Book III: The Moral Ideal and Moral Progress.

Chapter I: Good and Moral Good.


Hence arises the impulse which becomes the source, according to the direction it takes, both of vice and of virtue. It is the source of vicious self-seeking and self-assertion, so far as the spirit which is in man seeks to satisfy itself or to realise its capabilities in modes in which, according to the law which its divine origin imposes on it and which is equally the law of the universe and of human society, its self-satisfaction or self-realisation is not to be found. Such, for instance—so self-defeating—is the quest for self-satisfaction in the life of the voluptuary. Animals are not voluptuaries; for, if they seek pleasure at all, they do so in the sense that they are stimulated to action by the images of this pleasure and that, as those images recur. They are not objects to themselves, as men are, and therefore cannot set themselves, as the voluptuary does, to seek self-satisfaction in the enjoyment of all the pleasures that are to be had. It is one and the same principle of his nature—his divine origin, in the sense explained—which makes it possible for the voluptuary to seek self-satisfaction, and thus to live for pleasure, at all, and which according to the law of its being, according to its inherent capability, makes it impossible that the self-satisfaction should be found in any succession of pleasures. So it is again with the man who seeks to assert himself, to realise himself, to show what he has in him to be, in achievements which may make the world wonder, but which in their social effects are such that the human spirit, according to the law of its being, which is a law of development in society, is not advanced but hindered by them in the realisation of its capabilities. He is living for ends of which the divine principle that forms his self alone renders him capable, but these ends, because in their attainment one is exalted by the depression of others, are not in the direction in which that principle can really fulfil the promise and potency which it contains. (§176 ¶1)

How in particular and in detail that fulfilment is to be attained, we can only tell in so far as some progress has actually been made towards its attainment in the knowledge, arts, habits, and institutions through which man has so far become more at home in nature, and through which one member of the human family has become more able and more wishful to help another. But the condition of its further fulfilment is the will in some form or other to contribute to its fulfilment. And hence the differentia of the virtuous life, proceeding as it does from the same self-objectifying principle which we have just characterised as the source of the vicious life, is that it is governed by the consciousness of their being some perfection which has to be attained, some vocation which has to be fulfilled, some law which has to be obeyed, something absolutely desirable, whatever the individual may for the time desire; that it is in ministering to such an end that the agent seeks to satisfy himself. However meagrely the perfection, the vocation, the law may be conceived, the consciousness that there is such a thing, so far as it directs the will, must at least keep the man to the path in which human progress has so far been made. It must keep him loyal in the spirit to established morality, industrious in some work of recognised utility. What further result it will yield, whether it will lead to a man’s making any original contribution to the perfecting of life, will depend on his special gifts and circumstances. Though these are such, as is the case with most of us, that he has no chance of leaving the world or even the society immediately about him observably better than he found it, yet in the root of the matter—as having done loyally, or from love of his work (which means under consciousness of an ideal), or in religious language as unto the Lord, the work that lay nearest him—he shares the goodness of the man who devotes a genius to the bettering of human life. (§176 ¶2)