Book III: The Moral Ideal and Moral Progress.

Chapter I: Good and Moral Good.


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.