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IV. Good and Bad Activities

If we take the facts which have been considered as constituting the field of ethics, it will appear that the logic of moral events is the same as that of any other events. But even if moral theory has something further to consider than the facts referred to, the natural assumption, in view of what has been said, will be that it differs from psychological theory, not in method, but only in paying special attention to certain things. This will be obviously so, if we find that goodness is a character of certain motives or mental activities. These will be the special object of ethical study, and it will be primarily concerned with what these are and what characters they display, and only subsequently with how they are produced or hindered. It has been shown that there is no room for the assumption of some ideal to which deliberation and inducement lead on, since these processes simply indicate the interaction of specific motives having specific objectives.

The crucial question is whether it is objectives or motives that are to be regarded as good or bad. Now those who take the former view always regard the goodness or badness of objectives as connected with our pursuit of them. It would thus appear that the terms correspond to the arbitrary “reasonable” and “unreasonable” that we have already considered. The question of the character of the objectives themselves will be the important one. Now some objectives are mental and some are not, but it is commonly supposed that goodness and badness have some special connection with mind. It appears to me that objectives are generally called “good” only by confusion with the goodness of the motives which pursue them. Thus the facts which induce Moore to call beauty good and many thinkers to say the same of truth, seem to me to be accounted for by taking the love of beauty and the love of truth as good. And the


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unjustified assumption that what a motive pursues must be felt to be better than it, explains these errors. I consider, therefore, that it is the operations of certain motives that are properly called good or bad. By taking this view we are in a position to avoid the ethical dualism of many theories, in which “goodness” is attributed alike to motives and to objectives, but really in different senses. And we are prepared to find that what goods aim at is ethically much more important than what aims at them.

In speaking of the operation of a motive, we require to make a distinction. We may think of its activity as what has been described as “finding outlet”, a release of tension taking place when some object is achieved. Or we may consider it as active, when it is not in a state of tension, but is simply occurring within the mind; contributing, in the current terminology, to “feeling-tone”. It may be that there is always some degree of tension, if the motive is present at all, and that at other times we simply have a tendency, i.e., that the processes then present in the mind are of such a character that, when certain circumstances arise, the motive will again appear. In any case it would seem that it is when they are in a state of tension that motives assist or resist one another, and also that it is in such cases of intense activity that goodness is to be found. Taking assistance, then, as meaning that a certain motive brings about circumstances in which another will act, resistance that it brings about circumstances which prevent another from acting, and recognising that these relations are facts of experience, we may consider the view that assistance is a mark of good motives, and resistance of bad motives.

This is substantially the view put forward by Socrates in Republic, I. He makes it clear, of course, that this distinction is not to be taken as a simple and final criterion, by pointing out that, while goods assist one another, they oppose bads; whereas bads oppose both goods and one another. There is no question, then, of founding ethics on abstract attitudes of assistance and resistance (although as Socrates develops the argument, this point is considerably obscured), any more than on abstract attitudes of altruism and egoism. The position may be expressed by saying that a good motive will always assist another of the same kind, so that that particular good can be communicated to an indefinite extent within the field of human activities. Love of truth, for example, will indefinitely communicate the spirit of discovery, and will assist the development and operation of that spirit whenever it appears and with whatever materials it may deal; a true investigator in any field will always encourage investigation in that or any other field. We do not, of course, define goodness by means of that relation, but if we decide, as I think we may, that it is common and peculiar to goods, then we can employ it as a criterion in particular cases. The same facts will show that a good motive will sustain itself in a particular mind by providing the materials for its continued operation, as one discovery leads on to another and the solution of one problem to the formulation of a new problem.

Bad motives, on the other hand, can never get rid of an element of resistance and repression, and, though they may co-operate to a certain


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limited extent, will eventually be found in opposition, and will always involve a certain friction. Hate, it may be said, breeds hate; but it also fights with hate and tries to destroy it, and in the individual it exhausts itself. So ignorance, though it may breed ignorance, fights with ignorance, and obscurantism defeats its own end. The degree of co-operation possible to motives which are not good is represented in the State sketched by Glaucon in Republic, II. Here the assistance is of an external or extrinsic sort, the utilisation of common means to diverse ends, as contrasted with participation in common activities in which the distinction between means and ends is unimportant. We note in the compromise referred to (which is, of course, a fact of common experience) the absence of a common spirit and the recurrence of friction, and also, as Glaucon points out, the element of repression in that some demands are given up in order that others may have a sure satisfaction.

That such a state of affairs occurs is not to say that it is not bad. On the other hand, though we may never find a mind or a community which is wholly free from resistance and repression, which, as we say, is “given up” to good activities, this will not prevent us from recognising particular goods and the assistance among them. This assistance, along with the opposition between evils, is no ground for optimism. We have to take account of the conditions of the original appearance of goods and evils, we have to remember that “it is hard to become good”, and that it is possible for goods to be simply annihilated by evils or by natural conditions generally. But the fact that a good once established both communicates itself and assists other goods, as scientific discovery assists artistic appreciation and creation, is not merely a reason for the continuance of the struggle against evils; it is itself the continuation of the struggle.

We may further illustrate the operation of assistance by reference to the process described by Freud as “transference”. Freud is referring primarily to “pathological” cases, but we may consider the matter more broadly. What occurs in transference is that one person, e.g., the patient, makes use of the powers of mind of another person, e.g., the analyst; “identifies” himself with the latter, adopts his views and his ways of dealing with situations. In this way the patient's previously pent-up motives find outlet. But the same may take place within one person's mind, when a conflict is resolved and a new type of activity emerges by the aid of certain abiding motives or sentiments. This is the process of “sublimation”, where one motive finds for another a means of expression, provides it with a language, puts its own “ideas” before it as objectives. This is also the process of education. It may be argued, then, that all good motives have this power of transference or conversion, whereby from hitherto dissociated material a new motive is formed which can co-operate with the good motive. Goodness is associative, evil is dissociative; goods have a common language, evils have not. And since, where there is division, each of the opposing forces finds some sort of outlet, it is just


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under such conditions that we get dualistic ethical systems, like that of “natural” and “moral” good, interest and duty.

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