sense. Ought is the feeling of obligation, and ‘when the feeling ceases the obligation ceases.’ The Utilitarian believes on psychological grounds that pleasure is the sole desirable: he believes on the strength of his natural and moral instincts that he must live for others: he puts the two together, and concludes that the pleasure of others is what he has to live for. This is not a good theoretical deduction, but it is the generation of the Utilitarian monster, and of that we must say that its heart is in the right place, but the brain is wanting.
Its heart, its ‘natural sentiment,’ does tell it that its substance is one with the substance of its fellows; that in itself and by itself it is not itself at all, and has no validity except as a violent and futile attempt at abstraction. And yet if we deny that an universal can be more than ‘an idea,’ if we are sure that the merely individual and the real are one and the same, and in particular that the self is exclusive of other selves, and is in this sense a mere individual; and if further, for morality at all events, we can not do without something that is universal, something which is wider and stronger than this or that self—then here, as in all other
- It is monstrous to argue thus:— ‘Because (1) on psychological grounds it is certain that we can desire nothing but our own private pleasure; because (2) on some other grounds something else (whatever it may be), something not my feeling of pleasure, something other than my private self, is desired and desirable; therefore (3) this something else which is desired and desirable is the pleasure of others, since, by (1), only pleasure can be desired.’ If we argue in this way, we may as well go a little further to—‘(4) and therefore we can and do desire something not our own private pleasure, and therefore (1) is false, and therefore the whole argument disappears, since it is upon (1) that the whole rests.’
I am ashamed to have to examine such reasoning, but it is necessary to do so, since it is common enough. Is it not palpable at first sight, that (1) and (2) are absolutely incompatible, that each contradicts the other flatly? You must choose between them, and, whichever you choose, the proof of Utilitarianism goes, because that springs from the unnatural conjunction of both.
The only escape that I can see is to say in (2) that something is desirable though not desired, and write ‘not desired but desirable’ for ‘desired and desirable.’ But not only is this perhaps altogether unmeaning, but also the conclusion now disappears; you can get nothing from the premises. Because A is desired and B is desirable, it does not follow, I suppose, that a hash of A and B is desired and desirable.