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D.C.L., LL.D.





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First Edition 1918
Reprinted with additional Chapter; 19 19

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The aim of the following pages is to be

^ of service to ordinarily thoughtful persons

^ who are interested in reflecting upon

morality. I do not believe in casuistry

as a guide to conduct ; but I hope that

suggestions drawn from moral philosophy

may here and there throw light upon per-

V plexities due to unchallenged assumptions

which are not true. Must a man be selfish,

for instance, because he does not " live

for others " ? Can morality be hostile to

i beauty, or vice versa ? Is it true that

<5 retributive punishment is a mere survival

A of vindictiveness ? If evil is real, does

that make it certain that the universe

cannot be perfect ? Have we any right

to be stupid ? On difficulties of this kind


I thought that some suggestions might be
helpful. And if I was wrong, there is no
great harm done.

A chapter on Conscientious Objections
has been added in the second impression.


OxsHOTT, May 1919.




Living for Others ...... i


The Social Good . . . . . . 25


Value and Goodness ...... 46

Unvisited Tombs ...... 66


" On Doubting the Realitv of Evil " . .88




"How IS ONE TO KNOW WHAT TO DO ? " . . I26


Something worth knowing? . . . .161


On the growing Repugnance to Punishment . 181


"We are not hard enough on Stupidity" . 213


Conscientious Objections ..... 246




When we say of any one that he or she —
it is more often said of a woman — " lives
wholly for others," we mean it to be un-
qualified praise. We mean to indicate the
height of unselfishness, to suggest a char-
acter wholly devoted to service.

We find no practical difficulty in inter-
preting the phrase, although, taken quite
literally, it seems indefinite. We insert
into the words " for others " the assump-
tion of an interest or purpose in life which
is such as we hold desirable.

And yet the phrase " for others " .raises
questions which it does not answer. Of
the golden rule itself it has been said,
*' what we would that men should do to

1 B


us " is not a safe guide to what we ought
to do for them. Do we wish the judge to
pronounce a just sentence when it would
condemn us ? Do we wish our neighbour
sternly to refuse connivance at our in-
directnesses and misdoings ? And are we
entitled ourselves to fail in justice and
uprightness in so far as we do not actually
wish our neighbours to exhibit these
qualities towards us ?

We see that even the golden rule gives
us no trustworthy criterion of our be-
haviour to others, and that some more
definite standard is necessary. And in
fact, as we may learn from the English
Church catechism, we do construe our duty
towards our neighbour by help of a number
of positive interests and obligations which
interpret for us that traditional rule.

Common sense will carry our answer a
little further. In two cases out of three, or,
if we prefer to say so, nine out of ten, we
have no mistrust of the character implied
in the description " lives for others." But
here and there we shall find ourselves


asking, " Lives for others ? But what on
earth has he to offer to others ? Does he
know what to do for them in the special
troubles of their lives ? Does he study
or understand their interests or welfare ?
Does he even sincerely and unselfishly care
for them ? Perhaps he takes no money
from them ; but has he a hundredth part
of the value for them that a hard-working
doctor or a gifted inventor has ? " It is
a formidable question, which all who
aim, say, at social service should put to
themselves, " What have I to offer to
others ? "

This makes clear, what common sense
and the facts of all good service confirm,
that " living for others " is a great positive
responsibility. For it means, and must
mean, promoting for or in others, definite
interests or purposes, in a word, values.
And in this work as in any other it is
possible to fail by misfortune or by fault.
The would-be servant of others may have
no real gift that way ; or his would-be
service may be the mere trifling and self-


importance of a busybody, the polar
opposite of strenuous devoted work at any
positive duty or problem.

So far we are clear that living for others
must involve some definite and positive
value which we strive to maintain or to

But it is natural to return upon the
problem, and to say, " But are not un-
selfishness and self-sacrifice good in them-
selves, and are not they the same thing as
living for others ? " We have seen enough
already to throw doubt on this being
always the case, and we must look

The fact is, that in everything we do
we give up something, and attain some-
thing. In every act, therefore, there is
really a double character present. In very
many cases one side of it or the other may
not be noticeable, but both are always
there. Whenever you do anything, you
must abandon your status quo ante, and
you must produce some positive result, or
some positive change intended to lead up


to a result.^ You may think that a certain
act is wholly gain and no loss ; but it is
obvious on consideration that in acting you
have moved out of a status quo which as
such is gone for ever, and so have given
up something, though you may hold your
loss a gain. Moreover, if you seem in
acting merely to have lost and to have
gained nothing, that is your estimate of the
result. But none the less it is plain that
you have gone on to and acquired some-
thing new as well as moved away from
something old. Always both sides must
be there, positive and negative.

If a man makes the uttermost sacrifice —
we may take as typical that of life, for it
involves the entire surrender of our familiar
existence — there is, nevertheless, a positive
value for the sake of which he has made it,
the promotion of something which at the

^ It is no exception, if your " action " consists in carrying
out a resolve to stand fast or endure, though here no external
change takes place. In this case you count your action as
a resistance to what would naturally or most easily have
happened, and this latter, the line of least resistance, you
reckon morally as the status quo, which your action departs


moment he held worth the sacrifice. This
value is affirmed, at least in will, and so
while giving up even his whole existence,
the man asserts himself in something which
does not die with him. Or take such a
case as this, which happens from time to
time. A scholar, growing old, surrenders
the materials and the goodwill, so to speak,
of his lifework to a younger man, thinking
that the work will so be sure of getting
done, and perhaps better done. Here it
is even uncertain how the elements of self-
assertion and self-sacrifice should be ap-
praised. Was it the scholar's main purpose
that the work should be well done, or that
he in particular should do it ? In the first
case the sacrifice seems lighter, just because
from the beginning the aim was less self-
centred. In the second case the sacrifice
was harder, just because the purpose held
more of the ordinary self. But in either
case and in every case the man parts
with something and achieves something

Now we, as a rule, approve of both these


sides in an action. We approve of values
achieved or attempted, and we approve of
self-sacrifice. And this is just because
we assume that they go together ; and we
have seen that at bottom they cannot be
altogether divorced. But from this general
way of looking at the matter something
further follows. The law of sacrifice has
no special relation to actions in favour of
other persons. It refers to something
wider and deeper than living for others.
The secret is that values are impersonal,
and to live for them means self-sacrifice
certainly, but primarily for impersonal
ends, and only secondarily and incidentally
for ends which involve the furtherance of
others' existence and happiness. It is just
as hkely, and indeed certain at times, to
involve antagonism to others' life in such
respects as these. To live for beauty or
truth means a very austere self-suppression,
and a suppression not of self alone, but of
others so far as we influence them. We
all recognise in practice that in pursuit of
a great value you may rightly be hard on


others ; and so long as you are equally hard
on yourself, people will not greatly dis-
approve. It does not matter to the value
whether it is A or B who is sacrificed to it.
This is the ruthlessness of the will for value ;
and though it may have been rhetorically
overstated, it is an error to suppose it
immoral. On the contrary, all sound
moral philosophy accepts it as funda-
mental. When Palissy the potter burnt
his wife's furniture to keep his kiln alight,
he may have misjudged the value of a
new enamel as against kindness to his
family. This is a question of value against
value. But that a great invention in the
arts has a certain claim upon all who can
subserve it, and not merely on some one
person who is first interested in it, of that
no competent moralist will entertain a
moment's doubt. There is, and ought to
be, sacrifice everywhere ; but only as one
side of the affirmation of a value.

We see, then, that it remains true that
we approve self-sacrifice ; but we saw that
self-sacrifice is a much wider and deeper


thing than living for others, and depends
on a principle which may involve the
sacrifice of others no less than of self. It
is a matter of degree, and very various
and surprising in its applications. The
simple case, as we have seen, is when our
attempts to realise values threaten or
abandon all or part of our famiUar em-
bodied existence — hfe, comfort, pleasure,
or particular normal aims on which we
have set our heart. And this is what we
call self-sacrifice par excellence, as a special
mode of conduct which we approve ; dis-
tinct from self-affirmation, which we also
approve, in my station and its duties or
some analogous completion of the self. It
is conceivable that a sacrifice of high
values may be right, in deference to very
homely duties ; and even that something
very near a sacrifice of morality itself
might be demanded, if, for example, an
imperative call for help compelled us to
enter what we knew to be for us a danger-
zone of temptation. The principle of sacri-
fice really rests on the same ultimate fact


as the conflict of duties, and the two are
at some points undistinguishable. The
fact in question is that we are an infinite
spirit lodged in a finite environment, and
nothing which we do can satisfy either
our whole claim or the whole demand
upon us. What we are actually called
to is a matter of what we must practically
set down as chance ; " the readiness is
all." There is always something to be
affirmed and something to be let go. We
necessarily approve of both, but only on
the latent assumption that they go to-
gether ; and if taken really quite apart,
each becomes valueless, and each as an
extreme passes into the same worthlessness
as the other. The miser's life is as much
a profitless waste and extravagant expendi-
ture of opportunities as the profligate's
is a narrow concentration upon a wretched
fragmentary satisfaction.

What is meant by saying that values
are impersonal ? It is not hard to see
what is meant in case of beauty and truth,
but in matters like love and life there seems


a difficulty, and so again in speaking of
justice. Do not these latter just consist
in relations of persons or in what con-
stitutes personal existence ? And all
values, it seems obvious, have a personal
side, and wholly apart from persons would
be nothing.

It is not really a difficulty. We shall
see more fully below that values can only
have full subsistence through the valua-
tions of self-conscious beings, because only
such beings can feel and judge, and
valuation implies feeling and judgment.
It implies, indeed, as we shall see, some-
thing more than these terms naturally
express. It implies an immanent and im-
plicit standard of perfection. Now when
values are called impersonal, it means that
though they are qualities revealed in and
through persons, yet they are imperatives
or notes of perfection to which the persons
as facts are subordinate. Love, for ex-
ample, arises in a relation of person to
person ; but it does not consist in such a
relation. It is an imperious value, which


may descend upon any persons, and tran-
scends all others in the severity with-
which it rules and refashions a personality.
Persons are to love like facts to truth, a
medium in which something is revealed
greater and deeper than the particulars

So in the case of justice. You have to
hold the balance fair between one and
another, and especially between yourself
and others. Well, then, it is said, you
admit that the value depends on the
distinction between one and another, be-
tween me and you. It consists in treating
A and B alike when their circumstances
are alike, and therefore it cannot be im-
personal. But there is no contradiction.
In securing justice the care you have to take
is precisely to be impersonal — indifferent,
as it used to be called. This is to be
guided by the value and not by the person.
The starting-point of consideration, A, B
or C, is iijelevant. What matters is the
connection between the quality and the
treatment appropriate to it. If you con-


sider personal relations, you consider them
to exclude them, unless, of course, they are
relevant to a claim. A son has claims
which a stranger has not. In justice, these
have to be distinguished according to the
respective obligations which a good system
of life — one promotive of values — implies.
All the above, I believe, is true. But
there seem still to be some obvious facts
outstanding unaccounted for. In every-
day good-fellowship and politeness, and in
many crises and emergencies, it is un-
questionably thought right to give way to
others, or to sacrifice yourself for them,
merely because they are others. So much
so, that if it were not for general rules
which apply positive marks, like seniores
priores, or for the host's right to marshal
his guests, it would be difficult to get a
score of people out of one room into
another, because no one would be willing
to go first. Often an ordinary plain man
will risk his life to save that of another
ordinary plain man ; still more constantly
to save that of a woman or a child. The


latter choice is perhaps partly accounted
for by a special presumption that the
stronger exists to help the weaker. And,
on the whole question of hazarding life
for others, we must bear in mind that it
can hardly ever be a certainty that one
life must be sacrificed. There is the chance
of saving the one without losing the other,
which is a clear gain if we assume life to
have any value. Still it remains that a
man will often deny himself or sacrifice
himself for any other as such, without
calculating on coming off scot-free, and
without thinking of any special value in
the other. And we think it right and
fine ; we would not for the world impair
the tradition or suggest that it is irrational.
How can we account for this on the basis
of always aiming at a positive value ?
We may assume, as we said, that life has
always a potential value. But that cuts
both ways. The life which is risked has
also a value. Why should it be sacrificed to
the other, as, in will and intention, it often
is ? Why should we approve the sacrifice ?


It seems true and worth observing that
our approval of such conduct appKes
exclusively to two classes of cases ; first,
to trivial matters, which fall within the
province of polite behaviour, i.e. where
no very grave interests are at stake ; and,
secondly, to extreme and sudden emer-
gencies, where remoter interests, however
grave, cannot be weighed, and one must
act on prima facie presumption or not at

Experience is especially decisive about
cases of the first type. In minor matters
we give way to others without any thought
of their merits or capacity. But when
serious things are at stake, we say, " There
is no room for politeness here ; the work
comes first ; we must have A, the better
man, and turn out B."

The second type of case is really difficult
and very interesting. " This is what we
have in exchange for Beauchamp ! It
was not uttered, but it was visible in the
blank stare at one another of the two men
who loved Beauchamp, after they had


examined the insignificant bit of mudbank
life remaining in this world in the place of
him " ^ (the little boy he had saved from
drowning before, in his continued effort,
he perished).

We must say, I think, to begin with,
and as prima facie covering both sets of
cases, that there is a presumption in
favour of others, because devotion to them
shares with the higher values the tendency
to set at naught the agent's immediately
private concerns and physical existence.
This is not by itself a solution of the
problem ; for in sacrificing his own physical
and private existence, the agent may be
ruining hundreds of serious aims and
interests possessing presumptions of value
equal to or above anything attaching to
the person, or it may be a favourite animal,
for whom he gives his life. It is not
enough to show that there is a presump-
tion of an ideal value in the object ; we
have to explain why it overcomes, and
we approve of its overcoming, any equal

1 Conclusion of George Meredith's Beauchamp's Career.


or greater presumption of value in the

To explain the facts, I think, we have
to take this first presumption arising from
the common feature that our own physical
bemg is set at naught by all great values
though not by all in the same way, along
with the presumption that there is some
value attached to any person or perhaps
to any sentient being — almost to any
existent ; and both of these along with the
assumption that the emergency excludes
all careful reflections and comparison of
values. All you have time to see is, " Here
is hfe in danger beyond my own skin;
It— because it is beyond— comes first."

Especially the second presumption is
important. An orthodox Christian not
long ago would have said, " Oh, save him
he may not be fit to die." And mutat/s
mutandis some such ignorance plays in
our mind the part of exalted knowledge.
You cannot limit the possibilities of value
in an act which recognises the ideal as
imperative, either in its positive object,


or in its assertion of a principle. In other
words, then, we approve the prima facie
presumption that mere private existence
should be very lightly held by its possessor
in comparison with values beyond it, which
are recognised by the common feature of
exhibiting it as comparatively trivial.

But can tliis be right ? All I can
directly save by the risk of my life is the
other's mere existence. If we contemplate
a very possible case, in which, at the
sacrifice of high values on one side, known
high values are conserved on the other,
we are in the region of action with deter-
minate positive aims, and beyond the
province of self-sacrifice "for others"
simply. But keeping to our simple case,
I cannot make sure of the other's exist-
ence involving high specific values, and I
may know that very high values, say,
very important issues, attach to mine
which I contemplate hazarding. There
need be no vanity in this perception ; it
might be merely that an income, which
supports infirm dependants, dies with me.


Can it be right to hazard known great
values for an uncertainty ?

The answer must lie, I think, in the
third feature we recognised, in the sudden-
ness of the emergency. It seems irra-
tional not to raise the question of the
values for which we hazard all ; but,
according to the facts as we have accepted
them, we do not in the emergency advert
to this question. I can suddenly deter-
mine to risk my own being ; I cannot sud-
denly succeed in using in the emergency
the aid of any one else, nor putting in
force a considered plan by which perhaps
all the issues at stake might be satisfied.
Ex hypothesi, it is for me to act, and I
must act on a quick presumption, or do
nothing. Suddenness operates here as
triviality in the case of politeness ; here
there is no time to think about compara-
tive values, as there it is not worth while.

Where these features or presumptions
are absent serious comparison of values
does influence us and we approve it, though
there is a very difficult border-line.


Where a man is not dealing with his
own risk, and the presumption against
one's own physical existence is therefore
absent, he certainly discriminates between
more or less valuable men in sending them
to extreme hazard. '' Ali Gul at once
volunteered to swim across the river in
face of the enemy and bring back a boat.
His commanding officer could not, how-
ever, spare so valuable an officer for so
desperate a venture, and forbade him to
make the attempt. Two other men volun-
teered and were permitted to go." ^

Even in one's own risk, when the
presumption of value in " the other " is
more or less countered in a very obvious
way, the comparison is allowed to operate.
A man would hardly be approved who
gave his life to save a favourite dog's,
though he might be admired. If it were
a child, every one would approve. A
man, it is said, gave his ration of water
to a coffee plant he was in charge of, in a
boat after shipwreck. As towards a mere

1 A Soldiefs Memories, Younghusband, p. 52.


plant, this act would hardly be approved,
but circumstances might make it admirable.
The whole edible banana supply of the
Pacific once depended on a single plant.^
Of course the degree of risk tells heavily
here. And as a rule, if the rescue is
successful, the rescuer's life is not lost.
This consideration is important through-

When suddenness is absent, as in plan-
ning a General's duties, I imagine the con-
sideration of a man's value to the service


is allowed to weigh. But if by chance
he suddenly finds himself under fire, or
with an opportunity of saving life at a
great risk, what is his impulse and duty ?
Probably the consideration of the men's
moral would by itself decide him in favour
of the risk ; and the indisposition to con-
sider one's own value, along with the pre-
sumption against one's private existence,
would be very strong. It would be in-
teresting to know what an experienced
soldier would say. Yet put a slightly

1 Tlie New Pacific.


different case. I take it he could not
conceivably stop in directing an important
movement to go and pick a child out of
a ditch where it was drowning, though he
would send a man if he could possibly
spare one.

The conclusion seems pretty clear.
There are distinct beings, each specially
related to a body. These beings are singly
or conjointly the basis of all interests and
values. Our main approval is for the
higher positive values and for conduct
that promotes them. And these higher
values reveal in various ways incompati-
bility with full unperturbed physical exist-

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Online LibraryBernard BosanquetSome suggestions in ethics → online text (page 1 of 12)