Ethical Studies/Essay 3

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ESSAY III.
Pleasure for Pleasure’s Sake.


IT is an old story, a theme too worn for the turning of sentences, and yet too living a moral not to find every day a new point and to break a fresh heart, that our lives are wasted in the pursuit of the impalpable, the search for the impossible and the unmeaning. Neither to-day nor yesterday, but throughout the whole life of the race, the complaint has gone forth that all is vanity; that the ends for which we live and we die are ‘mere ideas,’ illusions begotten on the brain by the wish of the heart—poor phrases that stir the blood, until experience or reflection for a little, and death for all time, bring with it disenchantment and quiet. Duty for duty’s sake, life for an end beyond sense, honour, and beauty, and love for the invisible—all these are first felt, and then seen to be dream and shadow and unreal vision. And our cry and our desire is for something that will satisfy us, something that we know and do not only think, something that is real and solid, that we can lay hold of and be sure of, and that will not change in our hands. We have said good-bye to our transcendent longings, we have bidden a sad but an eternal farewell to the hopes of our own and of the world’s too credulous youth; we have parted for ever from our early loves, from our fancies and aspirations beyond the human. We seek for the tangible, and we find it in this world; for the knowledge which can never deceive, and that is the certainty of our own well-being; we seek for the palpable, and we feel it; for the end which will satisfy us as men, and we find it, in a word, in happiness.

Happiness! Is that climax, or bathos, or cruel irony? Happiness is the end? Yes, happiness is the end which indeed we all reach after; for what more can we wish than that all should be well with us—that our wants should be filled, and the desire of our hearts be gratified? And happiness can not escape us, we must know it when we find it? Oh yes, it would be strange indeed to come to such a consummation, and never to know it. And happiness is real and palpable, and we can find it by seeking it? Alas! the one question, which no one can answer, is, What is happiness?—which every one in the end can answer, is, what happiness is not. It has been called by every name among men, and has been sought on the heights and in the depths; it has been wooed in all the shapes on earth and in heaven, and what man has won it? Its name is a proverb for the visionary object of an universal and a fruitless search; of all the delusions which make a sport of our lives it is not one, but is one common title which covers and includes them all, which shows behind each in turn, but to vanish and appear behind another. The man who says that happiness is his mark, aims at nothing apart from the ends of others. He seeks the illusory goal of all men; and he differs from the rest that are and have been, not at all, or only in his assertion that happiness is to be found by seeking it.

‘But happiness,’ will be the reply, ‘is vague, because it has been made so—is impalpable, because projected beyond the solid world into the region of cloud and fiction—is visionary, because diverted from its object, and used as a name for visions. Such ends are not happiness. But there is an end which men can seek and do find, which never deceives, which is real and tangible and felt to be happiness; and that end is pleasure. Pleasure is something we can be sure of, for it dwells not we know not where, but here in ourselves. It is found, and it can be found; it is the end for man and for beast, the one thing worth living for, the one thing they do live for and do really desire, and the only thing they ought to set before them. This is real, because we feel and know it to be real; and solely by partaking, or seeming to partake, in its reality do other ends pass for, and impose on the world as happiness.’

We said that to answer the question, what happiness is, has been thought impossible; that there are few who, in the end, are unable to say what happiness is not. And if there be any one thing which wellnigh the whole voice of the world, from all ages, nations, and sorts of men, has agreed to declare is not happiness, that thing is pleasure, and the search for it. Not in the school alone, but round us in life, we see that to identify in the beginning pleasure and happiness, leads in the end to the confession that there ‘is nothing in it,’ εὐδαιμονίαν ὅλος ἀδύνατον εινας. The ‘pursuit of pleasure’ is a phrase which calls for a smile or a sigh, since the world has learnt that, if pleasure is the end, it is an end which must not be made one, and is found there most where it is not sought. If to find pleasure is the end, and science is the means, then indeed we must say

Die hohe Kraft
Der Wissenschaft,
Der ganzen Welt verborgen!
Und wer nicht denkt,
Dem wird sie geschenkt,
Er hat sie ohne Sorgen.[1]

Common opinion repeats its old song, that the search for pleasure is the coarsest form of vulgar delusion, that if you want to be happy in the sense of pleased, you must not think of pleasure, but, taking up some accredited form of living, must make that your end, and in that case, with moderately good fortune, you will be happy; if you are not, then it must be your own fault; but that, if you go further, you are like to fare worse. You had better not try elsewhere, or, at least, not for pleasure elsewhere.

So far the weight of popular experience bears heavily against the practicability of Hedonism. But Hedonism, we shall be told, does not of necessity mean the search by the individual for the pleasure of the individual. It is to such selfish pleasure-seeking alone that the proverbial condemnation of Hedonism applies. The end for modern Utilitarianism is not the pleasure of one, but the pleasure of all, the maximum of pleasurable, and minimum of painful, feeling in all sentient organisms, and not in my sentient organism; and against the possibility of realizing such an end common opinion has nothing to say. This we admit to be true, but in this shape the question has never fairly come before the popular mind; and it would be well to remember that if the individual, when he seeks pleasure, fails in his individual aim, such a fact ought at least to inspire us with some doubt whether, when mankind seek the pleasure of the sentient world, that end be so much more real and tangible.

Opinion, then, as the result of popular experience, so far as it has touched on the question, would appear to be against the practicability of Hedonism. Still vulgar opinion must not count against philosophical theory, though it certainly may against the still more vulgar preconception as to the reality and palpable character of pleasure.

But Hedonism, we must remember, does not assert itself simply as a theory which can be worked. It puts itself forward as moral, as the one and only possible account of morality. The fact is the moral world, Hedonism is the supposed explanation; and if we find that non-theoretical persons, who have direct cognizance of the fact, with but few exceptions reject the explanation, that ought to have great weight with us. And the case stands thus undeniably. When moral persons without a theory on the matter are told that the moral end for the individual and the race is the getting a maximum surplusage of pleasurable feeling, and that there is nothing in the whole world which has the smallest moral value except this end and the means to it, there is no gainsaying that they repudiate such a result. They feel that there are things ‘we should choose even if no pleasure came from them;’ and that if we choose these things, being good, for ourselves, then we must choose them also for the race, if we care for the race as we do for ourselves. We may be told, indeed, that a vulgar objection of this sort is founded on a misunderstanding, and to this we shall have to recur; but for the present we prefer to believe that never, except on a misunderstanding, has the moral consciousness in any case acquiesced in Hedonism. And we must say, I think, that supposing it possible that Hedonism could be worked, yet common moral opinion is decided against its being, what it professes to be, a sufficient account of morals.

For morality and religion believe in some end for the man and for the race to be worked out; some idea to be realized in mankind and in the individual, and to be realized even though it should not be compatible with the minimum of pain and maximum of pleasure in human souls and bodies, to say nothing at all about other sentient organisms. The end for our morality and our religion is an idea (or call it what you will), which is thought of both as the moving principle and final aim of human progress, and that idea (whatever else it may be, or may not be) most certainly is not the mere idea of an increase of pleasure and a diminution of pain. What we represent to ourselves as the goal of our being we must take as a law for the guidance alike both of this and that man, and of the race as a whole; and if you do not use the vague phrase ‘happiness,’ but say fairly and nakedly that you mean ‘feeling pleased as much as possible and as long as possible,’ then you can not, I think, bring the Hedonistic end before the moral consciousness without a sharp collision.

Now I am not saying that what is commonly believed must be true. I am perfectly ready to consider the possibility of the ordinary moral creed being a mistaken one; but the point which I wish to emphasize is this: The fact is the moral world, both on its external side of the family, society, and the State, and the work of the individual in them, and again, on its internal side of moral feeling and belief. The theory which will account for and justify these facts as a whole is the true moral theory; and any theory which can not account for these facts, may in some other way, perhaps, be a very good and correct theory, but it is not a moral theory. Supposing every other ethical theory to be false, it does not follow that therefore Hedonism is a true ethical theory. It does not follow, because it has refuted its ‘intuitive moralists’ (or what not?), that therefore it accounts for the facts of the moral consciousness. Admitted that it is workable, it has still to be proved moral—moral in the sense of explaining, not explaining away morality. And it can be proved moral by the refuting of some other theory, only on the strength of two assumptions. The first is, that there must be some existing theory which is a sufficient account of morals, and that is an unproved assumption; the second is, that the disjunction, that the ‘either—or’ of ‘intuitive’ and ‘utilitarian’ is complete and exhaustive, and that is a false assumption.[2]

At the cost of repetition, and perhaps of wearisomeness, I must dwell a little longer on the ordinary consciousness. There are times indeed, when we feel that increase of progress means increase of pleasure, and that it is hard to consider them apart. I do not mean those moments (if there are such) when the music-hall theory of life seems real to us, but the hours (and there must be such) when advance in goodness and knowledge, and in the pleasure of them, have been so intermingled together, and brought home as one to our minds (in our own case or in that of others), that we feel it impossible to choose one and not also choose the other. And there doubtless are hours again, when all that is called progress seems so futile and disappointing, that we bitterly feel ‘increase of knowledge’ is indeed ‘increase of sorrow,’ and that he who thinks least is happiest; when we envy the beasts their lives without a past or a future, their heedless joys and easily forgotten griefs; and when for ourselves, and if for ourselves then for others, we could wish to cease, or to be as they are ‘von allem Wissensqualm entladen.’ These are the extremes; but when in the season neither of our exaltation, nor of our depression, we soberly consider the matter, then we choose most certainly for ourselves (and so also for others) what we think the highest life, i.e. the life with the highest functions; and in that life we certainly include the feeling of pleasure; but if the alternative is presented to us of lower functions with less pains and greater pleasures, or higher functions with greater pains and less pleasures, then we must choose the latter.

And the alternative is conceivable. If it is impossible in fact that a stage of progress could come, where by advancing further in the direction of what seems to it highest, humanity would decrease its surplus of pleasure (and I do not see how it is to be proved impossible),[3]—yet, at all events, the alternative can be brought directly before the mind. Advance in this direction (the higher) at the cost of pleasure, on the whole, after the pleasure of advance is counted in; advance in that direction (the lower), with the gain of pleasure, on the whole, even after the regrets of the non-advance have been subtracted. The necessity for choice can be imagined, and there is no doubt, on the one side, what the choice of the moral man would be; there is no doubt, on the other side, what, if pleasure were the end, it ought to be. In such a case, what we think the most moral man and people would be therefore the most certain to act immorally, if Hedonism is morality.

But these consequences, it will be urged, do not apply to modern Utilitarianism. That creed, we shall be told, whether for the man or the race, is high and self-sacrificing. For not only does it place the end in the pleasure of all, not the pleasure of one; but in addition it distinguishes pleasures according to their quality. The greatest quantity of pleasure is not the end; there are pleasures we desire in preference to others, even at the cost of discontent and dissatisfaction. These pleasures, then, are to be preferred, and these are the higher pleasures. Such a doctrine, it will be added, is surely moral.

The doctrine, we admit, has done homage to popular opinion, so far as, for the sake of it, to sacrifice its own consistency and desert its principle. This we shall have to prove later on. But yet we can not for a moment think that it has succeeded in satisfying the demands of morality. Virtue is still a mere means to pleasure in ourselves or others, and, as anything beyond, is worthless, if not immoral; is not virtue at all. What is right is determined by that which is most ‘grateful to the feelings’ of connoisseurs in pleasures, who have tried them all. No compromise is possible on this point. Ordinary morality is clear that, when it aims at virtue for itself and others, it has not got its eye on wages or perquisites; its motive, in the sense of the object of its conscious desire, is not the anticipated feeling of pleasure. What it has before its mind is an object, an act or an event, which is not (for itself at least) a state of the feeling self, in itself or others. To say that, in desiring the right, it proposes to itself a pleasure to be got by the right, is to assert in the face of facts. To the moral mind that feeling is an accompaniment or a consequent, and it may be thought of as such. But to think of it as more, to propose it as the end to which the act or objective event are the means, and nothing but the means, is simply to turn the moral point of view upside down. You may argue psychologically, if you will, and say that what is desired is pleasure (this is false, as we shall show in another Essay), and we are ready for argument’s sake to admit it here; for here it makes not the smallest difference. The moral consciousness does not think it acts to get pleasure, and the point here at issue is not whether what it believes, and must believe, is or is not a psychological illusion, but whether Utilitarianism is in harmony therewith.

Hedonism in any form must teach ‘Morality is a means to pleasure’; and whether that pleasure is to be got in morality, or merely by morality, yet the getting of the pleasure is the ultimate aim. Pleasure for pleasure’s sake is the end, and nothing else is an end in any sense, except so far as it is a means to pleasure. This, we repeat once more, is absolutely irreconcileable with ordinary moral beliefs. And not only is Hedonism repudiated by those beliefs as immoral; but as we saw, so far as the popular mind has pronounced upon it, it is also declared to be impracticable. These two points we wished to make clear, and with this result we have finished the first or introductory part of our undertaking.

It remains to ask in the second place, Why is it that pleasure-seeking, as the search for my pleasure, is declared vain, and pleasure itself impalpable and misleading, a something which gives us no standard to work by, and no end to aim at, no system to realize in our lives? We must look for an answer to the nature of pleasure.

Pleasure and pain are feelings, and they are nothing but feelings. It would perhaps be right to call them the two simple modes of self-feeling; but we are not here concerned with psychological accuracy. The point which we wish to emphasize, and which we think is not doubtful, is that, considered psychically, they are nothing whatever but states of the feeling self. This means that they exist in me only as long as I feel them, and only as I feel them, that beyond this they have no reference to anything else, no validity and no meaning whatever. They are ‘subjective’ because they neither have, nor pretend to, reality beyond this or that subject. They are as they are felt to be, but they tell us nothing. In one word, they have no content: they are as states of us, but they have nothing for us.

I do not think it is necessary to dwell on this matter. Let us proceed to the application. The practical end, if it is to be a practical goal and standard, must present itself to us as some definite unity, some concrete whole that we can realize in our acts, and carry out in our life. And pleasure (as pain) we find to be nothing but a name which stands for a series of this, that, and the other feelings, which are not except in the moment or moments that they are felt, which have as a series neither limitation of number, beginning nor end, nor in themselves any reference at all, any of them, beyond themselves. To realize, as such, the self which feels pleasure and pain, means to realize this infinite perishing series.[4] And it is clear at once that this is not what is required for a practical end. Let us see the problem a little closer.

On the one side our Hedonist is aware, however dimly, of himself not as this, nor that, nor the other particular feeling or satisfaction, but as something which is not this, that, or the other, and yet is real, and is to be realized. Self-realization, as we saw, was the object of desire; and so, as above, on the one hand is the self, which we are forced to look on as a whole which is in its parts, as a living totality, as an universal present throughout, and constituted by its particulars: and this self is setting out, however unaware, to find itself as such and to satisfy itself as such, or not to find itself and not to satisfy itself at all. On the other side is the mere feeling self, the series of particular satisfactions, which the self has come (how, we need not here enquire) to take as its reality, and as the sole possible field for its self-realization.

The point to observe is the heterogeneous nature of the self to be satisfied, and of the proposed satisfaction, and the consequent impossibility of a solution for the problem. The practical difficulty is soon forced on the seeker after pleasure.

Pleasures, we saw, were a perishing series. This one comes, and the intense self-feeling proclaims satisfaction. It is gone, and we are not satisfied. It was not that one, then, but this one now; and this one now is gone. It was not that one, then, but another and another; but another and another do not give us what we want: we are still left eager and confident, till the flush of feeling dies down, and when that is gone there is nothing left. We are where we began, so far as the getting happiness goes; and we have not found ourselves, and we are not satisfied.

This is common experience, and it is the practical refutation of Hedonism, or of the seeking happiness in pleasure. Happiness, for the ordinary man, neither means a pleasure nor a number of pleasures. It means in general the finding of himself, or the satisfaction of himself as a whole, and in particular it means the realization of his concrete ideal of life. ‘This is happiness,’ he says, not identifying happiness with one pleasure or a number of them, but understanding by it, ‘in this is become fact what I have at heart.’ But the Hedonist has said, Happiness is pleasure, and the Hedonist knows that happiness is a whole.[5] How, then, if pleasures make no system, if they are a number of perishing particulars, can the whole that is sought be found in them? It is the old question, how find the universal in mere particulars? And the answer is the old answer, In their sum. The self is to be found, happiness is to be realized, in the sum of the moments of the feeling self. The practical direction is, get all pleasures, and you will have got happiness; and we saw above its well-known practical issue in weariness and dissatisfaction.

The theoretical reason is simple. The sum, or the All of pleasures is a self-contradiction, and therefore the search for it is futile. A series which has no beginning, or, if a beginning, yet no end, can not be summed; there is no All, and yet the All is postulated, and the series is to be summed. But it can not be summed till we are dead, and then, if we have realized it, we, I suppose, do not know it, and we are not happy; and before death we can not have realized it, because there is always more to come, the series is always incomplete. What is the sum of pleasures, and how many go to the sum? All of how many is it, and when are we at the end? After death or in life? Do you mean a finite number? Then more is beyond. Do you mean an infinite number? Then we never reach it; for a further pleasure is conceivable, and nothing is infinite which has something still left outside of it. We must say, then, that no one ever reaches happiness. Or do you mean as much pleasure as a man can get? Then every one at every point is happy, and happiness is always complete, for, by the Hedonistic theory, we all of us get as much as we can.[6]

The Hedonist has taken the universal in the sense of all the particulars, and in this sense, here as everywhere, since the particulars are arising and perishing, the universal has no truth nor reality. The true universal, which unconsciously he seeks, is infinite, for it is a concrete whole concluded within itself, and complete; but the false universal is infinite in the sense of a process ad indefinitum. It is a demand for, a would-be, completeness, with everlasting present incompleteness. It is always finite, and so never is realized. The sum is never finished; when the last pleasure is reached, we stand no nearer our end than at the first. It would be so, even if the pleasures did not die; but in addition the past pleasures have died; and we stand with heart unsatisfied and hands empty, driven on and beyond for ever in pursuit of a delusion, through a weary round which never advances. There remains, then, to Hedonism either the assertion that happiness is completed in one intense moment, or the confession that happiness is impossible, or the attempt to place it elsewhere than in the sum of pleasures.

The first is the ‘nullo vivere consilio.’ It is the giving up of any practical goal or any rule of life, and we are not called upon to consider it further. The second is inevitable, if happiness is equal to the sum, or the greatest possible amount, of pleasures; for one and the other are the same unreal fiction. The end, in this sense, exists only in the head of the Hedonistic moral man. His morality is the striving to realize an idea, which can never be realized, and which, if realized, would be ipso facto annihilated. He would feel it no objection to his theory, nor any comfort in his sorrow, if we said to him that, if happiness could be, then the tale would be made up, the end would be reached, the search would be over, and with it all morality; for his morality is nothing to him as an end, but only as a means; and the bitterness of his lot is filled up by the thought, that the means he does not care for are always with him, and the end he lusts after away from him. His morality says, get what you never can get; never rest, never be satisfied, strive beyond the present to an impossible future.

The above is the proverbial experience of the voluptuary. His road to happiness is well known to be the worst, since pleasure there can not be, where there is no satisfaction; and he must end (whatever else may become of him) by giving up his earnest search for the sum of pleasures.

The third alternative is not to give up pleasure as an end, but to place happiness elsewhere than in the greatest possible amount of ‘grateful feeling.’ This is what the prudent man of the world, with a love for pleasure, generally does do. We take a certain quantity of pleasure, and absence of pain, as a fair amount, which we may call happiness, because we feel we can do with it: and to get this amount we take up some way of living, which we follow, in general without thinking of pleasure. If opportunity offers for delights by the way, we take them, but without inconveniencing ourselves, without leaving the road too far, and without thinking too much about it. It is a good rule to get more, but a rule we must not make too much of, or follow to the point of endangering our happiness, i.e. the fixed and fair amount which comes to us from our course of life.

Pleasure is still ostensibly the end; but really it has ceased to be so, and, whether we know it or not, our way of living is an end to our minds, and not a mere means. In short, we have got interests, and these are objects of desire not thought of as means to pleasure. We have adopted happiness in the vulgar sense, and really have given up Hedonism, as the consistent hunt after pleasure for pleasure’s sake. Yet pleasure is still nominally the end, and hence the above view of life lies open to the following objections:—

‘You tell me that pleasure is my end; and yet you tell me not to make it my end, but to make some accredited type of life my end, and take the pleasure as it comes from that. I am to make getting pleasure my aim, though only by the way and at odd times. And in this manner you assure me that, in the long run, I shall secure the greatest amount of pleasurable feeling. It seems strange to have a mark one must not look at, but I should not care for that if I were sure to hit. Yet this is what I can not tell if I shall do. I see men die, having reaped for themselves a harvest of painful self-denial; and the pleasure they made by it was but gleanings for others, when they were in the grave. Did they attain their end? And I, since our life at any moment may cheat us, shall I put off a present certainty for the sake of a doubtful future?’

The answer must be, That is true enough; there is no certainty in life; but still it is more reasonable to act on probabilities. You may die, but the chances are you will live. You had better suppose that it will be so, and, taking the rules for living, the moral ‘Nautical Almanack,’[7] direct your course by them; for, if you live as long as most men, you will certainly in this way get the most pleasure.

And perhaps this answer may satisfy. But a new and serious difficulty arises. It being admitted that life is to be regulated on probabilities, the question then occurs, Who is to judge of the probabilities? The moral end is for me to get the most pleasure I can; the moral rule is, ‘Act on the probability of your living, and therefore live for life as a whole;’ but this moral rule tells me nothing about the moral Almanack. Why is that to be to me a law? What does it rest upon? What others have done and found? Will others be responsible for me, then? Am I to act upon my own opinion, or am I to follow the Almanack even against my opinion? Is the latter course right and justifiable? Will it, so to speak, excuse me in the Hedonistic judgment-day, when charged with having missed my end by misconduct, to plead that I did what others did, and that, when my own belief would have brought me right, I followed the multitude, and therefore did evil?

It appears to me that, if I am to seek my pleasure, it must be left to me to judge concerning my pleasure; and, this being so, the Almanack is not a law to me. It was made to be used by me according to my private views, not to be followed against them. And herewith all moral legislation disappears.

For obviously, (1) circumstances get into strange tangles, which can not be provided against; and the course laid down in the Almanack as a law may, in peculiar cases, lead to pain instead of pleasure; and here I must disregard the Almanack. And obviously, (2) not outward situations only, but men’s temperaments differ. What brings pleasure to one brings none to another; and so with pain. You can speak generally beforehand, but it may not apply to this or that man. And the consequence is, that the Almanack and its moral rules are no authority. It is right to act according to them. It is right to act diametrically against them. In short they are not laws at all; they are only rules, and rules, as we know, admit of and imply exceptions. As Mr. Stephen has said,[8] ‘A given road may be the direct way from one place to another, but that fact is no reason for following the road when you are offered a short cut. It may be a good rule not to seek for more than 5 per cent. in investments, but if it so happens that you can invest at 10 per cent. with perfect safety, would not a man who refused to do so be a fool?’

And with this, if Hedonism be taken as the seeking my private pleasure, we have come to the end of Hedonism as a practical creed. Its aim was the getting for myself a maximum surplus of pleasurable feeling, and it gave me rules which it was my duty to follow. But it is not in earnest with its rules; they may hold good, or they may not hold good; I may keep them, or break them, whichever I think most likely to issue in pleasure in my particular case. And it is not in earnest with its end. To aim at pleasure is not to get it, and yet the getting of it is a moral duty. We must aim at it then by the way, without caring or trying too much to get it. We are not to think about the rules, except as servants which may be useful or worthless; and about the end perhaps the less we think the better. We are to please ourselves about the rules; we are to please ourselves about the end; for end and rules are neither end nor rules. Our positive aim in life is given up; we may content ourselves, as a substitute, with the resolve to live our life as we find it, to sink useless theories, and follow the bent of our practical leanings; or, saddened at our disenchantment, may embrace the conclusion that, if pleasure can not be found, yet pain at least can be avoided. Not only in the school, but in life around us, does the positive beginning conduct to the negative result, to the making a goal of an absence, to the placing the end in a mere negation.

We have shown, in the first place, the collision between popular opinion and Hedonism as the search for pleasure; we have shown, in the second place, the reason why the seeking of my pleasure gives no practicable end in life. On both points we have dwelt, perhaps, at unnecessary length; but we have not yet done justice to the doctrine which makes virtue a means, not to my pleasure, but to the pleasure of the ‘whole sentient creation’—to modern Utilitarianism, which may be called, I suppose, our most fashionable moral philosophy. This we must now notice, but only so far as our subject compels us. A more detailed examination is not called for here, and, as we think, would not repay us anywhere.

The end, as before, is the greatest amount of pleasurable feeling, yet not now in me, but in the sentient world as a whole. The first thing to observe is that (as we noticed above), if happiness means this, happiness is unrealizable—it can by no possibility be reached. If the greatest happiness, in the sense of the maximum of pleasure, was, as applied to the individual, a mere ‘idea,’ or rather a self-contradictory attempt at an idea, which we saw by its very nature could not exist as a fact; then a fortiori, I should say, the realization of a maximum of pleasure in the ‘whole sentient creation’ (which stands, I suppose, for what particular animal organisms are now and are to be hereafter), is nothing but a wild and impossible fiction.

Happiness, in the sense of ‘as much as you can,’ we saw, is never and nowhere realised; or, if any one prefers it, is realized everywhere and without any drawback. In both cases, as a something set to be gained, it has no signification. Happiness, in the meaning of a maximum of pleasure, can never be reached; and what is the sense of trying to reach the impossible? Happiness, in the meaning of always a little more and always a little less, is the stone of Sisyphus and the vessel of the Danaides—it is not heaven, but hell. Whether we try for it or not, we always have got a little more and a little less[9] (than we might have), and never at any time, however much we try for it, can we have a little more or a little less than we have got.

But theoretical considerations of this sort are likely neither to be understood nor regarded. Our morality, we shall hear, ‘is a practical matter.’ And I should have thought it indeed a practical consideration, whether our chief good be realizable or no, whether it be πρακτὸν καὶ κτητὸν ἀνθρώπῳ, or exist only in the heads of certain theorists. But let this pass. We can avoid, I dare say, practical inconvenience, by not meaning what we say or saying what we mean.

Whatever, then, we may think about the possibility of the actual existence of the end, and the satisfactoriness (or otherwise) of aiming at the impossible and unmeaning, at all events our moral law and precept is clear, Increase the pleasure, i.e. multiply in number, and intensify in quality, the pleasurable feelings of sentient beings, and do the opposite by their pains.

We have already noticed, but it may not be amiss to call attention once more to the fact, that a doctrine of this sort is directly opposed to popular morality. If, by being changed into pigs, we secured an absolute certainty of a greater amount of pleasure with a less amount of pain, we (I speak for the ordinary person) should decline the change, either for ourselves or the race, and should think it our duty to do so. But, if we believe that the greatest amount of pleasure is the end, it would be our duty to strive after, and accept such a change. And some such choice is not a mere theoretical possibility. Unless Fourier be much belied, his scheme of ‘phalansteries’ was a practical proposal to seek for pleasure as the end, and all else as means. The ordinary moral man refuses to discuss such a proposal. He repudiates the end, and the means with it. But the ‘greatest amount of pleasure’ doctrine must accept the end, and calmly discuss the means; and this is not the moral point of view. It is surely imaginable (I do not say it is likely), that we might have to say to a large and immoral majority, ‘If I wanted to make you happy, which I do not, I should do so by pampering your vices, which I will not.’ (Stephen, Liberty, p. 287.)

So much for the morality of the theory. Let us now consider its practicability and consistency. The end, as the pleasure of all, is, like my pleasure, not something which I can apprehend and carry out in my life. It is not a system, not a concrete whole. There are no means included in it: there are none which, in themselves, belong to the end. Wanting to know what I am to do, ‘Increase the pleasure of all’ gives me, by itself, no answer. ‘But there is no need that it should,’ will be the reply. The experience of mankind has discovered the means which tend to increase pleasure; these are laid down in the moral Almanack (Mill, p. 36), and they may fairly be considered as included in the end.

Here I think that Hedonism does not see a most serious difficulty. It is the old question, What is the nature of the authority of the Almanack, and are its rules laws? If they are laws, on what do they rest? If they are not, are there any other moral laws; and without laws can you have morality? Let me explain the objection. You can not, I object to the Hedonist, make these laws part of the end, and identify them therewith; for the end was clearly laid down as pleasurable feeling, and there is no essential connection between that end and the laws as means. If the laws or rules are not feelings (and they are not), they must be mere means to feeling. The relation of the two, of the end and the means, is external. You can not, from the conception of the end as such, conclude in any way to the rules as such. This seems to me quite clear; and, if it is so, then you can in your mind put the end on one side and the rules on the other, and contemplate the possibility of going to the end without these particular means. You may say you do not care for possibilities; experience shows the connection of means and end, and that is enough. This point I wish especially to emphasize: such an observed connection is not sufficient; or it is sufficient only if we are prepared to make one of the two following assumptions. The first is that the general opinion of mankind, which we suppose to exist and be embodied in these rules, is infallible; that it takes the only way, or the best way, to the given end; and also that I have no excuse for thinking otherwise. The second is that, whether I think the rules the best means to the end or not, I have in any case to sink my own view as to the right means to the given end, and take the rules as something which is not to be departed from. One of these two supposable assumptions is necessary.

(1) Now with respect to the first, I see no ground upon which the Hedonist, were he so disposed, could maintain and justify such a strong assertion of the ὃ πᾶσι δοκεῖ. Why am I bound to consider these laws infallible, in such a sense that any departure from them, in any case, must contribute less to the given end than a corresponding observance? And how to me is such a truth (if it be a truth) not to be an open question? How is my doubt or my denial of the truth to be ipso facto immorality? An example will help us. Let us take the precept, Do not commit adultery. How are we to prove that no possible adultery can increase the overplus of pleasurable feeling? How are we to show that a man’s honest and probable view to the contrary is an immoral view? And, if we can not show these things, what becomes of this first supposable assumption?

(2) Then, if mankind may err, if the right of private judgment is not to be suppressed, if the supposed general experience is not infallible, how can it be moral for me always to follow it even in the teeth of my own judgment? I may be perfectly aware that acting on rules is, speaking generally, the way to reach the end. I may even admit that the departure from rules in most cases has produced, and must produce, an effect detrimental to the end. I might, if I pleased, for argument’s sake admit (though it would be contrary to fact, and no one could ask for such an admission) that every previous departure from rules has been a failure, and has decreased the surplus. But now the matter stands thus: I have taken all pains to form an opinion, and I am quite certain that my case is an exception. I have no doubt whatever that in this instance the breaking of a rule will increase the surplus. To say that I am a fool does not touch the question; to say that I must be mistaken does not touch the question; to say that I ought not to think as I do, or ought not to act accordingly, begs the question. The moral end is clear; I, after having thought over all considerations up to my lights, am clear as to the means. What right have you, what right has the world to tell me to hold my hand, to make your uncertain opinion the standard rather than the certain end? How shall I answer for it to my own conscience[10] if I do? What is this rule that is to come between me and my moral duty? Let us repeat our illustration. The rule says, Do not commit adultery. I wish to commit adultery. I am sure I do not want to please myself at all; in fact rather the contrary. I am as positive as I can be of anything, that the case is either not contemplated by the rule, or, if it is, that the rule is wrong, that the proposed act must diminish the sum of the pain, and must increase the sum of the pleasure of the sentient world as a whole, and this too after all consequences that I can reckon (and I can reckon no more) have been counted in. Is it immoral then to break the rule; or rather is it not immoral to keep it, to sacrifice a real good to a mere idea? My conscience is clear; and my dreams will not be broken by ‘the groans of an abstraction.’ (Mill, Dissert., i. 21.)

Now, if it be answered here that, on any theory of morals, collisions must arise—that I fully admit to be true: and again, that on any theory collisions of this kind must arise (i.e. not the conflict of moral ends, but the conflict of diverse reflective calculations as to the means to a given moral end)—that (though I absolutely deny it) I will admit for argument’s sake, and argument’s sake alone. But (1) it belongs to the essence of Hedonism to provoke such collisions, and to justify the raising of casuistical questions on well-nigh every point of conduct, and this not merely theoretically, but with a view to one’s own immediate practice. The reason is simple, and we have stated it already. The end for Hedonism has no means which belong to it and are inseparable from it. The means are external; and so long as you get the end the means are immaterial. The relation of the means to the end is matter of opinion, and it can not be more than matter of opinion. The opinion of any number of persons is still only an opinion. The end I am certain of. As to the means, I have nothing but the opinion of myself and others. The last appeal is to my private judgment. Now my private judgment may assure me that in 999 cases out of 1000 it contributes more to the end that I should not exercise my private judgment. It may assure me that, being what I am, it will contribute to the surplus if I never use my private judgment. But it need not so assure me. It may assure me that in the thousandth case I had better use my private judgment. And it may go a great deal further than this. The question is not, Do I and others act as a rule from habit, and according to general opinion? for that is a mere question of fact. The question is one of morals: ought my private judgment ever to come into collision with general opinion, as in fact it sometimes does and must? If not, why not? If it may, then ought I in such cases ever to follow it? and, if not, why not? If I may follow it in my own case once, why not twice? If here, why not there? And if anybody is ever to use their private judgment on any moral point, why may not I be the man, and this the case where I may? To put the whole matter in two words; the precepts of Hedonism are only rules, and rules may always have exceptions: they are not, and, so far as I see, they can not be made out to be laws. I am not their servant, but they are mine. And, so far as my lights go, this is to make possible, to justify, and even to encourage, an incessant practical casuistry; and that, it need scarcely be added, is the death of morality. Before I proceed, however, let me entreat the reader to remember that the question, Are Utilitarians immoral? is one question, and the question, Is their theory immoral? altogether another, and the only one which we are concerned with.

And (2), if it were true that no other moral theory was in a happier plight, what are we to say but ‘so much the worse for all moral theories,’ and not ‘so much the better for Hedonism.’ The moral consciousness is the touchstone of moral theories, and that moral consciousness, I appeal to it in every man, has laws which are a great deal more than rules. To that consciousness ‘Do not commit adultery’ is a law to be obeyed; it is not the prescription of a more or less questionable policy. It is not a means, which in the opinion of A, B, and C will or may conduce to an end other than itself, and in the opinion of D may or will not do so. Let the Hedonist refute thrice or four times over, if he pleases, his rival theories; but he does not thereby establish his own, and is no nearer doing so than before.

To proceed—the conclusion we have reached is that, supposing it to be certain that the end is the maximum surplus of pleasure in the sentient world, that end gives no standard for morality. The end is in itself most abstract and impalpable. The means are external and in themselves immaterial to the end; and the fixing the relation of means to end must always be matter of opinion; in the last resort it is, and (what is most important) it ought to be, matter of my private opinion. As it turned out before, so here also the rules are not laws; I can please myself about them: and a standard which is no standard, a law which is no law, but which I may break or keep, which is at the mercy of changing judgment and fleeting opinion, is no practical basis for me to regulate my life by.[11]

The Utilitarian, I am perfectly aware, does not wish me to keep the end continually before me, but rather to have my eye on the accredited means. The question is not, however, what the Utilitarian wishes, but what his theory justifies and demands. One of the most serious objections to Hedonism is that, as we have seen, it is not in earnest with its own conclusions. It is no argument in favour of a theory, it is surely rather an argument against it, that it can not teach the legitimate consequences of its principles.

The greatest amount of pleasure then, if we take it for our end, we have found to be unrealizable, to be non- or im-moral, and lastly in practice to be an unworkable doctrine. All this time we have taken the end for granted. But now we are to ask, What ground is there for taking the pleasure of the sentient creation as the moral end? What possible reason is there why I should look on this as that for which everything else must be given up, even my own pleasure and my own life? And here I think Hedonism is altogether helpless. The consistent, and the only consistent position, is to say that I desire my own pleasure, that the pleasure of others is in many ways conducive to my own, and that desiring the end I must desire the means also. But this is a return to the doctrine we discussed above, viz. that my pleasure is the end; and to accept this doctrine is to leave the standpoint of modern Utilitarianism, and to say, Its end is not an end; it is or it may be a mere means.

The Hedonist in his distress may turn himself in various directions.

(1) He may say, ‘The end is not provable because too good to be provable. It is self-evident, and nothing else is more certain.’ But having noticed already that the moral consciousness repudiates the claim of his end to be the chief good, and it being clear that selfishness often in its practice, and sometimes in its theory, rejects its claim to be anything more than a means, I think we need not trouble ourselves with its pretence to self-evidence; more especially as, according to the psychology of the ordinary Hedonist, to desire the end as such is a psychological impossibility.

(2) The next resource is the Deus ex machina. Not only on a certain stage, but also with certain theorists the maxim seems to hold good, ‘When in trouble bring in the Deity.’ God, we shall be told, wills the greatest amount of pleasure of the whole sentient creation, and therefore we ought to do so likewise. Now, even if I were capable of it, I am not disposed to enter into the speculative theology of our ‘inductive’ moralists; I will say to them merely,

Lasst unsern Herrgott aus dem Spass,
and go on.

(3) But now I have to meet no less an antagonist than Mr. Mill himself; and he has proved that the Utilitarian end is desirable. Let us hear him;

‘No reason can be given why the general happiness is desirable, except that each person, so far as he believes it to be attainable, desires his own happiness. This, however, being a fact, we have not only all the proof which the case admits of, but all which it is possible to require, that happiness is a good; that each person’s happiness is a good to that person, and the general happiness, therefore, a good to the aggregate of all persons’ (Util., p. 52).

Whether our ‘great modern logician’ thought that by this he had proved that the happiness of all was desirable for each, I will not undertake to say. He either meant to prove this, or has proved what he started with, viz., that each desires his own pleasure. And yet there is a certain plausibility about it. If many pigs are fed at one trough, each desires his own food, and somehow as a consequence does seem to desire the food of all; and by parity of reasoning it should follow that each pig, desiring his own pleasure, desires also the pleasure of all. But as this scarcely seems conformable to experience, I suppose there must be something wrong with the argument, and so likewise with the argument of our philosopher.[12]

The End as the pleasure of all is, starting from the theories of our Utilitarian moralists, not only unprovable but impossible. If my self is something which exists by itself and independent of other selves, if all that I desire and can desire is my pleasure, and if that pleasure is an isolated feeling of this particular self, then the sole desirable is a state or states of my own feeling, and in the second place whatever is a means to that. To desire an object which is not the idea of my pleasure is psychologically impossible, and no torturing and twisting of phrases will make a connection from such an idea to any such object. And such an object is the idea of the pleasure of others considered not as conducing to mine. I may happen to desire the pleasure of others, and I may happen not to do so. To tell me the pleasure of others is desirable for me, is to tell me you think it will conduce to my own; to tell me I ought to desire it either says that again, or it is nonsense. Ought is the feeling of obligation, and ‘when the feeling ceases the obligation ceases.’ The Utilitarian believes on psychological grounds that pleasure is the sole desirable: he believes on the strength of his natural and moral instincts that he must live for others: he puts the two together, and concludes that the pleasure of others is what he has to live for. This is not a good theoretical deduction,[13] but it is the generation of the Utilitarian monster, and of that we must say that its heart is in the right place, but the brain is wanting.

Its heart, its ‘natural sentiment,’ does tell it that its substance is one with the substance of its fellows; that in itself and by itself it is not itself at all, and has no validity except as a violent and futile attempt at abstraction. And yet if we deny that an universal can be more than ‘an idea,’ if we are sure that the merely individual and the real are one and the same, and in particular that the self is exclusive of other selves, and is in this sense a mere individual; and if further, for morality at all events, we can not do without something that is universal, something which is wider and stronger than this or that self—then here, as in all other spheres, we are face to face with the problem, How out of mere individuals (particulars), which are fixed as such, can you get an universal? And the problem put in this way is insoluble. The self can desire in the end, as we too think, nothing but itself, and if the self it is to realize is an atom, an unit which repels other units, and can have nothing in itself but what is exclusively its, its feeling, its pleasure and pain—then it is certain that it can stand to others, with their pleasures and pains, only in an external relation; and since it is the end, the others must be the means, and nothing but the means. On such a basis morality is impossible; and yet morality does exist. But if the head could follow the heart, not with a wretched compromise but altogether; if the self to be realized is not exclusive of other selves, but on the contrary is determined, characterized, made what it is by relation to others; if my self which I aim at is the realization in me of a moral world which is a system of selves, an organism in which I am a member, and in whose life I live—then I can not aim at my own well-being without aiming at that of others. The others are not mere means to me, but are involved in my essence; and this essence of myself, which is not only mine but embraces and stands above both me and this man and the other man, is superior to, and gives a law to us all, in a higher sense than the organism as a whole gives a law to the members. And this con crete and real universal makes the morality, which does exist, possible in theory as well as real in fact. It is this which modern Utilitarianism is blindly groping after, but it will not find it till it gives up the Hedonism of its end, and the basis of its psychology, which stands upon uncriticized, violent, and unreal metaphysical abstractions.

So much in passing, and here we might well end. We have dwelt too long on the efforts of Hedonism to compromise with morality, but we are forced to notice one last attempt. This consists in distinguishing pleasures, according to their quality,[14] into higher and lower. The former are superior, the latter are inferior; and hence, in preferring the higher pleasures, we are true to Hedonism, and yet are at one with the moral consciousness. We must briefly examine this doctrine.

It has two forms. One of these takes quality simply as quality; the other takes quality in relation to quantity, and looks on it as the index or result of quantity. The latter, we shall find, keeps true to the principle of the greatest surplus of pleasure, but it says nothing new. The former leaves the principle unawares, and moves unknowingly to other ground, but can get no standing-place for morality. Let us first discuss the latter; but, before we begin, we must call attention to the phrases ‘higher’ and ‘lower.’

Higher and lower (forgive me, dear reader) are ‘relative’: they are comparatives, and they hence mean more or less of something. Higher means nearer some top, or it means nothing. Lower means nearer some bottom, or it means nothing. This being established, when we talk of ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ pleasure, we ought to know what our top and our bottom are, or else we risk talking nonsense.

Next let me observe (and forgive me, if you can, reader) that top and bottom, as a rule, are ‘relative,’ and depend on the way in which you look at the matter. If the top is the ‘end,’ you may put the end anywhere: benevolence is (morally) higher than selfishness, murder is higher (as a crime) than larceny. You may speak of the height of goodness, badness, pleasure, pain, beauty, and ugliness. And so, when a man talks to us of ‘higher’ and ‘lower’, he says nothing to us at all, till we know what end or summit he has in his mind.

Again, higher and lower, as comparative terms, refer to degree. What is higher has a greater degree (or it has a greater number of degrees) of something definite; what is lower has a less degree or number of degrees. Their quality, as higher and lower, is referable to quantity.[15] So that apart from quantity, apart from degree, there is no comparison, no estimation, no higher and lower at all.

The result of these perhaps trivial considerations is that, if we are confined to mere quality, the words higher and lower have no meaning. If of two pleasures I can not say one is higher than the other in degree (as intenser), or as the result or producer of degree (as accompaniment of higher function, or as connected with approximation to some end), then the words higher and lower can not be applied to them. The sphere of mere quality is the world of immediate perception; and here we may say A or we may say B, but we can not make comparisons between A and B without leaving our sphere. I may take this and not that, I may choose that and not the other, but if, because of this and on the mere strength of this, I call one higher and one lower, I am not simply arbitrary and perhaps wrong in my opinion, but I am talking sheer and absolute nonsense.

To proceed then with one of our two views, (1) the theory which takes quality either as = intensive quantity, or as a means to quantity in general. The ‘higher pleasure’ is here the pleasure which contains in itself most degrees of pleasure, or which contributes on the whole to the existence of a larger number of degrees of pleasure. Here the principle of the greatest amount of pleasure is adhered to; that is the top, and what approaches to it or contributes to it is nearer the top. But since the moral ‘higher’ is here, as we see, the more pleasurable or the means to the more pleasurable, we come in the end to the amount, the quantity of pleasure without distinction of kind or quality; and having already seen that such an end is not a moral end, we get nothing from the phrases ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ unless it be confusion.

(2) The second view is that which distinguishes pleasures by their mere quality. The ‘higher’ pleasure here is not the more intense pleasure; it is not the pleasure connected with the maximum of pleasure on the whole without distinction of kind. It is the preferable kind of pleasure (Mill, Util., p. 12).

The first point to be noticed is that our theory gives up and abandons the greatest amount of pleasure principle. If you are to prefer a higher pleasure to a lower without reference to quantity—then there is an end altogether of the principle which puts the measure in the surplus of pleasure to the whole sentient creation. It is no use saying all pleasures are ends, only some are more ends. It is no use talking of ‘estimation’ and ‘comparison’ (Mill, pp. 12, 17). You have no standard to estimate by, no measure to make comparisons with. Given a certain small quantity of higher pleasure in collision with a certain large quantity of lower, how can you decide between them? To work the sum you must reduce the data to the same denomination. You must go to quantity or nothing; you decline to go to quantity, and hence you can not get any result. But if you refuse to work the sum, you abandon the greatest amount of pleasure principle.

There is no harm in doing that: but what else have we to go to? The higher pleasures? And what are the higher pleasures? We find higher pleasure means nothing but the pleasure which those who have experienced both it and others do as a fact choose in preference. Higher then, as we saw above, has no meaning at all, unless we go to something outside pleasure, for we may not go to quantity of pleasure. But, if we go outside pleasure, not only have we given up the greatest amount theory, but we have thrown over Hedonism altogether.[16]

Let us drop the word higher then, as we must. The end is pleasures in order, as they are preferred by men who know them. The objection which at once arises (p. 14) is, Is there not any difference of opinion? Do not different men, and does not even the same man at different times, prefer different pleasures? What is the answer? It is not very intelligible, and is too long to quote (pp. 14, 15). What it comes to would appear however to be either Yes, or No. Let us consider these alternatives one at a time.

(1) If we say ‘Yes, not only do different men prefer different pleasures, but so does the same man at different times’; then what basis have we left for a moral system? Merely this. Most men at most times do prefer one sort of pleasure to another; and from this we have to show that I ought to prefer one sort of pleasure to others at all times. We need not ask how the transition is to be made from what most men do to what I am to do. I think it can be made on no view of human nature, and I am quite sure it can not be made on Mill’s view. Supposing then that in Mill’s mouth moral obligation had a meaning, yet there is no reason why it should attach itself to the average pleasures of the average man.

(2) And if we say No, if having accepted the Platonic doctrine that the judge of pleasures is he who knows them all, we go further and assert with Sokrates that no man is willingly evil, that you can not prefer bad to good, that, if you take the bad, it is because you never have known or now do not know the good, we then I think are in good company, but in no better case. For an opponent will hold to the fact that he does knowingly prefer what is called bad to good, and will hence, by our argument, conclude first that bad is really good, and next that nothing can be either good or bad, since bad to one man is good to another. And if we, on the other hand, persist that the fact is impossible (I do not know how we are to prove it so), and that no one ever did or could choose what we call bad, when he had in his mind what we call good, then we identify immorality with ignorance, and moral obligation disappears. For every man not only does, but must do, the best on every occasion, so far as he knows it; his knowledge is an accident which has nothing to do with his will; he must act up to the ought, so far as he has an ought, and he can not do what he thinks is wrong.

To proceed—the basis of our moral theory is now, There is a scale of pleasures; some persons know all, and others only some; but you necessarily choose the pleasures you know according to the scale. I e.g. know the alphabet of pleasures, always or sometimes, up to M. ‘Immoral man to choose M, when you should have chosen P or R or even X.’ But I do not know what they are. ‘And therefore you are immoral, for I and a good many other people do.’ But let us drop the matter here; on such a theory, the reader will assent, moral obligation is unmeaning.[17]

On either supposition, then, these preferable pleasures found no ‘ought’ in the moral sense: you have them or you have them not; you like them or you do not like them; you know them or you do not know them; and there is an end of it. If A, B, and C call D immoral, D may return the epithet, and if he likes to say ‘ignorance is morality’ or to make any other assertion whatever, he can do it, as it appears to me, on precisely the same ground as A, B, and C have for their assertions, viz. no ground at all but likes and dislikes.

And here I think we might leave the matter; but, having gone so far, we may as well go a little further. Not only has moral obligation nothing in Mr. Mill’s theory to which it can attach itself save the likes or dislikes of one or more individuals, but in the end it is itself nothing more than a similar feeling.

‘The ultimate sanction of all morality’ is ‘a subjective feeling in our own minds’ (p. 41), and the ‘moral faculty’ is ‘susceptible by a sufficient use of the external sanctions, and of the force of early impressions, of being cultivated in almost any direction; so that there is hardly anything so absurd or so mischievous that it may not, by means of these influences, be made to act on the human mind with all the authority of conscience’ (p. 44). The feeling of obligation then, we see, does not refer itself essentially to anything in particular. And further, ‘this sanction has no binding efficacy on those who do not possess the feelings it appeals to’ (p. 42). ‘The sanction, so far as it is disinterested, is always in the mind itself, and the notion, therefore, of the transcendental moralists must be that this sanction will not exist in the mind, unless it is believed to have its root out of the mind, and that, if a person is able to say to himself, This which is restraining me and which is called my conscience, is only a feeling in my own mind, he may possibly draw the conclusion that when the feeling ceases the obligation ceases, and that, if he find the feeling inconvenient, he may disregard it and endeavour to get rid of it’ (pp. 42, 43). This is a serious matter; and I should say that any theory which maintains that a man may get rid of his sense of moral obligation if he can, and that, if he does so, the moral obligation is gone, is as grossly immoral a theory as ever was published. Does Mr. Mill repudiate the doctrine? Not at all; he evidently accepts it, though he prefers not to say so. The passage goes on: ‘But is this danger confined to the Utilitarian morality?’ etc. Now I am ashamed of repeating it so often, but I must entreat the reader not to have dust thrown in his eyes in this way, and not to be distracted by ‘transcendental moralists’ or any other bugbears. The question is, Is theory A true, or are we obliged to say that either theory A is false or the facts are a lie? The question is not, Have theories B and C the same fault as A? When we have done with A, we will then, if we choose, go to B and C; and if they turn out all false, that does not prove one true. These pleader’s devices are in place in a law-court, but philosophy does not recognize them.

If then all that the moral ‘ought’ means is that I happen to have a feeling which I need not have, and that this feeling attaches itself now to one set of pleasures and now to another set according to accident or my liking, would it not be better altogether to have done with the word, and, as some have done, openly to reject it and give it up, since already we have given up all that it stands for? But if we give up the word, then we have confessed that, as a theory of morals, Hedonism is bankrupt, and we left with nothing but our ‘natural sentiment.’

Hedonism is bankrupt; with weariness we have pursued it, so far as was necessary, through its various shapes, from the selfish doctrine of the individual to the self-sacrificing spirit of modern Utilitarianism. We have seen that in every form it gives an end which is illusory and impalpable. We have seen that its efforts to compromise with the moral consciousness are useless; that in no shape will it give us a creed that holds water, and that will justify to the enquiring mind those moral beliefs which it is not prepared for the sake of any theory to relinquish. Whatever we may think of those who embrace the doctrine, whatever may be its practical results, yet theoretically considered we have seen, I trust, that it is immoral and false, and are ready to endorse the saying, Ἡδονὴ τέλος, πόρνης δόγμα.

Modern Utilitarianism has a good object in view. Though we understand it differently, we have the same object in view, and that is why we are at issue with Utilitarianism.

We agree that it is desirable to have a standard of virtue which is palpable and ‘objective;’ and therefore we refuse to place the end in what is most impalpable, what is absolutely and entirely ‘subjective.’

We agree that the end is not the realization of an abstract idea; and therefore we refuse to take as our end the greatest amount of pleasure; for that is an abstract idea, and it is altogether unrealizable.

We agree that the end is not a ‘thing-in-itself,’ is not Heaven knows what or where, but is the end for us as men, τἀνθρώπινον ἀγαθόν; and therefore we refuse to find it in that element of the mind which is least distinctively human, and shared with us by the beasts that perish.

We agree that it must be κτητὸν ἀνθρώπῳ; and therefore we refuse to seek for it in that which has become a proverb for its fallaciousness.

We agree in the refusal to separate actions and consequences; and therefore we refuse to abstract from action one moment, viz. the accompanying or the consequent feeling, and put our test in the more or less of that.

We agree that happiness is the end; and therefore we say pleasure is not the end.

We agree that pleasure is a good; we say it is not the good.

We agree (strange fellowship!) with the author of the Essay on Liberty in affirming the ὅ πᾶσι δοκεῖ τοῦτ' εἷναι φαμέν; and therefore we dissent from a theory which gives the lie to the moral consciousness, and whose psychological basis destroys and makes unmeaning the maxim.

We agree to make the self-evolution of ourselves and of humanity the end. We refuse to place progress in the greater or less amount of ‘grateful feeling.’ We repeat the good old doctrine that the test of higher and lower can not lie in a feeling which accompanies the exercise of every function, but is to be found in the quality of the function itself. To measure that, we are to go to our idea of man, and to his place in creation and his evolution in history.

In one single word, the end and the standard is self-realization, and is not the feeling of self-realizedness.

May we suggest, in conclusion, that of all our Utilitarians there is perhaps not one who has not still a great deal to learn from Aristotle’s Ethics?1


1 Since the above was written Mr. Sidgwick’s book has appeared. I am far from wishing to deny to it a certain value, but on the subject of Hedonism I can not honestly say more than that he seems to me to have left the question exactly where he found it. As other people, however, seem to think otherwise, I am forced to define my position against him. But I labour here under two difficulties,—the first, want of space; the second, my inability to make sure of Mr. Sidgwick’s meaning.

The latter arises in great measure from the character of the work. Ostensibly critical, it goes throughout upon preconceptions, which not only are not discussed, but which often are not even made explicit. With some of these we must begin.

(1.) It is tacitly assumed that the individual and the universal are two independent things (p. 473). Hence the mere individual is not (as with us) an abstraction in our heads, but a real existence.

(2.) The practical result of this dogmatic preconception is seen on p. 374. To find a man’s ultimate end we are to suppose ‘only a single sentient conscious being in the universe.’ This supposition pre-supposes either that the universe is real out of relation to all consciousness, or is real in relation to one finite consciousness. An author no doubt has a right to maintain these or any other propositions, but whence he gets a right quietly to take them for granted I should be glad to be informed.

(3.) But let us suppose the possibility of a finite subject alone in a material universe, and then let us look at Mr. Sidgwick’s views from the ground of common sense.

On this ground I say (a) for myself, I can not imagine myself into the position of this solitary sentient, and doubt if the author, or any one else, can do so. (b) Passing this by, we come to the assertion that such a supposed being would consider itself to have some rational end, some ultimate good, something right and reasonable as such, for which to live. All I can say here is that, so far as I can imagine myself absolutely alone in a material world, I do not think it would occur to me that I had anything to live for. (c) Supposing however that, being forced so to continue, I did avoid pain and get pleasure, it would not occur to me to say that therefore I was realizing an ‘intrinsically and objectively desirable,’ the ‘end of Reason,’ the ‘absolutely Good or Desirable.’

Surely common sense must see that, to find what end we ought to pursue in the human life we live, by seeing what would be left us to pursue in an unimaginable and inhuman predicament, is not common sense at all, but simply bad metaphysics. No doubt a mere quantity is no more than the sum of its units, and to find the value of each unit no doubt you must isolate it by division. But tacitly to assume that the moral world is a mere sum of units, whose value can be found separately, is really nothing but an enormous piece of dogmatism.

Starting from these preconceptions as to the nature of the individual, we have to get to the conclusion that the pleasure of all is the end for each, which problem we have seen above is insoluble. Mr. Sidgwick has an argument whereby he ‘suppresses Egoism,’ which, so far as I can take it in, is as follows:—

(1) We do, as a fact, desire objects other than our pleasures. But
(2) Our private pleasure is for us the sole ultimate or rational desirable. But
(3) Our private pleasure as such is not rational. Therefore
(4) It is rational for us to desire something other than it. And because
(5) Pleasure is the only thing we can desire (?); therefore
(6) We desire, and are to desire, pleasure as rational. But that means pleasure in general, i.e. pleasure without reference to any feeling subject in particular.

(This is, of course, not Mr. Sidgwick’s statement, but my understanding, or very likely my misunderstanding, of him; so I shall not examine it in this form.)

He takes from Utilitarianism the pleasure of all as my end, whether I happen to want it or not He takes from the popular interpretation of the moral consciousness the desire for ‘the right and reasonable as such.’ These seem to go well together, and we say, ‘I am to desire the pleasure of all as right and reasonable as such.’ This assertion being emphatically repudiated, it is necessary to prove it. How to do this? As before, isolate a man, and you will see that he perceives intuitively that it is right and reasonable for him to pursue pleasure. This means that he perceives two things, (1) that he desires his private pleasure; (2) that he desires the reasonable. Put them together, and you get the argument; (a) The reasonable is not my private pleasure, (b) Other people’s pleasure is not my private pleasure. Therefore (c) other people’s pleasure is reasonable. Or, if this is not meant, perhaps the assertion is that the isolated man sees two things together, both that his pleasure is the reasonable end, and that not his pleasure, but pleasure as such, is so. In that case would it not be better to say at once, ‘I intuitively perceive that the Utilitarian conclusion is right’? for then the reply, ‘But I do not,’ would end the argument.

However Mr. Sidgwick may get to his conclusion, he has to make it good against two parties—(1) those who assert the right and reasonable, but deny that it is pleasure; (2) those who deny the right and reasonable, but assert pleasure as my private pleasure. (1) The first party (so far as I can represent them) have spoken already. We deny the intuition, and the reasoning we have sufficiently refuted by stating it; and if we wished to do more, we should do well to press for some further account of the phrases ‘objectively desirable,’ ‘real end of reason,’ &c. If my pleasure is my sole end, if the objective is (also) my end, then I should say there is a hopeless contradiction in which we stick. (2) But Mr. Sidgwick’s attitude towards Egoism is more instructive. Having first (after Butler) rightly denied the basis of Hedonism, viz. the assertion that I desire nothing but pleasure, he throws himself repentant into the arms of the true faith, and says, ‘Though as a fact other things are or seem to be desired, yet nothing but my pleasure is desirable.’ ‘My pleasure is the end.’ Here we have Egoism. ‘But,’ says Mr. Sidgwick, ‘the right and reasonable is objectively desirable.’ ‘Not so,’ replies the Egoist. ‘The objectively desirable is a fiction. The distinction of desired and desirable is wholly fallacious, unless “desirable” is a clumsy name for the means to what I desire. The end is what I do desire, and that is just what I happen to like; “reasonable” is what I correctly conclude is a means to that; and as for “right” and “ought,” if they are not a misleading way of saying this over again, they are as nonsensical as “objective end of reason.”’ And against this Mr. Sidgwick, having left the only true line, has nothing to say, but that he hopes the Egoist will be good enough to admit that something is objectively desirable as an end. If the Egoist does so, he is ‘suppressed’ certainly, and deserves to be. But will he do so? I recommend the reader to peruse Stirner’s book, Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum.

Mr. Sidgwick asserts that only my pleasure is desirable, and that I desire this as objectively desirable. But (1) if I desire my pleasure as mine in particular, is it not a flat contradiction to say I desire it as not mine in particular? and (2) can I desire my pleasure as pleasure in general? Is not that a pure fiction invented to support a weak compromise,—a fiction which neither of the parties opposed would, if they understood their position, attend to for a moment? Is my feeling pleased anything but my feeling pleased? Can you put the ‘feeling pleased’ on the one side, and the ‘my’ on the other? I know but one theory on which this is possible, and that is the view which, while it regards the distinctions of ‘me’ and ‘you’ as mere illusion or ‘Maja,’ nevertheless maintains that the pleasure and pain are not mere illusion. Against this view I am not called on to argue, and Mr. Sidgwick is, I imagine, no more a friend to it than I am.

I have criticized Mr. Sidgwick sharply, not from want of respect, but because I must be brief and fear to be obscure. Whether I understand him or not, I do not know; and with respect to what Mr. Bain has said on the same subject this again is my case. As to what he means by ‘disinterested action’ I have not the least idea. He speaks of ‘entering into the feelings of another being,’ which, on his view, is to me much as if he said, ‘One bag of marbles enters into the marbles of another bag;’ and again (Emotions, etc., ed. iii. p. 267), he talks of ‘pleasures whose nature is to take in other sentient beings,’ which, again, is as if he said, ‘There are some marbles whose nature it is to take in other bags of marbles.’ Either these things are illusions or not. If they are not, it seems to me they revolutionize the whole of Mr. Bain’s psychology. If they are, I want to know whether and why we are to rest our Ethics upon them. What seems clear to me is this—Pleasure is the one end, or it is not. If it is not, then Hedonism goes. If it is, then my pleasure is my end. The pleasure of others is neither a feeling in me, nor an idea of a feeling in me. If it seems to be so, this is a mere illusion. If what is not my feeling or its idea is my end, then the root of Hedonism is torn up. If so, the argument from the individual to the race disappears, because pleasure is not the sole end of the individual.

In this plight, nothing is left to Hedonism but an appeal to the facts of society. If these show that progress so far involves increase of pleasure (and here, on the question of fact, Hedonism has to meet Pessimism), that does not prove it will be always so; still less does it prove that the idea of increase of pleasure is the moving cause of progress, and even less that it ought to be.


Footnotes[edit]

  1. Thus rendered in Mr. C. Kegan Paul’s version of Faust:
    The highest might
    Of science quite
          Is from the world concealed!
    But whosoe’er
    Expends no care,
          To him it is revealed.
  2. ‘Whoever would disprove the theory which makes utility our guide, must produce another principle that were a surer and better guide.’
      ‘Now if we reject utility as the index to God’s commands, we must assent to the theory or hypothesis which supposes a moral sense. One of the adverse theories which regard the nature of that index is certainly true.’—Austin’s Jurisprudence, i. 79.
      If we wished to cross an unknown bog, and two men came to us, of whom the one said, ‘Some one must know the way over this bog, for there must be a way, and you see there is no one here beside us two, and therefore one of us two must be able to guide you. And the other man does not know the way, as you can soon see; therefore I must’—should we answer, ‘Lead on, I follow’? Philosophy would indeed be the easiest of studies, if we might arrive at truth by assuming that one of two accounts must be true, and prove the one by disproving the other; but in philosophy this is just what can not be done.
  3. Mr. Mill’s assertion that ‘most of the great positive evils of the world are in themselves removable’ (Utilitarianism, p. 21), calls for no remark; but the reader may perhaps think that Mr. Spencer’s doctrine of the Evanescence of Evil (Social Statics, p. 73, fol.) should be noticed. His proof seems (so far as I understand it) to rest on the following assumptions:—
      (1) The natural environment of mankind is stationary. Can this be proved?
      (2) The spiritual environment of mankind is stationary. Not only can this not be proved, but the opposite is, or ought to be, supposed by the doctrine of evolution. Progress must alter the environment.
      (3) Apparently children are to be born in harmony with their surroundings, and remain so till death.
      (4) Moral evil, in the sense of moral badness, is to disappear. It will be impossible to oppose one’s private good to the general good, and act according to the former. Self-will will cease, and with it the pain it brings.
      All these assumptions, I think, are wanted. Nos. 3 and 4 represent absolute impossibilities, so far as I understand the matter. No. 2 is impossible on the supposition of continual progress. No other supposition can be proved to be true; and No. 1 can not, I believe, be proved. How for Mr. Spencer’s own teaching contradicts these assumptions is of no importance here.
  4. It is an abstraction, no doubt, to consider pleasurable feelings as mere pleasures, but it is not our abstraction but the Hedonist’s. It is an abstraction, again, to consider feelings as merely particular. They can not be that, if they are our feelings, if they are the feelings of a self. But we can make our mere feeling self, as the self which feels mere pleasure and pain an object only in the series of its feelings, and these (as such a series) have no relations, each either within itself or beyond itself.
  5. I am quite aware that with some Hedonistic writers ‘happiness’ is not distinguished from ‘pleasure.’ They are said to be simply the same. This is an outrage on language, which avenges itself in the confusion described below, foot-note, p. 109. But the argument of the text is not affected by it. If happiness = pleasure, then ‘get happiness’ = ‘get pleasure.’ What is pleasure? It is a general name, and ‘get happiness’ will mean ‘get a general name.’ But a general name is not a reality, and can not be got. The reality is the particular. ‘Get happiness’ will mean then, ‘get some one pleasure.’ Is that it? No, we are to get all the happiness we can. And so, after all our quibbling, ‘get happiness’ does mean ‘get the largest possible sum or collection of pleasures.’ Mr Green, in his Introduction to Hume’s Treatise (ii. 7), has made this so clear, that one might have hoped it could not have been misunderstood. On the whole subject of this Essay let me recommend the student to consult him.
  6. I am anxious that the reader should not pass by this argument as a verbal puzzle. Beside it there is certainly much more to be said against Hedonism; but the root of Hedonism is not understood, until it is seen, (1) That pleasure, as such, is an abstraction (cf. Essay VII.); (2) That the sum of pleasures is a fiction. On this latter head I fear that I must further enlarge.
      ‘Get all you can’ is a familiar phrase, and is very good sense. I say to a boy, ‘Go into that room, and fetch out all the apples you can carry;’ and there is no nonsense in that. There is a given finite sum of apples, which I do not know, but which, under all the conditions, is the maximum. This is got and brought, and the task is accomplished. Why then not say, ‘Get all the pleasures you can’? For these reasons, (i) Let it be granted that there is a given finite sum of pleasures for the man to get; yet he never has got it. Only death puts an end to the work; and after death nothing, or the same unfinished task, (ii) There is really no such sum. A pleasure is only in the time during which I feel it. A past pleasure means either an idea, or another (secondary) impression. Itself is nothing at all: I did get it, I have not got it; and the ‘did get’ is not the pleasure. In order to have the sum of pleasures, I must have them all now, which is impossible. Thus you can not reach the end, and the effort to reach it is not in itself desirable. You may say, if you please, The end is an illusion, and the effort worthless in itself, but this particular effort gives a specific pleasure, which is the end. But if you do this, then you either (a) sink considerations of quantity, and the greatest happiness principle is given up; or (b) the same problem as above breaks out with respect to the sum of specific pleasures.
      If you admit that to get the greatest sum in life is unmeaning, then arises the question, Can you approximate, and make approximation the end? I will not raise the question, Can you approximate to a confessed fiction? and to avoid that, let us say, The end is for me, at any given moment of life, to be having then the greatest possible number of units of pleasure. Here we fall into the dilemma given in the text. Either happiness is never reached, or there is no one who does not reach the most perfect happiness imaginable.
      (i) If happiness means the greatest possible number of units, then I never reach it. Whatever I have is finite, and beyond every finite sum another unit is conceivable.
      (ii) If happiness means having all I can get, no matter how much or how little, then, given the truth of the common Hedonistic psychology, every man at every moment has absolute happiness. This is very obvious. ‘Why so?’ comes the objection; ‘if Mr A. had done otherwise, he would have had more pleasure.’ ‘You mean,’ I answer, ‘If he had been Mr B.’ When, in ordinary language, we say, ‘He did not do what he could, or what was possible,’ we mean, ‘His energy did expend itself in this direction, failed to do so in that,’ and we impute inability as a fault, where it is the result of previous misdirection [p. 42]. But the common Hedonist can not say this, because, according to him, there is only one possible direction of expenditure, i.e. the greatest seeming pleasure. You have no choice between pleasure and something else, you can do nothing but gravitate to what seems most pleasant, and you can not alter what seems except by your will, i.e. by gravitation to what seems most pleasant. Every one has done his conceivable utmost to approximate, and therefore is absolutely happy.
      I think the better plan for the Hedonist would be to make happiness a fixed finite sum, which can be got, and beyond which nothing counts; and similarly to fix an unhappiness point on the scale; but we have pursued the subject far enough.
      The question of the approximative character of all morality will be discussed in another place.
  7. Mill’s Util., p. 36.
  8. Liberty, &c., p. 363, ed. ii. Mr. Stephen has put this part of the case so strongly, that I have not thought it worth while to enlarge upon it. Kant is very clear and successful on this point.
  9. To define happiness as ‘increase in pleasure,’ or ‘the having more than we had,’ would not extricate us from our difficulties. For then no stationary state could be happy at all, and no man would be happier than another, save in respect of being in more intense transition. The actual amount of pleasure would go for nothing. But it is not worth while to develope the absurdities consequent on such a possible definition.
  10. ‘And to my God,’ I might add, against those who drag the Deity into the question.
  11. To bring the matter home to the reader, I will produce an example or two of cases where Hedonism gives no guidance. If in certain South Sea Islands the people have not what we call ‘morality,’ but are very happy, is it moral or immoral to attempt to turn them from their ways? If by an immoral act, which probably will not be discovered, I can defeat a stroke of pernicious policy on a large scale, what am I to do? Is prostitution a good or a bad thing? To prove that it is bad we must prove that it diminishes the surplus of pleasant sensations, and is not this a fair subject for argument? Do I or do I not add to the surplus of ‘grateful feeling’ by a given act or acts of sexual irregularity? This is a serious practical question, and I know that in many cases it is honestly answered in the affirmative; and in some of these cases, so far as such impalpable questions can be judged of, I should say the affirmation was correct. Is suicide ever allowable, and if so, when? and when not? Is murder? and if not, why not? and so on with all the crimes in the decalogue and out of it. If any given act is to be shown immoral, you must, if called on, exhibit the probability of its producing more pain than pleasure in the world, and is not this again and again a hopeless problem? Of course the Hedonist does not want the question raised. Of course he wants people to go by rules always, and that no one should ask any questions, except it be himself. That we quite understand. The point is, if I choose to raise such questions, on what ground can he say I may not? on what ground can he refuse to discuss the case? On what ground can he blame me, if I take and act on a view which is other than his view?
      ‘The beliefs which have thus come down are the rules of morality for the multitude, and for the philosopher until he has succeeded in finding better. That philosophers might easily do this, even now, on many subjects...I admit, or rather earnestly maintain’ (Mill, Util., p. 34). From the author of the Essay on Liberty this should mean a good deal. If the philosopher may make new rules, I suppose he may modify old ones. And who is ‘the philosopher’? Are we (as proposed for the franchise) to have an examination, passing in which shall entitle a man to try ‘experiments in living’? Or shall we leave it to private judgment? Then I should like to know in these days of ‘advanced thinking’ who would not be a ‘philosopher,’ and how many would be left in the ‘multitude.’
  12. Either Mill meant to argue, ‘Because everybody desires his own pleasure, therefore everybody desires his own pleasure;’ or, ‘Because everybody desires his own pleasure, therefore everybody desires the pleasure of everybody else.’ Disciples may take their choice. To us it matters not which interpretation be correct. In the one case Mill has proved his point by a pitiable sophism; in the other he has not proved any point at all.
  13. It is monstrous to argue thus:— ‘Because (1) on psychological grounds it is certain that we can desire nothing but our own private pleasure; because (2) on some other grounds something else (whatever it may be), something not my feeling of pleasure, something other than my private self, is desired and desirable; therefore (3) this something else which is desired and desirable is the pleasure of others, since, by (1), only pleasure can be desired.’ If we argue in this way, we may as well go a little further to—‘(4) and therefore we can and do desire something not our own private pleasure, and therefore (1) is false, and therefore the whole argument disappears, since it is upon (1) that the whole rests.’
      I am ashamed to have to examine such reasoning, but it is necessary to do so, since it is common enough. Is it not palpable at first sight, that (1) and (2) are absolutely incompatible, that each contradicts the other flatly? You must choose between them, and, whichever you choose, the proof of Utilitarianism goes, because that springs from the unnatural conjunction of both.
      The only escape that I can see is to say in (2) that something is desirable though not desired, and write ‘not desired but desirable’ for ‘desired and desirable.’ But not only is this perhaps altogether unmeaning, but also the conclusion now disappears; you can get nothing from the premises. Because A is desired and B is desirable, it does not follow, I suppose, that a hash of A and B is desired and desirable.
  14. There is a point which might be raised here, and which is of considerable importance. It is this. Are pleasures, as pleasures, distinguishable by anything else than quantity? The pleasure, as such, is not the whole pleasant feeling, not the whole of what is felt. Then we have to ask, Does this ‘what is felt,’ which qualifies the pleasure, and makes it of one sort and not of another, make part of the mere pleasure itself, as pleasure? Or have we to say, Pleasure is itself always one and the same, and differs only in degree; sorts of pleasures are degrees of the same pleasure in reference to sorts of other feelings, which, as such, are not pleasures as such? Or more briefly, Has pleasure any content in itself? If not, then it has no qualitative distinctness in itself, but only by its reference to that which it goes with. Is not pleasure, as such, the abstraction of one element of a whole psychical state from that state; and when so abstracted, are there differences of kind in it, or only of degree? Not wishing to give a positive opinion on this point, I have not introduced it into the text as affecting the argument. But the thoughtful reader will at once perceive its bearing. Hedonism, when it ceases to aim at pleasure as such and nothing but pleasure, is false to its principle and becomes incoherent. But if pleasure, as such, is not qualitatively distinguishable, then we must have regard to nothing but quantity.
  15. Speaking roughly and inaccurately, we may say they are of this quality, as containing more or fewer degrees of somewhat, or as the result of more or fewer degrees, or (what comes to the same thing) as producing a qualitative result which is referred to more or fewer degrees; e.g., a certain warmth is higher, because containing more degrees of objective heat; a piece of work is higher if it is the result of more skill; and A’s skill stands higher than B’s, if A produces a result which B can not produce, and if the result must be referred to the amount of skill in the performer.
  16. Mill is unaware that he has done so, because of the various senses in which he uses the word happiness. Happiness is (pp. 8, 10) simply identified with pleasure. Then (13, 14) appears the doctrine that happiness may exist without contentment, and (I suppose) contentment without happiness. We hear (13) that the ‘sense of dignity’ is ‘part’ of happiness, and (19) we see happiness means a desirable kind of life. It is a ‘concrete whole,’ with ‘parts’ (55). It has ‘ingredients’ (53), and appears not to be a mere ‘aggregate’ or ‘collective something.’ Instead of pleasure, it has plainly come to mean something like the life we prefer, and hence greatest happiness will stand for the widest and intensest realization of such an ideal. This is to leave Hedonism altogether. [My references throughout are to Utilitarianism, ed. i., the only one I have at hand.]
  17. At the risk of hypercriticism I will make one or two further remarks on Mill’s view. According to it, pleasures must stand in a kind of order of merit, represented, let us say, by the letters of the alphabet. All pleasures, because pleasures, are good in themselves. A pleasure is immoral only when taken where a higher was possible, now or as a consequence. Then every pleasure is moral, because it has a supposable pleasure below it; every pleasure is immoral, because there is always a supposable pleasure above it. No man is moral, because his knowledge is limited, and he therefore can not always take the highest conceivable pleasure; but if so, then all men are equally moral, for they all take the highest pleasure they know. Or, passing by this, let us suppose the pleasures divided into two classes, higher and lower. If the lower are to be considered at all, then, as we have said, in the event of a collision the problem is insoluble, because what is not of the same denomination can not be compared. Let us suppose then that the lower are not to be considered, and we are left with the higher. Here the same problem breaks out. For these pleasures are no system; if you make the idea of a system your end, and regulate the pleasures by that, you have deserted Hedonism. The pleasures are no system, and they are not all of equal value. Hence, as above, they can not be calculated quantitatively. In the event of collisions then (such as must take place) between e.g. the pleasures of philosophy, pleasures of natural science, pleasures of virtue, pleasures of love, pleasures of the table, pleasures of the ‘theopathic affections,’ pleasures of fine art, pleasures of history, etc., you have again a problem which can not be solved except by the caprice of the individual, who will prefer for himself and others what he likes best.
      Another point of interest is that the theory which begins with the most intense democracy, wide enough to take in all life that feels pleasure and pain, ends in a no less intense Platonic aristocracy. The higher pleasure is to be preferred to any amount of the lower, and I suppose is to constitute the moral standard. But clearly the beasts are incapable of refined pleasures; the vulgar are better, but still very low; the only man who knows the highest pleasure is the philosopher. He is moral, the universe below is immoral in increasing degree. And, since no amount of lower can weigh against higher, and, since the highest pleasures (and only the philosopher can judge what they are, for only he knows all) are realizable only in the few, therefore we must live for the few, and not for the many. And I suppose the same argument might be used by the artist, or well-nigh any one else. But it is not worth while to pursue the matter further.