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of human conduct was the greatest happiness of the
greatest number, he merely meant that this was the
rule which the majority (in its own interest) tries to
force upon the individual : the individual will only act

1 i.e. good otherwise than as a means to pleasure which alone is
good in and for itself.


upon this principle in so far as his own personal tastes
or the " sanctions " of law, public opinion, or Religion
turn what conduces to the general pleasure into the
pleasantest (or apparently pleasantest) course for him-
self. Bentham was himself a devoted and laborious
philanthropist : his explanation of his OAvn conduct was
simply that he happened to be so constituted as to find
as much amusement in writing books on law reform as
other men foimd in hunting or shooting. It is clear
that, if Bentham is right, right conduct can only mean
either conduct wliich conduces to my pleasure or conduct
which, because it conduces to their pleasure, the majority
have agreed to call right, and to impose (so far as they
can) upon me and upon other individuals. What are
the grounds of this theory ?

The theory, be it remembered, is a purely psycho-
logical theory. We are not now concerned with the
question whether anything besides pleasure is the right
or proper object of human desire, but simply A\hethcr,
as a matter of fact, any persons ever do desire something
else. And here it is clear that the question can only
be settled for each man by looking into his own con-
sciousness and asking whether he does always desire
nothing but pleasure, and whether, if we look round
upon the conduct of humanity in general, we can
explain that conduct upon the supposition that all
the heroisms and martyrdoms recorded by history, and
all the commonplace self-sacrifice of soldiers and of
mothers, were really inspired by nothing but a desire
for some pleasure, or (as the consistent form of the
theory holds) for maximum pleasure. It Mill be im-
possible here to examine all the fallacies and sophistica-
tions which account for the prevalence of this theory.
It must suffice to point out the mistake which has
probably played the largest part in makuig the theory
seem plausible. The fallacy has been called the



" hysteron-proteron " ^ of the hedonistic Psychology :
it puts the cart before the horse. The element of truth
which the theory distorts is the undoubted fact that
the satisfaction of any desire whatever necessarily gives
pleasure, and that, in looking forward to the satisfaction
of a desire, we do necessarily think of the satisfaction
as pleasant ; but in the case of " disinterested " desires,
the pleasure is dependent upon the previous existence
of a desire. If the good Samaritan cared about the
present feelings or the future A^elfare of the man fallen
among thieves, it would no doubt give him some pleasure
to satisfy that desire for his welfare ; if he had desired
his good as httle as the priest and the Levite, there
would have been nothing to suggest the strange idea
that to relieve him, to bind up his nasty wounds, and
to spend money upon him, would be a source of more
pleasure to himself than to pass by on the other side
and spend the money upon himself. In the case of the
great majority of our pleasures, it will probably be
found that the desire is the condition of the pleasure,
not the pleasure of the desire. That is not the case
with all desires : pleasure is one of the things which we
may desire, but most pleasures spring from the satis-
faction of a, desire for something else than the pleasure.
Put a toothsome morsel upon the palate of the extremest
ascetic : he will necessarily experience pleasure, no
matter how Httle he may have desired that morsel.
Make incisions in his flesh, and he A^iU necessarily ex-
I perience pain. On the other hand, Benevolence is a
source of pleasure only to the benevolent man — to the
man who has previously desired his neighbour's good.
To the man who has no such desire, or who may even
desire other men's pains, such conduct would bring no
pleasure at all. The existence of disinterested male-

1 From the term used in grammar to indicate the usage of
putting what logically comes first last, e.g. the cart before the horse.


volence is as well established a psychological fact as the .
existence of disinterested benevolence. * I

It is important to remember that " disinterested "
desires are not necessaril}' good desires ; the great
majority of our desires, good, bad, and indifferent, are
"disinterested" in this technical sense, i.e. they are
desires of objects for their own sake, and not merely
as means to the pleasure which will undoubtedly accom-
pany their satisfaction. It is the great merit of Bishop
Butler to have pointed out (as against Hobbes) this
important psychological fact ; until his time it used
commonly to be assumed (e.g. by Aristotle) that
altruistic or other more or less exalted desires were
the only exceptions to the law that each man pursues
his own maximum pleasure. Bishop Butler for the
first time pointed out that by far the greater number
of our pleasures spring from the satisfaction of desires
which are not desires for pleasure. All the strongest
human passions — love, hate, anger, revenge, ambition —
are quite inexplicable on the assumption that men
naturally desire nothing but pleasure. If the hedonistic
Psychology fails to explain the highest achievements of
human nature, it is equally true that the greatest
crimes and atrocities ^^•ould be unintelligible if man
were habitually guided, as the hedonistic Psychology
assumes him to be guided, by an enlightened regard for
his greatest pleasure on the Mhole.

Sometimes the attempt is made to show that in some
mysterious way Altniism has been evolved out of
Egoism. Primitive man, it is suggested, was purely
egoistic, but by some process of association or the like,
he has now come to be altniistic. It Mill be impos-
sible to examine all the confusions and fallacies which
underHe this attempt in such ^Titers as J. S. Mill. I
will only point out : (1) that the attempt, even if suc-
cessful, would not alter the fact that mankind is not


wholly egoistic now, whatever he may once have been ;
(2) that the hedonistic Psychology is even more hope-
lessly at variance with psychological facts when appUed
to primitive man, to the lower animals, or to the human
infant, than it is as an explanation of conduct in civi-
lized adults. If the hedonistic Psychology were true,
everyone must have been starved in early infancy. A
young animal could not survive without sucking, and
it would never, on this theory, have begun to suck until
it had some reason to suppose that sucking would be a
source of pleasure. Such knowledge it could only
obtain from experience, and such experience it could
not possibly possess a few hours after birth. A young
animal sucks because it has an impulse ^ to suck : no
doubt when it is found that sucking in the right place
is pleasant, the impulse is strengthened ; just as it
would be weakened, at least when intelligence has
reached a certain development, had it been found to be
painful. Animals, infants, and to a considerable extent
primitive men, are governed by instincts, though in the
case of man the instincts are modified by the gradual
development of intelligence ; and instinctive action is
as little egoistic as it is altruistic. The actions of the
lower animals, and to a large extent of primitive man,
are chiefly governed by such appetites as hunger and
thirst and the sexual impulse, by the spontaneous
impulses to walk, or run, or fly, and at a higher stage
of development, to play : by the instincts of imitation,
self-display, or revenge ; by social instincts, of which the
most powerful and primitive is the maternal instinct ; by
the gregarious instinct and the love of kind ; by resent-
ment or the blind impulse to revenge an injury. Physio-
logically speaking, some of these instincts are directed
primarily to self-preservation, others to the preservation
of the species ; but the animal itself is not aware of the
1 Some modern psychologists would say a " conative disposition."


tendency. With growing intelligence instincts pass
into desires, in which there is a continuously increasing
awareness of the object aimed at and of the further
consequences of its attainment. The more self -regard-
ing instincts are more and more controlled by a gro\\ ing
desire of the man's well-bemg as a whole, while the social
instincts pass into devotion to family, tribe, country,
and, ultimately, to the welfare of humanity at large.
But neither the extremest egoism nor the loftiest altruism
extinguishes a host of other particular desires, in the
gratification of which most of our pleasures have to be
sought, though in the more developed mind these
desires may be more or less completely subordinated
to the dominating desire of promoting the good on the
whole — it may be of self, it may be of others.

The defenders of Hedonism have often based their
theory upon the supposed psychological truth that every
desire is a desire of pleasure ; but it is just the more
serious attention to Psychology — particularly the Psy-
chology of the lower animals and of primitive man —
that has led to the practical disappearance of the doc-
trine knoAVTi as the hedonistic Psychology from the
pages even of the most naturaUstically minded moraHsts.

But it must not be supposed that to get rid of the
hedonistic Psychology necessarily disposes of Hedonism.
It is clear that, so long as we accept that Psychology,
we are necessarily committed to Hedonism in Ethics.
If we can desire nothing but our own pleasure, it is
clearly senseless to maintain that we ought to desire
something else. But if it is admitted that we can and
sometimes do desire other things besides pleasure —
knowledge, aesthetic gratification, other people's well-
being, our own virtue ; if moreover it be admitted that
even when we desire pleasure. Ave desire one pleasure
more than another without its being necessarily greater
in amount, then it becomes perfectly possible to main-


tain that any one or all of these desired objects are good.
On the other hand, we may still, if we like, maintain
that only pleasure is really good ; only in that case we
must not pretend that our doctrine is in any way de-
rived from or based upon experience. We are really
pronouncing an a priori moral judgement when we say
that pleasure alone is good, as much as when we say
that virtue and knowledge are good. And the very
fact that we do so judge involves the admission that
we attach a meaning to the term good which is not the
same as that of pleasure. Experience can tell us what
is pleasant : it cannot tell us whether w^hat is pleasant
is reasonably or rightly to be desired, and that is what
we mean when we say. that "pleasure is desirable or
good." If we do make that judgement, and mean by
it something more than that pleasure is pleasant, we
are pronouncing a judgement which does not rest upon
experience in the ordinary sense of the word, and so may
be called an a priori judgement, or (if anyone dislikes
the associations of that term) an immediate judgement.
The judgement " pleasure alone is good " is just as much
a priori or immediate as the judgement " virtue is good."

There is another way of evading the admission that
there is in the human mind a distinctive notion of
" good " which cannot be anatysed away into anjrthing
else. By many writers of the present day " the good "
is identified with the satisfactory. It is admitted that
our desires are not all desires for pleasure, and that we
do not always prefer the most pleasant satisfactions to
the less pleasant. Some things satisfy more permanent,
more deep-seated, more fundamental desires and aspira-
tions than others. When a high-minded man prefers
the satisfaction of some altruistic or more ideal desire
in preference to some fleeting passion or to the desire


for ease and comfort, it is because he finds it in the long
run more " satisfactory " to do so. All satisfaction is
good, but some satisfactions satisfy more than others.
Some Idealists appear to adopt this view, but it is par-
ticularly characteristic of the Pragmatists. The Philo-
sophy known as Pragmatism often strikes the super-
ficial reader as a particularly edifying and ethical
Philosophy, since it tends to resolve the idea of truth
into that of goodness. The only meaning of saymg
that some statement is true is that we can secure
some good by acting upon it. It is not noticed that,
if the notion of objective truth — a truth that does not
mean simply what you or I find it convenient to assume —
is treated as a delusion, there can be as little room for
truth in Ethics as in Logic ; the statement " virtue is
good "is as little true as any other statement : and it is
hardly reahzed that after all the good means for such
philosophers nothing more than that which chances to
satisfy my desire — any and every desire of mine. I
cannot but feel that the identification of the good with
the satisfactory — even in the mouths of professedly
Ideahstic thinkers — really means one of two things.
Either it is a better-sounding name for the pleasant :
or, when we are told that one satisfaction is a satis-
faction of the " deeper," " more permanent " or " more
universal " self, or the like, such expressions are mere
disguises for that fundamental and unanalysable dis-
tinction between " higher " and " lower," " better "
and " worse," which is ostensibly denied. The self
which is really made into the supreme judge is simply
the rational self : the satisfaction which is pronounced
the most " satisfactory " is the satisfaction of this
rational self — in other words, of the Moral Consciousness.
Let us examine the language used by the late Prof.
William James in speaking of the moral life. He teUs


us explicitly that " the essence of good is to satisfy
demand." 1 And yet he admits that for the ethical
philosopher — and presumably for non -philosophers who
have some desire to rationalize their conduct — " the
guiding principle for ethical philosophy (since all de-
mands conjointly cannot be satisfied in this poor world) "
must be " simply to satisfy as many demands as we
can.'''' " That act must be the best act, accordingly,
which makes for the best whole, in the sense of awakening
the least sense of dissatisfaction." ^ Now this seems to
me distinctly to imply that it did appear to Prof. James,
as to others, that there was something self -evidently
rational in producing a greater amount of good rather
than a lesser one, no matter whose good it is. And this
indifference as to whether the good is my good or some-
body else's implies that I am looking upon the matter
objectively — from the point of view of disinterested
reason rather than that of personal desire. I may still,
no doubt, be seeking to satisfy myself, but that in myself
which I am seeking to satisfy is simply a demand for
rationality in conduct. We may doubt whether James
did, as he seems to think, really regard all " demands "
as on a level — in other words, treat all satisfactions as
equally good, but it is at least clear that he had at the
bottom of his mind just that same notion of good, as
something which objectively ought to be, which lies at
the basis of such ethical systems as Kant's. No doubt
I shall not act upon this " instinct of rationahty " except
in proportion as I desire to be rational, but I could not
be influenced by an instinct of rationality unless my
Reason were capable of recognizing that a " good " or
" rational " end means something more than " that which
you or I happen to desire. ' ' If I recognize that something
which another desires is good though I do not desire it
1 The Will to Believe, p. 201. ^ 7^;^;^^ p_ 205.


myself, that implies that to pronounce something good is
something other than to say '■ I desire it." If all that
"good " meant were that somebody else desires it, there
would be no reason whatever for my so acting as to secure
a maximum satisfaction of other men's desires. If I do
recognize that that which is much desired ought to be,
that is to say something much more and quite difierent
from simply " it is much desired." It is true that I shall
not act on this principle unless it satisfies some " de-
mand " in myself, but the demand is simply the demand
that what ought to be shall be. I shall not be influenced
by that demand unless I desire to bring the good into
existence, but the very fact that I am capable of feeling
such a desire shows that in calling a thing good I do
not mean simply that I or anybody else desires it.

I ^viIl notice one last attempt to reconcile the obvious
facts of the moral life with the non-recognition of any
distinctive concept of good or right. It is sometimes
contended that, though pleasure is the only thing that
can or ought to be desired, some pleasures are higher
than other pleasures. This position may be illustrated
by the well-knoA\'n passage in J. S. IVIill's Utilitarianism :

'■ It will be absurd that while, in estimating all other
things, quality is considered as well as quantity, the
estimation of pleasures should be supposed to depend
on quantity alone.

" If I am asked what I mean by difference of quality
in pleasures, or what makes one pleasure more valuable
than another, merely as a pleasure, except its being
greater in amount, there is but one possible answer.
Of two pleasures, if there be one to which all, or almost
all, who have experience of both give a decided prefer-
ence, irrespective of any feeling of moral obhgation to
prefer it, that is the more desirable pleasure. . . .


" Now it is an unquestionable fact that those who are
equally acquainted with, and equally capable of, appre-
ciating and enjoying both, do give a most marked
preference to the manner of existence w^hich employs
their higher faculties. Few human creatures would
consent to be changed into an}" of the lo^^er animals,
for a promise of the fullest allowance of a beast's
pleasures ; no intelligent human being would consent
to be a fool, no person of feeling and conscience would
be selfish and base, even though they should be per-
suaded that the fool, the dunce, or the rascal is better
satisfied Avith his lot than they are with theirs. They
would not resign what they possess more than he, for
the most complete satisfaction of all the desires which
they have in common with him. ... It is better to be
a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied ; better
to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if
the fool, or the pig, is of a different opinion, it is because
they only know one side of the question." ^

It may easily be shown that these admissions really
give up the hedonistic Psychology altogether. If all
we care about is pleasure, it cannot matter to us of
what sort that pleasure is, provided we have enough
of it. The hedonistic doctrine is precisely that in esti-
mating the value of different states of consciousness we
attach, or reasonably ought to attach, importance to
nothing but their pleasantness. When we make abstrac-
tion of every characteristic of the pleasant consciousness
except its pleasantness, there is nothing left which could
possibly induce us to prefer the pleasantness of one
state to the pleasantness of another except its being
greater in amount, i.e. in intensity, or duration, or in
both respects taken together. One abstract pleasant-
ness can differ from another only in being more
^ Utilitarianism, pp. 11-14.


pleasant. If a man does care of what sort his pleasure
is, if he thinks it better to enjoy mtellectual or bene-
volent pleasures rather than sensual or selfish ones, he
does not care about pleasure only ; he cares about
something else in the pleasant state besides its pleasant-
ness. If he prefers a higher pleasure to a lower a\ hich
is greater in amount, he is caring about the height of
the pleasure, not about the pleasantness of it merely.
To hold that some pleasure is the good is not to be a
Hedonist. And a man who judges that some pleasures
are better than other equally or more pleasant plea-
sures clearly does not identify the good and the pleasant.
He impUes that the good means to him something more
than the pleasant. He implies that, though pleasure
may be an element in everj'' state of consciousness which
is ultimately good, the goodness of that state is not to
be measured merely by that pleasantness. Mill's words
supply an excellent description of the actual moral
consciousness of a high-minded man, but they are fatal
to the dogma which as a Hedonist he professed to

We cannot therefore reconcile Hedonism with the
moral standard which Mill practically recognizes by
adopting his distinction bet\^een higher and lower plea-
sure. Even to admit higher pleasures is to admit that
there is something in the good besides pleasure. What
precisely that something is we shall have to consider
more fully in our chapter on the moral criterion. I
vdW. only say here, by way of anticipation, that most of
those who deny that pleasure is the only good would give
the highest place among goods to MoraUty or %artue or
the goodAvill or character (these are only so many different
ways of expressing the same thing). They regard the
individual good act or the good character — that is, the
bent of the will which that act reveals — as in itself a


good, as an end in itself, as intrinsically worth having.
Some of them would even go so far as to say that
nothing but virtue is the good, but these would find it
difficult to say why (if that be so) it is generally con-
sidered a duty to promote other people's happiness as
well as to make them better. Most anti-hedonistic
morahsts would admit that pleasure is good. Some
would add knowledge and the appreciation of Beauty,
the cultivation of the intellectual and aesthetic side of
our nature, and perhaps many other things. There is,
as has already been pointed out, no way of proving
conclusively which of these views is right. The reader
can only be invited to analyse his own actual moral
judgements, and ask what view they imply as to the
real nature of the good. A further consideration of
this question had best be postponed till we deal \nth
the problem which we have not yet finally discussed—
the question, " Granted that I ought to do my duty,
how am I to know in what particular acts that duty
consists ? " But before leaving the question of Hedo-
nism, I should like to point out an element of truth in
that doctrine to which it owes much of the plausibihty
it possesses for many minds. Hedonism recognizes the
undoubted fact that nothing can be supposed to possess
ultimate value except some kind of consciousness. For
a world of mere machines there could be no such thing
as good or evil, worth or unworth. We could imagine
a world which would look to an outside spectator exactly
hke our world, but in which there was no consciousness
at all. The men and women in it might behave much
as they do now ; their bodily movements might corres-
pond or fail to correspond to certain rules. Such auto-
matic men might eat and drink immoderately or mode-
rately, kill each other or keep each other aUve, sweat
each other or pay them good wages, keep their money


in their pockets or build hospitals, stay at home or go
to church. All the external machinery of social life, of
charity, or of religion might be theirs. But in such a
world there would be nothing good or valuable, nothing
bad or unvaluable ; and in such a world, consequently,
there would be no right or uTong acts, no JMorahty.
Acts can only be called right or wrong in so far as they
represent some state of a conscious agent which has
value in itself, or in so far as they lead to some conscious
state in the agent himself or in another being. This
has hardly ever been seriously denied, but it is some-
times forgotten when people talk about Morahty as
though it meant the mere external conformity to a rule,
whether that rule is thought of as an abstract moral
law or as the will of God.^ Hedonists sometimes criti-
cize the position that virtue is good as though it involved
some such notion, but no believer in the intrinsic good-

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