Hastings Rashdall.

Ethics online

. (page 6 of 8)
Online LibraryHastings RashdallEthics → online text (page 6 of 8)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


larging, or the pleasures of serious study : yet we feel
that they are worth the pain ; we prefer them, or at
least we think we ought to prefer them, to any possible
enlargement or prolongation of those merely sensual
pleasures in which there is no element of pain at all. We
feel that no possible quantitative accumulation of gas-
tronomic delights would ever be regarded as a satis-
factory equivalent for the total loss of intellectual
satisfaction. Wlien we are obliged to choose between a
large amount of a lower and a small amount of a higher
pleasure, we may no doubt think that a very large
amount of the lower is worth more than a very small
amoTint of the higher. Though we regard the pleasure
of reading Shakespeare as a more valuable thing than
the freedom from toothache, there is a limit to the
amount of toothache which we should think it reasonable
to submit to as the price of reading the best hundred
Unes that Shakespeare ever wrote. But, though we
may sometimes think it reasonable to give up the higher
for a sufficient amount of the lower pleasure — still more
often to save a sufficient amount of pain — we could
never say that any quantity of the lower good would
render it a matter of indifference to us to lose the
higher. Yet this is what we should be bound to say if
we are consistently to carry out Bentham's famous prin-
ciple that, " quantity of pleasure being equal, pushpin is
as good as poetry." On this view it would always be
possible to state the exact number of bottles of cham-
pagne which would be a completely satisfactory equiva-
lent for the pleasure of reading Hamlet, and the number
of bottles for the sake of which we should give up the
pleasure of reading the finest poem in the world. If
we do not think so, it is clear that we are not indifferent
to the source from which our pleasures are derived, or
the kind of consciousness which we find pleasant. We
recognize that the higher experience possesses more value


than the lower, though it does not necessarily contain
more pleasure.

It may be that pleasure attends, or forms an element
in, all the states of consciousness which we can regard as
ultimately good : but, as soon as a man says : "I prefer
the higher pleasure though I don't think it will be more
pleasant than the lower," it is clear that he does not
think pleasure to be the only good. When he prefers
intellectual pleasure to sensual, he is really preferring
intellectual activity + pleasure to pleasure only. We
must, indeed, beware of supposing that these two ele-
ments in our total consciousness — the pleasure and the
intellectual state that is pleasant — can really be sepa-
rated, or that we do usuall}' pronounce a judgement upon
the value of the one apart from that of the other. Still, it
is possible to attend to the pleasantness of the state
apart from anything else about it ; and that is what the
Hedonist says that we ought always to do. But that is
just what ordinary men do not do, and do not think it
reasonable to do. They might, indeed, attach much less
importance to the intellectual activity if it were divorced
from all pleasure, but they do not think that in esti-
mating the value of such pleasure they must make
abstraction of its connection with intellectual activity,
or that a certain amount of the pleasure of cricket would
be of exactly equal value. They pass their judgements
of value upon the experience or mental state as a whole.
They do not regard the whole value of the state as con-
sisting merely in the amount of the pleasure : and that
is the same thing as to say that they do regard intel-
lectual activity as a good in itself.

To say that the good or true well-being of human life
consists merely in these two sharply-distinguished
elements, MoraUty-f Pleasure, is then a quite inadequate
account of it. If we are asked what other goods we
recognize in human life, the most important element is


no doubt that enjoyment of intellectual and aesthetic good
which we have just been considering. But there is no
reason for limiting our conception of the good to these
three elements — the good- will, intellectual good, plea-
sure. Most people will on reflection recognize that they
assign a higher value to various kinds of affection or
social emotion quite apart from the fact that these
emotions do in general stimulate men to the causing of
pleasure in others ; and from this point of view we can
condemn many customs or social institutions which
might possibly result in an mcrease of pleasure, e.g. the
permission of infanticide, the elimination of the old and
the sick, the permission of unhmited freedom of divorce.
We should say that the extinction of parental and family
affection involved in such a reconstruction of Society as
Plato recommends in his ReiDublic would lead to the
decay or loss of very valuable elements in character or
conscious experience. We may even (with men hke
Plato and Aristotle) maintain that not all pleasure is
good, and we need not condemn the pleasure merely
because of its tendency to joroduce a loss of pleasure in
other directions : we can condemn not merely the jslea-
sures of cruelty but those of lust, i.e. those resulting from
the gratification of the sexual impulse except in a way
that is duly subordinated to the higher and more spiritual
ends promoted by monogamous and relatively permanent
marriage.i We are able to condemn drimkenness and
other kinds of intemperance without proving that the
pleasure of an occasional drinking-bout is necessarily
outweighed by the resulting headache or loss of health.
It must be mentioned that in treating the total good
of human life as made up of different elements, we are

^ By this I mean marriage intended by the parties to be per-
manent and not to be dissolved excejDt for grave reasons. I do
not mean that divorce and re-marriage may not sometimes be the
less of two evils.


looking upon the matter in a very abstract way. We
cannot regard the ideal hfe of man as made up simply of
the juxtaposition of so many goods, as though each were
to be enjoj'ed separately and independently. The ideal
life is not one in which five-eighths of a man's waking
hours are devoted to Morality, one-fourth to pleasure,
and the remaining one-eighth to pleasure. The claims of
Morahty extend over the whole life ; but in the course of
doing his duty a man is or may be exercising his highest
intellectual faculties, and at the same time getting the
pleasure which results from such exercise. It is only in
the comparatively rare case of collision between the
higher good and the lower that it becomes necessary to
choose between them. In the abstract we may sa}^ that
it is always a man's duty to prefer for liimself and for
others the higher good to a much larger amount of the
lower ; but the good of human life does not consist
merely in the higher good without the lower. A life of
virtue combined with complete stupidity or continuous
toothache would not be the ideal life for man, though it
might be much better than a life of perfectly selfish
culture or of successful pleasiire-seekmg. Our moral
judgements relate quite as much to the determination of
the proper proportion between the dift'erent elements in
human life as to the abstract preference of one good to
another. To arrive at a perfectly truthful moral judge-
ment as to the rightness or ^vTongness of particular acts,
we should form a conception of human hfe as a whole,
and then ask what mode of action in any given circum-
stance will promote that true good.

The method of Ethics which attempts to determine the
MoraUty of acts by their tendency to promote such an
ideal good may be called Ideal Utihtarianism. Such a
method vrill agree with Utilitarianism in judging of the
morality of actions by their tendency to promote a maxi-
mum of good on the whole ; it will differ from ordinary


hedonistic Utilitarianism in recognizing that this good is
an ideal good made up of many elements which possess
different values, but each of which ought to exist and to
bear a certain proportion to the others in the best human
life. It has been assumed throughout that in this hier-
archy of gooda Morahty or goodness is always to be re-
garded as supreme : the other goods will be promoted
exactly in so far as the Moral Reason itself dictates.
Although Morahty is not the only element of value in
human good, a man can never be required by the prin-
ciple here defended to make any sacrifice of this highest
good for the sake of any of the lower goods ; for if, when
he is for the moment choosing some lower good, he is
only assigning to it its true value and no more, he will
only be doing his duty, and so his conduct could not
possibly involve any sacrifice of moral goodness.

But at this point a difficulty may be apt to suggest
itself. Is a man, it may be said, always morally bound
to do what will promote the maximum of good on the
whole at the cost of any amount of his own lower good ?
Is the question, " What shall I do " always a question of
absolute right or absolute wrong ? Or is the alternative
sometimes simply the choice between a higher and a
lower ? Granted that a man cannot morally do less
than his duty, may he not sometimes do more ? Granted
that every man is bound to be benevolent, is every one
boimd to make every conceivable sacrifice which would
result in a net good for society greater than the good
which he would lose ? Are there not some acts which it
is good to do but not wrong for a man to leave undone ?
This is theoretically one of the most difficult questions
of Ethics, and practically one of the most important.
It is the question which by Theologians is expressed in
the form, " Can there be such a thing as works of super-
erogation ? " It is impossible here to discuss it as it de-
serves, and I can only give briefly what seems to me the


true solution of it. A man can never be justified in doing
less than his duty, but one man's duty may be higher than
another's. Here it becomes necessary to bear in mind
what we may call the great utilitarian principle of the
'■ long-run " — that principle of the necessity for general
rules on which writers hke Hume have insisted so much.
In determining what it is right to do, we have to consider
not merely the efifect of the particular act, but the ulti-
mate effects of making the principle on which we act into
a general rule of conduct. Now when we look upon the
matter in this light, we shall easily recognize that the
different capacities of different men and the complex
needs of human society make it desirable that great
sacrifices for the good of humanity should at times be
made by some, but not imposed upon all. "While, there-
fore, some rules of conduct are binding upon all (since
this universal observance is required in the interests of
Society), there are other cases when it is reasonable to
sanction both a higher and lower' kind of life, when we
can say that one course of conduct is the highest, though
it is not wrong to adopt the lower. There are. in other
words, differences of moral vocation ; but this hberty of
choice must be quaUfied by the duty of choosing one's
vocation rightly. Vocation is determined partly by a
man's external circumstances and the needs of human
society, partly by his own moral and intellectual capa-
cities. A man must always do his duty and can never
without sin do less ; but the duty of some men is higher
and more exacting than that of others. Such an answer
to the problem is at all events in accordance with common
sense moral ideas. We recognize it as a duty for all men
to speak the truth and to do some form of useful work.
We recognize it as a good thing for some men to become
self-sacrificing apostles, missionaries of a rehgious faith
or of social reform or of many another great cause ; but
we do not recognize this as a duty for all men. Yet we


should insist that if a man came to the conclusion that
he, being what he actually is, could be more useful to
Society by being a missionary, and felt in himself the
capacity of such a life of self-sacrifice, it would be a
failure in duty for him to refuse what would thus present
itself to him as a call ^ to be a Missionary. Sometimes
the very existence of a strong natural desire that a par-
ticular kind of work should be done may make it a duty
for a man to devote himself to it. For a man who,
though he might desire the spread of true rehgious ideas
among the less enlightened race of mankind, was more
naturally interested in the advance of knowledge, it
might be a duty to devote himself to the advance of
knowledge ; and yet it may be admitted that the more
self-sacrificmg mode of life is intrmsically and ab-
stractedly the higher and nobler, and further we may
add that it is often a man's duty to aim at acquiring
a capacity for higher services and more strenuous sacri-
fice than that of which he at present feels himself
capable. A man can never do more than his duty, but
it is sometimes one man's duty to do and to suffer more
than another's duty demands of him.

It will now be seen that our criterion of Utilitarianism
in its rationalistic form has brought us round to the
admission of much that was contended for by the typical
Intuitionist. We have accepted his fundamental prin-
ciple that a man's duty is something which has to be
intuitively perceived. We have insisted upon the doc-
trine upon which Intuitionists have usually laid the
greatest stress — the doctrine that IMorahty or good char-
acter is an end-in-itself, the most important of all ends,
the greatest of all goods. But there is a fundamental

1 The word of course suggests the religious conception that
God is calling him to the particular task. It will be unnecessary
to discuss here how far some men may have any more immediate
consciousness of such a call than is implied in the consciousness
that it is his duty so to act.


difference between our intuitions and tlic intuitions of the
Intuitionist, The tjq^ical Intuitionist professes to de-
termine by quasi -instinctive or a priori judgement the
Tightness or wrongness of an act without knowing any,
or at least without; knowing all. of its consequences. Such
a method of ethical judgement we have rejected as iiTa-
tional, since it practically amounts to pronouncing an
act right or wrong A\-ithout knowing what in fact the act
really is : the act is the whole sum of effects resulting
from a given volition, so far as they are or could be fore-
seen by the agent. Our intuitions relate not to isolated
acts or isolated rules of action, but to ends — to the in-
trinsic value of different kinds of consciousness. We
must, indeed, know from experience Avhat an end is before
we can pronounce it good or bad ; we cannot pronounce
knowledge better than pleasure or pleasure better than
pain without knowing what in fact knowledge and plea-
sure and pain in general, or such and such particular
pleasures, actually are ; and this we can only know from
experience ; and we are dependent upon experience for
our knowledge as to the consequences likely to result
from such and such conduct. But when we come to ask
what is the intrinsic and the relative value of such and
such a state of consciousness, experience can tell us
nothing. Yet we do, all of us, pronounce these judge-
ments. The moral judgement has turned out to he in the
last resort a judgement of value. The intuitions of the
Intuitionist related to isolated acts ; ours relate to goods
or ends. His are expressed m the form, " This is right " ;
ours assume the form, " This is good." Such a position,
be it observed, involves no surrender of the ultimate,
unanalysable character of the idea of "Tightness,"
" oughtness " or " duty." For the good or valuable
means " what ought to be so far as it can be " ; in the
judgement that an end is good it is imphed that, if by any
voluntary act of mine it can be promoted, I ought to do


that act. The good and the right are correlative terms.
We cannot fully think out the meaning of the one with-
out understanding the meaning of the other, just as
the convex implies a concave, and the notion of father
involves that of son.

We have assumed so far that in estimating the light-
ness of actions we are concerned only with human good.
But if pleasure be allowed to be a good and pain to be an
evil, why are the pains and pleasures of the animals to be
left out of the calculation ? It must, I think, be ad-
mitted that in strictness they ought to be included.
We should have no reason for condemning cruelty to
animals unless we do regard the animal's pleasure as a
good and its pain as an evil. And that verdict, I beheve,
the developed moral consciousness actually accepts.
But the good of which the animals are capable is a good
of a comparatively lower order. We can hardly attribute
to them any good but pleasure, and the more animal
kind of afEection would seem to be their highest plea-
sure ; while it is but rarely that we can really promote
the good of the animals in any positive way, as distinct
from not causing them pain, without a disproportionate
diminution of the higher human good. And therefore
it is but seldom that we need take into account the
effect of our conduct upon animal well-being. The duty
of humanity towards animals should be insisted upon in
its proper place ; but it seems unnecessary to cumber
our statement about the criterion of human conduct by
adding to every proposition about the duty of promoting
true human well-being the rider " and the well-being of
the lower animals in so far as they are capable of it and
in proportion to its value."

The position at which we have arrived may be briefly
summed up as follows :

1. Intuitionism is right in maintaining the ultimate
unanalysable character of the ideas impHed in our moral


judgements — the ideas right and wrong, good and evil,
and consequently the intuitive or immediate character
of our ultimate moral judgements. It is right in the
supreme value which it has usually assigned to moral
goodness, and its refusal to measure the value of other
elements in consciousness by the mere quantity of
pleasure involved in them. It is wrong in its attempt
to determine the rightness or wrongness of isolated acts
or isolated rules of conduct without reference to their
effects upon human life as a whole.

2. Utihtarianism is right in insisting that the true
criterion of Morality is the tendency of an act to produce
the maximum of human Well-being. It is wrong in
identifying the good with pleasure, though right in re-
garding pleasure as a good and an element in the good.

3. These two complementary aspects of ethical truth
may be brought together by recognizing that (a) the very
principles upon which a rational Utihtarianism is founded
are themselves intuitive truths, i.e. the rules of Rational
Benevolence and Equity ; and (b) that all other intui-
tions are really judgements of value, i.e. judgements as to
the ultimate value of different states of consciousness.
In ultimate analysis all moral judgements may be re-
duced to such judgements of value ; for when once it is
settled what mode of consciousness is valuable, it follows
(upon the assumption that the good has quantity) that
a larger amomit of it must always be preferable to a
smaller, and that one man's good must be of equal
intrinsic value with the like good ^ of every other man.

^ This qualiiication was not recognized by Bentham, and indeed
could not be recognized by one who thought that pleasure measured
quantitatively was the only good. If this qualification be ignored,
we should have no reason for preferring a man's good to an
animal's, except upon the very doubtful assumption that a man's
pleasures are usually pleasanter to him than a pig's pleasures are
to the pig. Sidgwick has also failed to make this distinction.




We have so far treated the Science of Ethics as if it
were an independent Science which could be treated in
complete abstraction from all other questions as to the
ultimate nature of the Universe. We have simply
examined the nature and contents of our moral Con-
sciousness without making any preliminary assumption
as to the nature of the Universe at large or as to man's
place in that Universe, and ■ndthout, on the other hand,
askhig what light is thrown by the facts of the Moral
Consciousness upon these wider problems. But, for
reasons which were indicated in our introductory chapter,
it is impossible to treat ethical questions fully and satis-
factorily without finding ourselves mvolved in these
further questions. A very brief attempt must now be
made to deal with the relation of Ethics to our general
theory of the Universe — that is to say, practically, to
Metaphysics, to Theology, and to Religion.

In the present chaos of opinion upon such ultimate
questions it is not surprising that many persons of much
practical earnestness should make the attempt to put
Ethics upon a basis which shall be quite mdependent of
all metaphysical or theological opinions. The " inde-
pendence of Ethics " is a favourite watchword with
those who in practical life wish to substitute " ethical
culture " for Religion, ethical teaching for rehgious edu-
cation, ethical societies for Churches. Now this inde-
pendence may be asserted m two senses which should
be carefully distmguished. So long as the phrase merely
implies that our ethical judgements are not m any sense
deductions or inferences from some pre\*iously accepted
view of the Universe, and that the words " right " and


" -wTong " have a distinct meaning which does not involve
any immediate reference to the idea of God or to any
other metaphysical creed, we arc undoubtedly right in
speaking of the '" independence of ethics." The notion
that right and wrong mean simply what is in accordance
with the will of God (considered merely as a powerful
Being who has threatened to reward certain actions and
to punish others) is one which has seldom been main-
tained by Christian Theologians except during a few
very short periods of theological degeneracy. Such a
view reduces to absolute meaninglessness the funda-
mental Christian idea that God is intrinsically good and
lo\-ing. Nor is there in the bare consciousness, of duty
any necessary reference to any form of expected reward
or punishment in this life or any other. The ideas of
right and wrong, or good and evil, are found in the
adherents of the most diverse rehgions, in people who
have never embraced a rehgious creed or hav-e deUbe-
rately abandoned one, in people of all metaphysical
views, and in people who have not consciously and
explicitly accepted any particular theory, positive or
negative, as to the ultimate nature of things. Such
persons have the notion of right and WTong in general,
more or less fully developed, in their minds ; they act
upon such ideas, or they condemn themselves when they
do not : and, though it cannot be said that men's
notions of what particular acts are right or -oTong are
unaffected by their religious beUefs or disbeUefs, their
actual moral code tends to be more and more nearly
identical as they approach the liigher levels of moral and
spiritual experience. All this has been assumied, and
even strongly asserted, thi'oughout this work.

But that is a very different tiling from asserting that
a constructive ethical creed — an ethical creed which
asserts the validity of moral obligation — can be com-
bined with any and every possible metaphysical theory.


Th«« are many metaphysical views which are quite
inconsistent with the idea of moral obligation, although
those who hold them may not always be aware of the
fact. Some men are logically precluded from asserting
the idea of moral obligation by their theory of know-
lodge. Some philosophers, for instance, have supposed
that all knowledge is derived from sensible experience ;
the idea of moral obligation clearly cannot be so derived,
for no amount of experience as to what is can prove an
(mg?U. Hence upon this hypothesis the idea of " ought "
must be pronounced to be a mere delusion ; and when
SMiBation is made into the sole ground of knowledge
it is difficult to discover any standard for the value of
mere sensation except its pleasurableness. Sensation-
alism has always therefore shown a tendency to ally

1 2 3 4 6 8

Online LibraryHastings RashdallEthics → online text (page 6 of 8)