Book III: The Moral Ideal and Moral Progress.

Chapter I: Good and Moral Good.


Such a life, as in vague forecast conceived, has always been called, according to a usage inherited from the Greek fathers of moral philosophy, a life according to reason. And this usage is in harmony with the definition just given of reason at its lowest potency in us. For any truest idea of what is best for man that can guide our action is still a realisation of that capacity for conceiving a better state of himself, which we must ascribe to every child whom we can regard as father of the man[from “My Heart Leaps Up”] capable of morality, to any savage to whom we would affiliate the moral life that we inherit. Nay, even if we mean by a true idea of what is best for man such an adequate and detailed idea of our perfection as we cannot conceive ourselves to have—since to have it would imply that the perfection was already attained, and the conception of ourselves in perfection is one that we cannot form—still such an idea would be but the completed expression of that self-realising principle of which the primary expression is the capacity, distinctive of the animal rationale in all its forms, of conceiving itself in a better state than it is. (§178 ¶1)

On the other hand it must be borne in mind that this same capacity is the condition, as has been pointed out, no less of the vicious life than of the virtuous. The self-objectifying principle cannot exert itself as will without also exerting itself as reason, though neither as will nor as reason does it, in the vicious life, exert itself in a direction that leads to true development of its capacity. That a man should seek an object as part of his happiness, or as one without which in his then state he cannot satisfy himself,—and this is to will—implies that he presents himself to himself as in a better state with the object attained than he is without it; and this is to exercise reason. Every form of vicious self-seeking is conditioned by such presentation and, in that sense, by reason. Why then, it may be asked, should the moralising influence in man, the faculty through which the paths of virtue are marked out, whether followed or no, be specially called reason? We answer: because it is through the operative consciousness in man of a possible state of himself better than the actual, though that consciousness is the condition of the possibility of all that is morally wrong, that the divine self-realising principle in him gradually fulfils its capability in the production of a higher life. With this consciousness, directed in the right path, i.e. the path in which it tends to become what according to the immanent divine law of its being it has in it to be—and it is as so directed that we call it practical reason—rests the initiative of all virtuous habit and action. (§178 ¶2)