The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 11
Sidgwick's Methods of Ethics.1
Sidgwick's Methods of Ethics.1
Mr. Henry Sidgwick has recently published a book which, apart from its intrinsic value, is an interesting display of rare intellectual virtues. He almost seems to illustrate a paradox which would be after his own heart, that a man may be too reasonable. His merits, at any rate, may possibly interfere with the immediate popularity of his book. He is the perfection of candour; and I must confess that candour is one of those virtues towards which I have a mixed feeling. I can admire without reserve the candour which consists in the frank expression of your own sentiments; but I am not quite so clear about the candour which leads to a toleration of the opinions of others. This quality is combined in Mr. Sidgwick with a singular subtlety and many-sidedness. It seems to be impossible for him to lay down any propositions without immediately recollecting all the objections, qualifications, and refinements that could be suggested by an inveterate opponent. So far from resenting any such suggestion, he would give it a hearty welcome as affording new opportunities for once more examining and adjusting his whole apparatus of argument. To qualities of this kind, which would have made Mr. Sidgwick a master in the art of casuistry, he joins the advantages of thorough intellectual training and wide knowledge of the various schools of ethical speculation. And finally, the design of his book, differing, I imagine, from that, of any previous writer upon the same topics, gives full scope for the display of his faculties.
The book, he says in his preface, is not in the main metaphysical or psychological, nor is it dogmatic or practical or historical, or even primarily critical. It is an exposition, such as could only be given by a thoroughly impartial and accomplished writer, of the various modes by which various philosophers have professed to solve the great problems of ethics. He takes each of the great systems, endeavours by a careful investigation to get them stated in the most consistent forms of which they are severally capable, and then carefully tests their coherency and completeness rather than their ultimate justification. He inquires, for example, whether a consistent scheme of conduct can be devised upon the intuitional or the utilitarian base, and only asks incidentally whether the psychological doctrines more or less implied in either of those systems are really sound. His aim is rather to clear the argument and to bring into relief the precise issues involved in the debate, than to state a rival or a harmonising theory of his own. And as one consequence, the tendency of the book is somewhat sceptical, as a dialogue of Plato is sceptical. We have been in labour for a satisfactory definition of morality, and cannot get delivered of any consistent result. A certain reconciliation, indeed, is suggested as possible between two schools which have long been at war; but Mr. Sidgwick himself seems, so far as I understand, to leave off in what to most minds would be an uncomfortable, though to him perhaps it is an enjoyable, attitude. He is face to face with an insoluble antinomy: and his last sentence is, that, on a certain hypothesis, 'the prolonged Effort of the human intellect to frame a perfect ideal of rational page 307 conduct is seen to have been foredoomed to inevitable failure.' In that case moral philosophers will be able to go on puzzling themselves for ever, with no more danger of any final yes or no terminating their doubts than if they were trying to invent perpetual motion.
It is not easy to give within any reasonable limits a fair criticism of such a performance. The whole book represents good hard thinking. Mr. Sidgwick never throws away a word upon superfluous illustration or irrelevant rhetoric. Once only does he deviate from the tone of passionless discussion into a brief burst of something like rhetoric. This exceptional gush of feeling occurs, when he is arguing that selfishness is destructive of happiness. But he seems characteristically to repent of his momentary lapse into what might be taken for an appeal to the feelings, and adds a note to say that we are not justified in stating this doctrine 'as universally true,' inasmuch as 'some few thoroughly selfish people appear at least to be happier than most of the unselfish.' I shall be content, for my part, to follow out, more or less consistently, a particular thread of reasoning which appears here and there in Mr. Sidgwick's elaborate web of logic, and to consider how far its soundness or weakness affects his general conclusions.
There is one set of questions which Mr. Sidgwick has refrained from examining, though they would give ample room for his ingenuity. He tells us that he assumes that there is something which, under any circumstances, it is 'right or reasonable' to do; an assumption which he finds in all ethical treatises. I confess, however, that I should like to see a judicial investigation of several preliminary questions. Has 'right' the same meaning as reasonable? Are all the feelings or judgments which we class together as moral of the same kind and generically different from all other feelings? What is the proper sphere of morality? Does it include all conduct, so that, as Mr. Sidgwick seems to say, there is a right and a wrong in every case, or are many actions indifferent? Where is the point at which ethical considerations shade off into prudential or æsthetical? Is not my feeling the same when I blush at being detected in a lie as when I blush at missing fire with a witticism? Why, then, is one proceeding called immoral, another imprudent, and a third simply ridiculous? Do all the various codes by which we are bound, the strictly legal, the religious, the code of public opinion, of honour, of fashion, or of the particular profession or clique to which we belong, appeal to the same sentiments? If not, which of them are entitled to be called moral? and why? I do not ask these questions as suggesting that a coherent answer is impracticable or even difficult; but because I have a suspicion that many people would answer them differently, and that in the difference of the possible answers lies the explanation of some differences between Mr. Sidgwick and myself. I suspect that the popular classification assumed in the word moral is often incoherent and inconsistent; and that a scientific morality would therefore require to be based upon psychological and social data, which we too often overlook.
If I were to make a general criticism upon Mr. Sidgwick's book, it would be that his method is too purely metaphysical. He investigates moral questions by starting from definitions rather than from observation; and assumes too easily, as I think, the unity and simplicity of our conceptions of morality. I believe, for example, that this difference in the point of view is at the bottom of my first unequivocal disagreement page 308 with Mr. Sidgwick; and I must say a few words upon it, though, if the experience of ages may be trusted, very few converts are likely to be made from either party. It is the good old interminable controversy about free will, which invariably turns up in all these arguments, though we may declare it to be irrelevant, to be insoluble, or to present no difficulty whatever. I would willingly pass by on one side on any of those pretences, and shall only touch upon one special argument, which leads to some further reflections.
Mr. Sidgwick, here as elsewhere, has the merit of stating fairly the position of his antagonist. He tells us that the cumulative argument in behalf of determinism is 'so strong as almost to amount to complete proof.' But, after stating it very clearly, and obviating certain popular objections, he informs us that, strong as it is, it seems to be 'more than balanced by a single argument on the other side, the immediate affirmation of consciousness in the moment of deliberate volition.' Mr. Sidgwick cannot distrust his 'intuitive consciousness that in resolving after deliberation he exercises free choice as to which of the motives acting upon me shall prevail.' An appeal to consciousness is, of course, the staple argument upon this side of the question. It is the answer of the metaphysician to the empirical psychologist. If consciousness makes a deliberate affirmation which contradicts all other arguments, we must, I fear, be left in Mr. Sidgwick's state of mind, oscillating between two irreconcilable modes of thought. But what is the question which consciousness answers thus emphatically. Sometimes the advocate of free will falls into a familiar paralogism which has often been exposed. From his consciousness that he can do what he wills, he infers that he can will what he wills; from the fact that his actions will, within certain limits, follow his wishes, he infers that his wishes are themselves arbitrary. But Mr. Sidgwick does not lead us round this old circle of argument. The question, as he states it, is simply this: given my character and my internal circumstances, does my action follow? Could anyone who knew both those sets of conditions foretell my volition, or is there 'a strictly incalculable element' in it? Mr. Sidgwick, therefore, holds that his consciousness informs him that there is a strictly incalculable element. Given the man and the conditions, the action is still a matter of chance; of chance, in the sense that, as a matter of fact, the event varies when the antecedents are fixed. Now to the argument when thus stated, the answer seems to be simple; namely, that consciousness is not an adequate judge. Mr. Sidgwick himself states the fact which shows that it is not adequate. A great many of our acts, he says, are done unconsciously. It would perhaps be better to say that a great part of every action is done unconsciously. We judge of the character of all men except ourselves, says Mr. Sidgwick, on the principle of causation by character and circumstances. It is not because we can, in any case, account entirely for their actions, any more than we can account entirely for any other phenomenon. After calculating as carefully as possible the initial velocity of a bullet, and the circumstances of its flight, we can only predict its fall within certain limits. We do not assume that the unexplained residuum is due to the bullet's possession of free will, or to the objective existence of chance. We simply recollect that there were small forces which we could not accurately measure, and whose effect was therefore incalculable. We follow precisely the same method in dealing with our fellows. Know- page 309 ing less of their motives, the margin of uncertainty is wider, but we set it down to our ignorance, not to an essentially arbitrary elementin their actions. From any change in a man's conduct, not due to an external change, we infer with perfect confidence a change in some element of character beyond our scrutiny. If a good-tempered man becomes peevish, we suppose that he has the gout or a toothache; not that a mysterious power called free will has taken to playing unaccountable pranks We ask him what is the matter; or, in other words, what is the cause of his change? Why should we argue differently about ourselves? Why, it would seem because we tacitly assume that in this case there can be no unknown elements of character. We know ourselves, we are conscious of our own motives, and therefore, if our conduct varies, we are entitled to deny the new element which we unhesitatingly assume in our neighbours. We ascribed this uncaused change to choice and boast of our free will. And yet the commonest experience refutes the assumption. I get up one morning out of temper. Perhaps I can no more say why I am out of temper than the epigrammatist could tell why he disliked Dr. Fell. Perhaps, after fumbling about in my mind for a long time, I discover that somebody told me the day before that an eminent critic had called me dull; and the wound was festering when I had forgotten the reason. Meanwhile I dress without knowing what I am doing, I shave whilst I am thinking over an ethical problem; I come down to breakfast like Professor Huxley's automatic friend, in obedience to impulses which never rise to consciousness. I have, perhaps, to make up my mind whether I shall make an offer of marriage or buy a new coat. The reasons are so equally balanced, that I toss up a coin in the less serious case. Feeling that proceeding to be undignified in the more serious matter, I do what is equivalent to tossing up in my own mind, and call it an act of free will. There is no difficulty in the process. When a man throws a coin into the air, the action is irregular because he cannot regulate the discharge of nervous force so that his hand and arm shall act with absolute regularity. Now the brain is, on any hypothesis, the instrument by which I think, in this sense at least, that its co-operation is essential to thought. When I start a volition, the result depends as much upon the physiological condition of the brain, as the nature of the electric discharge depends upon the condition of the battery. My brain, in short, acts the part of such a battery, and as I can only measure roughly the primary impulse of thought, and can only make an indirect guess at the condition of the brain, it follows that there is an 'incalculable' element in my volitions. But it is incalculable in the sense that I am as unable to calculate all the conditions, as to calculate the forces which act upon the tossed coin; but not at all in the sense that a being of the necessary powers of calculation, and informed of all the conditions, would be less able to calculate than in the case of the coin. It is chiefly the confusion of these two propositions which gives rise to the illusion of a free will as opposed to the universality of causation.
Mr. Sidgwick's appeal to the consciousness is, therefore, an appeal to a judge not in possession of the necessary facts. That little thread of conscious thought of which we think when we talk of the 'ego,' includes generally but a part, sometimes an insignificant part, though sometimes it may be the whole, of the elements which determine our actions. We cannot say, therefore, page 310 that the internal conditions are not changed because those internal conditions, of which consciousness takes cognisance, are not changed. Free will, in Mr. Sidgwick's sense, means a break in the chain of causation. All other analogy is against such an interruption; and consciousness cannot declare that there is a break, because consciousness does not see all the links of the chain. Mr. Sidgwick would perhaps say that I have not represented him fairly. Consciousness is not, according to him, a mere historical register, which appears to record changes of volition unaccompanied by a change of motive. Its testimony is given 'in' the moment of deliberate volition. But how is the testimony given? If I interrogate the only consciousness to which I have direct access, its whole testimony appears to me to be this—namely, that I can imagine various volitions as taking place without imagining any change of motive. But as this must mean without any change of conscious motive, it seems to me that consciousness is simply reaffirming the facts already admitted. I rehearse the various possibilities simply by repeating former experiences; and add nothing to the knowledge given by observation. The illusion, therefore, if illusion there be, depends upon this, that consciousness takes itself to be omniscient when it is not; and altogether ignores the cooperation of what one may call the anonymous factors of volition. The strength of these convictions explains why it is easier to get rid of other such illusions than of one which seems to be bound up in the inmost recesses of our thoughts.
I must remark, in passing, that one result of this view seems to be scarcely appreciated by Mr. Sidgwick. He admits that a determinist can give a definite and intelligible meaning to such a word as 'desert;' I should add, that a determinist gives the only intelligible meaning. 'Desert,' on the free will hypothesis, seems to me to be a self-contradictory assertion.
I must pass on, however, to another question, nearly connected with this. Mr. Sidgwick discusses the statement common to Mr. Mill and other utilitarians, that, as the will is always determined, so the cause which always determines it is pleasure. We desire a thing, it is said, in proportion as it is pleasant. To this it has been replied, by Shaftesbury and many later writers, that if pleasure means whatever attracts the will, the statement is tautological; and that if pleasure means some special kind of sensation, it is untrue. Mr. Sidgwick dismisses the first meaning of pleasure upon this ground, and proceeds to argue that other things besides 'agreeable sensation' may attract the will. The ordinary examples may serve to explain the point. I eat, it is said, because I am hungry, not because I look forward to the pleasure of eating. I do good because I love virtue, not because I calculate upon that reflected glow of agreeable self-complacency which attends the consciousness of a virtuous act. The distinction sometimes appears to be refined, but I think that it points to a real and important fact. If we ask, in short, why a man cats his dinner, the reply would be very complex if it were perfectly exhaustive. He eats it, in the first place, because he is accustomed to cat it, and because nine-tenths of our actions are more or less automatic. He eats it, again, because the attempt to resist this unconscious impulse would be productive of pain. We are like bodies moving along an accustomed groove partly by the mere momentum previously acquired and partly because the slightest deviation produces an instant pressure. There is here, perhaps, a little puzzle: how, it might be asked, can the discomfort operate when it is not felt? page 311 We are kept in the course, not by the pain of an actual spur, but by the non-existent pain which would operate if we tried to leave the course. The answer, so far as an answer is necessary, is given, I think, by the fact just noticed, that many impulses control us which never emerge into consciousness. I walk through a room avoiding collision with tables and chairs, though I may be so deeply plunged in a controversy with Mr. Sidgwick that the contingency of a collision and its consequent pain never emerges into consciousness. It is not a paradox but a plain truth that my actions may be guided by a tacit reference to possibilities of pain and pleasure when I never contemplate them distinctly. The dinner bell moves me partly as it would move an automaton. The fear of a pang of hunger moves me, though I am not conscious of it; I am moved by a kind of animal instinct, which may possibly be distinguishable from these impulses; and, finally, I act to a certain extent as a conscious being more or less deliberately reflecting upon the consequences of eating. In regard to this last set of impulses, it appears to me to be true, and I think that Mr. Sidgwick agrees, that the pleasantness of eating is the sole element of attraction, and its painfulness the sole element of repulsion. It need not, of course, be observed in detail that, by the help of association, that which is an aid to pleasure becomes an aid in itself; for this would be granted by all moralists. The statement, then, would appear to be that, so far as man is a being impelled by motives clearly revealed to consciousness, his will is determined by pleasure and pain: but that in a very large part of our lives mere blind instinct, or habits developed in the life of the individual or inherited from his ancestors, determine his actions without any such conscious motives. The impulse to virtue may or may not be a separate impulse from the various subsidiary passions of benevolence, sympathy, courage, and so forth. But, in any case, there is nothing peculiar to the moral feeling in the circumstance that it may become a dominating impulse, although our minds do not contemplate the pleasure of saying, at some future time, what a good boy I am! The good man does a kind action as he eats his dinner, from a complex variety of motives, in which habits, and what we call instinct, very frequently play an important part.
Here I believe that I am in substantial agreement with Mr. Sidgwick. But I have insisted upon the point, because it introduces a more general remark. The difficulty of this, and some other questions, seems to arise in great measure from the relics of certain metaphysical assumptions which were almost universally accepted in the days of Clarke and Butler. Without attempting an accurate statement of a theory which appears in various forms, I may venture to say that we find in their writings some such assumptions as the following: The soul, as they assumed, was a kind of spiritual atom. Its substance was perfectly simple; or, as Butler calls it, 'indiscerptible,' and therefore immortal, because incapable of resolution into simpler elements. Its essence was thought; and it was a question to be argued on à priori grounds, whether it could cease to think, even in sleep; and whether a cessation of consciousness would not imply a destruction of individuality. It was the one vital force which moved the unit mass of the physical organism. The thought of which it was the vehicle, was that thread of conscious reflection which joins together our lives, though, as I have said, we cannot now regard it as containing all our motives. Further the human soul, as distinguished from the mere animal soul, being page 312 essentially rational, the thought was generally assumed to be a kind of endless chain of reasoning or syllogizing. Each conclusion might become a motive; or, as was said, the 'last act of the judgment' was the necessary antecedent of that volition which moved the body. This incessant stream of argument might, of course, be erroneous in any degree; and it was natural to assume that, as each action represented the conclusion of some reasoning process, the virtuous action in some way represented valid syllogisms and wicked actions faulty syllogisms. The difficulty of moralists of this school was to draw the line satisfactorily between intellectual error and vice; as the difficulty of the utilitarians was to distinguish between selfishness and virtue.
Various difficulties arose from a theory which thus denied the extremely complex character of human nature. Thus, for example, the doctrine excludes the possibility of an unconscious motive; and therefore, as we have seen, makes it difficult to understand the determination of motives. Or, again, it seemed to follow that as we are frequently not conscious of any deliberate calculation of pleasure in determining upon our actions, the soul must be determined by some motive, differing from pleasure in kind: by logic or by virtue considered in themselves, without any reference to 'agreeable sensation.' And, again, it led to what Mr. Sidgwick calls the 'fundamental paradox of egoistic hedonism,' though I should add that he solves it in a manner sufficiently in harmony with my own. The paradox is this: that as 'pleasure only exists as it is felt, the more we are conscious of it the more pleasure we have;' whereas experience teaches us that knowledge and feeling are in some sense antagonistic; or that, by attending too much to our pleasures we diminish their intensity. The difficulty arises from the assumption of the absolute unity of consciousness. If knowing that we are happy is the same thing as being happy, there is an obvious contradiction in supposing that an increase of knowledge diminishes happiness. If the soul is self, and the essence of the soul is in knowing, to increase consciousness of happiness is the same thing as to increase the knowledge that we are happy. But if the fundamental assumption is unfounded, if consciousness is in reality a highly complex instead of a perfectly simple process, the difficulty disappears. The feeling may be intense, though the intellect be quiescent or too much occupied to think about the emotion. I can believe in the happiness of an oyster, though I suppose that oyster has no reflective faculties whatever, and can therefore suppose that part of my nature which I share with the oyster to be happy when the 'mind's eye' is closed; and I can equally hold that an intellectual pleasure is greatest when the mind is too much absorbed in contemplation to affirm its own happiness. The question is one to be decided by experience, though there are some obvious difficulties in bringing the matter to the test of experience. But I can see no absolute logical bar to an egoist accepting even the doctrine of utter self-sacrifice. The ordinary tendency of egoism has, of course, been very different; but if it could be proved to me that I should be happiest by entirely suppressing all calculations of my own interest, and abandoning myself to the life of the severest ascetic, selfishness would prompt me to set about the task at once. There is, I think, no real contradiction in saying that such calculation proves that I ought not to calculate. It is merely to say that, having once marked my course on the chart, I had better throw away my instruments; or that, as seeing may be proved to give more page 313 pleasure than pain, I had better put out my eyes. If to be happy is different from knowing myself to be happy, then I may wisely give up the knowledge to gain the sensation.
There is another conclusion from the metaphysical assumption which is of more importance. If the soul, or 'thinking principle,' is always drawing up syllogisms, and if happiness be the only determining motive, the conclusion or 'last act of the judgment' would always be in the form, this or that action will make me happiest. And by 'me' is meant this indissoluble unit which survives all changes, which will be the same a thousand years hence as now, to which a minute of happiness at the end of an indefinite period should, in the eye of reason, be of precisely the same value as a minute of happiness now. Therefore the course is reasonable which gains for me the maximum of happiness, however distributed. The argument seemed conclusive to many moralists, and gives the philosophical foundation for what Mr. Sidgwick calls egoistic hedonism. It is agreeable to find a writer who distinguishes emphatically between this doctrine and that of utilitarianism, with which it is so often and persistently confounded. I fear that he is himself too much tainted with utilitarianism to gain for his protest the respect which it deserves. And yet there seems to be a formal contradiction between the doctrine which regards the happiness of the individual, and that which regards the happiness of the race, as the sole end of moral conduct. The strong point of the former or egoistic theory is the appearance of logical consistency, and even Mr. Sidgwick, whilst repudiating it as degrading, seems to be impressed by its appearance of flawless rotundity. Good Unmitigated selfishness has an almost appalling coherency, which makes it a hard nut to crack. One
flaw, however, may be at once detected. The statement may be either psychological or ethical. It may be said 'a man cannot help acting with a sole view to his happiness,' or 'a man ought to act with a sole view to his happiness.' Without now asking what 'ought' means in this last connection—a rather difficult question—I may observe that the other meaning seems to be the commonest. The ethical view is, in that case, superfluous. If, as Bentham seems to have thought, a man's own happiness is his only possible motive, it matters little whether it is also the right motive. To tell us that we ought to have altruistic impulses would, on that supposition, be as absurd as to tell us that we ought to have wings, or that we ought not to obey the laws of gravitation. Nor do I think that any moralist who believes in the possibility of unselfish instincts, denies their propriety. The chief question, therefore, is whether, as a matter of fact, they are or are not possible. The answer would not, I think, be much disputed by any modern psychologist. Hume's argument against the selfish theory is sufficiently decisive. He remarks substantially that the theory, if it means anything, means that every motive must of necessity terminate in our own personal interest. If any impulse of a purely altruistic kind can be shown to exist, the à priori argument is refuted and becomes a mere question for experience to determine how great a part such impulses perform in our nature. If it is true, that is, that the prospect of my suffering a toothache fifty years hence does not affect my mind as powerfully as the prospect of a thousand of my fellow-creatures being tortured to death to-morrow, I must allow that there is some unselfish instinct in my nature. What the proportion may be between the interest which I take in my own future and the page 314 interest which I take in the future of my fellow-creatures is a question to be decided simply by experience. In fact, as Hume also remarks, we find unselfish instincts even amongst animals, as in the love of a female for its offspring. It is hard to suppose that reason quenches those instincts, and shows us simply that the brutes were fools for their pains. Reason is the faculty which enables us to take into account the distant and the future; according to this argument, it would really exhort us to attend exclusively to our own future and to that which immediately concerns us. The woman will no longer die for her child, because she will calculate that the pain of losing it is, on the whole, overbalanced by the chances of pleasure, if she continues to live. Whether reason does preach this lesson is a question which will meet us presently; but that, as a matter of fact, the psychological doctrine of the pure selfishness of all our actions is unfounded, seems to be as plain as any conclusion which rests upon evidence. The argument will meet us once more at the critical points of Mr. Sidgwick's book.
Mr. Sidgwick, in fact, guides us through a long investigation to bring us face to face with selfish reasoning, and would then half admit that it is unanswerable. His discussion of the intuitive and utilitarian methods tends to the conclusion that they may be fused into theory, but that when this consummation has been effected, the contrast between the egoistical doctrine and its now united rivals stands out more forcibly than ever. Here is the knot to be untied; but before trying my hand at that difficult task, I must say a few words upon the supposed reconciliation. The intuitional method, according to Mr. Sidgwick, may take three different forms. The first assumes an internal monitor, which says of each individual action, this is right or this is wrong. The second supposes that we have an intuitive perception of a certain list of moral axioms, which may be compared to the primary axioms of mathematics, and which are given us by common sense. The third attempts to discover one fundamental and undeniable principle from which the various minor truths of morality may be deduced by rigorous logical process. Passing over, for the moment, this last and, Mr. Sidgwick holds, most philosophical form of intuitionism, each of the others appears to mo to express a certain truth. We assume certain moral rules on the ground of common sense; and we have an instinct which guides our judgment of particular actions. I may admit the general maxim that I ought to speak the truth, without always attending to any ulterior reason, and perhaps without being able to assign any conclusive reason. I may again feel ashamed when I tell a lie, without even referring to the general maxim about speaking the truth. There are, however, as Mr. Sidgwick remarks, three questions about such intuitions which are frequently confused. We may argue as to their existence, their origin, or their validity. One school of intuitionists assumes that, if a moral rule is accepted by the common sense of mankind, it has a kind of supernatural authority and must be regarded as an ultimate truth. In a series of careful and elaborate chapters, Mr. Sidgwick gives his reasons for rejecting this conclusion. Taking the chief moral axioms in turn, he shows, by a minute analysis, that they have not those characteristics of clearness, self-evidencing power, consistency, and universality which mark a primary truth. I cannot give even an example of this argument, of which the general nature is easily conceivable. To examine the page 315 origin of these maxims by an historical method is beyond Mr. Sidgwick's purpose. Such an examination would probably bring into much greater distinctness the fact that our so-called moral intuitions are of a singularly complex character; and show at every point traces of the social, religious, and political stages through which the race has passed. They fail, therefore, to exhibit a close coincidence with utilitarian conclusions; as, indeed, the utility of a given rule, though a main element in securing its acceptance, has been far from the sole element. Roughly speaking, however, they represent the empirical conclusions of the race as to the rules which are most conducive to its happiness. The paramount importance of maintaining a moral law, even though far from ideal perfection, is acknowledged by utilitarians; and as it has led intuitionists to confer upon them a supernatural character, the intuitionist and the utilitarian may thus be in a sense reconciled; the utilitarian admitting the authority of the rules, subject of course to rational revison, and the intuitionist admitting that their origin is to be explained on the principles of evolution.
The question, however, remains, whether these rules, however they have come to light, may not be exhibited as deductions from some undeniable first truth. The process would be analogous to that exhibited in other inquiries. In the physical sciences we discover by degrees the more general formula; under which we range the doctrines to which mere empirical observation has enabled us to approximate roughly; and the general truth once discovered enables us to define more precisely the subsidiary formula, and to get rid of the incongruous elements with which it was at first associated. Can we find such a truth in the case of ethics?
And what, we may ask, is the general nature of the truth at which we are thus arriving? A utilitarian would say that to frame a scientific code of morality, we must have a complete calculus of happiness. You must be able to say, that is, what are the ultimate laws which determine the consequences of our actions in regard of their 'felicific' (I use a word coined by Mr. Sidgwick) quality. The formula that morality implies the pursuit of the greatest happiness of the greatest number will then enable you to draw up the moral code. The intuitionist substitutes the psychological for the sociological view. He would say that we require a complete theory of human nature. We must, therefore, discover what is the nature and function of the moral sense, and we can then disentangle its genuine utterances from the confused clamour of evil passions. There is nothing necessarily antagonistic in these methods. Hutcheson, for example, the first systematic exponent of the moral sense doctrine, was also the first man to lay down Bentham's sacred formula. According to him there was a kind of pre-established harmony, in virtue of which the moral sense always pointed out the line of conduct which in fact was most productive of happiness. Mr. Sidgwick says that the result of this teaching was to distract attention from the 'objectivity of duty;' and quotes Hutcheson as innocently asking, 'why the moral sense should not vary in different human beings as the palate does? 'Now, innocent as the question may be, I am disposed to ask it myself, and even to reply that, as far as I can judge, the moral sense does vary like the palate. I can understand, indeed, that such a reply has an objectionable sound; but I do not think that the consequences when fairly stated conflict with the ' objectivity of duty'—at least, if I page 316 rightly understand 'objectivity.' Mr. Sidgwick returns to the point more than once. 'If I say,' he observes, 'this smell is sweet, and another it is not sweet, the two judgments apparently conflict, and yet neither of us would accuse the other of error,' which, he proceeds to argue, would not be the case with ethical differences. Now I very much fear that, if I was the 'other,' I should distinctly accuse Mr. Sidgwick of error. If I found a man sniffing with delight the odour of a London sewer, I should unhesitatingly say that his olfactory sense was perverted. It is true that I cannot say that 'sweet' represents to me the same sensation as it does to Mr. Sidgwick; and still less, I venture to think, can I say that 'good' or 'beautiful' represents the same emotion. But if a man cannot distinguish the smell of a drain from the smell of a rose, or if he prefers the drain to the rose, I unhesitatingly infer disease. In fact, it is curious to observe how a kind of quasi-moral judgment grows up in such cases. I know an estimable person who would be more shocked if I avowed a preference of sweet to dry champagne than if I avowed an occasional tendency to intoxication. The code of the gourmet presents a striking analogy to the code of the moral philosopher; and if his act bore more directly upon ordinary human happiness, I suspect that heresy in matters of meat and drink would be speedily condemned like heresy in religion. Nor is the sentiment altogether irrational. The simple preference of one taste to another may connote marked differences in the health or sensibility of the organ. A love of sweets, it has been said by a great authority, shows a nature which has not yet lost its childish innocence. I will take, however, a less offensive, and perhaps more instructive, example. The sense of hearing should, on Mr. Sidgwick's hypothesis, give us no more objective result than the sense of smell. I like this sound and you like that; we can neither accuse each other of error. Suppose, now, that I, being an absolutely unmusical person, had made such a remark to Handel. You, I might have said, are shocked by a discord; I like discord just as well as harmony; you prefer tweedledee to tweedledum; I am perfectly impartial. Would Handel have been left without an answer? He would, I rather imagine, have replied in substance that my incapacity showed a greater dulness of sense. If I had denied this, he would have observed that all persons who had a certain faculty agreed in their judgment of harmony and discord, and found one pleasant and the other disagreeable. If I had replied, you are begging the question and inferring that people hear better because they prefer certain sounds, and that the sounds are preferable because the best hearers prefer them, he would have appealed to objective facts. He could have shown mathematically that when the number of vibrations of two strings bore certain relations, the sounds produced were harmonious, and in other cases discordant. I should therefore have been forced to admit that a good ear could instinctively recognise certain qualities of sound which could be proved by other means to have an objective existence. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that, in this case, the ear of Handel gives results which are confirmed by his senses of seeing and touching, whereas my ear is incapable of appreciating relations perceptible by my other senses. But, at any rate, I should have to admit my inferiority or to deny that a fine ear was a blessing. Against this last doctrine Handel would of course urge all the pleasures which are obtainable by music. If page 317 I were absolutely deaf, I must take his statements on trust, but if I had some rudimentary sensibility I could more or less appreciate and understand him.
If we apply this analogy, it will appear, I think, that a belief in the moral sense need not make morality in any dangerous sense 'subjective,' though it implies what cannot be denied, that the judgment of morality varies widely with the individual. Perhaps there are some harmonies in the nature of things, the perception of which gives intense delight to a man of fine moral sense, whilst they are but dimly perceived by his more obtuse fellows. But it does not follow that the thick-skinned man denies them because he cannot perceive them. There is, it is true, this important difference; the moralists have not yet been able to discover, and in all probability they will never be able to discover, laws analogous to the mathematical theorems of music. A good action has often been compared to a beautiful harmony; but a man is more complex than a piece of catgut, and the vibrations of his brain and nerves follow more intricate laws. Still, it would not be altogether fanciful to assume that there is some real analogy between the two cases; and that part at least of the pleasure derivable from a virtuous action depends upon the play of underlying forces whose secret we cannot penetrate. I think, indeed, that the ordinary principles of judgment imply some such tacit hypothesis. There is, as Mr. Sidgwick occasionally observes, a close relation between our æsthetic and our moral sentiments which would be an interesting subject for fuller discussion. We assume a kind of standard in art. In music we take it for granted that Mozart and Handel are better judges than we; in painting we judge people by their agreement with Titian or Raphael; and in poetry, we believe that the supreme excellence of Shakespeare or Dante is not, in the ordinary sense, a mere matter of taste. If I do not enjoy some great author, I assume, for my part, that I am stupid, not that the world is wrong. I am as convinced that any scientific test—if such a test could be applied—would prove Shakespeare's incomparable superiority to Tom Moore, as I am that, a similar test would prove the sun to weigh more than Venus. In moral questions I imagine that we frequently judge in the same way. We recognise the moral beauty of an action before we even think of its utility. As a sculptor might design forms which combined the highest degree of strength and activity; or an architect discover the best constructive arrangement; though in the mind of each the utility of the forms might occupy a subordinate place to beauty; so a man of moral genius perceives the laws which are in fact most conducive to the happiness of mankind, though he neither has made nor could make any calculation of consequences. The ideal standards of perfection which have influenced the character of mankind have been constructed by a process which resembles, if it is not identical with, the process of poetry or art. The instinct outruns the reasoning process, and jumps at conclusions which reason reaches by elaborate engineering works. Reason itself teaches us to be guided by this divining power, when we cannot work our prepared logical formulæ If a given form or sound is pleasing to all men whose eyes and ears have reached a certain pitch of sensibility, we may infer that the pleasure probably corresponds to some harmony too fine for our balances and microscopes. And similarly, if qualities which are obviously good—strength of understanding, quickness of sympathy, and so on—are generally combined with certain moral quali- page 318 ties, we have a strong reason for assuming at once that those qualities have their hidden uses. And thus, in all moral teaching, there is an element of instinct or intuition which should be respected until rational inquiry has distinctly exhibited its nature. We may agree up to a certain point with Hutcheson. The moral sense does, in fact, point to the line of greatest happiness. There is a harmony between the voice of conscience and the general interest of mankind. We should part from Hutcheson when he declares the moral sense to have a kind of transcendental authority; for in that case we should be liable to take a prevailing prejudice for an eternal truth. And we may show that the harmony is not, properly speaking, pre-established; except so far as it expresses the balance of the various forces which maintain the life of the social organism.
And hence we may infer the genera nature of the process by which the intuitionist and the utilitarian theories may be ultimately fused. We must distinguish between the cause and the reason of an opinion. In an ideally perfect intellect the two would be identical. The logical demonstration of a doctrine would be the only thing which would cause us to believe it. But as mankind are not as yet perfect reasoners, the two seldom coincide. Logic goes for very little in the acceptance of an opinion, and all manner of irrelevant motives for a great teal. Only in the long run, and as we take in a great number of people, does the reasonableness of an opinion become a more important element in inducing its acceptance, because it is permanent and uniform, whilst the other motives may be temporary and conflicting. Now [unclear: the] existing moral code at any tire is the result of a great number of different causes, and the moral [unclear: sense] is probably the name of several heterogeneous feelings. Some moral rules are recognised because their utility is clear; some are due to our intuitive instinct of moral beauty; many represent a compromise which has been struck out between the selfish interests of different people; some are traditionary doctrines which have been generated by extinct phases of society; some are, perhaps, due to accidental associations of ideas; and some may be corollaries drawn with more or less accuracy from religious doctrines more or less reasonable in character. In all these cases, it may be, there is some reference, explicit or implicit, to considerations of utility; but it does not seem possible, without a great distortion of language, to maintain that in every case the affirmation, 'This is right,' includes or implies the affirmation, 'This is conducive to the greatest happiness.' Indeed, the indignation with which many moralists repudiate the doctrine altogether is a sufficient proof that it cannot be consciously present in many minds. But it is equally clear, as Hume showed in the admirable argument further worked out by Mr. Sidgwick, that the utility of moral rules has been the cause, though not the conscious reason, of their acceptance. Mankind have often felt their way blindly; and when fancying themselves to be acting in obedience to their own selfishness or to some supernatural and inscrutable motive, have really been acting for the general utility. In his discussion of utilitarianism, Mr. Sidgwick gives a good many illustrations of this principle. The code actually existing, though reached by a very different process, approximates to that which a utilitarian would have devised; and he may hope that at some future time the approximation will become coincidence. Meanwhile he will have solved the problem suggested by the intuitionist when he page 319 has shown how the multifarious processes of social and intellectual development have generated the so-called intuitions and given authority to those which were in fact useful. The mysterious harmony between our condition and our instincts will then have received all the explananation of which it is capable.
Mr. Sidgwick would, I imagine, agree generally with these statements; but he has another mode of reconciling intuitionism and utilitarianism. I must say something of his conclusions, though I confess frankly that I speak with some nervousness. For here we are treading by the side of certain metaphysical gulfs, into which a single false step may precipitate us; and I am sensible that a struggle with Mr. Sidgwick would be only too likely to send one or both of the combatants into that bottomless abyss. I have, indeed, a certain difficulty in catching his meaning, which is due, not to any fault in his writing, nor, I would hope, to stupidity of my own of more than ordinary intensity, so much as to the familiar fact that thinkers belonging to different schools, or even to different sections of the same school, are always liable to be at cross-purposes. However, treading carefully and avoiding unnecessary digression, I will endeavour to state Mr. Sidgwick's conclusions and my own view. Following in the steps of Clarke and Kant, and refining away certain crudities of expression, he concludes finally that we have two fundamental moral intuitions: 'First, that nothing can be right for me which is not right for all persons in similar circumstances; and secondly, that I cannot regard the fulfilment of my own desires or my own happiness as intrinsically more desirable (or more to be regarded by me as a rational end) than the equal happiness of anyone else.'
I will take the formulæ separately. The first, I may remark, is liable to be misunderstood, if taken without further explanation. It does not, with Mr. Sidgwick at least, mean to assert that the same moral law is necessarily true for men and women, blacks and whites, old men and babies. That may or may not be the case. He only asserts that if the action be not right for a person in other circumstances, 'the difference of circumstances must contain the ground and reason of the difference in the moral character of the action.' Further, 'difference of circumstances must be taken to include difference of nature and character—in short, all differences beyond the individuality of the individual.' I confess that when I come to 'the individuality of the individual,' an individuality which does not include his specific differences from other individuals, but only his numerical identity, my head begins to swim. It is too ethereal a conception to be easily grasped by thick brains; and similarly when, in discussing his second formula, Mr. Sidgwick tells us that it means that the fact that I am I, or that he is he, is to make no difference in the objective desirability (whatever that may be) of my or his happiness, I fear that I am breathing air too thin for me. I am at first disposed to say, If you mean that law must be the same for you and me, the proposition is false; if you only mean that, if I were you, I should be subject to the same laws as you, you are merely making an identical proposition. Mr. Sidgwick, however, has neither of those meanings; and, upon making another effort, I begin to see light. The first proposition, says Mr. Sidgwick, 'is a necessary postulate of all ethical systems, being an expression of what is involved in objective rightness and wrongness in conduct.' If it is a necessary postulate of all ethical systems, it cannot help us to recon- page 320 cile any two, and might perhaps be dismissed from this argument; but I should go a step further. So far as it is a 'necessary postulate,' it seems to be consistent not only with all forms of intuitionism and utilitarianism, but also with the denial that there is any real distinction between right and wrong. I hold, of course, that there is such a distinction, just as much as there is a distinction between black and white, but I deny that we can arrive at it by this à priori intuition. We could not know that black differed from white, except from the testimony of the senses, and we could not know that right differed from wrong except from the testimony of the emotions. If we were purely reasoning beings, without any emotional nature, it seems to me that right and wrong would be meaningless phrases.
I will try, however, to exhibit what I conceive to be the true meaning of Mr. Sidgwick's conclusions It must be admitted by everybody that there are certain assumptions implied in all reasoning. I need not ask whether they are properly to be regarded as intuitions as truths given by universal [unclear: experence], or as postulates which we cannot avoid in the actual process) f reasoning. It is clear, in any [unclear: case], that we have to assume the existence of other conscious beings than ourselves, and to assume the uniformity of the order of nature. If the world be a dream of mown, I must still argue as though it were a reality. If there be [unclear: inerruptions] to the order of nature, my reasoning is so far paralysed before it can move a step. Heno it follows at once that my feelings, however trifling or however important, would be produced in other conscious beings, under the same ircumstances, if they precisely resemble me, and would vary only in so far as they differ from me. Otherwise it would follow that different consequences might result from the same antecedents, which is contrary to the fundamental postulate.2 Whether my nose is tickled by a straw, or my heart crushed by grief; whether I judge a fly to be a yard from my face, or perceive the truth of the laws of gravitation, I must assume that the same thoughts and feelings would in the same case present themselves to others, modified only by the differences of their physical or mental organisation. This then is not specially an ethical postulate or intuition any more than it is mathematical or chemical. It is a universal truth implied in every possible branch of inquiry. It has just as much to do with morality, and is as little confined to morality, as the principle of the 'excluded middle.'
Moreover, it is consistent not only, as Mr. Sidgwick says, with the acceptance of any ethical system, but with the repudiation of all ethical systems. It follows, indeed, that any moral feeling of which I am conscious would exist in my fellow-creatures under similar circumstances. So would the most transitory taste or fancy. If I think of a hippogriff in a certain way, others would have the same conception modified by their various idiosyncrasies. And the 'objective' character of morality no more follows than the objective character of a hippogriff, unless you merely mean by calling it 'objective' to signify that the same thought or feeling will be found in other minds than my own. Indeed, I cannot help thinking that an ambiguity in the use of that unfortunate word produces the confusion upon this subject. The only senses in which I can suppose a man to maintain the page 321 'subjectivity' of morality are senses which would make 'subjective' equivalent to fluctuating, illusory, or unimportant. It has been said, for example, though it has hardly been seriously maintained, that morality is a mere fashion, which changes arbitrarily at different times and places; it has been said that it is an illusion, in the sense that it is merely a selfish feeling presented in a new mask: or again, that it is a mere matter of taste, which may be gratified or otherwise without more important results than other superficial fancies. Such doctrines, I imagine, are easily refutable by an appeal to experience, but cannot be refuted by a direct application of the postulates in question. They would prove indeed that morality cannot vary 'arbitrarily' in a sense incompatible with the uniformity of nature; but cannot prove that morality may not vary with different races of men as widely as the fashion of cutting the hair or dressing. Or again, the postulates would prove that the feeling of which I am conscious, or an analogous feeling would be found in other men under the same circumstances; but they do not prove that the difference between this feeling and pure selfishness may not be an illusion produced by mere change in the external associations. So far then as Mr. Sidgwick's postulate is true, it seems to me to apply to all sciences, and so far as it bears upon morality, it is perfectly consistent with the denial of every property which renders morality valuable.
The second proposition appears to me to be of similar character. Mr. Sidgwick says that it is the fundamental proposition of utilitarianism. To clear up this point, I must ask what is this fundamental proposition. Mr. Sidgwick's proposition is that I am not to regard my own happiness as intrinsically more desirable than the equal happiness of anyone else. Of course, the same caution is to be applied here as before. Mr. Sidgwick does not mean that the happiness of St. John is just as desirable as the happiness of Judas Iscariot; but that we are not to regard the 'individuality of the individual.' And he identifies this with Bentham's theory that each one is to count for one. Bentham's meaning may be perhaps made a little clearer by comparing happiness to a material currency. His theory was that the condition of society was the best in which there was the greatest quantity of such coinage, irrespectively of the distribution. If, for example, a hundred people had a thousand pounds of happiness, their state would always be better than that of an equal population who had only nine hundred pounds' worth; whether in the first case each man had ten pounds, or half of them had fifteen pounds a piece and the other half only five. Now this doctrine obviously assumes the truth of the postulates already considered. It assumes, that is, that happiness is a real thing, which does not change its nature by the mere fact of its distribution; so that two similar individuals in similar circumstances may be assumed to be equally happy. So far, however, we have not advanced a step towards utilitarianism. We are merely stating the most general of all truths in particular terms. We are stating in regard to the special phenomena of happiness what holds of all phenomena whatever. It may be added that, as in every conceivable moral system happiness has to be considered in one way or another, the postulate is equally necessary for all systems. How then is the next step to be made? Mr. Sidgwick says that the happiness of all men is 'intrinsically desirable' in the same degree. What is meant by desirable? Happiness, as we have seen already, is the object of all desire. When then page 322 we say that equal amounts of happiness are equally desirable, do we, in Pope's words,
Say more or less
Than this, that happiness is happiness?
The virtue of the phrase, it is obvious, must be in the word 'intrinsically;' but I confess that the word seems to me to cover an unintentional evasion. I cannot form to myself any conception of a thing as 'desirable,' except in so far as it is desirable to some definite person or persons.
That happiness is desirable seems to me to be almost tautologous. It means merely that happiness is desired breach individual. When I add that the general happiness is desirable, I still am only saying that if everybody is happy more desires will be gratified. To say that each person 'ought to' desire the general happiness would—in every sense—be still really tautologous. By 'ought' I mean obedience to the moral law; by the moral law3 I mean that body of rules the observance of which secures the greatest sum of happiness. To say, then, that a man ought to desire the general happiness is to say that a desire for the general happiness prompts a man to obey the rules which secure the general happiness. And I am unable to find any other meaning in the words.
How, then, should I 'prove' utilitarianism? Happiness is the end; observance of the law is the means. I can prove that the end exists, or, if Mr. Sidgwick prefers, I know it intuitively, or as a necessary postulate. I know that there is such a state as happiness. I can prove again in detail by experience that the various special rules of morality contribute to that happiness. And, finally, I know by experience that most people do, in fact, desire the general happiness sufficiently to prompt them to take within certain limits the necessary means for the desired end. If you ask me to prove anything more, I admit my incapacity; but I add that I cannot see what more there is to be proved. As metaphysicians have thought that the utility of a political institution was not a sufficient reason for loyalty without a social contract; they naturally think that the utility of a moral law is insufficient unless you can show that to deny its validity is to fall into a contradiction in terms.
And here I come to the final question which Mr. Sidgwick discusses, and which is connected with the most important of all questions. Unluckily it brings out what is, I fear, an irreconcileable difference between Mr. Sidgwick and myself. I am glad that if my view is wrong it seems to mo at least to lead to a less sceptical conclusion. The question which has always more or less puzzled utilitarians is, what are your sanctions? How do you propose to make men moral? I may say at once that it is impossible for me to give here what I hold to be an adequate answer. In general terms, I should say that the question can only be answered by experience; and that experience does not give one definite categorical reply. It appears to me that the sanctions must vary widely according to the intellectual stage of mankind. There have perhaps been periods at which a belief in the old-fashioned hell was absolutely necessary. There may be a period, if the positivists are right, at which an organised public opinion will be sufficient to enforce the moral code without an appeal to further motives. The discussion becomes religious, psychological, and histo- page 323 rical, and as such Mr. Sidgwick passes it by, and I willingly follow his example.
But there is another point of view from which the problem may be considered, and which Mr. Sidgwick considers—though I confess that I do not quite follow him—to be one of great importance. The question which he asks may perhaps be stated thus: can we show moral conduct to be reasonable? After fusing intuitionism and utilitarianism, the old difficulty crops up undiminished. It is reasonable, so our intuitionists please to tell us, to do what is right as right, and to desire the general happiness. But then it also seems to be reasonable for each man to desire his own happiness. These two principles are left at issue on the last page; and as I do not believe in Mr. Sidgwick's utilitarian intuitions, he will perhaps think that I ought to be an egoistic hedonist. I will try to show why I am not.
Two schemes of conduct, says Mr. Sidgwick, may be suggested; each of which is apparently 'reasonable,' and which yet lead to irreconcileable results. I have felt all along that in this conception of the 'reasonableness' of conduct, considered as an alternate end, there lies the real difference between Mr. Sidgwick and myself. I must try to bring it into clearer relief. Mr. Sidgwick seems to regard it as possible that all moral law should be represented as a series of logical deductions from some one or two self-evident propositions. To me it seems to be obvious that a really scientific body of moral doctrines would imply a scientific psychology and sociology. We cannot know what to do in this world till we know what we are and what it is. Starting from the thin air of abstract propositions you can never get within reach of the tangible earth. The process by which ontologists affect to perform that feat always reminds me of the old story about the man who made excellent soup with a stone and some hot water. He simply asked leave to flavour his soup by shredding into it a few scraps of meat and herbs, and the result was excellent. By a metaphysical sleight of hand of the same kind, philosophers contrive to flavour the colourless element of abstract logic with ingredients really derived from experience of the concrete. To elaborate a moral philosophy by such methods seems to me to be just as hopeless as to elaborate a science of medicine in the same way. In medical as in ethical science we have a body of rules, of the utmost importance to health. As they were discovered before physiology was born, and by purely empirical methods, the very absence of a definite logical groundwork might seem to give them a kind of mysterious and independent authority. Further inquiry will, no doubt, tend to establish them in the main, as to modify them in particular points. But I do not think that any real advantage would be gained by announcing as first principles the objectivity of sanitary rules or the intrinsic desirability of physical comfort. It might be important to announce that the object of medicine was to procure health, if some previous superstition had sacrificed sanitary considerations to some prejudice which called itself divine, because it was not reasonable. But even that formula would be useful rather as defining the end of our researches, than as an axiom from which the laws could be deduced by a direct method. If such an attempt were made, I think that we might fall into a difficulty analogous to that of which Mr. Sidgwick speaks. The existence of a disease would appear to involve a contradiction, and we should find that the body, so far as page 324 diseased, was a concrete embodiment of unreason.
To desert an analogy which is yet, perhaps, something more than an analogy, I come to Mr. Sidgwick's statement. Right and reasonable conduct, he says, are synonymous. I have some difficulty in understanding what is meant by conduct which is reasonable, unless by it is meant conduct which is consistent, and which does not assume the truth of some inconsistent proposition. Reason must, as it seems to me, have some materials to work upon, whether provided by the senses or the perceptions. Reason in itself seems to me to be reason in vacuo—a very good thing, it may be, but incapable of affecting human conduct. But, at any rate, when conduct is called reasonable, it must, I think, be meant that it is reasonable in regard to the agent. Otherwise it would seem that the same conduct would be reasonable for men and beasts, angels and devils. The difficulty, then, which troubles Mr. Sidgwick seems to resolve itself into this: is it reasonable for an immoral agent to be moral? If there is a devil—an agent the law of whose being is the hatred of good—can it be reasonable for him to love good? Or if we suppose men to exist who are absolutely devoid of benevolent motives, can it be reasonable for them to be unselfish? In spite of all intuitions to the contrary, it seems, says .Mr. Sidgwick, to be ultimately reasonable to seek one's own happiness. In popular language, it is true, this seems to be obvious. All self-regarding morality is enlightened prudence; and most of the rules of extra-regarding morality would be obeyed on purely prudential grounds. A man is not wise who declares war upon his species. But if we look a little closer, the maxim requires qualification. Reason, in my view of the case, is not, properly speaking, a faculty which can directly prompt to action.4 It is the faculty by which we recognise truth. It tells us what are the consequences of our actions, and the conditions by which we are bound. It lays down a map of the country, but does not induce us to follow one route rather than another. A full intelligence without emotion would be absolutely quiescent in an eternal Nirvana. We act simply because we feel. We take the shortest road because we desire something at the end; not because we know that two sides of a triangle are longer than the third. I therefore call a man reasonable when he lays down an accurate and consistent map of the world or of his little province; but his path must be determined entirely by his emotions. They are ultimate facts, which are no more to be explained by reason than the ultimate cause of gravitation. A man who loves will move in one way, as a man who hates will move in another, as a stone will fall southwards at the North Pole, and northwards at the South. And we only call one conduct more 'reasonable' than another, in so far as some people's passions lead them to take inconsistent courses, or their defect of intelligence leads them to go north when they mean to go south. Thus though 'right' implies 'reasonable,' as it implies consistency, it does not coincide with reasonable. A devil might be perfectly reasonable, though perfectly wicked. He would recognise with absolute clearness the nature and consequences of his actions, and therefore he would act wickedly. Reason, then, may lead different people to act in diametrically opposite ways. This seems to Mr. Sidgwick to be contradictory. I think it the expres- page 325 sion of one of the most obvious and universal of facts. The contradiction, in short, which Mr. Sidgwick discovers between different courses of conduct, both of which are equally reasonable, comes to this: First, he regards that conduct to be reasonable which would be approved by a perfectly impartial spectator, that is, by a being whose views would not be coloured by his own passions. This leads, as he says, to intuitional utilitarianism, or, as I should say, to pure God winism. Then he says that that conduct is reasonable which would be pursued by a man of private affections, but elevated above considerations of time. Any equal period of existence would be equally valuable to him. And thence, as it seems to be obvious that at each moment a man does what pleases him best, we arrive by a kind of integration at the conclusion that that course will please him best which gives him the greatest net result of pleasure. Between two such people there is of course an inevitable contradiction. As Mr. Sidgwick cannot find any mode of deciding which of these conceptions represents reason in the abstract, he is in a hopeless dilemma. Such a dilemma awaits anybody who thinks that reason can explain its own primary data, instead of reconciling the inferences from them. Meanwhile I am content to say that neither case represents any actual human being. Reason, on my view, necessarily produces different results when we start with different motives, just as reason brings out different conclusions if we start from different evidence. The fact that people ultimately agree in mathematical conclusions proves that their primary intuitions are the same, or at least analogous. The fact that they disagree in moral conclusions proves that their primary instincts are different. The resulting discord proves only that the universe is in this sense an embodiment of unreason, that it is full of conflicting impulses. That is a fact which will be explained when we know the origin of evil. To me the difficulty seems to be only a reflection upon the mirror of metaphysics of the indisputable truth that mankind is engaged in a perpetual struggle for existence, with the consequent crushing out—as we must try to hope—of the weakest and the worst.
1 The Methods of Ethics. By Henry Sidgwick, Lecturer and late Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. London: Macmillan & Co. 1874.
2 T.s is perhaps inconsistent with Mr. Sidgwick's doctrine of free will; but that is notny concern.
3 I note the fact that I do not mean the actually existing moral law of any given society, but that law which I desire to see accepted.
4 Mr. Sidgwick notices this question, but does not decide it. In my mind it is] one which requires to be decided.