admissions which he has to make in order to establish it do not virtually amount to a departure from the doctrine that pleasure or freedom from pain is the only object of desire, a departure which he only disguises from himself and his reader by virtually assuming that a desire may have for its object the pleasure, or deliverance from pain, involved in its satisfaction. It will be useful to dwell a little longer on this question, not for the sake of picking holes in a writer from whom we have all learnt much, but in order to bring out more clearly the distinction between the quest for self-satisfaction which all moral activity is rightly held to be, and the quest for pleasure which morally good activity is not. (§162 ¶1)


No one of course can doubt that pleasures admit of distinction in quality according to the conditions under which they arise. So Plato and Aristotle distinguished pleasures incidental to the satisfaction of bodily wants from the pleasures of pure intellect. So too we might distinguish pleasures of satisfied desire from pleasures of pure emotion, and subdivide each sort according to the various conditions under which desire or emotion is excited. No one pretends that the pleasures of a sot are not really different from those of a man of refined taste. The question is in what sense, upon the principle that pleasure is the ultimate good by relation to which all other good is to be tested, these differences of kind between pleasures may be taken to constitute any difference in the degree of their goodness or desirability. All Utilitarians would hold that on one ground or another they might be so taken, but they would not all agree upon the ground. The strict Benthamites hold that such differences of kind between pleasures as arise from differences in their exciting causes only affect their value or the degree of their goodness, in so far as they affect the amount of pleasure enjoyed on the whole; while Mill holds that these differences affect the value of pleasures independently of the effect they have on their amount. The estimation of pleasures should not depend on quantity alone: quality is to be considered as well as quantity. (§163 ¶1)


For an explanation and defence of this variation from the doctrine of his master, Mill appeals to the unquestionable fact that those who are equally acquainted with, and equally capable of appreciating and enjoying, both, do give a most marked preference to the manner of existence which employs their higher faculties, as compared with one involving more sensual pleasures. They do this, even though knowing it to be attended with a greater amount of discontent. We naturally accept such an appeal because we cannot help thinking of the man whose preference Mill describes, as better in himself than one more sensual, and of the higher faculties as intrinsically of more value; in other words, because we regard the attainment of a certain type of character or some realisation of the possibilities of man, not pleasure, as the end by relation to which goodness or value is to be measured. But, on the principle that pleasure is the only thing good ultimately or in its own right, we are not justified in so doing. On this principle one man can be better, one faculty higher than another, only as a more serviceable instrument for the production of pleasure. On this ground it is open to the Utilitarian to argue that a man who devotes himself to the exercise of such higher faculties as Mill is here thinking of, produces a greater amount of pleasure on the whole, all circumstances affecting that amount being taken into account, than does the man who does not trouble himself about his higher faculties. But it is altogether against Utilitarian principles that a pleasure should be of more value because the man who pursues it is better. They only entitle us to argue back from the amount of pleasure to the worth of the man who acts so as to produce it. (§164 ¶1)

If we rid ourselves then of all presuppositions, illegitimate on Utilitarian principles, in regard to the superiority of the man or the faculties exercised in what we call the higher pursuits, and if we admit that all desire is for pleasure, the strongest desire for the greatest pleasure, what is proved by the example of the man who, being competently acquainted with both, prefers the life of moral and intellectual effort to one of healthy animal enjoyment? Simply this, that the life of effort brings more pleasure to the man in question than he would derive from the other sort of life. It outweighs for him any quantity of other pleasure of which his nature is capable. The fact that he is competently acquainted with both sorts of pleasure can give no significance beyond this to his preference of one above the other. He may be competently acquainted with animal enjoyments; but it does not follow that the pleasure they afford him is as intense and unmixed as that which they afford to the man who makes them his principal pursuit. The question of value then between the two sorts will have to be settled by a calculation of amount, the intensity of each kind, as experienced by those to whom it is most intense, being weighed against its duration and its degree of purity, productiveness, and extent. The calculation is certainly very hard to make—whether it can be made at all is a question to be touched on when we come to a more detailed examination of Utilitarianism—but it is the only possible way, if pleasure is the sole and ultimate good, of measuring the comparative worth of pleasures. The example of a certain man’s preference, unless we have some other standard of his excellence than such as is relative to pleasure as the ultimate good, proves nothing as to the superiority of the pleasure which he chooses to another sort of pleasure preferred by some one else. It only proves that it is more of a pleasure to him than is that to which he prefers it; and this it only proves on supposition that the stronger desire is always for the greater pleasure. (§164 ¶2)

§164, n. 1: Cf. Dumont’s version of of the Principles of Morals and Legislation (Hildreth’s translation), p. 31.


Now it will be found, we think, that with Mill this supposition really rests on a confusion between the pleasure or removal of pain which ensues upon the satisfaction of any desire and the object of that desire. In an eloquent passage he illustrates the unwillingness of any one acquainted with the higher pleasures to exchange them for any quantity of the lower:-- (§165 ¶1)

Now it is an unquestionable fact that those who are equally acquainted with, and equally capable of appreciating and enjoying, both, do give a most marked preference to the manner of existence which employs their higher faculties. Few human creatures would consent to be changed into any of the lower animals, for a promise of the fullest allowance of a beast’s pleasures; no intelligent human being would consent to be a fool, no instructed person would be an ignoramus, no person of feeling and conscience would be selfish and base, even though they should be persuaded that the fool, the dunce, or the rascal is better satisfied with his lot than they are with theirs. They would not resign what they possess more than he for the most complete satisfaction of all the desires which they have in common with him. If they ever fancy they would, it is only in cases of unhappiness so extreme, that to escape from it they would exchange their lot for almost any other, however undesirable in their own eyes. A being of higher faculties requires more to make him happy, is capable probably of more acute suffering, and certainly accessible to it at more points, than one of an inferior type; but in spite of these liabilities, he can never really wish to sink into what he feels to be a lower grade of existence. We may give what explanation we please of this unwillingness; we may attribute it to pride, a name which is given indiscriminately to some of the most and to some of the least estimable feelings of which mankind are capable: we may refer it to the love of liberty and personal independence, an appeal to which was with the Stoics one of the most effective means for the inculcation of it; to the love of power, or to the love of excitement, both of which do really enter into and contribute to it: but its most appropriate appellation is a sense of dignity, which all human beings possess in one form or other, and in some, though by no means in exact, proportion to their higher faculties, and which is so essential a part of the happiness of those in whom it is strong, that nothing which conflicts with it could be, otherwise than momentarily, an object of desire to them. (§165 ¶2)

It appears from this passage that there is a motive, which has been variously described as pride, love of liberty, love of power, love of excitement, but of which the most appropriate designation is sense of dignity, that makes a man of a certain sort refuse to accept any amount of such pleasure as a fool, or a dunce, or a rascal might share, in lieu of the exercise of the higher faculties, however much suffering this may entail. This refusal is appealed to as showing that the pleasure attending this exercise is intrinsically preferable to such as may be shared with a dunce or a rascal. That it is intrinsically preferable those who are not Utilitarians will readily agree. But unless it is a greater pleasure on the whole, it is not on Utilitarian principles more really desirable or the greater good, and the fact that by the sort of person in contemplation it is preferred does not show that it is even for him, much less that it is on the whole, the greater pleasure, unless his preference is necessarily for what is to him the greatest pleasure. (§165 ¶3)


But with what plausibility can the motive described as a sense of dignity be reckoned a desire for pleasure at all? Mill indeed calls it an essential part of the happiness of those in whom it is strong; but no desire as such, since it must rather be painful than pleasant, can properly be called a part of happiness. It may be suggested therefore that by the sense of dignity spoken of Mill understands an emotion, as distinct from desire, which he would no doubt be justified in calling a part of happiness, an ingredient in the sum of a man’s pleasures. In that case we must suppose that it is desire for the pleasure of this emotion which makes the man, who is capable of the pleasure attending the exercise of the higher faculties, prefer this to the pleasure which he might share with the dunce. If this indeed were the true account of the matter, the strict Benthamite who will recognise no distinction in quality as distinct from quantity of pleasure, might say that it was simply a case of the pleasure preferred being more productive. The intellectual pleasure brings the additional pleasure, consisting in the emotion called sense of dignity, which the animal pleasure does not. It is scarcely however a plausible account of the motive which makes an intelligent person unwilling to be a fool, a person of feeling and conscience unwilling to be selfish or base, though persuaded that the change would save him much discontent, to say that it is desire for the preponderating pleasure involved in the sense of being a superior person. Nor, if it were, would there be any ground for holding the man so actuated to be really happier than the fool or the selfish man, who, according to his standard of measurement, has as good a chance of feeling the pleasure of superiority without corresponding discontent. The truth is that Mill does not really regard this sense of dignity as an emotion in distinction from desire. He regards it as a counter motive to desires for animal pleasure, which mere emotion could not be. Nor does he mean that the preference determined by it is preference for the pleasure of feeling superior to the pleasures shared with average men. The motive which he has in view is a desire to be worthy, not a desire to feel the pleasure of being worth more than others; and he only regards it as desire for pleasure at all, because he fancies that a desire, of which the disappointment makes me unhappy, is therefore a desire for happiness—that a desire is for the pleasure which ensues upon its satisfaction. (§166 ¶1)


The real ground then of Mill’s departure from the stricter Utilitarian doctrine, that the worth of pleasure depends simply on its amount, is his virtual surrender of the doctrine that all desire is for pleasure; but he does not recognise this surrender, because he thinks that to call a desired object part of the happiness of the person desiring it is equivalent to saying that the desire for the object is a desire for pleasure. Yet little reflection is needed to show that it is not so. The latter proposition can only mean that a possible action or experience is contemplated as likely to be pleasant, and is then desired for the sake of the pleasure. It means that the anticipation of pleasure determines desire. But the other proposition, that a desired object is part of the happiness of the person desiring it, rather means that desire determines the anticipation of pleasure; that, given desire for an object, however different from pleasure that object may be, there results pleasure, or at least a removal of pain, in the satisfaction of the desire; that the man feeling the desire necessarily looks forward to this result as part of a possible happiness to come, and cannot be completely happy till the object is attained. This is equivalent to saying, as has been so often mentioned above, that to desire an object is to seek self-satisfaction in its attainment, but it does not in the least imply that pleasure is the object in which self-satisfaction is sought. (§167 ¶1)


The same is true of the other forms in which Mill expresses the conception on which he considers the proof of Utilitarianism to rest. Desiring a thing and finding it pleasant … are two parts of the same phenomenon.[Ch. 4 ¶10] To think of an object as desirable … and to think of it as pleasant are one and the same thing.[Ch. 4 ¶10] Both statements are ambiguous. Each is in a sense true, but not in the sense which would imply that a pleasure is the only possible object of desire. In the latter statement, what is meant by thinking of an object as desirable? Does it mean thinking of it as one that should be desired? Thus understood, the statement would lose all plausibility. No one would pretend to think of an object as one which he should desire is the same thing as thinking of it as pleasant. Rather, so long as he thinks of it as one in which he finds pleasure, it is impossible for him to place it in any such relation to himself as could be represented by saying that he thinks of it as an object which he should desire. Nor is there any sign that Mill uses the terms desired and desirable except as pretty much equivalent. To think of an object as desirable means with him to reflect on it as one that is desired. Now it is quite true that I cannot reflect on an object as one that I desire without thinking of it as pleasant, in the sense that I cannot reflect on my desire for it without thinking of the pleasure there would be in the satisfaction of the desire. But this in no way implies that the desire is a desire for that or any other pleasure. (§168 ¶1)

As regards the other statement, if the phenomenon under consideration is taken to include both the desire for an object and the satisfaction of that desire in the attainment of its object, then to desire the object and to find its attainment pleasant are doubtless parts of that one phenomenon. If, on the other hand, the phenomenon is held to be confined to the desire, and not to include its satisfaction, then to find a thing pleasant is no part of the phenomenon; for unsatisfied desire involves no pleasure. We may suppose, however, that to find it pleasant is here hastily written for to anticipate pleasure from it. Thus interpreted, the statement is indisputable so far as it goes. To desire an object, and to anticipate pleasure from its attainment, are certainly parts of one and the same phenomenon. But the question remains of the relation in which the two parts of the phenomenon stand to each other. Is it always the anticipation of pleasure from an object that excites the desire for it, or are there cases in which the anticipation of pleasure in the satisfaction of desire arises out of an independent desire for an object which is not pleasure at all? The former is the view which Mill believed himself to hold, and which his Proof of Utilitarianism requires; but the proposition under consideration is equally compatible with the latter view, and it may be doubted whether it would have seemed so self-evident to most readers, or even to Mill himself, if it were not so. (§168 ¶2)


The reason for this doubt as regards Mill himself is that he insists upon the reality of desires which, as he describes them, are only desires for pleasure in the improper and illogical sense; which are not determined by an antecedent imagination of pleasure; but from which there results pleasure in the attainment of the desired object, pain in its absence. Thus, having pointed out that the Utilitarian doctrine requires us to consider happiness, or pleasure, the only thing desirable as an end, he goes on to say that it maintains not only that virtue is to be desired, but that it is to be desired disinterestedly,[Ch. 4 ¶5] i.e., as he explains, not as a means to any end beyond it.[Ch. 4 ¶5] The mind, he tells us, is not in a right state, not in a state conformable to Utility,[Ch. 4 ¶5] unless it so desires virtue But such desire for virtue is clearly not determined by any antecedent imagination of pleasure. It is of course open to any one to argue that what is called desire for virtue is really desire for pleasures that are to be obtained in a certain way; but in that case virtue is not an ultimate object of desire, the desire for it is not disinterested. That presentation of virtue which determines any disinterested desire for it, can only be a presentation of a possible state of character or mode of action as an ideal object which we seek to realise; and the object thus presented cannot be identified with any pleasant feeling or series of feelings, which, having experienced it, we imagine and desire to experience again. If, then, the presentation of virtue as an ultimate object, and not merely as a means, does determine desire, there are desires which are not excited by the anticipation of pleasure, though in such cases as much as in any other the desired object, just so far as desired, is part of the happiness[Ch. 4 ¶5] of the person desiring it, in the sense that, having desired it, he cannot be happy without it. (§169 ¶1)

There are other objects of desire recognised by Mill—money, power, fame—which he admits are not pleasures (though to power and fame, he thinks, there is a certain amount of immediate pleasure annexed[Ch. 4 ¶6]), but which have yet come to be desired for their own sake. In regard to them, as in regard to virtue, he suggests that they were originally desired as means, as conducive to pleasure or protection from pain, but he does not pretend that, by those who desire them most strongly, they are so desired any longer. What was once desired as an instrument for the attainment of happiness has come to be desired for its own sake.[Ch. 4 ¶6] That the desire for them originated in a desire for pleasure is, indeed, a view founded on the assumption that pleasures alone are wished for. To aid in the attainment of our wishes, as these things do, is with Mill the same thing as to aid in the attainment of pleasure. But we may waive this point, for questions as to the history of any desire do not affect its present relation to its object. If money, fame, and power are desired not as a means to pleasure but for their own sake—and this Mill admits—then there are desires, whatever their history, which are not desires for pleasure, however essential their gratification may be to the happiness of those who so desire. (§169 ¶2)


As against the view, therefore, that all desire is for some pleasure or other, from which it would seem to follow that the good will cannot differ intrinsically, or as desire, from the bad, but only in virtue of effects in the way of pleasure and pain, we may adduce the involuntary evidence of the most eminent modern advocate of that view. We find him explicitly recognising desires which, as they exist, however they may have originated, are not desires for pleasure, and which he only brings under his general theory of desire on the ground that the objects of such desires are desired by us as part of our happiness. But this, as we have seen, is no more than saying that they are desired by a self-conscious subject, who in all desire, or at any rate in all that amounts to will, is seeking self-satisfaction, and who, so far as he reflects on any desire, reflects also on the pleasure of its possible fulfilment. It leaves the question open what the ideal object is, in the realisation of which self-satisfaction is sought. It does not exclude the possibility of its being even the endurance of pain, as perhaps, under sterner conditions of society than ours, or under the influence of fanatical belief, it not unfrequently has been. The formula is at any rate elastic enough to allow of the strong assertion by Mill himself, that the attainment of a certain disposition may be an object of desire in itself, irrespectively of any pleasures that flow from it. We may return then to examine the question whether there is any intrinsic distinction between objects willed, on which the difference between a good and a bad will may rest, without allowing ourselves to be stopped in limine by a denial of the possibility of such distinction and a reduction of all motives, however various in their effects, to desire for some pleasure or other on the part of the person desiring. (§170 ¶1)


It will have appeared from the foregoing discussion that the primary difference between the view here advanced and that of Hedonistic philosophers relates to the generic definition of the good—not only of the morally good, but of good in the wider sense. Whereas with them the good generically is the pleasant, in this treatise the common characteristic of the good is that it satisfies some desire. In all satisfaction of desire there is pleasure, and thus pleasantness in an object is a necessary incident of its being good. We cannot think of an object as good, i.e. such as will satisfy desire, without thinking of it as in consequence such as will yield pleasure; but its pleasantness depends on its goodness, not its goodness upon the pleasure it conveys. This pleasure, according to our view, so far as it is a necessary incident of any good, presupposes desire and results from its satisfaction, while according to the Hedonistic view desire presupposes an imagination of pleasure. The importance of this distinction, which may at first sight seem somewhat finely drawn, will appear as soon as we consider its bearing on the question of the distinguishing nature of the moral good, or on that other form of the same question—the form in which it seems to have been first raised by philosophy—in which it is enquired, how the true good differs from the merely apparent. (§171 ¶1)

If the generic definition of good is that it is pleasure, the moral good as distinct from the natural can only be pleasure obtained in a particular way; either simply pleasure experienced as a result of intentional action, in distinction from such pleasure as comes to us in a natural course of events which we have not contributed to bring about, or such pleasure as, in Locke’s language, is not the natural product and consequence of the action itself, but is attached to it by some positive law, either the law of God, or civil law, or the law of opinion. This at any rate is what moral good according to this view must mean, so long as it is understood to be the designation of an end. As a designation of means, it will be applicable to actions which tend to produce the pleasure obtainable in the particular manner described. From the same point of view the apparent good can only be distinguished from the true as a pleasure of which the enjoyment in its consequences yields a preponderance of pain over pleasure, whether to the individual enjoying it or (according to the Utilitarian view) to the majority of persons or of sentient beings. On the other hand, regarding the good generically as that which satisfies desire, but considering the objects we desire to be by no means necessary pleasures, we shall naturally distinguish the moral good as that which satisfies the desire of a moral agent, or that in which a moral agent can find the satisfaction of himself which he necessarily seeks. The true good we shall understand in the same way. It is an end in which the effort of a moral agent can really find rest. (§171 ¶2)

§171, n. 1: See Locke’s Essay, Book II. ch. xxviii. §5: Good and evil are nothing but pleasure or pain, or that which occasions or procures pleasure or pain to us. Moral good and evil, then, is only the conformity or disagreement of our voluntary actions to some law, whereby good or evil [i.e. pleasure or pain] is drawn on us by the will and power of the law-maker. Here it will be seen that the terms good and evil, when qualified as moral, are transferred from end to means. But, according to the general definition of good and evil as equivalent to pleasure and pain, we must suppose that Locke considered the conformity of our voluntary actions to some law to constitute moral good only because it brings about the pleasure which, by one or other of the laws which he recognises, is attached to such conformity.


It will at once be objected that this account of moral good either tells us nothing at all about it, or only tells us anything in virtue of some assumption in regard to moral good involved in our notion of a moral agent. The objection is in a certain sense a valid one. The question, What is our moral nature or capability?—in other words, What do we mean by calling ourselves moral agents?—is one to which a final answer cannot be given without an answer to the question, What is moral good? For the moral good is the realisation of the moral capability, and we cannot fully know what any capability is till we know its ultimate realisation. It may be argued therefore that we either know what the moral good in this sense is, and accordingly have no need to infer what it is from our moral nature, or else we do not know what it is, in which case neither can we know that the moral nature is from which we profess to infer what the moral good is. (§172 ¶1)

THe answer is that from a moral capability which had not realised itself at all nothing could indeed be inferred as to the moral good which can only consist in its full realisation; but that the moral capability of man is not in this wholly undeveloped state. To a certain extent it has shown by actual achievement what it has in it to become, and by reflection on the so far developed activity we can form at least some negative conclusion in regard to its complete realisation. We may convince ourselves that this realisation can only be attained in certain directions of our activity, not in others. We cannot indeed describe any state in which man, having become all that he is capable of becoming—all that, according to the divine plan of the world, he is destined to become—would find rest for his soul. We cannot conceive it under any forms borrowed from our actual experience, for our only experience of activity is of such as implies incompleteness. Of a life of completed development, of activity with the end attained, we can only speak or think in negatives, and thus only can we speak or think of that state of being in which, according to our theory, the ultimate moral good must consist. Yet the conviction that there must be such a state of being, merely negative as is our theoretical apprehension of it, may have supreme influence over our conduct, in moving us to htat effort after the Better which, at least as a conscious effort, implies the conviction of there being a Best. (§172 ¶2)

And when the speculative question is raised as to what this Best can be, we find that it has not left itself without witness. The practical struggle after the Better, of which the idea of there being a Best has been the spring, has taken such effort in the world of man’s affairs as makes the way by which the Best is to be more nearly approached plain enough to him that will see. In the broad result it is not hard to understand how man has bettered himself through institutions and habits which tend to make the welfare of all the welfare of each, and through the arts which make nature, both as used and as contemplated, the friend of man. And just so far as this is plain, we know enough of ultimate moral good to guide our conduct: enough to judge whether the prevailing interests which make our character are or are not in the direction which tends further to realise the capabilities of the human spirit. (§172 ¶3)


But here again it may be urged that we are going too fast, that we are making huge assumptions. We seem to be taking for granted that there is some best state of being for man—best in the sense that in it lies the full realisation of his capabilities, and that in it therefore alone he can satisfy himself, though as a matter of fact in his efforts after self-satisfaction he constantly acts in a manner inconsistent with attaining it. We seem to be taking for granted, further, that this best state of man is already present to some divine consciousness, so that it may properly be said to be the vocation of man to attain it; that some unfulfilled and unrealised, but still operative, idea of there being such a state has been the essential influence in the process by which man has so far bettered himself; and that a continued operation of the same idea in us, with that growing definiteness which is gathered from reflection on the actions and institutions in which it has so far manifested itself, is the condition of character and conduct being morally good in the proper sense of the words. How are such assumptions to be justified? (§173 ¶1)


In order to justify them, we must in the first place recall the conclusions arrived at in an earlier stage of this treatise. We saw reason to hold that the existence of one connected world, which is the presupposition of knowledge, implies the action of one self-conditioning and self-determining mind; and that, as our knowledge, so our moral activity was only explicable on supposition of a certain reproduction of itself, on the part of this eternal mind, as the self of man—a reproduction of itself to which it makes the processes of animal life organic, and which is qualified and limited by the nature of those processes, but which is so far essentially a reproduction of the one supreme subject, implied in the existence of the world, that the product carries with it under all its limitations and qualifications the characteristic of being an object to itself (§99). Proof of such a doctrine, in the ordinary sense of the word, from the nature of th e case there cannot be. It is not a truth deducible from other established or conceded truths. It is not a statement of an event or matter of fact that can be the object of experiment or observation. It represents a conception to which no perceivable or imaginable object can possibly correspond, but one that affords the only means by which, reflecting on our moral and intellectual experience conjointly, taking the world and ourselves into account, we can put the whole thing together and understand how (not why, but how) we are and do what we consciously are and do. Given this conception, and not without it, we can at any rate express that which it cannot be denied demands expression, the nature of man’s reason and man’s will, of human progress and human short-coming, of the effort after good and the failure to gain it, of virtue and vice, in their connection and in their distinction, in their essential opposition and no less essential unity. (§174 ¶1)


The reason and will of man have their common ground in that characteristic of being an object to himself which, as we have said, belongs to him in so far as the eternal mind, through the medium of an animal organism and under limitations arising from the employment of such a medium, reproduces itself in him. It is in virtue of this self-objectifying principle that he is determined, not simply by natural wants according to natural laws, but by the thought of himself as existing under certain conditions, and as having ends that may be attained and capabilities that may be realised under those conditions. It is thus that he not merely desires but seeks to satisfy himself in gaining the objects of his desire; presents to himself a certain possible state of himself, which in the gratification of the desire he seeks to reach; in short, wills. It is thus, again, that he has the impulse to make himself what he has the possibility of becoming but actually is not, and hence not merely, like the plant or animal, undergoes a process of development, but seeks to, and does, develop himself. The conditions of the animal soul, servile to every skiey influence,[MEASURE FOR MEASURE III. i. 9] no sooner sated than wanting, are such that the self-determining spirit cannot be conscious of them as conditions to which it is subject—and it is so subject and so conscious of its subjection in the human person—without seeking some satisfaction of itself, some realisation of its capabilities, that shall be independent of those conditions. (§175 ¶1)


Hence arises the impulse which becomes the source, according to the direction it takes, both of vice and of virtue. It is the source of vicious self-seeking and self-assertion, so far as the spirit which is in man seeks to satisfy itself or to realise its capabilities in modes in which, according to the law which its divine origin imposes on it and which is equally the law of the universe and of human society, its self-satisfaction or self-realisation is not to be found. Such, for instance—so self-defeating—is the quest for self-satisfaction in the life of the voluptuary. Animals are not voluptuaries; for, if they seek pleasure at all, they do so in the sense that they are stimulated to action by the images of this pleasure and that, as those images recur. They are not objects to themselves, as men are, and therefore cannot set themselves, as the voluptuary does, to seek self-satisfaction in the enjoyment of all the pleasures that are to be had. It is one and the same principle of his nature—his divine origin, in the sense explained—which makes it possible for the voluptuary to seek self-satisfaction, and thus to live for pleasure, at all, and which according to the law of its being, according to its inherent capability, makes it impossible that the self-satisfaction should be found in any succession of pleasures. So it is again with the man who seeks to assert himself, to realise himself, to show what he has in him to be, in achievements which may make the world wonder, but which in their social effects are such that the human spirit, according to the law of its being, which is a law of development in society, is not advanced but hindered by them in the realisation of its capabilities. He is living for ends of which the divine principle that forms his self alone renders him capable, but these ends, because in their attainment one is exalted by the depression of others, are not in the direction in which that principle can really fulfil the promise and potency which it contains. (§176 ¶1)

How in particular and in detail that fulfilment is to be attained, we can only tell in so far as some progress has actually been made towards its attainment in the knowledge, arts, habits, and institutions through which man has so far become more at home in nature, and through which one member of the human family has become more able and more wishful to help another. But the condition of its further fulfilment is the will in some form or other to contribute to its fulfilment. And hence the differentia of the virtuous life, proceeding as it does from the same self-objectifying principle which we have just characterised as the source of the vicious life, is that it is governed by the consciousness of their being some perfection which has to be attained, some vocation which has to be fulfilled, some law which has to be obeyed, something absolutely desirable, whatever the individual may for the time desire; that it is in ministering to such an end that the agent seeks to satisfy himself. However meagrely the perfection, the vocation, the law may be conceived, the consciousness that there is such a thing, so far as it directs the will, must at least keep the man to the path in which human progress has so far been made. It must keep him loyal in the spirit to established morality, industrious in some work of recognised utility. What further result it will yield, whether it will lead to a man’s making any original contribution to the perfecting of life, will depend on his special gifts and circumstances. Though these are such, as is the case with most of us, that he has no chance of leaving the world or even the society immediately about him observably better than he found it, yet in the root of the matter—as having done loyally, or from love of his work (which means under consciousness of an ideal), or in religious language as unto the Lord, the work that lay nearest him—he shares the goodness of the man who devotes a genius to the bettering of human life. (§176 ¶2)


It may seem that in the preceding section we have gone off prematurely into an account of virtue and vice, in respect at once of the common ground of their possibility and of their essential difference, without the due preliminary explanation of the relation between reason and will. A very little reflection, however, on what has been said will show the way in which this relation is conceived. By will is understood, as has been explained, an effort (or capacity for such effort) on the part of a self-conscious subject to satisfy itself: by reason, in the practical sense, the capacity on the part of such a subject to conceive a better state of itself as an end to be attained by action. This is what will and reason are severally taken to imply in the most primitive form in which they appear in us. A being without capacity for such effort or such conception would not, upon our theory, be considered to have will or reason. In this most primitive form they are alike modes of that eternal principle of self-objectification which we hold to be reproducing itself in man through the medium of an animal organism, and of which the action is equally necessary to knowledge and to morality. There is thus essentially or in principle an identity between reason and will; and widely as they become divergent in the actual history of men (in the sense that the objects where good is actually sought are often not those where reason, even as in the person seeking them, pronounces that it is to be found), still the true development of man, the only development in which the capabilities of his heaven-born nature can be actualised, lies in the direction of union between the developed will and the developed reason. It consists in so living that the objects in which self-satisfaction is habitually sought contribute to the realisation of a true idea of what is best for man--such an idea as our reason would have when it had come to be all which it has the possibility of becoming, and which, as in God, it is. (§177 ¶1)


Such a life, as in vague forecast conceived, has always been called, according to a usage inherited from the Greek fathers of moral philosophy, a life according to reason. And this usage is in harmony with the definition just given of reason at its lowest potency in us. For any truest idea of what is best for man that can guide our action is still a realisation of that capacity for conceiving a better state of himself, which we must ascribe to every child whom we can regard as father of the man[from “My Heart Leaps Up”] capable of morality, to any savage to whom we would affiliate the moral life that we inherit. Nay, even if we mean by a true idea of what is best for man such an adequate and detailed idea of our perfection as we cannot conceive ourselves to have—since to have it would imply that the perfection was already attained, and the conception of ourselves in perfection is one that we cannot form—still such an idea would be but the completed expression of that self-realising principle of which the primary expression is the capacity, distinctive of the animal rationale in all its forms, of conceiving itself in a better state than it is. (§178 ¶1)

On the other hand it must be borne in mind that this same capacity is the condition, as has been pointed out, no less of the vicious life than of the virtuous. The self-objectifying principle cannot exert itself as will without also exerting itself as reason, though neither as will nor as reason does it, in the vicious life, exert itself in a direction that leads to true development of its capacity. That a man should seek an object as part of his happiness, or as one without which in his then state he cannot satisfy himself,—and this is to will—implies that he presents himself to himself as in a better state with the object attained than he is without it; and this is to exercise reason. Every form of vicious self-seeking is conditioned by such presentation and, in that sense, by reason. Why then, it may be asked, should the moralising influence in man, the faculty through which the paths of virtue are marked out, whether followed or no, be specially called reason? We answer: because it is through the operative consciousness in man of a possible state of himself better than the actual, though that consciousness is the condition of the possibility of all that is morally wrong, that the divine self-realising principle in him gradually fulfils its capability in the production of a higher life. With this consciousness, directed in the right path, i.e. the path in which it tends to become what according to the immanent divine law of its being it has in it to be—and it is as so directed that we call it practical reason—rests the initiative of all virtuous habit and action. (§178 ¶2)


It is true that, just so far as this consciousness is operative in the direction supposed, it carries an improvement of the will with it. Men come to seek their satisfaction, their good, in objects conceived as desirable because contributing to the best state or perfection of man; and this change we describe by saying that their will becomes conformable to their reason. For the self-realisation of the divine principle in man this change of will is just as necessary as the development of practical reason, and to an intelligence which could view the process as a whole would appear inseparable from it. But to us who view the process piecemeal, ourselves representing certain stages in it, it is natural to treat the development of practical reason, i.e. the gradual filling up and definition of the idea of human perfection, as a separate process, upon which the corresponding conformation of will may or may not ensue. We see that in the individual the idea of what is good for him in his actual state of passion and desire—the idea which in fact he seeks to realise in action—is apt not to correspond to his conviction of what is truly good. That conviction is the echo in him of the expression which practical reason has so far given to itself in those institutions, usages, and judgments of society, which contribute to the perfection of life, but his desires and habits are not yet so far conformed to it that he can seek his good in obeying it, that he can will as it directs. He knows the better—knows it, in a sense, even as better for himself, for he can think of himself as desiring what he does not, but feels that he should, desire—but he prefers the worse. His will, we say, does not answer to his reason. (§179 ¶1)

It is thus natural for us to treat will and reason as separate and even conflicting faculties, though when we reflect on moral action in its real integrity we see that it involves each alike, and that it is only some better reason with which in vicious action a man’s will conflicts, while there is an exercise of reason by him which is the very condition of his viciousness. The better reason is his capacity for conceiving a good of his own, so far as that capacity is informed by those true judgments in regard to human good which the action of the eternal spirit in man has hitherto yielded; while the reason which shows itself in his actual vice is the same capacity, as taking its object and content from desires of which the satisfaction is inconsistent with the real bettering of man. But just because it is this capacity in a man which, while it alone renders selfishness in all its forms possible, is the medium through which alone ideas of a better life than he is living are brought home to him—ideas themselves arising from the development of this capacity as it has so far gone in men—we are right, when once we have allowed ourselves to treat reason and will as separate faculties, in regarding reason as the one which has the initiative in the bettering of life. In the same way of thinking we may properly ascribe to reason—not as gradually unfolding itself in us, but as in the perfection to which that process tends, and which we must suppose to be actually attained in the eternal mind—a fully articulated idea of the best life for man, and accordingly speak of life according to reason as the goal of our moral effort. Meanwhile the error which lies in the treatment of reason and will as separate faculties we may correct by bearing in mind that it is one and the same self of which reason and will are alike capacities; that in every moral action, good or bad, each capacity is exerted as much as the other; and that every step forward in the self-realisation of the divine principle in man involves a determination of will no less than of reason, not merely a conception of a possible good for man, but the adoption by some man or men of that good as his or theirs. (§179 ¶2)