Book III: The Moral Ideal and Moral Progress.

Chapter I: Good and Moral Good.


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)