Page:Ethical Studies (reprint 1911).djvu/118

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


we then I think are in good company, but in no better case. For an opponent will hold to the fact that he does knowingly prefer what is called bad to good, and will hence, by our argument, conclude first that bad is really good, and next that nothing can be either good or bad, since bad to one man is good to another. And if we, on the other hand, persist that the fact is impossible (I do not know how we are to prove it so), and that no one ever did or could choose what we call bad, when he had in his mind what we call good, then we identify immorality with ignorance, and moral obligation disappears. For every man not only does, but must do, the best on every occasion, so far as he knows it; his knowledge is an accident which has nothing to do with his will; he must act up to the ought, so far as he has an ought, and he can not do what he thinks is wrong.

To proceed—the basis of our moral theory is now, There is a scale of pleasures; some persons know all, and others only some; but you necessarily choose the pleasures you know according to the scale. I e.g. know the alphabet of pleasures, always or sometimes, up to M. ‘Immoral man to choose M, when you should have chosen P or R or even X.’ But I do not know what they are. ‘And therefore you are immoral, for I and a good many other people do.’ But let us drop the matter here; on such a theory, the reader will assent, moral obligation is unmeaning.[1]

  1. At the risk of hypercriticism I will make one or two further remarks on Mill’s view. According to it, pleasures must stand in a kind of order of merit, represented, let us say, by the letters of the alphabet. All pleasures, because pleasures, are good in themselves. A pleasure is immoral only when taken where a higher was possible, now or as a consequence. Then every pleasure is moral, because it has a supposable pleasure below it; every pleasure is immoral, because there is always a supposable pleasure above it. No man is moral, because his knowledge is limited, and he therefore can not always take the highest conceivable pleasure; but if so, then all men are equally moral, for they all take the highest pleasure they know. Or, passing by this, let us suppose the pleasures divided into two classes, higher and lower. If the lower are to be considered at all, then, as we have said, in the event of a collision the problem is insoluble, because what is not of the same denomination can not be compared. Let us suppose then that the lower are not to be considered, and we are left with the higher. Here the same problem breaks out. For these pleasures are no system; if you make the idea of a system your end, and regulate the pleasures by that, you have deserted Hedonism. The pleasures are no system, and they are not all of equal value. Hence, as above, they can not be calculated quantitatively. In the event of collisions then (such as must take place) between e.g. the pleasures of philosophy, pleasures of natural science, pleasures of virtue, pleasures of love, pleasures of the table, pleasures of the ‘theopathic affections,’ pleasures of fine art, pleasures of history, etc., you have again a problem which can not be solved except by the caprice of the individual, who will prefer for himself and others what he likes best.
      Another point of interest is that the theory which begins with the most intense democracy, wide enough to take in all life that feels pleasure and pain, ends in a no less intense Platonic aristocracy. The higher pleasure is to be preferred to any amount of the lower, and I suppose is to constitute the moral standard. But clearly the beasts are incapable of refined pleasures; the vulgar are better, but still very low; the only man who knows the highest pleasure is the philosopher. He is moral, the universe below is immoral in increasing degree. And, since no amount of lower can weigh against higher, and, since the highest pleasures (and only the philosopher can judge what they are, for only he knows all) are realizable only in the few, therefore we must live for the few, and not for the many. And I suppose the same argument might be used by the artist, or well-nigh any one else. But it is not worth while to pursue the matter further.