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Individual being must inevitably in some degree suffer.

And it must suffer again, if the individual devotes

himself to some ‘sthetic or intellectual pursuit. On the

other side, even within the New Jerusalem, if a person

aims merely at his own good, he, none the less, is fore-

doomed to imperfection and failure. For on a defective

and shifting natural basis he tries to build a

harmonious system; and his task, hopeless for this

reason, is for another reason more hopeless. He strives

within finite limits to construct a concordant whole,

when the materials which he is forced to use have no

natural endings, but extend themselves indefinitely

beyond himself into an endless world of relations. And,

If so, once more we have been brought back to the

familiar truth, that there is no such possibility as

human perfection. But, if so, then goodness, since it

must needs pursue the perfect, is in its essence self-

discrepant, and in the end is unreal. It is an

appearance one-sided and relative, and not an ultimate


But to this idea of relativity, both in the case of

goodness and every other order of phenomena, popular

philosophy remains blind. Everything, for it, is either

a delusion, and so nothing at all, or is on the other

hand a fact, and, because it exists, therefore, as such,

real. That reality can appear nowhere except in a system

of relative unrealities, that, taken apart from this

system, the several appearances are in contradiction

with one another and each within itself, that,

nevertheless, outside of this field of jarring elements

there neither is nor can be anything, and that, if

appearances were not irremediably self-discrepant, they

could not possibly be the appearances of the

Real--all this to popular thought remains meaningless.

Common sense openly revolts against the idea of a fact

which is not a reality; or again, as sober criticism, it

plumes itself on suggesting cautious questions, doubts

which dogmatically assume the truth of its coarsest

prejudices. Nowhere are these infirmities illustrated

better than by popular Ethics, in the attitude it takes

towards the necessary discrepancies of goodness. That

these discrepancies exist because goodness is not

absolute, and that their solution is not possible until

goodness is degraded to an appearance--such a view is

blindly ignored. Nor is it asked if these opposites,

self-assertion and self-sacrifice, are not each

Internally inconsistent and so irrational. But the

procedure is, first, tacitly to assume that each

opposite is fixed, and will not pass beyond itself. And

then, from this basis, one of the extremes is rejected

as an illusion; or else, both being absolute and solid,

an attempt is made to combine them externally or to show

that somehow they coincide. I will add a few words on

these developments.

(i.) The good may be identified with self-sacrifice,

and self-assertion may, therefore, be totally excluded.

But the good, as self-sacrifice, is clearly in collision

with itself. For an act of self-denial is, no less, in

some sense a self-realization, and it inevitably

includes an aspect of self-assertion. And hence the

good, as the mere attainment of self-sacrifice, is

really unmeaning. For it is in finite selves, after all,

that the good must be realized. And, further, to say

that perfection must be always the perfection of

something else, appears quite inconsistent. For it will

mean either that on the whole the good is nothing

whatever, or else that it consists in that which each

does or may enjoy, yet not as good, but as a something

extraneously added unto him. The good, in other words,

in this case will be not good; and in the

former case it will be nothing positive, and therefore

nothing. That each should pursue the general perfection,

should act for the advantage of a whole in which his

self is included, or should add to a collection in which

he may share--is certainly not pure self-sacrifice. And

a maxim that each should aim purely at his neighbour's

welfare in separation from his own, we have seen is

self-inconsistent. It can hardly be ultimate or

reasonable, when its meaning seems to end in


(ii.) Or, rejecting all self-transcendence as an idle

word, popular Ethics may set up pure self-assertion as

all that is good. It may perhaps desire to add that by

the self-seeking of each the advantage of all is best

secured, but this addition clearly is not contained in

self-assertion, and cannot properly be included. For by

such an addition, if it were necessary, the end at once

would have been essentially modified. It was self-

assertion pure, and not qualified, which was adopted as

goodness; and it is this alone which we must now

consider. And we perceive first (as we saw above) that

such a good is unattainable, since perfection cannot be

realized in a finite being. Not only is the physical

basis too shifting, but the contents too essentially

belong to a world outside the self; and hence it is

impossible that they should be brought to completion and

to harmony within it. One may indeed seek to approach

nearer to the unattainable. Aiming at a system within

oneself, one may forcibly abstract from the necessary

connections of the material used. We may consider this

and strive to apply it one-sidedly, and in but a single

portion of its essential aspects. But the other aspect

inseparably against our will is brought in, and

it stamps our effort with inconsistency. Thus even to

pursue imperfectly one's own advantage by itself is

unreasonable, for by itself and purely it has no

existence at all. It was a trait characteristic of

critical Common Sense when it sought for the

individual's moral end by first supposing him isolated.

For a dogmatic assumption that the individual remains

what he is when you have cut off his relations, is very

much what the vulgar understand by criticism. But, when

such a question is discussed, it must be answered quite

otherwise. The contents, asserted in the individual's

self-seeking, necessarily extend beyond his private

limits. A maxim, therefore, merely to pursue one's own

advantage is, taken strictly, inconsistent. And a

principle which contradicts itself is, once more, not


(iii.) In the third place, admitting self-assertion

and self-denial as equally good, popular thought

attempts to bring them together from outside. Goodness

will now consist in the coincidence of these independent

goods. The two are not to be absorbed by and resolved

into a third. Each, on the other hand, is to retain

unaltered the character which it has, and the two,

remaining two, are somehow to be conjoined. And this, as

we have seen throughout our work, is quite impossible.

If two conflicting finite elements are anywhere to be

harmonized, the first condition is that each should

forego and should transcend its private character. Each,

in other words, working out the discrepancy

already within itself, passes beyond itself and unites

with its opposite in a product higher than either. But

such a transcendence can have no meaning to popular

Ethics. That has assumed without examination that each

finite end, taken by itself, is reasonable; and it

therefore demands that each, as such, should together be

satisfied. And, blind to theory, it is blind also to the

practical refutation of its dogmas by everyday life.

There a man can seek the general welfare in his own, and

can find his own end accomplished in the general; for

goodness there already is the transcendence and solution

of one-sided elements. The good is already there, not

the external conjunction, but the substantial identity

of these opposites. They are not coincident with, but

each is in, and makes one aspect of, the other. In

short, already within goodness that work is imperfectly

begun, which, when completed, must take us beyond

goodness altogether. But for popular Ethics, as we saw,

not only goodness itself, but each of its one-sided

features is fixed as absolute. And, these having been so

fixed in irrational independence, an effort is made to

find the good in their external conjunction.

Goodness is apparently now to be the coincidence of

two ultimate goods, but it is hard to see how such an

end can be ultimate or reasonable. That two elements

should necessarily come together, and, at the same time,

that neither should be qualified by this relation, or

again that a relation in the end should not imply a

whole, which subordinates and qualifies the two terms--

all this in the end seems unintelligible. But, again, if

the relation and the whole are to qualify the terms, one

does not understand how either by itself could ever have

been ultimate. In

short, the bare conjunction of independent

reals is an idea which contradicts itself. But of this

naturally Common Sense has no knowledge at all, and it

therefore blindly proceeds with its impossible task.

That task is to defend the absolute character of

goodness by showing that the discrepancies which it

presents disappear in the end, and that these discrepant

features, none the less, survive each in its own

character. But by popular Ethics this task usually is

not understood. It directs itself therefore to prove the

coincidence of self-seeking and benevolence, or to show,

in other words, that self-sacrifice, if moral, is

impossible. And with this conclusion reached, in its

opinion, the main problem would be solved. Now I will

not ask how far in such a consummation its ultimate ends

would, one or both, have been subordinated; for by its

conclusion, in any case, the main problem is not

touched. We have already seen that our desires, whether

for ourselves or for others, do not stop short of

perfection. But where each individual can say no more

than this, that it has been made worth his while to

regard others' interests, perfection surely may be

absent. And where the good aimed at is absent, to affirm

that we have got rid of the puzzle offered by goodness

seems really thoughtless. It is, however, a

thoughtlessness which, as we have perceived, is

characteristic; and let us pass to the external means

employed to produce moral harmony.

Little need here be said. We may find, thrust forward

or indicated feebly, a well-worn contrivance. This is of

course the deus ex machina, an idea which no serious

student of first principles is called on to consider. A

God which has to make things what otherwise, and by

their own nature, they are not, may summarily

be dismissed as an exploded absurdity. And that

perfection should exist in the finite, as such, we have

seen to be even directly contrary to the nature of

things. A supposition that it may be made worth my while

to be benevolent--especially when an indefinite

prolongation of my life is imagined--cannot, in itself

and for our knowledge, be called impossible. But then,

upon the other hand, we have remarked that such an

imagined improvement is not a solution of the actual

main problem. The belief may possibly add much to our

comfort by assuring us that virtue is the best, and is

the only true, selfishness. But such a truth, if true,

would not imply that both or either of our genuine ends

is, as such, realized. And, failing this, the wider

discrepancy has certainly not been removed from

goodness. We may say, in a word, that the deus ex

machina refuses to work. Little can be brought in by

this venerable artifice except a fresh source of

additional collision and perplexity. And, giving up this

embarrassing agency, popular Ethics may prefer to make

an appeal to "Reason." For, if its two moral ends are

each reasonable, then, if somehow they do not coincide,

the nature of things must be unreasonable. But we have

shown, on the other hand, that neither end by itself is

reasonable; and, if the nature of things were to bring

together elements discordant within themselves and

conflicting with one another, and were to attempt,

without transforming their character, to make these

coincide,--the nature of things would have revealed