The Meaning of Good--A Dialogue
G. Lowes Dickinson
Part 2 out of 4
does not build in the void, evoking from his own consciousness
a Cloud-Cuckoo-city for the Birds; on the contrary, he bases
his structure upon the actual, following the general plan of the
institutions of Sparta and Crete; and neither to him nor to Aristotle
does it ever occur that there is, or could be, any form of state worth
considering, except the city-state with which they were familiar. It
is the same with their treatment of ethics; their ideal is that of
the Greeks, not of Man in general, and stands in close relation to the
facts of contemporary life. So, too, with their art; it is not,
like that of our modern romanticists, an impotent yearning for
vaguely-imagined millenniums. On the contrary, it is an ideal
interpretation of their own activity, a mirror focussing into feature
and form the very same fact which they saw distorted and blurred in
the troubled stream of time. The Good, in the Greek world, was simply
the essence and soul of the Real; and the Socrates of Xenophon who
frankly identified justice with the laws, was only expressing, and
hardly with exaggeration, the current convictions of his countrymen.
That, to my mind, is the attitude of health; and it is the one natural
to the plain man in every well-organized society. Good is best known
when it is not investigated; and people like ourselves would do no
useful service if we were to induce in others the habit of discussion
which education has made a second nature to ourselves."
"My dear Parry!" cried Ellis, "you alarm me! Is it possible that we
are all anarchists in disguise?"
"Parry," I observed, "seems to agree with the view attributed by
Browning to Paracelsus, that thought is disease, and natural health is
"Well," rejoined Ellis, "there is a good deal to be said for that."
"There's a good deal to be said for everything," I rejoined. "But
if thought indeed be disease, we must recognise the fact that we are
suffering from it; and so, I fear, is the whole modern world. It was
easy for the Greeks to be 'healthy'; practically they had no past. But
for us the past overweights the present; we cannot, if we would,
get rid of the burden of it. All that was once absolute has become
relative, including our own conceptions and ideals; and as we look
back down the ages and see civilization after civilization come into
being, flourish and decay, it is impossible for us to believe that
the society in which we happen to be born is more ultimate than any
of these, or that its ideal, as reflected in its institutions, has
any more claim than theirs to be regarded as a final and absolute
expression of Good."
"Well," said Parry, "let us admit, if you like, that ideals evolve,
but, in any case, the ideal of our own time has more validity for
us than any other. As to those of the past, they were, no doubt,
important in their day, but they have no importance for the modern
world. The very fact that they are past is proof that they are also
"What!" cried Leslie, indignantly, "do you mean to say that everything
that is later in time is also better? That we are better artists than
the Greeks? better citizens than the Romans? more spiritual than the
men of the Middle Ages? more vigorous than those of the Renaissance?"
"I don't know," replied Parry, "that I am bound to maintain all that.
I only say that on the whole I believe that ideals progress; and that
therefore it is the ideals of our own time, and that alone, which we
ought practically to consider."
"The ideal of our own time?" I said, "but which of them? there are so
"No, there is really only one, as I said before; the one that is
embodied in current laws and customs."
"But these are always themselves in process of change."
"Yes, gradual change."
"Not necessarily gradual; and even if it were, still change. And to
sanction a change, however slight, may always mean, in the end, the
sanctioning of a whole revolution."
"Besides," cried Leslie, "even if there were anything finally
established, what right have we to judge that the established is the
"I don't know that we have any right; but I am sure it is what we do."
"Perhaps we do, many of us," I said, "but always, so far as we
reflect, with a lurking sense that we may be all wrong. Or how else do
you account for the curious, almost physical, sinking and disquiet we
are apt to experience in the presence of a bold denier?"
"I don't know that I do experience it."
"Do you not? I do so often; and only yesterday I had a specially vivid
experience of the kind."
"What was that?"
"Well, I was reading Nietzsche."
"Who is he?"
"A German writer. It does not much matter, but I had him in my mind
when I was speaking."
"Well, but what does he say?"
"It's not so much what he says, as what he denies."
"What does he deny, then?"
"Everything that you, I suppose, would assert. I should conjecture,
at least, that you believe in progress, democracy, and all the rest of
"Well, he repudiates all that. Everything that you would reckon as
progress, he reckons as decadence. Democracy he regards, with all that
it involves, as a revolt of the weak against the strong, of the bad
against the good, of the herd against the master. Every great society,
in his view, is aristocratic, and aristocratic in the sense that the
many are deliberately and consciously sacrificed to the few; and
that, not as a painful necessity, but with a good conscience, in free
obedience to the universal law of the world. 'Be strong, be hard' are
his ultimate ethical principles. The modern virtues, or what we affect
to consider such, sympathy, pity, justice, thrift, unselfishness and
the like, are merely symptoms of moral degeneration. The true and
great and noble man is above all things selfish; and the highest type
of humanity is to be sought in Napoleon or Caesar Borgia."
"But that's mere raving!"
"So you are pleased to say; and so, indeed, it really may be. But
not simply because it contradicts those current notions which we are
embodying, as fast as we can, in our institutions. It is precisely
those notions that it challenges; and it is idle to meet it with a
"I can conceive no better way of meeting it!"
"Perhaps, for purposes of battle. Yet, even so, you would surely be
stronger if you had reason for your faith."
"But I think my reason sufficient--those are not the ideas of the
"But for all you know they may be those of the next."
"Well, that will be its concern."
"But surely, on your own theory, it must also be yours; for you said
that the later was also the better. And the better, I suppose, is what
you want to attain."
"Well then, in supporting the ideas and institutions generally
current, you may be hindering instead of helping the realization of
the Good you want to achieve."
"But I don't believe Nietzsche's ideas ever could represent the Good!"
"Because I don't."
"But, at any rate, do you abandon the position that we can take the
ideas of our time as a final criterion?"
"I suppose so--I don't know--I'm sure there's something in it! Do you
believe yourself that they have no import for us?"
"I didn't say that; but I think we have to find what the import is.
We cannot substitute for our own judgment the mere fact of a current
convention, any more than we can substitute the mere fact of the
tendency of Nature. For, after all, it is the part of a moral reformer
to modify the convention. Or do you not think so?"
"Perhaps," he admitted, "it may be!"
"Perhaps it may be!" cried Leslie, "but palpably it is! Is there any
institution or law or opinion you could name which is not open to
obvious criticism? Take what you will--parliamentary government, the
family, the law of real property--is there one of them that could be
adequately and successfully defended?"
"Certainly!" began Parry, with some indignation. "The family--"
"Oh," I interrupted, "we are not yet in a position to discuss that!
But upon one thing we seem to be agreed--that whatever may be the
value of current standards of Good in assisting our judgment, we
cannot permit them simply to supersede it by an act of authority. And
so once more we are thrown back each upon his own opinions."
"To which, according to you," interposed Parry, "we are bound to
attach some validity."
"And yet which we are aware," added Ellis, "cannot possibly have any."
I was about to protest against this remark when I saw, coming round
from the garden, Bartlett and Dennis, the two remaining members of our
party. They had just returned from a mountaineering expedition; and
now, having had their bath, had come out to join us in our usual
place of assembly. Bartlett had in his hand the _Times_ and the _Daily
Chronicle_. He was a keen business man, and a Radical politician of
some note; and though not naturally inclined to speculative thought,
would sometimes take part in our discussions if ever they seemed to
touch on any practical issue. On these occasions his remarks were
often very much to the point; but his manner being somewhat aggressive
and polemic, his interposition did not always tend to make smooth
the course of debate. It was therefore with mingled feelings of
satisfaction and anxiety that I greeted his return. After some
talk about their expedition, he turned to me and said, "We ought to
apologise, I suppose, for interrupting a discussion?"
"Not at all!" I replied; "but, as you are here, perhaps you will be
willing to help us?"
"Oh," he said, "I leave that to Dennis. This kind of thing isn't much
in my line."
"What kind of thing?" Leslie interjected. "I don't believe you even
know what we're talking about!"
"Talking about. Why, philosophy, of course! What else should it be
when you get together?"
"This time," I said, "it's not exactly philosophy, but something more
"What is the question?" asked Dennis.
Dennis was always ready for a discussion, and the more abstract
the theme, the better he was pleased. He had been trained for the
profession of medicine, but coming into possession of a fortune, had
not found it necessary to practise, and had been devoting his time for
some years past to Art and Metaphysics. I always enjoyed talking to
him, though the position he had come to hold was one which I found it
very difficult to understand, and I am not sure that I have been able
to represent it fairly.
"We have been discussing," I said, in answer to his question, "our
judgments about what is good, and trying without much success to get
over the difficulty, that whereas, on the one hand, we seem to be
practically obliged to trust these judgments, on the other we find it
hard to say which of them, if any, are true, and how far and in what
"Oh," he replied, "then Bartlett ought really to be able to help you.
At any rate he's very positive himself about what's good and what's
bad. Curiously enough, he and I have been touching upon the same
point as you, and I find, among other things, that he is a convinced
"I never said so," said Bartlett, "but I have no objection to the
word. It savours of healthy homes and pure beer!"
"And is that your idea of Good?" asked Leslie, irritated, as I could
see, by this obtrusion of the concrete.
"Yes," he replied, "why not? It's as good an idea as most."
"I suppose," I said, "all of us here should agree that the things you
speak of are good. But somebody might very well deny it."
"Of course somebody can deny anything, if only for the sake of
"You mean that no one could be serious in such a denial?"
"I mean that everybody really knows perfectly well what is good and
what is bad; the difficulty is, not to know it, but to do it!"
"But surely you will admit that opinions do differ?"
"They don't differ nearly so much as people pretend, on important
points; or, if they do, the difference is not about what ought to be
done, but about how to do it."
"What ought to be done, then?" asked Leslie defiantly.
"Well, for example we ought to make our cities decent and healthy."
"Because we ought; or, if you like, because it will make people
"But I don't like at all! I don't see that it's necessarily good to
make people happy."
"Oh well, if you deny that--"
"Well, if I deny that?"
"I don't believe you to be serious, that's all. Good simply means,
what makes people happy; and you must know that as well as I do."
"You see!" interposed Dennis; "I told you he was a Utilitarian."
"I daresay I am; at any rate, that's what I think; and so, I believe,
does everybody else."
"'The Universe,'" murmured Ellis, "'so far as sane conjecture can go,
is an immeasurable swine's trough, consisting of solid and liquid, and
of other contrasts and kinds; especially consisting of attainable
and unattainable, the latter in immensely greater quantities for most
"That's very unfair," Parry protested, "as an account of Hedonism."
"I don't see that it is at all," cried Leslie.
"I think," I said, "that it represents Bentham's position well enough,
though probably not Bartlett's."
"Oh well," said Parry, "Bentham was only an egoistic Hedonist."
"A what?" said Bartlett.
"An egoistic Hedonist."
"And what may that be?"
"An egoistic Hedonist," Parry was beginning, but Ellis cut him short.
"It's best explained," he said, "by an example. Here, for example,
is Bentham's definition of the pleasures of friendship; they are, he
says, 'those which accompany the persuasion of possessing the goodwill
of such and such individuals, and the right of expecting from them, in
consequence, spontaneous and gratuitous services.'"
We all laughed, though Parry, who loved fair play, could not help
protesting. "You really can't judge," he said, "by a single example."
"Can't you?" cried Ellis; "well then, here's another. 'The pleasures
of piety' are 'those which accompany the persuasion of acquiring
or possessing the favour of God; and the power, in consequence, of
expecting particular favours from him, either in this life or in
We laughed again; and Parry said, "Well, I resign myself to your
levity. And after all, it doesn't much matter, for no one now is an
"What are we then," asked Bartlett, "you and I?"
"Why, of course, altruistic Hedonists," said Parry.
"And what's the difference?"
"The difference is," Parry began to explain, but Ellis interrupted him
"The difference is," he cried, "that one is a brute and the other a
"Really, Ellis," Parry began in a tone of remonstrance.
"But, Parry," I interposed, "are you a Utilitarian?"
"Not precisely," he replied; "but my conclusions are much the same
as theirs. And of all the _a priori_ systems I prefer Utilitarianism,
because it is at least clear, simple, and precise."
"That is what I can never see that it is."
"Why, what is your difficulty?"
"In the first place," I said, "the system appears to rest upon a
"True," he said, "but that particular dogma--the greatest happiness
of the greatest number--is one which commends itself to everyone's
"I don't believe it!" said Ellis. "Let us take an example. A
crossing-sweeper, we will suppose, is suffering from a certain disease
about which the doctors know nothing. Their only chance of discovering
how to cure it is to vivisect the patient; and it is found, by the
hedonistic calculus, that if they do so, a general preponderance
of pleasure over pain will result. Accordingly, they go to the
crossing-sweeper and say,'O crossing-sweeper! In the name of the
utilitarian philosophy we call upon you to submit to vivisection. The
tortures you will have to endure, it is true, will be inconceivable:
but think of the result! A general preponderance in the community at
large of pleasure over pain! For every atom of pain inflicted on you,
an atom of pleasure will accrue to somebody else. Upon you, it is
true, will fall the whole of the pain; whereas the pleasure will be so
minutely distributed among innumerable individuals that the increment
in each case will be almost imperceptible. No matter, it will be
there! and our arithmetic assures us that the total gain in pleasure
will exceed the total loss in pain. It will also be distributed among
a greater number of individuals. Thus all the requirements of the
hedonistic calculus are satisfied! Your duty lies plain before you!
Rise to the height of your destiny, and follow us to the dissecting
room! What do you think the crossing-sweeper would say? I leave it to
Bartlett to express his sentiments!"
"My dear Ellis," said Parry, "your example is absurd. The case, to
begin with, is one that could not possibly occur. And even if it did,
one could not expect the man who was actually to suffer, to take an
impartial view of the situation."
"But," I said, "putting the sufferer out of the question, what would
really be the opinion of the people for whom he was to suffer? Do you
think they would believe they ought to accept the sacrifice? Every
man, I think, would repudiate it with horror for himself; and what
right has he to accept it for other people?"
"On the utilitarian hypothesis," said Parry, "he certainly ought to."
"No doubt; but would he? Utilitarianism claims to rest upon common
sense, but, in the case adduced, I venture to think common sense would
"Perhaps," he said, "but the example is misleading. It is a case, as I
said, that could not occur--a mere marginal case."
"Still," I said, "a marginal case may suggest a fundamental fallacy.
Anyhow, I cannot see myself that the judgment that the greatest
happiness of the greatest number is good has a more obvious and
indisputable validity than any other judgments of worth. It seems to
me to be just one judgment among others; and, like the others, it may
be true or false. However, I will not press that point. But what I
should like to insist upon is, that the doctrine which Bartlett seemed
"I hold no doctrine," interrupted Bartlett; "I merely expressed an
opinion, which I am not likely to change for all the philosophy in
the world." And with that he opened the _Chronicle_, and presently
becoming absorbed, paid for some time no further attention to the
course of our debate.
"Well," I continued, "the doctrine, whether Bartlett holds it or
no, that the ultimately good thing is the greatest happiness of the
greatest number, cannot be insisted upon as one which appeals at
once to everyone's consciousness as true, so that, in fact, since its
enunciation, the controversy about Good may be regarded as closed. It
will hardly be maintained, I imagine, even by Parry, that the truth of
the doctrine is a direct and simple intuition, so that it has only to
be stated to be accepted?"
"Certainly not," Parry replied, "the contention of the Utilitarians
is that everyone who has the capacity and will take the trouble to
reflect will, in fact, arrive at their conclusions."
"The conclusions being like other conclusions about what is good, the
result of a difficult process of analysis, in which there are many
possibilities of error, and no more self-evident and simple than any
other judgment of the kind?"
"And further, the general principle, tentative and uncertain as it is,
requiring itself to be perpetually interpreted anew for every fresh
case that turns up."
"How do you mean?"
"Why," I said, "even if we grant that the end of action is the
greatest happiness of the greatest number, yet we have still to
discover wherein that happiness consists."
"But," he said, "happiness we define quite simply as pleasure."
"Yes; but how do we define pleasure?"
"We don't need to define it. Pleasure and pain are simply sensations.
If I cut my finger, I feel pain; if I drink when I am thirsty, I
feel pleasure. There can be no mistake about these feelings; they are
simple and radical."
"Undoubtedly. But if you limit pleasure and pain to such simple cases
as these, you will never get out of them a system of Ethics. And, on
the other hand, if you extend the terms indefinitely, they lose at
once all their boasted precision, and become as difficult to interpret
as Good and Evil."
"How do you mean?"
"Why," I said, "if all conduct turned on such simple choices as that
between thick soup and clear, then perhaps its rules might be fairly
summed up in the utilitarian formula. But in fact, as everyone knows,
the choices are far more difficult; they are between, let us say, a
bottle of port and a Beethoven symphony; leisure and liberty now, or
L1000 a-year twenty years hence; art and fame at the cost of health,
or sound nerves and obscurity; and so on, and so on through all
the possible cases, infinitely more complex in reality than I could
attempt to indicate here, all of which, no doubt, could be brought
under your formula, but none of which the formula would help to
"Of course," said Parry, "the hedonistic calculus is difficult to
apply. No one, that I know of, denies that."
"No one could very well deny it," I replied. "But now, see what
follows. Granting, for the moment, for the sake of argument, that in
making these difficult choices we really do apply what you call the
"Which I, for my part, altogether deny!" cried Leslie.
"Well," I resumed, "but granting it for the moment, yet the important
point is not the criterion, but the result. It is a small thing to
know in general terms (supposing even it were true that we do know it)
that what we ought to seek is a preponderance of pleasure over pain;
the whole problem is to discover, in innumerable detailed cases,
wherein precisely the preponderance consists. But this can only be
learnt, if at all, by long and difficult, and, it may be, painful
experience. We do not really know, _a priori_, what things are
pleasurable, in the extended sense which we must give to the word if
the doctrine is to be at all plausible, any more definitely than we
know what things are good. And the Utilitarians by substituting
the word Pleasure for the word Good, even if the substitution were
legitimate, have not really done much to help us in our choice."
"But," he objected, "we do at least know what Pleasure is, even if we
do not know what things are pleasurable."
"And so I might say we do know what Good is, even if we do not know
what things are good."
"But we know Pleasure by direct sensation."
"And so I might say we know Good by direct perception."
"But you cannot define Good."
"Neither can you define Pleasure. Both must be recognised by direct
"But, at any rate," he said, "there is this distinction, that in the
case of Pleasure everyone _does_ recognise it when it occurs; whereas
there is no such general recognition of Good."
"That," I admitted, "may, perhaps, be true; I am not sure."
"But," broke in Leslie, "what does it matter whether it be true or
no? What has all this to do with the question? It's immaterial whether
Pleasure or Good is the more easily and generally recognisable. The
point is that they are radically different things."
"No," objected Parry, "_our_ point is that they are the same thing."
"But I don't believe you really think so, or that anyone can."
"And _I_ don't believe that anyone _cannot_!"
"Do you mean to say that you really agree with Bentham that, quantity
of pleasure being equal, pushpin is as good as poetry?"
"Yes; at least I agree with what he means, though the particular
example doesn't appeal to me, for I hardly know what either pushpin or
"Well then, let us take Plato's example. Do you think that, quantity
of pleasure being equal, scratching oneself when one itches is as good
as, say, pursuing scientific research."
"Yes. But of course the point is that quantity of pleasure is not
"You mean," interposed Ellis, "that there is more pleasure in
"No, of course not."
"But at least you will admit that there is more pleasure in some
physical experiences? Plato, for example, takes the case of a
"I admit nothing of the kind. In the first place, these gross physical
pleasures do not last."
"But suppose they did? Imagine an eternal, never-changing bliss of
scratching, or of--"
"I don't see the use of discussing the matter in this kind of way. It
seems to me to deserve serious treatment"
"But I am perfectly serious. I do genuinely believe that a heaven of
scratching, or at any rate of some analogous but intenser experience,
would involve an indefinitely greater sum of pleasure than a heaven of
"Well, all I can say is, I don't agree with you."
"But why not?" cried Leslie. "If you were candid I believe you would.
The fact is that you have predetermined that scientific research is a
better thing than such physical pleasure, and then you bring out your
calculation of pleasure so as to agree with that foregone conclusion.
And that is what the Utilitarians always do. Being ordinary decent
people they accept the same values as the rest of the world, and on
the same grounds as the rest of the world. And then they pretend,
and no doubt believe themselves, that they have been led to their
conclusions by the hedonistic calculus. But really, if they made an
impartial attempt to apply the calculus fairly, they would arrive
at quite different results, results which would surprise and shock
themselves, and destroy the whole plausibility of their theory."
"That is your view of the matter."
"But isn't it yours?"
"No, certainly not."
"At any rate," I interposed, "it seems to be clear that this
utilitarian doctrine has nothing absolute or final or self-evident
about it. All we can say is that among the many opinions about what
things are good, there is also this opinion, very widely held, that
all pleasurable things are good, and that nothing is good that is not
pleasurable. But that, like any other opinion, can be and is disputed.
So that we return pretty much to the point we left, that there are
a number of conflicting opinions about what things are good, that
to these opinions some validity must be attached, but that it is
difficult to see how we are to reconcile them or to choose between
them. Only, somehow or other, as it seems to me, the truth about Good
must be adumbrated in these opinions, and by interrogating the actual
experience of men in their judgments about good things, we may perhaps
be able to get at least some, shadowy notion of the object of our
"And so," said Ellis, getting up and stretching himself, "even by your
own confession we end where we began."
"Not quite," I replied. "Besides, have we ended?"
For some minutes it seemed as though we had. The mid-day heat (it was
now twelve o'clock) and the silence broken only by the murmur of
the fountain (for the mowers opposite had gone home to their dinner)
seemed to have induced a general disinclination to the effort of
speech or thought Even Dennis whom I had never known to be tired in
body or mind, and who was always debating something--it seemed to
matter very little what--even he, I thought at first, was ready to let
the discussion drop. But presently it became clear that he was only
revolving my last words in his mind, for before long he turned to me
"I don't know what you mean by 'interrogating experience,' or what
results you hope to attain by that process." At this Leslie pricked
up his ears, and I saw that he at least was as eager as ever to pursue
the subject further.
"Why," continued Dennis, "should there not be a method of discovering
Good independently of all experience?"
The phrase immediately arrested Wilson's attention.
"'A method independent of experience,'" he cried, "why, what kind of a
method would that be?"
"It is not so easy to describe," replied Dennis. "But I was thinking
of the kind of method, for example, that is worked out by Hegel in his
"I have never read Hegel," said Wilson. "So that doesn't convey much
to my mind."
"Well," said Dennis, "I am afraid I can't summarize him!"
"Can't you?" cried Ellis, "I can! Here he is in a nutshell! Take any
statement you like--for example, 'Nothing exists!'--put it into the
dialectical machine, turn the handle, and hey presto! out comes the
Absolute! The thing's infallible; it does not matter what you put in;
you always get out the same identical sausage."
Dennis laughed. "There, Wilson," he said, "I hope you understand now!"
"I can't say I do," replied Wilson, "but I daresay it doesn't much
"Perhaps, then," said Ellis, "you would prefer the Kantian plan."
"What is that?"
"Oh, it's much simpler than the other. You go into your room, lock the
door, and close the shutters, excluding all light Then you proceed
to invert the mind, so as to relieve it of all its contents; look
steadily into the empty vessel, as if it were a well; and at the
bottom you will find Truth in the form of a categorical imperative.
Or, if you don't like that, there's the method of Fichte. You take an
Ego, by preference yourself; convert it into a proposition; negate it,
affirm it, negate it again, and so on _ad infinitum_, until you get
out the whole Universe in the likeness of yourself. But that's rather
a difficult method; probably you would prefer Spinoza's. You take--"
"No!" cried Dennis, "there I protest! Spinoza is too venerable a
"So are they all, all venerable names," said Ellis. "But the question
is, to which of them do you swear allegiance? For they all arrive at
totally different results."
"I don't know that I swear allegiance to any of them," he replied. "I
merely ventured to suggest that it is only by some such method of pure
reason that one can ever hope to discover Good."
"You do not profess then," I said, "to have discovered any such method
"Nor do you feel sure that anyone else has?"
"You simply lie down and block the road?"
"Yes," he said, "and you may walk over me if you can."
"No," I said, "It will be simpler, I think, if possible, to walk round
you." For by this time an idea had occurred to me.
"Do so," he said, "by all means, if you can."
"Well" I began, "let us suppose for the sake of argument that there
really is some such method as you suggest of discovering Good--a
purely rational method, independent of all common experience."
"Let us suppose it," he said, "if you are willing."
"Is it your idea then," I continued, "that this Good so discovered,
would be out of all relation to what we call goods? Or would it be
merely the total reality of which they are imperfect and inadequate
"I do not see," he said, "why it should have any relationship to them.
All the things we call good may really be bad; or some good and some
bad in a quite chaotic fashion. There is no reason to suppose that
our ideas about Good have any validity unless it were by an accidental
"And further," I said, "though we really do believe there is a
Good, and that there is a purely rational and _a priori_ method of
discovering it, yet we do not profess to have ascertained that method
ourselves, nor do we feel sure that it has been ascertained by anyone?
In any case, we admit, I suppose, that to the great mass of men, both
of our own and all previous ages, such a method has remained unknown
"But these men, nevertheless, have been pursuing Goods under the
impression that they were really good."
"And in this pursuit they have been expending, great men and small
alike, or rather those whom we call great and small, all that store
of energy, of passion, and blood and tears which makes up the drama of
"But that expenditure, as we now see, was futile and absurd. The
purposes to which it was directed were not really good, nor had they
any tendency to promote Good, unless it were in some particular
case by some fortunate chance. Whatever men have striven to achieve,
whether like Christ, to found a religion, or, like Caesar, to found
a polity, whether their quest were virtue or power or truth, or any
other of the ends we are accustomed to value and praise, or whether
they sought the direct opposites of these, or simply lived from hour
to hour following without reflexion the impulse of the moment, in any
and every case all alike, great and small, good and bad, leaders and
followers, or however else we may class them, were, in fact, equally
insignificant and absurd, the idle sport of illusions, one as
empty and baseless as another. The history of nations, the lives
of individual men, are stripped, in this view, of all interest and
meaning; nowhere is there advance or retrogression, nowhere better or
worse, nowhere sense or consistency at all. Systems, however imposing,
structures, however vast, fly into dust and powder at a touch. The
stars fall from the human firmament; the beacon-lights dance like
will-o'-the-wisps; the whole universe of history opens, cracks, and
dissolves in smoke; and we, from an ever-vanishing shore, gaze with
impotent eyes at the last gleam on the wings of the dove of Reason as
it dips for ever down to eternal night. Will not that be the only
view we can take of the course of human action if we hold that what we
believe to be goods have no relation to the true Good?"
"Yes," he admitted, "I suppose it will."
"And if we turn," I continued, "from the past to the present and the
future, we find ourselves, I think, in even worse case. For we
shall all, those of us who may come to accept the hypothesis you put
forward, be deprived of the consolation even of imagining a reason and
purpose in our lives. The great men of the past, at any rate, could
and did believe that they were helping to realize great Goods; but
we, in so far as we are philosophers, shall have to forego even that
satisfaction. We shall believe, indeed, that Good exists, and that
there is a method of discovering it by pure reason; but this method,
we may safely assume, we shall not most of us have ascertained. Or do
you think we shall?"
"I cannot tell," he said; "I do not profess to have ascertained it
"And meantime," I said, "you have not even the right to assume that
it is a good thing to endeavour to ascertain it. For the pursuit of
Truth, it must be admitted, is one of the things which we call
good; and these, we agreed, have not any relation to the true Good.
Consider, then, the position of these unfortunate men who have learnt
indeed that there is a Good, but who know nothing about it, except
that it has nothing to do with what they call good. What kind of life
will they live? Whatever they may put their hand to, they will at once
be paralyzed by the thought that it cannot possibly be worth pursuing.
Politics, art, pleasure, science--of these and all other ends
they know but one thing, that all is vanity. As by the touch of
enchantment, their world is turned to dust. Like Tantalus they stretch
lips and hands towards a water for ever vanishing, a fruit for
ever withdrawn. At war with empty phantoms, they 'strike with their
spirit's knife,' as Shelley has it, 'invulnerable nothings,' Dizzy and
lost they move about in worlds not only unrealized, but unrealizable,
'children crying in the night, with no language but a cry,' and no
father to cry to. And in all this blind confusion the only comfort
vouchsafed is that somehow or other they may, they cannot tell how,
discover a Good of which the only thing they know is that it has no
connection with the Goods they have lost. Is not this a fair account
of the condition to which men would be reduced who really did accept
and believe your hypothesis?"
"Yes," he said, "perhaps it is, but still I must protest against this
appeal to prejudice and passion. Supposing the truth really were as I
suggested, we should have to face it, whether or no it seemed to ruin
our own life."
"Yes," I agreed, "supposing the truth were so. But, after all, we have
no sufficient theoretical reason for believing it to be so, and
every kind of practical reason against it. We cannot, it is true,
demonstrate--and that was admitted from the first--that any of our
judgments about what is good are true; but there is no reason why we
should not believe--and I should say we must believe--that somehow or
other they do at least have truth in them."
"Well, and if so?"
"If so, we do not depend, as you said we do, or at least we do not
believe ourselves to depend, for our knowledge about Good, upon some
purely rational process not yet discovered; but those things which
we judge to be good really, we think, in some sense or so, and by
analyzing and classifying and comparing our experiences of such things
we may come to see more clearly what it is in them that we judge to be
good; and again by increasing experience we may come to know more Good
than we knew; and generally, if we once admit that we have some light,
we may hope, by degrees, to get more; and that getting of more light
will be the most important business, not only of philosophy, but of
"But if we can judge of Good at all, why do we not judge rightly?
If we really have a perception, how is it that it is confused, not
"I cannot tell how or why; but perhaps it is something of this kind.
Our experience, in the first place, is limited, and we cannot know
Good except in so far as we experience it--so, at least, I think,
though perhaps you may not agree. And if that be so, even if our
judgments about Good that we have experienced were clear, our
conclusions drawn from them would yet be very imperfect and tentative,
because there would be so much Good that we had not experienced. But,
in fact, as it seems, our judgments even about what we do experience
are confused, because every experience is indefinitely complex, and
contains, along with the Good, so much that is indifferent or bad. And
to analyze out precisely what it is that we are judging to be good is
often a difficult and laborious task, though it is one that should be
a main preoccupation with us all."
"You think, then, that there are two reasons for the obscurity and
confusion that prevail in our judgments about Good--one, that our
experience is limited, the other that it is complex?"
"Yes; and our position in this respect, as it always seems to me, is
like that of people who are learning to see, or to develop some other
sense. Something they really do perceive, but they find it hard to say
what. Their knowledge of the object depends on the state of the organ;
and it is only by the progressive perfecting of that, that they can
settle their doubts and put an end to their disputes, whether with
themselves or with other people."
"How do you mean?"
"Well, if you will allow me to elaborate my metaphor, I conceive that
we have a kind of internal sense, like a rudimentary eye, whose
nature it is to be sensitive to Good, just as it is the nature of
the physical eye to be sensitive to light. But this eye of the soul,
being, as I said, rudimentary, does not as yet perceive Good with any
clearness or precision, but only in a faint imperfect way, catching
now one aspect of it, now another, but never resting content in any of
these, being driven on by the impulse to realize itself to ever surer
and finer discrimination, with the sense that it is learning its own
nature as it learns that of its object, and that it will never be
itself a true and perfect organ until it is confronted with the true
and perfect Good. And as by the physical eye we learn by degrees
to distinguish colours and forms, to separate and combine them,
and arrange them in definite groups, and then, going further, after
discerning in this way a world of physical things, proceed to fashion
for our delight a world of art, in that finer experience becoming
aware of our own finer self; so, by this eye of hers, does the soul,
by long and tentative effort, learn to distinguish and appraise the
Goods which Nature presents to her; and then, still unsatisfied,
proceed to shape for herself a new world, as it were, of moral art,
fashioning the relations of man to Nature and to his fellow-man under
the stress of her need to realize herself, ever creating and ever
destroying only to create anew, learning in the process her own
nature, yet aware that she has never learnt it, but passing on without
rest to that unimagined consummation wherein the impulse that urges
her on will be satisfied at last, and she will rest in the perfect
enjoyment of that which she knows to be Good, because in it she
has found not only her object but herself. Is not this a possible
"I do not say," he replied, "that it is impossible; but I still feel a
"What is it?" I said, "for I am anxious not to shirk anything."
"Well," he said, "you will remember when Parry suggested that the
perception of Good might perhaps be an instinct, you objected that
instincts conflict one with another, and that we therefore require
another faculty to choose between them. Now it seems to me that
your own argument is open to the same objection. You postulate some
faculty--which perhaps you might as well call an instinct--and
this faculty, as I understand you, in the effort to realize itself,
proceeds to discriminate various objects as good. But, now, does this
same faculty also know that the Goods are good, and which is better
than which, and generally in what relations they stand to one another
and to the absolutely Good? Or do we not require here, too, another
faculty to make these judgments, and must not this faculty, as I
said at first, have previously achieved, by some method of its own, a
knowledge of Good, in order that it may judge between Goods?"
"No," I said, "in that way you will get, as you hint, nothing but an
infinite regress. The perception of Good, whenever it comes, must be,
in the last analysis, something direct, immediate, and self-evident;
and so far I am in agreement with Parry. My only quarrel with him was
in regard to his assumption that the judgments we make about Good are
final and conclusive. The experiences we recognize as good are always,
it seems to me, also bad; because we are never able to apprehend or
experience what is absolutely Good. Only, as I like to believe--you
may say I have no grounds for the belief--we are always progressing
towards such a Good; and the more of it we apprehend and experience,
the more we are aware of our own well-being; or perhaps I ought to
say, of the well-being of that part of us, whatever it may be--I call
it the soul--which pursues after Good. For her attitude, perhaps you
will agree, towards her object, is not simply one of perception, but
one of appetency and enjoyment. Her aim is not merely to know Good,
but to experience it; so that along with her apprehension of Good goes
her apprehension of her own well-being, dependent upon and varying
with her relation to that, her object. Thus she is aware of a tension,
as it were, when she cannot expand, of a drooping and inanition when
nutriment fails, of a rush of health and vigour as she passes into a
new and larger life, as she freely unfolds this or that aspect of her
complex being, triumphs at last over an obstacle that has long hemmed
and thwarted her course, and rests for a moment in free and joyous
consciousness of self, like a stream newly escaped from a rocky gorge,
to meander in the sun through a green melodious valley. And this
perception she has of her own condition is like our perception of
health and disease. We know when we are well, not by any process of
ratiocination, by applying from without a standard of health deduced
by pure thought, but simply by direct sensation of well-being. So
it is with this soul of ours, which is conversant with Good. Her
perception of Good is but the other side of her perception of her own
well-being, for her well-being consists in her conformity to Good.
Thus every phase of her growth (in so far as she grows) is in
one sense good, and in another bad; good in so far as it is
self-expression, bad in so far as the expression is incomplete. From
the limitations of her being she flies, towards its expansion she
struggles; and by her perception that every Good she attains is also
bad, she is driven on in her quest of that ultimate Good which
would be, if she could reach it, at once the complete realization of
herself, and her complete conformity to Good."
"But," he objected, "apart from other difficulties, in your method of
discovering the Good is there no place for Reason at all?"
"I would not say that," I replied, "though I am bound to confess
that I see no place for what you call pure Reason. It is the part of
Reason, on my hypothesis, to tabulate and compare results. She
does not determine directly what is good, but works, as in all the
sciences, upon given data, recording the determinations not (in this
case) of the outer but of the inner sense, noticing what kinds of
activity satisfy, and to what degree, the expanding nature of this
soul that seeks Good, and deducing therefrom, so far as may be,
temporary rules of conduct based upon that unique and central
experience which is the root and foundation of the whole. Temporary
rules, I say, because, by the nature of the case, they can have in
them nothing absolute and final, inasmuch as they are mere deductions
from a process which is always developing and transforming itself.
Systems of morals, maxims of conduct are so many landmarks left to
show the route by which the soul is marching; casts, as it were, of
her features at various stages of her growth, but never the final
record of her perfect countenance. And that is why the current
morality, the positive institutions and laws, on which Parry insisted
with so much force, both have and have not the value he assigned to
them. They are in truth invaluable records of experience, and he is
rash who attacks them without understanding; and yet, in a sense,
they are only to be understood in order to be superseded, because the
experience they resume is not final, but partial and incomplete. Would
you agree with that, Parry, or no?"
"I am not sure," he said. "It would be a dangerous doctrine to put in
"Yes," I said, "but I fear that life itself is a dangerous thing,
and nothing we can do will make it safe. Our only hope is courage and
"But," said Dennis, "to return to the other point, on your view is our
knowledge of Good altogether subsequent to experience?"
"Yes," I replied, "our knowledge is, if you like; but it is a
knowledge of experience in Good. We first recognize Good by what
I call direct perception; then we analyze and define what we have
recognized; and the results of this process, I suppose, is what we
call knowledge, so far as it goes."
"And there can be no knowledge of Good independent of experience?"
"I do not know; perhaps there might be; only I should like to suggest
that even if we could arrive at such a knowledge by pure reason, we
should have achieved only a definition of Good, not Good itself; for
Good, I suppose you will agree, must be a state of experience, not a
"Even if it be so," he said, "it might still be possible to arrive at
its formula by pure reason."
"It may be so," I replied, "only I console myself with the thought,
that if, as is the case with so many of us, we cannot see our way
to any such method, we are not left, on my hypothesis, altogether
forlorn. For though we cannot know Good, we can go on realizing Goods,
and so making progress towards the ultimate Good, which is the goal
not merely of knowledge but of action."
"And how, may I ask," said Wilson, after a pause, "in your conception,
is Good related to Happiness?"
"That," I replied, "is one of the points we have to ascertain by
experience. For I regard the statement that happiness is the end as
one of the numerous attempts which men have made to interpret
the deliverances of their internal sense. I do not imagine the
interpretation to be final and complete, and indeed it is too abstract
and general to have very much meaning. But some meaning, no doubt,
it has; and exactly what, may form the subject of much interesting
discussion in detail, which belongs, however, rather to the question
of the content of Good, than to that of the method of discovering it."
"The method!" replied Wilson, "but have you really indicated a method
"I have indicated," I replied "what I suppose to be the method of all
science, namely, the interpretation of experience."
"But," he objected, "everything depends on the kind of
"True," I admitted, "but long ago I did my best to prove that we could
not learn anything about Good by the scientific method as you defined
it. For that can tell us only about what is, not about what ought to
be. At the same time, the recording and comparing and classifying of
the deliverances of this internal sense, has a certain analogy to the
procedure of science. At any rate, it might, I think, fairly be called
a method, though a method difficult to apply, and one, above
all, which only he can apply who has within himself the requisite
experience. And in this respect the study of the Good resembles the
study of the Beautiful."
"How do you mean?"
"Why," I said, "those who are conversant with the arts are well aware
that there is such a thing as a true canon, though they do not profess
to be in complete possession of it. They have a perception of the
Beautiful, not ready-made and final, but tentative and in process
of growth. This perception they cultivate by constant observation of
beautiful works, some more and some less, according to their genius
and opportunities; and thus they are always coming to see, though they
never see perfectly, just as I said was the case in the matter of the
"But," objected Parry, "what proof is there that there is any standard
at all in such matters?"
"There is no proof," I replied, "except the perception itself; and
that is sufficient proof to those who have it. And to some slight
extent, no doubt, all men have it; only many do not care to develop
it; and so, feeling in themselves that they have no standard of
judgment in art, they suppose that all others are like themselves;
and that there really is no standard and no knowledge possible in such
matters. And it is the same with Good; if a man will not choose to
cultivate his inner sense, and to train it to clear and ever clearer
perception, he will either never believe that there is any knowledge
of Good, or any meaning at all in the word; or else, since all men
feel the need of an end for action, he will have recourse to a fixed
dogma, taken up by accident and clung to with obstinate desperation,
without any root in his true inner nature; and to him all discussion
about Good will seem to be mere folly, since he will believe either
that he possesses it already or that it cannot be possessed at all.
Or If he ask after the method of discovering it, he will be unable
to understand it, because he does not choose to develop the necessary
experience; and so he will go through life for ever unconvinced,
arguing often and angrily, but always with no result, while all the
time the knowledge he denies is lying hidden within him, if only he
had the patience and faith to seek it there. But without that, there
is no possibility of convincing him; and it will be wiser altogether
to leave him alone. This, whether you call it a method or no, is the
only idea I can form as to the possibility of discovering what is
Beautiful and Good."
There was silence for a few moments, and then Wilson said:
"Do you mean to imply, on your hypothesis, that we all are always
"No," I said; "whatever I may think on that point, I have not
committed myself. It is enough for my purpose if we admit that we have
the faculty of seeking Good, supposing we choose to do so."
"And also the faculty of seeking Bad?"
"Possibly; I do not pronounce upon that."
"Well, anyhow, do you admit the existence of Bad?"
"Oh yes," I cried, "as much as you like; for it is bad, to my mind,
that we should be in a difficult quest of Good, instead of in secure
possession of it. And about the nature of that quest I make no facile
assumption. I do not pretend that what I have called the growth of the
soul from within is a smooth and easy process, a quiet unfolding of
leafy green in a bright and windless air. If I recognize the delight
of expansion, I recognize also the pain of repression--the thwarted
desire, the unfulfilled hope, the passion vain and abortive. I do not
say even whether or no, in this dim travail of the spirit, pleasure
prevails over pain, evil over good. The most I would claim is to have
suggested a meaning for our life in terms of Good; and my view, I half
hoped, would have appealed in particular to you, because what I have
offered is not an abstract formula, hard to interpret, hard to
relate to the actual facts of life, but an attempt to suggest the
significance of those facts themselves, to supply a key to the
cryptogram we call experience. And in proportion as we really believed
this view to be true, it would lead us not away from but into life,
not shutting us up, as has been too much the bent of philosophy, like
the homunculus of Goethe's 'Faust,' in the crystal phial of a set and
rigid system, to ring our little chiming bell and flash our tiny light
over the vast sea of experience, which all around us foams and floods,
myriad-streaming, immense, and clearly seen, yet never felt, through
that transparent barrier; but rather, like him when he broke the
glass, made free of the illimitable main, to follow under the yellow
moon the car of Galatea, her masque of nymphs and tritons, her gliding
pomp of cymbals and conchs, away through tempest and calm, by night or
day, companioned or alone, to the haunts of the far Cabeiri, and the
home where the Mothers dwell."
As I concluded, I looked across at Audubon, to see if I had made any
impression upon him. But he only smiled at me rather ironically
and said, "Is that meant, may I ask, for an account of everyday
"Rather," I replied, "for an interpretation of it."
"It would need a great deal of interpretation," he said, "to make
anything of the kind out of mine."
"No doubt," I said; "yet I am not without hope that the interpretation
may be true; and that some day you may recognize it to be so yourself.
Meantime, perhaps, I, who look on, see more of the game than you
who play it; and surely in moments of leisure like this you will not
refuse to listen to my poor attempt to read the riddle of the sphinx."
"Oh," he said, "I listen gladly enough, but as I would to a poem."
"And do you think," I replied, "that there is not more truth in poetry
than in philosophy or science?"
But Wilson entered a vigorous protest, and for a time there was a
babel of argument and declamation, from which no clear line of thought
disengaged itself. Dennis, however, in his persistent way, had been
revolving in his mind what I had said, and at the first opportunity he
turned to me with the remark, "There's one point in your position that
I can't understand. Do you mean to say that it is our seeking that
determines the Good, or the Good that determines our seeking."
"Really," I said, "I don't know. I should say both are true. We, in
the process of our seeking, affirm what we find to be good, and
in that sense determine for ourselves what for us was previously
indeterminate; but, on the other hand, our determination is not mere
caprice; it is determination of Good, which we must therefore suppose
somehow or other to 'be' before we discern it."
"But then, in what sense _is_ it?"
"That is what it is so hard to say. Perhaps it is the law of our
seeking, the creative and urging principle of the world, striving
through us to realize itself, and recognized by us in that effort and
"Then your hypothesis is that Good has to be brought about, even while
you admit that in some sense it is?"
"Yes, it exists partially, and it ought to come to exist completely."
"Well now, that is exactly what seems to me absurd. If Good is at all
it is eternal and complete."
"But then, I ask in my turn, in what sense _is_ it?"
"In the only sense that anything really is. The rest is nothing but
"What we call Evil, you mean, is nothing but appearance."
"You think, in fact, with the poet, that 'all that is, is good'?"
"Yes," he replied, "all that really is."
"Ah!" I said, "but in that 'really' lies the crux of the matter. Take,
for instance, a simple fact of our own experience--pain. Would you
say, perhaps, that pain is good?"
"No," he replied, "not as it appears to us; but as it really is."
"As it really is to whom, or in whom?"
"To the Absolute, we will say; to God, if you like."
"Well, but what is the relation of the pain as it is in God to the
pain that appears to us?"
"I don't pretend to know," he said, "but that is hardly the point. The
point is, that it is only in connection with what is in God that the
word Good has any real meaning. Appearance is neither good nor bad; it
is simply not real."
"But," cried Audubon, interrupting in a kind of passion, "It is in
appearance that we live and move and have our being. What is the use
of saying that appearance is neither good nor bad, when we are feeling
it as the one or the other every moment of our lives? And as to the
Good that is in God, who knows or cares about it? What consolation is
it to me when I am suffering from the toothache, to be told that God
is enjoying the pain that tortures me? It is simply absurd to call
God's Good good at all, unless it has some kind of relation to our
"Well," said Dennis, "as to that, I can only say that, in my opinion,
it is nothing but our weakness that leads us to take such a view. When
I am really at my best, when my intellect and imagination are working
freely, and the humours and passions of the flesh are laid to rest, I
seem to see, with a kind of direct intuition, that the world, just as
it is, is good, and that it is only the confusion and obscurity due to
imperfect vision that makes us call it defective and wish to alter it
for the better. When I perceive Truth at all, I perceive that it is
also Good; and I cannot then distinguish between what is, and what
ought to be."
"Really," cried Audubon, "really? Well, that I cannot understand."
"I hardly know how to make it clear," he replied, "unless it were by
a concrete example. I find that when I think out any particular aspect
of things, so far, that is to say, as I can think it out at all, all
the parts and details fall into such perfect order and arrangement
that it becomes impossible for me any longer to desire that anything
should be other than it is. And that, even in the regions where at
other times I am most prone to discover error and defect. You know,
for instance, that I am something of an economist?"
"What are you not?" I said. "If you sin, it is not from lack of
"Well," he continued, "there is, I suppose, no department of affairs
which one is more inclined to criticise than this. And yet the more
one investigates the more one discovers, even here, the harmony
and necessity that pervade the whole universe. The ebb and flow of
business from this trade or country to that, the rise and fall of
wages, or of the rate of interest, the pouring of capital into or
out of one industry or another, the varying relations of imports
to exports, the periods of depression and recovery, and in close
connection with all this the ever-changing conditions of the lives of
countless workmen throughout the world, their well-being or ill-being,
it may be their very life and death, together with the whole fate
of future generations in health, capacity, opportunity, and the
like,--all this complexus of things, so chaotic and unintelligible at
the first view, so full, as we say, of iniquity, injustice, and the
like, falls, as we penetrate further, into one vast and harmonious
system, so inspiring to the imagination, so inevitable to the
understanding, that our objections and cavillings, ethical, aesthetic,
or what you will, simply vanish away at the clearer vision, or, if
they persist, persist as mere irrelevant illusions; while we
abandon ourselves to the contemplation of the whole, as of some
world-symphony, whose dissonances, no less than its concords, are
taken up and resolved in the irresistible march and progress, the
ocean-flooding of the Whole. You will think," he continued, "that I am
absurdly rhapsodical over what, after all, is matter prosaic enough;
but what I wanted to suggest was that it is Reality so conceived that
appeals to me at once as Truth and as Good. This partial vision of
mine in the economic sphere is a kind of type of the way in which
I conceive the Absolute. I conceive Him to be a Being necessary and
therefore perfect; a Being in face of whom our own incoherent and
tentative criticisms, our complaints that this or that should, if only
it could, be otherwise, our regrets, desires, aspirations, and
the like, shew but as so many testimonies to our own essential
imperfection, weaknesses to be surmounted, rather than signs of worth
to stamp us, as we vainly boast, the elect of creation."
He finished; and I half expected that Leslie would intervene, since
I saw, as I thought, many weak points in the position. But he kept
silence, impressed, perhaps, by that idea of the Perfect and Eternal
which has a natural home in the minds of the generous and the young.
So I began myself rather tentatively:
"I think," I said, "I understand the position you wish to indicate;
and so stated, in general terms, no doubt it is attractive. It is when
we endeavour to work it out in detail that the difficulties appear.
The position, as I understand it, is, that, from the point of view of
the Absolute, what we call Evil and what we call Good simply have
no existence. Good and Evil, in our sense, are mere appearances; and
Good, in the absolute sense, is identical with the Absolute or with
"Yes," he said, "that is my notion."
"And so, for example, to apply the idea in detail, in the region which
you yourself selected, all that we regret, or hate, or fear in our
social system--poverty, disease, starvation and the rest--is not
really evil at all, does not in fact exist, but is merely what appears
to us? There is, in fact, no social evil?"
"No," he replied, "in the sense I have explained there is none."
"Well then," I continued, "how is it with all our social and other
ideals? Our desire to make our own lives and other people's lives
happier? Our efforts to subdue nature, to conquer disease, to
introduce order and harmony where there appears to be discord and
confusion? How is it with those finer and less directly practical
impulses by which you yourself are mainly pre-occupied--the quest
of knowledge or of beauty for their own sake, the mere putting of
ourselves into right relations with the universe, apart from any
attempt to modify it? Are all these desires and activities mere
illusions of ours, or worse than illusions, errors and even vices,
impious misapprehensions of the absolutely Good, frivolous attempts to
adapt the Perfect to our own imperfections?"
"No," he replied, "I would not put it so. Some meaning, I apprehend,
there must be in time and change, and some meaning also in our
efforts, though not, I believe, the meaning which we imagine. The
divine life, as I conceive it, is a process; only a process that
is somehow eternal, circular, so to speak, not rectilinear, much as
Milton appears to imagine it when he describes the blessed spirits
'progressing the dateless and irrevoluble circle of eternity'; and
of this eternal process our activity, which we suppose to be moving
towards an end, is somehow or other an essential element. So that,
in this way, it is necessary and right that we should strive after
ideals; only, when we are thinking philosophically, we ought to make
clear to ourselves that in truth the Ideal is eternally fulfilled, its
fulfilment consisting precisely In that process which we are apt to
regard as a mere means to its realization. This, as Hegel has it, is
the 'cunning' of the Absolute Reason, which deludes us into the
belief that there is a purpose to be attained, and by the help of that
delusion preserves that energy of action which all the time is really
itself the End."
I looked up at him as he finished, to see whether he was quite
serious; and as he appeared to be so, and as Leslie still kept
silence, I took up the argument as follows.
"I understand," I said, "in a sort of way what you mean; but still the
same difficulty recurs which Audubon has already put forward. On
your hypothesis there seems to be an impassable gulf between God's
conception of Good and ours. To God, as it seems, the world is
eternally good; and in its goodness is included that illusion by which
it appears to us so bad, that we are continually employed in trying to
make it better. The maintenance of this illusion is essential to the
nature of the world; to us, evil always must appear. But, as we know
by experience, the evil that _appears_ is just as terrible and just
as hateful as it would be if it really _were_. A toothache, as Audubon
put it, is no less a pain to us because it is a pleasure to God. We
cannot, if we would, adopt His point of view; and clearly it would
be impious to try, since we should be endeavouring to defeat His
ingenious plan to keep the world going by hoodwinking us. We therefore
are chained and bound to the whirling wheel of appearance; to us what
seems good is good, and what seems bad, bad; and your contention that
all existence is somehow eternally good is for us simply irrelevant;
it belongs to the point of view of God to which we have no access."
"Yes," cried Audubon, "and what a God to call God at all! Why not
just as much the devil? What are we to think of the Being who is
responsible for a world of whose economy our evil is not merely
an accident, a mistake, but positively an essential, inseparable
"What, indeed!" exclaimed Leslie. "Call Him God, by all means, if you
like, but such a God as Zeus was to Prometheus, omnipotent, indeed,
and able to exact with infallible precision His daily and hourly toll
of blood and tears, but powerless at least to chain the mind He has
created free, or to exact allegiance and homage from spirits greater,
though weaker, than Himself."
This was the sort of talk, I knew, that rather annoyed Dennis. I did
not therefore, for the moment, leave him time to reply, but proceeded
to a somewhat different point:
"Even putting aside," I said, "the moral character of God, as it
appears in your scheme of the universe, must we not perhaps accuse Him
of a slight lapse of intelligence? For, as I understand the matter,
it was essential to the success of the Absolute's plan that we should
never discover the deception that is being played upon us. But, it
seems, we do discover it. Hegel, for example, by your own confession,
has not only detected but exposed it. Well then, what is to be done?
Do you suppose that we could, even if we would, continue to lend
ourselves to the imposition? Must not our aims and purposes cease to
have any interest for us, once we are clear that they are not true
ends? And that which, according to the hypothesis, _is_ the true end,
the 'dateless and irrevoluble circle' of activity, that, surely, we
at least cannot sanction or approve, seeing that it involves and
perpetuates the very misery and pain whose destruction was our only
motive for acting at all. For, whatever may be the case with God, we,
you will surely admit, are forbidden by all that in us is highest and
best, to approve or even to acquiesce in the deliberate perpetuation
of a world of whose existence all that we call evil is an essential
and eternal constituent So that, as I said at first, it looks as if
the Absolute Reason had not been, after all, quite as cunning as
it thought, since it has allowed us to discover and expose the very
imposition it had invented to cheat us into concurrence with its
Dennis laughed a little at this; and then, "Well," he began, "between
you, with your genial irony, and Audubon and Leslie with their
heaven-defying rhetoric, I scarcely know whether I stand on my head or
my heels. But, the fact is, I think I made a slip in stating my view;
or perhaps there was really a latent contradiction in my mind. At any
rate, what I believe, whether or no I can believe it consistently, is
that it is possible for us, so to speak, to take God's point of
view; so that the evil against which we rebel we may come at last to
acquiesce in, as seen from the higher point of view. And, seriously,
don't you think it is conceivable that that may be, after all, the
true meaning of the discipline of life?"
"I cannot tell," I said, "perhaps it may. But, meantime, allow me to
press home the importance of your admission. For, as you say, there is
at least one of our aims which has a real significance, namely, that
of reaching the point of view of God. But this is something that lies
in the future, something to be brought about. And so, on your own
hypothesis, Good, after all, would not be that which eternally exists,
but something which has to be realized in time--namely, a change of
mind on the part of all rational beings, whereby they view the world
no longer in a partial imperfect way, but, in Spinoza's phrase, '_sub
"No," he said, "I cannot admit that that is an end for the Absolute,
though I admit it is an end for us. The Absolute, somehow or other, is
eternally perfect and good; and this eternal perfection and goodness
are unaffected by any change that may take place in our minds."
"Well," I said, "I must leave it to the Absolute and yourself to
settle how that can possibly be. Meantime, I am content with your
admission that, for us, at least, there is an end and a Good lying
before us to be realized in the future. For that, as I understand, you
do admit. In your own life, for example, even if you aim at nothing
else, or at nothing else which you wholly approve, yet you do aim, at
least, with your whole nature at this--to attain a view of the world
as it may be conceived in its essence to be, not merely as it appears
"Yes," he said, "I admit that is my aim."
"That aim, then, is your Good?"
"I suppose so."
"And it is something, as I said, that lies in the future? For you do
not, I suppose, count yourself to have attained, or at least to have
attained as perfectly as you hope to?"
He agreed again.
"Well then," I continued, "what may be the relation of this Good of
yours, awaiting realization in the future, to that eternal Good of God
in which you also believe, we will reserve, with your permission, for
some future inquiry. It is enough for our present purpose that even
you, who assert the eternal perfection of the world, do nevertheless
at the same time admit a future Good; and much more do other men admit
it, who have no idea that the world is perfect at all. So that we may,
I think, safely suppose it to be generally agreed that the Good is
something to be realized in the future, so far, at any rate as it
concerns us--and, for my part, I have no desire to go farther than
"Well," he said, "I am content for the present to leave the matter so.
But I reserve the right to go back upon the argument."
"Of course!" I replied, "for it is not, I hope, an argument, but a
discussion; and a discussion not for victory but for truth. Meantime,
then, let us take as a hypothesis that Good is something to be brought
about; and let us consider next the other point that Is included in
your position. According to you, as I understand, what requires to be
brought about, if ever Good is to be realized, is not any change in
the actual stuff, so to speak, of the world, in the structure, as it
were, of our experience, but only a change in our attitude towards all
this--a change in the subject, as they say, and not in the object.
Our aim should be not to abolish what we call evil, by successive
modifications of physical and social conditions, but rather, all these
remaining essentially the same, to come to see that what appears to be
evil is not really so."
"Yes," he said, "that is the view I would suggest."
"So that, for example, though we might still experience a toothache,
we should no longer regard it as an evil; and so with all the host
of things we are in the habit of calling bad: they would continue
unchanged 'in themselves,' as you Hegelians say, only to us they would
appear no longer bad, but good?"
"Yes; as I said at first, all reality is good, and all Evil,
so-called, is merely illusion."
I was about to reply when I was forestalled by Bartlett. For some time
past the discussion had been left pretty much to Dennis and myself,
with an occasional incursion from Audubon and Leslie. Ellis had gone
indoors; Parry and Wilson were talking together about something else;
and Bartlett appeared to be still absorbed in the _Chronicle_. I
noticed, however, that for the last few moments he had been getting
restless, and I suspected that he was listening, behind his newspaper,
to what we were saying. I was not therefore altogether surprised when,
upon Dennis' last remark, he suddenly broke into our debate with the
"Would it be' in order' to introduce a concrete example? There is a
curiously apt one here in the _Chronicle_."
And upon our assenting, he read us a long extract about
phosphorus-poisoning, the details of which I now forget, but at any
rate it brought before us, very vividly, a tale of cruel suffering and
"Now," he said, as he finished, "is that, may I ask, the kind of thing
that it amuses you to call mere illusion?"
"Yes," replied Dennis stoutly, "that will do very well for an
"Well," he rejoined, "I do not propose to dispute about words; but for
my own part I should have thought that, if anything is real, that
is; and so, I think, you would find it, if you yourself were the
"But," objected Dennis, "do you think that it is in the moment of
suffering that one is most competent to judge about the reality of
"Certainly, for it is only in the moment of suffering that one really
knows what it is that one is judging about."
"I am not sure about that. I doubt whether it is true that experience
involves knowledge and _vice versa_. It is, indeed, to my mind,
part of the irony of life, that we know so much which we can never
experience, and experience so much which we can never know."
"I don't follow that," said Bartlett, "but of one thing I am sure,
that you will never get rid of evil by calling it illusion."
"No," Dennis conceded, "you will never of course get rid of it, in the
sense you mean, by that, or indeed, in my opinion, by any other means.
But we were discussing not what we are to do with evil, but how we are
to conceive it."
"But," he objected, "if you begin by conceiving it as illusion, you
will never do anything with it at all."
"Perhaps not, but I am not sure that that is my business."
"At any rate, Dennis," I interposed, "you will, I expect, admit, that
for us, while we live in the region of what you call 'Appearance,'
Evil is at least as pressing and as obvious as Good."
"Yes," he said, "I am ready to admit that."
"And," I continued, "for my part I agree with Bartlett and with
Leslie, that it is Appearance with which we are concerned. What I have
been contending for throughout, is that in the world in which we live
(whether we are to call it Reality or Appearance), Evil and Good are
the really dominating facts; and that we cannot dismiss them from our
consideration either on the ground that we know nothing of them (as
Ellis was inclined to maintain) or on the ground that we know all
about them (as Parry and Wilson seemed to think). On the contrary, it
is, I believe, our main business to find out about them; and that
we can find out about them is with me an article of faith, and so, I
believe, it is with most people, whether or no they are aware of it or
are ready to admit it."
Dennis was preparing to reply, when Ellis reappeared to summon us to
lunch. We followed him in gladly enough, for it was past our usual
hour and we were hungry; and the conversation naturally taking a
lighter turn, I have nothing further to record until we reassembled in
When we reassembled for coffee on the loggia after lunch, I did not
suppose we should continue the morning's discussion. The conversation
had been turning mostly on climbing, and other such topics, and
finally had died away into a long silence, which, for my own part, I
felt no particular inclination to break. We had let down an awning to
shelter us from the sun, where it began to shine in upon us, so that
it was still cool and pleasant where we sat; and so delightful did I
feel the situation to be, that I was almost vexed to be challenged to
renew our interrupted debate. The challenge, rather to my surprise,
came from Audubon, who suddenly said to me, _a propos_ of nothing, in
a tone at once ironic and genial:
"Well, I thought you talked very well this morning."
"Really!" I rejoined, "I imagined you were thinking it all great
"So no doubt it was," he replied; "still, it amused me to hear you."
"I am glad of that, at any rate; I was afraid perhaps you were bored."
"Not at all. Of course, I couldn't fail to see that you weren't
arriving anywhere. But that I never expected. In fact, what amuses me
most about you is, the way in which you continue to hope that you're
going to get at some result."
"But didn't we?"
"I don't see that you did. You showed, or tried to show, that we must
believe in Good; but you made no attempt to discover what Good is."
"No," I admitted; "that, of course, is much more difficult."
"Exactly; but it is the only point of importance."
"Well," I said, "perhaps if we were to try, we should find that we can
come to some agreement even about that."
"I don't believe it."
"But why not?"
"Because people are so radically different, that there is no common
ground to build upon."
"But is the difference really so radical as all that?"
"Yes," he said, "I think so. At any rate, the proof of the pudding
is in the eating, and I make you an offer. Here are eight of us, all
Englishmen, all contemporaries, all brought up more or less in the
same way. And I venture to say that, if you will raise the question,
you won't find, even among ourselves, with all the chances in your
favour, any substantial agreement about what we think good."
This direct challenge was rather alarming. I didn't feel that I could
refuse to take it up, but I was anxious to guard myself against the
consequences of failure. So I began, with some hesitation, "You must
remember that I have never maintained that at any given moment any
given set of people will be found to be in agreement on all points.
All I ventured to suggest was, that instead of our all being made, as
you contend, radically different, we have, underneath our differences,
a common nature, capable of judging, and judging truly, about Good,
though only on the basis of actual experience of Good. And on this
view I shall, of course, expect to find differences of opinion,
corresponding to differences of experience, even among people as much
alike as ourselves; only I shall not expect the differences to be
finally irreconcilable, but that we shall be able to supplement and
elucidate one another's conclusions by bringing to bear each his own
experience upon that of the rest."
"Well," he said, "we shall see. I have invited you to make the
"I am willing," I replied, "if it is agreeable to the others. Only I
must ask you to understand from the beginning precisely what it is I
am trying to do. I shall be merely describing to you what I have
been able to perceive, with such experience as I have had, in this
difficult matter; and you will judge, all of you, whether or no, and
to what extent, your perceptions coincide with mine, the object being
simply to clear up these perceptions of ours, if we can; to define
somehow, as it were, what we have seen, in the hope of coming to see
They agreed to take me on my own terms, and I was about to begin,
when, happening to catch Dennis' eye, I suddenly felt discouraged.
"After all," I said, "I doubt whether it's much use my making the
"Why, what's the matter?"
"Nothing," I said. "At least--well, I may as well confess it, though
it seems like giving away my whole case. The fact is, that there are
certain quite fundamental points in this connection on which Dennis
and I have never been able to agree; and although I believe we should
in time come to understand one another, I doubt whether we can do so
here and now. At any rate, he doesn't look at all as if he meant
to make it easy for me; and if I cannot carry him along with me, I
suppose I may as well give up at once."
"Oh," said Audubon, "if that is all, I will make a concession. We
will leave Dennis out of the reckoning. It shall be enough if you can
persuade the rest of us."
"But," I urged, "I doubt, even so, whether Dennis will ever allow me
to get to the end. You see, he never lets things pass if he doesn't
happen to agree."
"Oh," cried Ellis, "it's all right. We will keep him in order."
Dennis laughed. "You're disposing of me," he said, "in a very easy
manner. But perhaps I had better go away altogether; for, if I stay, I
certainly cannot pledge myself not to interrupt."
"No," I said, "that seems hardly fair. What I propose is, that we
should both try to be as conciliatory as we can. And then, by the
process of 'give and take,' I shall perhaps slip past you without any
really scandalous concession on either side."
"Well," he said, "you can try."
So, after casting about in my mind, I began, with some hesitation, as
"The first thing, then, that I want to say is this: Good, as it seems
to me, necessarily involves some form of conscious activity."
As I had expected, Dennis interrupted me at once.
"I don't see that at all," he said. "Consciousness may have nothing to
do with it."
"Perhaps, indeed, it may not," I replied, with all the suavity I could
command. "I should rather have said that I, as a matter of fact, can
form no idea of Good except in connection with consciousness."
"Can you not?" he exclaimed, "but I can! If a thing is good it's good,
so it appears to me, whether or no there is any consciousness of it."
"But," I said, "I, you see, myself, have no experience of anything
existing apart from consciousness, so it is difficult for me to
know whether such a thing would be good or no. But you, perhaps, are
"Not in that point," he replied. "I admit, of course, that there is no
experience without consciousness. But we can surely conceive that of
which we have no experience? And I should have thought it was clear
that Good, like Truth, _is_, whether or no anyone is aware of it. Or
would you say that 2 + 2 = 4 is only true when someone is thinking of
"As to that," I replied, "I would rather not say anything about it
just now. On the logical point you may be right; but that, I think,
need not at present detain us, because what I am trying to get at, for
the moment, is something rather different. I will put it like this:
Good, if it is to be conceived as an object of human action, must be
conceived, must it not, as an object of consciousness? For otherwise
do you think we should trouble to pursue it?"
"I don't know," he said, "whether we should; but perhaps we ought to."
"But," I urged, "do you really think we ought? Do you think, to take
an example, that it could be a possible or a right aim for an
artist, say, to be perpetually producing, in a state of complete
unconsciousness, works which on completion should be immediately
hermetically sealed and buried for all eternity at the bottom of the
sea? Do you think that he could or ought to consider such production
as a Good? And so with all the works of man. Do we, and really ought
we to, do anything except with some reference to consciousness?"
"I don't know whether we do," he replied, "but I think it quite
possible that we ought."
"Well," I said, "we shall not, I suppose, just now, come to a closer
agreement But is there anyone else who shares your view? for, if not,
I will, with your permission, go on to the next point"
None spoke, and Dennis made no further opposition. So, after a pause,
I proceeded as follows: "I shall assume, then, that Good, in the sense
in which I am conceiving it, as an end of human action, involves some
kind of conscious activity. And the next question would seem to be,
activity of whom?"
"That, at any rate," said Leslie, "appears to be simple enough. It
must be an activity of some person or persons."
"Once more," murmured Dennis, "I protest."
But this time I ventured to ignore him, and merely said, in answer to
Leslie, "The question, then, will be, what persons?"
"Why," he replied, "ourselves, I suppose!"
"What do you say, Parry?" I asked.
"I don't quite understand," he replied, "the kind of way you put your
questions. But my own idea has always been, what I suppose is most
people's now, that the Good we are working for is that of some future
At this Leslie made some inarticulate interjection, which I thought
it better to ignore. And, answering Parry, I said, "Suppose, then, we
were to make a beginning by examining your hypothesis."
"By all means," he said, "though I should have thought we should all
have accepted it--unless, perhaps, it were Dennis."
"I most certainly don't!" cried Leslie.
"Nor I," added Audubon.
"Oh you!" cried Parry, "you accept nothing!"
"True"; he replied, "my motto is 'j'attends.'"
"Well," I resumed, "let us follow the argument and see where it leads
us. The hypothesis is, that Good involves some state of activity of
some generation indefinitely remote. Is not that so, Parry?"
"Yes," he said, "and one can more or less define what the state of
activity, as you call it, will be."
"Of course," interposed Ellis, "it will be one of heterogeneous,
"That," I interrupted, "is not at present the question. The question
is merely as to the location of Good. According to Parry, it is
located in this particular remote generation, and, I suppose, in those
that follow it. But now, what about all the other generations, from
the beginning of the world onward? Good, it would seem, can have no
meaning for them, since it is the special privilege of those who come
"Oh, yes, it has!" he replied, "for it is their business to bring it
about, not indeed for themselves, but for their successors."
"But," cried Leslie, "what an absurd idea! Countless myriads of men
and women are born upon the earth, live through their complex lives of
action and suffering, pleasure and pain, hopes, fears, satisfactions,
aspirations, and the like, pursuing what they call Good, and avoiding
what they call Bad, under the naif impression that there is Good and
Bad for them--and yet the significance of all this is not really for
themselves at all, but for some quite other people who will have the
luck to be born in the remote future, and for whose sake alone their
fellow-creatures, from the very beginning of time, have been brought
into being like so many lifeless tools, to be used up and laid aside,
when done with, on the black infinite ash-heap of the dead."
"Oh, come!" said Parry, "you exaggerate! These tools, as you call
them, have a good enough time. It does not follow, because the final
Good lies in the future, that the present has no Good at all. It has
just as much Good as people can get out of it."
"But then," said Leslie, "in that case it is this Good of their own
with which each generation is really concerned. So far as they do get
Good at all they get it as an activity in themselves."
"Certainly," said Ellis; "and for my own part, I am sick of that
cant of living for future generations. Let us, at least, live for
ourselves, whether we live well or badly."
"Well," replied Parry, rather stiffly, "of course every one has his
own ideas. But I confess that, for my own part, the men I admire are
those who have sacrificed themselves for the future."
"But, Parry," I interposed, "let us get clear about this; and with a
view to clearness let us take our own case. We, as I understand you,
have to keep in view a double Good: first, a Good for ourselves, which
is not indeed the perfect Good (for that is reserved for a future
generation), but still is something Good as far as it goes--whether
it be a certain degree of happiness, or however else we may have to
define it; and as to this Good, there appears to be no difficulty,
for we who pursue it are also the people who get it That is so, is it
"But now," I continued, "we come to the point of dispute. For besides
this Good of our own, we have also, according to the theory, to
consider a Good in which we have no share, that of those who are to be
born in some indefinite future. And to this remote and alien Good we
have even, on occasion, to sacrifice our own."
"Certainly," he said, "all good citizens will think so."
"I believe," I admitted, "that they will. And yet, how strange it
seems! For consider it in this way. Imagine that the successive
generations can somehow be viewed as contemporaneous--being projected,
as it were, from the plane of time into that of space."
"It's rather hard," he said, "to imagine that."
"Well, but try, for the sake of argument; and consider what we shall
have. We shall have a society divided into two classes, composed, the
one of all the generations who, if they followed one another in
time, would precede the first millenarian one; the other of all the
millenarian-generations themselves. And of these two classes the first
would be perpetually engaged in working for the second, sacrificing to
it, if need be, on occasion, all its own Good, but without any hope
or prospect of ever entering itself into that other Good which is the
monopoly of the other class, but to the production of which its own
efforts are directed. What should we say of such a society? Should we
not say that it was founded on injustice and inequality, and all those
other phrases with which we are wont to denounce a system of serfdom
"But," he objected, "your projection of time into space has falsified
the whole situation. For in fact the millenarian generation would not
come into being until the others had ceased to be; and therefore the
latter would not be being sacrificed to it."
"No," I said, "but they would have been sacrificed; and surely it
comes to the same thing?"
"I am not sure," he replied, "and anyhow, I don't think sacrifice is
the right word. In a society every man's interest is in the Whole; and
when he works for the Whole he is also working for himself."
"No doubt that is true," I replied, "in a society properly
constituted, but I question whether it would be true in such a society
as I have described. And then there is a further difficulty--and here,
I confess, my projection of time into space really does falsify the
issue; for in the succession of generations in time, where _is_ the
Whole? Each generation comes into being, passes, and disappears; but
how, or in what, are they summed up?"
"Why," he said, "in a sense they are all summed up in the last
"But in what sense? Do you mean that their consciousness somehow
persists into it, so that they actually enjoy its Good?"
"Of course not," he said, "but I mean that it was conditioned by them,
and is the result of their labour and activities."
"In that sense," I replied, "you might say that the oysters I eat are
summed up in me. But it would be a poor consolation to the oysters!"
"Well," he rejoined, "whatever you may say, I still think it right
that each generation should sacrifice itself (as you call it) for the
next. And so, I believe, would you, when it came to the point. At any
rate, I have often heard you inveigh against the shortsightedness of
modern politicians, and their unwillingness to run great risks and
undertake great labours for the future."
"Quite true," I said, "that is the view I take. But I was trying to
see how the view could be justified. For it seems to me, I confess,
that we can only be expected to labour for what is, in some sense
or other, our own Good; and I do not see how the Good of future
generations, in your way of putting it, is also ours."
"But," he said, "we have an instinct that it is."
"I believe we have," I replied, "but the question would be, what that
instinct really means. Somehow or other, I think it must mean, as you
yourself suggested, that our Good is the Good of the Whole. Only the
difficulty is to see how there is a Whole at all."
"Well," he said, "perhaps there is no Whole. What then?"
"Why, then," I replied, "how can we justify an instinct which bids us
labour and sacrifice ourselves for a Good, which, on this hypothesis,
has no significance for us, but only for other people."
"Perhaps," he said, "we cannot justify it, but I am sure we ought to
obey it; and, indeed, I believe we cannot do otherwise. Even taking
the view that the order of the world is altogether unjust, as I admit
it would be on the view we are considering, yet, since we cannot
remedy the injustice, we are bound at least to make the best of it;
and the best we can do is to prepare the Good for those who come after
us, even though we can never enter into it ourselves."
"I am not so sure about that," Ellis interrupted, "I think the best
we can do is to try and realize Good for ourselves--as much as we
can get, even if we admit that this is but little. For we do at least
know, or may hope to discover, what Good for ourselves is; whereas
Good for other people is far more hypothetical."
"But, surely," he objected, "that would lead to action we cannot
approve--to a sacrifice of all larger Goods to our own pleasure of the
moment. We should breed, for example, without any regard to the future
efficacy of the race----"
"That," interrupted Ellis, "we do as it is."
"Yes, but we don't justify it--those of us, at least, who think. And,
again, we should squander on immediate gratifications wealth which
ought to be stored up against the future. And so on, and so on; it is
not necessary to multiply examples."
"But," I objected, "we should only do these things if we thought that
kind of short-sighted activity to be good; but, as a matter of fact,
we do not, we who object to it. And that is because, as I hinted
before, our idea of even our own Good is that of an activity in and
for the Whole, and not merely in and for ourselves. And, whether it is
reasonable or no, we cannot help extending the idea of the Whole, so
as to include future generations. But, as it seems to me, the real
meaning and justification of our action is not merely that we are
seeking the Good of future generations but that we are endeavouring to
realize our own Good, which consists in some such form of activity. So
that really, as was suggested at the beginning, Good will be a kind of
activity in ourselves, even though that activity be directed towards
ends in which we do not expect to share."
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