THE theory that good is an indefinable objective quality lies at the opposite pole of ethics from hedonism. All other theories are in a sense intermediate. We have considered two such theories, namely I the idealist system and the theory of Professor Hobhouse. In this chapter I shall discuss a third possible intermediate theory, and shall contrast it with yet another, which is the c theory which I shall finally adopt.

(1) In the former of these two theories it is claimed that, though 'good' is meaningless apart from mind, it is not to be derived from mind as feeling, but from mind as striving2. Feeling, it is argued, is an abstraction from the concrete fact of the felt success or failure of mind's conscious striving. Pleasure and pain presuppose activity or tendency to activity. We feel pleased and displeased about the success and failure of the activity on which we are engaged. This is in accord with that 'hormic' psychology which finds conation more fundamental than affection. From this position it seems to follow that what we value is primarily not feeling, but the success of our enterprises. And in this view the essence of what we mean by 'good' is not the abstraction, pleasure, but the more concrete 'achievement of willed ends', of those ends which are indicated by the hormic nature of mind. On the other hand it is insisted that what we value is the success of mind's enterprises, the success of conscious conations. In this view, as in Professor Hobhouse's, it is meaningless to call the achievement of a process good unless that achievement is directly or indirectly related to consciousness. But whereas in his theory good derives ultimately from affection, in this theory it derives ultimately from conation.

I shall try to show that this view, though attractive, should give place to the superficially less plausible but actually more satisfactory view which I have already adumbrated, and will now briefly state as follows. (2) What we call 'good' is in the last resort the attainment of an end posited in the nature of some teleological process; but it is not essential to the goodness of such attainment that it should be related, either directly or indirectly, to consciousness. In very many cases, of course, consciousness is a constituent of events that we should call good, just because in very many cases the teleological process in question is a process in which consciousness is a factor, or the teleological end is an end in which consciousness is a factor. But essentially what we mean by 'good' is the fulfilment of teleological activity, whether or not consciousness plays a part in that activity, and whether or not there is awareness of its fulfilment.

In this view, then, good is entirely independent of consciousness; but on the other hand it is not simply a static character of certain objects in the sense that yellow is a character of certain objects. It presupposes teleological activity on the part of the object, and is essentially and in general the fulfilment of teleological activity. This is the theory which I shall adopt and work out in more detail in subsequent chapters. But finally, in the last two chapters of this book, I shall have to modify it considerably so as to do justice to a certain unique kind of experience which may be called ecstasy.

Whether we should say that in this teleological theory good involves the activity of mind, depends on our definition of mind. If by 'mind' we mean just that which is capable of spontaneous teleological activity, then clearly good involves mind. But if by 'mind' we mean more than this, if in fact mind necessarily involves awareness of teleological activity, or if it involves conscious conation, then in the theory under discussion good does not necessarily involve mind. For my part I find the use of the words 'mind' and 'mental' without reference to consciousness very confusing and unnecessary.

Clearly the view which I have been describing demands a discussion of the meaning of 'teleological'. Can a process be teleological if it is not derived directly or indirectly from conscious purpose? If teleology involves consciousness, clearly a theory which relates good to teleological activity, yet denies that it is related to consciousness, is inconsistent. In this case we should have to revert to the first of our alternative ethical theories. But from this position we should, I think, be driven step by step through Professor Hobhouse's theory to hedonism. This would not matter if we could stay there. But we should soon be harried thence into the theory that good is an unanalysable objective character. And thence we should once more be driven into the alternatives now under consideration. It is worth while therefore to inquire into the nature of teleology so as to discover whether there is any initial impossibility in our second theory.



Professor Broad defines teleology by means of a hypothetical reference to design.3 A system, he says, is teleological 'provided it acts as if it were designed for a purpose.' But it still 'remains a question of fact whether the system was actually the result of a design in someone's mind.' Artificial machines do result from design in some mind; but organisms 'are teleological systems which seem nevertheless to arise without design.' The machine is a case of 'external teleology'; the organism is a case of 'internal teleology'.

How must a system act so as to fulfil the description that 'it acts as if it were designed for a conscious purpose' ? Superficial examination of its form and behaviour, and detailed examination of its minute structure, says Professor Broad, must both suggest conscious purpose such as 'a rational being might be likely to entertain'. Now this definition is perhaps not very satisfactory, for it entails a purely subjective reference. How are we to say what purposes a rational being is likely to entertain? Perhaps a more objective definition of teleological behaviour may be devised. The sort of activity which we are tempted to call teleological is, in the first place, activity which, in varying circumstances, varies in such a manner as to attain an identical result. (Whether a rational being would approve the result is irrelevant.)

Now self-regulating machines obviously fulfil this requirement; but so also do certain sequences of events in nature. For instance rivers 'circumvent' obstacles, and finally reach the sea. Yet this, we say, is not teleological activity. Only if we saw the river jump the obstacles, should we suspect it of acting teleologically. This imaginary case suggests three possible explanations: (a) The jump might be a case of mechanical action according to physical laws unknown to us, and so not in fact teleological at all; (b) The jump might be produced by artificial machinery, acting in accordance with mechanical laws, yet designed by some purposeful mind. This would be externally teleological activity; (c) But, lastly, the jump might be an expression of the teleological nature of the water itself, and therefore a case of internally teleological activity.

It is tempting, then, to define internally teleological activity as activity which varies from the course prescribed by physical laws in such manners that a constant result is attained. But the violation of physical law is not essential to the concept of teleology. Where there is such violation, or where physical laws seem inapplicable, we suspect the presence of teleological activity, provided that there is also a constancy of result. But we need a definition of teleological activity itself, not of our reasons for inferring it. Let us then define it as activity which, whether or not it violates physical law, is as a matter of fact regulated in relation to a future state. In genuine teleological activity, events occur because they will produce or maintain a certain result.

But here let us distinguish between two very different possible kinds of genuine internally teleological activity. (1) Let us call the first kind 'direct' teleological activity, and define it as activity which, whether or not it violates physical laws, varies in varying circumstances in such manners that a certain state is either attained immediately or maintained all along. For instance, it is conceivable that organisms sometimes preserve their organization even when, by the operation of mere physical laws, they should disintegrate. (2) On the other hand, 'indirect' teleological activity may be defined as activity which is capable, not merely of violating physical laws, but also of foregoing an immediate partial attainment of its own regulative end for the sake of a more complete attainment at a later stage. Conscious purposeful activity is obviously of this kind; but we have no right to assume that consciousness is essential even in this case. It is not wholly inconceivable that this sort of unconscious teleology has contributed to biological evolution. These two possible kinds of activity are very different, and the former is far more intelligible than the latter. But for our purposes both may be included in the concept of internal teleology.

Now there may be in the world no such activity. On the other hand many persons suspect very strongly that the activity of living organisms is partly of this kind. Some would account for it in terms of an 'entelechy' or vital principle interfering with the course of mechanical events. Others would say that at the level of organization which characterizes living things this new way of behaving 'emerges'. For my part I much prefer the latter view; but this is not the place to discuss emergence.4 Here I am only concerned to urge that activity of this kind, defined as teleological, does not necessarily involve any reference (direct or indirect) to consciousness, that it no more involves consciousness than the concept of physical mechanism does. We have become so familiar with the concept of physical mechanism (as Professor Whitehead has pointed out), that we often regard it as self-evident that things must interact according to the laws of physical mechanism; and when we suspect that things are not acting purely mechanically, we feel impelled to introduce conscious purpose to 'explain' their irregularity. We do not, however, think it necessary to say that atoms and electrons move as they do because they consciously want to get away from their preceding unpleasant conditions. We merely record the fact that they do act in certain manners, and that their actions can be adequately described only by reference to preceding conditions. Similarly, then, with teleological activity we are not compelled to suppose that an internally teleological system behaves as it does because some mind has conceived a conscious purpose with regard to it. We must merely record the fact that such an entity behaves (in certain respects) in such manners that certain results will be attained. We have to take into account, in describing its behaviour, not merely physical laws, but also certain teleological laws.

This point may be illustrated by an analogy. In Newtonian physics it was assumed that bodies left to themselves would continue in uniform motion in a straight line. Gravitating bodies do not do so; therefore it was necessary to postulate a 'force' of gravitation pulling them from the straight course. In Einstein's theory of gravitation, however, no force is needed. In a gravitational field a moving body follows a geodesic, i.e. the shortest possible course in space-time; but in the neighbourhood of matter geodesics are different from geodesics remote from matter. Similarly then with teleology. If we assume that matter 'left to itself' must always act mechanically, we must postulate some special extraneous 'force', in this case a hidden consciousness, to account for cases in which it observably acts teleologically. But apart from the initial assumption of pure mechanism there is no need to postulate consciousness to account for teleological behaviour. Rather we should simply say that, in certain configurations or organizations, matter assumes new ways of acting, namely teleological ways. Metaphorically we might say that the geodesic is different where matter attains certain kinds of organization. Of course this is not to deny that, where consciousness observably does occur, it may influence the course of activity.

Some perhaps would hold that any activity which is not necessarily guided by conscious purpose should be called mechanical, and that teleological activity, in the sense defined above, is merely a species of mechanical activity, in which, in some inexplicable manner, a future possibility is causally efficient. We need not here discuss the use of the words 'mechanical' and 'mechanism'. Certainly, if that is mechanical which happens automatically without the intervention of the conscious act of volition, teleological activity, as defined, is mechanical. We may remind ourselves that Professor Whitehead has used the phrase 'organic mechanism' to name his own version of emergence. In his view, it will be remembered, the organism's behaviour is an automatic expression of its nature, yet the laws of its behaviour cannot be stated in terms of 'physical' mechanism. In organisms, perhaps, 'the molecules differ in their intrinsic characters according to the general organic plans of the situations in which they find themselves.'5 This suggestive and important phrase, 'organic mechanism', emphasizes the fact that the concept of mechanism need not necessarily exclude internal teleology, any more than it excludes the external teleology of an artificial machine.

Before returning to the discussion of our two types of ethical theory we may note one other point with regard to teleological activity. A full discussion of the relation of teleological activity to physical mechanical activity might lead to anyone of three conclusions. (a) The defined difference between the two might continue to appear a fundamental difference. In this case good, according to my proposed ethical theory, would involve a particular kind of activity, namely teleological activity, and not the other, On the other hand, (b) full observation and discussion might enable us apparently to 'reduce' non-conscious teleological activity to the laws of physical mechanical activity. In this case we should have to say that some goods observably consist in the fulfilment of a particular kind of physical mechanical activity, namely that which is performed by organisms. And since in this case there would be no essential difference between the fulfilment of organic and other physical mechanical activity, we should have to say that good is essentially the fulfilment not of teleological activity but of any activity. But finally, (c) we might perhaps find in obviously teleological activity a key to the hidden nature of all activity, concluding that even physical mechanical activity was at heart teleological, in that it was determined by attraction toward an immediate end, not by impulsion from an immediate 'cause'; and, indeed, that the very concept of activity necessarily involved teleology. Such a conclusion would not justify a panpsychic view of physical nature, but it would force us once more to hold (within the terms of the ethical theory which I am advocating), that every kind of 'fulfilment of activity', or of tendency to activity, is in its degree good. This view would have been necessitated by our inquiry into the essential meaning of the word 'good', together with our inquiry into the essential nature of activity. This matter may be summarized by saying that if teleological activity and physical mechanical activity are essentially different, good is grounded in teleological activity alone, but if the distinction between teleological and physical mechanical activity is not ultimate, good is grounded simply in activity.



If the foregoing theory of teleology is correct, we may somewhat amplify our earlier accounts of conation as follows. The presupposition of every act of conation, whether 'blind' impulse or desire or fully self-conscious will, is a teleological activity or tendency distinct from the conative act itself. At the lowest level the activity is purely physiological; the impulse, in so far as it is mental at all, is an acceptance of, or active espousal of, some activity of the body itself. Desire may set as its goal the realization of some such purely physical teleological activity of the body. At higher levels the teleological activity may be psychical. The goal of desire, or of considered will, may be the fulfilment of some psychical capacity. But in this case, no less than in the others, the activity of tendency whose fulfilment is desired or willed is strictly objective to, and logically prior to, the mental act of willing its fulfilment. For there to be any conscious conation at all there must be awareness of a hormic drive or tendency, awareness vague or precise, true or erroneous. For there to be not merely 'blind' impulse but explicit desire or will, there must be prevision, true or false, of the supposed goal of the activity—prevision sometimes merely of an immediate goal, at other times of a goal more remote. I shall discuss in more detail later the whole problem of tendency to psychical activity. Meanwhile it is enough to point out that in desiring, for instance, intellectual activity we cognize our nature as entailing that activity for its free functioning. Paradoxical as it may sound, the desire for a mental activity involves cognition of a certain condition of the organism, namely an objective tendency to perform a certain kind of subjective activity. Every conative act, then, consists in the acceptance or espousal of some cognized hormic activity or tendency; every case of feeling (pleasant or unpleasant) is consequent on the cognized success or failure of espoused hormic tendency.

We may conclude this psychological description by saying that: we feel because we 'espouse a cause'; we espouse the cause because we cognize it as a 'cause' , i.e. as a teleological process of something within our ken; and finally we cognize the teleological process as a teleological process because (apart from errors of cognition) it really is so.

If it be asked how we come to espouse some teleological processes and not others, the answer in brief must be that we espouse more readily those teleological processes which are more in harmony with the established nature of the organism, and that, when therels conflict between the less and the more familiar, we all too often accept the latter, even when objectively they are minor processes. The precise implications of this obvious fact call for very careful discussion at a later stage. Meanwhile we have only to note that conation does as a matter of fact tend to lag behind the advance of cognition. If conation were simply the activity of mental context, this fact would be wholly unintelligible. But I have argued that this is not the case. Conation is the psychical activity of the organism; and the momentum, so to speak, of the organism's innate and acquired 'behaviour-set' complicates the situation. We have habits and inherited behaviour-tendencies of acting in relation to the familiar, central, and objectively minor, teleological processes, such as those of our own body, even at the expense of others which we have come to cognize as objectively major. But even these various automatic behaviour-tendencies are themselves derived in the last resort from cognition of teleological processes. The whole moral progress of the race seems to consist in the advance from this 'automatism' by which we espouse the familiar and minor processes even when we know them to be minor and to be in conflict with major processes. And this advance is apparently due to the exercise of the unique mental fiat or integrative 'act of will ' which, after a value-judgment has been made, can, for the sake of an espoused cause, transcend the automatism that would otherwise come into action.

With regard to the objectivity of teleological tendencies, the following objection might be raised. It might be admitted that in human and animal psychology every conscious act of conation involves a teleological tendency objective to the act itself; but, it might be argued, such teleological tendencies themselves presuppose conscious conation in the mind of God. We, in fact, are teleological solely by virtue of God's purpose; for, it might be insisted, teleological activity is inconceivable apart from conscious purpose in some mind. Thus teleological activity in the animal and vegetable kingdoms becomes evidence for theism.

To this argument we must reply as follows. The premiss is: That teleological activity is inconceivable apart from conscious conation. But we have seen that in human and animal psychology conscious conation itself presupposes objective teleological activity. We have then no reason to assume that in divine psychology the situation is reversed. If there is a God with conscious purposes, these divine acts of conation themselves presuppose teleological activity on the part of an active substance objective to the divine acts of conation.

The same argument may be used against McDougall's animism. For him, our conscious conation involves prior teleological tendencies outside our consciousness, but these tendencies inhere in something psychical, though beyond our consciousness. The only reason for asserting that this something is psychical is that it is teleological. But if we once grant that in us teleological activity is prior to our consciousness, we have no right to assume that it is ever essentially dependent on consciousness.



I will now try to state the implications of our two alternative ethical theories in terms of the foregoing account of conation.

The first theory claims to state the facts of ethical experience in such a way that good appears as necessarily related to consciousness, yet as more fundamental than, and not dependent on, feeling. It asserts that pleasure, though a criterion of goodness, is not itself an essential constituent of everything that is intrinsically good. What is essential to the intrinsic goodness of anything is, according to the theory, that it should consist in the achievement of mind's conscious activity.

In relation to the view of conation stated above the first theory may therefore be described as follows, For value to emerge, it is not sufficient that there should be teleological activity. That activity must also be consciously willed. Thus, to use a phrase of Professor G. E. Moore's, in this theory anything that is intrinsically good must be an 'organic whole' consisting of (a) a teleological process, (b) conscious espousal of that process, and (c)

consciousness of the fulfilment of the process. No one of these factors is good by itself; for goodness is a characteristic of wholes composed of all these three elements. It might be questioned whether consciousness of the fulfilment of mental activity is essential to goodness. The reason for including it is that fulfilment of activity that is mental seems to entail consciousness of the fulfilment. Here I think we come upon a real inconsistency in the theory. For in insisting that the activity that is the ground of goodness must be mental activity, and that good is relative to consciousness, the theory does seem to imply that consciousness of fulfilment is essential to goodness. But consciousness of fulfilment is a case of cognition, and is in fact a value-judgment which asserts a value, but does not create it. Thus insistence or consciousness of fulfilment seems to result in hedonism.

In the second theory, on the other hand, it is claimed that the possibility of value emerges wherever there is a teleological process, whether or not there is conscious espousal of the process; and that, whether or not there is awareness of the fulfilment of the process, the fulfilment itself is essentially the sort of thing that we mean by 'good '.

Now the difference between the theories might be regarded as merely a verbal difference, arising out of the ambiguity of the word 'good'. I have already had occasion to note this fundamental ambiguity,6 but the matter is so very important that we may profitably inquire into it somewhat more minutely in the present connexion. There is no doubt that we do as a matter of fact often use the word' good' in each of the senses implied in the theories under discussion, and of course in other senses also. Sometimes people say that to be thrown upon his own resources would be 'good' for a certain boy whether he wills it or not. In saying this they sometimes mean merely that the boy would get more pleasure out of life in the long run if he learned to stand by himself. With this use we are not concerned, for in both theories it is held that pleasure is not constitutive of goodness. In both theories feeling is regarded as consequent on a value-judgment; and in both it is held that a value-judgment cannot itself be constitutive of the value which it values.

Sometimes, however, people mean (by such a statement as we are considering) something in accord with the first theory, namely that the boy would attain in the long run consciousness of fulfilment of more complex and diverse willed-teleological-activities. He would in fact become a richer, more developed, personality—and consciously so. Thus it is insisted that his being thrown out into the world is only to be justified in the last resort by his consciousness of rich and successful willed activity. (Of course it may be meant sometimes that he may become a more useful member of society, whatever happens within his own consciousness. But it is still assumed that consciousness is the essential ground of goodness, though in this case the consciousness of others.)

Sometimes, however, what is meant (by such a statement as we are considering) is something more in accord with the second theory. The boy is regarded as a being having certain capacities of development, and as in fact tending to develop teleologically into a more complex being. And it is held that, just because he is of this nature, it is good that he should fulfil his potentiality. It is good, whether he ever, in all his life, consciously wills to do so or not. In fact, for advocates of this view the goodness of his development is not relative to his consciousness at all, but relative to his hormic nature. If, per impossibile, he were to attain a high degree of development, yet always consciously to will to have remained in his childish state of undevelopment, yet his development would be intrinsically good. We may indeed imagine the case of a man who at the end of his life should look back on his career and say, 'I have known much, and I have done much. Few could have lived with the intensity and breadth that I have achieved. Yet I have ever longed to be quit of it all. For the only blessed state is the insensitivity and passivity of a stone.' Of such a case some would maintain that, apart altogether from any service which he might have rendered to his fellows, and also in spite of his own perverse will, this man's life would have been intrinsically good. And further it would be maintained that this would be so, not essentially because his life consisted in rich activity of a conscious kind, but just because it consisted in a high degree of fulfilment of his nature's capacity. From this view it would follow that in the case of plants, even if they have no consciousness whatever, their free development would be an intrinsic good, just because it constituted the fulfilment of a teleological nature. The fulfilment of merely mechanical processes, however, would not, in this view, be good, unless indeed it were to be found either that mechanical activity itself ultimately involved teleology, or that teleological activity were reducible to mechanical activity.

Clearly the difference between these views about the boy might be regarded as merely verbal; and indeed the two ethical theories under discussion seem but to reflect the two common and incompatible uses of the word 'good '. For in our daily thoughts we do, as a matter of fact, often regard good as both relative to consciousness and yet as independent of consciousness. That we often regard good as relative to pleasure or to the felt achievement of purpose is obvious. Perhaps less obvious to-day, but no less common, is the assumption that certain kinds of conduct are intrinsically good quite apart from anyone's will, even apart from God's will. Now so long as we are aware of the various factors of the value situation, it does not perhaps greatly matter which of them we dignify with the word 'good'. On the other hand perhaps one usage of the word is more significant and more coherent than the other, and should alone be accepted in philosophy.

As I have already said, I believe this to be the case, and that this most significant meaning of the word 'good' is that which is involved in our second theory, for the following reasons. It is generally agreed to call 'good' that state of affairs which ought to be. Within any limited sphere, or universe of discourse, to say that anything is 'good' implies always that it ought to be. This means essentially that, apart altogether from anyone's desire for it, the thing is in some sense needed for the fulfilment of the capacities of the sphere itself, whether that sphere be a limited region of existence or the universe. Now the concept of 'need' seems to imply a teleological activity working toward some end. But it does not, so far as I can see, imply consciousness of that activity or conscious espousal of that activity. An upholder of the 'mental activity theory' would of course object that the word 'need' and the phrase 'ought to be' can only be used significantly in reference to the conscious will of some one or other, in fact that what is good must be good for some one, for some conscious mind, and that good is a character of organic wholes in which consciousness is a member. But this view seems arbitrary if once we admit that, for conscious conation to occur at all, there must be some objective teleological tendency; in fact that what we desire is, neither states of pleasure nor states of fulfilled will, but the. fulfilment of objective activities.

The intuitive apprehension that a certain state of affairs 'ought to be' is crucial for the understanding of what we really mean by 'good' when we are using the word seriously. To say that a thing ought to be is to imply (a) that there is a need for it, and (b) that there is no objectively greater need in conflict with it. The apprehension that a thing ought to be may fittingly be described as an apprehension that the thing is needed, within the sphere under consideration, whether that sphere be a limited universe of discourse such as the needs of one's own body, or whether it be the needs of the universe as a whole.

In the sphere of moral desire it is fairly easy to see that the moral choice is determined by the intrinsic needs of the moral situation itself. But in this sphere, though choice is seen to be determined by something objective to the moral agent, we are apt too to suppose that this objective determinant, though independent of our own consciousness, is essentially relative to the conscious will of other individuals or of God, and that apart from this there would be no obligation. On the other hand in a more humble sphere, namely the desire for the fulfilment of one's own bodily processes, it is clear (according to the principles of a hormic psychology) that the relative desirability of the end is derived not from consciousness at all, but from something more fundamental, namely the teleological nature of the organism. But in this sphere it is less easy to see that this determination of conscious desire is just as strictly objective as in the case of moral choice. We are aware of the body's needs as in fact needs of one object (the central object) within our mental content, and therefore we desire their fulfilment.

The truth is that in each sphere we intuitively apprehend that a certain end is claimed, that (within the particular sphere) this end ought to be achieved. And upon the ground of this cognitive judgment we may proceed to desire, or will, the end. Many no doubt would deride the notion that the desire for food or sexual activity is essentially moral in the sense that it is objectively determined. But a strict discrimination between the subjective mental activity and the psychologically objective environment, which includes the body, forces us to this conclusion. Why should I will my body's free activity rather than the reverse? To say that something in my nature as a psychical subject makes me do so is no real answer. The fact is simply that I intuitively apprehend the teleological tendency of my body, and intuitively apprehend its free activity as good, as being, at least within a limited universe of discourse, that which ought to be desired.



Assuming on the one hand that good is not dependent on feeling, and on the other that it is not simply an unique character of certain objects, I have been led to consider, and reject, the theory that by 'good' we mean the fulfilment of mental activity. I have also tried to show that essentially what we mean by good is the fulfilment or progressive fulfilling of the activities of teleologically active substances. This view is suggested both by our intuitive experience of moral obligation as objective, and by a psychological theory in which conscious conation presupposes teleological tendencies objective to the act of conation.


1 Based on an article, 'Ethics and Teleological Activity,' The International Journal of Ethics, April 1928.

2 Dr. L. A. Reid has advocated this theory in his article, 'The Appearance of Values,' The Monist, January 1927. But I do not claim that the account which follows represents his view at all accurately.

3 C. D. Broad, The Mind and its Place in Nature, p. 81 ff.

4 All my ideas on this subject are obviously derived from the works of Prof. Alexander, Prof. Lloyd Morgan, Prof. Whitehead, and Prof. Broad.

5 A. N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World. P, 112.

6 Cf. Chapter IV, Sect. A.

Chapter 7

Chapter 5

A Modern Theory of Ethics Contents