by Abraham Edel
The ideas of the good and the right span the greater part of the field of moral philosophy. They conceptualize basic phenomena in human life: the good, that men are purposive or goal-seeking beings who have desires and aspirations; and the right, that men carry on their lives in groups that require some modes of organization and regulation involving practices, rules, and institutions. Perhaps the only other moral idea approaching them in scope is virtue as conceptualizing forms of character.
Philosophers of each generation have analyzed the concepts, bringing to them the analytic tools of successive philosophical movements, or invoking models from the particular stages in the advance of the sciences or frontiers of human knowledge. Ordinary uses, cultural molding, philosophical formulations, interact with one another. The product finds its place in the moral consciousness of men when they think and talk in terms of the good and the right.
The story of the good and the right is not, as it has so often seemed, the tale of two isolated concepts sitting for philosophical portraits in a variety of rather grand poses. Historical changes in the dominant cultural emphases – in the patterns of aspiration and modes of institutional regulation – also transform the conceptual relations. Varied historical movements and social organizations leave their mark on the very structure of the concepts. As men's understanding of their world advances, as their consciousness gains in scope and in depth, so their moral philosophy is shaped by the leading motifs of their scientific and cultural disciplines. And the resultant moral concepts are not merely products. For the concepts themselves do not function alone, but enter into conceptual frameworks in which they give organizational direction and which they shape for use.
The two major frameworks in which the good and the right are chiefly at home may be called, respectively, the goal-seeking framework and the juridical framework. They are not complementary portions of the moral field but alternative ways of organizing the whole field to carry out the tasks of morality.
The goal-seeking framework assumes a structure of appetition or desire in human life. The good is defined either by position of the objective in this pursuit or by some basic character of the objective. Knowledge of the good helps generate a grasp of appropriate means towards its achievement. The rules of action that achieve the good determine what is right, and the character-traits that support such a moral code are regarded as virtues. The concept of the good life, either in its own name or thought of as "the ideals of life," dominates the framework and provides the end-point in justifying action or policy. The other typical ethical concepts – right and virtue – are definitely subordinated. Such a model is found in most of the ethical theories that look to human nature for an understanding of men's basic goals or directions of striving.
The juridical framework, on the other hand, sees ethics as a system of laws or rules enjoined on human beings. They constitute the "moral law." The framework usually includes some explanatory justification for the law, grounding it in divine will or some natural order or inherent rationality. Men are taken to have an intellectual capacity for recognition of the moral law and some affective capacity through which the system normally takes hold or wins their respect and obedience. The concept of right – or others of the same cluster, such as duty or obligation – dominates this conceptual framework. Virtue is tied to the disposition of conscientious obedience, and the good, usually set off as the moral good and distinguished from the merely natural goods, the desires and satisfactions of men, is identified with the goals that the moral law renders legitimate.
Each of these frameworks purports to cover the whole field, but they interpret moral processes in markedly different ways. Each focuses what is going on in human life, to which morality applies, somewhat differently. Each selects from the repertoire of human feelings which ones are to do the heavy work of morality – the goal-seeking leaning more to desire and aspiration, or else to satisfaction and pleasure, the juridical to guilt, shame, and awe. Each organizes its selected content in a different pattern, the one usually in terms of a hierarchy of means and ends, culminating in some systematic ultimate end, the other in terms of universal rules and their special applications. Such organization-modes strongly influence the methods of decision in morality: in the goal-seeking, it is the finding of appropriate strategies, in the juridical it is deduction from principles. Each appeals to different modes of justification for its morality – the one to the ultimate good which fully satisfies men's longing and aspiration, the other to the reason that grasps ultimate principles or the will that commands them. Each tends to marshall different sanctions to support the morality – the one the operative effects of pleasure and pain, of hope and accomplishment or else dread of loss, the other the fear of authoritative punishment or the pangs of conscience. Thus each framework has a definite orientational effect in the lives of men who so construe their morals.
The goals and substantial codes of a morality, its scope and its basic attitudes, vary considerably with different cultural patterns and in different historical periods. One moral code may be concerned about sex, another about property and status, all usually about aggression in interpersonal relations and about the conditions of social order. The codes of some may focus chiefly on acts, of others on inner feelings and attitudes. Some center on familial or kin group in scope, others are more broadly national or even universalistic and individualistic. Some are broad and relaxed in attitude, others narrowly intense and stringent. All such substantial features can be cast in either basic framework, although not always as easily or comfortably. For example, a nationalistic morality may be juridical or goal-seeking, and attitudes of stringency may take shape either in the sharpness of juridical command or the narrowness of a driving goal such as success and status through work and personal effort.
The history of the relation of the good and the right in ethics is thus the history of the relation of these conceptual frameworks and their transformation under the growth of human knowledge, the changes in social and cultural forms, the emergence of varying human purposes, and the refinement of philosophical theory. It is a complex history, quite revealing about the role of categories of thought in human life, and though it exhibits a definite intellectual dialectic it is scarcely a dance of bloodless categories.
In ancient times the juridical mode of thought had its marked development in Hebraic religion, with God as the lawgiver, the Decalogue and associated rules as the code of right and wrong, obligations under original compact for the Hebrew people with God, sanctions of a familial or paternal type with a fusion of awe and love, and decision-modes that grew increasingly legalistic in Talmudic jurisprudence. The appropriate character for men and women was set in this framework, and the good operated as rewards for obedience. The spread of this outlook in Christian morality, with a change to a universalistic form, the coordination of each soul directly to the divine, and the shift to other-worldly salvation as the unifying good, paralleled by eternal damnation as a major moral sanction, set the background for most Western morality, affecting the basic framework even when the explicit religious justification receded in philosophical thought.
In pre-Platonic Greek thought, the concept of nomos had an incipient juridical character. This expressed a customary morality whose rules were static and conceptualized as an eternal traditional order, eternal betokening usually divine as well. When class conflicts arose in the Greek city-states and philosophical reflection grew on the cultural variety of moral codes, the notion of nomos became interpreted as merely customary in the sense of conventional. This was the dominant trend in the Sophists. The social impact of this view varied somewhat. For the most part, morality was regarded as rules, different in different cultures to be sure, but directed under these varying conditions, and more or less successfully, to the maintenance of stability and social order as human needs. To an extremist wing (such as Thrasymachus in Plato's Republic), it became construed as merely the rules of the stronger imposed for their own interests to keep the masses in check, so that the really wise individual could quietly pursue his own predatory interests. In a few radical views the conventional character of morality meant it could be altered and improved; slavery, for example, being thus a conventional institution, not a natural requirement. In all of these, though the interpretation of what was natural for man varied, the direct contrast became that between custom (nomos) and nature (physis).
Socrates and Plato refined the goal-seeking framework. In Socrates' persistent inquiry, some of the general properties of the good began to emerge. The good has a magnetic power on us, for no man willingly does what he knows to be evil. It is in some sense capable of being grasped as an object of knowledge, or perhaps capable of being sought and glimpsed, for Socrates more modestly, constantly claimed his wisdom lay in knowing his ignorance. The knowledge involved will in some sense thus be intellectual and practical and affective, either fused or at any rate undifferentiated. When we try to understand any of our particular virtues, such as courage or temperance, we find that they lose their essence if they do not involve a knowledge of the good. Virtues are thus found to be applications, through knowledge, of the good, so that no issue arises of the possible conflict of a man's moral behavior and his true well-being. Insofar as Socrates has any explicit view of the right that is not directly bound up in the quest of the individual's soul for the good, it is seen as a contractual commitment with the institutions of one's community to share in a given mode of life and take the sufferings and even injustices when they fall on one. In this way, Socrates, in the Crito, justifies his refusal to escape from prison.
Plato develops both the basic theory of the good as a goal-seeking ethic and the theory of right or justice as an order in the soul which enables it to move toward the good. The former is seen in Socrates' speech in the Symposium, which expounds the concept of love (eros) as a searching of the soul for the Absolute Good. Specific aims – such as to have children, to create works of art, to order the lives of men, to achieve knowledge – are simply forms of this one ultimate quest for the Absolute. In the Republic, the Idea of the Good is presented as the analogue, in the domain of the eternal, to the visible sun in the changing sensible world – the source of all being, of illumination and intelligibility, and of value in existence. This gathering of the real, the rational, and the valuable into a single bundle, persisted through the religious picture of the divine, and the attempts in the modern period to derive an ethics from the picture of the order of nature and human nature. The structure did not fall apart until the twentieth-century demands for the complete autonomy of ethics.
In Plato, the part of the human being engaged in this quest is identified as the rational element (the human part). But the soul is assigned two other parts, the spirited and the appetitive (compared to the lion and the dragon). The comprehensive theory of justice or the right in the Republic is an attempt to justify, in both social and inner individual life, a repressive order in which reason rules and with the aid of the lion keeps the dragon in his place. Selection of goals, specific virtues, aims in life, are all assessed in terms of the character of the part of the soul involved and its contribution to the harmonious order. Even Plato's theory of history as an unavoidable deterioration from an aristocratic society through oligarchic and democratic forms down to tyranny (Republic, Book VIII), sees this change as the descent of the soul as the dragon is progressively unleashed. Plato's theory of right thus embodies a conservative program to control the masses by a dominant elite which in its single-minded devotion to the ultimate good will overcome the war of the rich and the poor that beset the Greek cities of his epoch.
Aristotle gave the goal-seeking framework its fullest systematic development. His Nicomachean Ethics is the first systematic treatise of Western moral philosophy. The framework is an immanent or indwelling teleology in things. Nature works like the artist or craftsman with a plan governing its action. Every species has its own governing plan, and its good lies in the development in its individuals of the capacities with which they are endowed. Man is a rational animal, reason supervening on and imbuing his vegetative and animal capacities. Aristotle thus rejects the unified Platonic Idea of the Good. Ethics is a practical science concerned with the human good, part of the whole science of politics in which the plan of the good for man is grasped as a guide to practice. The human good, what all men aim at, is identified as happiness or well-being, though men debate the activities in which it lies and the mode of life it demands. While the Ethics explores the kinds of character this life points to – the varieties of virtues and the nature of virtue, and the inner nature of associational bonds – the Politics deals with desirable institutions.
The place of the right in Aristotle's teleological ethics is revealing. There is no central "ought" commanding in the name of the moral law. The various functions which such a concept combines in the juridical framework are here patterned in a different way. Reason is, of course, central in the philosophy, but its ethical job is less to enunciate universal laws than to work out applications of our knowledge of the good and the virtues in which that knowledge is expressed. The concept involved is rather doing what is fitting in particular situations that differ in time, place, context of persons and relations, and with a view to the special powers and limitations of the persons and groups involved. (This is the just-right, as against too much and too little, which appears in Aristotle's doctrine of virtue as the mean.) Men pray, he tells us, for the good, but they should pray that what is good generally or simply be good for them; and in the Politics he compromises on a balance of democracy and oligarchy as the most suitable for the Greek city-states as they exist. The element of universality appears in a concept of natural political justice, a precursor of the later conception of natural law, but without the latter's idea of divine command; in Aristotle it is the universally applicable rules of the structure of the good life. Decision, too, is not seen by Aristotle as subsumption under rule, but as means-end analysis; the man of practical wisdom, whose experience and upbringing have brought to maturity his logical power and awareness of the good, is most sensitive in relation to the particular, and can serve as a useful model for the less mature and the uncertain.
In the individualistic ethics of the Hellenistic period, when the common social good disintegrates (together with the city-state) as a governing ideal, the good becomes cast in individualistic terms. In the Epicurean philosophy, it is pleasure, peace and relief from pain, and, if possible, quiet joy rather than hectic pursuit. The metaphysical background is an atomic materialism, including rejection of teleology, acceptance of mortality and a denial of punishment in a hereafter. Since the Epicurean sociology of human development pictures the growth of human learning and the shedding of superstition, the right appears as naturalistic rules or practices or institutions, servicing the human good.
The Stoics too seek internal peace or tranquillity of spirit as the basic good, but tie it to a notion of individual virtue as its single condition and manifestation. Their outlook represents a point of transformation away from the goal-seeking framework. A juridical element enters in their concept of nature as a rational divine order in things. Their point of view is cosmic, beginning with the cosmopolitan impulse of Alexander's conquests and going on to the late Roman empire. The moral community is that of all men, each with a fragment of the divine fire. A duty-like concept makes its appearance in that one should do what the divine has ordered or arranged, but the order comes in the assignment of role, or what befits one's place. Particular decisions are thus expressive of the jobs or offices in which one finds oneself. This conception of an ordered system of reason for man was extremely influential in the development of the idea of natural law. Yet back of this whole juridical aspect is a view of the world in which there is no permanence and all is precarious. As Marcus Aurelius vividly depicts it, life and achievement and memory go by in a Heraclitean flux. The only real good throughout is virtue, the maintenance of integrity of the self by stern inner rational control of what alone is in our power – our response or reaction to what happens to us, and a resignation to whatever befalls us in which our tendencies to violent emotion undergo a rational dissolution.
Thus, although Stoic ethics enters the scene under the classical concept of the good, and finds a place in practice for a system of the right, its central stress on virtue and the self is working towards a newer framework, a kind of self-development model which is, in the history of ethics, a major alternative to the right and the good. It is this framework too which best fits the many ethics of salvation that characterized the decline of the Roman world, such as the Neo-Platonic vision of the path of the self in its attempt to overcome its original estrangement from divine unity and to merge eventually with the One. Christian ethics with its early inner stress has many elements of this model, but it is firmly kept within a juridical framework by its Hebraic origin and heritage.
Yet even a self-development framework will find within itself the tension of the good and the right, or of their surrogates. This is well seen in the ethics of Augustine. The good is found in the blessedness for which he longs, the right in the straining of every effort to keep on the path to its achievement. The wrong is more evident in the multitudes of temptations that lie along the way. Even the most harmless pleasures may distract one from the goal, and even in the act of prayer Augustine is suspicious of the seductive beauty of language and of music. It is this deep probing into the willfulness of the will and the ultimate character of man's responsibility (in spite of God's selection of only a chosen few for salvation) which gives force to the Augustinian concept of sin, whether he addresses himself to portraying the child in the cradle or the youth in exuberant folly, or the whole history of mankind from creation to resurrection. The analysis of sin shows the individual soul as the battleground, for moral evil lies in acquiescence or yielding in the will itself, rather than in the consequent natural action.
Once established, Christian thought dominated all of ethics and political philosophy in the West until the breakaway under secular and scientific influences gained strength by the seventeenth century. Yet Christian thought itself included a multitude of differing tendencies. The Thomistic synthesis of Christian and Aristotelian elements brought the juridical and goal-seeking frameworks into an apparent unity. The central Aristotelian conceptual apparatus, with its orientation towards the good, was incorporated as a whole. But the end changed from the kind of happiness Aristotle had delineated in his natural teleology to the salvation goal of the Christian theology. The crucial confrontation of the good and the right comes, therefore, in the meeting-point where the ultimate good is steered into the channels of the juridical right. If the soul is directed to God by its original nature in God's creation, it is guided ultimately by God's law, which is juridical in form and scope. In part, but only in part, this eternal law can be apprehended by man's reason, and so is seen as the natural law, expressive of man's nature. Beyond lies what man must obey on grounds of revelation.
In essence the concepts of right and wrong dominate the system, as can be seen in the prominence of the notion of sin, already basic in Augustine's thought. Yet the good continues to operate through the weight of the sanctions of eternal salvation and eternal damnation, and also in the justification of the system as a whole. The dramatic unity of the whole is most evident in the literary presentation of Dante's Divine Comedy. In the first part, the Inferno, there is a careful grading of sins in the descent to the bottom of Hell, the distance from God and the shutting out of God's light being the measure of sin. In the third part, the Paradiso, there is the ascent of the virtues towards the point of ultimate union in the direct contemplation of God; but each soul stays in its allotted place according to its capacity, the spirit of love holding each and stilling its desire to move further upward. In both the heavenly areas and the nether areas, the categorial tension of good and evil as against right and wrong is resolved. In the heavenly, the love of God is the basis of that aspiration which defines the good, and the right lies in the acceptance of the divine order. In the nether regions, the clarity of the wrong is seen in the punishment of sin, and the evil in the nature and intensity of the torments.
The emergence of the Protestant ethic in its different forms was not a questioning of the good so much as a vital alteration in the structure of the right. Salvation remained the goal of aspiration but the system of rules for its achievement was transformed. In Calvinism, the assurance of salvation was to be sought in success in one's calling, and a fresh cluster of virtues – the "puritan" morality of hard work, sobriety, thrift, abstinence, justice – was required as a necessary condition. Yet through this picture of the right we can discern the content of the good changing into the worldly ideal of success and the pursuit of wealth. The relation of the Protestant ethic to the economic changes and the rise of the bourgeoisie has been explored and debated in the writings of Marx, Max Weber, R. H. Tawney, and others. The language of the right still remains as the language of natural law, in the treatises on morality and politics, shifting to that of natural rights as the concept of nature itself undergoes change, as individualism gains strength, and the process of secularization gains momentum. The concept of the good is similarly individualized and secularized, especially with the growing impact of the sciences.
The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries constitute a revolutionary period not merely on the social scene, with new classes moving into political power, but also on the intellectual scene, with the philosophies of the old order breaking up, and even the defenses of the older ways taking new and sophisticated form. The intellectual leaven is furnished by the growth of physical science, but it casts its hopes far beyond – in physiology, in psychology and economics, in political theory, and in the reinterpretation of morality.
In ethics, Hobbes expresses a shift to the extreme; he becomes the specter that haunts moral theory. Teleology is gone: the world and man are well-organized phenomena of matter-in-motion operating under causal laws. Reason is no immediate grasping of ultimate truth by the intellect but, though profoundly mathematical, a manipulator of names; yet the beginnings of an inductive theory, in the sense of the lessons of experience, are also to be found. That which men desire they call good, that from which they seek to flee they call bad. The internal detail is complex, but the overall effect is undoubted; the good is completely naturalized in terms of individual desire. The natural is the original state of man, with the unlimited egoism of desire. The system of right is reduced to the principles of human relations that will furnish the peace, law, and order needed for men to pursue their aims. These are called natural laws, in the sense that they are what a reasoning man drawing on the lessons of experience will recognize as essential for social order. In the state of nature a man has a right to anything he can take and hold.
The Continental ethical counterpart to Hobbes, in some respects, is Spinoza. Here too, good was given a naturalistic form as the object of appetite; teleology is refuted and a deterministic pattern set in which all that happens flows with mathematical necessity from the ultimate character of nature. But Spinoza's impact is considerably softened by several features. The whole of reality is also interpreted as God. The highest good is found in the exercise of reason, and the right is primarily oriented to removing obstacles for its harmonious development. Human virtue is turned from a predatory orientation to a self-conquest: as one comes to understand the necessity in one's actions, the insight transforms the turbulent emotions into clear ideas. The active mastery replacing passive reception in such transformation constitutes human freedom and the highest good is attained in the intuitive grasp of totality. Political freedom and nobler human relations flow from a Spinozistic as against a Hobbesian necessity. Thus although the immediate reception of Spinoza was hostile, as in the case of Hobbes, in the long run he stands out sharply as the propounder of an exalted ethic.
Three trends, marked in Hobbes, set the direction for much of the moral theory that followed. First, the secular character of the inquiry became dominant. In Hobbes, religion has its place mainly as a sanction. In Bentham's formulation, by the end of the eighteenth century, it is only religious belief that operates as a sanction; the truth of religion is unnecessary. Yet the absence of religious argumentation in the inner inquiries of ethics does not remove it from the outer background. Just as Newton does not look for an evolution of matter because he assumes the physical world set up by God, so the assumption that man's nature on which ethics depends will not be transformed, that a permanent moral order can be found, is either directly dependent on religious presuppositions or else the intellectual residue of the traditional outlook. Second, the natural state of man, whether seen as historically prior or as an analytic device for understanding original components in his makeup, is cast in individualistic terms. It is not a system of inherent human relations, but somehow a set of properties of the individual. Even when Locke questions the amorality of Hobbes' state of nature, the moral rights that Locke describes – the natural rights of life, liberty, and property – stand out more as individual rights than as divine prescriptions for an ordered society.
In the third place, the locus of controversy about the good and the right is displaced from the social forum to the inner psychology of the individual. To refute Hobbesian egoism is to show that the individual has authentic inner sentiments of a social or other-oriented nature. Bishop Butler's strategy of refutation is both complex and sophisticated. He first shifts the concept of the good from the object of the individual's appetites or passions to a rational self-love, quite distinct from the passions, which seeks to maximize the harmonious achievement of the desires, since obviously desires are in conflict and can lead one away from one's good. This enables him to establish a concept of right in the regulative authority of self-love over the passions. Further introspection reveals benevolence, whether as a distinct principle or as an other-regarding sentiment. Still further lies conscience, whose authority is introspectively established, as was that of self-love, over the passions.
It remains but to reconcile conscience and self-love by the claim that their voices will in fact be found in accord, and that apparent discrepancies will be found to be simply dissident passions. In Hume and in Adam Smith the operation of sympathy as a natural principle is defended as against Hobbes' attempted reduction of compassion to an imaginative feeling of one's own suffering if one were in the particular plight that has overtaken the other. In general, the good, while still conceived as what satisfies human desire, is neatly parceled into the self-regarding and the other-regarding. This reflects the dominant growth of an individualism in the social institutions and the moral acceptability of an acquisitive worldly mode of life. The self-regarding is no longer equated with the immoral; it is, if not excessive, established as a proper part of the moral. The focus for right falls increasingly on the problem of reconciling the conflict of individual goods. Hume stresses the instrumental character of conceptions of justice, and from Butler to Adam Smith there is the assurance that the unseen hand of Providence will guarantee that each man's pursuit of his own good will produce an effect of enhancement on others' good. But it takes different shades. Sometimes the individual is being reassured that an enlightened egoism will turn out for the best. Sometimes, however, he is being prompted to directly virtuous action and assured it will turn out for his own good too. Only occasionally, as in the maverick outlook of Mandeville, do we find an array of empirical argument that if men really practiced the virtues it would yield public poverty and consequently private misfortune, and that public welfare rests on private vices!
Indeed, a considerable part of eighteenth-century ethical theorizing is cast not in terms of the right and the good, but in terms of virtue and vice, and our appreciative responses to others' character. In this whole movement, the moral good becomes primarily the good man, as contrasted with simply the natural goods of desire and satisfaction. Major epistemological controversies in morals take the form of finding the basis of moral judgment in reason or in sentiment.
The emerging utilitarianism of the latter part of the eighteenth century inherits the framework of the good defined in individual terms and the right in terms of social utility. In Bentham, the goal-seeking framework is wholly triumphant. Every man by psychological constitution seeks pleasure and the avoidance of pain. A community is simply a mass of individuals. The community problem is to achieve the greatest happiness of the greatest number. "Good" means either pleasure or the objects which are sources of pleasure. "Right" and "ought" are terms that have a meaning only with respect to courses of conduct productive of the greatest pleasure and avoidance of pain.
Both notions in utilitarianism have a more complicated character than appears at first. Pleasure as the single goal, extracted from any and every object of striving, begins to serve as a standard of measurement rather than as a goal. The orientation of the theory is to measurement; the good is the maximum pleasure attainable in a given situation. What is desired constitutes only an initial datum for the measurement; an appeal simply to the fact of desire is arbitrary, and Bentham attacks the principle of sympathy and antipathy – deciding by likes and dislikes – as capricious. The basic orientation to the good becomes intelligible in the light of the historical context. Increasingly, in Bentham's lifetime, the industrial revolution is under way, a policy of laissez-faire and material progress is coming to the center, an expansive this-worldly libertarian outlook is seen as the key to progress. The stress comes to be on consciousness of aims in order to reform institutions that stand in the way.
The traditional notion of the right now appears in several ways. There is first the basic social interest in institutional forms which require analysis so that they may become vehicles for the forward energies of men rather than obstacles. The right is therefore the system of institutions to serve this purpose. There is, second, the equalitarian assumption – everyone counts as one in the reckoning of the pleasures and pains. Much of the theoretical problem in the relation of the right and the good in utilitarianism comes to take the form of controversy as to whether this equalitarian principle is derivable within the theory or is an outside assumption imported into the system – for example, whether a commitment to maximizing pleasure can be shown to involve maximizing its distribution. There is, in the third place, the practical question of reconciling individual motivations to make them aim at the greatest general happiness. Bentham, like Adam Smith, relies to some extent on a natural identity of interest among men (in economics and the theory of virtue), but supplements it with an artificial identification of interests by use of sanctions (in politics and law). And finally, there is the question of justice and the human sentiments that center about it – whether these do not contain some irreducible idea of right and wrong.
This last problem, like many of the others, is most analytically considered by J. S. Mill. Although he is entirely a nineteenth-century figure, responding to fresh problems after the changes in England that follow the Reform Bill of 1832 and the emergence of the labor movement, his treatment of justice is relevant here. In Chapter 5 of his Utilitarianism he distinguishes sharply between the actual sentiments men have and what is moral in them, and he elaborately examines the wholly utilitarian character of justice. In brief, he traces the root ideas of ought and of merit to the convictions that punishment and censure, and reward, will be conducive to the general welfare. As for justice, it refers basically to principles of distribution in all fields, of gains and burdens. And while men have held to all sorts of such principles, the question of which to employ in what field is a matter of utilitarian reckoning. Men's moral sentiments constitute no contrary evidence, for they are built up in social life out of rudimentary reactions such as the desire for retaliation, and contain no inner justifying principle. It is the more important human institutions that build up the more peremptory sentiments. In general, Mill is more conscious than Bentham of the way in which association develops attitudes and sentiments so as even to bring changes in the nature of man. At the end he is quite far removed from psychological hedonism in his theory of virtue as becoming a part of happiness rather than simply an instrument to it.
If Mill went as far as seems possible in reducing the concept of right to utility in the framework of the good, Kant had already in the latter part of the eighteenth century posed the opposite reduction, and in a form that has come increasingly to dominate contemporary ethics. Kant is quite ready to surrender the theory of motivation to hedonism. But men's inclina tions, their affections, the rules for achieving happiness, are not questions of morality. They tell us what is the case, and what to do if we wish to pursue certain ends. They do not tell us what we ought to do. The basic moral concept is that of duty. Its commands are absolute or categorical, not hypothetical. This he takes to be clear in the ordinary moral consciousness; our respect is directed toward the man who conscientiously obeys the moral law in spite of suffering and contrary inclinations. Kant's conceptual framework is briefly this: man is a rational being, morality presupposes freedom (a postulate incapable of rational or empirical proof but required for morality), freedom is self-determination by law willed for the community of all rational beings. Hence the test for the morality of a proposed maxim is whether one would consistently will it as a law for all men. Morality thus is not determined by inclination or external command (even by divine command). As Kant says, it is autonomous, not heteronomous. A wholly moral being will follow the moral law without inner conflict; this is a holy will. But men live in two worlds, that of inclination as well as that of freedom. Hence obligation is the sense of duty curbing inclination. This is reason being practical. Virtue lies in the continuous effort to follow the ought. The good lies in happiness coming together with virtue; unmerited happiness is not a good. Thus both virtue and the good have been brought into defining relation with obligation.
Kant's moral theory, in effect, provides a method for generating or testing moral rules by universalization. It also puts the individual as a rational being in the very center, recognizing him as of infinite worth: every man is to be treated as an end, not merely as a means.
Kant is quite explicit about his aim. He is expounding a morality that is a priori and alleged to be free from any empirical taint. It is not the consequences of action in existence but its rational character which determines its moral worth. Man stands out from nature and its processes as utterly unique. But his uniqueness is found not in aspiration, not in apprehension of beauty, not in his use of rationality to develop the instruments of human control and the pursuit of aims. It lies in the sense of duty.
Hitherto the search had been for eternal structures, both for the good and the right, whether based on conceptions of divinity, reason, nature, or laws of the human constitution. The nineteenth century is the age in which a growing historical consciousness took philosophical shape, and the theory of evolution gave it sweeping scientific substance in the understanding of man.
In the first third of the century the commanding idealist synthesis in the Hegelian philosophy saw all reality as a dialectical development in which Reason or the Divine Idea achieves the self-consciousness which is its freedom. In all his specific analyses, Hegel combined a profound sense of unity, of pattern, and of process. All dualisms were seen as phases in the development of a total plan, all apparently isolated items as embodying a wider configuration in some moment of transition, and every present configuration as a stage in a historical unfolding in which apparent opposites are transcended into a higher unity. Hence Hegel's philosophy is the great solvent of traditional and opposing ethical schools: dichotomies of abstract reason and individual immediacy, duty and happiness, inner spirit and outer institutions are put into place as stages in the growth of consciousness, the unfolding of freedom, and the development of institutions. The full realization of ethics is in the objective domain of society and history in which the good is articulated in a social system of rights and duties, themselves not abstract but expressing the organization of social life unified in the state. If Hegel's own propositions often seem too schematized in terms of abstract categories, his theoretical impact was clearly to encourage the study of morality in terms of cultural pattern and historical determination.
The theory of evolution had even more far-reaching consequences on concepts of the right and the good. Few of the traditional theories were left unscathed. Most devastating was the impact on the goal-seeking framework in its teleological form; for its basic concept of a permanent natural direction of striving as ethically determinative was thoroughly undermined. Aristotle's original criteria for the natural had combined invariance or relative invariance of behavior and development in each form of life, inherent tendency in the sense of unlearned or instinctive, supplemented by what was good for the form of life. These went in separate directions once the teleological bond was broken. Invariance now meant simply scientific laws, not natural law. Inherence or instinctiveness meant that the trait got built in during past evolutionary development because of past survival value; it might, like aggressiveness, be presently disruptive and a source of anti-moral behavior in a new environment. The goodness of a type of behavior would now have to be established on its own in some fresh manner.
Utilitarianism too was affected, but in a more complex way. Its hedonistic emphasis was deepened, yet at the same time transcended. The presumed fact that men constantly pursued pleasure would now give pleasure no special ultimate status, for it had still to be asked what this signified in the evolutionary process. But a biological evolutionary understanding of this significance was readily forthcoming. For example, pleasure could be seen, in Herbert Spencer's account, as a sign of activities having health and survival value, and rules of right, such as demands for sacrifice, could become intelligible through their long-range survival effect on the group. Utilitarianism thus found it easier to make the social transition that had been difficult in purely individualistic hedonist terms. But the forms in which pleasure was sought would now take over importance, and evolutionary mechanisms would enable us to understand them and their changes, though in social and cultural rather than biological terms. Thus Spencer also traced the changes that took place in men's conceptions of the good and the right and in their patterns of virtue as they moved from a militaristic to an industrial society. Evolutionary interest turned some ethical inquiry into the sociology of ethics and into descriptions of primitive and early moralities, in order to discover an evolution within morality itself.
This general historical emphasis, like the older use of the Newtonian model, sought to find what had emerged in order to establish at the same time a basis of critique for alternative trends and possibilities. In such endeavors, both the underlying scientific presuppositions and the underlying ethical commitments often stood out clearly. Spencer saw the evolutionary process in terms of the struggle for existence and survival of the fittest, and posited an individualistic ethics with absolute conceptions of justice whose emergence he anticipated as the outcome of social development. Anarchist ethics, by contrast, best illustrated in the work of Kropotkin, saw mutual aid as a dominant theme, frustrated by the development of power-wielding institutions, and eventually breaking through to fresh forms of human relationship. Nietzsche posited a basic psychology of a will to power whose direct and disciplined expression constituted the obvious human good. With deep insight into the natural history of morals, and into its psychological roots, Nietzsche focused on understanding the role of moral categories as well as moral content in the psychological functioning of men. He saw most of traditional religious and humanistic morality as an expression of weakness, and the concepts of evil and sin and injustice to be rooted in envy and resentment. As against this morality of good and evil, he posed the aristocratic morality of good and bad, with its direct expression of power, and he looked to the production of a higher order of man.
Marxian ethics made perhaps the most systematic attempt to combine the historical sweep of Hegelian philosophy with the scientific materialism of an evolutionary outlook, adding also elements of the growing economic science and historical analysis of social movements. The growth of freedom is seen as the basic human aim, interpreted as the increase of productive power and control of man's career and destiny. Specific stages are delineated with reference to the historical interplay of regulative forms in society, reflecting the stages of economic development and their internal conflicts. The good is defined in time and place by the dominant goals of the society, and evaluated by the advance in human freedom that is ensured; the right is defined by the system of economic and social relations, reflecting the underlying economic needs and mode of production. Thus feudal morality is a system of ordered position, with virtues of loyalty and gratitude; bourgeois morality has goods of individual success and a system of justice embodying will-assertion, property rights, and free contract; socialist and communist morality will have an ideal of human development and collective organization. Evaluation is the progressive reckoning of direction of development in the line of basic historical aims.
While all these historically-oriented theories sought to share or to develop the evolutionary framework, other moral philosophies set out to build up lines of defense against the growing naturalism. Thus the Kantian ethical theory was revived and invoked as a foundation for theories that would stem the scientific tide and set off spirit from nature. Kant himself had consciously held on to the two irreducible worlds of noumena and phenomena, the former for morality, the latter for science. And T. H. Green, witnessing the evolutionary naturalization of man, warned that unless morality somehow represented something transcendent, the moral consciousness would be reduced to simply a complex form of fear. Whether the idealist outlooks that emerged built on the Kantian contrast of nature and spirit or on the Hegelian concept of all reality as the march of Spirit, the net effect was to establish the moral consciousness as a cosmic phenomenon. Desire itself became no isolated impulse but a movement of the self, threading its way to a systematic realization in relation to the whole.
The ethics of self-realization, for example, as propounded by F. H. Bradley in his Ethical Studies (1876), had no need to counterpose the juridical and the goal-seeking frameworks. Like the ancient Stoic ethics of virtue, it was operating in the framework of a distinct self-development model, and Hegel had already broken down all the sharp dichotomies. It was, however, the Hegelian emphasis on the comprehensive and total system, rather than his dynamic historicism, that dominated in self-realizationist theory. Goals could appear in human consciousness, but their significance lay in the systematic unity they gave to self-development; and rules could govern human action, but their basic meaning lay in the institutional structures of the time and place that gave content to the integration of the self. Integration in the self and organization in society were carrying on the kind of function that went with right or obligation; the growing concrete whole of self-realization would merit the appellation of the good.
The aftermath of evolution, with its recognition of variety of form and constant change and with its removal from the scene of a determinate and definitive plan for all time, made impossible thereafter the older forms of both the goal-seeking and the juridical framework. Looking back, we can detect precursor tendencies toward the new in both Bentham and Kant. Bentham's notion of pleasure as the goal had been so broad and so thin as to determine no definitive goal but to shift the emphasis to evaluation in measurement. Kant's use of rationality as self-legislation had begun to shift the emphasis from the set of rules to the way of certifying them. With the change in cognitive orientation brought by the century of evolution, the characteristic ethical element in both frameworks could only be the critical component which made evaluation possible or which gave a rational character to decision. In the twentieth century it took many forms, including belated Platonic reifications of value or value domains, and belated Kantian forms of extracting basic principles from the concept of rationality. It took explicit form in outlooks that made the phenomenon of criticism or of reflective decision the central focus in ethics. It took bold experimental form in the foundation of general value theory in which a unified concept of what is called value took over from that of the good and by developing a theory of value judgment comprehending the critical element, left little for an independent notion of right to do except be the application of value judgment to a particular province of value.
In turning to these predominantly twentieth-century vicissitudes of the right and the good, the experiment with value merits consideration in terms of its basic intent and procedures. The other forms can be surveyed under the rubric of analytic formulations, and naturalistic and pragmatic formulations.
The general theory of value appears to have arisen from different sources, at points with opposing motives. The earliest modern source was the Benthamite emphasis on measurement. For Bentham, value is, like price in economics, the measure of a consignment of pleasure or pain entering into decision. The theoretical importance of this evaluative phenomenon was noted above. It also had practical support in the existence of a money economy in which things and services of extremely diverse type and "use value" in consumption, acquire a comparative "exchange value." Economic analysis of exchange value furnished the earliest comprehensive model for a general theory of value. It both provided concepts and inspired hopes of a systematic account of human choices and preferences in all fields.
A second source was the naturalistic continuation of Hobbes' or Spinoza's account of good as the object of endeavor, now seen in an evolutionary light. Generic value would be the earliest or most rudimentary response – the elective act of acceptance or rejection, the exhibition of an interest, a pro- or con- attitude. While some theorists reached such a broad base simply by throwing all different forms into a common hopper and postulating a value genus for the variety of value species, others had clearly in mind the evolutionary sketch of rising complexity on different integrative levels beginning with an originally simple reaction. The explanatory derivation of the complex would show how the differentiated notions such as the right or the sense of obligation arose out of the ordinary materials of human sympathy in the reactions of men in groups held together for survival. It was the functions they performed in harmonizing or marshalling or integrating interests that kept them going. Darwin had himself led the way by attacking the exaggeration of remorse into some supernatural voice. It was, he said, just different in degree from ordinary repentance, as agony differed from pain or rage from anger.
Precisely the opposite motive operated in the idealist generalization of value. For it the drawing together of different kinds of categories into a single basic notion of value was the sign of the characteristic mark of spirit. The glimmer of the ideal now operative in bare desire or selection, now in deliberate obligation, represented the same basic phenomenon.
Phenomenological approaches have sometimes gone even farther than idealist philosophy in isolating a separate domain of value. For example, Nicolai Hartmann, in his Ethics, contrasts sharply the sensory domain which science explores, the ontological domain which includes both the religious and the general metaphysical accounts of reality, and the axiological or value domain which is self-sufficient and independent, grasped by sensitive insight or intuition. It has its own laws and its own structure. Ethics consists in an exploration of the different values in this domain – what ought to be, whether it exists or not, in all its rich variety and often with conflicting possibilities. This is the realm of the traditional good, broadly conceived by the theory of value. Duty is the application and selection under given conditions of the structure of existence. It is, for Hartmann, a fundamental philosophical mistake to argue that the structure of reality determines value – for example, a religious teleology in which God's will is therefore good. Hartmann attacks Plato too for identifying the good and the real. Value is the independent base for evaluating even the ultimately real.
The relation of the right and the good in this new framework of general value theory has shown, however, a variety comparable to that in the older tradition. At first sight, the value concept itself seems to be wholly on the side of the good. The general questions asked are all of one type: the nature of the value phenomenon, the meaning of "value," the mode of verifying value judgments, the mode of comparing values. Yet as its very breadth carries it beyond the moral domain to include aesthetic value, religious value, economic value, and so on, some distinctive mark is then required for the more limited province of the moral. Sometimes this has been taken to be the values of character, in the older tradition of virtue, but perhaps more often there has been a reference to the values that ought to be brought into existence under given conditions. The ought thus becomes the distinctive mark of the moral. Similarly, where value is identified in terms of interest or desire or inclination, the additional selective element, as in the contrast of the desired and the desirable, carries the connotation of what is worth desiring or ought to be desired. Sometimes the concept of the normative is used for the selective or critical element; sometimes, however, the term "norm" becomes rather descriptive of some pattern of interest or desire, and "value" then carries the connotation of the standard or the desirable. In Hartmann's account, the tension of the ought is carried into the heart of the good by construing value itself as an ought-to-be. Similarly, in a quite different kind of phenomenological approach – extending to value the methods that Gestalt psychology found fruitful in the study of perception – Wolfgang Köhler attempts to identify a phenomenal quality of requiredness as a generic element and interprets both aesthetic and moral fittingness as special cases of it.
Whatever these skirmishes in the dialectic of nomenclature, it is clear in general value theory that the concepts represent rather functional differentiation in the one material. The critical element lies in the comparative evaluation, and the question what one ought to do or what is appropriate is readily translated into what is the best thing to do. The contrast of the right and good has lost its basic importance in general value theory. Attention has shifted rather to the whole problem of the autonomy of the value domain, which, interestingly enough, is indifferently termed the question of the relation between the ought and the is, and that between fact and value, as if they were the same problem.
In more recent study of the language of morals, the old sharper distinction reappears within the new framework. A contrast is made between evaluation and prescription, and the older problems of the relation between the good and the right appear in the form of the relation between value and obligation, once again as major differences in categories.
Philosophical analysis, especially in its British twentieth-century forms, has been applied in various ways to problems of ethical theory. G. E. Moore's Principia Ethica (1903), with its common-sense analysis, reached a position in many respects analogous to the phenomenological one. The autonomy of the moral is central to his account. The basic predicate of morals is "good" in the sense of intrinsic good. This names a simple quality which cannot be identified with any descriptive predicate, whether psychological, such as pleasure or what one desires; or metaphysical, such as what God wills; or historical, such as what evolution unfolds. To identify good with any of these "natural" qualities or predicates is to commit the naturalistic fallacy. Moore's chief demonstration of its fallaciousness is the so-called open-question argument – that if you identify good with such a descriptive content it is always possible meaningfully to ask of this content whether it itself is good. Thus to ask if what God wills is good, or if pleasure is good, is not to ask a meaningless question or to affirm that pleasure is pleasure. Though Moore regards this as establishing the simple nonnatural character of good, and a domain of values intuitively grasped as having a worth independent of whatever the actual state of existence may be, it is more plausible to see his argument as establishing the permanent possibility of critical evaluation for any proposed content.
With respect to right and obligation, Moore's answer is utilitarian in form. To judge an act as right is to say that it will cause the world to be better than it would be on any possible alternative act.
Contrasting relations of the right and the good were proposed by Moore's contemporaries at Oxford, who also employed the method of the conceptual analysis of ordinary moral beliefs or convictions. H. A. Prichard reversed Moore's relation. The particular judgments of obligation are the primary material; we know directly in the particular case what our obligations are, and we generalize them in rough rules. The notion of good is derivative: a good man is a man who does what is right, and the good consists in those goals that a good man pursues. On the other hand, Sir David Ross took the strikingly different path of analyzing the right and the good as coordinate independent ideas. Our duty in a particular case is hard to work out, but the prima facie rules which tell us that lying and stealing and so on are wrong are themselves intuitively evident. That something is good, or even yields the greatest good, does not mean that it is our duty to do it; we may be bound by a stringent duty such as a promise to a man on his death bed to carry out his wishes, but acting in accordance with his wishes may not yield the greatest good we could disinterestedly conceive. Ross's common-sense analysis reflects quite accurately the conflicts between duty and interest in ordinary life. It simply acknowledges the tension of the right and the good, or of justice and utility, or of duty and interest, by whatever names distinguished, and takes for granted that the good is what has to be sacrificed in cases of tension.
While these contrasting patterns each claimed to be the correct analysis of ordinary moral concepts and convictions, it is apparent that they also establish definite priorities in policy and conduct. To define the right in terms of the good involves a readiness to evaluate moral rules critically in terms of the welfare they bring or frustrate in practice. The separation of the right and the good or the primacy of the right has the more conservative potential in giving priority to maintaining the stability of the existing moral pattern.
Analytic formulations moved in two somewhat different directions in the mid-twentieth century. One was toward more formal logical analysis, the other to more informal contextual linguistic analysis.
The formal analysis was prompted by the rapid development of logical techniques as well as the prestige which logical positivism attached to formal construction, while disparaging ordinary language as enshrining the mistakes and myths of the past. The most prominent work relevant to ethics has stemmed from the field of deontic logic, in which such concepts as permissible, imperative, ought, and others of the same group of right and obligation are analyzed and systematized in logical fashion. Thus if "permissible" is taken as a primitive term, "X is obligatory" would be translated into "It is not permissible not to do X." Differences between the operations and transformations permitted in the ordinary propositional calculus and those in the deontic system are carefully explored. This is a rapidly growing field of analysis today. While the right was first dealt with, recent work has turned also to the good, and axiological systems have been developed using "better" as a primitive term. The question of interpretation of such systems, and of the ways of establishing or verifying statements in these systems, would raise afresh all the problems of the right and the good. At present it is the logical commplexities that stimulate interest.
The positivist analysis of meaning and verification also had a different impact on ethical theory. Since the meaning of a term was taken to lie in the mode of verification implied, and truth was established either by showing a logical proposition to be analytically true or an empirical proposition to predict correctly the course of sense-experience, there seemed no place left for the ethical propositions of the intuitionist approach, any more than for propositions of religion or aesthetics. All these were accordingly denied any cognitive status; they do not assert anything, but ethical terms rather serve a noncognitive or practical function, providing vehicles for expressing or giving vent to emotions. To say "Stealing is wrong," argued A. J. Ayer in his Language, Truth and Logic (1936), is equivalent to saying "Stealing!!" in a tone of horror. The difference between "good" and "right" or between any ethical terms, lies in the kind and strength of the emotion conveyed. Ethical statements are therefore neither true nor false. In a development of the emotive theory, C. L. Stevenson focused on disagreement in attitude, as distinguished from disagreement in belief, as the central moral phenomenon, and analyzed ethical statements as largely persuasive in effort – practical attempts to bring about agreement in an emotive way. To resolve an ethical issue is thus causally to secure agreement in attitude, not cognitively to establish a truth.
The distinctive feature of the emotive theory was not the recognition of the role of emotion in ethics; this had been a commonplace of the eighteenth-century theorists who stressed the moral sentiments as against the Cambridge Platonists who had looked for intellectual ethical axioms. And Westermarck, in his Ethical Relativity (1932), had recently expounded the view that ethical beliefs were generalizations of the retributive feelings, with "wrong" and "bad" resting on the sterner retaliatory feelings, and "right" and "good" on the kindlier retributive feelings of gratitude. The distinctive element was the tie-in with the presumed correct use of language, and the claim that indicative forms in "X is good" or "X is wrong" are incorrect syntactical expressions whose proper form would be "Would that everybody desired X" as Russell at one point analyzed "good," and "Don't do X," as Carnap translated moral rules into imperatives. Some, such as Reichenbach, stressed the more voluntaristic element, the commitment component in the will-act, in ethical statements.
The contextual mode of analysis as a systematic procedure in ethics emerged from such antecedents under the impact of the revised conception of meaning that followed upon Ludwig Wittgenstein's later work. A term was to be understood not by seeking a single definition expressive of its essence, but by examining linguistic uses, by seeing carefully how one might come to learn the use of the term. No one form of unity was antecedently presupposed; there might be an ultimate plurality, or a loose unity in a kind of family resemblance. In a reverse of the positivist attitude to ordinary language as a blundering to be superseded by careful formalization, the new mode of analysis showed the greatest respect for ordinary language as a repository of the wisdom and experience of the ages in communication and interpersonal relations. Accordingly, in ethics, it canvassed the field of the uses of moral terms and turned up a multitude of differences, as far apart as expressing feelings and preferences, expressing decisions, advising, persuading, evaluating and promulgating. R. M. Hare concentrated on the commending use of “good,” and the use of "ought" to indicate the need for a decision. J. L. Austin explored the performatory uses of language, and in morals the actual assignment of obligation and responsibilities, J. O. Urmson the grading uses of "good." By the time that G. H. von Wright explored the variety of uses in his Varieties of Goodness (1963), it was a mark of lack of philosophical sophistication to ask for "the meaning of 'good.'"
Contextualism probed even more minutely into context differences. Thus the differentiation in personal pronoun with "ought" was found to make a difference in use; for example, "I ought" was sometimes declared to express a decision, "You ought" to be prescriptive as addressed to someone in particular, "He ought" to be evaluative. Thus the kind of term became less important than the kind of function being performed. But even evaluation differed (as Toulmin showed in his The Place of Reason in Ethics, 1950) as one was looking for the application of a rule in a particular case, questioning a rule within a moral code, and questioning a limiting principle in terms of which codes were themselves adjudged.
The relation of the right and the good underwent changes in these developments. At first the distinction was between dentological terms and teleological terms, and the question of their relation was expressed as whether deontological statements presupposed teleological statements – that is, whether ought-assertions were meaningful only if you assumed certain purposes in the background. In the language of functions, replacing that of statements, the question was the relation of prescribing to evaluating. With the multiplication of contexts and functions it became less a question of assigning a usage to one or another function than of exploring the concrete structure of each function, whatever language it employed. In effect, all the functions could be seen as contextually differentiated modes of reflective criticism.
While the analytic formulations began with language and worked out towards the contexts and functions which characterized moral phenomena and moral processes, the naturalistic formulations went as directly as possible to the latter in order to explore them in as scientific a spirit as possible. Utilitarianism had done this by identifying the good as pleasure, studying pleasure with respect to qualities, conditions of occurrence, modes of increasing, and so on, although in a limited introspective way. The good and the right were then related as pleasure and the avoidance of pain to the stable rules of their successful pursuit.
The differences among the naturalistic formulations, especially with the emergence of general value theory, tended to follow the different assumptions about the most fruitful scientific study. R. B. Perry, in his General Theory of Value (1926), identified value as object of interest rather than pleasure, apparently because interest has a broader biological import and can be exhibited in behavioral terms. Thus where Bentham called intensity a measure of value, Perry spoke of the degree of arousal of the organism. The function of the right was broadly carried out by measures of the maximal achievement of interest, with such criteria as intensity, preference and inclusiveness, and with specific exploration of different levels of integration of interest. In the narrow sense, judgments of right and wrong indicated the application of such criteria in rule-formation within groups for group interests. By contrast to Perry's approach, Stephen Pepper, in his Sources of Value (1958), focused on the phenomenon of appetition and purposive striving. Regarding it as basic, Pepper maintained that the aspects of pleasure or satisfaction generally, as well as those of interest and direction, can be set within a framework of purpose. The structure of such appetition is generalized into a theory of value as a whole, and the concepts of the good and the right find their place in the goals and the modes of organization within that structure.
Pepper's formulation consciously set out from E. C. Tolman's behaviorist studies (Purposive Behavior in Animals and Men). In corresponding fashion, other kinds of psychological inquiry are associated with other kinds of naturalistic ethical theory. The psychoanalytic approach exerted wide influence in the mid-twentieth century. The Freudian picture of the basic instinctual tendencies operating on the pleasure principle, restrained and channeled by the ego operating on the reality principle to postpone gratification, and by the superego with its internalized parental prohibitions, furnished a model into which ethics could readily be fitted. Moral rules of right and wrong were often interpreted as superego phenomena, basically addressed to problems of acquisitiveness, aggression, and sexuality. Ideals and aspirations constituting the good rested on ego-formation or on ego-superego relations. A great part of the ethical theory that made use of psychoanalytic knowledge concerned itself with character and virtue, falling into a self-development framework rather than the goal-seeking or the juridical. But the psychoanalytic exploration of conscience and guilt and shame formations did affect deeply the theory of duty, and the probing into phenomena of pleasure and its sources, and phenomena of aspiration, contributed greater depth to the understanding of the good.
For the most part, the utilitarian and naturalistic theories have inherited the older goal-seeking framework with its picture of the unified goal broken up by evolutionary theory, by depth psychology, and by social science and its study of historical goals and their patterning. In the pragmatic formulations, akin to the naturalistic in their close relation to the sciences, but more directly incorporating the psychological study of knowledge processes, the focus is more sharply on the critical processes of evaluation and formation of rules. In William James's Psychology (1890) and in Dewey's reformulation of it, experience is not the passive lining-up of sensory building-blocks; it is the active attention and selection in the stream of consciousness or the flux of events, guided by the existent state and purposes of the organism, which creates signals and stimuli out of what is going on, and guides awareness and response. Categories, and ideas generally, are instruments for organizing one's activity and for resolving problems that arise. The body of ideas and habits which characterize the self at any time is therefore constantly undergoing change or is open to change in response to the growth of experience. The process is through and through an interactive one.
The psychological exploration is initially grounded in James's great work. The logical analysis of knowledge, so as to extend the analysis of action to it, is carried out with the greatest technical refinement by C. I. Lewis. The general philosophical picture in application to a whole range of fields is most evident in the instrumentalism of John Dewey. Lewis and Dewey especially stress the unified character of knowledge as against those who, like the emotivists, reject scientific method in ethics.
James's treatment of the good and the right does not go much beyond the general naturalistic concept of the integration of men's wishes and desires, or where it does it is to stress the creative frontier element in willing. Lewis analyzes good or value as one kind of empirical knowledge, where satisfactions disclosed in experience serve as the experiential base. But such judgments, though necessary, are not sufficient to determine what is right to do, since some critique or principle is needed to rank and systematize goods – one's own as well as the relation of one's own good with that of others. What is distinctive about Lewis' analysis is that such a critique, imperative or prescriptive, appears not only to guide action but in the construction of all knowledge.
These rational imperatives, thus presupposed in the enterprises of science and morality, are basically four, each of which is presupposed in the succeeding ones. The first two are the rules of consistency and cogency, establishing logic and the methods of evidence as compelling. The third is the rule of prudence, according to which a man reckons his well-being in terms of his whole life rather than in momentary or fragmentary impulse. The fourth is the rule of justice, expressing the phenomena of sociality and social grouping.
Dewey goes beyond reliance on the general character of human psychology and the knowledge process to the results of the specific sciences and the history of man. The general background of his approach is the acceptance on evolutionary and historical grounds of increasingly rapid change in human life. Hence fixity in goals, in rules, in specific forms of relevant character, in specific patterns of self-social relations and in responsibility, is not to be expected. Given such change, the basic need is for direction and guidance of change. Intelligence is a general name for man's increasingly stabilized method of evaluation. Accordingly, Dewey refashions the initial picture of a moral situation and the role of concepts of good and right. A moral situation is not primarily one in which moral principles struggle with inclination; it is rather one in which there is a problem or conflict of principles so that a decision is necessary. Ethics embodies the lessons of reflective experience as an aid to such decision.
Good refers, then, not to a set of ends, although its base of phenomena is the purposive activity of men, but to a mode of evaluating ends, that is, to the development of a standard. The traditional sharp distinction of means and ends is also reassessed. In effect, Dewey is developing fresh categories for dealing with the good, in the light of the psychological processes of purposive activity. Ends are ends-in-view, targets that are set up so that aiming at them will resolve the problems in the situation. Similarly, desire is not mere liking, but arises in a matrix in which to pursue the object of desire will satisfy needs, harmonize habit conflicts, and so on. Hence ends are constantly open to evaluation in terms of consequences met in their pursuit.
Judgments of right, duty, and rights arise in the context of claims that are a constant feature of group life. Guidance by rule, or principles, is thus unavoidable. It is this distinctive context which underlies the claim that the right is separate from the good. Dewey, consciously facing the traditional issue of the relation of the right and the good, and the attempts to reduce one to the other, decides that the categorial distinction is supported by the basic difference in the phenomena of desire and aspiration on the one hand, and interpersonal claims within the group on the other. But it does not follow that there are other standards than that of the good for deciding between alternative rules or principles of right. Hence Dewey's solution, in his and James H. Tufts' major work on Ethics (rev. ed., 1932), is the distinction of the concepts, but insistence on evaluation of what is right by what promotes the good. In his later Theory of Valuation (1939), however, the concern with right and wrong recedes, and Dewey deals rather with the way criteria for evaluation in all fields rise and operate as standards and principles. The emphasis throughout remains on the theory of reflective criticism.
It is this emphasis on the theory of criticism in morality, most clearly presented in the pragmatist formulation, but implicit in most twentieth-century ethics, that emerges as the distinctive mark of moral autonomy. Its basis in the history of ideas was the unsettling of all fixities in the development of evolutionary conceptions. Its sociological base in the twentieth century is the complexity, rapidity of change, and conflicts, arising in all institutions and segments of human life; the collective effect is an increase in the need for decision, and the importance of comprehensive standards as contrasted with the rules of specific fields. Even in the ethical formulations that set up a separate domain of value and took autonomy to lie in independence from existence, this independence when it functions becomes in effect the right of moral criticism of anything and everything. Thus moral autonomy becomes less the traditional emphasis on Kantian formulation of laws, or the emphasis on the isolation of ethics from the sciences and human knowledge generally; rather it maintains the integrity of moral decision as a critical process. Ethical theory becomes thus the theory of the way in which human knowledge can be used by men who become conscious of their human aims – both perennial and historically local – to criticize the direction of their striving and to reorient it on the basis of the evidence. In such a conception, both the right and the good become retranslated into phases of the critical process.
References to individual moral philosophers through the nineteenth century and their works may be found in Henry Sidgwick, Outlines of the History of Ethics, 5th ed. (London, 1902), or in a comprehensive general history of philosophy, such as A History of Philosophy, 3rd ed., by B. A. G. Fuller, revised by Sterling M. McMurrin (New York, 1955). See also Alasdair MacIntyre, A Short History of Ethics (London, 1967).
Twentieth-century conceptions of the right and the good are found in the various schools or movements. For a study of general value theory that looks back historically, see John Laird, The Idea of Value (Cambridge, 1929). For phenomenological approaches to value: Nicolai Hartmann, Ethics, trans. Stanton Coit (London, 1932), and Wolfgang Köhler, The Place of Value in a World of Facts (New York, 1938). For naturalistic value theory: Ralph Barton Perry, General Theory of Value (New York, 1926) and Realms of Value (Cambridge, Mass., 1958); Stephen C. Pepper, The Sources of Value (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1958). For analytic formulations in the first part of the century: G. E. Moore, Principia Ethica (Cambridge, 1903); H. A. Prichard, Moral Obligation (Oxford, 1949); W. D. Ross, The Right and The Good (Oxford, 1930). For emotive theory: Charles L. Stevenson, Ethics and Language (New Haven, 1944). For ordinary language analysis: P. H. Nowell-Smith, Ethics (London, 1954). For formal approaches in deontic and axiological systems: G. H. von Wright, Norm and Action (London, 1963) and The Logic of Preference (London, 1963); see also his general analytic study, The Varieties of Goodness (London, 1963). For pragmatic approaches: C. I. Lewis, An Analysis of Knowledge and Valuation (LaSalle, Ill., 1946), Part III, and The Ground and Nature of the Right (New York, 1955); John Dewey and James H. Tufts, Ethics, rev. ed. (New York, 1932) and John Dewey, Theory of Valuation (Chicago, 1939).
|The Dictionary of the History of Ideas Electronic Text Center
PO Box 400148
Charlottesville VA 22904-4148
434.924.3230 | fax: 434.924.1431
|Maintained by: The Electronic Text Center at the University of Virginia Library|
© 2003 the Gale Group
All Rights Reserved
Last Modified: Thursday, May 1, 2003