The Moral Economy
by Ralph Barton Perry
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E-text prepared by Al Haines

Transcriber's note:

Page numbers in this book are indicated by numbers enclosed in curly braces, e.g. {99}. They have been located where page breaks occurred in the original book. For its Index, a page number has been placed only at the start of that section.




Assistant Professor of Philosophy in Harvard University

Author of

The Free Man and the Soldier The Moral Economy The Approach to Philosophy

Charles Scribner's Sons New York — Chicago — Boston — Atlanta San Francisco — Dallas

Copyright, 1909, by Charles Scribner's Sons All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without the permission of Charles Scribner's Sons


MARCH 30, 1909

"Things and actions are what they are, and the consequences of them will be what they will be; why then should we desire to be deceived?"




This little book is the preliminary sketch of a system of ethics. Its form differs from that of most contemporary books on the subject because of the omission of the traditional controversies. I have attempted to study morality directly, to derive its conceptions and laws from an analysis of life. I have made this attempt because, in the first place, I believe that theoretical ethics is seriously embarrassed by its present emphasis on the history and criticism of doctrines; by its failure to resort to experience, where without more ado it may solve its problems on their merits. But, in the second place, I hope that by appealing to experience and neglecting scholastic technicalities, I may connect ethical theory with every-day reflection on practical matters. Morality is, without doubt, the most human and urgent of all topics of study; and I should like, if possible, to make it appear so.

The references which I have embodied in the notes are intended to serve the English reader as an introduction to accessible and untechnical literature on the subjects treated in the several chapters. These chapters coincide with the main divisions of ethical inquiry: Goodness, Duty, Virtue, Progress, Culture, and Religion. And although so brief a treatment of so large a programme is impossible without sacrifice of thoroughness, it does provide both a general survey of the field, and a varied application of certain fundamental ideas.





I. THE GENERAL CLAIMS OF MORALITY . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

The practical necessity of morality, 1. The interplay of dogmatism and scepticism, 4. The fundamental character of morality, 7.

II. GOODNESS IN GENERAL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9

The dependence of value on life, 9. Definition of the simpler terms of value. Goodness: the fulfilment of interest, 11. "Good" and "good for," 12.

III. MORAL GOODNESS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13

The moral organization of life, 13. Definition of the terms of moral value. Moral goodness: the fulfilment of an economy of interests, 15. Moral goodness and pleasure, 16. Rightness or virtue, 18. Morality and life, 19.

IV. MORALITY AND NATURE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20

The alleged artificiality of morality, 20. Morality and the struggle for existence, 21. Morality and adaptation, 22. Morality is natural if life is, 24.

V. MORALITY AND CONFLICT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24

Morality and competitive struggle. Morality the condition of strength, 24. The value of conflict, 23. The elimination of conflict, 26. Morality and the love of life, 27.

VI. THE DIGNITY AND LUSTRE OF MORALITY . . . . . . . . . . . 28

The effect of war on sentiment and the imagination, 28. Real power is constructive, not destructive or repressive, 29. Moral heroism, 31. The saving or provident character of morality, 32. Morality and the consummation of life, 33.


THE LOGIC OF THE MORAL APPEAL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34


Modern individualism, 34. Distinguished from scepticism, 36. The individual as the organ of knowledge, 37. Moral individualism as a protest against convention, 39. Duty as the rational ground of action, 40. Reasonableness a condition of the consciousness of duty, 41.

II. THE LOGIC OF PRUDENCE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43

Prudence as elementary, 43. Interest, action, and goodness, 43. The alleged relativity of goodness, 43. The conflict of interests solved by conciliation, 48. The limits of prudence, 49.


The adoption of new interests and the problem of preference, 50. A hypothetical solution of the problem, 51. Solution in the concrete case through the organization of a purpose, 53. The principle of the objective validity of interests, 54. The principle of the quantitative basis of preference, 55.


The private interest, 57. The personal factor negligible in counting interests, 58. The refutation of egoism. The first proposition of egoism, 59. The second proposition of egoism, 61. Impartiality as a part of justice, 63. Justice as imputing finality to the individual, 64. The equality of rational beings as organs of truth, 64. Summary of justice, 66.

V. THE LOGIC OF GOOD-WILL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67

All interests are entitled to consideration, 67. Goodwill and the growth of new interests, 67.

VI. DUTY AND THE IMAGINATION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69

The logical imagination, 69. Rationalism and incentive to action, 70. Rationalism and faith, 71.


THE ORDER OF VIRTUE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72


Summary of the content and logic of moral value, 72. Virtues as verified rules of life, 73. The material and formal aspects of morality, 74. Materialism and formalism due to exaggeration, 75. The general importance of the conflict between the material and formal motives, 76. Duty identified with the formal motive, 76. Formalism less severely condemned, 77. The five economies of interest, 77. Summary of virtues and vices, 79. Table, 81.

II. THE ECONOMY OF THE SIMPLE INTEREST . . . . . . . . . . . 82

The simple interest not a moral economy, 82. Satisfaction the root-value, and intelligence the elementary virtue, 82. Incapacity, 83. Overindulgence the first form of materialism, 84. It is due to lack of foresight, 85. Or to the complexity of interests, 86. Overindulgence as the original sin, 86.

III. THE RECIPROCITY OF INTERESTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87

Prudence as a principle of organization, 87. Moderation and thrift, 87. Honesty, veracity, and tact of the prudential form, 88. The inherent value of the prudential economy. Individual and social health, 88. Temperance and reason, 90. Prudential formalism, or asceticism, 92. Asceticism illustrated by the Cynics, 92. Prudential materialism or sordidness, 94. Aimlessness or idleness, 94.

IV. THE INCORPORATION OF INTERESTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95

Purpose as a principle of organization. Its intellectual character, 95. The virtues subsidiary to purpose, 95. Truthfulness in the purposive economy, 96. The value of achievement, 97. The formalistic error of sentimentalism, 98. Deferred living, 98. Nationalism, 99. Egoism and bigotry as types of materialism. The pride of opinion, 100. Egoism and bigotry involve injustice, 103. The meaning of injustice, 103.

V. THE FRATERNITY OF INTERESTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105

Justice as a principle of organization, 105. Justice conditions rational intercourse, 105. Discussion, freedom, and tolerance, 106. Anarchism and scepticism, 107. Laissez-faire, 108. Justice and materialism. Worldliness, 110. Ancient worldliness due to lack of pity, 110. Modern worldliness due to lack of imagination, 111.

VI. THE UNIVERSAL SYSTEM OF INTERESTS . . . . . . . . . . . 112

The economy of good-will, 112. Good-will as the condition of real happiness. Paganism and Christianity, 113. Merely formal good-will is mysticism, 116. Mysticism perverts life by denying this world, 118. Quietism, 119. Mystical perversion of moral truth, 120.

VII. SUMMARY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 121

The interworking of the formal and the material principles, 121. Importance of the formal principle. Manners and worship, 121.


THE MORAL TEST OF PROGRESS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 123

I. THE GENERAL THEORY OF PROGRESS . . . . . . . . . . . . . 123

The philosophy of history, 123. The meaning of progress, 125. Progress and the Quantitative basis of preference, 127. The method of superimposition as a test of progress, 127.



The external principle: the pressure of an unfavorable environment, 130. The external and the internal principle, 131. The internally progressive type of society. The importance of discussion, 132. Rationality the internal principle of progress, 134. The positive motive: constructive reform, 134. Disinterested reflection and the man of affairs, 136. Success depends on moral capacity, 137. The negative motive: revolution, 139. Christianity as a social revolution, 140. The French Revolution, 141. Dependence of progress on the historical connectedness of human life, 143.

III. CONSERVATISM AND RADICALISM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 144

Conservatism values the existing order, 144. Progress requires the maintenance and use of order, 145. The real radical not the sceptic but the rationalist, 145. The justification of the radical, 146.


Institutions are permanent moral necessities, 147. Government as the interest both of the weak and of the strong, 148. The moral necessity of government, 150. The variable and progressive factor in government, 151. The principle of rationality in government, 152. The benefits and cost of government in the ancient military monarchy, 152. Solidarity of interest in the Greek and Roman oligarchies, 154. Advance in liberality in Athenian institutions, 156. The development of modern institutions, 157. The modern idea of democracy, 158. Summary of the modern state. It is territorial and impersonal, 160. The representative method, 160. Emphasis on internal policy and international peace, 162.


Democracy based not on pity but on enlightenment, 163. The respect for the opinion of those most interested, 164. The spirit of modern justice, 165. Sensitiveness to life, 166. The allowance for growth, 167. The individual and the crowd, 168. Hopefulness and the bias of maturity, 169. The work done and the work to do, 170.


THE MORAL CRITICISM OF FINE ART . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171


The higher activities of civilization, 171. The attempt to apply aesthetic standards to life, 172. The claim of art to exemption from moral criticism is based on misapprehension. Morality not a special interest, but the fundamental interest, 174. Morality does not substitute its canons for those of art, 175.


Art as the adaptation of the environment to interest, 176. Industrial art and fine art, 177. The aesthetic interest: the interest in apprehension, 179. The interest in sensation and perception, 181. The emotional interest, 182. Instinct and emotion in the aesthetic experience. Poetry and music, 183. The interest in discernment, 185. The representative element in art exemplified in Greek sculpture, 185. And in Italian painting of the Renaissance, 187. Levels and blendings of the aesthetic interest, 189. The moral criticism of the aesthetic interest, 190.


The aesthetic interest is capable of continuous development, 192. And is resourceful, 192. But tends on that account to be narrow and quiescent, 192.


The aesthetic interest may supply interest where there is none, or enhance other interests, 194. But it must not be allowed to replace other interests, 195.


Other interests may be represented by the aesthetic interest, 197. The danger of confusing vicarious fulfilment with real fulfilment, 198. And of being aesthetically satisfied with failure, 199.

VI. ART AS A MEANS OF STIMULATING ACTION . . . . . . . . . . 201

Art is a source of motor excitation,201. But such excitation is morally indeterminate, 201. Such influences must be selected with reference to their effect on moral purpose, 202.

VII. ART AS A MEANS OF FIXING IDEAS . . . . . . . . . . . . 203

The higher practical ideas have no other concrete embodiment than art, 203. Art both fixes ideas and arouses sentiment in their behalf, 204. But if art is to serve this end it must be true, 205. Untruth in art, 206. Universality and particularity in art, 207. Art may invest ideas with a fictitious value, 208.


Art is unworldly, 209. The aesthetic intercourse promotes social intercourse on a high plane, 210.

IX. CONCLUSION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 212

When subjected to moral control, art may make the environment harmonious with morality, 212.


THE MORAL JUSTIFICATION OF RELIGION . . . . . . . . . . . . 214

I. THE DEFINITION OF RELIGION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 214

The sound practical motive in religion, 214. Religion as belief, 216. Summary definition of religion, 218.

II. THE TESTS OF RELIGION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 218

The measure of religion, extensive and intensive, 218. The test of truth the fundamental test, 220. The therapeutic test, and its confusion of the issue, 222. The two forms of the truth test, cosmological and ethical, 224. The working of these critical principles, 226. Cosmology and ethics are independent of religion, 228. The optimistic bias, 231. Summary of religious development, 231.

III. SUPERSTITION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 232

The prudential character of superstition, 232. The ethical idea in primitive religion, 233. The cosmological idea, 234. The method of primitive religion, 235. Superstition in Christianity, 235. The ethical and cosmological correction of superstition, 236.

IV. TUTELARY RELIGION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 237

The deity identified with the purpose of the worshipper, 237. The national religion of the Assyrians and Egyptians, 238. The correction of tutelary religion, 239.


Religion formally enlightened, 241. Metaphysical and moral idealism, 242. The inherent difficulty in metaphysical idealism, 242. The swing from formalism to materialism. Pessimism, other-worldliness, mysticism, panlogism and aesthetic idealism, 243. Aesthetic idealism falsifies experience and discredits moral distinctions, 246.

VI. MORAL IDEALISM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 248

Moral idealism reflects moral judgment, 248. Evil real but not deliberately perpetrated. The knowledge of evil, 249. The ground of moral idealism, 252.

VII. THE GENERIC VALUE OF RELIGION . . . . . . . . . . . . . 252

Religion morally inevitable, 252. The value of the religious generalization of life, 253. The immediate reward of service, 254. Religion and moral enthusiasm, 254. Culture and religion, 255.

NOTES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 257

INDEX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 263





In the words with which this book is inscribed, Bishop Butler conveys with directness and gravity the conviction that morality is neither a mystery nor a convention, but simply an observance of the laws of provident living. "Things and actions are what they are, and the consequences of them will be what they will be: why then should we desire to be deceived?" [1] This appeal, commonplace enough, but confident and true, sounds the note with which through all that follows I shall hope to keep in unison.

It is because he professes to believe that morality is an imposture that must be smuggled into society behind the back of reason, that Nietsche makes a merit of its dulness. "It is desirable," he says, "that as few people as possible should reflect upon morals, and consequently it is very desirable that morals should not some day become interesting!" [2] He confesses that he sees no occasion for alarm! But the dulness of {2} morality testifies only to its homeliness and antiquity. For to be moral is simply to be intelligent, to be right-minded and open-minded in the unavoidable business of living. Morality is a collection of formulas and models based solidly on experience of acts and their consequences; it offers the most competent advice as to how to proceed with an enterprise, whether large or small. It is the theory and technique which underlies the art of conduct; that "master-workman," by whom kings reign and princes decree justice; possessed by the Lord in the beginning of his way, and whom to hate is to love death.

It is worth while to remark and proclaim such a conviction as this only because mankind has so treacherous a memory, and so fatuous a habit of disowning its most precious and dearly won possessions. Cardinal truths are periodically overlaid with sophistication, blended with tentative opinion, and identified with the instruments of the day. There results a confusion of mind that fails to distinguish the essence from the accident, and aims to destroy where there is need to rectify. Because government is clumsy and costly, it is proposed to abolish government; because education is artificial and constraining, society is exhorted to return to the easy course of nature; metaphysics must be swept away, because the {3} metaphysics of some time or school has outlived its usefulness; and morality, because it is hard or tiresome, must give way to the freedom and romance of no morality. Such blind and irresponsible agitation is a perpetual menace to the balance of impressionable and unsteady minds, if not indeed to the work of civilization.

Now it is safe to say that these venerable institutions have arisen in answer to fixed needs; needs implied in life as a general and constant situation. There is no other way of accounting for them. They have been tolerated only because they yield a steady return. Their loss would be a catastrophe which mankind, obedient to the necessities of life, would fall at once to repairing. Institutions are the very body of civilization; and while they may grow and change without limit, if they be abruptly destroyed civilization must suffer paralysis in some vital part. At once the most direct and striking proof of this lies in the fact that the revolutionist, whether he be propagandist or man of action, invariably commits himself, and ends by executing the very function he denied. At the moment when he comes to close quarters, and actually engages the object of his attack, he is swept into some current of endeavor that has from the most ancient times been pressing steadily toward the solution of a problem that lies in the centre of {4} the path of life. He straightway commences himself to govern, educate, speculate, or moralize. And the more patiently he labors, the greater his respect for the vested wisdom of his time. Whereas he first sought utterly to demolish, he is now content to make his little difference and hand on the work. In the end every purely destructive programme is inevitably futile, because it goes against the grain. For all conduct is constructive in motive, and forward in direction. But how wasteful is the momentary fury—wasteful of high passion and distinguished capacity, and how mystifying to the lay intelligence!

It may, of course, be said that there is method in this madness; since man's twofold blindness, his dogmatism and his scepticism, his immobility and his wantonness, tend in the long run to neutralize one another. But with the perspective required for such consolation, neither the agencies of destruction nor those of obstruction preserve the same heroic proportions which they are wont to assume in their day. They seem to be engaged in a sort of by-play, and wear an unmistakable aspect of childishness. Lo! Mankind has been a long time on his way, and endures hardily the prospect of endless leagues to go. He is the Patient Plodder, symbol of mature intelligence. And he has in his company two small boys who exhibit an incorrigible {5} naughtiness. The one of these is called Destruction; his other names being Cynic, Sceptic, and Nihilist. He it is that mocks and cries, "Go up, thou bald head! go up, thou bald head!" Mankind does not curse him in the name of the Lord, but invites him to play with another small boy, named Obstruction, and whose other names are Vested Interest, Reactionary, and Pedant. This one, whenever Mankind will lead him, digs in his heels or lies down in his tracks; until, pricked and goaded by his playfellow, he at length gets up and scrambles after. And so these two keep ever by the side or at the heels of Mankind, whom they neither lead nor deflect from his course.

Paradox serves to dislodge prejudice; and blasphemy may rudely but effectually bring to their senses those who have mistaken the hardness of their hearts for loyalty, and their easy default for success. But practical wisdom belongs only to those who proceed unwaveringly out of the past and into the future, correcting mistakes when they may, conserving the good already won, and making new conquests.

It may be remarked, and should be readily granted, that patient plodding is less piquant than the by-play of inertia and revolt. The spirit of Nietsche is doubtless even now yawning mightily at such tedious moralizing; fresh proof of the "dull, gloomy seriousness," the hopeless {6} stupidity of our sublunary virtue. I believe that Nietsche has frankly confessed the real grievance of his class of mischief makers. They are impatient and easily bored; while the business of establishing a healthful and vigorous society is complicated, tortuous, and slow. Their talent for letters, their love of vivid pictures, sharp contrasts, and concise dramatic situations, cannot adapt itself to the real bulk and complexity of life. Civilization is too promiscuous, too prolonged and monotonous, for these rare spirits. And they have their sure reward; for they ease the tension of effort, supplying a recreative release from its pangs under the flattering guise of higher truth. All the impatience and playfulness in the world conspires with them. But as one of the demos of moral dullards, I get no little comfort from applying to Nietsche and Ibsen, and to certain prophet litterateurs of England, Burke's reproof of Lord Bolingbroke.

When men find that something can be said in favor of what, on the very proposal, they have thought utterly indefensible, they grow doubtful of their own reason; they are thrown into a sort of pleasing surprise; they run along with the speaker, charmed and captivated to find such a plentiful harvest of reasoning, where all seemed barren and unpromising. . . . There is a sort of gloss upon ingenious falsehoods that dazzles the imagination, but which neither belongs to, nor becomes the sober aspect of truth. . . . In such cases, the writer has a certain fire and {7} alacrity inspired into him by a consciousness, that let it fare how it will with the subject, his ingenuity will be sure of applause.[3]

It is safe to accept morality as one accepts agriculture, navigation, constitutional government, or any other tried solution of an unavoidable problem. There is false opinion here as elsewhere, and hollow convention is not infrequently paraded as duty and wisdom; but the nucleus of morality is verified truth, the precipitate of mankind's prolonged experiment in living.

I do not propose, however, to be satisfied with so modest a claim. It might still be contended that morality is doubtless true so far as it goes, or well enough for those who care for it; but that it will scarcely concern other than the more coarse-grained and less adventurous minds. It is customary to associate high wisdom with the pursuit of some special interest, for its own sake, and under no wider law than a sort of professional etiquette or code of honor. Business is business, art is art, truth is truth, and for one who cares to "go in for it," virtue is for virtue's sake. Those who ride hobbies do not object to the moralist, provided he does not intrude. But if he applies his rules to other than his own personal or domestic affairs, he is berated as an impertinent busybody who is talking of things he does not understand. Now I venture to assert that the {8} moralist in the nature of the case can never be impertinent, though he may be impolite or even insulting. He can never be impertinent because, contrary to the formula of the day, there is no such thing as virtue for virtue's sake. Morality is the one interest that virtually represents all interests. It is the interest of every man in the general tests of success and failure, and in the maintenance of the field or medium of all interests. There is no enterprise which, if conducted efficiently, is not a verification of moral rules; there is no enterprise which does not receive and transmit the now of life that circulates through the moral system at large. To be righteously indignant is to protest passionately in behalf of the whole good, and against the clumsy and inadvertent evil. To this morality owes its universal support, its invincible finality. It need never be apologetic, because it holds no brief; it advocates no measure except the carrying through to the end of what is virtually undertaken by all parties to the adventure of life.

It follows that no man can exempt himself from moral liability. He is irrevocably committed to life, and can neglect the laws of life only at his absolute or ultimate peril. What does it profit a man to gain a bit here and a bit there, if he is foreordained to loss on the whole? If he squanders his moral patrimony he has no means of {9} recouping his fortunes; he has wasted his supporting vitality and forfeited his general livelihood.

And now if this be true it is of more than passing or sentimental importance. It needs to be vividly realized if morality is to make its saving appeal. Morality is only discredited through being sanctioned; its proper merits are more eloquent than its friends and borrowed auspices. If it can be simply proclaimed as it is, it cannot be denied. This is one of the things which I undertake to do. But to understand what morality really is, to recognize its claims, is to understand also its application, its critical pertinence to art and religion, to all the great and permanent undertakings of men. Such application I shall in the later chapters undertake to suggest, partly as an amplification of the meaning of morality, and partly as a programme of further reflection looking toward a moral philosophy of history. I can do no more in the present chapter than broadly present the structure of morality, leaving the logic of its appeal and its more important applications for the chapters which follow.


The moral affair of men, a prolonged and complicated historical enterprise, is thrown into historical relief upon the background of a mechanical cosmos. Nature, as interpreted by the {10} inorganic sciences, presents a spectacle of impassivity. It moves, transforms, and radiates, on every scale and in all its gigantic range of temporal and spatial distance, utterly without loss or gain of value. One cannot rightly attribute to such a world even the property of neglect or brutality. Its indifference is absolute.

Such a world is devoid of value because of the elimination of the bias of life. Where no interest is at stake, changes can make no practical difference; where no claims are made, there can be neither fortune nor calamity, neither comedy nor tragedy. There is no object of applause or resentment, if there be nothing in whose behalf such judgments may be urged.

But with the introduction of life, even the least particle of it, the rudest bit of protoplasm that ever made the venture, nature becomes a new system with a new centre. The organism inherits the earth; the mechanisms of nature become its environment, its resources in the struggle to keep for a time body and soul together. The mark of life is partiality for itself. If anything is to become an object of solicitude, it must first announce itself through acting in its own behalf. With life thus instituted there begins the long struggle of interest against inertia and indifference, that war of which civilization itself is only the latest and most triumphant phase.


Nature being thus enlivened, the simpler terms of value now find a meaning. A living thing must suffer calamities or achieve successes; and since its fortunes are good or bad in the most elementary sense that can be attached to these conceptions, it is worth our while to consider the matter with some care. An interest, or unit of life, is essentially an organization which consistently acts for its own preservation. It deals with its environment in such wise as to keep itself intact and bring itself to maturity; appropriating what it needs, and avoiding or destroying what threatens it with injury. The interest so functions as to supply itself with the means whereby it may continue to exist and function. This is the principle of action which may be generalized from its behavior, and through which it may be distinguished within the context of nature. Now the term interest being construed in this sense, we may describe goodness as fulfilment of interest. The description will perhaps refer more clearly to human life, if for the term interest we substitute the term desire. Goodness would then consist in the satisfaction of desire. In other words, things are good because desired, not desired because good. To say that one desires things because one needs them, or likes them, or admires them, is redundant; in the end one simply desires certain things, that is, one {12} possesses an interest or desire which they fulfil. There are as many varieties of goodness as there are varieties of interest; and to the variety of interest there is no end.

Strictly speaking, goodness belongs to an interest's actual state of fulfilment. This will consist in an activity, exercised by the interest, but employing the environment. With a slight shift of emphasis, goodness in this absolute sense will attach either to interest in so far as nourished by objects, as in the case of hunger appeased, or to objects in so far as assimilated to interest, as in the case of food consumed. It follows that goodness in a relative sense, in the sense of "good for," will attach to whatever conduces to good in the absolute sense; that is, actions and objects, such as agriculture and bread, that lead directly or indirectly to the fulfilment of interest. But "good" and "good for," like their opposites "bad" and "bad for," are never sharply distinguishable, because the imagination anticipates the fortunes of interests, and transforms even remote contingencies into actual victory or defeat.

Through their organization into life, the mechanisms of nature thus take on the generic quality of good and evil. They either serve interests or oppose them; and must be employed and assimilated, or avoided and rejected {13} accordingly. Events which once indifferently happened are now objects of hope and fear, or integral parts of success and failure.


But that organization of life which denotes the presence of morality has not yet been defined. The isolated interest extricates itself from mechanism; and, struggling to maintain itself, does, it is true, divide the world into good and bad, according to its uses. But the moral drama opens only when interest meets interest; when the path of one unit of life is crossed by that of another. Every interest is compelled to recognize other interests, on the one hand as parts of its environment, and on the other hand as partners in the general enterprise of life. Thus there is evolved the moral idea, or principle of action, according to which interest allies itself with interest in order to be free-handed and powerful against the common hereditary enemy, the heavy inertia and the incessant wear of the cosmos. Through morality a plurality of interests becomes an economy, or community of interests.

I have thus far described the situation as though it were essentially a social one. But while, historically speaking, it is doubtless always social in one of its aspects, the essence of the matter is as truly represented within the {14} group of interests sustained by a single organism, when these, for example, are united in an individual life-purpose. Morality is that procedure in which several interests, whether they involve one or more physical organisms, are so adjusted as to function as one interest, more massive in its support, and more coherent and united in the common task of fulfilment. Interests morally combined are not destroyed or superseded, as are mechanical forces, by their resultant. The power of the higher interest is due to a summing of incentives emanating from the contributing interests; it can perpetuate itself only through keeping these interests alive. The most spectacular instance of this is government, which functions as one, and yet derives its power from an enormous variety of different interests, which it must foster and conserve as the sources of its own life. In all cases the strength of morality must lie in its liberality and breadth.

Morality is simply the forced choice between suicide and abundant life. When interests war against one another they render the project of life, at best a hard adventure, futile and abortive. I hold it to be of prime importance for the understanding of this matter to observe that from the poorest and crudest beginnings, morality is the massing of interests against a reluctant cosmos. Life has been attended with discord and mutual {15} destruction, but this is its failure. The first grumbling truce between savage enemies, the first collective enterprise, the first peaceful community, the first restraint on gluttony for the sake of health, the first suppression of ferocity for the sake of a harder blow struck in cold blood,—these were the first victories of morality. They were moral victories in that they organized life into more comprehensive unities, making it a more formidable thing, and securing a more abundant satisfaction. The fact that life thus combined and weighted, was hurled against life, was the lingering weakness, the deficiency which attends upon all partial attainment. The moral triumph lay in the positive access of strength.

Let us now correct our elementary conceptions of value so that they may apply to moral value. The fulfilment of a simple isolated interest is good, but only the fulfilment of an organization of interests is morally good. Such goodness appears in the realization of an individual's systematic purpose or in the well-being of a community. That it virtually implies one ultimate good, the fulfilment of the system of all interests, must necessarily follow; although we cannot at present deal adequately with that conclusion.

The quality of moral goodness, like the quality of goodness in the fundamental sense, lies not in the nature of any class of objects, but in any {16} object or activity whatsoever, in so far as this provides a fulfilment of interest or desire. In the case of moral goodness this fulfilment must embrace a group of interests in which each is limited by the others. Its value lies not only in fulfilment, but also in adjustment and harmony. And this value is independent of the special subject-matter of the interests. Moralists have generally agreed that it is impossible to conceive moral goodness exclusively in terms of any special interest, even such as honor, power, or wealth.[4] There is no interest so rare or so humble that its fulfilment is not morally good, provided that fulfilment forms part of the systematic fulfilment of a group of interests.

But there has persisted from the dawn of ethical theory a misconception concerning the place of pleasure in moral goodness. It has been supposed that every interest, whatever its special subject-matter, is an interest in pleasure. Now while a thorough criticism of hedonism would be out of place here, even if it were profitable, a summary consideration of it will throw some light on the truth.[5] Fortunately, the ethical status of pleasure is much clearer than its psychological status. As a moral concern, pleasure is either a special interest, in which case it must take its place in the whole economy of life, and submit to principles which adjust it to the rest; or it is an {17} element in every interest, in which case it is itself not an interest at all. Now whether it be proper to recognize a special interest in pleasure, it is not necessary here to determine. That this should be generally supposed to be the case is mainly due, I think, to a habit of associating pleasure peculiarly with certain familiar and recurrent bodily interests. At any rate it is clear that the pleasure which constantly attends interests is not that in which the interest is taken. Interests and desires are qualitatively diverse, and to an extent that is unlimited. The simpler organisms are not interested in pleasure, but in their individual preservation; while man is interested not only in preservation, but in learning, card-playing, loving, fighting, bargaining, and all the innumerable activities that form part of the present complex of life.

Now, it is true that it is agreeable or pleasant to contemplate the fulfilment of an interest; and that such anticipatory gratification in some measure accompanies all endeavor. But there is an absolute difference between such present pleasure and the prospect which evokes it. And it is that prospect or imagined state of fulfilment which is the object of endeavor, the good sought. It is also true that the fulfilment of every interest is pleasant. But this means only that the interest is conscious of its fulfilment. In pleasure {18} and pain life records its gains and losses, and is guided to enhance the one or repair the other. Where in the scale of life pleasure and pain begin it is not now possible to say, but it is certain that they are present wherever interests engage in any sort of reciprocity. If one interest is to control or engage another it must be aware of it, and alive to its success or failure. Where life has reached the human stage of complexity, in which interests supervene upon interests, in which every interest is itself an object of interest, the consciousness of good and evil assumes a constantly increasing importance. Life is more watchful of itself, more keenly sensitive to the fortunes of all of its constituent parts. It is proper, therefore, to associate pleasure with goodness; and happiness, or a more constant and pervasive pleasure, with the higher forms of moral goodness. But pleasure and happiness are incidental to goodness; necessary, but not definitive of its general form and structure.

In addition to goodness thus amplified there now enters into life at the moral stage a new element of value, the rightness or virtue of action which, though moved by some immediate desire, is at the same time controlled by a regard for a higher or more comprehensive interest. This is the distinguishing quality of all that wins moral approval: thrift and temperance; loyalty {19} and integrity; justice, unselfishness, and public spirit; humanity and piety. To the further discussion of these several virtues we shall have occasion shortly to return.

Moral procedure, then, differs from life in its more elementary form, through the fact that interests are organized. Morality is only life where this has assumed the form of the forward movement of character, nationality, and humanity. Moral principles define the adjustment of interest to interest, for the saving of each and the strengthening of both against failure and death. Morality is only the method of carrying on the affair of life beyond a certain point of complexity. It is the method of concerted, cumulative living, through which interests are brought from a doubtful condition of being tolerated by the cosmos, to a condition of security and confidence. The spring and motive of morality are therefore absolutely one with those of life. The self-preservative impulse of the simplest organism is the initial bias from which, by a continuous progression in the direction of first intent, have sprung the service of mankind and the love of God.



There is an old and unprofitable quarrel between those who identify, and those who contrast, morality with nature. To adjudicate this quarrel, it is necessary to define a point at which nature somehow exceeds herself. Strictly speaking, it is as arbitrary to say that morality, which arose and is immersed in nature, is not natural, as to say that magnetism and electricity are not natural. If nature be defined in terms of the categories of any stage of complexity, all beyond will wear the aspect of a miracle. It would be proper to dismiss the question as only a trivial matter of terminology, did not the discussion of it provide an occasion for alluding to certain confused notions that have obtained wide currency.

Thus there is an ancient belief that it is natural to be licentious; that man is at heart unruly and wilful, wearing the artificial good behavior of civilization as he wears his clothes. Nietsche has contributed not a little to the glorification of this pro-natural and anti-moral monster. And yet no one has recognized more clearly than he, that restraint and law are not only in life from the beginning, but that they are themselves the very sources of its power.

'The singular fact remains,' he says, 'that everything of the nature of freedom, elegance, boldness, {21} dance, and masterly certainty, which exists or has existed, whether it be in thought itself, or in administration, or in speaking and persuading, in art just as in conduct, has only developed by means of the tyranny of such arbitrary law; and in all seriousness; it is not at all improbable that precisely this is "nature" and "natural"—and not laisser-aller!'[6]

It only remains to drop the terms "arbitrary" and "tyranny"; since the principle of development in life can scarcely be regarded as arbitrary, or its effectual working as tyranny.

Huxley chose to draw a line between nature and morality, at the point where a limit is set to the isolated organism's struggle against all comers.

The practice of that which is ethically best—what we call goodness or virtue—involves a course of conduct which, in all respects, is opposed to that which leads to success in the cosmic struggle for existence. In place of ruthless self-assertion it demands self-restraint.[7]

But Huxley appears momentarily to have overlooked the fact that the struggle for existence itself puts a premium on self-restraint. For there is no stage of evolution in which the adjustment and co-operation of interests is not an aid to survival. One does not have to rise higher in the scale of life than the plants fertilized by insects, to observe the working of this principle. It is only the crudest and most impotent self-assertion that is "ruthless." The reason for this {22} is simply that the real enemy of every vital process is not another kindred process, but the mechanical environment. Life is essentially an assertion, not against life, but against death. Interests that expend their energies in destroying or crippling one another, slip back toward that primeval lifelessness from which they emerged. Restraint for the sake of organization is therefore only a developed and intelligent self-assertion.

If one insists still upon drawing a line between cosmical and moral forces, let it be drawn at the point where there first arises that unstable complex called life. Life does in a sense oppose itself to the balance of nature. To hold itself together, it must play at parry and thrust with the very forces which gave it birth. Once having happened, it so acts as to persist. But it should be remarked that this opposition between the careless and rough course of the cosmos, the insidious forces of dissolution, on the one hand, and the self-preserving care of the organism on the other, is present absolutely from the outset of life.

Vegetable and animal organisms do, it is true, adapt themselves to the environment; but their adaptation is essentially a method of using and modifying the environment in their own favor, precisely as is the case with human action. {23} Therefore Huxley's sharp distinction between natural plant life and man's artificial garden is misleading.

'The tendency of the cosmic process,' he says, 'is to bring about the adjustment of the forms of plant life to the current conditions; the tendency of the horticultural process is the adjustment of the conditions to the needs of the forms of plant life which the gardener desires to raise.'[8]

But this is to ignore the basal fact, which is that plant life in any form is a defiance of current conditions. Art has already begun when natural processes assume a form that feeds itself, reproduces itself, and grows. The first organisms have only a local footing; they are rooted in the soil, and can turn to their advantage only the conditions characteristic of a time and place. Eventually there evolves a more resourceful unit of life, like the gardener with his cultivated plants, who is capable of inhabiting nature at large. But the method is still the same, that of playing off nature against nature; only it is now done on a larger scale, and in a more aggressive and confident spirit. The need of concession to the demands of locality is reduced, through a concession once and for all to the wider processes of nature. But in relation to its environment, life is never wholly constructive, as it is never wholly passive. Whether it appears in the form of vegetation or civilization, {24} it always involves both an adaptation of nature to itself and of itself to nature.

Morality, then, is natural if life is natural; for it is defined by the same essential principles. It is related to life as a later to an earlier phase of one development. The organization of life answers the self-preservative impulse with which life begins; the deliberate fulfilment of a human purpose is only life grown strong enough through organization to conduct a larger and more adventurous enterprise.


In the light of this conception let us examine more fully the relation of morality to the competitive struggle between individuals and communities. There can, of course, be no doubt that competition forces life up in the scale. But it is equally true, and more significant, that in the course of that progress competition itself is steadily eliminated. The stronger units of life prevail against the weaker. But the stronger units of life are the more inclusive and harmonious complexes of interest. They are constituted by adjusting interests; allowing each a modicum of free play, or crushing those that will not submit to organization. Within such units the principle of mechanical survival gives way to the principle of moral survival. I mean by this that {25} the selection, rejection, and gradation of interests is made not on the basis of the uncompromising self-assertion of each and the survival of the hardy remnant; but on the basis of the contribution made by each to the life of the collective body. The test of survival is obedience to a law defined in the joint interest of all, and control is vested in the rational capacity to represent this interest and conduct it to a safe and profitable issue. The strength of life thus organized lies in its massiveness, in its effective plenitude. When such units wage war on one another, this strength is wasted; and the very same principle that strength shall prevail, tends to the extension of the organization until it shall embrace contentious factions.

Even where the principle of survival does not operate, conflict has been, and yet remains, a factor in moral progress of enormous and far-reaching importance. The more keen and unrelenting it is, the more effectually does it expose the weakness of the competing units, the more urgently does it require a better concentration and economy of effort. In order to fight a rival, it is necessary to leave off fighting one's self, and be healthy and single-minded. An industrial corporation, in order to overreach its competitors, is compelled to adjust its intricate functions with incredible nicety, to utilize by-products, and even to introduce old-age pensions for the promotion {26} of morale among its employees. And so a nation, to be strong in war, must enjoy peace and justice at home. War has served society by welding great aggregates of interest into compact and effective wholes, the enemy providing an object upon which collective endeavor can unite.

But circumstances that press life forward will be left behind, if these circumstances are not themselves good. And war is not that for which men war; they war for the existence and satisfaction of their interests. That which is constructive and saving in war is not the contact between the warring parties, but their internal coherence and harmony. It is that which survives when hostility is inhibited by a recognition of the cost; it is that which is extended when hostility gives way to a wider co-ordination of interests.

The loss when contending currents are redirected and flow together is not a loss of power, but only of neutralizing resistance. It is true that the lesson of harmony is learned through discord; but harmony is none the less in the end exclusive of discord. The principle of peace, learned at home through the hard necessity of war abroad, finds only a more complete justification and beneficent application in peace abroad. It is love and not hate that is the moving spring of life. It is love which is constructive; hate destroys even the very object that evokes and {27} sustains it. It is essential, then, to life, not only to assert and reproduce itself, but to increase itself through allying itself with life. Where the motive of life thus freely expresses itself, there are no natural enemies.

I count it to be important thus to trace morality back to the original love of life, since only so is it possible to understand its urgency, and its continuity with every organic impulse. It is because morality is without warrant dislocated from the natural life, that it is accused of being barren and formal. To many minds it is best symbolized by the kindly lady who gives the small boy a penny, and admonishes him not to spend it. But there could be no more outrageous travesty. Morality in its springs is absolutely one with that clinging to life which is the most deep-lying of all interests, and with that relish for life in which its goodness needs no philosopher's approval. The primal determination to be and to sell one's self dearly, is not different, except in its limits, from the moral determination to be and to attain to the uttermost. The whole force of life is behind every moral scruple, and guarantees the sanity even of a universal good-will.

But the identification of morality with the organization of life, serves also to demonstrate life in its unity and larger auspices. Morality harmonizes life and eliminates its wanton {28} self-destruction; but life is not therefore left without an object of conquest. For there is one campaign in which all interests are engaged, and which requires their undivided and aggressive effort. This is the first and last campaign, the war of life upon the routine of the mechanical cosmos and its forces of dissolution. To live, to let live, and to grow in life, constitute an absorbing and passionate task, in which every human heroism may find a proper object.


It must be admitted that the imagination has not yet sufficiently glorified this enterprise of civilization. It is hard to forget old shibboleths and loyalties. And yet precisely that must be done with every advance in liberality. Admiration and passion lag behind reason; are forever backsliding and debauching themselves among the companions of their youth. But man's salvation lies not in degrading his reason to the level of his loyalties, nor in allowing the two to drift apart, but in acquiring a finer loyalty. And while one cannot extemporize the symbols and imagery of devotion, these will surely grow about any sustained purpose.

We hear much in our day of the passing of nobility and enthusiasm with the era of war. "Whatever makes men feel young," says Chesterton, {29} "is great—a great war or a love story." [9] Love stories will doubtless continue to the end; but must man cease to feel young in the days when cruelty and exploitation are obsolete? Nietsche[10] speaks with passionate regret of a certain "lordliness," or assertion of superiority, that has latterly given place to the slave morality, which aims at "the universal green-meadow happiness of the herd." There are no more heroes, of "lofty spirituality," but only levellers, timid, stupid, mediocre folk, "sans genie et sans esprit."

Now there is a paradox that does not seem to have occurred to Nietsche, in the slave insurrection by which he accounts for this dreary spectacle. It can scarcely be a code of slavishness that has enabled slaves to overthrow their masters. The morality of the modern European democracy is the morality of the strong; of the many, it is true, but of the many united and impassioned, moving toward the general end with good heart. And it is this which gave mastery to the once ruling class. Mastery appears wherever action is bold, united, and with the pressure of interest behind it; mastery has nothing to do with the airs of mastery, with Nietsche's "pathos of distance," separating class from class. The "instinct for rank," and "delight in the nuances of reverence," are not signs of nobility, as Nietsche would have it. There is no nose for them so {30} sensitive and discriminating as that of the chambermaid or butler. The mere pride of an easy mastery over slaves is the taint of every society in which class differences are recognized as fixed. It attaches to all classes; whether it be called snobbery or obsequiousness, it is all one. The virtue of mastery, on the other hand, lies in the power and in the attainment which it represents.

And this Nietsche himself fully admits in his less inspired but more thoughtful utterances. It is "the constant struggle with uniform unfavorable conditions" that fixes the type he admires. When there are no more enemies, "the bond and constraint of the old discipline severs," and a rapid decay sets in; which leads inevitably, after a chaos of individualism, to a period of mediocrity such as the present. In other words, so soon as its political and social activities are confined to "lording it," the aristocracy loses its vigor, and falls an easy prey to democratic or other propagandists who want something and are united to attain it.

Now it seems that if man is not to become spiritually bankrupt, he must be confronted with unfavorable conditions that keep him vigilant and alert. Nietsche has no imagination for resistance, struggle, and victory, except as these arise in the war of man against man. His heroes are Alcibiades, Caesar, and Frederick II, "men {31} predestined for conquering and circumventing others." But it is not easy for us of this day to forget the others; it is the cost to them that galls our conscience. We cannot sincerely applaud a heroism in which life is condemned to feed on itself. Shall the only enemy that never fails, the condition that is always indifferent if not unfavorable, namely, the perpetual wear and drag of nature, be forgotten in order that men may fall on one another? Has man no more lordly task than that of destroying what he holds to be good? Is there no more of "creative plenipotence" in man than killing and robbing?

I am convinced that it needs only enlightenment to reduce Nietsche's circumventer of others to the proportions of a burglar; and to enlarge to truly heroic proportions him who circumvents the blindness of nature, brings up the weak or faint-hearted who lag behind, and throws himself bravely into the enterprise of steady constructive civilization. Nietsche is beguiled by a love of melodrama. He forgets the real war for the pageantry of an era that will pass. As a misleader of youth he conspires with the writers of dime-novels to fix the imagination on false symbols. The small boy who would run away from home for the glory of fighting Indians is deceived; both because there are no longer any Indians to fight, and because there are more glorious {32} battles to be fought at home. War between man and man is an obsolescent form of heroism. There is every reason, therefore, why it should not be glorified as the only occasion capable of evoking the great emotions. The general battle of life, the first and last battle, is still on; and it has that in it of danger and resistance, of comradeship and of triumph, that can stir the blood.

But I have not undertaken to make morality picturesque. I shall leave that to other hands. In an age when it has been somewhat out of literary fashion, Chesterton[11] has found it possible even to proclaim morality as the latest and most enlivening paradox. But I propose to leave it clad in its own sobriety. Its appeal in the last analysis must be to a sense for reality, and to an enlightened practical wisdom. Morality is that which makes man, "naked, shoeless, and defenceless" in body, the master of the kingdom of nature. Morality in this sense has never been more simply and eloquently justified than in the words which Plato puts into the mouth of Protagoras. He first describes the arts with which men contrived barely to sustain themselves, in a condition no better than the beasts which preyed on them in their helplessness. It is then that through the gift of Zeus they are rescued from their degradation and invested with the forms of civilization.


After a while the desire of self-preservation gathered them into cities; but when they were gathered together, having no art of government, they evil-intreated one another, and were again in process of dispersion and destruction. Zeus feared that the entire race would be exterminated, and so he sent Hermes to them, bearing reverence and justice to be the ordering principles of cities and the bonds of friendship and conciliation.[12]

But reverence and justice are more even than the ordering principles of cities. They are the conditions of the maximum of attainment, whether this be conceived as that supreme excellence which Plato divined, or as that all-saving good which is the object of a Christian devotion to humanity. Morality is the law of life, from its bare preservation to its supreme fruition. There is a high pretension in morality which is the necessary consequence of its motive. But man is not, on that account, in need of those reminders of failure which are so easy to offer, and which are so impotently true; he needs rather new symbols of faith, through which his heart may be renewed, and his courage fortified to proceed with an undertaking of which he cannot see the end. Faith and courage have brought him thus far:

"Till he well-nigh can tame Brute mischiefs and control Invisible things and turn All warring ills to purposes of good."




There is a phrase, "liberty of conscience," which well expresses the modern conception of moral obligation. It recognizes that duty in the last analysis is imposed upon the individual neither by society nor even by God, but by himself; that there is no authority in moral matters more ultimate than a man's own rational conviction of what is best.

We meet here with the application to morality of the motive which underlies the whole modern reaction against medievalism, the motive which John Locke so aptly summarized when he said, "We should not judge of things by men's opinions, but of opinions by things." [1] This is individualism of the positive temper, the protest against convention and authority; in behalf, not of license, but of knowledge. Mediaevalism is condemned, not for its universalism, but for its arbitrariness and untruth; for its mistaking of the weight of collective opinion, or of institutional prestige, for the weight of evidence.

This is the characteristic temper of the modern {35} individualism, whether it be dominated by a bias for sense or a bias for reason. Locke, like his forerunner, Bacon, is an individualist because it is the individual in his detachment from society that alone can be open-eyed and open-minded; who is qualified to carry on that "proper business of the understanding," "to think of everything just as it is in itself." [2] Descartes, although in habit of mind and speculative instinct he has so little in common with the Englishman, nevertheless finds in the individual's self-discipline and concentration the only hope of preserving the savor of the salt of knowledge. Thus he says:

I thought that the sciences contained in books, (such of them at least as are made up of probable reasonings, without demonstrations), composed as they are of the opinions of many different individuals massed together, are farther removed from truth than the simple inferences which a man of good sense using his natural and unprejudiced judgment draws respecting the matters of his experience.[3]

Spinoza, who both abandoned the world and was abandoned by it, sought an individual philosophy of life that should be more universal than the opinion of the world on account of its greater truth. "Further reflection convinced me, that if I could really get to the root of the matter I should be leaving certain evils for a certain good." [4]

This was the impulse in which modern tolerance of individual opinion and appeal to {36} individual conscience originated. It was a protest not against order, but against the disheartening drag, the heavy and dull constraint, of an order externally imposed. Freedom was valued not for the sake of lawlessness, but for the sake of a clearer recognition of the proper laws of things, of the principles that lie in nature and civilization and control them inherently.

Individualism in this sense is not sceptical. Even a charge that existing codes of morality and systems of thought are largely matters of social habit, or rules devised by church and state to maintain an arbitrary and profitable power, does not justify the inference that there is no truth. For there is no dilemma between public tyranny and private caprice. On the contrary, it means that tyranny is itself a form of caprice, and that caprice in any form must give way before reason and experiment. Certain contemporary popular philosophers, such as Wells and Shaw, appear to believe that to repudiate the rigid conventions of the day means to abolish absolute distinctions utterly and fall back upon a general laxity and vagueness. But this is to throw out the baby with the bath. The evil in convention is the substitution of merely habitual distinctions for real distinctions, and the only justification for an assault on convention is the bringing of such real distinctions to light.


The individualist virtually claims that an individual's belief, if it be critical, is entitled to precedence over public belief, simply because the individual mind is a better instrument of knowledge than the public mind. It is the individual mind that is more directly confronted with the evidence, more single and responsive. Individualism is not, then, an appeal to private opinion in any disparaging sense. For, in so far as private opinion is independent and truthful in motive, concerning itself with its objects rather than with the social model of the day, it is self-corrective and tends inevitably toward the common truth. It is the opinion that is not really individual, but imitative, respectful of persons, generally submissive to ulterior motives of a social kind, that is private in the bad sense. Its privacy lies in its artificiality, in its partisanship, and in its remove from the open daylight of experience.

If, therefore, one must in moral matters finally rely on the individual's judgment, this in no way implies the breakdown of universal principles. It is neither necessary nor natural that individual judgment should bespeak whim, hasty impulse, or narrow self-interest. The guardian in Plato's Republic was as much an individual as the merchant or the soldier.[5] In a sense he was more an individual than these, since he was not swayed by the crowd, but thought with freedom {38} and independence. Nevertheless his thought embraced the interests of the entire community, and comprehended the organization and forms of adjustment through which they all might live and thrive. In moral as in other matters the true appeal of individualism is to an intelligence which, though emancipated from convention, is on that very account committed to the general necessities that lie in the field it seeks to know.

In view of these considerations, then, we may pronounce legitimate and hopeful the moral individualism of the time. It implies the recognition that there is a genuine ground for moral action, which may be brought home to any individual mind that will deal honestly and directly with the facts of life. Morality is not a useful fiction which must be protected against inquisitiveness and cherished in ignorance and servility; it is a body of compelling truth that will convince wherever there is a capacity to observe and reason. It requires no higher sanction than the individual, because the individual is society's organ of truth; because only in the individual mind is society open to rational conviction.

Latitudinarianism and tolerance in this sense bespeak a confidence in morality's ability to justify itself. At the same time they represent a protest against replacing the intrinsic truth of morality by the arbitrary standards of authority {39} and convention. Now, while there is little need in the present day of protecting individual judgment against encroachments of authority, there can be no doubt of the great need of protecting it against the more insidious encroachments of convention. This is peculiarly an age of publicity. The forces of suggestion and imitation operate on a scale unparalleled in the history of society. Standards and types readily acquire an almost irresistible prestige, simply through becoming established as models. And the sanction of opinion may be gained for almost any formula, from a fashion in hats to an article in theology. Convention can no longer be accounted conservative. It sanctions promiscuously usages as venerable as civilization itself, and as transient as the fad of the hour. Democratic institutions and universal educational privileges have bred a social mass intelligent and responsive enough to be modish, but lacking in discrimination and criticism.

The tyranny of opinion, the fear of being different, has long since been recognized as a serious hinderance to the development which political freedom and economic opportunity ought properly to stimulate. But the moral blindness to which it gives rise has never, I think, been sufficiently emphasized. We require of business men only that measure of honesty that we {40} conventionally expect in that type of occupation. A politician is proverbially tricky and self-seeking. The artistic temperament would scarcely be recognized if it did not manifest itself in weakness and excess. It is as unreasonable to expect either tunefulness or humor in a musical comedy as to expect a statement of fact in an advertisement. In short, where any human activity is conventionalized, standards are arbitrarily fixed; and critical discernment grows dull if it does not altogether atrophy. It simply does not occur to the great majority of men that any activity should be judged otherwise than by comparing it with the stereotyped average of the day. This is, to be sure, only that blindness of the common mind which Socrates and Plato observed in their day, but it is now aggravated through the greater massiveness and conductivity of modern society.

These considerations will serve both to introduce and to justify my present undertaking. I assume that duty is not an arbitrary mandate which the individual must obey blindly or from motives of fear; but the conviction of moral truth, the enlightened recognition of the good.[6] Hence I wish to demonstrate morality to an individual reflective mind, open to the facts of life and to conviction of truth. I shall expound morality out of no book but experience, "that universal and publick Manuscript, that lies {41} expans'd unto the Eyes of all." To refer morality to custom, to conscience in the sense of individual prepossession or institutional authority, even if these be interpreted as the oracles of God, is to justify the suspicion that it is groundless and arbitrary, at best a matter of loyalty or good form. I shall present morality as a set of principles as inherent in conduct, as unmistakably valid there, as is gravitation in the heavens. I shall hope to make it appear that the saving grace of morality is directly operative in life; needing no proof from any adventitious source, because it proves itself under observation.

I shall address myself to an individual protagonist whom I shall designate in the second person; and whom I shall suppose to exhibit that yielding reluctance which is the mark of a mind that for very love of truth will not too readily assent.

As I am to prove morality to you, I accept the burden of proof; but you are not on that account totally without responsibility in the matter. As you must not stop your ears, or close your bodily eyes, so you must not shut the eye of the mind, or harden your heart. Were you to adopt such an attitude I should be compelled to set argument aside, and resort to such practical measures as might shock or entice you into reasonableness. Or, I might abandon you as incorrigible. It is {42} clear that I can as little show reasons to a man who will not think them with me, as I can show the road to one who will not look where I point it out. A very large amount of moral exhortation consists in the attempt to overcome apathy and inattention. Such exhortation cannot in the nature of the case be logical, because the subject's logical organ is not as yet functioning. I doubt if there is any discussion of moral matters in common life in which this form of appeal is not present in a measure sufficient to obscure the merits of the question at issue. I desire for present purposes to eliminate as far as possible all conflict and prejudices, and thus to dispense with zeal and eloquence. I shall assume, therefore, that you propose to be reasonable concerning this moral affair. By this I mean simply that you shall directly observe the facts of life, report candidly on these facts, and fully accept the implications of any judgment to which you may commit yourself. I may phrase your pledge of reasonableness thus: "Show what is right, and that it is right, and I will accept it. I mean my action to be good, and ask only to have the good demonstrated to me, that I may intelligently adopt it."



It is commonly believed that whereas the logic of prudence is unimpeachable, there is a hiatus between this level of morality and those above. To drink one's self to death is a species of folly that the poorest intelligence can understand; but the folly in meanness, injustice, or impiety is a harder matter. Believing as I do that the folly is equally demonstrable in all of these cases, I propose not to accept your ready assent in the simpler case until its grounds have been made as clear and definite as possible. I feel convinced that prudence is not so simple a matter as appears; in fact that it involves the whole ethical dialectic.

I find you, let us say, eating an apple with evident relish; and I ask you why. If you are candid, and free from pedantry, you will doubtless reply that it is because you like to. In this particular connection I can conceive no profounder utterance. But we may obtain a phraseology that will suit our theoretical purposes more conveniently and serve better to fix the matter in our minds. Your eating of the apple is a process that tends within certain limits to continue and restore itself, to supply the actions and objects necessary to its own maintenance. I have proposed that we call such a process an interest. In that it is a part of that very complex physical and {44} moral thing called "you," it is your interest, and it also has, of course, its special subject-matter, in this case the eating of an apple. It involves specific movements of body, and makes a specific requisition on the environment. Now, still confining ourselves strictly to this interest, we shall doubtless agree to call any phase of it in which it is fulfilled, in which its exercise is fostered and unimpeded, good. And we shall doubtless agree to attach the same term, although perhaps in a less direct sense, to that part of the environment which it requires, in this case the apple, and to the subsidiary actions which mediate it, such as the grasping of the apple, or the biting and mastication of it. I mean only that these modes or factors of the interest are in some sense good; qualifications and limitations may be adjudicated later.

In this case, which so far as I can see is the simplest possible case of the sort of value that enters into life, the value is supplied by a specific type of process which we may call an interest, and it is supplied thereby absolutely, fundamentally. It makes both this apple and your eating of it good that you should like to eat it. If you could explain every action as you explain this action, when it is thus isolated, there would be no moral problem.

We may now safely open the door to the objections that have been pressing for admission. {45} The first to appear is an old friend among philosophers; but one whose reputation so far exceeds its merits that it must be submitted to vigilant examination. It is objected (I am sure that you have long wanted to say this) that your repast is good for you, good from your point of view, but not on that account really good. These are the terms with which it is customary to confound any serious judgment of truth; and they acquire a peculiar force here because we seem to have invited their application. We have agreed that your action is good in that it suits your interest, and thus seem to have defined its goodness as relative to you. Now, if we are to avoid a confusion of mind that would terminate our investigation here and now, we must bring to light a latent ambiguity.

We have, it is true, discovered goodness to be a phase of a process called "interest," which is qualified further, through the use of a personal pronoun. The nature of goodness, in other words, is such as to involve certain specific relations, here involving a person or subject. Goodness is not peculiar in this respect; for there are very few things in this world that do not involve specific relations. This is the case, for example, with planets, levers, and brothers. There is no planet without its sun, no lever without its fulcrum, no brother who is not somebody's brother.


But the relationship in the case of goodness is supposed to be a more serious matter; sufficiently serious to discredit the meaning of goodness, or make all judgments concerning goodness merely expressions of bias. The supposition is due to the confusion of a relativity in the subject-matter of the judgment, with a relativity of the judgment itself to the individual that gives utterance to it. Thus the judgment, "You like apples," deals with your interest and the objects relating to it; but the judgment itself is not therefore biassed. It is no more an expression of your opinion than it is of mine; it is a formulation of what occurs in the field of experience open to all observers. A judgment concerning only you, is utterly different from a judgment representing only you. The latter, if there were such a thing, would be ungrounded, and would justify the sceptic's suspicions. The confusion is possible here simply because the subject-matter of the judgment in question is itself a judgment. It could scarcely arise in the parallel cases. The lever cannot be defined except in relation to its fulcrum. This may be loosely generalized and made to read: judgments concerning a lever are relative to a fulcrum. It might even be said that a lever is a lever only from the point of view of its own fulcrum. But the most unscrupulous quibbler would scarcely offer this as evidence against {47} the objective validity of our knowledge of levers. Your brother is necessarily related to you; but the proposition defining the relationship is not on that account relative, that is, peculiarly yours or any one else's. Fraternity is a complex involving a personal connection, but is none the less entirely objective. And precisely the same thing is true of goodness. To observe it adequately one must bring into view that complex object called an interest, which may be yours or his or mine; but it will be brought none the less into our common view, and observed as any other object may be observed. Because goodness is inherent in a process involving instincts, desires, or persons, it is not one whit less valid or objective than it would be if it involved the sun or the first law of motion.

Let us now turn to a much more fruitful objection. Suppose it be objected that your action, though good when thus artificially isolated, will in the concrete case have to be considered more broadly before any final judgment can be pronounced on it. To this objection I fully assent. It implies that although we have fully defined a hypothetical case of goodness, we have so far simplified the conditions as to make our conclusions inadequate to moral experience. Accepting this qualification, it is now in order to complicate the situation; but retaining our analysis {48} of the elementary process, and employing terms in the meaning derived therefrom.

Let us suppose that the apple which you enjoy eating, is my apple, and that I delight in keeping it for my own uses. Such being the case, we fall to wrangling over it, and your appetite is like to go unappeased. I now have evidence to show you that your act of violent appropriation does not conduce to your interest. This is simply an experimental and empirical fact. I am in a position to show you that the character of your action is other than you supposed, that you were under a misapprehension as to its goodness. It leads not to the enjoyable activity which interests you, but to a series of bodily exertions and a state of unfulfilled longing in which you have no interest at all. Indeed your action is a hinderance to your interest; in other words, is bad.

But I proceed to point out to you the further fact that, if you will buy the apple and thus conciliate me, you may get rid of my interference and proceed with your activity. Your purchase is now justified in precisely the same manner as your original seizure of the object. If you are asked why you do it, you may still reply, "Because I like apples."

Now, it would accord with the customary use of terms to call such action on your part prudence; and prudence is commonly regarded as a virtue {49} or moral principle. But in prudence the meaning of morality is as yet only partially realized; it is morality upon a relatively low level. Hence it is desirable to avoid reading too much into it.

On the one hand, prudence does involve the checking of one interest in consequence of the presence of another. You have noted my interest, acknowledged it as having its own claims, and made room for it. Therein your action differs signally from your dealings with your mechanical environment. And it is this contact and adjustment of interests, this practical recognition of the fact that the success of one interest requires that other interests be respected, and dealt with in a special manner appropriate to them as interests, that marks the procedure as moral. On the other hand, while you have acknowledged my interest, you have not adopted it. You have concerned yourself with my love of property only in so far as it affected your fondness for apples. In order to appeal to you I have had to appeal to this, as yet your only interest. The moral value of your action lies wholly in its conduciveness to this interest, because it is controlled wholly by it. You are as yet only a complex acting consistently in such wise as to continue an eating of apples. This formula is entirely sufficient as a summary of your conduct, even after you have learned to respect my property. And therein lies {50} its merely prudential character. In prudence thus strictly and abstractly regarded, there is no preference, no subordination of motives. Action is controlled by an exclusive and insistent desire, which limits itself only with a view to effectiveness.


It would appear, then, that if I am to justify those types of action which are regarded as more completely moral, I must persuade you to adopt interests that at any given instant do not move you. I must persuade you to forego your present inclination for the sake of another; to judge between interests, and prefer that which on grounds that you cannot reasonably deny is the more valid. In other words, I must define a logical transition from prudence to preference, or moral purpose.

Let us suppose that, in spite of your liking, apples do not "agree with" you. It is, for example, pertinent to remark that if you eat the apple to-day you cannot go to the play to-morrow. Our parley proceeds as follows:

"Just now I am eating apples. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."

"But you acknowledge your fondness for the theatre."

"Yes, but that doesn't interest me now."

"Nevertheless you recognize the interest in {51} play-going as a real one, dormant to-day, temporarily eclipsed by another interest, but certain to revive to-morrow?"

"I do."

"And you admit that, apart from the chance of your death in the meantime, a chance so small as to be negligible, an interest to-morrow is as real as an interest to-day?"


"Now, recognizing these two interests, and keeping them firmly in view, observe the consequences of your action if you persist in eating the apple, and pronounce judgment upon it."

"It would seem to be both good and bad; good in its conduciveness to the satisfaction of my present appetite, bad in its preventing my enjoyment of the play."

In your last reply you have fairly stated the problem. You are not permitted to escape the dilemma by simply neglecting the facts, for this would be contrary to the original agreement binding you to be and remain open-minded. And you are now as concerned as I to solve the problem by defining a reorganization of the situation that would permit of an action unequivocally good, that is altogether conducive to the fulfilment of interest.

To understand what would constitute a solution of this moral problem it is important to observe, {52} in the first place, that an action wholly conducive to both interests would take precedence of an action which fulfilled the one but sacrificed the other. Were it possible for you to eat the apple now and go to the play to-morrow, your rational course would be to allow your present impulse free play. You would thus be alive to the total situation; your action would in reality be regulated by both interests, or rather by a larger interest embracing and providing for both. An action thus controlled would have a more adequate justification than an action conceived with reference to the one interest exclusively, and merely happening to be favorable to the other interest also. Or suppose that, by substituting a different species of apple for the one first selected, you could avoid disagreeable consequences, and without loss of immediate gratification. In this case you would have corrected your original action and adopted a course that proved itself better, because conducive to the fulfilment of to-morrow's interest as well as to-day's.

We have thus arrived at a very important conception, that of a higher interest possessing a certain priority in its claims. The higher interest as I have defined it is simply the greater interest, and greater in the sense that it exceeds a narrower interest through embracing it and adding to it. Your interest in the fulfilment of {53} to-day's interest and to-morrow's, is demonstrably greater than your interest in the fulfilment of either exclusively, because it provides for each and more. In this perfectly definite sense your preference may be justified.

Let us now apply this principle of preference to the more complex case in which there is no available action which will fulfil both interests. Suppose that you cannot both eat apples to-day and go to the play to-morrow. How is one to define a good action in the premises? In the first place the good act originally conceived in terms of the free play of the present impulse is proved to be illusory. There is no good act until your interests are reorganized. In other words, the higher interest, which is entitled to preference, requires some modification of the participating interests. But the higher interest owes its title to its liberality or comprehensiveness. Hence it must represent the maximum fulfilment of both interests which the conditions allow. Such a controlling interest may require you altogether to forego the present indulgence, or it may merely require that it be severely limited. In any case, the controlling interest will represent both interests, modified, postponed, or suppressed, as is necessary for their maximum joint fulfilment. The higher interest which thus replaces the original interest, and which is entitled to do so only {54} because it incorporates them, I propose to call moral purpose.

There are two highly important principles which we have been brought to recognize through this analysis of preference, and it will be worth our while briefly to resume them.

In the first place, no interest is entitled to your exclusive regard merely because it happens at any given time to be moving you. I shall call this the principle of the objective validity of interests. I mean simply that an interest is none the less an interest because it does not coincide with an individual's momentary inclination. In reminding you of an interest overlooked, I have not sought to justify it by subsuming it under your present interest. I have not tried to prove that it is to your interest as an epicure that you should go to the play. I have simply pointed out the other interest, and allowed it to stand on its merits. In ethical theories of a certain type, and in much impromptu moralizing, it is assumed that there is no legitimate appeal except in behalf of interests that are at the instant already alive. This is as absurd as to suppose that in order to bring you to the truth in any purely theoretical matter, I must confine myself to evidence that you already recognize. In both cases your individual experience at any given time may be narrow and limited owing to causes that are in the highest {55} degree arbitrary. It may be advisable that I should solicit your attention by connecting what I have to offer with what is already familiar to you; but this is a psychological expedient. My appeal is logically supported by objects, by principles, by data which are in no wise dependent for their claims on their connection with your present stock in trade.

Chesterton refers to one who "had that rational and deliberate preference which will always to the end trouble the peace of the world, the rational and deliberate preference for a short life and a merry one." [7] I cannot regard such hedonistic opportunism as other than wantonness or wilful carelessness. It may be deliberate in the sense of being consciously persisted in, but I cannot find any rationality in it. It arises naturally enough through the greater vividness of the interests that are already adopted and proved; but all prejudices arise from such accidents, and they are none the less on that account absolutely antagonistic to the rational attitude—that willingness that things should be for me even as they are.

In the second place, it has appeared that there is no demonstrable priority of one simple interest over another differing only qualitatively from it. I propose to call this the principle of the quantitative basis of preference. I know that the term quantity has an ugly sound in this context. {56} But I believe that this is due simply to a false abstraction. Two good books are not better than one because two is better than one, but because in two of a given unit of goodness there is more of goodness than in one. Two is more than one, but not more good, unless that which is counted is itself good. Nor is two longer or heavier than one, unless the units numbered happen to be those of length or weight. To prefer two interests to one does not imply that one is a lover of quantity, but a lover of good; of that which if it be and remain good, the more the better.

At any rate it seems to me a matter of simple candor to admit that "more" is a term implying quantity, whether it be "more room," "more weight," "more goodness," or "more beauty." It seems to me to be equally evident that "more" implies commensurable magnitude; and that commensurability implies the existence of a common unit in the terms compared. Two inches are more than one inch in that they include one inch and also another like unit. Now in moral matters the unit of value is the fulfilment of the simple interest; and in consequence I see no way of demonstrating that one such simple interest is more good than another, as I see no way of demonstrating that one inch is longer than another. But I do see that if I can carry a simple interest over into a compound one, and there both {57} retain it and add to it, I shall have more—more by what I add. Such comparison is never a simple matter, perhaps in any concrete case never wholly conclusive. But I can conceive no more important and more clarifying declaration of principle. It means that any rational decision as to the precedence of social ideals, or as to historical progress from good to better, must be based on width of representation and weight of incentive.

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