The Meaning of Good--A Dialogue
G. Lowes Dickinson
Part 3 out of 4
At this point, Dennis, who had been struggling to speak, broke in at
last, in spite of Ellis's efforts to restrain him.
"Why do you keep saying '_Our_ Good'?" he cried. "Why do you not say
_the_ Good? I can't understand this talk of me and thee, our Good, and
their Good, as if there were as many Goods as there are people."
"Well," I said, "the distinction, after all, was introduced by Parry,
who said that we ought to aim at the Good of a future generation.
Still, I admit that I was getting a little unhappy myself at the kind
of language into which I was betrayed. But what I want to say is
this: So far as it is true at all that it is good to labour for future
generations, goodness consists in the activity of so labouring, as
much, at least, as in the result produced in those for whose sake the
labour is. That, at least, is the only way in which I can find the
position reasonable at all."
"I don't see it," said Parry, and was preparing to re-state his
position, when Wilson suddenly intervened with a new train of thought.
"The fact is," he said, "you have begun altogether at the wrong end."
"I daresay," I said, "I can't find the end; it's all such a coil."
"Well," he said, "this is where I believe the trouble came in. You
started with the idea that the Good must be good for individuals; and
that was sure to land you in confusion."
"What then is your idea?" I asked.
"Why," he said, "as you might expect from a biologist, I regard
everything from the point of view of the species."
At this I saw Ellis sit up and prepare for an encounter.
"Nature," continued Wilson, "has always in view the Whole not the
Part, the species not the individual. And this law, which is true of
the whole creation, is thrown into special relief in the case of man,
because there the interest of the species is embodied in a particular
form--the Society or the State--and may be clearly envisaged, as a
thing apart, towards the maintenance of which conscious efforts may be
"And this, which is the end of Nature, according to you, is also the
"Well," I said, "I will not recapitulate here the objections I have
already urged against the view that the course of Nature determines
the content of the Good. For, quite apart from that, it is a view
which many people hold--and one which was held long before there was a
science of biology--that the community is the end, and the individual
only the means."
"But," he said, "biology has given a new basis and a new colour to the
"I don't know about that," cried Ellis, unable any longer to restrain
himself, "but I am sure it has given us a new kind of language. In
the old days, when Wilson's opinion was represented by Plato, men
were still men, and were spoken of as such, however much they might be
subordinated to the community. But now!--why, if you open one of these
sociological books, mostly, I am bound to say, in German, 'Entwurf
einer Sozial-anthropologie,' 'Versuch einer anthropologischen
Darstellung der menschlichen Gesellschaft vom Sozial-biologischen
Standpunkt aus,' and the like--you will hardly be able to realize that
you are dealing with human beings at all. I have seen an unmarried
woman called a 'female non-childbearing human.' And at the worst, men
actually cease to be even animals; they become mere numbers; they are
calculated by the theory of combinations; they are masses, averages,
classes, curves, anything but men! For every million of the
population, it has been solemnly estimated, there will be one genius,
one imbecile, 256,791 individuals just above the mean, 256,791 just
below it! Observe, 256,791! Not, as one might have been tempted to
believe, 256,790! What a saving grace in that odd unit! And this is
the kind of thing that is revolutionizing history and politics!
No more great men, no more heroic actions, no more inspirations,
passions, and ideals! Nothing but calculations of the chances that A
will meet and breed out of B! Nothing but analysis of the mechanism of
survival! Nothing but----"
"My dear Ellis," interrupted Wilson, "you appear to me to be
"Digressing!" he cried "Would that I could digress out of this world
altogether! Would that I could digress to a planet where they have no
arithmetic! Where a man could be a man, not a figure in an addition
sum, a unit in an average, an individual in a species----"
"Where," exclaimed Audubon, taking him up, "a man could be himself, as
I have often said, 'imperial, plain, and true.'"
There was a chorus of protestation at the too familiar quotation;
and for a time I was unable to lay hold of the broken thread of the
argument. But at last I got a hearing for the question I was anxious
to address to Wilson.
"You say," I began, "that by Good we mean the Good of the community?"
"I say," he replied, "that that is what we ought to mean."
"But in what sense do you understand the word community?"
"In the sense of that organization of individuals which represents, so
to speak, the species."
"In the sense that it is its function to maintain and perfect the
"But is that the function of the community?"
"If it is not, it ought to be; and to a great extent it is. If you
look at the social mechanism, not with the eyes of a mere historian,
who usually sees nothing, but with those of a biologist and man of
science, intent upon essentials, you will find that it is nothing but
an elaborate apparatus of selection, natural or artificial, as you
like to call it. First, there is the struggle of races, which may be
traced not only in war and conquest, but more insidiously under the
guise of peace, so that, for example, at this day you may witness
throughout Europe the gradual extinction of the long-headed fair by
the round-headed dark stock. Then there is the struggle of nation with
nation, resulting in the gradual elimination of the weaker--that, of
course, is obvious enough; but what is not always so clearly seen is
the not less certain fact, that within the limits of each society the
same process is everywhere at work. To pass over the economic struggle
for existence, of which we are perhaps sufficiently aware, what else
is our system of examinations but a mechanism of selection, whereby it
is determined that certain persons only shall have access to certain
professions? What else is the convention whereby marriages are
confined to people of the same class, thus securing the perpetuation
of certain types, and especially of the better-gifted and
better-disposed? Turn where we may we find the same phenomenon.
Society is a machine for sifting out the various elements of the race,
combining the like, disparting the unlike, bringing some to the top,
others to the bottom, preserving these, eliminating those, indifferent
to the fate, good or bad, of the individuals it controls, but
envisaging always the well-being of the Whole."
"But," I objected, "is it so certain that it is well-being that is
kept in view? Do you not recognize a process of deterioration as well
as of improvement? You mentioned, for instance, that the long-headed
fair race, is giving place to what I understand is regarded as an
"No doubt," he admitted, "there are periods of decline. Still, on the
whole, the movement is an upward one."
"Well," I replied, "that, after all, is not the question we are at
present discussing. Your main point is, that when we speak of Good
we mean, or should mean, the Good, not of the individual, but of
the species. But what, I should like to know, is the species? Is it
somehow an entity, or being, that it has a Good?"
"No," he replied, "it is merely, of course, a general name for the
individuals; only for all the individuals taken together, not one by
one or in groups."
"The Good of the species, then, is the Good of all the individuals
"But" I said, "how can that be? It is good for the species, according
to you, that certain individuals should be eliminated, or should sink
to the bottom, or whatever else their fate may be. But is that also
good for the individual in question?"
"I don't know about that," he replied, "and I don't see that it
matters. I only say that it is good for the species."
"But they are part of the species; so that if it is good for the
species it is good for them."
"No! for the Good of the species consists in the selection of the best
individuals. It is indifferent to all the rest"
"Then by the Good of the species you mean the good of the selected
"Not exactly; I mean it is good that those individuals should be
"But good for whom, if not for them? For the individuals who are
eliminated? Or for you who look on? Or perhaps, for God?"
"God! No! I mean good, simply good."
"I'm afraid I don't understand," I said. "Does Good then hang, as it
were, in the air, being Good for nobody at all?"
"Well, if you like, we will say it is good for Nature."
"But is Nature, then, a conscious being?"
"I don't say that"
"I am very sorry," I said, "but really I cannot understand you. If you
reject God, I see only two alternatives remaining. Either the Good you
speak of is that of all the individuals of the species taken together,
or it is that of the best individuals; and in either case I seem to
"What difficulties?" asked Parry. For Wilson did not speak.
"Why," I said, "taking the first alternative, I do not see how it can
be good for the inferior individuals to be degraded or eliminated. I
should have thought, if there were any Good for them, it would consist
in their being made better."
"I don't see that," objected Dennis; "it might be the best possible
thing, for them, to be eliminated."
"But in that case," I said, "the best possible thing would be absence
of Bad, not Good. And so far as we could talk of Good at all, we could
not apply it to them?"
"Well then, in that case we have to fall back upon the other
alternative, and say that by the Good of the species we mean that of
the ultimately selected individuals."
"Well, what then?"
"Why, then, we return, do we not, to the position of Parry, that the
Good is that of some particular generation? And there, too, we were
met by difficulties. So that altogether I do not really see what
meaning to attach to Wilson's conception."
"There is no meaning to be attached to it!" cried Ellis. "The species
is a mere screen invented to conceal the massacre of individuals.
I'm sick of these biologico-sociologico-anthropologico-historico
treatises, with their talk of races, of nations, of classes, never of
men! their prate about laws as if they were the real entities, and
the people who are supposed to be subject to them mere indifferent
particles of stuff! their analysis of the perfection with which the
machine works, its combinations, differentiations, subordinations,
co-ordinations, and all the other abominations of desolations
standing where they ought not, as depressing to the mind as they are
cacophonous to the ear! and, worst of all, their impudent demand that
we should admire the diabolical process! Admire! As though we should
be asked to admire the beauty of the rack and the thumbscrew!"
"It's a matter of taste, no doubt," said Wilson, "but in me the
spectacle of natural law does awaken feelings of admiration."
"In me," replied Ellis, "it awakens, just as often, feelings of
disgust, and especially when its theatre is human life."
"At any rate, whether you admire it or not, the spectacle is there."
"No doubt, if you choose to look at it; but why should you? It's not
a good drama; it isn't up to date; it has no first-hand knowledge, nor
original vision of life. It simply ignores all the important facts."
"Which do you call the important facts?"
"Why, of course, the emotions; the hopes, fears, aspirations,
sympathies and the rest! There's more valuable information contained
in even an inferior novel that in all the sociological treatises that
ever have been or will be written."
"Oh, come!" cried Parry.
"I assure you," replied Ellis, "I am serious. Take, for example,
these unfortunate creatures who are in process of elimination. To
the sociologist their elimination is their only _raison d'etre_. He
cancels them out with the same delight as if they were figures in a
complex fraction. But pick up any novel dealing with the life of
the slums, and you find that these figures are really composed of
innumerable individual units, existing each for himself, and each his
own sufficient justification, each a sacred book comprising its own
unique secret, a master-piece of the divine tragedian, a universe
self-moved and self-contained, a centre of infinity, a mirror of
totality, in a word, a human soul."
"All that I altogether deny," said Wilson, "but, even if it were true,
it would not affect the sociological laws."
"I don't say it would. I only say that the sociological laws are as
unimportant, if possible, as the law of gravitation."
"Which," replied Wilson, "may be regarded as a _reductio ad absurdum_
of your view."
"Anyhow," I interposed, "we are digressing from our point. What I
really want to know is whether Wilson has any more light to throw on
my difficulties with regard to his notion of the species."
"I have nothing more to say," he replied, "than I have said already."
"But I have!" cried Dennis, "and something very much to the point.
You see now the absurdities into which you are led by the position
you insisted on assuming, that Good involves conscious activity. If
it does, as you rightly inquired (though with a suicidal audacity),
conscious activity in whom? And to that question, of course, you can
find no answer."
"And yet," I said, endeavouring to turn the tables upon him, "I have
known you to maintain yourself that Good not merely involves, but is,
a conscious activity; only an activity in or of God."
"Rather," he replied, "that it _is_ God. But I don't really know
whether we ought to call God a conscious activity. Whatever He or It
be, is something that transcends our imagination. Only the things we
call good are somehow reflexes of God; and we have to accept them
as such without further inquiry. At any rate, we have no right to
endeavour, as you keep doing, to locate Good in some individual
"Well," I said, "here we come again to a fundamental difference
of view. All the Good of which I am aware as actually existing is
associated, somehow or other, with personal consciousness. I am
willing to admit, for the sake of argument, that the ultimate Good, if
ever we come to know it, might, perhaps, not be so associated. But of
that, as yet, I know nothing; you, perhaps, are more fortunate. And if
you can give us an account of Good, I mean, of course, of its content,
which shall represent it intelligibly to us as independent of any
consciousness like our own, I am quite ready to relinquish the
argument to you."
"I don't know," he replied, "that I can represent It to you in a way
that you would admit to be intelligible. I don't profess to have had
what you call 'experience' of it."
"Well, then," said Ellis, "what's the good of talking?"
"What, indeed!" I echoed, in some despondency. For I began to feel it
was impossible to carry on the conversation. But at this point, to my
great relief, Bartlett came to the rescue, not indeed with a solution
of the difficulty in which we were involved, but with a diversion of
which I was only too glad to take advantage.
"It seems to me," he said, "that you are getting off the track!
Whatever the ultimate Good may be, what we really want to know, is the
kind of thing we can conceive to be good for people like ourselves.
And I thought that was what you were going to discuss."
"So I was," I said, "if Dennis would have let me."
"I will let you, by all means," Dennis interposed, "so long as it is
quite understood that everything you say has nothing to do with the
"Very well," said Bartlett, "that's understood. And now let's get
along, on the basis of you and me and the man in the street. What are
we trying to get, when we try to get Good? That I take it is the real
"And I can only answer," I said, "as I did before, that we are
trying to get some state of conscious experience, to enter into some
"Very well, then, what activity?" he inquired, catching me up sharp,
as if he were afraid of Dennis interposing again.
"What activity!" cried Ellis, "why all and every one as much as
another, and the more the merrier."
"What!" I exclaimed, rather taken aback, "all at once do you mean?
whether they be good or whether they be bad, all alike indifferently?"
"There are no bad activities," he replied, "none bad essentially in
themselves. Their goodness and badness depends on the way in which
they are interchanged or combined. Any pursuit or occupation palls in
time if it is followed exclusively; but all may be delightful in the
just measure and proportion. We are complex creatures, and we ought to
employ all our faculties alike, never one alone at the cost of all the
"That may be sound enough," I said, "but will you not describe more in
detail the kind of life which you consider to be good?"
"How can I?" he replied. "It is like trying to sum infinity! The most
I can do is to hint and rhapsodize."
"Hint away, then!" cried Parry; "rhapsodize away! we're all
"Well, then," he said, "my ideal of the good life would be to move in
a cycle of ever-changing activity, tasting to the full the peculiar
flavour of each new phase in the shock of its contrast with that of
all the rest. To pass, let us say, from the city with all its bustle,
smoke, and din, its press of business, gaiety, and crime, straight
away, without word or warning, breaking all engagements, to the
farthest and loneliest corner of the world. To hunt or fish for weeks
and months in strange wild places, camping out among strange beasts
and birds, lost in pathless forests, or wandering over silent plains.
Then, suddenly, back in the crowd, to feel the press of business, to
make or lose millions in a week, to adventure, compete, and win; but
always, at the moment when this might pall, with a haven of rest
in view, an ancient English mansion, stately, formal, and august,
islanded, over its sunken fence, by acres of buttercups. There to
study, perhaps to write, perhaps to experiment, dreaming in my garden
at night of new discoveries, to revolutionize science and bring the
world of commerce to my feet. Then, before I have time to tire, to be
off on my travels again, washing gold in Klondike, trading for furs
in Siberia, fighting in Madagascar, in Cuba, or in Crete, or smoking
hasheesh in tents with Persian mystics. To make my end action itself,
not anything action may gain, choosing not to pursue the Good for fear
I should let slip Goods, but, in my pursuit of Goods, attaining the
only Good I can conceive--a full and harmonious exercise of all my
faculties and powers."
On hearing him speak thus I felt, I confess, such a warmth of sympathy
that I hesitated to attempt an answer. But Leslie, who was young
enough still to live mainly in ideas, broke in with his usual zeal and
"But," he said, "all this activity of which you speak is no more
good than it is bad; every phase of it, by your own confession, is so
imperfect in itself that it requires to be constantly exchanged for
some other, equally defective."
"Not at all," answered Ellis, "each phase is good in its time and
place; but each becomes bad if it is pursued exclusively to the
detriment of others."
"But is each good in itself? or, at least, is it more good than bad?
You choose, in imagination, to dwell upon the good aspect of each; but
in practice you would have to experience also the bad. Your hunting
in trackless forests will involve exposure, fatigue, and hunger; your
fighting in Madagascar, fever, wounds, and disillusionment; and so
through all your chapter of accidents--for accidents they are at best,
and never the substance of Good; rather, indeed, a substance of Evil,
dogged by a shadow of Good."
"Oh!" cried Ellis, "what a horrid prosaic view--from an idealist, too!
Why, the Bad is all part of the Good; one takes the rough with the
smooth. Or rather the Good stands above what you call good and bad; it
consists in the activity itself which feeds upon both alike. If I were
Dennis I should say it is the synthesis of both."
"Well," said Leslie, "I never heard before of a synthesis produced by
one side of the antithesis simply swallowing the other."
"Didn't you?" said Ellis. "Then you have a great deal yet to learn.
This is known as the synthesis of the lion and the lamb."
"Oh, synthesis!" cried Parry. "Heaven save us from synthesis! What is
it you are trying to say?"
"That's what I want to know," I said "We seem to be coming perilously
near to Dennis's position, that what we call Evil is mere appearance."
"Well," said Ellis, "extremes meet! Dennis arrived at his view by a
denial of the world; I arrive at mine by an affirmation of it."
"But do you really think," I urged, "that everything in the world is
"I think," he replied, "that everything may be made to minister to
Good if you approach it in the proper way."
"That reads," said Audubon, "like an extract from a sermon."
"As I remarked before," replied Ellis, "extremes meet"
"But, Ellis," I protested, "do explain! How are you going to answer
"Leslie is really too young," he replied, "to be answerable at all.
But if you insist on my being serious, what I meant to suggest is,
that when our activity is freshest and keenest we find delight in what
is called Evil no less than in what is called Good. The complexity of
the world charms us, its 'downs' as well as its 'ups,' its abysses
and glooms no less than its sunny levels. We would not alter it if we
could; it is better than we could make it; and we accept it not merely
with acquiescence but with triumph."
"Oh, do we!" said Audubon.
"We," answered Ellis, "not you! You, of course, do not accept
"But who are 'we'?" asked Leslie.
"All of us," he replied, "who try to make an art of living. Yes, art,
that is the word! To me life appears like a great tragi-comedy. It has
its shadows as well as its lights, but we would not lose one of them,
for fear of destroying the harmony of the whole. Call it good, or call
it bad, no matter, so it is. The villain no less than the hero claims
our applause; it would be dull without him. We can't afford to miss
anything or anyone."
"In fact," cried Audubon, "'Konx Ompax! Totality!' You and Dennis are
strangely agreed for once!"
"Yes," he replied, "but for very different reasons, as the judge said
on the one occasion when he concurred with his colleagues. Dennis
accepts the Whole because he finds it a perfect logical system; I,
because I find it a perfect work of art. His prophet is Hegel; mine is
"Walt Whitman! And you profess to be an artist!"
"So was he, not in words but in life. One thing to him was no better
nor worse than another; small and great, high and low, good and
bad, he accepts them all, with the instinctive delight of an actual
physical contact. Listen to him!" And he began to quote:
"I do not call one greater and one smaller,
That which fills its period and place is equal to any.
I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.
And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the egg of
And the tree-toad is a 'chef-d'oeuvre' for the highest;
And the running blackberry would adorn the parlours of heaven,
And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery,
And the cow-crunching with depressed head surpasses any statue,
And a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels."
"That's all very well," objected Leslie, "though, of course, it's
rather absurd; but it does not touch the question of evil at all."
"Wait a bit," cried Ellis, "he's ready for you there."
"I am not the poet of goodness only, I do not decline to be the poet of
What blurt is this about virtue and about vice?
Evil propels me and reform of evil propels me, I stand indifferent,
My gait is no fault-finder's or rejector's gait,
I moisten the roots of all that grows."
* * * * *
"This is the meal equally set, this is the meat for natural hunger,
It is for the wicked just the same as the righteous, I make appointment
I will not have a single person slighted or kept away,
The kept-woman, spunger, thief are hereby invited,
The heavy-lipped slave is invited, the venerealee is invited;
There shall be no difference between them and the rest."
"That's rather strong," remarked Parry.
"Don't you like it?" Ellis inquired.
"I think I might like it if I were drunk."
"Ah, but a poet, you see, is always drunk!"
'Well, I unfortunately, am often sober; and then I find the sponger
and the venerealee anything but agreeable objects."
"Besides," said Audubon, "though it's very good of Walt Whitman to
invite us all, the mere fact of dining with him, however miscellaneous
the company, doesn't alter the character of the dinner."
"No," cried Leslie, "and that's just the point Ellis has missed all
through. Even if it be true that the world appears to him as a work of
art, it doesn't appear so to the personages of the drama. What's play
to him is grim earnest to them; and, what's more, he himself is an
actor not a mere spectator, and may have that fact brought home to
him, any moment, in his flesh and blood."
"Of course!" replied Ellis, "and I wouldn't have it otherwise. The
point of the position is that one should play one's part oneself,
but play it as an artist with one's eye upon the total effect, never
complaining of Evil merely because one happens to suffer, but taking
the suffering itself as an element in the aesthetic perfection of the
"I should like to see you doing that," said Bartlett, rather brutally,
"when you were down with a fit of yellow fever."
"Or shut up in a mad-house," said Leslie.
"Or working eight hours a day at business," said Audubon, "with the
thermometer 100 degrees in the shade."
"Oh well," answered Ellis, "those are the confounded accidents of our
unhealthy habits of life."
"I am afraid," I said, "they are accidents very essential to the
substance of the world."
"Besides," cried Parry, "there's the whole moral question, which you
seem to ignore altogether. If there be any activity that is good,
it must be, I suppose, the one that is right; and the activity you
describe seems to have nothing to do with right and wrong."
"Right and wrong! Right and wrong!" echoed Ellis,
"Das hoer ich sechzlg Jahre wiederholen,
Ich fluche drauf, aber verstohlen."
"You may curse as much as you like," replied Parry, "but you can
hardly deny that there is an intimate connection between Good and
Instead of replying Ellis began to whistle; so I took up Parry's point
and said, "Yes, but what is the connection? My own idea is that Right
is really a means to Good. And I should separate off all activity
that is merely a means from that which is really an end in itself, and
"But is there any activity," objected Leslie, "which is not merely a
"Oh yes," I said, "I should have thought so. Most men, it seems to
me, are well enough content with what they are doing for its own sake;
even though at the same time they have remoter ends in view, and if
these were cut off would cease, perhaps, to take pleasure in the work
of the moment. The attitude is not very logical, perhaps, but I think
it is very common. Why else is it that men who believe and maintain
that they only work in order to make money, nevertheless are so
unwilling to retire when the money is made; or, if they do, are so
often dissatisfied and unhappy?"
"Oh," said Audubon, "that is only because boredom is worse than pain.
It is not that they find any satisfaction in their work; it's only
that they find even greater distress in idleness."
"But, surely," I replied, "even you yourself would hardly maintain
that there is nothing men do for its own sake, and because they take
delight in it. If there were nothing else at least there is play--and
I have known you play cricket yourself!"
"Known him play cricket!" cried Ellis. "Why, if he had his way, he
would do nothing else, except at the times when he was riding or
"Well," I said, "that's enough, for the moment, to refute him. And, in
fact, I suppose none of us would seriously maintain that there is no
form of activity which men feel to be good for its own sake, though
the Good of course may be partial and precarious."
"No," said Ellis, "I should rather inquire whether there is any form
which they pursue merely and exclusively as a means to something
"Oh, surely!" I said. "One might mention, for instance, the act of
visiting the dentist. Or what is more important, and what, I suppose,
Parry had in his mind, there is the whole class of activities which
one distinguishes as moral."
"Do you mean to say," said Parry, "that moral action has no Good in
itself but is only a means to some other Good?"
"I don't know," I replied; "I am rather inclined to think so. But it
all depends upon how we define it."
"And how do you define it?"
"I should say that its specific quality consists in the refusal to
seize some immediate and inferior Good with a view to the attainment
of one that is remoter but higher."
"Oh, well, of course," cried Leslie, "if you define it so, your
proposition follows of itself."
"So I thought," I said. "But how would you define it?"
"I should say it is a free and perfect activity in Good."
"In that case, it is of course the very activity we are in quest of,
and we should come upon it, if we were successful, at the end of our
inquiry. But I was supposing that the essence of morality is expressed
in the word 'ought'; and in that I take to be implied the definition
I suggested--namely, action pursued not for its own sake, but for the
sake of something else."
"Oh, oh!" cried Dennis, "there I really must protest! I've kept silent
as long as I possibly could; but when it comes to describing as a mere
means the only kind of activity which is an end in itself----"
"The only kind that is an end in itself!" I repeated, in some dismay.
"Is that really what you think?"
"Of course it is! why not?"
"I don't know. I have always supposed that, when we are doing what we
ought, we are acting with a view to some ultimate Good."
"Well, I, on the contrary, believe that we ought absolutely, without
reference to anything else. It is a unique form of activity, dependent
on nothing but itself; and for anything we have yet shown, it may be
the Good we are in quest of."
This suggestion, unexpected as it was, threw me into great perplexity.
I did not see exactly how to meet it; yet it awakened no response in
me, nor as I thought In any of the others. But while I was hesitating,
"Do you mean that the Good might consist simply in doing what we
ought, without any other accompaniment or conditions?"
"Yes, I think it might."
"So that, for example, a man might be in possession of the Good, even
while he was being racked or burnt alive, so long only as he was doing
what he ought"
"Yes, I suppose he might be."
"It's a trifle paradoxical," said Ellis.
"In fact," added Bartlett, "it might be called nonsense."
"I don't see why," replied Dennis; "for we haven't yet shown that the
Good is dependent on the things we call good."
"No," I said, "but we did show--or at least for the time being we
agreed to admit--that it must have some relation to what we call
goods; that they do somehow or other, and more or less, express
its nature; and indeed our whole present inquiry is based upon the
hypothesis that it is by examining goods that we may get to know
something about the Good. So that I do not see how we can entertain an
idea of Good which flatly contradicts all our experience of goods."
"Well," said Dennis, "I ought perhaps to modify the position. Let us
say that the Good consists in the activity of doing what we ought,
only that activity can't exist in its true perfection unless everybody
participates in it at once. But if everybody participated in it,
there would be no more burnings; and so Leslie's difficulty would not
"Well," I said, "the modification is very radical! But even so, I
don't know what to make of the position. For it is very difficult to
conceive a society perpetually and exclusively occupied, so to speak,
in 'oughting.' Just imagine the kind of life It would be--without
pleasure, without business, without knowledge, without anything at all
analogous to what we call good, purged wholly and completely of all
that might taint the purity of the moral sense, of philanthropy, of
friendship, of love, even, I suppose, of the love of virtue, a life
simply of obligation, without anything to be obliged to except a law."
"But," he protested, "you are taking an absurd and impossible case."
"I am taking the case which you yourself put, when you said that Good
consisted simply in doing what one ought, independently of all other
accompaniment or condition. But perhaps that is not what you really
"No," he said; "of course, what I meant was that it is life according
to the moral law that is Good; but I did not intend to separate the
law from the life, and call it Good all by itself."
"But is the life the better for the law, in the sense, I mean, in
which law involves constraint? Or would it not be better still if the
same life were pursued freely for its own sake?"
"But, then, in that case, the more we realized Good the less we should
be aware of obligation. And would a life without conscious and felt
obligation be a life specifically ethical, in the sense in which you
seemed to be using the word?"
"I should think not; for 'ought' in the ethical sense does certainly
seem to me to involve the idea of obligation."
"In that case it would seem to be truer to say that activity is Good,
not in so far as it is ethical but precisely in so far as it is not.
At any rate, I should maintain that we come nearer to a realization
of Good in the activities which we pursue without effort or friction,
than in those which involve a struggle between duty and inclination."
"But the activities we pursue without effort or friction often enough
"No doubt; but some of them are good, and it is to those I should look
for the best idea I could form of what Good might be."
"Well," he said, "go on! Once more I have entered my protest; and now
I leave the road clear."
"The worst of you is," said Ellis, "that you always turn up in front!
When we think we have passed you once for all, you take a short cut
across the fields, and there you are in the middle of the road, with
the same old story, that we're altogether on the wrong track."
"Well," said Dennis, sententiously, "I do my duty."
"And," replied Ellis, "no doubt you have your reward! Proceed!" he
continued, turning to me.
"Well," I said, "I suppose I must try to go through to the end,
though these tactics of Dennis make me very nervous. I shall suppose,
however, that I have convinced him that it is not in ethical activity
as such that we can expect to find the most perfect example of Good.
And now I propose to examine in turn some other of our activities,
starting with that which seems to be the most primitive of all."
"And which is that?"
"I was thinking of the activity of our bodily senses, our direct
contact, so to speak, with objects, without the intermediation of
reflection, through the touch, the sight, the hearing, and the rest.
Is there anything in all this which we could call good?"
"Is there anything!" cried Ellis. "What a question to ask!" And he
broke out with the lines from Browning's "Saul":
"Oh, the wild joys of living! the leaping from rock up to rock,
The strong rending of boughs from the fir-tree, the cool silver shock
Of the plunge in a pool's living water, the hunt of the bear,
And the sultriness showing the lion is couched in his lair.
And the meal, the rich dates yellowed over with gold dust divine,
And the locust-flesh steeped in the pitcher, the full draught of wine,
And the sleep in the dried river-channel where bulrushes tell
That the water was wont to go warbling so softly and well.
How good is man's life, the mere living! how fit to employ
All the heart and the soul and the senses for ever in joy."
The quotation seemed to loosen all tongues; and there followed a flood
of such talk as may be heard in almost every company of Englishmen,
in praise of sport and physical exercise, touched with a sentiment
not far removed from poetry--the only poetry of which they are not
half-ashamed. Audubon even joined in, forgetting for the moment his
customary pose, and rhapsodizing with the rest over his favourite
pursuits of snipe-shooting and cricket. Much of this talk was lost
upon me, for I am nothing of a sportsman; but some touches there were
that recalled experiences of my own, and for that reason, I suppose,
have lingered in my memory. Thus, I recollect, some one spoke of
skating on Derwentwater, the miles of black, virgin ice, the ringing
and roaring of the skates, the sunset glow, and the moon rising full
over the mountains; and another recalled a bathe on the shore of
AEgina, the sun on the rocks and the hot scent of the firs, as though
the whole naked body were plunged in some aethereal liqueur, drinking
it in with every sense and at every pore, like a great sponge of sheer
sensation. After some minutes of this talk, as I still sat silent,
Ellis turned to me with the appeal, "But what about you, who are
supposed to be our protagonist? Here are we all rhapsodizing and you
sit silent. Have you nothing to contribute to your own theme?"
"Oh," I replied, "any experiences of mine would be so trivial they
would be hardly worth recording. The most that could be said of them
would be that they might, perhaps, illustrate more exactly than yours
what one might call the pure Goods of sense. For, as far as I can
understand, the delights you have been describing are really very
complex. In addition to pleasures of mere sensation, there is clearly
an aesthetic charm--you kept speaking of heather and sunrises, and
colours and wide prospects; and then there is the satisfaction you
evidently feel in skill, acquiring or acquired, and in the knowledge
you possess of the habits of beasts and birds. All this, of course,
goes beyond the delight of simple sense perception, though, no doubt,
inextricably bound up with it But what I was thinking of at first was
something less complex and more elementary in which, nevertheless,
I think we can detect Good--Good of sheer unadulterated sensation.
Think, for example, of the joys of a cold bath when one is dusty and
hot! You will laugh at me, but sometimes when I have felt the
water pouring down my back I have shouted to myself in my tub 'nunc
They burst out laughing, and Ellis cried:
"You gross sensualist! And to think of all this being concealed behind
that masque of austere philosophy!"
Then they set off again In praise of the delights of such simple
sensations, and especially of those of the palate, instancing, I
remember, the famous tale about Keats--how he covered his tongue
and throat with cayenne pepper that he might enjoy, as he said, "the
delicious coolness of claret in all its glory." And when this had
gone on for some time, "Perhaps enough has been said," I began, "to
illustrate this particular kind of Good. We have, I think, recognized
to the full its merits; and we shall be equally ready, I suppose, to
recognize its defects."
"I don't know about that," said Ellis. "I, for my part, at any rate,
shall be very loth to dwell upon them. I sometimes think these are the
only pure Goods."
"But at least," I replied, "you will admit that they are precarious.
It is only at moments, and at moments that come and go without choice
of ours, that this harmonious relation becomes established between our
senses and the outer world. The very same things which at such times
appear to be perfectly at one with ourselves, as if they had been made
for us and we for them, we see and feel to have also a nature not only
distinct but even alien and hostile to our own. The water which cools
our skin and quenches our thirst also drowns; the fire which warms
and comforts also burns; and so on through all the chapter--I need not
weary you with details. Nature, you will agree, not only ministers to
our bodies, she torments and destroys them; she is our foe in ways at
least as varied and efficacious as she is our friend."
"But," objected Ellis, "that is only because we don't treat her
properly; we have to learn how to manage her."
"Perhaps," I replied, "though I should prefer to say, we have to learn
how to fight and subdue her. But in any case we have laid our finger
here upon a defect in this first kind of Goods--they are, as I said,
precarious. And the discovery of that fact, one might say, was the
sword of the angel that drove man out of his imaginary Eden. For
at first we may suppose him, (if Wilson will permit me to romance
a little,) seizing every delight as it offered itself, under an
instinctive impression that there were nothing but delights to be
met with, eating when he was hungry, drinking when he was thirsty,
sleeping when he was tired, and so on, in unquestioning trust of
his natural impulses. But then, as he learnt by experience how evil
follows good, and pleasure often enough is bought by pain, he would
begin, would he not, instead of simply accepting Good where it is, to
endeavour to create it where it is not, sacrificing often enough the
present to the future, and rejecting many immediate delights for the
sake of those more remote? And this involves a complete change in his
attitude; for he is endeavouring now to establish by his own effort
that harmony between himself and the world which he fondly hoped at
first was immediately given."
"But," objected Wilson, "he never did hope anything of the kind. This
reconstruction of the past is all imaginary."
"I dare say it may be," I replied, "but that is of little consequence,
if it helps us to seize our point more clearly; for we are not at
present writing history. Man, then, we will suppose, is thus set out
upon what is, whether he knows it or not, his quest to create, since
he is unable to find ready-made, a world of objects harmonious to
himself. But in this quest has he been, should you say, successful?"
"More or less, I suppose," answered Parry, "for he is progressively
satisfying his needs, even if they are never completely satisfied."
"Perhaps," I replied, "though I sometimes have my doubts. The relation
of man to nature, I have thought, is very strange and obscure. It
is as though he began with the idea that he had only to remove a few
blemishes from her face to make her completely accordant with
his desire. But no sooner has he gone to work than these surface
blemishes, as he thought them, prove to have roots deeper than all
his probings; the more he cuts away the more he exposes of an element
radically alien to himself, terrible and incomprehensible, branching
wide and striking deep, and throwing up from depths unknown those
symptoms and symbols of itself which he mistook for mere superficial
"Really," protested Parry, "I see no grounds for such a view."
"Perhaps not," I said, "but anyhow you will, I suppose, admit that a
certain precariousness does attach to these Goods of sense, whether
they be freely offered by nature or painfully acquired by the labour
"Not necessarily," he objected, "for we are constantly reducing to
order and routine what was once haphazard and uncontrolled. For
the great mass of civilized men the primitive goods of life, food,
shelter, clothing and the like, are practically secured against all
"Are they?" cried Bartlett, "I admire your optimism!"
"And I too," I said. "But even granting that it were as you say,
we are then met by this curious fact, that the Goods we really care
about, in our practical activity, are never those that are secure but
those that are precarious. As soon as we are safe against one risk we
proceed to take another, so that there is always a margin, as it were,
of precarious Goods, and those exactly the ones which we hold most
"In fact," said Audubon, "as soon as you get your Good it ceases to be
good. That's precisely what I am always saying."
"Then," I said, "there is the less need to labour the point. One way
or other, it seems, either because they are difficult to secure, or
because, when secured, they lose their specific quality. Goods of this
kind are caught in the wheels of chance and change, whether they be
offered to man by the free gift of Nature, or wrung from her in the
sweat of his brow. In other words, they are, as I said, precarious.
And now, have they any other defects?"
"Have they any?" cried Leslie, "why they have nothing else!"
"Well," I said, "but what in particular?"
"Oh," he replied, "it's all summed up, I suppose, in the fact that
they are Goods of sense, and not of intellect or of imagination."
"Is it then," I asked, "a defect in content that you are driving
at? Do you mean that they satisfy only a part of our nature, not the
whole? For that, I suppose, would be equally true of the other Goods
you mentioned, such as those of the intellect."
"Yes," he replied, "but it is the inferior part to which the Goods we
are speaking of appeal."
"Perhaps; but in what respect inferior?"
"Why, simply as the body is inferior to the soul."
"But how is that? You will think me very stupid, but the more I think
of it the less I understand this famous distinction between body and
soul, and the relation of one to the other."
"I doubt," said Wilson, "whether there is a distinction at all."
"I don't say that," I replied. "I only say that I can't understand
it; and I should be thankful, if possible, to keep it out of our
"So should I!" said Wilson.
"Well, but," Leslie protested, "how can we?"
"I think perhaps we might," I said. "For instance, in the case before
us, why should we not try directly to define that specific property of
the Goods of sense which, according to you, constitutes their defect,
without having recourse to these difficult terms body and soul at
"Well," he agreed, "we might try."
"What, then" I said, "do you suggest?"
He hesitated a little, and then began in a tentative kind of way:
"I think what I feel about these Goods is that we are somehow their
slaves; they possess us, instead of our possessing them. They come
upon us we hardly know how or whence; they satisfy our desires we
can't tell why; our relation to them seems to be passive rather than
"And that, you think, would not be the case with a true and perfect
"No, I think not"
"How, then, should we feel towards such a Good?"
"We should feel, I think, that it was somehow an expression of
ourselves, and we of it; that it was its nature and its whole nature
to present itself as a Good and our nature and our whole nature to
experience it as such. There would be nothing in It alien to us and
nothing in us alien to it."
"Whereas in the case of Goods of sense----?"
"Whereas in their case," he said, "surely nothing of the kind applies.
For these Goods appear to arise in things and under circumstances
which have quite another nature than that of being good for us. It is
not the essence of water to quench our thirst, of fire to cook for us,
or of the sun to give us light----"
"Or of cork-trees to stop our ginger-beer bottles," added Ellis.
"Quite so," he continued; "in every case these things that do us good
are also quite as ready to do us harm, and, for that matter, to do
innumerable things which have no relation to us at all. So that the
goodness they have in them, so far as it is goodness to our senses,
they have, as it were, only by accident; and we feel that essentially
either they are not Goods, or their goodness is something beyond and
different from that which is revealed to sense."
"Your quarrel, then" I said, "with the Goods of sense, so far as I
understand you, is that they inhere, as it were, in a substance which,
so far as we can tell, is indifferent to Good, or at any rate to Good
of that kind?"
"Whereas a true Good, you think, must be good in essence and
"Yes; don't you think so too?"
"I do," I replied, "but how about the others?"
Dennis assented, and the others did not object, not appearing, indeed,
to have attended much to the argument. So I continued, "We have then,
so far, discovered in this class of Goods, two main defects, the
first, that they are precarious; the second, which is closely
connected with the other, and is in fact, I suppose, its explanation,
that they are, shall we say, accidental, understanding the word in
the sense we have just defined. Now, let us see if we cannot find any
class of Goods similar to these, but free from their defects."
"But similar in what respect," he asked, "if they are not to have
"Similar, I meant, in being direct presentations to sense."
"But are there any such Goods?"
"I think so," I said. "What do you say to works of Art? These, are
they not, are direct presentations to sense? Yet such that it is their
whole nature and essence on the one hand to be beautiful, and to that
extent Good--for I suppose you will admit that the Beautiful is a kind
of Good; and on the other hand, if I may dare to say so, to be, in a
certain sense, eternal."
"Eternal!" cried Ellis, "I only wish they were! What wouldn't we give
for the works of Polygnotus and Apelles!"
"Oh yes," I said, "of course, in that way, regarded as material
objects, they are as perishable as all the works of nature. But I was
talking of them as Art, not as mere things; and from that point of
view, surely, each is a moment, or a series of moments, cut away,
as it were, from the contact of chance or change and set apart in
a timeless world of its own, never of its own nature, to pass into
something else, but only through the alien nature of the matter to
which it is bound."
"What do you mean?" cried Parry. "I am quite at sea."
"Perhaps," I said, "you will understand the point better if I give it
you in the words of a poet."
And I quoted the well-known stanzas from Keats' "Ode on a Grecian
"Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd.
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone;
Fair youth beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal--yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love and she be fair!
"Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoyed,
For ever panting and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloyed,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue."
"Well," said Parry, when I had done, "that's very pretty; but I don't
see how it bears on the argument."
"I think," I replied, "that it illustrates the point I wanted to make.
Part, I mean, of the peculiar charm of works of Art consists in the
fact that they arrest a fleeting moment of delight, lift it from our
sphere of corruption and change, and fix it like a star in the eighth
"Yes," said Ellis, "we grant you that"
"Or at least," added Parry, "we don't care to dispute it"
"And the other point which I want to make is, I think, clearer
still--that the Good of works of Art, that is to say their Beauty,
results from the very principle of their nature, and is not a mere
accident of circumstances."
"Of course," said Leslie, "their Beauty is their only _raison d'etre_?"
"And yet," I went on, "they are still Goods of sense, and so far
resemble the other Goods of which we were speaking before."
"Yes," said Dennis, "but with what a difference! That is the point I
have been waiting to come to."
"What point?" I asked.
"Why," he said, "in the case of what you call Goods of sense, in their
simplest and purest form, making abstraction from all aesthetic
and other elements--as in the example you gave of a cold bath--the
relation of the object to the sense is so simple and direct, that
really, if we were to speak accurately, we should have, I think, to
say, that so far as the perception of Good is concerned the object is
merged in the subject, and what you get is simply a good sensation."
"Perhaps," I agreed, "that is how we ought to put it. But at the time
I did not think it necessary to be so precise."
"But it has become necessary now, I think," he replied, "if we are to
bring out a characteristic of works of Art which will throw light, I
believe, on the general nature of Good."
"What characteristic is that?"
"Why," he replied, "when we come to works of Art, the important thing
is the object, not the subject; if there is any merging of the one in
the other, it is the subject that is merged in the object, not
_vice versa_. We have to contemplate the object, anyhow, as having a
character of its own; and it is to this character that I want to draw
"In what respect?"
"In respect that every work of Art, and, for that matter, every work
of nature--so far as it can be viewed aesthetically--comprises a number
of elements necessarily connected in a whole; and this necessary
connection is the point on which we ought to insist"
"But necessary how?" asked Wilson. "Do you mean logically necessary?"
"No," he replied, "aesthetically. I mean, that we have a direct
perception that nothing in the work could be omitted or altered
without destroying the whole. This, at any rate, is the ideal; and
it holds, more or less, in proportion as the work is more or less
perfect. Everyone, I suppose, who understands these things would agree
No one seemed inclined to dispute the statement; certainly I was not,
myself; so I answered, "No doubt what you say is true of works of Art;
but will your contention be that it is also true of Good in general?"
"Yes," he said, "I think so, in so far at least as Good is to be
conceived as comprising a number of elements. For no one, I suppose,
would imagine that such elements might be thrown together haphazard
and yet constitute a good whole."
"I suppose not," I agreed, "and, if you are right, what we seem to
have arrived at is this: among the works which man creates in his
quest of the Good, there is one class, that of works of Art, which, in
the first place, may be said, in a sense, to be not precarious, seeing
that by their form, through which they are Art, they are set above the
flux of time, though by their matter, we admit, they are bound to
it And, in the second place, the Good which they have, they have by
virtue of their essence; Good is their substance, not an accident of
their changing relations. And, lastly, being complex wholes, the parts
of which they are composed are bound together in necessary connection.
These characteristics, at any rate, we have discovered in works of
Art: and no doubt many more might be discoverable. But now, let us
turn to the other side, and consider the defects in which this class
of Goods is involved."
"Ah!" cried Bartlett, "when you come to that, I have something to
"Well," I said, "what is it? We shall be glad of any help."
"It can be summed up," he replied, "in a single word. Whatever may be
the merits of a work of Art--and they may be all that you say--it has
this one grand defect--it isn't real!"
"Real!" cried Leslie. "What is real? The word's the plague of my
life! People use it as if they meant something by it, something very
tremendous and august, and when you press them they never know what
it is. They talk of 'real life'--real life! what is it? As if one life
wasn't as real as another!"
"Oh, as to real life," said Ellis, "I can tell you what that is. Real
life is the shady side of life."
"Nonsense," said Parry, "real life is the life of men of the world."
"Or," retorted Ellis, "more generally, it is the life of the person
speaking, as opposed to that of the person to whom he speaks."
"Well, but," I interposed, "it is not 'real life' that is our present
concern, but Bartlett's meaning when he used the word 'real.' In what
sense is Art not real?"
"Why," he replied, "by your own confession Art is something ideal. It
is beautiful, it is good, it is lifted above chance and change; its
connection with matter, that is to say with reality, is a kind of
flaw, an indecency from which we discreetly turn our eyes. The real
world is nothing of all this; on the contrary, it is ugly, brutal,
material, coarse, and bad as bad can be!"
"I don't see that it is at all!" cried Leslie, "and, even if it were,
you have no right to assume that that is the reality of it. How do you
know that its reality doesn't consist precisely in the Ideal, as all
poets and philosophers have thought? And, in that case, Art would be
more real than what you would call Reality, because it would represent
the essence of the world, the thing it would like to be if it could,
and is, so far as it can. That was Aristotle's view, anyhow."
"Then all I can say is," replied Bartlett, "that I don't agree with
Aristotle! Anyhow, even if Art represents what the world would like to
be, it certainly doesn't represent what it is."
"I don't know; surely it does, sometimes," said Parry, "for instance,
there's the realistic novel!"
"Oh, that!" cried Ellis. "That's the most ideal of all--only it's apt
to be such bad idealism!"
"Anyhow," said Bartlett, "in so far as it is real, it's not Art, in
the sense, in which we have been using the word."
I began to be afraid that we should drift away into a discussion of
realism in Art. So, to recall the conversation to the point at issue,
I turned to Bartlett, and said:
"Your criticism seems to me to be fair enough as far as it goes. You
say that the world of Art is a world by itself; that side by side of
it, and unaffected by it, moves the world of what you call real life.
And that whatever be the relation between the two worlds, whether
we are to say that the one imitates the other, or interprets it, or
idealizes it, it does not, in any case, set it aside. Art is a refuge
from life, not a substitute for it; a little blessed island in the
howling sea of fact. Its Good is thus only a partial Good; whereas the
true Good, I suppose, would be somehow universal."
"Still," said Leslie, "as far as it goes it is a Good without
"I am not so sure," I said, "even of that. I am inclined to think that
Bartlett's criticism, if we squeeze it tight, will yield us more than
we have yet got out of it--perhaps even more than he knows is in it"
"You don't mean to say," cried Bartlett, "that you are coming over to
"Yes," I said, "like a spy to the enemy's camp to see where your
strength really lies."
"I have no objection," he replied, "if it ends in your discovering new
defences for me."
"Well," I said, "we shall see. Anyhow, this is what I had in my mind.
We were saying just now that when people talk about 'real life,' the
'real world,' and so on, they are not always very clear as to what
they mean. But one thing, I think, perhaps they have obscurely in
their heads--that the Real is something from which you cannot escape;
something which forces itself upon you without reference to choice or
desire, having a nature of its own which may or may not conform, more
or less to yours, but in any case is distinct and independent. That
is why they would say, for example, that the illusions of a madman
are not real, meaning that they do not represent real things, however
vivid their appearance may be, because they are the productions merely
of his own consciousness; whereas the very same appearances presented
to a sane man would be called without hesitation real, because they
would be conceived to proceed from objects having an independent
nature of their own. Something of this kind, I suppose, is included in
the notion 'real' as it is held by ordinary people."
"Perhaps" said Leslie, "but what then? And how does it bear upon Art?"
"I am not sure," I replied, "but it occurred to me that works of
Art, though of course they are real objects, are such that a certain
violence, as it were, has been done to their reality in our interest.
What I mean will be best understood, I think, if we put ourselves for
the moment into the position of the artist. To him certain materials
are presented which of course are real in our present acceptation
of the term, being such as they are of their own nature, without
any dependence upon him. Upon these materials he flings himself, and
shapes them according to his desire, impressing, as it were, his
own nature upon theirs, till they confront him as a kind of image of
himself in an alien stuff. So far, then, he has a Good, and a Good
presented to him as real; but for the Goodness of this reality he is
himself responsible. In so far as it is, so to speak, merely real, it
has still the nature which was first presented to him, before he began
his work--a nature indifferent, if not opposed, to all his operations,
as is shown by the fact that it changes and passes away into something
else, just as it would have done if he had never touched it. To this
nature he has, as I said, done a certain violence in order to stamp
upon it the appearance of Good; but the Good is still, in a sense,
only an appearance; the reality of the thing remains independent and
alien. So that what the man has found, in so far as he has found Good,
is after all only a form of himself; and one can conceive him feeling
a kind of despair, like that of Wotan in the Walkuere, when in his
quest for a free, substantial, self-subsistent Good he finds after
all, for ever, nothing but images of himself:
"'Das Andre, das ich ersehne,
Das Andre, erseh' ich nie.'
"I don't know whether what I am saying is intelligible, for I find it
rather hard to put it into words."
"Yes," he said, "I think I understand. But what you are saying, so far
as it is true, seems to be true only for the artist himself. To
all others the work of Art must appear as something independent of
"True," I said, "and yet I think that they too feel, or might be made
to fed if it were brought home to them, this same antagonism between
the nature of the stuff and the form that has been given to it.
The form will seem from this point of view something factitious and
artificial given to the stuff, not indeed by themselves, but by one
like themselves, and in their interest. They will contrast, perhaps,
as is often done, a picture of the landscape with the landscape
Itself. The picture, they will say, however beautiful, is not a
'natural' Good, not a real Good, not a Good in its own right; it is
a kind of makeshift produced by human effort, beautiful, if you will,
admirable, if you will, to be sought, to be cherished, to be loved in
default of a better, with the best faculties of brain and soul, but
still not that ultimate thing we wanted, that Good in and of itself,
as well as through and for us, Good by its own nature apart from our
interposition, self-moved, self-determined, self-dependent, and in
which alone our desires could finally rest.--Don't you think that some
such feeling may, perhaps, be at the bottom of Bartlett's criticism of
Art as unreal?"
Bartlett laughed. "If so," he said, "it is quite unknown to myself.
For to tell the truth, I have not understood a word that you have
"Well," I said, "in that case, at any rate you can't disagree with me.
But what do the others think?" And I turned to Dennis and Leslie, for
Wilson and Parry did not seem to be attending. Leslie assented with
enthusiasm. But Dennis shook his head.
"I don't know," he said, "what to think about all that. It seems to me
rather irrelevant to the work of Art as such."
"Perhaps," I said, "but surely not to the work of Art as Good? Or do
you not agree with me that the true Good must be such purely of its
"Perhaps so," he replied; "it wants thinking over. But in any case I
agree with you so far, that I should never place the Good in Art."
"In what then?"
"I should be much more inclined to place it in Knowledge."
"In Knowledge!" I repeated. "That seems to me very strange!"
"But why strange?" he said. "Surely there is good authority for the
view. It was Aristotle's for example, and Spinoza's."
"I know," I replied, "and I used to think it was also mine. But of
late I have come to realize more clearly what Knowledge is; and now I
see, or seem to see, that whatever its value may be, it is something
that falls very far short of Good."
"Why," he said, "what is your idea of Knowledge?"
"You had better ask Wilson," I replied, "it is he who has instructed
"Very well," he said, "I appeal to Wilson."
And Wilson, nothing loth, enunciated his definition of Knowledge.
"Knowledge," he said, "is the description and summing up in brief
formulae of the routine of our perceptions."
"There!" I exclaimed. "No one, I suppose, would identify that with
"But"--objected Dennis--"in the first place, I don't understand the
definition; and, in the second place, I don't agree with it."
"As to understanding it," replied Wilson, "there need be no difficulty
there. You have only to seize clearly one or two main positions.
First, that Knowledge is of perceptions only, not of things in
themselves; secondly, that these perceptions occur in fixed routines;
"But," interrupted Dennis, "what is a perception? I suppose it's a
perception of something?"
"No," he said, "I don't know that it is."
"What then? Simply a state in me?"
"Then does nothing exist except my states?"
"Nothing else exists primarily for you."
"Then what about the world before I existed, and after I cease to
"You infer such a world from your states."
"Then there is something besides my states--this world which I infer;
and that, I suppose, and not merely my perceptions, is the reality of
which I have knowledge?"
"Not exactly," he replied, "the fact is ..."
"I don't think," I interrupted, "that we ought to plunge into a
discussion of the nature of Reality. It is Good with which we are at
"But," said Dennis, "we wanted to find out the connection of Knowledge
with Good; and to do so we must first discover what Knowledge is."
"Well then," I said, "let us first take Wilson's account of Knowledge,
and see what he makes of that with regard to Good; and then we will
take yours, and see what we make of that. And if we don't find that
either satisfies the requirements of Good we will leave Knowledge and
go on to something else."
"Very well," he replied, "I am content, so long as I get my chance."
"You shall have your chance. But first we will take Wilson. And I
dare say he will not keep us long. For you will hardly maintain, I
suppose," I continued, turning to him, "that Knowledge, as you define
it, could be identified with Good?"
"I don't know," he said; "to tell the truth, I don't much believe in
Good, in any absolute sense. But that Knowledge, as I define it, is a
good thing, I have no doubt whatever."
"Neither have I," I replied; "but good, as it seems to me, mainly as a
means, in so far as it enables us to master Nature."
"Well," he said, "and what greater Good could there be?"
"I don't dispute the greatness of such a Good. I merely wish to point
out that if we look at it so, it is in the mastery of Nature that the
Good in question consists, and not in the Knowledge itself. Or should
you say that there is Good in the scientific activity itself, quite
apart from any practical results to which it may lead?"
"Certainly," he replied, "and the former, in my opinion, is the higher
and more ideal Good."
"This activity itself of inventing brief formulae to resume the routine
of our perceptions?"
"Well, but what _is_ the Good of it? That is what it is so hard for
a layman to get hold of. Does it consist in the discovery of Reality?
For that, I could understand, would be good."
"No," he said, "for we do not profess to touch Reality. We deal merely
with our perceptions."
"So that when, for example, you conceive such and such a perfect
fluid, or whatever you call it, and such and such motions in it, you
do not suppose this fluid to be real."
"No. It is merely a conception by means of which we are enabled to
give an account of the order in which certain of our perceptions
occur. But it is very satisfactory to be able to give such an
"I suppose it must be," I said, "but once more, could you say more
precisely wherein the satisfaction consists? Is it, perhaps, in the
discovery of necessary connections?"
"No," he said, "we don't admit necessity. We admit only an order which
is, as a matter of fact, regular."
"You say, for example, that it so happens that all bodies do move
in relation to one another in the way summed up in the law of
gravitation; but that you see no reason why they should?"
"But ..." began Dennis, who had found difficulty all this time in
"One moment!" I pleaded, "let Wilson have his say." And turning to him
I continued: "If, then, the satisfaction to be derived from scientific
activity does not consist in the discovery of Reality, nor yet in
that of necessary connection, wherein should you say, does it consist?
Perhaps in the regulating of expectation?"
"What do you mean by that?"
"I mean, that it is painful for us to live in a world in which
we don't know what to expect; it excites not only our fears and
apprehensions, but also a kind of intellectual disgust. And,
conversely, it is a relief and a pleasure to discover an order among
our experiences, not only because it enables us the better to utilize
them for our ends (for that belongs to the practical results of
science), but because in itself we prefer order to disorder, even if
no other advantage were to be got out of it."
"I don't know that we do!" objected Ellis, "it depends on the kind
of order. An order of dull routine is far more intolerable than a
disorder of splendid possibilities! Ask the Oriental why he objects to
British rule! Simply because it is regular! He prefers the chances
of rapine, violent and picturesque, to the dreary machine-like
depredations of the tax-collector."
"Yes," I said, "but there you take in a number of complex factors. I
was thinking merely of the Good to be got out of scientific activity
as such. And I think there is an intellectual satisfaction in the
discovery of order, even though it be dissociated from necessity."
"No doubt there is," said Wilson, "but I shouldn't say that is the
only reason for our delight in Knowledge. The fact is, Knowledge is an
extension of experience, and is good simply as such. The sense of More
and still More beyond what has yet been discovered, of new facts, new
successions, new combinations, of ever fresh appeals to our interest,
our wonder, our admiration, the mere excitement of discovery for its
own sake, quite apart from anything else to which it may lead, a dash
of adventure, too, a heightening of life--that is what is the real
spur to science and, to my mind, its sufficient justification."
"But," I objected, "that is rather an account of the general process
of Experience than of the special one of Knowledge. No doubt there is
an attraction in all activity--Ellis has already expounded it; and all
experience involves a kind of Knowledge; but what we wanted to get at
was the special attraction of scientific activity; and that seems to
be, so far as I can see, simply the discovery of order."
"Well," he said, "if you like--what then?"
"Why, then," I said, "we can easily see the defect in this kind of
activity, when viewed from the standpoint of Good."
"What is it?"
"Why, clearly, that that in which we discover the order may be bad.
There is a science of disease as well as of health; and an activity
concerned with the Bad could hardly be purely good, even though it
were a discovery of order in the Bad. Or do you think that if all men
were diseased, they would nevertheless be in possession of the Good,
if only they had perfect knowledge of the laws of disease?"
"No," he said, "of course not. We have to take into account, not only
the character of Knowledge, but the character of the object known."
"Quite so, that is my point. You agree then with me that Knowledge
may be in various ways good, but that in so far as it is, or may be
knowledge of Bad, it cannot be said by itself to constitute the Good."
"I think," he agreed, "that I might admit that."
"Well, then," I said, "let us leave it there. And now, what has Dennis
"Ah!" he said, "you unmuzzle me at last. It has really been very hard
to sit by in silence and listen to these heresies without a protest."
"Heresies!" retorted Wilson, "if it comes to that, which of us is the
"What," I asked, "is the point of disagreement?"
"It's a fundamental one. On Wilson's view, Knowledge is merely
the discovery of order among our perceptions. If that were all,
I shouldn't value it much. But on my view, it is the discovery of
necessary connection; and in the necessity lies the fascination."
"But where," argued Wilson, "do you find your necessity? All that is
really given is succession. The necessity is merely what we read into
"Not at all! The necessity is 'given,' as you call it, as much as
anything else, if only you choose to look for it. The type of all
Knowledge is mathematical knowledge; and all mathematical knowledge is
"But it is all based on assumptions."
"That may be; but granting the assumptions, it deduces from them
necessary consequences. And all true science is of that type. A law of
Nature is not a mere description of a routine; it's a statement
that, given such and such conditions, such and such results follow of
"Still, you admit that the conditions have to be given! Everything is
based ultimately on certain successions and coincidences of which all
that can be said is simply that they exist, without any possibility of
getting behind them."
"I don't know about that," he said, "but at any rate it would be the
ideal of Knowledge to establish necessary connections throughout; so
that, given any one phenomenon of the universe, all the rest would
inevitably follow. And it is only in so far as it progresses towards
this consummation that Knowledge is Knowledge at all. A routine simply
given without internal coherence is to my mind a contradiction in
terms; either the routine is necessary, or it's not a routine at all,
but at best a mere appearance of a routine."
"I think," I interposed, "we must leave you and Wilson to fight this
out in private. At present, let us assume that your conception of
Knowledge is the true one, as we did with his, and examine it from the
point of view of the Good. Your conception, then, to begin with, seems
to me to be involved in the same defect we have already noted--namely,
that it may be knowledge of Bad just as much as knowledge of Good. And
I suppose you would hardly maintain, any more than Wilson did, that
the Good may consist in knowledge of Bad?"
"But," he objected, "I protest altogether against this notion that
there is Knowledge on the one hand and something of which there is
knowledge on the other. True Knowledge, if ever we could attain to
it, would be a unique kind of activity, in which there would be no
distinction, or at least no antagonism, between thinking on the one
hand and the thing thought on the other."
"I don't know," I said, "that I quite understand. Have we in fact any
knowledge of that kind, that might serve as a kind of type of what you
"Yes," he replied, "I think we have. For example, if we are dealing
with pure number, as in arithmetic, we have an object which is somehow
native to our thought, commensurate with it, or however you like
to put it; and it is the same with other abstract notions, such as
substance and causation."
"I see," I said. "And on the other hand, the element which is alien
to thought, and which is the cause of the impurity of most of what we
call knowledge, is the element of sense--the something given, which
thought cannot, as it were, digest, though it may dress and serve it
up in its own sauce?"
"Yes," he said, "that is my idea."
"So that knowledge, to be perfect, must not be of sense, but only of
pure thought, as Plato suggested long ago?"
"And such a knowledge, if we could attain it, you would call the
"I think so."
"Well," I said, "in the first place, I have to point out that such a
Good (if it be one) implies an existence not merely better than
that of which we have an experience, but radically and fundamentally
different. For our whole life is bathed in sense. Not only are we sunk
in it up to the neck, but the greater part of the time our heads are
under too,--in fact most of us never get them out at all; it is only
a few philosophers every now and again who emerge for a moment or two
into sun and air, to breathe that element of pure thought which is too
fine even for them, except as a rare indulgence. At other times, they
too must be content with the grosser atmosphere which is the common
sustenance of common men."
"Well," he said, "but what of that? We have not been maintaining that
the Good is within easy reach of all."
"No," cried Ellis. "But even if it were, and were such as you describe
it, very few people would care to put out their hands to take it. I,
at any rate, for my part can see hardly a vestige of Good in the kind
of activity I understand you to mean. It is as though you should say,
that Good consists in the perpetual perception that 2 + 2 = 4."
"But that is an absurd parody. For the point of knowledge would be,
that it would be a closed circle of necessary connections. One would
move in it, as in infinity, with a motion that is also rest, central
at once and peripheral, free and yet bound by law. That is my ideal of
a perfect activity!"
"In form, perhaps," I said, "but surely not in content! For what, in
fact, in our experience comes nearest to what you describe? I suppose
the movement of a logic like Hegel's?"
"Yes; only that, of course, is imperfect, full of lapses and flaws!"
"But even if it were perfect," cried Ellis, "would it be any the
better? Imagine being deprived of the whole content of life--of
nature, of history, of art, of religion, of everything in which we
are really interested; imagine being left to turn for ever, like a
squirrel in a cage, or rather like the idea of a squirrel in the idea
of a cage, round and round the wheel of these hollow notions, without
hands, without feet, without anything anywhere by which we could lay
hold of a something that is not thought, a something solid, resistant,
palpitating, 'luscious and aplomb,' as Walt Whitman might say, a
sense, a flesh, call it what you will, the unintelligible, but still
the indispensable, that which, even if it be bad, we cannot afford to
miss, and which, if it be not the Good itself, the Good must somehow
Dennis appeared to be somewhat struck by this way of putting the
matter. "But," he urged, "my difficulty is that if you admit sense, or
anything analogous to it, anything at once directly presented and also
alien to thought, you get, as you said yourself, something which is
unintelligible; and a Good which is not intelligible will be, so far,
"But," I said, "what do you mean by intelligible?"
"I think," he replied, "that I mean two things, both of which must be
present. First, that there shall be a necessary connection among the
elements presented; and secondly, that the elements themselves should
be of such a kind as to be, as it were, transparent to that which
apprehends them, so that it asks no questions as to what they are
or whence they come, but accepts them naturally and as a matter of
course, with the same inevitability as it accepts its own being."
"And these conditions, you think, are fulfilled by the objects of
thought as you defined them?
"I think so."
"I am not so sure of that," I said, "it would require a long
discussion. But, anyhow, you also seemed to admit, when Ellis pressed
you, that thought of that kind could hardly be identified absolutely
"I admit," he replied, "that there are difficulties in that view."
"But at the same time the Good, whatever it be, ought to be
intelligible in the sense you have explained?"
"I should say so."
"And so should I. But now, the question is, can we not conceive of
any other kind of object, which might have, on the one hand, the
intelligibility you ascribe to pure ideas, and on the other, that
immediate something, 'luscious and aplomb,' to borrow Ellis's
quotation, which he desiderated as a constituent of the Good?"
"I don't know," he said, "perhaps we might. What is it you have in
"Well," I replied, "let us recur for a moment to works of art. In them
we have, to begin with, directly presented elements other than mere
"And further, these elements, we agreed, have a necessary connection
one with the other."
"Yes, but not logically necessary."
"No doubt, but still a necessary connection. And it is the necessity
of the connection, surely, that is important; the character of the
necessity is a secondary consideration."
"One condition, then, of intelligibility is satisfied by a work
of art. But how is it with the other? How is it with the elements
themselves? Are they transparent, to use your phrase, to that which
"Certainly not, for they are mere sense--of all things the most
obscure and baffling."
"And yet," I replied, "not mere sense, for they are sense made
beautiful; as beautiful, they are akin to us, and, so far,
"You suggest, then, that Beauty is akin to something in us, in a
way analogous to that in which, according to me, ideas are akin to
"It seems so to me. In so far as a thing is beautiful it does not, I
think, demand explanation, but only in so far as it is something else
"Perhaps. But anyhow, inasmuch as a work of art is also sense, so far
at least it is not intelligible."
"True; and here we come by a new path upon the defect which we
noticed before in works of art--that their Beauty, or Goodness, is not
essential to their whole nature, but is something imposed, as it were,
on an alien stuff. And it is this alien element that we now pronounce
to be unintelligible."
"Yes; and so, as we agreed before, we cannot pronounce works of art to
be absolutely good."
"No. But what are we to do then? Where are we to turn? Is there
nothing in our experience to suggest the kind of object we seem to
No one answered. I looked round in vain for any help, and then, in
a kind of despair, moved by I know not what impulse, I made a direct
appeal to Audubon.
"Come!" I cried, "you have said nothing for the last hour! I am sure
you must have something to suggest."
"No," he said, "I haven't. Your whole way of dealing with these things
is a mystery to me. I can't conceive, for example, why you have never
once referred all through to what I should have thought was the best
Good we know--if, indeed, we know any Good at all."
"What do you mean?"
"Why," he said, "one's relations to persons. They're the only things
that I think really worth having--if anything were worth having."
A light suddenly broke on me, and I cried, "Yes! an idea!"
"Well," said Ellis, "what is it, you man of forlorn hopes?"
"Why," I said, "suppose the very object we are in search of should be
found just there?"
"Why, in persons!"
"Persons!" he repeated. "But what persons? Any, every, all?"
"Wait one moment," I cried, "and don't confuse me! Let me approach the
"Very well," he said, "you shan't be hurried! You shall have your
"Let us remind ourselves, then," I proceeded, "of the point we had
reached. The Good, we agreed, so far as we have been able to form
a conception of it, must be something immediately presented,
and presented in such a way, that it should be directly
intelligible--intelligible not only in the relations that obtain
between its elements, but also in the substance, so to speak, of the
elements themselves. Of such intelligibility we had a type, as Dennis
maintained, in the objects of pure thought, ideas and their relations.
But the Good, we held, could not consist in these. It must be
something, we felt, somehow analogous to sense, and yet it could not
be sense, for sense did not seem to be intelligible. But now, when
Audubon spoke, it occurred to me that perhaps we might find in persons
what we want And that is what I should like to examine now."
"Well," said Ellis, "proceed."
"To begin with, then, a person, I suppose we shall agree, is not
sense, though he is manifested through sense."
"What does that mean?" said Wilson.
"It means only, that a person is not his body, although we know him
through his body."
"If he isn't his body," said Wilson, "he is probably only a function
"Oh!" I said, "I know nothing about that. I only know that when we
talk of a person, we don't mean merely his body."
"No," said Ellis, "but we certainly mean also his body. Heaven save
me from a mere naked soul, 'ganz ohne Koerper, ganz abstrakt,' as Heine
"But, at any rate," I said, "let me ask you, for the moment, to
consider the soul apart from the body."
"The soul," cried Wilson, "I thought we weren't to talk about body and
"Well," I said, "I didn't intend to, but I seem to have been driven
into it unawares."
"But what do you mean by the soul?"
"I mean," I replied, "what I suppose to be the proper object of
psychology--for even people who object to the word 'soul' don't mind
talking (in Greek, of course) of the science of the soul. Anyhow, what
I mean is that which thinks and feels and wills."
"Well, but what about it?" said Ellis.
"The first thing about it is that it is, as it seems to me, of all
things the most intelligible."
"I should have said," Wilson objected, "that it was of all things the
"Yes; but we are probably thinking of different things. What you have
in your mind is the connection of this thing which you refuse to call
the soul, with the body, the genesis and relations of its various
faculties, the measurement of its response to stimuli, and all the
other points which are examined in books of psychology. All that
I agree is very unintelligible; I, at least, make no profession of
understanding it. But what I meant was, that looking at persons as we
know them in ordinary life, or as they are shown to us in literature
and art, they really are intelligible to us in the same way that we
are intelligible to ourselves."
"And how is that?"
"Why, through motives and passions. There is, I suppose, no feeling or
action of which human beings are capable, from the very highest to
the very lowest, which other human beings may not sympathetically
understand, through the mere fact that they have the same nature.
They will understand more or less according as they have more or
less sympathy and insight; but in any case they are capable of
understanding, and it is the business of literature and art to make
"That is surely a curious use of the word 'understand.'"
"But it is the one, I think, which is important for us. At any rate,
what I mean is that the object presented is so akin, not indeed (as
in the case of ideas) merely to our thought, but to our whole complex
nature, that it does not demand explanation."
"What!" cried Audubon. "Well, all I can say is that most of the people
I, at any rate, come across do most emphatically demand explanation.
I don't see why they're there, or what they're doing, or what they're
for. Their existence Is a perpetual problem to me! And what's worse,
probably my existence is the same to them!"
"But," I said, "surely if you had leisure or inclination to study them
all sympathetically, you would end by understanding them."
"I don't think I should. At least I might in a sort of pathological
way, as one comes to understand a disease; but I shouldn't understand
why they exist. It seems to me, most people aren't fit to exist; and I
dare say they have the same opinion about me."
"But are there no people of whose existence you approve?"
"Yes, a few: my friends."
"Surely," cried Ellis, "you flatter us! How often have you said that
you don't see why we are this, that, or the other! How often have
you complained of our faces, our legs, our arms, in fact, our whole
physique, not to mention spiritual blemishes!"
"Well," he replied, "I don't deny that it's a great grief to me to
be unable really and objectively to approve of any of my friends.
"Still," I interrupted, "you have given me the suggestion I wanted.
For the relation of affection, however imperfect it may be, gives us
at least something which perhaps we shall find comes nearer to what
we might conceive to be absolutely Good than anything else we have yet
"Well, to begin with, one's friend appears to one, does he not, as
an object good in its own nature, not merely by imposition of our own
ideal upon an alien stuff, as we said was the case with works of art?"
"I don't know about that!" said Audubon. "In my own case, at any rate,
I am sure that my friends never see me at all as I really am, but
simply read into me their own ideal. They have just as much imposed
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