to make possible, to justify, and even to encourage, an incessant practical casuistry; and that, it need scarcely be added, is the death of morality. Before I proceed, however, let me entreat the reader to remember that the question, Are Utilitarians immoral? is one question, and the question, Is their theory immoral? altogether another, and the only one which we are concerned with.
And (2), if it were true that no other moral theory was in a happier plight, what are we to say but ‘so much the worse for all moral theories,’ and not ‘so much the better for Hedonism.’ The moral consciousness is the touchstone of moral theories, and that moral consciousness, I appeal to it in every man, has laws which are a great deal more than rules. To that consciousness ‘Do not commit adultery’ is a law to be obeyed; it is not the prescription of a more or less questionable policy. It is not a means, which in the opinion of A, B, and C will or may conduce to an end other than itself, and in the opinion of D may or will not do so. Let the Hedonist refute thrice or four times over, if he pleases, his rival theories; but he does not thereby establish his own, and is no nearer doing so than before.
To proceed—the conclusion we have reached is that, supposing it to be certain that the end is the maximum surplus of pleasure in the sentient world, that end gives no standard for morality. The end is in itself most abstract and impalpable. The means are external and in themselves immaterial to the end; and the fixing the relation of means to end must always be matter of opinion; in the last resort it is, and (what is most important) it ought to be, matter of my private opinion. As it turned out before, so here also the rules are not laws; I can please myself about them: and a standard which is no standard, a law which is no law, but which I may break or keep, which is at the mercy of changing judgment and fleeting opinion, is no practical basis for me to regulate my life by.
- To bring the matter home to the reader, I will produce an example or two of cases where Hedonism gives no guidance. If in certain South Sea Islands the people have not what we call ‘morality,’ but are very happy, is it moral or immoral to attempt to turn them from their ways? If by an immoral act, which probably will not be discovered, I can defeat a stroke of pernicious policy on a large scale, what am I to do? Is prostitution a good or a bad thing? To prove that it is bad we must prove that it diminishes the surplus of pleasant sensations, and is not this a fair subject for argument? Do I or do I not add to the surplus of ‘grateful feeling’ by a given act or acts of sexual irregularity? This is a serious practical question, and I know that in many cases it is honestly answered in the affirmative; and in some of these cases, so far as such impalpable questions can be judged of, I should say the affirmation was correct. Is suicide ever allowable, and if so, when? and when not? Is murder? and if not, why not? and so on with all the crimes in the decalogue and out of it. If any given act is to be shown immoral, you must, if called on, exhibit the probability of its producing more pain than pleasure in the world, and is not this again and again a hopeless problem? Of course the Hedonist does not want the question raised. Of course he wants people to go by rules always, and that no one should ask any questions, except it be himself. That we quite understand. The point is, if I choose to raise such questions, on what ground can he say I may not? on what ground can he refuse to discuss the case? On what ground can he blame me, if I take and act on a view which is other than his view?
‘The beliefs which have thus come down are the rules of morality for the multitude, and for the philosopher until he has succeeded in finding better. That philosophers might easily do this, even now, on many subjects...I admit, or rather earnestly maintain’ (Mill, Util., p. 34). From the author of the Essay on Liberty this should mean a good deal. If the philosopher may make new rules, I suppose he may modify old ones. And who is ‘the philosopher’? Are we (as proposed for the franchise) to have an examination, passing in which shall entitle a man to try ‘experiments in living’? Or shall we leave it to private judgment? Then I should like to know in these days of ‘advanced thinking’ who would not be a ‘philosopher,’ and how many would be left in the ‘multitude.’