Book III: The Moral Ideal and Moral Progress.

Chapter I: Good and Moral Good.


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)