Ethical Studies/Essay 6

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Ideal Morality.

IN our criticism of the view developed in Essay V. we saw that, however true the main doctrine of that Essay may be, it is no sufficient answer to the question, What is morality? and, guided by its partial failure, we must try to find a less one-sided solution.

We saw (in Essay II.) that the end was the realizing of the self; and the problem which in passing suggested itself was, Are morality and self-realization the same thing, or, if not altogether the same, in what respect are they different?

That in some way they do differ is clear from the popular views on the subject. Every one would agree that by his artistic or scientific production, an artist or a man of science does realize himself, but no one, not blinded by a theory, would say that he was moral just so far as, and because, what he produced was good of its sort and desirable in itself. A man may be good at this or that thing, and may have done good work in the world; and yet when asked, ‘But was he a good man?’ we may find ourselves, although we wish to say Yes, unable to do more than hesitate. A man need not be a good man just so far as he is a good artist; and the doctrine which unreservedly identifies moral goodness with any desirable realization of the self can not be maintained.

Can we then accept the other view, which, as it were, separates morality into a sphere of its own; which calls a man moral according as he abstains from direct breaches of social rules, and immoral if he commits them; while it forgets that the one man may be lazy, selfish, and without a wish to improve himself, while the other, with all his faults, at least loves what is beautiful and good, and has striven towards it? We can not do that unless, while we recognize the truth of the doctrine, we shut our eyes to its accompanying falsity.

And, finding in neither the expression of our moral consciousness, we thankfully accept the correction which sees in ‘conduct’ nine tenths of life, though we can not expect the main question to be answered by a coarse and popular method, which divides into parts instead of distinguishing aspects; and though, in the saving one tenth and the sweeping nine tenths alike, we can see little more than the faltering assertion of one mistake, or the confident aggravation of another.

A man’s life, we take it, can not thus be cut in pieces. You can not say, ‘In this part the man is a moral being, and in that part he is not.’ We have not yet found that fraction of his existence in which the moral goodness of the good man is no more realized, and where ‘the lusts of the flesh’ cease to wage their warfare. We have heard in the sphere of religion, ‘Do all to the glory of God,’ and here too we recognize no smaller claim. To be a good man in all things and everywhere, to try to do always the best, and to do one’s best in it, whether in lonely work or in social relaxation to suppress the worse self and realize the good self, this and nothing short of this is the dictate of morality. This, it seems to us, is a deliverance of the moral consciousness too clear for misunderstanding, were it not for two fixed habits of thought. One of these lies in the confining of a man’s morality to the sphere of his social relations; the other is the notion that morality is a life harassed and persecuted everywhere by ‘imperatives’ and disagreeable duties, and that without these you have not got morality. We have seen, and have yet to see, that the first has grasped only part of the truth; and on the second it is sufficient to remark that it stands and falls with the identification of morality with unwilling obedience to law, and that, according to the common view, a man does not cease to be good so far as goodness becomes natural and pleasant to him.

But we shall be met at this point with an absurdity supposed to follow. Work of any sort, it will be said, is, we grant you, a field for morality, and so is most of life in relation to others; but there must be a sphere where morality ceases, or else it will follow that a man is moral in all the trifling details of his own life which concern him alone, and no less again in his amusements. If morality does not stop somewhere, you must take it to be a moral question not only whether a man amuses himself, but also how he amuses himself. There will be no region of things indifferent, and this leads to consequences equally absurd and immoral.[1] We answer without hesitation that in human life there is, in one sense, no sphere of things indifferent, and yet that no absurd consequences follow. If it is my moral duty to go from one town to another, and there are two roads which are equally good, it is indifferent to the proposed moral duty which road I take; it is not indifferent that I do take one or the other; and whichever road I do take, I am doing my duty on it, and hence it is far from indifferent: my walking on road A is a matter of duty in reference to the end, though not a matter of duty if you consider it against walking on road B; and so with B—but I can escape the sphere of duty neither on A nor on B. In order to realize the good will in a finite corporeal being it is necessary that certain spheres should exist, and should have a general character; this is a moral question, and not indifferent. The detail of those spheres within certain limits does not matter; not that it is immaterial that there is a detail of trifles, and hence not that this and that trifle has no moral importance, but that this trifle has no importance against that trifle. Qualify a trifle by subordinating it to a good will, and it has moral significance; qualify it by contrast with another trifle, and morally it signifies nothing. This is plain enough, and, so far as it goes, will I hope be sufficient. The reader no doubt will see that, if a class of acts is morally desirable, then whatever falls within that class is also morally desirable, so far as falling therein; though in its other relations it may be indifferent.

But the difficulty which remains will be something of this sort. The reader will feel that, to a certain extent, the regulation of the times and fields of amusements, &c., and, to a still larger extent, the choice of trifling details therein, involves no reflection, no deliberate choice, is not made a matter of conscience, is in a word done naturally; and he may find a difficulty in seeing how, if this is so, it can be said to fall within the moral sphere. Morality, he may feel, does tell me it is good to amuse myself, and more decidedly that I may not amuse myself beyond certain limits; but within those limits it leaves me to my natural self. In this, it seems to us, there is a twofold misapprehension, a mistake as to the limits, and a mistake as to the character of the moralized self. It is, first, an error to suppose that in what is called human life there remains any region which has not been moralized. Whatever has been brought under the control of the will, it is not too much to say, has been brought into the sphere of morality; in our eating, our drinking, our sleeping, we from childhood have not been left to ourselves; and the habits, formed in us by the morality outside of us, now hold of the moral will which in a manner has been their issue. And so in our lightest moments the element of control and regulation is not wanting; it is part of the business of education to see that it is there, and its absence, wherever it is seen to be absent, pains us. The character shows itself in every trifling detail of life; we can not go in to amuse ourselves while we leave it outside the door with our dog; it is ourself, and our moral self, being not mere temper or inborn disposition, but the outcome of a series of acts of will. Natural it is indeed well to be; but that is because by this time morality should be our nature, and good behaviour its unreflecting issue; and to be natural in any sense which excludes moral habituation is never, so far as I know the world, thought desirable. In a good and amiable man the good and amiable self is present throughout, and that self is for us a moral self. This brings us to the second mistake, which also rests on the same misapprehension of the cardinal truth that what is natural can not be moral, nor what is moral natural. ‘What is natural does not reflect, and without reflection there is no morality. Hence, where we are natural because we do not reflect, there we can not be moral.’ So runs the perversion. But here it is forgotten that we have reflected; that acts which issue from moral reflection have qualified our will; that our character thus, not only in its content, but also in the form of its acquisition, is within the moral sphere; and that a character, whether good or bad, is a second nature. The man to whom it ‘comes natural’ to be good is commonly thought a good man, and the good self of the good man is present in and determines the detail of his life not less effectually because unconsciously. So far facts speak loudly, and the only path which remains open to the objector, is to deny that the good self is necessarily a moral self, on the ground not that its content is non-moral, but that its genesis is so; in other words, because, though moral in itself, it is not so for the agent. We may be told, the genesis of the good self generally is not a moral genesis, or in this and that sphere or relation it is not so, and hence, though good, it need not, so far as good, be moral. To the consideration of this question we shall have to come later, and at present can only observe that we refuse to separate goodness conscious or unconscious from the will to be good, or the will to be good from morality; and we assert that, because the good self shows itself everywhere, therefore there is no part of life at which morality stops and goes no further. Thus much against the notion that in our amusements, &c., we cease to be moral beings, that there is a tenth part of life where conduct is not required. But as to the remaining nine-tenths we need surely say no more: wherever there is anything to be done not in play but in earnest, there the moral consciousness tells us it is right to do our best, and, if this is so, there can be no question but that here is a field for morality.[2]

It is a moral duty to realize everywhere the best self, which for us in this sphere is an ideal self; and, asking what morality is, we so far must answer, it is coextensive with self-realization in the sense of the realization of the ideal self in and by us. And thus we are led to the enquiry, what is the content of this ideal self.[3]


From our criticism on the foregoing Essay we can at once gather that the good self is the self which realizes (1) a social, (2) a non-social ideal; the self, first, which does, and, second, which does not directly and immediately involve relation to others. Or from another point of view, what is aimed at is the realization in me (1) of the ideal which is realized in society, of my station and its duties, or (2) of the ideal which is not there fully realized; and this is (a) the perfection of a social and (b) of a non-social self. Or again (it is all the same thing) we may divide into (1) duties to oneself which are not regarded as social duties, (2) duties to oneself[4] which are so regarded, these latter being (a) the duties of my station which I happen to be in, (b) duties beyond that station. Let us further explain.

The content of the good self, we see, has a threefold origin; and (1) the first and most important contribution comes from what we have called my station and its duties, and of this we have spoken already at some length. We saw that the notion of an individual man existing in his own right independent of society was an idle fancy, that a human being is human because he has drawn his being from human society, because he is the individual embodiment of a larger life; and we saw that this larger life, of the family, society, or the nation, was a moral will, an universal the realization of which in his personal will made a man’s morality. We have nothing to add here except in passing to call attention to what we lately advanced, viz. that the good man is good throughout all his life and not merely in parts; and further to request the reader to turn to himself and ask himself in what his better self consists. He will find, if we do not mistake, that the greater part of it consists in his loyally, and according to the spirit, performing his duties and filling his place as the member of a family, society, and the state. He will find that, when he has satisfied the demands of these spheres upon him, he will in the main have covered the claims of what he calls his good self. The basis and foundation of the ideal self is the self which is true to my station and its duties.

But (2) we saw also that, if we investigate our good self, we find something besides, claims beyond what the world expects of us, a will for good beyond what we see to be realized anywhere. The good in my station and its duties was visibly realized in the world, and it was mostly possible to act up to that real ideal; but this good beyond is only an ideal; for it is not wholly realized in the world we see, and, do what we may, we can not find it realized in ourselves. It is what we strive for and in a manner do gain, but never attain to and never possess. And this ideal self (so far as we are concerned with it here) is a social self. The perfect types of zeal and purity, honour and love, which, figured and presented in our own situation and circumstances, and thereby unconsciously specialized, become the guides of our conduct and law of our being, are social ideals. They directly involve relation to other men, and, if you remove others, you immediately make the practice of these virtues impossible.[5]

This then is the ideal self which in its essence is social; and concerning this many difficulties arise which we can not discuss. Among these would be the two enquiries, What is the origin, and what the content of this ideal self? In passing we may remark that the first contains two questions which are often confused, viz. (a) How is it possible for the mind to frame an ideal; or, given as a fact a mind which idealizes, what must be concluded as to its nature? Can anything idealize unless itself in some way be an ideal? This, we need not say, suggests serious problems which we can not even touch upon here. Then (b) it contains also the questions, What was the historical genesis of the ideal; by what steps did it come into the world? And again, What is its genesis in us? And these can scarcely be separated from one another, or from the further enquiry, What is its content?

The historical genesis we shall not enter on; and as to the genesis in the individual, we will merely remark that we seem first to see in some person or persons the type of what is excellent; then by the teaching, tradition, and imagination of our own and other countries and times, we receive a content which we find existing realized in present or past individuals, and finally detach from all as that which is realized wholly in none, but is an ideal type of human perfection. At this point we encounter a question of fact, namely, how far the ideal which serves as a guide to conduct is presented in an individual form. No doubt two extremes exist. A large number of men have, I think, no moral ideal beyond the station they live in, and of these some are even satisfied with the presentation of this or that known person as a type; while again in the highest form of morality the ideal is not figured in the shape of an individual.[6] But between the extremes must be endless gradations.

We have previously said something as to the way in which the ideal is made use of in moral judgments, and what remains is to call attention to the content of this social ideal. It is obvious at once that it is a will which practises no other kind of virtues than those which we find in the world; and we can see no reason for supposing this presented ideal self to be anything beyond the idealization of what exists in human nature, the material idealized being more or less cosmopolitan, and the abstraction employed being more or less one-sided.

And with these cursory and insufficient remarks we must dismiss the ideal of a perfect social being.

But (3) there remains in the good self a further region we have not yet entered on; an ideal, the realization of which is recognized as a moral duty, but which yet in its essence does not involve direct relation to other men.[7] The realization for myself of truth and beauty, the living for the self which in the apprehension, the knowledge, the sight, and the love of them finds its true being, is (all those who know the meaning of the words will bear me out) a moral obligation, which is not felt as such only so far as it is too pleasant.

It is a moral duty for the artist or the enquirer to lead the life of one, and a moral offence when he fails to do so. But on the other hand it is impossible, without violent straining of the facts, to turn these virtues into social virtues or duties to my neighbour. No doubt such virtues do as a rule lead indirectly to the welfare of others, but this is not enough to make them social; their social bearing is indirect, and does not lie in their very essence. The end they aim at is a single end of their own, the content of which does not necessarily involve the good of other men. This we can see from supposing the opposite. If that were true, then it would not be the duty of the enquirer, as such, simply to enquire, or of the artist, as such, simply to produce the best work of art; but each would have to consider ends falling outside his science or art, and would have no right to treat these latter as ends in themselves. ‘Nor has he,’ may be the confident answer. I reply that to me this is a question of fact, and to me it is a fact that the moral consciousness recognizes the perfecting of my intellectual or artistic nature by the production of the proper results, as an end in itself and not merely as a means. The pursuit of these ends, apart from what they lead to, is approved as morally desirable, not perhaps by the theory, but, I think, by the instinctive judgment of all persons worth considering; and if, and while, this fact stands, for me at least it is not affected by doctrines which require that it should be otherwise. To say, without society science and art could not have arisen, is true. To say, apart from society the life of an artist or man of science can not be carried on, is also true; but neither truth goes to show that society is the ultimate end, unless by an argument which takes the basis of a result as its final cause, and which would prove the physical and physiological conditions of society to be the end for which it existed. Man is not man at all unless social, but man is not much above the beasts unless more than social.

If it be said that, morally considered, the realization of the social self is an end, and that of the non-social nothing but an outward means, and that hence science and art are not to be pursued independently, no doubt it would be possible to meet such an assertion by argument from and upon its own ground. We might urge that science is most useful, when treated as more than useful. But we decline by doing this to degrade and obscure the question. We repeat that the assertion is both unproven and false, and the decision is left to the moral consciousness of the reader.

And if again it be said that the social self is the one end, but yet none the less science and art are ends in themselves, and to be pursued independently; they are included in the social self, and therefore, as elements in the end, are themselves ends and not mere means—then, in answer, I will not reply that this is false (for indeed I hope it may be true), but only that it is utterly unproven. It is on the assertor that the burden of proof must lie. To us it seems plain that the content of the theoretical self does not in its essence involve relation to others: nothing is easier than to suppose a life of art or speculation which, as far as we can see, though true to itself, has, so far as others are concerned, been sheer waste or even loss, and which knew that it was so. This is a fairly supposable case, and no one I think can refuse to enter on it. Was the life immoral? I say, No, it was not therefore immoral, but may have been therefore moral past ordinary morality. And if I am told Yes, it was moral, but it was social: it did in its essence involve relation to others, because there is a necessary connection (nothing short of this proves the conclusion) between theoretic realization in this and that man, and the realization of him therein and thereby in relation to others, and perhaps also of society as a whole—then I answer, You are asserting in the teeth of appearances; you must prove this necessary connection, and, I think I may add, you can not do it. What you say may be true, but science, or at all events your science, can not guarantee it; and it is not a truth for the moral consciousness, but leads us further into another region.


Our result at present is as follows. Morality is coextensive with self-realization, as the affirmation of the self which is one with the ideal; and the content of this self is furnished (1) by the objective world of my station and its duties, (2) by the ideal of social, and (3) of non-social perfection. And now we have to do with the question, How do these spheres stand to one another? And this is in some ways an awkward question, because it brings up practical everyday difficulties. They are something of this sort. May a man, for the sake of science or art, venture on acts of commission or omission which in any one else would be immoral; or, to put it coarsely, may he be what is generally called a bad man, may he trample on ordinary morality, in order that he may be a good artist? Or again, if the perhaps less familiar question of the relation of (1) to (2) comes up, the doubt is, Must I do the work that lies next me in the world, and so serve society even, as it seems, to the detriment of my own moral being? May I adopt a profession considered moral by the world, but which, judged by my ideal, can not be called moral?

The first point to which we must call attention is that all these are cases of colliding duties. In none of them is there a contest between the claims of morality and of something else not morality. In the moral sphere such a contest is impossible and meaningless. We have in all of them a conflict between moral duties which are taken to exclude one another, e.g. my moral duty as artist on the one hand and as father of a family on the other, and so on: we have nothing to do with examples where morality is neglected or opposed in the name of anything else than an other and higher morality.

And the second point, which has engaged us before (pp. 141-3, 174 foll.), and on which we desire to insist with emphasis, is, that cases of collision of duties are not scientific but practical questions. Moral science has nothing whatever to do with the settlement of them; that would belong, did such a thing exist, to the moral art. The difficulties of collisions are not scientific problems; they arise from the complexity of individual cases, and this can be dealt with solely by practical insight, not by abstract conceptions and discursive reasoning. It is no use knowing that one class of duties is in the abstract higher than another: moral practice is not in abstracto, and the highest moral duty for me is my duty; my duty being the one which lies next me, and perhaps not the one which would be the highest, supposing it were mine. The man who can give moral advice is the man of experience, who, from his own knowledge and by sympathy, can transport himself into another’s case; who knows the heart and sees through moral illusion; and the man of mere theory is in the practical sphere an useless and dangerous pedant.

And now in particular the relation of the two ideal spheres to the real sphere is precisely what subsists inside the real sphere between its own elements. We saw (p. 141) that, as in no one action can all duties be fulfilled, in every action some duties must be neglected. The question is what duty is to be done and left undone here; and so in the world of my station neglect of duties is allowed. And, apart from the difficulty (often the impossibility) of distinguishing omission and commission from a moral point of view, we saw (ibid.) that positive breaches of moral law were occasionally moral. And hence if an artist or man of science considers himself called upon, by his duty to art or science, to neglect, or to commit a breach of ordinary morality, we must say that, in the abstract and by itself, that is not to be condemned. It is a case of colliding duties, such as happens every day in other fields, and its character is not different because extraordinary.

And further, if a claim be set up, on the ground of devotion to no common end, to be judged in one’s life by no common standard, we must admit that already within the sphere of my station that claim is usually allowed. We excuse in a soldier or sailor what we do not excuse in others, from whom the same duties are not expected. The morality of the pushing man of business, and still more of the lawyer and the diplomatist in the exercise of their calling, is not measured by the standard of common life; and so, when the service of the ideal is appealed to in justification of neglect and breaches of law, we say that the claim is valid in itself, the abstract right is undeniable, the case is a case of collision, and the question of moral justification is a question of particular fact.

Collision of duties carries all this with it on the one side, but we must not forget what it carries on the other. In raising that excuse we are saying, ‘I neglect duty because of duty;’ and this means we recognize two duties, one higher than the other. And first it implies that we are acting, not to please ourselves, but because we are bound by what we consider moral duty. It implies again that we consider what we break through or pass by, not as a trifle, but as a serious moral claim, which we disregard solely because, if we do not do so, it prevents us from performing our superior service.

Common social morality is the basis of human life. It is specialized in particular functions of society, and upon its foundation are erected the ideals of a higher social perfection and of the theoretic life; but common morality remains both the cradle and protecting nurse of its aspiring offspring, and, if we ever forget that, we lie open to the charge of ingratitude and baseness. Some neglect is unavoidable; but open and direct outrage on the standing moral institutions which make society and human life what it is, can be justified (I do not say condoned) only on the plea of overpowering moral necessity. And the individual should remember that the will for good, if weakened in one place, runs the greatest risk of being weakened in all.

Our result then is that ideal morality stands on the basis of social, that its relation thereto is the same relation that subsists within the social sphere, and that everywhere, since duty has to give way to duty, neglect and breaches of ordinary in the name of higher morality are justifiable in the abstract (and that is all we are concerned with); but if the claim be set up, on account of devotion to the ideal, for liberty to act thus not in the name of moral necessity, or to forget that what we break through or disregard is in itself to be respected, such a claim is without the smallest moral justification.[8]

The highest type we can imagine is the man who, on the basis of everyday morality, aims at the ideal perfection of it, and on this double basis strives to realize a non-social ideal. But where collisions arise, there, we must repeat, it is impossible for mere theory to offer a solution, not only because the perception which decides is not a mere intellectual perception, but because no general solution of individual difficulties is possible.


To return to our main discussion—the field of morality we find is the whole field of life; its claim is as wide as self-realization, and the question raised before (p. 59) now presents itself, Are morality and self-realization the same and not different? This appears at first sight to be the case. The moral end is to realize the self, and all forms of the realizing of the self are seen to fall within the sphere of morality; and so it seems natural to say that morality is the process of self-realization, and the most moral man is the man who most fully and energetically realizes human nature. Virtue is excellence, and the most excellent is the most virtuous.

If we say this, however, we come into direct collision with the moral consciousness, which clearly distinguishes moral from other excellence, and asserts that the latter is not in itself moral at all; and, referring back (p. 129), we find the deliverance of that consciousness in the emphatic maxim that nothing is morally good save a good will. This maxim we shall forthwith take to be true, and so proceed.

Morality then will be the realization of the self as the good will. It is not self-realization from all points of view, though all self-realization can be looked at from this one point of view; for all of it involves will, and, so far as the will is good, so far is the realization moral. Strictly speaking and in the proper sense, morality is self-realization within the sphere of the personal will. We see this plainly in art and science, for there we have moral excellence, and that excellence does not lie in mere skill or mere success, but in single-mindedness and devotion to what seems best as against what we merely happen to like. Θεωρία is at the same time πρᾶξις, and so far as it is πρᾶξις, so far is it moral or immoral.[9] And even in the sphere of my station and its duties, when in the stricter sense you consider it morally, you find that the same thing holds. From the highest point of view you judge a man moral not so far as he has succeeded outwardly, but so far as he has identified his will with the universal, whether that will has properly externalized itself or not. Morality has not to do immediately with the outer results of the will: the results it looks at are the habits and general temper produced by acts, and, strictly speaking, it does not fall beyond the subjective side, the personal will and the heart. Clearly a will which does not utter itself is no will,[10] but you can not measure a will morally by external results: they are an index, but an index that must be used with caution. We shall return to the question, What is the measure of a man’s morality?

The general end is self-realization, the making real of the ideal self; and for morality, in particular, the ideal self is the good will, the identification of my will with the ideal as an universal will. The end for morals is a will, and my will, and an universal will, and one will. Let us briefly refer on these heads to the moral consciousness.

Nothing, we have seen, is good but a good will. The end for morals is not the mere existence of any sort of ideal indifferently, but it is the realization of an ideal will in my will. The end is the ideal willed by me, the willing of the ideal in and by my will, and hence an ideal will. And my will as realizing the ideal is the good will. A will which obeys no law is not moral, a law which is not willed is nothing for morality. Acts, so far as they spring from the good will, are good, and a temper and habits and character are good so far as they are a present good will, result from it and embody it; and what issues from a good character must thus likewise be morally good.

That the good will for morality is my will is obvious enough, and it is no less plain (pp. 130, 147) that it is presented as universal. That does not mean that everybody does or has to do what I do, but it means that, if they were I, they must do as I have to do, or else be immoral; it means that my moral will is not the mere will of myself as this or that man, but something above it and beyond it. And further, again, the good will is presented as one will; in collisions, going to our moral consciousness, we are told that, if we knew it, there is a right, that the collision is for us, and is not for the good will. We can not bring before us two diverse good wills, or one good will at cross purposes and not in harmony with itself; and we feel sure that, if our will were but one with the universal, then we too should be one with ourselves, with no conflict of desires, but a harmony and system.

Such is the will presented to itself by the moral consciousness, but for the moral consciousness that is ideal and not real. Within the sphere of morality the universal remains but partially realized: it is something that for ever wants to be, and yet is not.

We saw that the will of the social organism might be called an universal will, and a will which was visibly real, as well as ideal; but we saw too that the sphere of my station and its duties did not cover the whole good self; and further, even within that sphere, and apart from difficulties of progress, for morality in the strict sense ideal and real remain apart. The bad self is not extinguished, and in myself I see an element of will wherein the universal is unrealized, and against which it therefore remains (so far as my morality is concerned) a mere idea; for, even if we assume that society gets no hurt, yet I do not come up to my special type.

For morals then the universal is not realized within my station, and furthermore the moral consciousness does not say that it is realized anywhere at all. The claim of the ideal is to cover the whole field of reality, but our conscience tells us that we will it here, and that there again we do not will it, here it is realized, and there it is not realized, and we can not point to it in ourselves or others and say, Here is the universal incarnate, and fully actual by and as the will of this or that man; and indeed we see that for the ideal self to be in the world as the expressed will of this or that spiritualized animal is quite out of the question.

Of course if religion, and more particularly if Christianity be brought in, the answer must be different. The ideal here is an universal, because it is God’s will, and because it therefore is the will of an organic unity, present though unseen, which is the one life of its many members, which is real in them, and in which they are real; and in which, through faith for them and for God we do not know how, the bad self is unreal. But all this lies beyond morality: my mere moral consciousness knows nothing whatever about it. And we must give the same answer, if we are told on other grounds that humanity is an actually existing organic community, in which we are members, and whose will is present in us. For supposing that the identity (not mere likeness) of the best self in all men is proved, and further the right established to use the word ‘humanity,’ not as an abstract term for an abstract idea, nor as a name for an imaginary collection of all past, present, and future individuals, but for a real corporate unity, yet still we must say, My conscience tells me that my bad self is real; and whether on speculative grounds you try to show that it is unreal, or bring in faith, yet in either case you have gone beyond morality; for morality the good is still only realized in part, and there is something against which it still remains a mere idea.

The ideal self then for morals is not visibly universal nor fully actual. It is not visibly and in the world seen to be an harmonious system, but in the world and in us realizes, it would seem, itself against itself. And in us it is not a system; our self is not a harmony, our desires are not fully identified with the ideal, and the ideal does not always bring peace in its train. In our heart it clashes with itself, and desires we can not exterminate clash with our good will, and, however much we improve (if we do improve), we never are perfect, we never are a harmony, a system, as our true idea is, and as it calls upon us to be.

Thus morality, because its end is not completely realized, is after all ideal; and what we have next to see is that it is not simply positive; it is also negative. The self, which, as the good will, is identified with our type, has to work against the crude material of the natural wants, affections, and impulses, which, though not evil in themselves, stand in the way of good, and must be disciplined, repressed, and encouraged. It is negative again of what is positively evil, the false self, the desires and habits which embody a will directly contrary to the good will. And further it belongs to its essence that it should be so negative of both, because a being not limited, and limited by evil in himself, is not what we call moral. (Cf. p. 131.) A moral will must be finite, and hence have a natural basis; and it must to a certain extent (how far is another matter) be evil, because a being which does not know good and evil is not moral, and because (as we shall see more fully hereafter) the specific characters of good and evil can be known only one against the other, and furthermore can not be apprehended by the mere intellect, but only by inner experience. Morality, in short, implies a knowledge of what the ‘ought’ means, and the ‘ought’ implies contradiction and moral contradiction.

So we see morality is negative; the non-moral and the immoral must exist as a condition of it, since the moral is what it is only in asserting itself against its opposite. But morality is not merely negative; it is a great mistake to suppose that the immoral is there already,[11] and that morality consists simply in making it not to be. The good will is not that which merely destroys the natural or the immoral; it does indeed destroy them as such, but this by itself is not morality. It is when it destroys them by its own assertion, and destroys them by transmuting the energy contained in them, that the will is moral.

The good self is not real as the mere abolition of reality. On its affirmative side (and it is moral only when it is affirmative) it is the position of the universal will, as the true infinite, in the personal will of this or that man; and here it has reality, not complete, not adequate, but still certain. You can not separate negation and affirmation without destroying the moral world. The abstract non-existence of the non-moral is nothing; and the existence of nothing (if that were possible) is not a moral end. The assertion of the moral, the positive realization of the good will to the negation of the natural and bad will, is morality, and no one element of this whole is so; for in the destruction of the bad it is only the affirmation of the good which is desirable (cf. p. 25).

The realization of the good in personal morality is the habituated will, the moral character of individuals. It is actual in the virtues of the heart, and those virtues are the habits which, embodying good acts of will, have become part of the man’s self, and which answer to the various sides of his station, or more generally to his various relations to the ideal.

Morality then is a process of realization, and it has two sides or elements which can not be separated; (1) the position of an ideal self, and the making of that actual in the will; (2) the negation, which is inherent in this, the making unreal (not by annihilation but transformation) of the for ever unsystematized natural material, and the bad self. And this account removes many of the difficulties we encountered in Essay IV.

It does not remove them all. Morality does involve a contradiction; it does tell you to realize that which never can be realized, and which, if realized, does efface itself as such. No one ever was or could be perfectly moral; and, if he were, he would be moral no longer. Where there is no imperfection there is no ought, where there is no ought there is no morality, where there is no self-contradiction there is no ought. The ought is a self-contradiction. Are we to say then that that disposes of it? Surely not, unless it also disposes of ourselves; and that can not be. At least from this point of view, we are a self-contradiction: we never are what we feel we really are; we really are what we know we are not; and if we became what we are, we should scarcely be ourselves. Morality aims at the cessation of that which makes it possible; it is the effort after non-morality, and it presses forward beyond itself to a super-moral sphere where it ceases as such to exist.[12]

It is at this point we find problems too great for us, and, if we follow any further, it will be only in our Concluding Remarks, and merely with a view to clear up what has gone before. But at our present point of view we must remain, till we have answered some objections and attempted to remove some difficulties. The rest of this Essay will have to do with ἀπορίαι which arise in respect of morality, and the next one will try to make more clear what we mean by the bad self which opposes the good.


The first one-sided view of morality which must engage us may be put as follows: ‘Morality is not the realization of a content, but the identification of the will with the universal. The moral end is consequently the production of a system, a harmony in the desires, the heart and will; and therefore we may and must suppress aspiration in order to get moral harmony.’ We answer—It is true morality is not the mere realization of a content, since in itself that content is not, strictly speaking, moral. The performance is not moral apart from the will. That is one side. But on the other side the will which is not the will to perform is not moral at all. To try to be good not in science, art, or any other ideal pursuit, nor to be good socially, but to be virtuous simply in oneself, or to realize the good will with no content to it, is not to be moral in any way. A mere formal harmony is not a moral end: the end is not system, but the systematic realization of the self whose will is in harmony with the ideal. For example, if the question arises, Am I to advance as a good man or a good artist? morality says, ‘Of course as a good man;’ but then the whole matter turns on this, What line of action, the doing of what, does make me the best man? In collision of morality with morality it does not hold that the higher the morality the more harmonious the self. You may have harmony without any morality, and you may have morality with but little harmony.

There are other one-sided views, from which consequences follow opposed to the moral consciousness. We may state them so; ‘The most systematic man is not the most moral, since he need not have done what he could and therefore should have done; is then the most energetic realization of the good self the most moral man? Suppose we say Yes. Then (1) the difference of capacity and circumstances is left out of the account, and the stronger and more successful nature will be the more moral; and again (2) the different amount of drawbacks is not considered: no credit is given to a man for moral struggles however severe; and in both cases we are in collision with the moral consciousness.

‘Or if we say, No, you must look not to the positive realization but to the negative, to the victory over the bad self;—that, again, is against morality, because it unjustly favours the weaker nature; the more energetic may, because he is more energetic, have therefore more bad self to conquer.

‘Again if we say, Neither negative nor positive realization is to be looked to, for morality is a struggle, and it is the struggle which is of importance,—then it will follow that, to increase the struggle and with it morality, the bad self must not be allowed to decrease beyond a certain point; and, further, it will follow that either all men are morally equal, since all struggle, and no one can do more than struggle; or else, if the most moral man is the man who struggles most, the quantity (intensive and extensive) of the struggle, and not the degree in the scale of qualitative advance, will count for morality. And of these, as of the other conclusions, every one is immoral.’

It would not repay us to investigate these difficulties in detail; they arise from doctrines which are not false in themselves, but each of which is false if taken as the expression of the whole truth, and their solution will come readily from the answer to the question, Who for the moral consciousness is the most moral man?

Who is the most moral man? ‘Moral’ with an emphasis. We do not ask who is the most perfect man. We do not say, Whose will is most identified with the ideal human type? but, Whose will is most identified with his ideal?

For the moral consciousness tells us that a man is not good morally according as he stands in the scale of human progress; that a man’s morality may in one sense be higher than another man’s, yet he himself may be, strictly speaking, morally lower. It tells us that, if we judge by a purely moral standard, the low savage may be, not a higher, but a better man than the civilized European; and, we see, (1) the most moral man is the man who tries most to act up to what his light tells him is best. But in that we must remember is included the getting the best light which, up to his light, he can.

(2) Suppose now that the lights of two men are equal, can we then look to the greater or lesser realization of their ideal, and judge them accordingly? Morality says, No. It says the formal energy in all men is not the same; and, unless selves are equal to start with, they can not be morally compared simply with an eye to their respective realization.

(3) And again men vary, not only in light and in formal energy, but also in disposition. Disposition no doubt is not moral character; that does not begin until a man is self-conscious, and by volition the good and bad selves get their specific character one against the other;[13] but none the less is natural disposition the material from which the moral self is built up. And dispositions or natures vary indefinitely: some are more harmonious than others, and some again are more chaotic and lead inevitably to jars and painful contradictions. The material of some men offers more resistance to the systematizing good will, and gives more openings for the increase and strengthening of the bad self, than does that of others. And, unless in this too individuals are equal, you can not simply compare them by the result.

(4) And further we have to consider external circumstances in relation to disposition, as bearing on the facility of appropriating the good, and again on the difficulty of controlling the bad self; and our conclusion at present is this. Men equal in light, formal energy, natural disposition, and circumstances, and equal also in present extent and intent of their good and bad selves, are morally equal.

Even here we are not at the end: but this is enough to show that for us to make an accurate comparison is scarcely possible, and fully to justify the saying that ‘only God sees the heart,’ if we mean by that not that morality is a matter of the heart in the sense of staying there, but that the data for solving the psychological problem are not accessible to us. This is not to be regretted: in morality we have nothing to do with others and what they do or neglect; we have nothing to do with what we ourselves may in past time have succeeded with or failed in, except so far as it is present in our will; what is before us is the relation of our private will to the good will, what we are and do and have still to do.

To resume, after making these four qualifications we may say men are equal morally, whose good and bad selves are equal in extent and intent; but here we have two sides to consider and not one, and it does not appear how these stand to one another, and how the problem is to be worked.

You can not measure by comparative lessness of bad self, because morality is not merely negative; nor again by moreness of good self, because it is not merely affirmative. You can not go by severity of struggle between bad and good, because, other things being equal, the more of good against less of bad, and hence lessness of struggle, is the better. Greater or less struggle is a test only when it points to greater or less affirmation, when, being a negative condition,[14] the moreness of it points to the moreness of the positive, the condition of which it is. It is a serious mistake to argue, ‘because more sine qua non, therefore more.’ Nor again can you go by relative absence of struggle, because that may mean relative absence of the good will, and moral deadness.

To measure morality you must take the two sides, good and bad together, and then comes up the question of their relation. May we (1) say the bad self is in itself indifferent, and so measure simply by the good; or must we (2) treat it as a minus quantity and subtract it from the good?

(1) In ‘in itself indifferent’ the in itself is the important point. So far as the bad self thwarts the good by direct opposition, no one would call it indifferent. And then, beside its open hostility, it creates consequences which thwart the good, and in addition appropriates to itself a share of the general energy, which should have gone to the good, and so weakens it. And all this no one would call indifferent.

But ‘in itself indifferent’ does not mean this.[15] It means, the bad self matters so far as it lessens the good, but by itself it is only a negation; and, after you have allowed for its negative properties, you need not consider it at all. The more or less of position of the good self in relation to light, energy, disposition, and circumstances, constitutes the more or less of morality. The bad self only takes from that position; so that you need only find out what position after all you have, and then there is no occasion to consider the bad self. If in two men with equal light, energy, &c., the good selves are equal, it does not matter whether one has more bad self than the other, and we can strike that out of the account. This is the first proposal. Is it satisfactory?

I think we must say it is not. Practically it might never mislead us, because the consequences of the affirmation of the bad self in immoral acts result in a weakening of the good will far more extensive than might seem at first sight. The doctrine might not take us wrong, but we are asking, Is it theoretically accurate as an exposition of the moral consciousness? and this we must deny, since for that consciousness the bad self is not in itself indifferent.

(2) Considered otherwise, and not in relation to morality, the bad self may be only the negative condition of the affirmation of the good; the presence of which is necessary for morality, but of which anything more than the mere presence is the decrease of the affirmation. It may be something to work against, a resistance which is good for the reaction of energy, but the greater resistance of which does not carry more reaction with it. But this, if a possible point of view, is not a (mere) moral point of view, and as such is here untenable. The bad self for morality is not simply a negation, but the positive assertion of self. The self-conscious self which is positive, which is the very affirmation we know, is in the bad self, feels and knows itself therein as really as it does in the good self. Evil deeds are not mere comings-short, but, apart from their consequences, they are (I do not say sins, for they are that only in and for religion, but) offences, over-steppings, crimes. The bad self is the positive assertion of evil by and in the self; and the will, so far as bad, is not a defect of will, nor a non-moral natural will, but it is an immoral will, and for the moral consciousness it is as real as the good will.

Hence I am moral not only according to the relative extensive and intensive affirmation of the good will in me, but from that result must be further deducted the relative assertion of the bad will in me, as something which not only takes up space, uses energy, and so starves the good will, beside thwarting it and creating consequences (psychical and physical) which thwart it, but which also, as a positive minus, must be deducted from the plus of the good self, in order to arrive at the final result.

That result can not be worked out with accuracy. On the side of the good you can not reduce intent to extent, so as to count the plus quantity; and on the side of the bad for the same reason you can not count the minus quantity; and even if you could, yet you could not reduce the minus units and the plus units to a common denomination, so as to get by subtraction a quantitative result. But, though practically useless, our answer so far will I hope be found to be the solution of the foregoing ἀπορίαι.

It is perhaps necessary to say something on another point, viz. as to whether a man is moral because of his present or also because of his past state. When we put it in this way the question seems to admit of but one answer; for clearly I am moral because I am, and not because I have been good. But in a different form it may occasion difficulty. Suppose we have three men equal at the start, and one of them has been good and now has fallen away, another has before fallen away and now is trying to be good, and a third has never been far either one way or the other; how do we judge these morally? Is it fair not to count the past?

The answer is that a man’s morality, on the one hand, is not the summing up of a past result; and we can consider only the present state, can look only at the will as it is now. This is one side. But on the other hand the will is what it has done; and the present is thus also the past. Evil deeds must survive in a present evil will which is a positive evil, just as good deeds are not lost, but live in a present good will. No one gets bad or good all at once, however much they may sometimes seem to do so. And we believe that at the last the existing positive bad and positive good available energy of will (after making all the proper qualifications and allowances, which include, of course, bodily changes) is the true representative of the good and evil the man has done. If in the sphere of morality we are to measure men’s lives morally as wholes, this perhaps is how we are to do it, if we do it at all; though from another point of view, and not by us, it may perhaps be done differently.

In conclusion, we must warn the reader against supposing that morality is to be estimated by the intensity of the moral consciousness. It is true that a man who has never known himself to be good or bad is as yet not strictly either, is not yet within the moral sphere. Knowledge of good and evil is necessary for morality, and that (see Essay VII.) depends on a self-conscious volition with which responsibility begins, and after which we are answerable for acts of will not self-conscious, because now we know their character, and ought to have them under our control. Self-consciousness is necessary for a moral being, but it is a dangerous mistake to think that all morality must therefore be self-conscious. To be moral, a man need not know that he is acting rightly; still less need he know that he is acting rightly for the sake of morality, and for no other sake. It does not follow, because self-consciousness is the condition of imputation, that therefore everything which is imputed must be done with self-consciousness. The will both for good and evil need not be deliberate volition, still less the deliberate volition of the good simply because it is good, or the evil because it is evil. To will the evil because it is evil is, we think, impossible; to will the moral because it is moral, and for the sake of morality, demands a certain pitch of culture, and then is not common. To will the right as the right, though not for the sake of rightness, is common enough; but, in most of our moral actions, we do not do so much as this, because we act from habit and without reflection. Habits are all-important, and habits need not be self-conscious; and yet habits are imputable, because what makes the habit is within the region of conscious volition, and can not be disowned by it. The habits we encourage or suffer, we are aware of or might be aware of; we know their moral quality, and hence are responsible for them. Our character formed by habit is the present state of our will, and, though we may not be fully aware of its nature, yet morally it makes us what we are.[16] Our will is not this, that, or the other conscious volition, nor does it exist just so far as we reflect upon it. It is a formed habit of willing, such a potential will as, apart from counteracting causes, and given the external conditions which we have a right to expect, must issue in acts of a certain sort. It is such a will as this which makes a man moral, and it need not everywhere and in all its acts be aware of what it is doing.


To sum up, in estimating morality you take the amount of the present extent and intent (conscious or unconscious) of the will for good, less the present extent and intent of will (conscious or unconscious) for bad, and all in relation to what may be called chance, i.e. the amount of obtainable light, formal energy, natural disposition, and external circumstances of every kind, under which head must come that increase or decrease of general energy for which we are not accountable. Morality, in the sense of personal morality, may either be self-conscious or not so. It wills the end explicitly and directly as a moral end, as one not outside the heart and inner will, and so far it is self-conscious. Or again, it wills the end for its own sake, simply and directly, and not as an end within the heart and will; and further, it need not always even be aware that it is acting rightly: in these cases it is not self-conscious. But morally considered one morality is not higher than the other.

Personal morality, then, is the process of the assertion of the ideal self, considered not directly as the position of its content, but with respect to the intensity of the process as will. And it must be taken in relation to natural energy, disposition, and all circumstances; and again with respect to the intensity of the negation of the false self, since this negation is an inseparable element. It further includes the willing of psychical changes in the self, in the way of systematization, since these are means to the assertion of the ideal, and the negation of the bad self. And the ground and result of morality is habit or state, which answers to process as its psychical embodiment and basis, and which, as standing will in a man for good, is virtue, just as the habitual will for bad is vice.

Or otherwise, morality is the systematization of the self by the realization therein of the ideal self as will; such ideal taking its content from (1) the objective realized will, (2) the not yet realized objective will, (3) an ideal, the content of which can not (without going beyond morality) be realized as objective will.

It is the process of self-realization from one point of view, i.e. as the negation of the will which has a content other than the true content of the self, and the affirmation of the will whose content is that ideal in which alone the self can look for true realization.

And being a process, involving a contradiction as the sine qua non of its existence, it tries to realize the for ever unreal, and it does desire its own extinction, as mere morality, in desiring the suppression of its finitude.

Morality is approximative; and, before we proceed, we must learn more accurately how this is to be understood. The reader, recalling our criticism of the Hedonistic chief good (p. 89), may now object that the contradiction we discovered there is inherent in all morality: that in all we aim at a mark we do not hit, and endeavour to get nearer to an impossibility. We must try to clear up this matter.

(1) That in morality we fail altogether to realize the end is not true. If it were so we should not be moral. In our hearts and lives the ideal self is actually carried out, our will is made one with it and does realize it, although the bad self never disappears and the good self is incoherent and partial. ‘Well but,’ comes the objection, ‘Hedonism can say this too. There too the end is partially realized.’ Not so, we reply. Asking for this partial reality, we are told to look at that fraction of the sum of pleasures which has been reached; and we say at once, that is not actual at all; in that you have got nothing whatever. The past is past, and to have had a feeling is not to have it; so that in ordinary Hedonism I do but try to heap up what dies in the moment of its birth, and can not thus get nearer to the possession of anything. In morality on the other hand the past is present now in the will, and the will is the reality of the good. Common Hedonism can not say this.

(2) But the question remains, Does not morality pursue a fallacious object? Is it not a mere quantitative approach to zero? We answer, No, it is a great deal more. On the side of the bad self the moral end is certainly to produce the nothingness of that, and mere negative morality is destroyed by our objector’s question. But, as we have explained above (p. 211), true morality is the positive assertion of the good will. It aims then, we may say, at the zero of morality as such (i.e. as struggle against the bad), but not at the zero of the positive will for good.

(3) But, let this be as it may, is not morality the approximation to an endless quantity; does it not labour in vain for the false infinite? Again we say, No. The moral end is not a sum of units: it is qualitative perfection. What I want is not mere increase of quantity; but, given a certain quantum of energy in my will, I desire the complete expenditure of that in behalf of the ideal. The object is for me to become an infinite whole by making my will one with an infinite whole. The size of the whole, as such, is not considered at all. It is true that, though mere quantity is not the end, yet the end implies quantity. Perfect good means zero of badness and zero of neutral or undeveloped energy. Hence degrees of advance to moral perfection can be measured by the lessening extent of the non-moral and the immoral. But the suppression of these negatives as such is not the end; and though the good will can legitimately be considered from one point of view as a number of units of a certain sort of energy, yet mere size is not the essence of the matter, and to say that moral perfection must rise and fall with the addition or subtraction of such units would be absolutely false.

These questions at every point have done their best to draw us beyond our depth into the abstract metaphysic which in the end they turn upon. And now we come to one which threatens to involve us more deeply, and our answer to which must remain superficial. What sense have the words ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ when applied to morality?

(1) In the strict meaning of ‘moral’ we have discussed this above (p. 214). Strictly speaking, a higher stage in historical progress is not more moral than a lower stage. For in personal morality we consider not the relative completeness of the ideal aimed at, but the more or less identification of a given sum of energy with the particular ideal. And on this head we have dwelt as long as seemed necessary.

(2) But in the wider sense of ‘moral’ there is a question which we have not properly discussed. If human history is an evolution (p. 171 foll.), how is one stage of it morally higher than another? For in one sense the European certainly is morally a higher being than the savage. He is higher, because the life he has inherited and more or less realized is nearer the truth of human nature. It combines greater specification with more complete homogeneity. And he is higher morally, not only because the good will is better according as the type it aims at is truer, but also because that stage of the progressive realization of human nature from which the European gets his being is the historical product of a will which in the main was for good, and now at any rate is the present living embodiment of the good will. Thus if we hold that in evolution one stage is higher than another, we can say also that one stage is more moral than another. But (as before) in the strict sense general human progress is not moral, because it abstracts from the collision of good and bad in the personal self.

And here we might perhaps stop, did not a fresh question irresistibly intrude. Is there such a thing as progress? Does not progress mean the perpetual ‘more,’ the would-be approximation to an endless sum? And, if so, is not progress the illusion of a journey in the direction of a figment? An infinite quantity we have seen to be a self-contradiction, and the advance towards it fallacious; so that ‘more’ does not come any nearer to ‘most.’ In comparison of infinity, all finite sums are equal. When you ask for the difference between each and the infinite, in order to compare these differences one with the other, you get in every case the same answer, Between the infinite and each finite alike there is a quantity, about which in no case can we say more than that it is not any finite sum. Thus against the infinite there is no difference between the finites, and we feel the full force of the objection. Progress in the sense of an advance towards the perfect seems to be a sheer illusion.

True, we can fall back on our thesis that the end is the true infinite, the complete identity of homogeneity and specification (p. 68). This we can insist is not a quantity, and may repeat that into the definition of perfection mere size does not enter at all. But still the difficulty remains. Within the process of evolution the higher is defined as that which is more intensely homogeneous in a greater specification, and it does seem as if higher and lower were in the end reducible to quantity, extensive or intensive, since the higher man is the man who has more of the truth of human nature. For take an example; suppose a man to be perfectly self-contained and homogeneous, and then to get what are called higher qualities, and so become less self-contained. Is not this an advance, and an advance because a getting more? Is not a wider and deeper truth a higher truth? And is it not higher because you have something beside what you had before, or more of something of which before you had less? And is not, once again, the conclusion from all this that progress is an illusory quantitative advance towards a fiction?

How can we escape? Will it do to say that the higher is such because it contains the lower as an element in a larger whole; and that the lower is such because, from the point of view of the higher, it is limited and narrow, and a position in which the higher would be in contradiction with itself? But is not the question here once more, If quantity is not to be considered, why is the more inclusive position higher?

I know of no answer but this, that the perfect is that in which we can rest without contradiction, that the lower is such because it contradicts itself, and so is forced to advance beyond itself to another stage, which is the solution of the contradiction that existed in the lower, and so a relative perfection. If there is a whole which is not finite, and if this whole exists in the finite, the reader will see at once that the finite must be discrepant, not only with what is outside itself, but also with itself. The movement towards the solution of this contradiction consists in the extension of the lower so as to take in and resolve its conflicting elements in a higher unity. And this is the reason why the advance consists in greater specification and more intense homogeneity, and therefore, to a certain extent, can be measured by quantity. On this view the higher is above the lower, not because it contains a larger number of units, but because it is the harmony of those elements which in the lower were a standing contradiction. And this conclusion I will ask the reader to take, not as positive doctrine, but as matter for his reflection.

But if any one says he must go further, and objects, ‘Well, but in every stage the whole is realized, and in no stage is it realized free from all contradiction. It is actual and complete in the one as in the other,—

As full, as perfect, in a hair as heart,
As full, as perfect, in vile man that mourns,
As the rapt seraph that adores and burns ;
To him no high, no low, no great, no small ;
He fills, he bounds, connects, and equals all,’
here I confess I can not follow, nor, if I could, would my theme allow of it. For the moral point of view holds good only within the process of evolution.

The question, Is evolution or progress the truth from the highest point of view? raises problems which nothing but a system of metaphysic can solve. We are forced to believe in the many, we can not help believing in the one; and, whether we desire it or not, these thoughts come together in our minds, and we say, The process of change is the truth. Is then process, still more is evolution, what we can think without contradicting ourselves? To whom in England can we go for an answer? And yet one might have thought that a part of the energy now spent in preaching the creed of evolution would well have been spent on the enquiry, What in the end is process in general, and, in particular, what is evolution? Is it, or is it not, a self-contradiction? And, if it is, what conclusions follow? But dogma is more pleasant than criticism, and as yet we have no English philosophy whose basis is not dogmatic.

But, whatever evolution may be, Ethics is confined within it. To ask what it is is to rise above it, and to pass beyond the world of mere morality.


  1. Expressed in other language the objection is, ‘There is a sphere of rights which falls outside the sphere of duty, or else it will follow that all my rights are my duties, which is absurd.’—For the answer, see p. 190. Here we may say, it is right and a duty that the sphere of indifferent detail should exist. It is a duty that I should develope my nature by private choice therein. Therefore, because that is a duty, it is a duty not to make a duty of every detail; and thus in every detail I have done my duty.
  2. It may even be my moral duty to be religious in the sense of acting with a view to the support and maintenance of the religious consciousness, the faith which is to re-issue in religious-moral practice. Hence though morality, as we shall see, does not include everything, yet nothing in another sense falls outside of it.
  3. On the genesis of the ideal self and of the good self, or the self whose will is identified with its ideal, we shall say what seems necessary in other connections.
  4. I may remark that a duty which is not a duty to myself can not possibly be a moral duty. When we hear of self-regarding duties we should ask what is meant. A ‘self-regarding duty’ in one sense of the word says no more than ‘a duty’; in another sense it says ‘a duty which is the direct opposite of what a duty is,’ i.e. a selfish duty: or again, it means a non-social duty. Confusion on this head leads to serious mistakes.
  5. Virtues such as chastity, which might be practised in solitude, are either negative of the bad self, or conditions of the good will. If you wrongly consider them by themselves, they are not positively desirable. We may call them, if we will, the ‘ascetic virtues.’
  6. The difficulty everywhere is, Is the embodiment used to fire the imagination, while the type is not that of this or that individual; or is it otherwise? The solution is to be found in the answer to the question, Is the impersonation modified; and if modified, how, and by what, and to suit what is it modified?
  7. Morality, on its own ground at least, knows nothing of an universal and invisible self, in which all members are real, which they realize in their own gifts and graces, and in realizing which they realize the other members. Humanity as an organic whole, if a possible point of view, is not strictly speaking a moral point of view. See more below.
  8. I have not entered on the questions whether as a fact breaches of common morality are demanded by the service of the ideal, and, if so, when they are to be committed. The first is a matter of fact it would not profit us to discuss in connection with the abstract question; and the second in our opinion can not be theoretically determined. Which duty or duties weigh heaviest in this or that case is an affair for perception, not reasoning. We may remark, however, that the doctrine of the text will not be found to err on the side of laxity.
  9. Cf. Aristot. Pol. vii. 1325, b. 14-23.
  10. Thyself and thy belongings
    Are not thine own so proper, as to waste
    Thyself upon thy virtues, them on thee.
    Heaven doth with us, as we with torches do,
    Not light them for themselves :  for if our virtues
    Did not go forth of us, ’twere all alike
    As if we had them not.    Spirits are not finely touch’d
    But to fine issues.
  11. By its very essence immorality can not exist except as against morality: a purely immoral being is a downright impossibility. The man who has become entirely immoral has ceased to know good and evil, has ceased to belong to the moral sphere, is morally speaking dead.
  12. It does not concern me to go out of my way to say more on endless moral progress. I have already (p. 140) referred to Hegel’s annihilating criticism. Progress to an end which is completeness and the end of progress and morality, is one thing. Endless progress is progress without an end, is endless incompleteness, endless immorality, and is quite another thing.
  13. See more in following Essay.
  14. A condition is negative when, not its existence as such, but the negation of its existence is necessary to that of which it is the condition.
  15. The reader no doubt is aware that there is a view which reduces the distinction of good and bad to a mere quantitative difference; virtue and vice differ only in being a little more or a little less of the same thing. This view makes great play with its ‘all is relative,’ ‘it all depends on which way you look at it,’ and the rest of the phrases behind which shallowness tries to look like wisdom. But we shall not stop to discuss it.
  16. We have consciously, and with knowledge of their moral character, committed ourselves to volitions with which our habits are essentially connected, or have failed to do so when we might have done so; and hence those habits are ours, and constitute our standing will.