Ethical Studies/Essay 7

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Selfishness and Self-sacrifice.

TO say that selfishness and self-sacrifice are equally selfish does seem to the unthinking person a mere foolish remark; which, if suspected to be true, would fill him with astonishment and horror. But the view of such emotions should the rather tend to recommend the doctrine to the thinker. For wonder, as he knows, is the beginning of philosophy; and a shudder comes over the not yet initiated, when the deeper mysteries are unveiled.

But seriously, is it not strange that men can believe in a world of universal self-seeking, and men whose theories (the phrase is not mine) have not come from ‘raking into that filthiest of all jakes, a bad mind,’ but whose lives in many cases were self-denying, and who were better and wiser than ourselves? This on one side is a fact, just as, on the other side, the common belief in self-sacrifice is a fact; and such facts as these should engage our attention. For what we most want, more especially those of us who talk most about facts, is to stand by all the facts. It is our duty to take them without picking and choosing them to suit our views, to explain them, if we can, but not to explain them away; and to reason on them, and find the reason of them, but never to think ourselves rational when, by the shortest cut to reason, we have reasoned ourselves out of them.

But our present undertaking has narrow limits. We intend, so far as possible without reference to others, to ask, and in our own way to develope, the question, What is selfishness, and what self-sacrifice? and to include in that the enquiry, What ground is there for the denial of unselfishness? And with this last let us begin, not with reference to particular theories, but striving to satisfy ourselves.

If selfishness is self-seeking, and if to seek self is never to act apart from desire and our desire, never to do anything but what we want, then surely all deliberate actions must be considered selfish. For deliberately to act without an object in view is impossible; duty is done for duty’s sake only when duty is an object of desire; thought as such does not move; and only the thought of what you like or dislike brings with it a practical result. Whether we consider blind appetite, or conscious desire, or circumspect volition, the result is the same. No act is ever without a reason for its existence, and the reason is always a feeling of pain or of pleasure, or both. We seek what we like, and avoid what we dislike; we do what we want, and this is selfish.

That others approve or disapprove goes for nothing, for it does not touch the main fact. You may want to do what others want you to do, or you may not: but you do what you want. And so, considered morally and not from the outside, your action is the same, for the root of it is in all cases one, your own desire or aversion; and to follow these is always selfish. What else is selfishness? Others may say to me ‘you are agreeable or disagreeable,’ ‘you are taking the best means to your end,’ or again ‘you are mistaken,’ but to me this makes no difference: morality looks at the heart, and it sees that I please myself in each one of my acts, and can do nothing else. If I were pleased to do otherwise, it would only be because I was otherwise pleased.

Can I sacrifice myself? Oh yes, I can like what others do not like, and the result may prove painful to myself and pleasant to others; but so it may be with the result of any other act: or the result may be pleasant to me, though it would not be so to others. And so self-sacrifice is a peculiar sort of self-seeking, arising from mistaken notions or eccentric tastes. No doubt it may be agreeable to others, and so be approved by them; but to conclude that the act is disagreeable to me when I do it, is to suppose an absurdity. If it were so I should not do it. Or if my appetite is perverted to take pain for pleasure (as it really can not be), this surely does not prove that I have no appetite at all, or that I do not seek to gratify it.

Illustrations are useful as appeals to the feelings; but they do not remove vital facts, though they may remove our attention from them; and the vital fact here, to repeat it again, is this— Without want no action: want is my want: I do what I want; and therefore, whatever my outward act may be, my motive and my heart is selfish; and for morals the act is qualified by the heart and motive.

Such is the ground we may assign for the theory of selfishness, and we shall see that, in a certain sense, that ground is firm. What would be the answer of the practical man?

The practical man, I suppose, would say something of this sort: ‘True it is that a man does what he has a mind to, or, if you will, what he wants to do; but I call a man selfish or not according to what it is that he wants and likes. Some men care to do the right, others to do only what they want, to please no one but themselves; and the moral character of each depends on the nature of what pleases him.’ If we pressed him further and said, ‘Yes, but the difference is superficial; what pleases a man is what he desires, and hence in all cases alike he must do what he likes, and because he likes it: why he does it is the point, and the ‘why’ is his personal desire or aversion; hence he is always at bottom selfish,’—then I think our supposed practical man would imagine you wished to impose upon him. These questions about the ‘why’ he would take to be misleading nonsense. He accepts it as a fact that some men want good and others mere pleasure, and he feels sure that for that fact there is no further reason, in the sense we have suggested. He believes that we are trying to persuade him that he and others seek the good and avoid the bad, in all cases, with an ulterior object,—as a means, that is to say, to something else which is the end: and this idea he indignantly repudiates. He considers our question of the motive either an idle triviality, because asking what everybody knows; or an attempt to mislead, because presupposing what is palpably false.

And he is right. That I do what I want to do, is an idle proposition. That it should lead to a new result would be strange, unless truth were to be found in the barest tautologies. Like the doctrine of the ‘relativity of knowledge,’ what significance it has, it has only as the negative of unmeaning fictions, and, as a positive result, it has no significance at all. ‘I know what I know,’ ‘I experience what I experience,’ ‘I want what I want,’ indeed ‘here be truths’; much the same as ‘I am what I am;’ but it is a poor neighbourhood where such truths can be considered as making the fortune of a philosopher. They are not worthless, because they call attention to a form which may have been left or thrust out of sight; but, as anything more than a form, they are more than worthless; they are positively misleading. ‘No object without subject’ as a form is not worthless; the forgetting of it, or the endeavour to suppress it, leads and must lead to innumerable errors; but ‘no object without subject’ is a mischievous snare when used as a cover for the statement of some dogmatic preconception of our own on the nature of the subject and object, on the nature of experience, on the nature of the motive and the will. What ‘I’ means, what my object is, what ‘experience’ is to stand for, what it is that I do want, and what we are to say about the self that wants it—these are questions to which answers can be conjured by no barren formula; they are questions which, if left unanswered, make our theories on these subjects futile, and which are not answered when a formula is used but to distract the attention of the spectator from the surreptitious introduction of the ready-to-hand result .

And, in particular, to the man who believes that action involves desire, ‘I do what I want’ says no more than ‘I want what I want,’ or ‘I do what I do.’ It is a fatal objection against negative morality, against the dream of action without desire or pleasure which asceticism cherishes. For while life lasts and action continues, desire is not destroyed; the ascetic may change the object, but he suppresses his wants so far only as he suppresses life in general; while he is (an ascetic) he desires, and he does what he wants; if he desires to destroy desire, yet still that is his desire; if he wills annihilation of his will, yet he wills until with himself his will is annihilated; and the whole question here, as everywhere else, is as to the object of his desire, whether his end is the right end, and whether his means are its means. But it is not our business to discuss this here. To return to the general question, when we are told that we do nothing but that which we want, we answer ‘yes, for to us that is a tautology.’

But this was not all. ‘We do what we want, and we do it because we want to do it.’ What are we to say to this? We say that it is either senseless or false. If ‘because I want’ means that it is want or desire which moves me to act, then it is senseless; because, while professing to tell us something, it merely repeats ‘I do what I want.’ But if ‘because I want’ means that I do everything as a means to an end, which I represent to myself as the feeling of my private satisfaction, then it is false, and it is grossly false.

Let us dwell on this point, for to do so will repay us. (1) Everybody knows that there are actions which we say we do without a motive; there are acts, in the first place, not preceded even by the (conscious) idea of the act to be done; and in the second place (and these latter are more important), there are acts which are done thinkingly and on purpose, and which yet are done without any ulterior intent beyond the act itself. In both of these cases we have no motive before our minds, no thought of any end to be reached, out of and beyond the act itself; and here for our minds there is no ‘because’—we do what we want, and it is simply a mistake to suppose that in and for our minds there is another or further end represented, which suggests the act, or to which the act is a means. (2) And where we act, as we say, with a motive, where we have in our minds a reason, an aim, an object beyond the act, which the act subserves, there these motives, these thoughts of ends or objects to be realized, are of very different kinds. The motive to the act may be the thought of another particular act, or of the whole of a complex scheme; it may be the idea of an end which my action is to bring about, the pleasure or the happiness, the pain or the ruin of another; in a word, the idea of any event the thought of whose realization by certain means excites desire or want, and so is a motive. In none of all these is the thought of my future feeling of satisfaction what I have before me: but this again may be my motive, and sometimes is. The pleasant feeling which is to result from an act may be presented in imagination, and thought of as the end to be reached; or the thought of myself to be pleased as much as possible generally, and here by such means and in such a way, may be the end which I take as the principle and motive of my action.

Let us illustrate the above: I may eat because I am hungry, instinctively and unconsciously, or simply purposing to eat this or that dish; and in these cases there is no motive proper. Or I may have a motive. I may wish to please the person who offers it, or to prevent some one else having it; I may eat in illness because, though with present pain and disgust, I have to support my life. Now in every one of these cases it is or it may be incorrect to say that the idea of my pleasure is what moves me to act. I have or I may have no such idea before my mind. I do not say to myself, ‘Now it will please me to do this, and therefore I will do it.’ This I do only when I think about my food beforehand, when I realize in imagination the taste of what I am about to eat, recognize this as pleasant, and make the pleasantness a motive for eating it; or when, without calling up any particular image, I know that the eating of this or that will produce pleasure, and, with a view to the pleasure as an end, provide the eatables simply as a means. Here in these two cases my motive is the idea of a pleasure,[1] while in the cases before it was not.

We see, then, that we may act on instinctive impulse or on conscious desire for this or that, either with or without the idea of an ulterior end, or that which we commonly call ‘motive:’ and to say that the idea of my feeling of satisfaction is the ‘because’ of every action in the sense of its motive, either as the thought of this pleasure which I desire, or of pleasure in general to which this or that is subordinated—is simply to ignore plain facts, as every one may judge for themselves. When I quarrel with a man and stab him, I may act with purpose and intent, and yet altogether without any motive in its ordinary sense of an ulterior end, being moved simply by the negative desire of hate and the positive longing for revenge; in short, because I want to: but most certainly the idea of my want is not present to my mind as my reason or cause for killing; i.e. I do not say, ‘I will kill him in order that I may not feel this want, or may feel it satisfied,’ although no doubt it is possible that I might.

So much let us now take for granted; but we have not yet satisfactorily removed the ground for the assertion of universal selfishness. Pleading the cause of that doctrine, we may further say, ‘But all this is not to the point. All that is desired is (or, if you will, seems) pleasant, and only what is pleasant is desired.[2] It is the pleasure which moves, and pleasure is my pleasure, and therefore it must follow that in this sense my pleasure is my motive, and hence that I always am selfish.’ Let us examine this.

‘All that is desired is (or seems) pleasant:’ this is questionable, as we have seen, if extended to instinctive appetites. We may ask, for instance, is it pleasure which first sets the child sucking?—but this by the way. When the assertion is limited to the desire, where objects are before the consciousness, then we think it is always true that in desire the desired is pleasant, and nothing but the pleasant can be desired.

‘It is the pleasure that moves:’ then, understanding by this that what immediately determines the will is a feeling of pleasure, let us for argument’s sake admit it to be true.[3] ‘And pleasure is my pleasure:’ yes, undoubtedly—I feel what I feel, and nothing but what I feel; but such a formal assertion, as we saw, tells us nothing about the self which feels; it tells us that the mere feeling self is there, it does not tell us that any other self is not there.

‘And hence my pleasure is my motive; for it is my pleasure (or, if you will, my pain) which moves me to act; and therefore I am selfish.’ Or, putting it separately, ‘My pleasure or pain moves me;’ to this we say Yes. ‘And my pleasure is my motive;’ to this we say No, non sequitur.

The reasoning we have developed rests, in a word, on the confusion between a pleasant thought and the thought of a pleasure; between an idea of an objective act or event, contemplation of which is pleasant, and of which I desire the realization, and the idea of myself as the subject of a feeling of satisfaction which is to be. Both ideas move us; both we desire to realize: but the ideas are radically different. One, we repeat, is the mental representation of an act of will or thought, or an outward event, the other the mental representation of a state, either general or particular, of our feeling self. And hence we may agree that pleasure attends the idea which moves to action, that it is a necessary concomitant of desire for an object; we may agree, I say, (with the necessary qualifications) to hold this doctrine as substantially true, and yet we need not admit that the motive is always the idea of a pleasure as such.

Surely it is plain that a thought may excite pleasure in us, and yet that such pleasure is not and can not be the thought itself, nor included in the thought. Surely it is plain that when we think of pleasure to be had, and are pleased, the pleasure that we have is not the pleasure we think of. We think of the pleasure we are to have in doing this or that; the pleasure we think of is our motive; it is to get it that we act. The getting of it is our idea, and the having that idea pleases us. It is a pleasant thought, and so excites desire (how does not here concern us) exactly as another thought, which is not the idea of pleasure as such, also pleases us and so excites desire. But the pleasure we feel is not the motive; it is not what we want and have not got. When the idea of the feeling of satisfaction is the motive, it is the thought of an absent pleasure which produces present pleasure and consequent desire; but once again that present pleasure is not the motive. Action, if it were, would be inexplicable; for we should act to get what we have. If my motive were the present pleasure, by action I must lose the motive and hence the pleasure, or at best get instead a pleasure which was not my motive. Motive is that which we want, and which so far we are without.[4] Suppose a motive to be a feeling we have, then so far as we have it, so far as it is a motive, we do not want it, and can not wish for it. We fear we have been, and still may be, wearisome, but we fear still more to leave this point in uncertainty.

The motive, in the ordinary sense of the word ‘motive,’ is always the object of desire, is never the feeling of desire. And the motive, as the object of desire, is never the immediate psychical stimulus to action. What moves to action, whether that action be merely voluntary or also volitional, whether it does or does not involve a formal act of choice or resolve, is, in all and every case, the desire or the desires: and the real stimulus in desire, the direct and actual mover (whether it be pleasant or painful), is and must be always felt, and can never be thought.[5] It is impossible to bring it before the mind in such a way as to make it our object, without, as a consequence, destroying its very nature:[6] the thinking it makes a motive of it, which now, as an idea, is not a desire, but is the object of a new desire.

If it were necessary that the psychical antecedent which directly produces the act should be a motive, then no instinctive act would be possible. And in this respect what holds good of one act holds good of all; the stimulus is a feeling. My pleasure (if it be pleasure), which moves me to act, is, because it moves, therefore not my motive; and my motive, because it is my motive, therefore can not be the pleasure which moves. Admit that of several desires the strongest prevails, admit that of alternative pleasant objects we must choose the most pleasant, yet this is not to admit that we choose between the ideas of pleasures; it is not to admit that, if my choice is determined, I therefore choose that which immediately determines it. Out of the present ideas of pleasures, as such, to be had, to choose always what seems to be the greatest is selfish, but to choose what pleases me most is not selfish nor unselfish. It merely means that I choose, and says nothing whatever about what I choose.

Let us close this discussion.—Pleasure is the feeling of self-realizedness; it is affirmative self-feeling, or the feeling in the self of the harmony of felt self and not-self. It is a state of the feeling self; and to make it a motive is to have present to consciousness the idea of my self feeling pleased by this or that means or generally, and to set before us such an idea as our practical end, to which all else conduces; and this once more is not our motive in every act, or in most acts, nor even (as we shall further see) in all our selfish acts.

You may say then that I desire only the pleasant, and that pleasure is my pleasure, and (for argument’s sake if you will) that my pleasure determines me to do in voluntary acts, and also to choose in volitional acts—yet, with all this, you have not made one step towards proving me selfish, by showing that it is the idea of my pleasure as such that I have before me. The difference is between my finding my pleasure in an end, and my finding means for the end of my pleasure; and the difference is enormous.

I hope that to the reader by this time it is no less obvious, and, if this is so, we shall consider the psychological argument for universal selfishness disposed of. The assertion that we are all selfish, not perhaps consciously but yet unconsciously, we shall better be able to consider when we know what selfishness is. For on this head we are no nearer a conclusion than when we set out. All that we have done has been to show the confusion which surrounds the word ‘motive,’[7] and to point out that a pleasant thought, or again the thought of something pleasant, is not the same thing with the thought of pleasure, the thinking of something merely as a means to more or less of pleasant feeling as such.


And now what is selfishness? We have just been hearing of the pursuit of pleasure simply as my pleasure, and it naturally occurs to us to identify the two, and say selfishness is this pursuit. Can we do this? Or shall we find that, though the pursuit certainly is selfishness, yet selfishness is more than it, is a wider term than mere pleasure-seeking? That we shall see better, when we know more accurately what pleasure-seeking is, a question which as yet we have not asked.

Confusion here is inevitable unless we are cautious. We talk of pleasure and pleasures as if they were something by themselves, and apart from the pleasant; as if a pleasant activity were simply a pleasure, and as if a pleasant feeling had no other content than its pleasantness. This is clearly unjustifiable. Pleasure we have called the feeling of self-assertion, but we must remember that there is no such thing as the mere abstract assertion of the self. The self is affirmed in this or that, and the this or that of the particular affirmation must be felt: the self-feeling is not one thing by itself, which is divisible from what is felt in the self: the feeling, and the feeling myself affirmed or denied, are not parts but elements or aspects of one whole, to be distinguished and not divided. It may indeed possibly be maintained that the general feeling of pleasure, which goes with the pleasant, can be distinguished in such a way as to be brought before the imagination by itself, and apart from this or that particular pleasant feeling, and it does not concern us here to contest such a proposition; but what is quite clear, and what we insist upon, is that the representation of this feeling of pleasure as such would not be what is ordinarily called the idea of a pleasure. If the abstraction can be made and brought before the mind, yet people do not commonly do this. A pleasure for them means something pleasant: in a pleasant feeling they do not separate the pleasure from what in particular is felt; they follow ἡδέα and not ηδονή. This or that pleasant is not aimed at simply as a pleasure; and the pursuit of pleasure in general for pleasure’s sake would mean the abstraction from the pleasant of its pleasantness, and the setting that as an object before the mind. Such an end, the notion of the self simply to be pleased, is an intellectual abstraction, and the consistent pursuit of it exists only in theory. The ideal voluptuary desires only pleasure, and the pleasant merely as a means thereto; but this ideal is not to be found, and his supposed consistent hunt is a practical impossibility.

There never was any one who did not desire many things for their own sake; there never was a typical voluptuary: and yet the pursuit of pleasure does to a certain extent exist, and a man approaches the ideal voluptuary so far as he makes abstract pleasantness his object. How it is possible to do this, is a question the answer to which will be found of service to us.

The voluptuary was not always what he is. Children are supposed to pursue the pleasant, but no one ever called a young child a voluptuary, and everybody has been a child. Our voluptuary at first, that is when his consciousness was arrived at the stage where objects existed for him, and he began to desire them, pursued chance pleasant things without reflection. And to the stage of desire for this or that pleasant thing we may give the name of ‘appetite’. What then is an object of appetite, this or that pleasant thing which is desired? May we say, an object with the sensation or idea of which an idea or ideas of pleasure are associated? This would be most incorrect. Let us take an instance of simple appetite, and see what happens there.

I see on the table a glass of water. In what sense, if any, are ideas of pleasure associated with that? Clearly, as I look at it now, I feel no pleasure at all in myself, and not a pleasant idea can I find which attaches itself to it. I imagine myself drinking it, and call up, so far as I can, all the feelings which that would excite. It makes no difference; there is nothing about it I desire, nothing pleasant at all. But I had forgotten. I remember now how thirsty I was only yesterday, and how glad I was to get a glass of water. Then I was pleased, and now the water has reminded me of it, and I call up before my mind the greedy thirst and the keen pleasure I had. The memory even pleases me. I look again at the water; but do I desire it? No, I want it no more than my dog wants the dry bread which he ate so eagerly an hour ago, and the very existence of which beside him he now does not recognize. Thus we see that first there were no ideas of pleasure associated with the water, and then, even when there were, I yet did not desire it. But now I have gone out in the sun for some hours, and am come in again. My dog, who has drunk by the wayside, now runs up to the bread and eats it; and I am thirsty, see the water and drink. In this case I want the water; before I did not. What makes the difference? Can we say, ‘Yes, now I drink because the perceived water suggests ideas of pleasure, and the ideas suggest (directly or through their feelings) the activities with which their archetypes were connected’; or otherwise, ‘The pain of thirst suggests through the water the relief from pain, which is the idea of a pleasure, and that suggests the action, and so I drink’? All this again (apart from other objections[8]) would be an inaccurate description of the facts.

It is not true as a matter of fact that in the second case, where I drink, the water has ideas associated with it which it had not associated with it in the first case, where I did not drink. And the whole phraseology is both clumsy and misleading. In more ordinary language this is what really happens. Water has a certain meaning to me; and, when I see water and recognize it, I can have before my mind either all its meaning or only a part. One part of that meaning is that water quenches thirst; i.e. it contains the ideas of certain activities, results, and feelings. These ideas, in the first case, we purposely called up; they were there, and yet that did not move us to drink. In the second case we are moved to drink, but the question is, when we want the water, have we any more ideas than when we did not? ‘Yes,’ we shall be told, ‘you have now the idea of pleasure to be had by drinking, and therefore you drink: that is the new idea, and before you did not drink because you did not have it, or did not have it strong enough.’ Taking the last part first, if it were true that we had the idea of future pleasure, then weak and now strong, and it was this which made the difference, then we say this question of the strength of an idea points to the fact that what moves is not the mere idea but rather feeling. But passing by that, and going to the first part of the statement, viz. that I have, when I want the water, a new idea, the idea of future pleasure, we say this is not really the case. No doubt I might have the idea of future pleasure, and so drink; but, if I drink merely because I am thirsty, simply because I want the water, then (as we have seen before) it is false that I have before me any such idea; and hence the difference, supposed to constitute desire, does not exist, although desire does exist. Take the case of simple appetite for water; there what I do really have before my mind is a particular object, recognized as drinkable, i.e. containing the idea of the process of drinking, and the idea of certain accompanying feelings. These feelings may in fact be pleasant, but, in simple appetite, they are not brought before the mind in that character; or again, if that be done by reflection, yet (as we saw) that bringing of pleasant feeling before the mind in idea does not constitute desire. I have this object before me, that is one thing: I want it, and that is another thing, which consists in this. The recognition of the object as water which is drinkable, means the presence of certain ideas before the mind—so far there is no want: there is want when, against the uneasy (or painful) feelings of thirst, I feel in these ideas (through the mediation of the feelings of swallowing liquid, which they more or less faintly excite) a pleasure, which is strong according as the uneasiness is, and vice versa. It is the feeling of self-assertion in the ideal drinking (known to be ideal partly by its feebleness, but mainly by the non-possession of the object, and the continuance of thirst) against that of negation in the actual uneasiness, which produces such a felt contradiction and tension as leads to a reactionary discharge of energy in the direction of the ideal satisfaction, with its already felt self-affirmation. That discharge carries itself out in the actions connected with the particular idea, in which this mixed and partial satisfaction is felt, those actions being here the drinking the water. Desire is not the idea of a pleasure before the self, it is a felt tension in the self. It is an actual pain or uneasiness felt against a felt pleasure in an idea, which moves to make that idea real. This thing to be drunk by me is the idea before the mind; that is the object of desire, and it would be the motive, if it were the indirect object: for motive means an ulterior end. The felt stimulus of pleasure in the idea against pain in the reality is what moves, i.e. is the immediate psychical prius of the putting forth of energy: and this, as we have seen, can never be the motive or the object, because a feeling which is an object is so far not a feeling.

Or take the instance of a lump of sugar. That means to me mainly, or here at least, the sweet-tasting thing; and I do not want it. In comes a child; to him it means also, as it did to me, the sweet-tasting thing, but he cries for it. ‘Yes,’ we shall be told, ‘in one case there is the idea of a pleasure, in the other not.’ Supposing we have in the child simple appetite, I deny the statement. In both cases there is the idea of a sweet taste, and, if that idea is felt to be pleasant, it moves because it creates want, i.e. a state of contradiction, where the absence of sweet taste becomes uneasiness or pain; such a state as I can produce in myself perhaps by eating something sour. But it is a mistake to say that I want the sweet thing because, so to speak, I discount for myself the promised pleasure to be got from eating it. Whether the pleasure create the uneasiness, or the uneasiness suggest the pleasure, in any case the essence of desire is feeling. The child does not cry for the sugar on Tuesday, because he remembers he had a pleasure on Monday, and thinks he should like another to-day; but because the feeling of sweet taste, now transferred as an idea to the sugar and made objective in it, is recalled in idea by its perception, and, being recalled, excites a feeling which, against the felt absence of sweet taste, is felt as want, and accordingly moves.

An object of simple appetite (using appetite as desire for recognized objects, not as a name for the lowest form of want) is this or that thing or process, with the perception or image of which are connected (directly or through the idea of activities) certain feelings, which, against the feeling of privation, are pleasant. Whether in any case now want precedes the pleasure, or the pleasure excites the want, makes no difference. Whether the original satisfaction first came unneeded, or was preceded by and followed on the feeling of privation, at the present stage again makes no difference. The feeling of satisfaction which has ensued, now at any rate has qualified the object. The object contains in its very notion, not the memory of this or that past satisfaction, but the ideas of the activities or states in which the satisfaction consists, and through them can call up the feeling (as distinct from the idea of the feeling) of a similar satisfaction. These ideas and this feeling are pleasant when want exists, but not otherwise. If I feel hungry, the sight of food pleases me; or the sight of food may, given the unfelt need for it, make me feel hungry; but, if I am satisfied, I do not desire satisfaction, at least while I remain in the stage of mere appetite. No man of simple tastes cares to see food when he is not hungry; e.g. it is not pleasant to live in the public room of an inn where eating goes on all day.[9]

But appetite does not remain appetite. Certainly in man (I wish to say nothing further about the lower animals) it tends to pass into what may be called, for convenience sake, lust. Here it is no longer the ideal satisfaction of appetite, felt as pleasant in this or that objective thing or process, which excites desire. The object does not remain sensuous; but by its relation to the permanent self it has been made into an idea, which itself, as against this or that moment of sense, is relatively permanent, and in the absence of perception can yet come before the mind. Hence, by the return of the feeling of satisfaction or the feeling of want, or in other ways, it is suggested to the mind when nothing is before the eyes.[10] But this is not all. Not only is the idea of the object a thought now independent of sense, but the pleasant feeling of satisfaction is reflected on and, as pleasant, is transferred to the object. The feeling of self-affirmation in the possession of the object has now, itself as an idea, become part of the idea of the object; and so not only is the object thought of when absent, but it is thought of as what is wanted, and what pleases when possessed. With the ideal possession of the object is integrated the ideal pleasant satisfaction; it is not the mere idea of the activities and feelings which give satisfaction, but the idea of these as pleasant, which is part of the content of the object. I think of the object habitually as that which gives pleasure when possessed, and hence, from time to time, when I do not possess it, the idea of the pleasant feeling as pleasant excites the feeling of assertion, and this, against the present absence of real assertion, tends to awaken the feeling of privation, and hence desire.[11] The content of the object is now not the idea of certain feelings, pleasant or not as they are wanted or not, but the idea of certain feelings, thought of as pleasant and so creating want.[12]

The object of lust is thus (1) permanent; it is not this or that object. It is true that what seems to be desired is this or that thing, but the particular is only a case or instance of what is relatively an universal. This food and this drink disappear with the using; the idea of eating and drinking, and of objects to be eaten and drunk, remains and does not disappear. And (2) the object is thought of as what pleases; the notion of myself as satisfying myself with it and finding pleasure in that satisfaction, enters, as a distinct element, into the idea of the object. The consequence of this is that lust is not satisfied with this or that satisfaction of appetite, because the object of lust is not attainable in any one moment of sense. The ideal possession with the thought of its fore-tasted delight, felt in sharp contrast to the pain of actual emptiness, was there, when the object of sense was absent: it became part of ourselves, that we carried where we went, and that rose perpetually before the mind, which had given to it its own enduring nature. Then the object of sense was present; and it seemed that it was all that we wanted, and that all that we wanted was this. Nor did the enjoyment (as we thought) deceive us: yes, this was what our heart was set on, this that we had; we have drained the cup to the bottom, and there is nothing left us to desire. But we grossly deceived ourselves. The sensuous satisfaction goes and leaves nothing real behind it, but the ideal satisfaction does not go. It remains, made more definite and intense by reflection on the memory of past enjoyment; and, as a thought, it rises again before us when the enjoyment is over, and calls for its reality. Its reality is not there, and the appetite is aroused towards a fresh moment of sense, in which we are to find it. We find again but the old delusion, for our ideal has no reality, and it can have none. The reality it calls for is its own, and it calls for it in that which is alien to its nature. It is permanent, and moments of sense are fleeting; it is objective, and they are not; it stays with us, and they must go. We have tried to find ourselves as this or that, and we are not this or that, and soon discover that not one nor any number of transitory sensations is our realization. We have made an end of the satisfaction of an appetite; the satisfaction of an appetite does not last, but an end does last, because in it we have set ourselves before ourselves to be realized; and, if an end is to satisfy us, it must be a permanent objective something, which when possessed we still have, and find ourselves really there.

We need not repeat how the idea of the act which, as an ideal satisfaction, remains present and survives the particular act, goes on to institute a process with no end (p. 87). We may notice how the thought of an end makes possible the artificial creation of appetite as a means to sensuous satisfaction, and further that here again is the origin of loathing. The perpetual unsatisfied want and disappointment, with their pain, are themselves transferred to and objectified in the idea of that which is lusted after, and now is both longed for and hated.

So far we have seen the nature of lust as compared with appetite; but the ideal voluptuary is not merely the man who lusts and is not satisfied. He reaches a level which, intellectually considered, is still higher. The failure of the objects of lust to give satisfaction, and the disappointment which ensues, provoke reflection which may take this turn. ‘My ends are objects in which I am to find pleasure, but I do not find it; and so there must be something wrong somewhere. I have made a mistake as to the end; the deceit was “an illusion of close association”; I wanted pleasure in the ends, and so I thought I wanted the ends; and the ends have fooled me. The attempt to realize the objective ends as ends in themselves was a delusion; I have proved by experience that none of these objects is the end I really want. I want them all, and yet I want none for itself; and that shows there is something in all which I want. What is this? It is my pleasure. The idea of my pleasure, apart from any particular sort of pleasant feeling, and apart from the realization of any object, is the end: all else is means thereto, and to be treated as such.’ Here we have at last the typical voluptuary.

We have little to add to what has been said before: the points to which attention must be called are the following. The end is now consciously and explicitly subjective; nothing objective is desired for itself. And, further, the idea of the end is got by a process of reflection and far-reaching abstraction. The end is not the realization of this or that object, either for itself or as that which creates such and such pleasant feelings; nor is it even such and such pleasant feelings for themselves. The end is not the pleasant known as pleasant, but the pleasant apart from its content, and simply in respect of its pleasantness; it is pleasure as pleasure. Such an end, if consciously brought before the mind, is myself as a permanent end to be realized, not in this or that object, nor even in this or that feeling or set of feelings, but, in abstraction from all content, as the self which feels itself affirmed. The feeling of self-realization is the end, which calls for reality, without respect for anything in which the self is to be realized, except as means. It is not necessary to repeat that the abstract feeling of satisfaction, as an end, contradicts the very notion of an end and must fail to satisfy; nor is it necessary to add that the voluptuary, as the man who consistently pursues that end, is an impossible character.


To return to our main subject. After this long but, I hope, not useless account of the voluptuary, the question arises, have we found what selfishness is? And the answer is, Certainly not. The voluptuary is selfish, whether he be the ideal one who consciously pursues the abstraction of pleasure, or the real one who to be consistent should do so, the man who makes an end of the pleasant satisfaction of sensual appetites. But the selfish man need not be a voluptuary, for he need not realize for himself beforehand his expectation of pleasures; and we have still to ask what selfishness is.

What first is it not? It is not mere conscious pleasure-seeking, since acts other than this are selfish. It is not doing what you like, because, as we saw, in one sense no one ever does anything else, and yet all are not called selfish. Lastly, it is not a general name for the bad self, because all sorts of wrong-doing are not indiscriminately called selfish. Weak yielding, self-conceit, pride, revenge and other vices are not so called. It would be absurd, for instance, to say ‘how selfish!’ when we hear of a murder; and we see at once that, though selfishness belongs to the bad self, it is not co-extensive with it. If we ask what selfishness is, the readiest answer will be perhaps ‘thinking only of yourself;’ and this appears to be right, though it needs explanation. Thinking only of oneself implies first that we think, that we are self-conscious reflecting beings; and hence it seems a misnomer to call a beast or a young child selfish. Secondly, we think of nothing but ourselves; and this means that the ends we set before us have not an objective content which is desired for itself, and without regard to its relation to our private selves. The selfish man, so far as he is selfish, has objects of desire which are not subordinated to any principle higher than his private satisfaction. If you ask what is the general end which includes his ends, you can point to none; but you find that he treats all objects as means, that he cares for none in itself, but will sacrifice any with readiness; and when you enquire what is common to them all, you find that they minister to his personal comfort; this comfort being a certain quantum of the pleasant and of absence of pain, which satisfies him, and which he either consciously aims at or unconsciously uses as a measure of all objects of desire. The ideal voluptuary consciously pursues pleasure in abstraction; the real voluptuary consciously pursues the pleasant feelings which come from the satisfying of certain desires; the selfish man pursues the generally pleasant, and avoids the painful in general, neither separating the feeling of pleasure as an explicit end, nor troubling himself with hunting for the pleasant for the sake of the pleasant, but making objects his end, either consciously or unconsciously, only so long as they are pleasant. If he separated pleasure from the pleasant and hunted for the maximum of that, he would be the ideal voluptuary: if he hunted for a certain sort of pleasant feeling as such, he would be the real voluptuary. He is neither; he is characterized not so much by his end as his absence of end, by his readiness to use anything as a mere means, to be let go when it ceases to serve the end to which the means conduce, i.e. certain objects or feelings which have nothing in common but their pleasantness, and which, if they began to be painful, would at once be neglected.

Selfishness excludes passion: so far as we are selfish we do not lose ourselves in anything, but remain cold-blooded; hence selfishness prevents crimes of a certain sort. It excludes all working for any end which is looked on as what matters, irrespective of our private comfort; hence a man who starved his children that he might pursue his hobby, however immoral, need not in that respect be selfish in the proper sense. Further, it seems to exclude participation with others; the pleasures of sexual intercourse or of the table need not be selfish in themselves, but only in their consequences, and so far as all self-indulgence inclines to selfishness.

This, it seems to me, is the description of what is ordinarily called selfishness: it is not co-extensive with the bad, but is a form of it. But we have not yet properly understood it as immoral and opposed to the good: we must do this, and, to do it, we must know what the bad self and the good self in general are, a task which has now for some time awaited us.


The existence of two selves in a man, a better self which takes pleasure in the good, and a worse self which makes for the bad, is a fact which is too plain to be denied. In the field of religion we hear of an inward man delighting in God’s law, which would have me do what I do not do, and of another self which takes pleasure in what I abhor; but in morals we have nothing to do with these. We can not consider either the good or bad self in its relation to the divine will, because that would be to pass at once beyond mere morality. But, apart from religion, the good and bad selves no doubt exist, and every one knows what they mean. I feel at times identified with the good, as though all my self were in it; there are certain good habits and pursuits and companies which are natural to me, and in which I feel at home. And then again there are certain bad habits and pursuits and companies in which perhaps I feel no less at home, in which also I feel myself to be myself; and I feel that, when I am good and when I am bad, I am not the same man but quite different, and the world to the one self seems quite another thing to what it does to the other. Nor is it only at different times that I feel so different, but also at one and the same time: I feel in myself impulses to good in collision with impulses to bad, and I feel myself in each of them; and, whichever way I go, I satisfy myself and yet fail to do so. If I yield to the bad self, the good self is dissatisfied; and if I yield to the good self, the bad self is discontented; and I am driven to believe that two souls, two opposing principles, are at war in me, and make me at war with myself; each of which loves what the other hates, and hates what the other loves. In this strife I know that the good is the true self, it is certainly more myself than the other; and yet I can not say that the other is not myself, and when I enter the lists against it, it is at my own breast that I lay my lance in rest.

No doubt this account, as a description of every one, would be much overcharged. There are persons, no doubt, who know the bad self, not as an active enemy of the good, but merely as an opposing drag. It is, however, better to see the whole extent of the facts we have to explain.

The two selves do not present themselves as a mere collection of desires and habits, some of which we call good and some bad. We are not only conscious of ourself in them, but in each we are conscious of self in a certain character, as good against bad, bad against good. We are conscious of ourselves as willing them each in that specific character, and we recognize and refer our desires and acts, not to what seem to be certain headings, but rather each to an apparent active centre, embodied in our will, which has asserted itself and does assert itself in us, and in which we have asserted and do assert ourselves, not as a collection or series, but as a real being, as what we call our good and bad self.

A being which is not self-conscious, and morally self-conscious, can not know a division in himself of good and bad will; and this by itself is a fatal objection against the theory which explains the two selves as hereditary groups of habits, ‘egoistic’ and ‘altruistic,’ which oppose each other. I am far from denying that this view has a considerable value and sheds light on the subject, but, as a sufficient explanation of the collision in the self, it fails in two ways. In the first place, as we have just seen, the theory fails because the fact to be explained is a double self, and it ignores the self altogether, or recognizes it only as a self-conscious collection; and we do not think that the doctrine of two collections, each of which is aware of itself as antagonistic to the other collection, and both of which are collected in a larger collection, which is aware of itself as one, and yet as what falls into two self-conscious collections which struggle within it—can possibly be made intelligible to any person out of an asylum. The theory stands and falls with the view on the nature of the self which we came upon in Essay I. This is the first objection.

And the second is that the hereditary qualities will not even serve as the natural basis on which the good and bad selves are developed. If in a variety of men you take these selves, and examine their content, you will not find the same in each. The bad self is not entirely composed of habits and desires all of which are ‘egoistic’; the content of the good self is not all ‘altruistic.’ It is mere reckless theorizing to see in the bad self the assertion of propensities in themselves ‘egoistic,’ and nothing in the good self but what is naturally ‘altruistic.’ I do not know any one inborn propensity which may not be moralized into good or turned into bad. Take the virtues or vices of any man, and we can see that the natural basis of every virtue might under certain conditions have been developed into a vice, and the basis of every vice into a virtue; for vices and virtues have common roots. Illustration in detail would be wearisome, but I will adduce one single instance. Is the hereditary sexual propensity ‘egoistic’ or ‘altruistic’? If egoistic, then all the virtues based on it, to which it supplies the natural material, everything of which it is the root or the nourishment (and how much does not that mean?) is egoistic and bad; and this is in flat contradiction with facts. If altruistic, then the vices it gives origin to (some of the worst we have) are altruistic and good; and that again is against the facts. In any case the theory breaks against the facts and against itself.[13] And I have already contested the assertion that all the good self must be ‘altruistic,’ in the sense of being social.

What, then, is the origin of the two selves? And how are they developed from the crude material of the natural disposition? This is the question we have to answer; but let us first be sure we know what their content is.

The good self is the self which is identified with, and takes pleasure in, the morally good; which is interested in and bound up with pursuits, activities, in a word, with ends that realize the good will. The good will is the will to realize the ideal self; and the ideal self we saw had a three-fold content, the social reality, the social ideal, and the non-social ideal. We need say no more, then, but that the good self is the self whose end and pleasure is the realization of the ideal self.

What is the content of the bad self? Here we find no general head, no objective unity, to which, as an end, its content is subordinated. All we can say is that the content of the bad self in a man is the habits and pursuits which are antagonistic to the good; the bad will is the will which is identified with the bad, and the bad is whatever is willed against the good. Its content is not mere pleasure-seeking as such, for that implies abnormal reflection and abstraction: nor, again, is it selfishness, because many bad deeds are done without conscious or unconscious regard to personal comfort. The content of the bad self has no principle, and forms no system, and is relative to no end. Pride, hate, revenge, passionateness, sulkiness, malice, meanness, cowardice, and recklessness have no one thing common to the content of all: I please myself and my worse self in all; and, if you abstract what is common, you must say, since the worse self as such can not be an end, that hence the end, under which all are subsumed, is private pleasure; but all that is true in that assertion is that there is no other end. The bad self has indeed, as we have seen and have yet to see, some sort of unity, because we are self-conscious in it; but that unity does not lie in its content; the content can be generally described only by reference to the good self, as what contradicts and opposes it, and can not be defined except against it.

Turning now from the question of content to that of origin, we must consider first the genesis of the good self, not in the world in general, but in the will of the individual: and the question here is, how is it possible for the self to identify itself with what seems to be altogether outside it? How is it that I can feel pleasure in the successes of persons and causes which do not affect my private personality? how can I desire their furtherance, not as means but as an end? How can the content of my will be not myself, as this or that exclusive individual? How, in a word, can I have interests? We must briefly, and in the merest outline, sketch their origin.

What we start with in the child is the feeling of himself affirmed or negated in this or that sensation; and the next step (a most important one, but one which we must take for granted here) is that the content of these feelings is objectified in things. The ideas of sensations, which were pleasant or painful, are transferred to objects, and, as ideas, form part of the content of those notions of objects by which we recognize them, when presented in perception. These objects are of two kinds. They are partly those which satisfy appetite; and these (if appetite does not pass into lust) remain mere transitory ὀρεκτὰ, which are desired when wanted, but which are not perpetually thought of as desirable; and whose perceived presence does not necessarily (nor at all, unless want exist) produce in the self a feeling either of affirmation or negation. Their perception or their ideas do not enter into the standing content which is felt in the self, and in which it feels itself permanently affirmed or denied. The objects themselves are not permanent; they disappear in the enjoyment of them; and the making of them permanent, as that in which we are affirmed, necessarily produces lust. But not all the pleasures of the child come from satisfied appetite;[14] and these transitory ὀρεκτὰ, which are related to recurring natural wants, and disappear in the satisfaction, are not all the objects in which he has made the ideas of his pleasant or painful activities and feelings the content of things. There are other objects round him, which please him apart from appetite, and of these not a few are permanent; they are continually with him, and do not disappear when enjoyed. On the contrary, they remain when possessed; and, so long as the child has them, he does not want them or desire them, but feels affirmed and satisfied in them. The feelings they excite, which are pleasant, are transferred to them as ideas, and are made part of their content, so that their mere presence gives pleasure; the will is asserted in them, and their perceived ideas by habituation enter into the content of the child’s standing self-feeling (not as yet self-conscious), so that, in their absence, he is uneasy, he feels himself as something which is not fully there; or without them (in the homely phrase) he does not ‘feel his self’ at all.

Now, here we have not mere appetite, or tension between an actual empty and ideal full self, such as is felt in the presence of this or that sensuous object. The satisfaction is not preceded by a feeling of contradiction, and it is permanent. And further, we have no selfishness, because we have no reflection and abstraction; the presence of the environing pleasant objects excites the general habitual pleasant self-feeling. It is most incorrect and misleading to talk of ideas of pleasure being ‘associated’ with them. The fact is that the idea of the object (imagined or perceived) gives a feeling of pleasure; and it does so, because for the child its very meaning is objectified pleasant actions and feelings. And the point is that for the child it is a permanent pleasant; it is not a permanent cause of pleasure. It is not a means to an end outside itself. Whether its content is felt to be pleasant, or in addition is known to be so, in neither case is the pleasantness separated in idea from the objective content, and it can not be made an end apart from that. The child likes it for itself, and he will not give it up for another means to the same end, because he has not thought of an end apart from the things he likes.[15]

For the sake of clearness I have put things first; but persons perhaps (if at this stage we have a right to make any such distinction) should have had the precedence. It is a fact which deserves more attention than it receives, that what satisfies a child’s first appetite is endeared in other ways beside, and is a permanent object. Mother and nurse satisfy a child’s recurring wants; but they are pleasant to him in other respects, and are always with him, so that he feels them as part of himself, and, when left alone, is uneasy and wants them.[16] We see the same thing, mixed with other feelings, in the relation of the dog, or at least most dogs, to the master; and here again the rule is that the dog a man has brought up is most attached to him. Even later in life, with regard to some people, we feel something of the same sort, though here again the feeling is probably mixed. We like to be with them, their presence is pleasant. And in all these cases the ideas of pleasure and their external connection are fictitious, and the ‘illusion of close association’ is only there for the deluded theorist.

Nor is it merely in the absence or presence of what is dear that the child feels its will negated or affirmed; it does so, too, in the negation or affirmation of the object. Natural sympathy (into the ultimate nature of which we do not enter) no doubt plays a great part here; but, apart from sympathy, there are obvious reasons why the manifested well-being and pleasure, or again the discomfort, of the mother or nurse should be identified by the child with what is enjoyable or painful to itself; and further again, apart both from sympathy and this comparatively ‘artificial’ connection, it must happen that the perceived affirmation or negation of any part of the endeared environment is felt as the assertion or suppression of the self. When we are pained by the loss or spoiling of parts of places where we have been happy, this, I think, does not rest on sympathy; and when some childish possession is destroyed or damaged, and then replaced or repaired, sympathy no doubt may come in, but the diminution or increase of that which is perceived (of course, unreflectingly) as the area of self-assertion, or (if we like the phrase) as ‘the objectification of the will,’ is essentially and immediately connected with our own discomfort or pleasure. The self lives in its contents, rises and falls with its world; things and other persons enter into those contents, and no great advance in perception is needed to know, for instance, that a mother or nurse is pleased or annoyed.

At this point we have reached the stage where moral education begins; not that the child will be a moral being as yet, but it is here we can see the unconscious beginnings of a better and a worse self.

So far the child has felt pleasure or pain in the existence and well-being, or the absence and hurt of what is not self; he has not yet learnt the existence of a will beyond his own. This he now does; he finds himself limited and controlled, and controlled by that which is endeared to him. The pleasure or pain of the mother and nurse has been his pleasure or pain, and now he learns by experience that this pleasure and pain are related to certain things which he does or leaves undone. He sees what displeasure means, and what it is when others are pleased with him. He learns that the external, with which he is identified, is a will which can be asserted against himself with painful consequences, and that its pleasant or painful assertions in relation to himself, are connected with certain classes of his own activities. He finds, or should find, that the willing against the will of the superior is useless and, besides, gives pain to himself, both by the displeasure of the superior, and also by more direct unpleasant results. In short, he discovers that there is a will outside of him, which is not only dear, but also irresistible; he learns, in particular, that there are certain sorts of his activities which are willed by the superior, and others which are against that will; and he learns, in general, that the accordance of his will with the higher is pleasant, and discord painful. Not that he reflects much, if at all; he feels pleasure when in accord with the superior, pain when antagonistic, and the particular steps of the process, whereby he has come to do so, are not before his mind at all. He knows, to a certain extent, what ‘good’ and what ‘naughty’ stand for; and with the one he is pleased, and pained by the other. He does not distinctly realize that the superior will is external to him; he does not bring it before him as the mere will of this or that person not himself, but as yet his mind is comparatively simple and run together. He feels the higher will bound up with his own by affection, and one with himself; and when he goes against that, then in himself he is unhappy. The superior is presented as external, but its content is not so, and it is felt as part of himself.

Obedience to command, pleasing the superior is pleasant and desired as an end; disobedience and the superior’s displeasure is in itself painful, and is avoided. The child likes to be good, and hence (no other reason is wanted) the pursuits and activities which are good are liked, and thought of as desirable for their own sakes, while, by a counter process, what is disobedient and bad becomes undesirable, and is thought of as such. For this cause alone the good would please; but, in addition, the nature of what the child is taught to think good is, in the main, what is on the whole pleasant, while indulgence in the bad brings on the whole contradiction and pain. The good accords with itself, the bad does not, and the child soon finds this out. Other furthering incentives we need not consider; the fact remains, that the child finds pleasure in the approval of the superior and in that which the superior approves of, and pain in the contrary; and further, that he does so directly and unreflectingly. To will what the superior wills is an end in itself.

In all this what is there selfish? Of course, if the child were habitually to say to itself, ‘Will doing this be a means to my pleasure or pain?’ and were to act accordingly, that question might be awkward. And I do not say that children, more especially when they get older, never do argue in this way; nor can I deny that I have heard ‘morality’ being taught them so,—a lesson, it seems to me, which, if not perilous, can fail to be so only because understood in a sense other than its simple meaning. But, roughly speaking, the process of learning to be good is as I have described it, and such calculating reflections are abnormal, and in infancy impossible; and the developement being in the main what has been sketched above, I repeat the question, Is there anything selfish?

‘Oh yes,’ we shall hear, ‘what moves is the idea of pleasure’—but of that fiction I think we must really have had enough. A child, when it tries to please its mother, is as unselfish as the hen who faces death for her chickens, as unselfish as the dog who gives his life for his master. The point is once more, what is before the mind in the act? Are there any ideas of my pleasure, as my pleasure, there or not? If any one maintains that my dog follows me about, and frets when I leave him, because of ideas of his own private pleasure as such which are ‘associated’ with me, I can not argue with such a man: we split upon a question of fact, and have no common ground. If any one tells me (and I have heard people say it) that a dog loves his master for what he has got from him or expects to get from him, I say this is an ignorant calumny. He may love him because he has fed him, in one sense of the word ‘because,’ while in the other sense there is no because about it. The external conditions and psychical origin, in a word, the genesis of a matter, is one thing; its existing essence is another; and you can not, without throwing philosophy and facts both overboard, argue ‘this is how the thing came into the world, and therefore it is so.’ The fact is that in unselfish love the object that is dear is felt as one with ourselves; it is loved when the associations which first endeared it can not by any effort be brought before the mind. The man who talks about ‘illusion,’ and says the ideas of private pleasure are there, only we are unable to lay our hand on them, can not, unless he gives reasons, expect to be attended to. I maintain that, in the cases I have mentioned, the original psychical link has been absorbed, the communication is direct; the object is pleasant in itself, and those ideas are not a part of its content, or, if they are, they are not before the mind. Will any one have the assurance to say that, when you have gained a dog’s affection, he must remember the attentions which in one sense were the ‘because,’ and still connect them with you, and that they now are in this sense still the ‘because’? Everybody knows that an animal may be taught to do things by rewarding him with food, but afterwards will do the things partly because he now likes them, and mainly to please you, because he likes you; and he either does not think of the food at all, or conceals his thought with a strange, purposeless, and altogether impossible effort. The association now may have no existence; and, even if the idea does exist, it need not be separated from, but is identified with, the performance.

In these simple attachments there is no more ‘because’ or ‘why’ in the sense of ‘motive,’ than there is a because for the love of ourself. We love ourselves, and we love what we feel one with us. The ideas of the pleasant feelings, which did once enter into the content of the object and were objectified in it, fade away and disappear altogether, or at least (and that is the important point) from the conscious self. They may cease to be included in the content of the object, but the object, with the rest of its content, gives pleasure directly; we feel ourselves one with it, and in its affirmation our will is affirmed.

We saw above that when the satisfaction of appetite was reflected on, when the self was identified with the pleasant negation of particular sensuous objects, and that as an idea was made an end, then we had lust, with its infinite process and general unsatisfiedness. We have now to see how different it all is, when the self is made one with ideas of a different sort.

The child, as we saw, finds pleasure in accordance with the superior, in the pursuits which are approved of by him; and the thought of these activities, which are called good,[17] is pleasant and ideally affirms his will. They are ends in themselves; they are not reached by the excitement of appetite towards this or that perishing thing of sense; they are not merely something to be enjoyed, they are something to be done. They have a content other than the feeling of the subject, an objective content; and that objective content is by act carried out into the external world. It can be seen and possessed there; or, if invisible, yet exists for thought in its results, or at least in the recognition of others. The child has done something; and what he has done he still in some shape or other has, if it be only in credit; he possesses an objective issue of his will, and in that not only did realize himself, but does perpetually have himself realized. The self, felt permanent and identical within him, finds its counterpart in the world which is not merely itself; it has a permanent and identical expression, and, if it think of itself, it has something to think of, a solid existing and real content, not the mere memory of the perished and unreal. Hence there is perpetual satisfaction, not because desire ceases, but because here desire is pleasant both in itself and its results. It is necessary, of course, that the yet to be done, the something more or the something new, should be presented as ideal assertion against relative non-assertion. But, in the first place, the privation is merely relative; the desire is not, as in lust, the contradiction between fulness and absolute emptiness (in lust we say, ‘if I do not get this now, what matters all that I have got before? for now it is nothing’)—but we start from the habitual complacency in our known realization, and, if in one point we fail, yet we still have plenty; and, secondly, we have been so accustomed to succeed, that we either do not think of failing, or, in any case, we know that it is not this or that moment of sense which matters, since the content is objective, and therefore it, or at all events something of the same nature, may be realized another time. So we can feel pleasure already in the ideal success, while the pain of privation disappears or is overpowered.[18] What is always with us is the feeling of pleasure in the self which is affirmed permanently and really; what we have done and are, exists apart from our feeling it, and so is objective; and in that habitual reality we have perpetual satisfaction. The ‘to be done’ means only more of what is done; and the fore-felt pleasure therein dominates the relative privation, which serves only as a freshening and pleasant stimulus, since not only the result but also the activity is an end in itself. Hence, though satisfied, we can desire; and, though we desire, we are not dissatisfied. In lust we have a permanent want occasionally gratified; in interest we have a permanent gratification, where what we want does but add to what we have. In lust the permanent content of the want is not realized, because the objective can not be found in this or that perishing moment of sense; in interest the content is realized, because the moment of sense is not desired as such, but is used as the means and material for the objective result, which, as a result, does not depend on it; the perished past was the condition of translation of the ideal into reality, and a reality which is present. The one object struggles to life, but dies as fast as it is born, and for ever remains a conscious and reluctant death; the other is perpetually born anew, and is for ever the same life, which remains and keeps its past and its present.

And we must notice too, what further on will engage us, that the good which the child thus lives itself into and lives in, is in the main in harmony with itself. And hence the self, which feels itself to be one and a whole, feels in the good the answering harmony of its own true nature, and divines that what realizes it as a system realizes itself, and that the jarring and discrepant is false and untrue.

So far we have seen that the self is identified with pursuits and activities as ends to be gained by it, but further it is interested in persons and causes which stand in no direct relation to its personal activity. Apart from anything which it does or has to do, it feels its will affirmed or denied in the success or failure of that which its own action has not to bring about. This result is a mere continuation of the process which drops everything subjective, everything which concerns only me in particular, out of the content of the end, and subordinates my aims to general heads, until on the one hand the mere objective content of the ends, apart from the idea of my activity, is felt as the affirmation of my will, and on the other hand those ends are brought into a harmony, over which presides what, for shortness’ sake, we may call the ideal. At this point the understood success or failure of causes and pursuits, which have nothing sensible about them, immediately and in itself asserts or negates my will; and instead of, as at first, taking pleasure in the cause for persons’ sakes, I at last am interested in persons for the sake of the cause. The man’s self is now wrapped up in the general progress of good, his will is so far by habituation become one with the ideal; and in the realization of that, whether by himself or others, he finds a permanent and everlasting source of pleasure; a cause which brings indeed its own pains with it and, in the absence of faith, can do much to sadden, but in which alone he finds his true self affirmed, and affirmed apart from his private success or failure. After all that has gone before, I will not put the question whether this too is selfish?

The above is a sketch, fragmentary and imperfect, of the growth of the will for good; but, as we said before, good is not moral until it knows itself; and it knows itself only in its opposition to evil. It is true in our account we long since passed the stage where the self is conscious of its will as good and as bad, but that was to avoid confused repetition. We must suppose the child at present to have its will made one with the good, but not to know the good as such, never knowingly to have willed the good as its good will against evil, or evil as its bad will against the good. But, before we pass from unconscious to conscious good, and, with that, to morality, we must trace the growth of the bad self (not known as such), in order to see how the knowledge of good and bad arises from their collision in the self-conscious subject.


What is the origin of the bad self? It is a question that might well make us pause, for it leads directly to the problem of the origin of evil and sin; and that problem leads to innumerable difficulties, of which he who is ready with some crude solution knows but little, though no less perhaps than he (and there are many such) who commits himself offhand to the insolubility of a problem, about the true nature of which he knows as good as nothing. Those ultimate difficulties we intend to pass by. We have nothing to do with what is called natural evil, nothing to do with spiritual evil in its relation to the divine; the false self as sin does not fall within moral philosophy. We have to do with evil solely in the form of the moral bad self, and must attempt in outline to show how it arises, first unconsciously, and then in its specific character; and finally to say something on its nature as against the good.[19] We shall not attempt to mention, much less to criticize, every antagonistic view.

The self, to begin with, is born, morally speaking, neither bad nor good. No doubt it may not be what it should be; it should for instance be a moral being, but I suppose that does not make it one already in any proper sense of the word; and, not being a moral being, it can not be bad. We are far from denying a certain truth to other views on this point, but, as expressions of the whole, they are one-sided and false. The hereditary theory, in particular, we saw above failed wholly as an account of the good and bad self. We deny that good and evil come to us by nature, but we readily admit that certain qualities are transmitted which are the real possibilities of particular forms of both. We allow again the distinction between the purely natural and the potentially moral, and by no means assert that a new-born child is a beast; but we must insist that the child is actually natural, and that the natural is neither immoral or moral. The child is born with a basis of physical and mental tendencies, more readily developed in some directions, good and bad, than in others, but still at present not developed, and moreover not to be developed by their own necessity. This common ground and material of good and evil we may call natural capacity; and, while by no means passing it over as free from difficulty, we do not propose to enter on it further.

The developement of evil from this neutral ground is not, on the whole, very much of a mystery; and we have been over a good deal of the subject already in our account of the growth of lust from appetite. And, presupposing an acquaintance with that process, as well as with the evolution of the unreflecting good will, we can content ourselves with saying very little.—The self, as we saw, objectifies its reactions in external things, and rises from satisfaction, as forefelt in this or that sensuous object, to the thought of ends, the ideas of permanent objects and pursuits, felt or known to be pleasant, and exciting desire by the ideal affirmation which they bring. These, when in harmony with and subordinated to the superior will, we have seen are good. They are evil when they are discrepant with and can not be subordinated to the superior will,[20] though at this stage neither good nor evil are known as such. The natural material of the bad self is consequently supplied partly by sensuous appetite, partly by other tendencies which oppose the good system (such as violent irascibility, jealousy, laziness, &c.), and, further, by natural inclination to activities and pursuits which lead to collision with the superior. Passionateness or laziness encouraged grows into habit; sensuous appetite reflected on grows into lust, the idea of sensuous satisfaction, and the habit of pursuing that idea; activities and pursuits opposed to the superior may be made objective and relatively permanent sources of pleasure, and become bad interests. The self falls into bad habits in the same way in which it falls into good ones; it becomes identified with bad ends by the same psychical process through which it makes itself one with good ends. It affirms and has affirmed itself in evil, and such bad affirmation is both inevitable and permanent.

It is inevitable for this reason. Let the natural disposition of the child be never so favourable, yet, as against the system which is to be the good self, it is at first a mere chaos of appetites and propensities, which, as they are and exist, can not be systematized. They must be made into a system by repression here and encouragement there; and even then, with all the conditions at the best, some element of the material is sure to give trouble. The will can be made one with the good by nothing but a process of habituation, and this takes time. All the while the child is living from moment to moment what must, under any conditions, be the chance life of a finite being. It is simply impossible that this or that bad satisfaction should not take place; impossible that desire for what is bad should not be awakened, and equally impossible that such temptation should not be yielded to. And here we have the inevitable affirmation of the self in what is bad; and this is also permanent.

It is permanent because, in one word, the self is permanent, because the self is not a perishing flux or collection. Bad satisfactions are not gone when the moment is by, but in their results they remain in us. Apart from reflection, indulgence strengthens propensity, and, if repeated, forms habit;[21] and, given the presence of positive conditions, and absence of checks, habit will pass into the class of act which produced it. It is a state of the standing will. And reflection makes an idea, independent of this or that sensuous thing, which remains ready to rise before us, and so provokes temptation, and reacts upon habit to the further intensification of both. The self is made one with the bad by abiding habit and lasting idea, and thus gets a content, not past but present, which is discrepant with the content of the good will.

And here we must remark that this content has no unity in itself; it is not subordinated to a single controlling principle. It is a chance collection, united partly by interlacing of habits, partly by relative subordination to this or that bad end; but its various habits and ends are self-contradictory, e.g. lust and laziness, pride and greediness, hatred and cowardice. There is no one end, and there is no identity, no bond of unity at all, except the affirmative self feeling which, under differences, is the same throughout. The bad is contrary to itself, as well as to the good, and, for these two reasons, is already painful, and, apart from this or that external check, fails to satisfy.

But at this stage in what sense is it contrary to the good? Is the bad known as bad against the good, and in that character willed? Not so, for the moral self-consciousness is not yet awakened. The bad is not brought under the general head of bad against good. Bad actions are attempted or willed, and, when willed, are found in collision with good; there is a sense of jarring and contradiction, accompanied at most by a perception of incompatibility, and followed by pain and dissatisfaction. The good and bad selves do not confront each other as unities: so far as they come explicitly before the mind (especially the bad self), they are only collections. Bad acts are known, as this or that, to be against the will of the superior, but they are not yet done as contrary. Through correction the act may have painful associations, but may be done in despite of these, yet still not consciously against the general good will. As yet the child does not have before it the will of the superior, together with this or that desire, recognized as against the will of the superior, and deliberately realize itself in the known contrary. Hence there is no common predicate for evil things; they are sought because desired as this or that; and the discrepancy with the good is at most felt. And further, we must remember that in the beginning all, and afterwards many, bad actions are done quite innocently, and without the smallest feeling that they are out of harmony with anything else.


So far we have seen the growth of the good and bad wills in what we may call their unconscious and non-moral stage; we have now to pass into the moral sphere. But let us first see clearly what that implies. Three elements are involved in it, knowledge of good, knowledge of bad, and self-conscious volition. You can not have the first without the second, nor the second without the first, nor either without the third. Evil implies knowledge of good, else it can not be known as opposite to good; and, where it is not known, there is no morality proper: and the same with good. If a subject does not know what evil is, the words moral goodness are devoid of meaning to it. You can not define moral goodness without bringing in evil: if you leave that out, you have a natural or a superhuman subject; in either case morality as such goes, because the ‘ought’ means nothing.[22] And the next point, on which we must insist, is that to know moral good and evil without willing them is simply impossible. These ideas are not ideas of anything external, nor of anything that can by any process of analogy be gathered from the external: their originals are in the subject, and, if he does not know them there first, he will never know them at all. Knowledge of morality is knowledge of specific forms of the will, and, just as will can be known only because we know our will, so these forms of will demand personal and immediate knowledge. Hatred of evil means feeling of evil, and you can not be brought to feel what is not inside you, or has nothing analogous within you. Moral perception must rest on moral experience.

And, lastly, for morality is required self-conscious volition. It will not do for the subject merely to be identified with good on the one side, bad on the other, to perceive their incompatibility and feel their discrepancy. He can not know them, unless he knows them against each other; and for that he must have them both before him at once. He must have before his mind himself as desiring two things in opposition to each other at one moment, each being seen to belong to a certain class; he stands above them, and in his conscious identification of his whole self in act with one or the other arises the knowledge of himself, as asserting himself as the good or bad will. This is the condition of imputation and responsibility, and here begins the proper moral life of the self.[23]

These are the three elements without which the moral consciousness in the strict sense has no existence; but we can not proceed without guarding against an error in respect of the third. Choice is necessary for morality; but we must not think that good and evil are there, and the subject, standing between, decides and takes whichever he just happens to take, and for no reason at all. Freedom, as the libertas arbitrii, not only is not true freedom, but in addition is a fiction. There is no such thing as a mere formal liberty of choice. Did it exist, I may remark in passing, it would be very far from helping to the solution of any problem; but it does not exist. The ‘I’ in volition is the negation of a content which also determines it: it is no atom nor empty abstraction, but the abstraction from the whole content of the self; from the self which, as identified with good and bad, is before the self; and in addition from the self which is not before the self, the standing will, nay even the passing inclination, of which we are not conscious; in short from the whole content of the self. Formal freedom independent of content is nothing in the real world; the self is filled before volition is possible.

For morality is wanted the self-conscious assertion of the good as good and the bad as bad; and the child, as we left him, had indeed a content to his will which was good and bad, but that content had not been knowingly asserted with the consciousness of its nature. When this is done, both good and bad self assume their specific character.

Let us begin with the bad self. The result of self-conscious volition of this against the good is twofold: it gets an unity; and the particular bad is brought under that unity; it is now done as bad. The collection of evil habits and desires, which before had no identity beside the feeling of self-assertion, is now thought of as one, and gets a general character. It does this of course by its antagonism to the good. The common point in all bad self-assertions, their opposition to good, is recognized, and in all these realizations the self knows it is bad. It knows itself in them as self, because, in volition, it now asserts itself consciously; having willed them, it is aware that they are its will: and it knows itself in them as bad self, because, in the doing of them, the self was asserted in that very character. The particular evil act is done as an instance and case of evil; the general is realized as such in the particulars; and, when the particulars are reflected on, they possess within themselves, as their identity, the self-conscious assertion of the self, as the will which is bad and which knows itself bad. This or that evil action or desire is now referred to the general badness; the general badness is carried out in this or that bad act; and, answering to the thought unity, there exists a common specific feeling, which binds all together; so that one evil self is felt in all, and all are felt as one self, which opposes the good, and which acquires its fixity by habit and by the consciousness which reacts on habit.

The unity of the bad self is opposition to the one good self, and it has no other unity. But the good is one, not merely against the bad, but also in itself. We saw that in the good will there was subordination and system; and all that is wanted for its self-conscious unity is that, by volition, the self should be asserted in it as one will against particular evil desires, which are recognized in their general character of opposition to it. Good acts are now done as good, and realize a principle which in them is aware of itself. The unity of self-consciousness is bestowed on the good will; but the point to keep in sight is this, that it was one before. The good self is now morally good; and there is no need for us to trace its upward developement. It knows itself at first as the will which, against the temptation of the bad, wills in its acts, and wills its acts as, the will of a superior outside itself, whether that be a person or tribe. The higher will is here felt, but not yet known, to be the will of the obeying self; and the process of developement, whether in morals or religion, has for its result the end where this higher will is known as the true will of the self, where law ceases to be external and becomes autonomy, and where goodness, or the identity of the particular will with the universal, is only another name for conscious self-realization.

Why in the good self we realize ourselves, and in the bad self we do not do so, is a question we shall discuss lower down. But first (the only one of many difficulties we can notice) there forces itself on us the problem, ‘How is the non-moral to pass into the moral?’ Apart from the question how the self-feeling, with its merely objective consciousness, passes into consciousness of self as an object, how is the genesis of the moral consciousness explicable? Have we not fallen into a vicious circle? do we not require knowledge of good as a prius for the knowledge of evil, and knowledge of evil as a prius for the knowledge of good? How is any beginning of morality possible?

We answer, in the first place, that there can be no priority in time, on the one hand or the other. The one side is implicated in the very meaning of the other; and it is one and the same act which gives the knowledge of both alike. Secondly, in answer to the difficulty of the origin of this double knowledge, we say that we do not pretend to trace the exact steps of the process, but that it consists in the gradually increasing specification of the two sides, one against the other, resulting in the increasing performance of actions improperly and relatively good and bad, until at last the two sides come at once to light as two contradictory wills in the self. Let us try to make this clearer.

No one, I believe, can remember the beginning of his moral perceptions, though no doubt a man may think he does so; but the beginning is probably something of this sort. After the good and bad selves are developed unconsciously by habit, the child does some evil act, and, after the performance, the felt pain of collision, however aroused, causes reflection. It is now seen that the act is opposed to good, and in that perceived contradiction the two wills come to light as contradictories, and, on occasion of the next temptation, the idea of the two opposing sides is present and qualifies the present opposing desires; and so the ensuing volition is done with consciousness of goodness or badness. We may represent the beginning so, but we can not bring before us the slow growth which has led up to it; any more than we can follow in its details the general evolution of human self-consciousness from the beginnings of mere animal feeling. We are forced to say ‘here you have this, and before only that,’ and may be able to see the nature of the transition; but mentally to reproduce and realize the changes is scarcely possible. And here, where a felt discrepancy gradually sharpens itself into a perceived contradiction, we can retrace the general course, but can not recover the detailed experiences, each one of which told, and added to the whole.

From the first the incompatibility of pleasure in the good and in the bad must be in some way felt; and as the two sides by habit harden themselves and grow more connected, this feeling must become more definite. There must come more or less of a perception of the good as a whole, a more or less clear insight that this or that bad act was incompatible, and the disapproval of the superior must to a certain extent be reflected on as attaching to a class of acts. There are dawnings of the moral consciousness which never turn to day, and acts not quite moral, while hardly non-moral; but all that we can accomplish is to see clearly that the two sides are not perceived as such until perceived in their specific character, one against the other; and that morality proper does not begin until, being so apprehended, they are consciously made the principles of the particular acts.

Growth up to the appearance of the specific moral consciousness is thus not strictly moral, and up to this time, I think, we are not accountable. But, after this time, we must be considered so, although moral growth is still to some extent unconscious. To take the last first, it is quite certain that the awakening of the conscience does not mean its sudden application to the whole of life. It is only by slow degrees that our acts take spontaneously the colour of good and bad, and the process, owing to new material and fresh combinations of the old, remains incomplete to the end of our days. For all that, we are responsible; and if theory must fix some point at which imputation begins, it can not be elsewhere than here. From this time we are a will which knows itself as good and bad, and knows that the good has exclusive claim. We have with full consciousness identified ourselves with good and evil; and from that twofold identification of the will, which begins a new life, and is no transitory accident but a standing self, we are bound to conclude that our particular acts now proceed. The burden of proving the contrary lies in all cases upon ourselves; and, to escape imputation of evil or good, we must show, by establishing compulsion or ignorance, the absence of real connection between the act and a will morally intelligent, or the standing embodiment of moral intelligence. (Cf. Essay I.)


We have traced, I fear most imperfectly, and I fear too dogmatically, the origin of the good and bad self in a man; and all that remains is to see, from the very nature of each, that the good self is our realization; and that the bad self not only does not realize our true being, but is never, for its own sake and as such, desired at all.

The good self satisfies us because it answers to our real being. It is a harmony, it is subordinated into a system; and thus, in taking its content into our wills and realizing that, we feel that we realize ourselves as the true infinite, as one permanent harmonious whole. Hence its content is at one with itself, and at one with our own felt nature; and again further it is at one with its form. We saw (Essay II.) that in volition the ‘I’ was an universal, and that it was only when form and content went together that we found self-realization. And now in the will that asserts the good self this is present: the form of self-consciousness, the ‘I’ that is drawn back from and reappropriates the content, and the content itself, are both universal; or, in other words, the good self is such that, when confronted with the self-conscious ‘I,’ it is felt to be identical in nature, and is reasserted as the very self without the smallest discrepancy. ‘I’ in the highest sense am present in it, feel and know myself present in it, perpetually reproduce my inmost principle, and see it, however partially, yet truly realized in a positive objectification.

In the bad self on the other hand all is different. Not only is that in contradiction with the good, but it is in contradiction with itself: its content belies the form of the self which is asserted in it, and further its content is in itself discrepant.

As regards the latter point, the content of the bad self, though connected into partial centres, yet has no one centre to which it is subordinated. We need not enlarge on that which has become a familiar theme, that the bad self is anarchical, and that evil lusts and appetites are all each for himself, and wage a war of everyone against everyone else who stands in the way; and that, from the nature of the case, they must be perpetually in the way of one another. Thus the bad is no unity, no system, no concrete universal. And, secondly, being thus what it is, when formally willed it is contrary to the self that wills it. That self both is, and feels and knows itself to be one, a permanent universal, and a whole; and in the assertion of itself in the bad it puts itself into what does not answer to its nature, and in that objectification must feel that, though the self is gone out, yet the self is not there.

For what in the end is this bad self? It is nothing but a collective self formally asserted as an unity. We have come at last, really and in fact, to the collection which is affirmed as not a collection; but this, we must never forget, is possible only because it belongs to that which is more than a collection. The actual unity of the bad self is a group of centres of bad habits and desires, in which the self-conscious self has affirmed itself, and in which the self feels itself in a specific manner against the good. But the one self is affirmed there formally and not really; evil deeds are acts of the whole self, but if you ask, ‘where then in them is the whole self realized?’ you can find it nowhere; and the specific feeling of being bad, which is common to all the evil, attaches to it by virtue of its opposition to the one good, not in virtue of any one common quality that it has in itself. A specific feeling of contrariness to the good, this or that more or less solid group of associated bad habits, the formal and unreal assertion of the whole self therein, and the reflection on all evil, as what by its general opposition to the good is known as one, this is all the unity of the bad self. It is an universal in the sense of a collection of all, not in the sense of being a whole and an organic system. It is a group of bad tendencies, adhering by the association of habit into relative centres, with nothing common to all save the specific feeling of opposition to the same unity, and by formal self-consciousness and reflection made for our apprehension into a whole, while in reality nothing but a heap of particulars.

The bad self can not as such be self-conscious; if it were so, it would realize the ideal of a self-conscious collection. It is the whole self which therein is aware of itself as what it is not, as a collection; and hence the contradiction, hence the indignant refusal to accept one’s badness as anything more than a fact which has no business to be a fact, as anything other than a standing self-contradiction and lie. A purely evil being is a sheer impossibility.

The bad self can not be desired for its own sake. Facts, in spite of certain appearances, proclaim that it never is so, that the ἀκόλαστος is a creature of theory, that no one chooses evil simply on the ground that it is evil, and for its own sake as evil. And we see now the theoretical explanation. But let us guard against error. It is false to say that evil is not done as evil; this or that evil act, when done, is desired for itself, and its content is known to be evil, and under the general head of evil it is committed. But the justification of the mistake is this, that only particular evils are desired; there is no identity in them which is made an end, because there is none to make an end out of. When we are bad, it is because we pursue evils known and done under the head of evil: but the head of evil, though it seems to be more, is merely a head; it is an abstraction, it is not a system in which the particulars subsist, and there is nothing positive about it which can be taken as an end. Simply to desire evil as such would be simply to hate good as such; but hate and aversion must rest on and start from a positive centre. You can not have a being which is nothing but mere negation; hate must start from a positive internal content, and that would be the positive core of the self, desired for itself as positive, and therefore good; not desired as mere evil, i.e. as negative of something else.[24] And what is even of more importance is this, that a being which desires evil, not as this, that, and the other evil, but as mere negation of good, is not a being which knows what good is. We have seen that, unless the will is identified with good, good can not be known. If good is not willed, it is not known, and therefore can not as such be hated: and if good is not willed, evil is not known as evil. In short, with the total absence of will for good goes the absence of knowledge both of that and of evil, and, with that, desire for evil as such. The simplest way to put it is to say that to hate good is to hate oneself, and no one can altogether hate himself.

To hate good is to hate oneself, because our being is affirmative all through; indeed, we are position and affirmation itself, and good is the one and only true form of positive realization. I do not mean that in this and that evil we do not affirm ourselves positively, but I say that we do not do so truly. We know ourselves to be one and a whole, and we know that we have not truly and really produced and got ourselves in any mere this or that as such, or in anything but that which reflects and realizes our nature, as a being which can not believe that its reality is of the moment, or to be found in the things of the moment. We truly and really are one as a whole; we truly and really are positive; we have shown that the good, and nothing but the good, does realize us as a whole; and we can not resist the conclusion that the good self is the only positive self which is true, that it, and nothing but it, is indeed our very self.

It is a theme which invites reflection; one which, had we space or strength to pursue it, would lead us far. On the one hand, we find ourselves evil; the evil is as much a fact as the good, and without our bad self we should hardly know ourselves. On the other hand, we refuse to accept the bad self as our reality; and the thought, the old thought, which in different forms is common alike to art, philosophy, and religion, is here suggested once more, that all existence is not truth, that all facts are not in the same sense real, or that what is real to one mode or stage of consciousness is not therefore real for an other and higher stage, still less so for that which, present in all, is yet above all modes and stages.

But we must not wander from our depth, nor away from the subject. We have seen, I hope, in some imperfect fashion, what the bad self in general is, and with a fuller meaning we can repeat that selfishness is one form of the bad self. Conscious pleasure-seeking is the pursuit of the idea of the maximum of pleasure as the end, and of all else knowingly as a means. Selfishness is the desiring and pursuing objects, not as ends in themselves, but with a more or less explicit readiness to treat all as means to an end which is private satisfaction, gaining the pleasant or avoiding the painful as such; but it does not imply the striving for the maximum. It is, apart from this, the using all things as a means to happiness in the sense of self-assertion, without regard to objective content for its own sake. The rest of the bad self consists in the will to follow objects and satisfy inclinations which are antagonistic to the good; but it does not imply the implicit or explicit readiness to treat these as means to an external end. If you insist on subsuming evil under a common end, you must say that end is private satisfaction; but, at the same time, you must remember that this is only true in the sense that there is no other end to which you can refer it.

What, then, is self-sacrifice? We have seen that all morality, all identification of the will with the ideal, demands the suppression of the self in some form; and so, though self-realization, it yet at the same time is self-sacrifice. Can we say, then, that self-sacrifice consists in following the higher and crushing the lower, and that, conversely, all such action is self-sacrifice?

No, the latter would be false; for it is not what in the ordinary sense self-sacrifice means. In morality, as a rule, what you give is returned to you with interest; and the bestowal of the self on the good is rewarded by the general heightening of individual life. If happiness is the realization of one’s ideal in one’s own existence, the attaining one’s end as a whole in the private self and by and for the private self, then, so far as men can be happy, in the main it is true that virtue is happiness; and virtue does not necessarily imply self-sacrifice.

Self sacrifice is more than this. It implies the identification of the will with an object, which entails in the effort to realize it the probable or certain negation of our private existence. And by private existence (other phrases, if this be objected to, will serve) I mean the existence which is ours, I do not say apart from but, distinct from others, what is centred in us as this or that person. The extensive and intensive affirmation of our will, as this ‘I’ or that ‘You,’ whether in bodily well-being, psychical harmony, influence on others, or appropriation of physical or spiritual good things,—all these assert our particular personal existence, and all that opposes the actuality or possibility of these lowers it. Self-sacrifice is knowingly to give up this existence to that which is higher. In it we bestow our will on what, we believe, either will or may lessen the extensive and intensive assertion of our private self. It is not giving up our will, for that is mere nonsense; nor our will as this or that man, that also is nonsense: if any one likes so to look at it, it is something less, but it is also and therefore a great deal more. It is the will of us, as this or that, to realize an object which means the lessening or total suppression of us as this or that. It is the good self; it is the identification of our will with the ideal; it is self-realization, and as such has a pleasure of its own; it does assert the private will, but it asserts it to its own negation; and the content of the self it realizes, it does not get for itself and have as a personal good of its own, but by sight or faith beholds its accomplishment, if at all, outside of and beyond its individual existence.

Answers to two more questions, and then we have done. The first is, Can there be self-sacrifice for the bad; for the bad, that is, when known as bad? It is perhaps a matter for doubt, but we incline to the negative view. We have seen that the bad is not desired in its quality of bad for the sake of that quality; but the difficulty which remains is that, for the sake of something known to be bad, persons do seem to give up their existence, while aware that they will or may do so. A closer consideration may, however, dispose of these cases. They may be divided into two classes, passionate and deliberate. In the former an element of self-sacrifice is wanting, i.e. the having the consequences in view. Fierce hate and hot lust for a mortal pleasure lead men to death; as the poet says,

Our natures do pursue,
Like rats that ravin down their proper bane,
A thirsty evil ; and when we drink we die.
But the point here is this, Is the end only before the mind, with blindness to the possible result; or is that result considered? If it is not considered, there is no self-sacrifice proper. The second class is the deliberate pursuit of bad objects, with a readiness to consider and face all consequences, even one’s own death; sacrifice of oneself, in short, for a bad cause. Here the important point is this, Is the cause really known as bad: or is the conscience confused, so as to take bad for good, or at least to see good in the bad besides its badness? And on our answer to that question will depend our finding. Self-sacrifice is admitted, but the doubt is, was it not after all for the sake of what seemed good? And, unless we remove that doubt, we can not maintain the possibility of self-sacrifice for evil.

The last enquiry is, whether all self-sacrifice must be religious; and here we are decided in the negative. It might be urged that the will to suppress the temporal self implies a will made one with what is above all finite things, a will identified with a non-temporal will; and that here (whether it call itself so or not) we have religion. But this, I think, will not hold. Of course, if self-sacrifice for the bad be admitted, we can not see in that the assertion of the divine will. And further, if the question be narrowed to self-sacrifice for good, still we must say that it need involve nothing properly to be called religion. The cause, with which the will is identified to the negation of the temporal self, need not therefore be apprehended as non-temporal, or that which is above the finite; but only as a finite realization, which is above and superior to this or that finite. And thus, too, my will may be identified with some bad interest, which, though finite, is still superior to my finite existence. The doubt which remains is whether, in cases where the personal existence is felt as utterly worthless in comparison of the good to be attained, the good is not so qualified by the comparison that we have passed into the religious consciousness, or at least into that which springs from and depends on it. Here, however, on the other side we must take account of the ‘abstract self-consciousness,’ which stakes its existence on a trifle, not because it cares for this or that content, but because, in its abstract assertion, it cares for no particular content as such, not even that of its own finite existence. But this, as well as the consideration of the former difficulty, besides others no doubt which we have omitted or failed to throw light on, we will leave to the reader (if such there be) who, in spite of its treatment by the writer, remains yet unwearied by the subject.

  1. For further explanation of this phrase see below, p. 236.
  2. To save space I have omitted all consideration of aversion from pain. But to avoid pain is, in respect of selfishness, admittedly the same as to seek pleasure; so we need not treat it separately.
  3. I believe, on the other hand, that, when put in this way, it is false. What directly moves is a felt contradiction, and this is not pleasant, though it implies an element of pleasure, and though the whole state may be pleasant (cf. p. 62, and below, p. 259). This, however, does not matter here.
  4. I may desire the continuance of the present; but desire for continuance is desire for what is not, what I have not now, what I may have hereafter, what I think, what I do not feel.
  5. Of course, while being pleased by the contemplation of an object, you can transfer the pleasure, in idea, to that object, so that they form an integral whole. But then a new feeling must be excited by that whole in order to move you.
  6. I do not mean that it can not be theoretically apprehended, and so transformed by the observing intellect, while at the same time and none the less as feeling it moves us practically. What I mean is that, so far as transformed, it is destroyed. The ideal representation of the feeling, so long as only theoretical, may coexist side by side with the practical feeling; but that representation as practical, i.e. as an idea which generates new practical feeling, is ipso facto the destruction of the old feeling as such.
  7. ‘The Motives, or Ends of action, are our Pleasures and Pains.’—Bain, Mental and Moral Science, p. 346. And Emotions, p. 266, ‘The intellect can determine the fitness of means to secure an end; but the end itself must, in the last resort, be some feeling, something desirable or undesirable, some pleasure to be sought, some pain to be avoided, some impulse to be followed out.’ To carry confusion further than this, would not be easy. The identification of the final with the efficient cause is an object which more than one philosophy has striven to attain. But neither that nor any other problem is cleared up by the simple failure to distinguish between the two.
  8. We are not here concerned with the lowest stages of the will, but we may remark that the ‘association’ theory is not only helpless before the fact that uneasiness and pain are stimuli to action, and is driven by it to open inconsistencies or palpable fictions (let the reader peruse Bain, Emotions, Ed. ii. pp. 312-13; Ed. iii. pp. 316-18); but that also the real thesis with which it stands and falls, viz. the general priority of activity to all feeling, it fails even to recognize as the vital question, and obscures it by showing, what is nothing to the point, the priority of general activity to the special sensations of the senses (Emotions, 303). But if the discharge of energy from the physical centre (lower or higher) be preceded by any specific feeling, and accompanied by any specific feeling, then, if this is so, surely here is the place to look for the psychical genesis of the will, and not in the unverified postulate of a discharge, not felt in its origin or itself, and yet followed by pleasure.
  9. As an instance of the collision with fact which follows on false doctrine, I may mention that Mr. Bain, to save his theory, has to assert that, when a child or animal is fed, it goes on eating until compelled to stop by pain (Senses, Ed. ii. p. 308-9; Emotions, Ed. iii. p. 316). No doubt that may and does happen, but that it always does and must happen, will, I think, be recognized by anyone who has fed dogs on proper food, and seen eagerness by slow degrees pass into tranquil indifference, as a palpable fiction. Mr. Bain’s treatment of the will is thorough and instructive, but, I think, by no means satisfactory. His theory stands on two foundations, (1) the fact of a discharge of energy, preceded by no feeling, and yet followed by pleasure: this ‘fact’ seems to me nothing whatever but an assertion, which the instances adduced do not verify; (2) the ‘law’ of ‘self-conservation,’ i.e. the fact that pleasure always promotes and pain always hinders action. Whether it is well to call any and every unrationalized general statement a ‘law’ I will not ask. Here the statement of fact is incorrect. Mr. Bain evidently sees that it is so, and yet the theory stands and falls with it. Not being initiated into the ‘inductive method,’ I hardly like to offer an opinion, but I should have said that there were ‘three courses’ open to Mr. Bain. The first is to revolutionize the theory until it systematically expresses the facts. The second is to say, ‘A law is never the worse for a few exceptions.’ The third is to torture the facts until they square with the theory. Mr. Bain seems to compromise between the second and third course. But if exceptions do not matter, why trouble oneself to get rid of them? If they do matter, why admit a ‘supplementary law of Stimulation’ (Emotions, ed. iii. p. 311-12) which is the direct denial of the main law? It is always wet on half-holidays because of the law of Raininess, but sometimes is not wet because of the Supplementary Law of Sunshine.
  10. We may notice in illustration that what is never absent, what I can always have, seldom becomes an object of lust.
  11. Lust must be based on appetite natural or artificial. The reason further why the water, when by reflection it was thought of as pleasant, did not awake desire was that, though ideas of pleasant feeling were in one way ‘associated’ with it, yet they did not make part of its meaning; they were not inseparable from it. Desire for water always remains simple appetite, partly because we can get it when we want it, partly because the ordinary pleasure of drinking is not very great. Hence by reflection and abstraction we may bring the pleasure of drinking before the mind, yet, because the feelings of the process excited by the idea are not pleasant, as against our present state of satisfaction, appetite is not awakened. The idea of pleasure excited feeling of pleasure, but, because that did not make us feel our present state as privation, therefore it did not move.
  12. Perhaps the readiest way of seeing the transition is, first, to suppose ourselves in a state of appetite for an object of sense. The state we are in is (or may be) pleasant. Let us delay satisfaction, reflect on the pleasure we feel, and refer it to the object. The content of the object is now not simply what it was before. The idea of my feeling pleased is added to it. And if this were fixed in and became part of the meaning of the object, were integrated with its idea, then the object would now be lusted after.
  13. The reader must not misunderstand. I am not saying that good or bad qualities are in no sense transmitted to descendants. I say that these natural good and bad qualities can not be divided into two classes, altruistic and egoistic; and I say further that, if you examine the actual good and bad self in a man, you will not necessarily find all that he has inherited, which was good in his parents, on the good side; and all of the bad in them, which he has inherited, on his bad side. A man’s character is not the grouping of two descended heaps.
  14. A complete account of the matter would at this point have to investigate the nature of the satisfaction we get from our different senses, particularly those of sight and hearing. But fortunately our argument is not dependent on this enquiry.
  15. At this point for clearness’ sake it may be well to put certain results together. And, passing over the stage of mere want or felt need, not referred to an object, we have
      (1) Simple Appetite. Here a sensuous image is presented, with which are integrated the ideas of certain feelings and activities, derived from the pleasant mastering of the object. This image excites a feeling of pleasure, against which the actual state of the subject may be felt as privation. In that case the pleasure felt in the ideal feelings and activities, presented in the object, against the uneasiness of privation, constitutes the tension of desire.
      (2) The self is identified with relatively permanent objects, not objects of appetite, so that in the affirmation of these it feels its self-assertion, and in the loss of them privation. This is the beginning of objective interest.
      (3) Reflective Desire. Here the object is a relatively permanent thought, the content of which when presented may excite want, and so move.
      (a) We have Interests or objective ends, when the content of the object consists of permanent results and activities directed to aims other than the satisfaction of momentary appetites. And here there are two possible cases, (i) The ideas of my pleasant feelings and activities, which make one whole with the content of the object, may have been reflected on and be perceived to be the ideas of what is pleasant to me. Or (ii) there may be no such reflection, and the object, without containing ideas which I recognize as pleasant to me, may simply excite a feeling of pleasure in me. This distinction is unimportant, so long as there is no separation in thought between the ideas of the objective result and of my pleasant feelings. But if this latter take place, then interest proper ceases, and the object is no longer an end in itself.
      (b) In Lust the permanent end is the mastering of the sensuous objects which excite appetite. And my pleasant feelings in that satisfaction are recognized as such, and, as ideas, are made an element (in most cases a distinct element) in the permanent end.
      (c) In selfishness there is, properly speaking, no end in itself. Here the element of what is pleasant to me in general is separated in idea from the objects, and though the former is scarcely made an end, yet the latter are treated as subservient and without intrinsic value.
      (d) We have the Voluptuary, when first pleasant feelings, and secondly the pleasantness of pleasant feelings, are made the end to which all else is means, and the abstraction of pleasure for pleasure’s sake is pursued.
  16. Whether the dread of being left alone is natural to a child, or not, matters nothing to the argument.
  17. We shall come upon what may be called bad interests later on in our account of the bad self.
  18. To the question, ‘Is desire pleasant or painful?’ no answer can be given. Desire is mixed and, I think, never without both elements. It is pleasant or painful, as one outweighs the other.
      Desire is a contradictory state. I feel in it what I am not really, against what I am really, and ideally am not. The actual negation is painful, the ideal affirmation is pleasant, because it excites actual affirmative self-feeling. And I need not remark that in desire pain and pleasure intensify each other.
      We need not go far into the matter, for the main features are easy to trace. Is a beast desiring food on the whole pleased or pained? It all depends, and it depends on the preponderance of either element. If they have not a vivid prospect of satisfaction, all beasts that I have noticed seem uneasy and rather pained than pleased when hungry. Show them the food, or in other ways give them the prospect of it, and then there is no doubt that their whole state is pleasant. So with human beings. Notice the face of the hungry man, who is not sure of his dinner or of the time of it; and then notice again that of the hungry man who knows it is coming soon.—Reflection intensifies the pain of want, by keeping the contrast between the actual and ideal before the mind. For the same reason it intensifies the pleasure. Where the attention is directed to the want, that is made intense, and pain predominates: where it is directed to the ideal satisfaction, the pleasure is intensified and outweighs the pain. The cruellest want is where, against the idea of the satisfaction, the reality of the privation is forced on us. The keenest pleasure is where, against the surviving pain of want, the satisfaction is felt or forefelt as actual. It is because the pain so soon disappears, that the pleasure of sensuous satisfaction fades so fast. It is not indeed true that the moment the pleasure touches our lips, the pain is gone wholly, but it has even then begun to go, and with it the extreme of pleasure. That is why so often ‘the dream is better than the drink.’ It must be so where the negation of the sensuous object is the end, i.e. where it is not the permanent assertion of ourselves in a permanent object which is aimed at. Only in the latter case do we keep and have ourselves in what we have. When we do this the pain of want is outweighed. It was partly his failure to consider this, partly his mistake as to the negative character of pleasure (i.e. his seeing in it only the negation of a positive, viz. pain), which was the foundation of Schopenhauer’s pessimism. For him life is an oscillation between the pains of want and ennui. Want of permanence again in the realization is the reason why aversion, so often liked, encouraged, and on the whole pleasant, mostly cheats itself in the end. When our enemies are destroyed, we have destroyed our pleasure. The whole subject of aversion is difficult and interesting.
  19. My knowledge of the literature of the subject is so exceedingly slight that I feel some diffidence in mentioning any work; but I think the reader will find that Vatke’s book (Die Menschliche Freiheit; Berlin, 1841), if not satisfactory, at all events goes deep into the whole subject.
  20. Throughout I suppose the superior will to be moral. Of course all that is opposed to the superior need not form a part of the future moral bad self, but for shortness’ sake we must simplify.
  21. It is surprising that a writer of talent could allow himself twice to publish the exquisitely silly remark, ‘Failure is to form habits.’ The saying is senseless in relation to fact; for every one knows that we can not choose between habits and no habits, but at most between good and bad habits. In connection with the remaining views of the writer it is, if possible, still more senseless; for habit with him is a word that can mean nothing; and, to be consistent, he must say, ‘It matters not what habits you think you have; for they are a delusion, and so are you.’
  22. The question of the exact extent to which evil must go in order to awake conscience has of course (though here again evil takes the form of sin) a considerable interest for theology, but it does not concern us here. It is discussed by Vatke, pp. 275-6.
  23. The question of the priority of will or knowledge is discussed by Vatke (p. 259 foll.), to whom I am much indebted here.
  24. This is a matter which perhaps calls for a remark. We must be careful to remember that the question is, Can I desire evil and hate good in their character as such, and because they are such? Then further, there being nothing whatever in evil as such to desire, desire for evil as such reduces itself to hatred of good. The whole question is then, Can I hate good as such? Certainly in one way I may hate good. I may loathe it, because, though I desire it, it brings me perpetual pain and weariness. I may wish to be rid of it; but this is because I want to sink myself peaceably in such or such lusts. Desiring these I may wish the good away, or, tired of everything, may want simply to be at rest. But in neither case do I hate good simply; what I hate are its accompaniments: remove the annoyances of the good, and I always wish to have it. At the bottom even of the wish for the peace of death lies the positive desire for self-assertion and nothing but self-assertion. And this positive desire can be directed against the good only per accidens. The abstract negation of the good we can not really aim at; but, having this or that desire, we negate what opposes it, because and so far as it opposes it, in order to assert ourselves positively. To hate one’s life is possible only so far as one abstracts from it; and here it is self-affirmation, however abstract, which is our positive end.
      There is only one class of facts where evil seems done for its own sake, i.e. to negate the good; and in these we find a psychological illusion. The illusion is that the good is a foreign will, which represses us from the outside. Breaches of discipline seem done for their own sake; but they really are done not because evil, but because the self asserts itself in them against what it mistakes for another finite will. Removal of discipline soon destroys the zest of illicit pleasure; then the subject finds out it does not care for the evil as such, a knowledge bought dear. If the subject goes on to say, ‘I wish I could think it wrong, because, since I ceased to do so, the pleasure has gone,’ we have the nearest approach to ἀκολασία. But this rests on the illusion as to a foreign will. Other phenomena of the sort can be reduced to the head of the wish ‘to spite oneself,’ a curious state of mind which involves the taking of oneself, in this or that character or quality, to be a self foreign and external to one’s present self.