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)