Book III: The Moral Ideal and Moral Progress.

Chapter I: Good and Moral Good.


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)