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Ethics and idealism.

There has been no movement of metaphysical thought in our time which can be compared for its widespread influence or for its general acceptance with the theory of evolution in biological science. Intimate as is its connexion with the progress of science, metaphysics does not keep step with it, any more than it simply marks time as the former advances. It reflects the influence of each new generalisation of science; but if and so far as it reflects this influence only, it cannot be an adequate metaphysics. Metaphysics must re-think each new fact brought to light, each new generalisation established by science. It must think them in their relation to the whole, and attempt to understand them by setting them in their place in the complete system of knowledge and reality. This complete system is indeed an ideal, never adequately comprehended by the human mind; but it is nevertheless the ideal which determines all efforts of constructive philosophy including those efforts which take the generalisation of some special science as their all-comprehending principle. An attempt of this kind to make a philosophy out of a scientific generalisation has in our own time been the obvious result of the theory of evolution, and has given new vogue to the philosophical system called Naturalism. That system draws its strength from the scientific doctrine of evolution; but as a philosophy it gives an extended application to the generalisation established by a group of sciences, and valid for the facts within their range. It interprets the law of development which rules the sequences of nature as the highest attainable principle for explaining the system of things. Some of the questions which it leaves unanswered, and some of the facts which it overlooks, have been pointed out in last lecture. Of this theory perhaps enough has already been said.

In spite of the increased vogue which naturalism has obtained from its alliance with triumphant evolutionism, it cannot be said to represent the prevailing type of thought amongst the English metaphysicians of the last generation. That generation was remarkable for the reappearance in this country of a reasoned Idealism; and all forms of Idealism have at least this in common, that they refuse to look upon the material process as the ultimate character of reality so far as reality is known or knowable.

It may also be said and this is a characteristic which is not merely negative that all forms of Idealism agree in ascribing special significance to the moral and religious aspects of life. This holds true of the great idealists, different as their types of thought may be of Plato and Aristotle, of Spinoza and Leibniz, of Kant, Fichte, and Hegel. It holds true also of the leading representatives of recent English idealism. But the ethical tone of a treatise and the ethical interest of its author are not always a guarantee that ethical conceptions have a secure position in his system of thought. This is the case, I think, with Spinoza; and it seems to me to hold also of some writers of the present day. Mr Bradley, for instance, is perhaps the most influential, as he is without doubt not the least brilliant, of contemporary metaphysicians; he carries on the tradition of a school of thought predominantly ethical; his first book was a defence of the ethical positions of that school; but, if we turn to the elaborate metaphysical treatise which has resulted from his mature reflexion, its most impressive feature will be found to be the almost complete bankruptcy of the system in the region of ethics.

Not only had this idealist movement in its beginnings a predominantly ethical tone. It was really started in the interest of moral ideals as well as of intellectual thoroughness; and its contribution of greatest value to English thought was a work on ethics. The ’Prolegomena to Ethics’ of T.H. Green was a fitting result of his unwearied controversies in defence of the spiritual nature of man and the universe. No one is more worthy than he to be called by the Platonic name a ‘friend of ideas,’ And he was a friend of ideas because he saw their necessity for maintaining and realising the higher capacities of human life. Green’s ‘Prolegomena’ was published in 1883, the year after his death. And, had I been speaking twenty years ago, I should have had to emphasise the ethical character of the metaphysics of the day. His metaphysical thinking, through all its subtleties, never strayed far from the moral ideal. Owing to his teaching that ideal, and the general character of the philosophy with which it was associated, have permeated a great part of the better thought of the present day, and have influenced its practical activities in various directions, social, political, and religious. But the magnetism of his personality has been removed; and those whose business it is to test intellectual notions have been impressed by the difficulties involved in Green’s metaphysical positions and in his connexion of them with morality.

The single word ‘self-realisation’ has been taken to express the view of the moral ideal enforced by Green. And it is as suitable as any single word could be. But it is clear that, in every action whatever of a conscious being, self-realisation may be said to be the end: some capacity is being developed, satisfaction is being sought for some desire. A man may develop his capacities, seek and to some extent attain satisfaction in a manner, realise himself not only in devotion to a scientific or artistic ideal or in labours for the common good, but also in selfish pursuit of power or even in sensual enjoyment. So far as the word ‘self-realisation’ can be made to cover such different activities, it is void of moral content and cannot express the nature of the moral ideal. Green is perfectly alive to the need of a distinction and to the difficulty of drawing it. According to his own statement it is true not only of moral activity but of every act of willing that in it “a self-conscious individual directs himself to the realisation of some idea, as to an object in which for the time he seeks self-satisfaction." And he proceeds to ask the question, “How can there be any such intrinsic difference between the objects willed as justifies the distinction which ‘moral sense’ seems to draw between good and bad action, between virtue and vice? And if there is such a difference, in what does it consist?" Now we may define a good action as the sort of action which proceeds from a good man; or we may define a good man as a man who performs good actions. And for each method of definition something may be said. But if we adopt both methods together and say in one breath that good is what the good man does and that the good man is he who does good, is our logic any better than that of the ordination-candidate who defined the functions of an archdeacon as archdiaconal functions? And yet Green comes very near to describing this logical circle. “The moral good,” he says, is “that which satisfies the desire of amoral agent”; but “the question, ... What do we mean by calling ourselves moral agents? is one to which a final answer cannot be given without an answer to the question, What is moral good?"

When Green really grapples with the difficulty of distinguishing the moral from the immoral in character or in conduct, it is possible to distinguish different ways in which he attempts to draw the distinction these different ways being, however, not independent but complementary to one another in his thought. The first suggestion is that good is distinguished from evil, or the true good from a good which is merely apparent, by its permanence. It gives a lasting satisfaction instead of a merely transient satisfaction: “the true good ... is an end in which the effort of a moral agent can really find rest." In this statement two points seem to be involved which the use of the rather metaphorical term ‘finding rest’ tends to confuse. If we are looking for the distinction simply of a good action or motive from a bad one we may point to the approval of conscience in the former case: this has a permanence or rather an independence of time which distinguishes it from the satisfaction of some temporary desire. But I do not think that this is what Green means. He wished to avoid falling back upon mere disconnected judgments of conscience after the manner of the intuitional moralists. The ‘true good’ for him seems to mean the attainment, the complete realisation, of the moral ideal. Were this reached we should indeed ‘find rest,’ for moral activity as we know it would be at an end. But the moral ideal is never thus attained; its realisation, as Green holds, is only progressive and never completed. Consequently ‘rest’ is never ‘found.’ It is of the nature of the moral life to press onward constantly towards a goal which it cannot attain; each achievement leads to a further effort and a higher reach.

By itself, therefore, the assertion that the moral agent ‘finds rest’ in the ‘true good’ does not enable us to distinguish the moral agent or the moral action from the immoral. For we are unable to define the ‘true good.’ It is not a part of experience; it is an ideal: and Green allows that we can give no complete account of it; he even says that we can give no positive account of it. At the same time this consideration leads to another and connected method for distinguishing good from evil.

“Of a life of completed development,” Green holds, “of activity with the end attained, we can only speak or think in negatives, and thus only can we speak or think of that state of being in which, according to our theory, the ultimate moral good must consist." But the development is a real process which manifests itself in habits and social institutions; and from these its actual achievements we can to a certain extent see what the moral capability of man “has in it to become,” and thus “know enough of ultimate moral good to guide our conduct.” One of the most valuable portions of Green’s own work is his description of the gradual widening and purifying of human conceptions regarding goodness in character and conduct. But all this implies some standard of discrimination and selection between what is good and what is evil in human achievement. Which developments are truly realisations of “the moral capability of man,” and so tend to the attainment of ultimate good, and which developments are expressions of those capacities which seek an apparent good only and are to be classed as evil, as impediments to the realisation of the good, these have to be discriminated; and is it so clear that from the mere record of human deeds we are able to draw the distinction? Do we not need some criterion of goodness to guide our judgment? and does not Green himself use such a criterion when he appeals to the tendency of certain institutions and habits to “make the welfare of all the welfare of each,” and of certain arts to make nature “the friend of man"? Common welfare and the utilisation of nature in the service of man seem to be taken as tests of the true development of moral capabilities. The criteria themselves may be excellent; but they are not got out of the mere record: they are brought by us to its contemplation. To this special question I can find no answer in Green. He is indeed aware that there is a difficulty; or rather he admits that something has been “taken for granted.” He has assumed that there is “some best state of being for man”; that this best state is eternally present to a divine consciousness; and further, that this “eternal mind” is reproducing itself as the self of man. On this supposition only, he says, can our moral activity be explained; and he holds that the supposition can be justified metaphysically and has been so justified by himself in the earlier part of his treatise.

Now I am willing to admit that Green showed a correct instinct in examining the nature of man before entering upon his properly ethical enquiry. One must know what man is before one can say what his ‘good’ or his duty is; and it is only because man’s nature cannot be accounted for as a merely natural or animal product that the way is open for an idealist ethics such as Green’s. But perhaps Green laid too much stress on the problem of historical causation. What matters it how we came by our knowledge, provided it is the case that we can know ourselves and the world? If we can now distinguish right and wrong, can ally ourselves with the good, and follow a moral ideal, of what great importance are the steps by which the moral consciousness was attained? And the question here is whether the special results reached by Green in his metaphysical enquiry into human nature have brought us any nearer to a solution of the present ethical difficulty. As we have seen, the metaphysical view which Green arrives at is that the consciousness which is in man and which raises him above nature is the manifestation of the “reproduction” of itself by an eternal self-consciousness. Man’s own self-consciousness in knowledge and volition is simply God’s self consciousness “reproduced” (to use Green’s term) in man’s animal nature: so that the animal body and its temporal activities become in some unexplained (and no doubt inexplicable) way “organic” (to use Green’s terminology once more, where no terminology seems adequate) to a spiritual reality which is eternal and infinite.

I am far from denying the greatness of this conception or its practical value. There is no stronger support to moral endeavour than the conviction that the moral life is a realisation of the divine purpose, that in all goodness the spirit of God is manifest, that the good man is the servant of God or even His fellow-worker. By whatever metaphor this may be expressed and Green’s statement that the divine self consciousness ‘reproduces’ itself in human morality is also a metaphor it betrays the assurance that moral achievement is permanent, and that (in spite of all apparent failures) goodness will prevail. He who fights for the good may be confident of victory.

This is the practical value of the conception; but in order that it may have this practical value, the distinction of good from evil must be first of all made clear. Green’s appeal to an eternal self-consciousness does nothing of itself to elucidate this distinction. Tendencies to exalt selfish interest over common welfare, and to prefer sensual to what are called higher gratifications, enter into the nature of man, and have fashioned his history. Green does not even ask the question whether these also are not to be considered manifestations or ‘reproductions’ of the eternal self-consciousness. But his metaphysical view does not exclude them; and if they are included, morality disappears for lack of any criterion between good and evil. If good is to be discriminated from evil, it must be by some other means than by describing the whole conscious activity of man as a reproduction of the divine. Instead of doing anything to solve the problem of the meaning of goodness, Green simply brings forward a new difficulty that of understanding how the temporal process in which human morality is developed can be related to a reality which is defined as out of time or eternal. This difficulty cannot be avoided in a metaphysical theory of morality. And it does not stand alone. Green’s own dialectics were directed against the Sensationalist and Hedonist theories which used to be regarded as typical of English thought; and on them they acted as a powerful solvent. His own views of the spiritual nature of man and its relation to the eternal self-consciousness were worked out with the confidence and enthusiasm of a reformer rather than with the caution of a critic. But criticism has followed, and not only from the representatives of opposed schools. Writers whose intellectual affinities are on the whole the same as his have let their dialectic play around his fundamental conceptions with a result very different from that which he contemplated. Mr Bradley, like Green, has faith in an eternal Reality, which might be called spiritual, inasmuch as it is not material; like Green, he looks upon man’s moral activity as an appearance what Green calls a reproduction of this eternal reality. But under this general agreement there lies a world of difference. He refuses, by the use of the term self-consciousness, to liken his Absolute to the personality of man, and he brings out the consequence, which in Green is more or less concealed, that the evil equally with the good in man and in the world are appearances of the Absolute.

Mr Bradley’s whole work is ruled by the distinction between “Appearance” and “Reality,” which gives his book a title. On the one hand there is the Absolute Reality, spoken of as perfect, and described as all comprehensive and harmonious throughout. Neither change nor time nor any relation can belong to it. But intelligence works by discrimination and comparison; knowledge implies relations; it is, therefore, excluded from reality. Truth is mere appearance. The same judgment must be passed on our moral activity. We strive after and perhaps reach an ideal, or, as Mr Bradley says, we aim at satisfying a desire; and this, too, is a process far removed from reality. Goodness, like truth, is mere appearance.

This needs no elaboration. If all predication involves relation, and relation is excluded from reality, then no predicate not even truth or goodness can be asserted of the real. Nay more, to be consistent, we ought not even to say that reality or the Absolute (for the two terms are here interchangeable) is perfect, or one, or all-comprehensive, or harmonious: for all these are predicates. Ens realissimum is the only ens réale; all else is mere appearance.

Just here, however, lies an indication of another line of thought. For what is an appearance, and what is it that appears? It can only be reality that thus appears; the ‘mere’ appearance is yet an ’appearance of reality.’ It might seem that this is to catch, not at a straw, but at the shadow of a straw. For if we say that ‘reality appears,’ are we not thereby predicating something of reality, making it enter into relation? But let that pass. Among these appearances we may be able to distinguish degrees of significance or of adequacy, nay strange as it may seem to the reader who has followed Mr Bradley’s first line of thought “degrees of reality.” Relations are excluded from reality; and degree is a relation; but reality has degrees. The logic is unsatisfactory, but the conclusion may perhaps have a value of its own.

Here, then, is another view of the universe not an unchanging, relationless, eternal reality, but varying degrees of reality manifested in that complex process which we call sometimes the world and sometimes ‘experience,’ But the two views are connected. For it is assumed that the Absolute Reality is harmonious and all-comprehensive; and it is further asserted that these two characteristics of harmony and comprehensiveness may be taken as criteria of the “degree of reality” possessed by any “appearance.” The more harmonious anything is the fewer its internal discrepancies or contradictions the higher is its degree of reality; and the greater its comprehensiveness the fewer predicates left outside it the higher also is its degree of reality. No attempt is made at a measured scale of degrees of reality, such, for example, as is offered by the Hegelian dialectic; but a sort of rough classification of various ‘appearances’ is offered. In this classification a place is given to goodness which is comparatively high, and yet “subordinate” and “self-contradictory.”

Mr Bradley’s Absolute, we may say, has two faces, one of which is described as good, while the other is inscrutable. “Obviously,” he says, “the good is not the Whole, and the Whole, as such, is not good. And, viewed thus in relation to the Absolute, there is nothing either bad or good, there is not anything better or worse. For the Absolute is not its appearances.” This is the inscrutable side. But yet “the Absolute appears in its phenomena and is real nowhere outside them;... it is all of them in unity. And so, regarded from this other side, the Absolute is good, and it manifests itself throughout in various degrees of goodness and badness." What would be contradiction in another writer is only two-sidedness in Mr Bradley. And it is this second side which interests us, for here “the Absolute is good,” and yet, good as it is, manifests itself in badness as well as goodness, and that in various degrees. If we are to follow another statement of the doctrine, however, we shall have to allow that the “badness” is also good, and that the “various degrees” are all equal. For “the Absolute is perfect in all its detail, it is equally true and good throughout." Whether or not the good is contradictory, as Mr Bradley maintains, we must allow that he succeeds in making his account of it contradictory.

I will try to put the gist of the matter in my own words. Mr Bradley’s Absolute is eternal, relationless, ineffable. To it goodness cannot be ascribed; indeed no predicate can be properly applied to it, for any predication implies relation: in earlier language than Mr Bradley’s it involves determination and therefore negation. Even to say that the Absolute appears or manifests itself is to predicate something, to imply relation, and thus is an offence against the absoluteness of the Absolute. But nevertheless there is a world of phenomena, which the most mystical of philosophers must recognise, if only as a world of illusion. The sum-total of these phenomena may be called the appearances of the Absolute; and the Absolute, according to Mr Bradley, “is real nowhere outside them.” In this sense of reality we may make predicates about it. Indeed all our predicates, Mr Bradley teaches in his ‘Logic,’ have reality the universe of reality for their ultimate subject.

In this sense it may be possible to speak of reality as good (though it is a misapplication of the term “Absolute” to call it good). But the question remains what we mean by “good” in this connexion, and what justification we have for using the predicate. And the answer must be that Mr Bradley means very little, since the goodness is manifested “in various degrees of goodness and badness,” and that the justification for using the term is not made clear. It seems to be used of reality in a somewhat vague sense, as it were jure dignitatis and to have as little ethical significance as “right honourable” when applied to a politician or “reverend” to a clergyman: cases in which it might be consistent to say that right honourable gentlemen manifest various degrees of honour and dishonour, or that reverend gentlemen are worthy of various degrees of reverence and the opposite. All the details of the phenomenal world are bound together by chains of necessity; each is an essential part of the sum-total. How can the distinction of good and evil apply as between these parts?

We may speak of parts as higher or lower; and Mr Bradley defines the “lower” as “that which, to be made complete, would have to undergo a more total transformation of its nature." The meaning of this is not clear. The reference may be to the complete state which a thing may reach in process of growth. Thus an early stage of a rose-bud may be said to be “lower” than its later stage because it requires a greater transformation before it produces the bloom. But here ‘lower’ does not mean ethically lower, unless immaturity be confused with evil. Or the complete state may be regarded as the type of some order or class, from which different individuals differ in greater or less degree. This meaning is not suggested by the author; and it could have ethical implication only if the type had been first of all shown to have an ethical value. Or again, the completeness referred to may be that which is alone complete in the strict sense of the word, namely, the universe. And we might say that a rose-leaf would require greater transformation in order to become complete in this sense than a rose-bush, or that the act of giving a cup of cold water was less complete than the far-reaching activity say of the first Napoleon. But this difference in completeness would not entail a corresponding difference in moral worth or goodness.

Where all stages are essential, it is not possible to say that one is good and another evil. Is not the good something that ought to be striven for, attained, and preserved? and is not evil something that ought not to be at all? And how can we say that any part ought not to be when every part is essential?

From the monistic view of reality, as set forth by Mr Bradley, there is no direct route to the distinction between good and evil. If the distinction is reached at all, it will be found to be psychological rather than cosmical, to be relative to the attitude of the human mind which contemplates the facts, and in this strict sense to be, what Mr Bradley calls it, appearance.

And this is the view which Mr Bradley takes when he proceeds to describe what he means by the ‘good.’ It is, he says, “that which satisfies desire. It is that which we approve of, and in which we can rest with a feeling of contentment." “Desire” “approval” “feeling” to these mental attitudes the good is relative: they are expressed in its definition. Mr Bradley, it will be seen, re-states Green’s doctrine with a difference which makes it at once more logical and less ethical. Green had said that “the moral good is that which satisfies the desire of a moral agent”; and in so saying had simply walked round the difficulty, for he was unable to say wherein consisted the peculiarity of the moral agent without reference to the conception of moral good which he had started out to define. But Mr Bradley dispenses with the qualification, and says simply that the good “satisfies desire.” And in so far his definition is more logical. The question is whether it distinguishes good from evil. Both the practical importance and the theoretical difficulty of the problem arise from the fact that evil is sometimes desired, and that the evil desire may be satisfied. The desire of a malevolent man may be satisfied by another’s downfall, and his mind may even “rest with a feeling of contentment” in that result, much in the same way as the benevolent man is satisfied and content with another’s happiness. Fortunately, the case is not so common: the dominant leanings of most men are in sympathy with good rather than with evil: but it is common enough to make the emotional characteristics of the individual an uncertain basis on which to rest the distinction of good from evil.

There is also another way of putting the matter: “the good is coextensive with approbation." If by ‘approbation’ we mean simply ‘holding for good,’ then the sentence will mean that the good is what we hold for good that is to say, that our judgments about good are always true judgments, a proposition which either ignores the divergence between different individual judgments about good, or else implies a complete relativity such that that is good to each man at any time which he at that time approves or holds to be good; and this latter view would make all discussion impossible. But this is not what Mr Bradley means. “Approbation is to be taken in its widest sense”; in which sense “to approve is to have an idea in which we feel satisfaction, and to have or imagine the presence of this idea in existence." And here the criterion is the same as before, and equally subjective. In desire idea and existence are separated; they are united in the satisfaction of desire; and approbation is said to be just the feeling of satisfaction in an idea which is also present (or imagined as present) in existence. Not only actual satisfaction of the desire but also imagined satisfaction is covered by “approbation”; but this approval is still simply a feeling of some individual person.

We need not concern ourselves at present with the adequacy of this statement as an account of the way in which we come to ‘approve’ or hold something as good. The point is, that it does not advance us at all towards determining the validity of this approval, or towards an objective criterion for distinguishing ‘good’ from evil.

Mr Bradley draws a distinction between a general and a more special or restricted meaning of goodness. For the former it is enough that existence be “found to be in accordance with the idea”; for the latter, it is necessary that the idea itself produce the fact. In the former sense “beauty, truth, pleasure, and sensation are all things that are good," quite irrespective of their origin; in the latter sense, only that is good which the idea has produced, or in which it has realised itself, which is the work, therefore, of some finite soul. In this narrower meaning goodness is the result of will: “the good, in short, will become the realised end or completed will. It is now an idea which not only has an answering content in fact, but, in addition also, has made, and has brought about, that correspondence.... Goodness thus will be confined to the realm of ends, or of self-realisation. It will be restricted, in other words, to what is commonly called the sphere of morality," Even in its more general meaning, as we have seen, Mr Bradley has not succeeded in giving an objective account of good. For the correspondence of idea and existence in which it is said to consist is defined in relation to desire, and to some kind of feeling on the part of the conscious subject. Nor was his account successful in distinguishing good from evil: to that distinction feeling is a blind guide. When he goes on to discuss goodness in the narrower sense, in which it belongs to the results of finite volition, he adopts, as expressing the nature of goodness, that conception of ‘self-realisation’ which, as put forward by Green, has been found inadequate. The same conception was used by Mr Bradley, in his first work, as “the most general expression for the end in itself,” “May we not say,” he asked, “that to realise self is always to realise a whole, and that the question in morals is to find the true whole, realising which will practically realise the true self?" It is easy to make the distinction between good and evil depend upon this, that in the former the true self is realised, and that what is realised in the latter is only a false self. But it is equally easy to see that this is only to substitute one unexplained distinction for another. This short and easy method is not that which Mr Bradley adopts in his later work. He has something of much greater interest to say regarding the nature of the self-realisation in which goodness is made to consist; and upon it he lays stress, “solely with a view to bring out the radical vice of all goodness." Goodness, it is said, is self-realisation; and Reality it was assumed at the outset is harmonious and all-comprehensive. These last characters are also criteria of degrees of reality, and consequently of degrees of self-realisation. There are, therefore, two marks of self-realisation harmony and extent; and these two may and do diverge. No doubt “in the end,” they will come together; but “in that end goodness, as such, will have perished." “We must admit,” says Mr Bradley, “that two great divergent forms of moral goodness exist. In order to realise the idea of a perfect self a man may have to choose between two partially conflicting methods. Morality, in short, may dictate either self sacrifice or self assertion," “The conscious duplicity of the hypocrite,” according to an outspoken adherent of Mr Bradley’s, is “but the natural exaggeration of the unconscious duplicity which resides in the very heart of morality."

It is worth while considering this view of the contradictions inherent in morality. To start with, goodness was defined by relation to desire: the good was said to be what satisfies desire. Desire is plainly a mental state in which idea and existence are separated. As such it cannot be attributed to the Absolute Reality. It will involve a contradiction, therefore, if we identify goodness with Absolute Reality; for goodness implies a distinction (between idea and existence) which cannot find place in the Absolute. But if “degrees” of reality be asserted, we must admit stages short of the Absolute, and goodness may belong to such a stage in which process or development is allowed as a fact. But Mr Bradley will have it not only that it is a contradiction to identify this process with the Absolute, but also that the conception of goodness is itself contradictory. “A satisfied desire,” he says, “is, in short, inconsistent with itself. For, so far as it is quite satisfied, it is not a desire; and, so far as it is a desire, it must remain at least partly unsatisfied." Of course, if the desire is satisfied, it ceases. It was and it is not. But there is no more contradiction here than in any other case of temporal succession. A satisfied desire is, it is true, no longer a desire. But the phrase is contradictory only in appearance; for it means that the desire has been satisfied and in its satisfaction has ceased to exist as a desire. A much more important discrepancy is asserted when it is said that “two great divergent forms of moral goodness exist.” The fight for moral goodness is ’under two flags’ self-assertion and self-sacrifice. And the allies “seem hostile to one another,” “at least in some respects and with some persons." We have here the time-honoured opposition of egoism and altruism, with a difference. Mr Bradley’s most notable adherent in the region of ethical enquiry prefers to overlook the difference and to return to the older opposition of conflicting ideals. But Mr Bradley himself declines to rate the social factor in conduct so high. It is not altruism or social activity which is the opponent of self-assertion or egoism, but self-sacrifice; and both self-assertion and self-sacrifice are kinds of self-realisation: in the former the self seeks its realisation by perfecting its harmony; in the latter, by increasing its extent. It is not in content that the two modes of self-realisation differ: social factors, for instance, may enter into both; it is in the diverse uses made of the contents: ‘system’ is aimed at in the one; ‘width’ in the other. The harmony of these two methods is attained only when both morality and the individual self are “transcended and submerged."

This discrepancy of aim, and then coming together of the hostile factors only in the annulling and disappearance of both, is a process quite in accordance with the general dialectic of Mr Bradley. But two things may be noted with regard to it. In the first place the effort after system is called self-assertion, and the effort after width or expansion is called self-sacrifice. Perhaps the author may claim a right to give what names he likes to the processes he describes. But in this case the names have a recognised meaning in the literature of morals, and no hint is given that they are used here in any meaning other than the ordinary. And surely the term ‘self-sacrifice’ is an inappropriate term for describing the conduct which seeks expansion by multiplying the objects of desire by the pursuit of whatever offers a chance of widened interests, whether social or intellectual, aesthetic or sensual, even although “my individuality suffers loss” thereby, and “the health and harmony of my self is injured." Loss may be the result; but aggrandisement is what is sought, though the effort fails through lack of organisation or system. And again ‘self’ is not the only possible centre for the systematisation of conduct. System in conduct may be realised in other ways than as self-assertion. It is sought as truly by the man of science who gives up everything for the pursuit of truth or by the philanthropist who forgets himself in promoting the social welfare. Such modes of life as these and not merely self-assertive conduct may become centres of a moral activity which aims at system.

The second remark which has to be made on this final point is, that neither on the method of system and self-assertion nor on the method of expansion and self-sacrifice has the author given or suggested any criterion for the distinction of good and evil. He has cast his net so wide as to include all conduct within it without discrimination of moral worth. His own result is that “the good is, as such, transcended and submerged." But this result loses all significance if it is the case, as our enquiry seems to prove, that the good as such has never been reached at all, nor any tenable suggestion offered for distinguishing it from evil.

This is the fundamental question for any philosophy of ethics; but it receives no answer at all from the prevailing school of metaphysical thought. This school offers no solution of the problem which was found insoluble by the type of philosophy whose aim is to co-ordinate the results of science. A comparison of the purposes and results of the two schools may be instructive.

Mr Herbert Spencer has told us that since the time of his first essay, “written as far back as 1842,” his “ultimate purpose, lying behind all proximate purposes, has been that of finding for the principles of right and wrong in conduct at large a scientific basis.... Now that moral injunctions are losing the authority given by their supposed sacred origin, the secularisation of morals is becoming imperative. Few things can happen more disastrous than the decay and death of a regulative system no longer fit, before another and fitter regulative system has grown up to replace it.... Those who believe that the vacuum can be filled, and that it must be filled, are called on to do something in pursuance of their belief." But more than fifty years after the publication of this first essay, as, with the completion of the ‘Principles of Ethics,’ his whole system of philosophy lay unrolled before him, he made the significant and pathetic confession that “the doctrine of evolution has not furnished guidance to the extent I had hoped.... Right regulation of the actions of so complex a being as man, living under conditions so complex as those presented by a society, evidently forms a subject-matter unlikely to admit of definite conclusions throughout its entire range." And the lack of confidence which the author himself felt in these parts, there is good reason to extend to the whole structure of evolutionary ethics.

Neither the purpose of their structure nor its collapse is so explicitly proclaimed by the metaphysicians with whom this lecture has dealt. But we hardly need to read between the lines in order to see the prominence of the moral interest in all that Green wrote; and it was after he had shown the inadequacy of the empirical method in the hands of Hume to give any criterion or ideal for conduct that he made his significant appeal to “Englishmen under five-and-twenty” to leave “the anachronistic systems hitherto prevalent amongst us” and take up “the study of Kant and Hegel." His call to speculation has been widely responded to; but, if we turn to the most important product of this speculative movement, we have to extract what enlightenment we can from the dictum that, in the only sense in which the Absolute is good, it “manifests itself in various degrees of goodness and badness."

The most notable recent systems of philosophy, idealist as well as naturalist, are thus presented to us, almost confessedly, as void of application to conduct. This result, and foresight of this result, have led to a widespread suspicion of any attempt at ethical construction which is based upon a theory of reality. In consequence, recourse is sometimes had to a purely empirical treatment of morality such as that indicated at the close of the second lecture. Such an account, however, can never rise from the description of conduct to setting up an ideal for life. And accordingly some thinkers have remained convinced of the necessity of ideals for the moral life, although unable to find an adequate ground for these ideals in their system of reality.

This attitude was adopted by F.A. Lange, who, at the close of his History of Materialism, declared that there was need for an Ideal of Worth to supplement the deficiencies of the facts of being. “One thing is certain,” he said, “that man needs to supplement reality by an Ideal World of his own creation, and that in such creations the highest and noblest functions of his mind co-operate. But must this free act of the mind bear ever and ever again the deceptive form of demonstrative science? If it does so, materialism will always reappear and destroy the over-bold speculations." It would thus seem that moral life postulates an ideal which the mind is able to frame, but for which it can establish no connexion with the world of reality.

More recently a brilliant French writer, who has attempted to establish a system of “morality without obligation or sanction,” has suggested that the place of the categorical law of duty may be taken by a speculative hypothesis, and that hope may serve where there is no ground for belief. “The speculative hypothesis is a risk taken in the sphere of thought; action in accordance with this hypothesis is a risk taken in the sphere of will; and that being is higher who will undertake and risk the more whether in thought or action." Thus, “for example, if I would perform an act of charity pure and simple, and wish to justify this act rationally, I must imagine an eternal Charity at the ground of things and of myself, I must objectify the sentiment which leads to my action; and here the moral agent plays the same rôle as the artist.... In every human action there is an element of error, of illusion”: and it is conjectured that this element increases as the action rises above the commonplace: “the most loving hearts are the most often deceived, in the highest geniuses the greatest incoherences are often found."

This solution can hardly be regarded as other than a counsel of despair. Its ethical value is merely apparent. What is of importance for ethics is not so much the presence of some ideal: it is the kind of ideal that matters. It is possible to have an ideal of selfishness as well as an ideal of love, a sensual ideal as well as a spiritual. Nietzsche’s over-man is an ideal; the Mohammedan paradise is an ideal; and conduct can be modelled on them. But it is not enough to have system in conduct, irrespective of the worth of the ideal which determines the system. Some criterion is needed for deciding between competing ideals. As long as they are looked upon as mere illusions, as expressions of doubt, or as a hazard staked on the unknowable, caprice takes the place of law; where all is equally uncertain there is no security for the worth of the ideal itself.

Unsatisfactory as they are in this form, the opinions referred to are echoes of a pregnant doctrine of Kant’s the doctrine that the moral consciousness brings us into closer touch with reality than the merely theoretical reason can reach. Various lines of recent thought may be said to have been suggested by this view. Almost every idealist metaphysician has tended to look upon thought itself as constituting the inmost reality of the universe which it conceives or understands; and Kant’s doctrine may make us pause and ask whether this tendency is not simply an assumption without warrant.

Again, the psychological analysis of knowledge has brought out the fact of its constant dependence upon practical interests. It is the need to perform or attain something, which is the motive that leads to the understanding of things; and the understanding of things with which alone we are satisfied is commonly that which helps us so to describe our experience as to be able to control some practical result. ‘Knowledge is power’; and not only so, but in its early stages and in most of its later developments, knowledge is for power: it is for purposes of his own that man becomes the ‘interpreter of nature.’

It is to men of science rather than to philosophers that we owe the ‘descriptive theory’ of scientific concepts which, within the last few years, has gone far to revolutionise the prevailing attitude of philosophy to science. Concepts, such as ‘mass,’ ‘energy,’ and the like, are no longer held to express realities the denial of which would be treason to science; they are simply descriptive notions whose truth consists in their utility: that is to say, in their ability to comprehend all the relevant facts in a simple description. And, in the same way, scientific principles are of the nature of postulates, whose justification is no necessary law of thought, but must rather be sought in the results of scientific investigation.

These three doctrines the descriptive theory of science, the practical nature of knowledge as it is brought out by psychological analysis, and the special claims of the moral consciousness have combined to bring about a tendency strongly opposed to the older idealist tradition, the tendency to regard practical results as the sole test of truth.

This conception is put forward now in philosophical literature as a new and independent point of view. The point of view is only in process of being hardened into a theory; but, under the name of Pragmatism, it has already become the subject of a vigorous propaganda. With the value of this doctrine as a general theory of reality we need not at present concern ourselves. In spite of the high claims it makes for the theoretical significance of moral ideas, its adherents have not as yet devoted much attention to the question of the worth of these moral ideas and the criteria by which that worth may be determined. Yet this surely is the fundamental question for ethical theory. On the other hand, as against a merely theoretical interpretation of the universe, into which the moral element enters only as a sort of loosely-connected appendix, the pragmatists are amply justified. Practical ends are prior to theoretical explanations of what happens. But practical ends vary, and some measure of their relative values is needed.

There is one thing which all reasoning about morality assumes and must assume; and that is morality itself. The moral concept whether described as worth or as duty or as goodness cannot be distilled out of any knowledge about the laws of existence or of occurrence. Nor will speculation about the real conditions of experience yield it, unless adequate recognition be first of all given to the fact that the experience which is the subject-matter of philosophy is not merely a sensuous and thinking, but also a moral, experience. The approval of the good, the disapproval of the evil, and the preference of the better: these would seem to be basal facts for an adequate philosophical theory: and they imply the striving for a best however imperfect the apprehension of that best may always remain. Only when these facts the characteristic facts of moral experience are recognised as constituents of the experience which is our subject-matter, are we in a position profitably to enquire what is good and what evil, and how the best is to be conceived.

The recognition of these facts would only be a beginning; but it would be a beginning which would avoid the cardinal error fallen into not only by the leading exponents of evolutionist morality, but also to be found in much of the ethical work of idealist metaphysicians. It seems to have been assumed that moral principles can be reached by the application of scientific generalisations or of the results of a metaphysical analysis which has started by overlooking the facts of the moral consciousness. Even as a metaphysic this procedure is inadequate; and the interpretations of reality to which it has led have erred by over-intellectuality.

The systems of naturalism and of idealism, whose ethical consequences have been passed in review, have one feature in common; and it is a feature which from of old has been regarded as a mark of genuine philosophy. They both seek the One in the many; but they seek it on different roads. For the naturalist the most comprehensive description of things may be the conception of mass-points in motion; or it may be some more recondite conception to which physical analysis points. In either case the unity reached will be mechanical. For the idealist, on the other hand, reason may be said to be the central principle of things: the unity of reality is a rational unity. I have contended in these lectures that neither the mechanical unity of the naturalists nor the rational unity of the idealists has succeeded in comprehending within its unifying principle the essential nature of morality with its deep-going dualism of good and evil. But while I have maintained that even the conception of reality as the reproduction of itself by an eternal self-consciousness is an inadequate conception, it is still possible to hold that reality is a connected whole, and that its true principle of unity is an ethical principle.

If I were asked what is meant by an ethical unity, I should answer, in the first place, that it implies purpose. The unity of reality is not exhibited by a description of its present or past conditions or even by an account of its causal connexions. These modes of description are all affected by the fragmentariness which always belongs to temporal apprehension. But, when things are seen in the light of a purpose, a view of them as a whole becomes possible, and the fragmentariness of time is transcended. And, in the second place, I should say that an ethical unity implies the presence within itself of different finite centres of conscious activity, whose freedom is not inconsistent with their relation to one another and to the Whole.

In his own life, so far as it is a moral life, each individual seeks system or unity. And this unity is realised on three different levels as we may call them which may be distinguished for clearness’ sake, though it is not possible actually to separate them. On each level morality is realised through system, and system is brought about by the rule of the morally higher and the submission of the morally lower: in this goodness lies, in the opposite evil. If we isolate the individual and consider him apart, he may be said to attain goodness by the due ordering and control of his sensuous and passional nature by rational or spiritual ends. The result may be described, negatively, as the suppression of sensualism. But the positive description remains imperfect until we can say what the rational or spiritual principle is which is to weld all man’s ’particular impulses’ into an organic whole.

And this cannot be done so long as we contemplate the mere individual in isolation. We cannot remain at the level of bare individuality. Personality itself is not a merely individual product: neither the knowledge nor the activity of the individual can be explained without reference to his position as a member of society; his inheritance is a social inheritance. Nor can the individual establish a claim to deal with his own personality as a merely individual end. It is a factor in social life; and, in systematising his own life, he must have regard to the social factor. In this respect he attains goodness only when his individual life seeks a unity higher than that of his own individuality, and not centred in his selfish interests. From this point of view we may say, again negatively, that goodness consists in the suppression of selfishness. But once again there is a difficulty about the positive description. Many moralists, undoubtedly, are content to rest with the social aspect: to regard the ‘health’ or ‘vitality’ of society as the final expression of morality. But a life which is simply absorbed by society cannot be said to be a perfect unity. Society itself is a process; and its changes are determined in large measure by the moral ideals of its members. For its unity we must look to an end an ideal of which its actual forms can offer indications only. Both man and society are factors in a universal order; and their perfection cannot be independent of the purpose of this order. When the consciousness of it fills man’s life, morality is merged in religion.