Rationality and Moral Action

 Absar Ahmad

There are strong and convincing reasons to believe that human ethics and ideals, concepts and values, are a way of revealing the interior regions of man, the underlying dimensions of genuine life which are being threatened and destroyed by a society which has increasingly extended materialistic incentives and accomplishments but which has failed to keep touch with the aesthetic side of man, with ethical and moral values. The modern society has expanded its resources for bodily satisfactions and pleasures but it has not kept pace in the realm of spirit. It is a society which has not enabled creation of meanings and roots which sustain and enhance the well-being of the individual as a whole person. In a very important sense the present moral decadence and degeneration is due to the currently fashionable psycho-philosophical methods and procedures which diagnose, analyse and evaluate the person, and break him up for study in such a way that nothing at all is left of the person as a substantial reality. Real understanding of the human individual, however, does not come from viewing the person as an object for analysis and study, from noting his behaviour and probing into the so-called hidden dynamics, frustrations, and conflicts of his past life. Genuine understanding is not a shrewd analysis which is disclosed by strange signs and symbols, not a clever diagnosis which has a keen eye for the weaknesses of people. Rather it is rooted in the ultimate meaning of life itself, in living with the other person, in being sensitive and aware of the essential nature of the person as he is, and respecting and valuing his resources and strengths. Only when the person is recognized as an integrated spiritual being with self-determining resources is there hope that real and genuine moral development and enhancement can take place.

Today the powers and resources of official society are used to promote conceptions of the ‘good´ life which centre in status, economic security and materialistic gains. Self-protection, maintenance of a stable life, conformity and socialization are the primary goals. A counter position is needed to advance the value of utilizing human potentialities in the development of unique individuals growing toward creative selfhood. This does not mean that creativity and individuality are ideals in contrast to the evils of convention and conformity but rather it means the modern man is so surrounded and pressed to strive for standards and goals that contradict his own growing selfhood that he needs the opposite confirming stand of individuality and uniqueness, the affirmatian of self-values that encourage moral development.

Strictly speaking, a man must keep a focus on his search for identity and on the value of authentic life; he must remain sensitive to his own inner experience and to the transcendent dimensions of existence; he must continue to feel the suffering and grief which surround him and be awakened by the brutality and tragedy as well as by the joy and happiness which exist in the world. In what follows I shall try to show that a meaningful understanding of ethical principles and moral life can evolve only when knowledge is taken as essentially the reflection of a light which is kindled from within the self and not from external sources. That is to say, ethical and moral value and man´s search for enduring truth and meaning are deeply intertwined. This is the only way in which we can achieve moral progress and development in a world where life can be easily shattered, in a society threatened by dehumanization and by moral bankruptcy.

Rationality and Ethics

Rationality or the rationalistic point of view is preeminently integral to ethics. The appeal to reason is necessary, first, for the guidance of individual choice by reference to a criterion of the higher and lower, and even of the greater and less, in pleasure; and, secondly, as the only possible means of transition from egoism to altruism, from selfishness to benevolence. But, in both ancient and modern times, the ethical relevance of reason has been emphasised no less strongly, and often no less exclusively, than the ethical relevance or rights of sensibility. This assertion of the claims of reason in the life of a rational being is at the basis of the common modern antithesis, or at any rate distinction, between duty and pleasure, between virtue and prudence, between the right and the expedient.

In ethical theory "duty for duty´s sake" has been proclaimed with no less emphasis than "pleasure for pleasure´s sake", as the last world of the moral life. The effort to idealise or spiritualise the moral man has been no less strenuously pursued than the effort to naturalise him. In reason, rather than in sensibility, it has been maintained, is to be found the characteristic element of human nature, the quality which differentiates man from all lower beings, and makes him man. This is not so much an explicit theory of the end or ideal, as a vindication of the absoluteness of moral law or obligation, of the category of duty as the supreme ethical category. But it is nevertheless a delineation of the ideal life, and therefore, implicity or explicitly, of the moral ideal itself. Whether in its extreme or in its moderate form, rationality is the expression of ethical idealism, as hedonism is the expression of ethical realism. The normal and dominant mood of a philosophically enlightened person is that of strenous enthusiasm, of dissatisfaction with the actual, of aspiration after the ideal. The supreme category of his life is duty or oughtness.

It is to the Greeks that we must trace back the rationalistic, as well as hedonistic, view of life. For the Greek mind, though sensuous, was always clear and rational, always lucid and appreciative of form; and the rational life had therefore always a peculiar charm for it. This appreciation of rationality finds expression in the Socratic ideal of human life as a life worthy of a rational being, founded in rational insight and self-knowledge a life that leaves the soul not demeaned and impoverished, but enriched and satisfied, adorned with her own proper jewels of righteousness and truth. Plato and Aristotle follow out this Socratic thesis of the identity of the good with the rational life. For both, the life of virtue is a life ‘according to the right of reason´ and the vicious life is the irrational life. Both, however, distinguish two degrees of rationality in what was for Socrates a single life of reason. First there is the reason-guided life of sensibility, or the life according to reason; but beyond that lies the higher life of reason itself intellectual, contemplative, or philosophical life. The chief source of this ethical dualism in Greek philosophy a dualism which Aristotle was unable to over-come, and which survives in his differentiation of the speculative or ‘theoretic´ life from the practical life of action is to be found in Plato´s separation of the ideal reality from the sensible appearance.

In the view of many, the conviction of Socrates and Plato that speculative reason was the supreme court in the realm of values and the Socratic thesis that virtue is knowledge, has seemed to be intellectualism gone wild. But the fact is that the Socratic identification of virtue with knowledge and its consequence ’no one errs willingly´ make perfect sense in the context of his philosophy. The knowledge that constitutes virtue involves for Socrates, not only beliefs that such and such is the case but also a capacity for recognizing relevant distinctions and an ability to act. When Aristotle says in criticism of Socrates that "where moral virtue is concerned, the most important thing is not to know what it is, but how it arises" he makes a distinction which Socrates, on his own premises, cannot be expected to make. No one ever, while seeing with full clearness and vividness what is good, deliberately embraces evil. The secret of right doing, therefore, is knowledge, firmly held in mind. If we violate that knowledge, it is because, under the influence of desire, we have allowed ourselves to be deceived. Even the most vicious course of action has something to be said for it, and if one wants very much to do it, one can make it look excusable by confining oneself to its attractions. Thus as a matter of fact, wrongdoing everywhere is due either to ignorance or to self-delusion. If a man really knows what he ought to do, what power could be greater than knowledge and so prevent him from doing what he ought? So Socrates is represented as arguing in the Protagoras.1

The Sophists had seen no good that is not the simple getting by some man of what he wants In the Lysis, however, Socrates point out that giving a child what is good for him is quite different from giving him what he wants. So that "what is good for X" and "what X wants" do not mean the same. Now, how could a man want what would be bad for himself? Very simply, one is tempted to reply, in the way that a drug addict wants drugs or an alcoholic wants alcohol. But the Socratic answer would surely be that for these men the object of desire apparently fall under the concept of some genuine good pleasure, the diminution of a craving, or whatever it is. Their mistake is the intellectual one of misidentifying an object, supposing it to be of some kind other than it is, or of not noticing some of its properties. Indeed the Socratic thesis has convinced many modern moralists and ethical philosophers. Probably Sidgwick´s conclusion on the issue is the soundest one, namely, that though the deliberate doing of what we clearly see to be wrong does occur, it occurs surprisingly seldom, and that, when it does, it is usually by way of an act of omission rather than of commission i.e. we fail to do what we see we ought to do rather than do what we see we should not.2

The great modern representative of the extreme form of rationalism in ethical thought is Kant, the author of one of the most impressive moral idealisms of all time.3 For Kant, the Good the only thing absolutely and altogether good is the good will, and the good will is for him, the rational will, the will obedient to the law of the universal reason. It is the prerogative of a rational being to be self-legislative. The animal life is one of heteronomy; the course of its activity is dictated by external stimuli. The peculiarity of man´s life is that it belongs to two spheres. As a sentient being, man is a member of the animal sphere, whose law is pleasure; as a rational being, he enacts upon himself the higher law of reason which takes no account of sensibility. Hence arises for him the categorical imperative of duty the ‘thou shalt´ of the rational being to the irrational or sentient. As a rational being, man demands of himself a life which shall be reason´s own creation, whose spring shall be found in pure reverence for the law of his rational nature. Inclination and desire are necessarily subjective and particular ; and, in so far as they enter, they detract from the ethical value of the action. Nor do consequences come within the province of morality; the goodness of an action is determined solely by its inner rational form. The categorical quality of the imperative of morality is founded on the absolute worth of that nature whose law it is. A rational being is, as such, an end-in-himself. and may not regard himself as a means to any other end. He ought always to act in one way namely, so as to fulfil his rational nature; he may never use his reason as a means by which to compass non-rational ends. The law of his morality is: "So act as to regard humanity whether in thine own person or in that of another, always as an end, never as a means".

The moral law thus becomes for Kant the gateway of the noumenal life. As subject to its categorical imperative, man is a member of the intelligible or supersensible world the world of pure reason. As will, he lives and moves and has his being in that noumenal world from which, as intelligence, he is for ever shut out. As he listens to the voice of duty, and concedes the absolute and uncompromising severity of its claim upon his life, he ‘feels that he is greater than he knows´, and welcomes it as the business of his life to appropriate his birthright, and to constitute himself in deed, what in idea he is from the first, a member and a citizen of the intelligible world. There too he finds the goodly fellowship of universal intelligence, and becomes at once legislator and subject in the kingdom of pure reason.

Criticism of extreme Rationalism in Ethics

Such are the chief forms of views which uphold rationality, in its extreme and rather extravagant type, and it is not difficult to see how the fundamental defects of such a view of life necessitate the transition to a more moderate type of rationalism in ethics.

View of Socrates, Plato and Kant, like other rationalist philosophers, rest upon an absolute psychological dualism of reason and sensibility, a sharp contrast of knowledge and feelings. Because reason differentiates man from the animal, and his life must therefore be a rational life, it is argued that the entire animal sensibility must be eliminated.

For Socrates, Plato and Kant, the goal of life is simply the passionless life of reason. But surely we cannot summarily dismiss the entire life of sensibility as irrational. Without feelings there is no activity: the moral life, as such, implies feeling or desire. It is common knowledge that feeling and impulse are indispensable to any experience that is to be worth while. Yet it is reason which reveals to us how our desires are implicated with each other, how they conflict with each other; how, if at all, they may be harmonized with each other. As man´s interests become more diversified, and the splintered and fragmented mind becomes harder to avoid, reason has more and more work to do. It must select some interests as central, discard or modify others, and ruthlessly subordinate minor interests to major ones. To organize a life from within is often a hard task. It calls for intelligence, for a willingness to reflect, and for firmness both in the pruning of irrelevant desires and the re-shaping of relevant ones for the sake of distant ends. At the other extreme stands the creature of impulse a victim of Spinozistic "Human Bondage" whose only principle is to have no principle. Who surrenders to the mood of the moment whatever that may be.4

I believe that Bertrand Russell has painted and unduly unattractive picture of ‘the rational man´. He has christened his caricature of the rational man as the ‘inhuman monster´,5 He has, in fact, tried to incarnate pure intelligence and speculative reason. His ‘rational man´ acts always from calculation, never from impulse, affection, or even hatred. and he is never carried away by enthusiasm or sentimentality. While making no mistake of his own, at least none that mere intelligence could avoid, he sees through everyone else, notes their stupidities, and uses them with superlative craft for his own purpose. I am sure most people would find this picture of the rational man even less attractive than that of the unprincipled libertine. The rational man as we more rightly conceive him differs from this monster in three ways.

In the first place, rationality or reasonableness is not exhausted in the exercise of reasoning. A rational man may well be an intellectual but he will not be an abstract and dry-as-dust intellectualist, if this means that he retreats into his own ivory tower and contents himself with spinning purely ideational webs.

Secondly, rationality has a far larger field than that of hair-splitting analysis of propositions and concepts. It is as truly at work in judgments of better and worse, of right and wrong, as in those judgments of analytic necessity to which the present-day narrow analytic convention would confine the name of reason. It may exhibit itself, for example, in the sanity and good sense with which one appraises the types of human experience. He would presumably be clever in the manipulation of logico-mathematical symbols, for such cleverness is one expression of rationality, however thin and partial. But what is called rationality and good judicious judgment is a far more massive and significant expression of it. It definitely includes metaphysical and aesthetic judgment and sensibility.

Thirdly, rationality at the level of thought and reflection must extend to reasonableness in conduct. A man would not deserve the title of a rational man who is incapable of translating his insights and judgments into action. The rational man will be reasonable in action as well as in thought because his actions will issue from impulses that have been aligned and modified by thought. He will be far, then, from the Russellian crafty monster that critics of rationalism have sometimes pictured. Unless he were capable of feeling and impulse, there would be nothing that his intelligence and reason could present to him as worth pursuing. He will have his enthusiasm and loves and hates like other men, and will translate them not precipitately or rashly, indeed, but judiciously into action. Rationality in ethics implies, in other words, acting in the light of principles and envisaged consequences. If it is supposed that the rationally ethical life entails a life that is bleak, mechanical and joyless, I do not think it is true. Critics should always be reminded of how futile is action without thought and how crippling is the thought without action. Having said this much, I shall now discuss in the remaining part of this essay the questions of happiness and ‘interest´ in the context of recent moral philosophy.

Advantage, happiness and ‘interests’

Are considerations about what will benefit us distinct from or tied in with considerations about how we ought morally to conduct ourselves? Plato, of course answered that they were tied in and set out to show that the life of justice, and not injustice, was the life an individual would benefit from. Against Plato, Prichard6 in particular and deontologists in general have argued that considerations about how we ought morally to conduct ourselves are distinct not only from considerations about what is to our advantage but distinct also from considerations which are other than moral. The mistake which moral philosophers were making, Prichard maintained was that of assuming that the central question of morality was to provide man with a reason for acting morally. This is the demand, Prichard points out, which Glaucon and Adeimantus make of Socrates in The Republic and which lies behind the moral writings of almost all philosophers with the possible exception of Kant. But Prichard argued that an answer to this question was bound to prove unsatisfactory and that therefore the question was an illegitimate one. His point was, simply, that any reason for acting morally would have to be either itself of a moral nature or, if not, then of a non-moral nature. And on either alternative any reason given would be unsatisfactory. If the reason given be one which is non-moral, then it would be unsatisfactory because it would, ipso facto, fail to convince us that we ought to act because of it (i.e., in the sense that we are morally obliged to act for that reason) and if the reason given be a moral one, then obviously it would be circular. Prichard, therefore, concluded that it was a mistake to ask for a reason to do what we morally ought to do.

Quite apart from Prichard´s own analysis of morally right actions his insistence upon the separation of morality from personal interests has taken hold. Kurt Baier has made this a dominant them of his book, The Moral Point of view’, and it has now become a tenet of virtually every work in ethics. Stephen Toulmin, R. M. Hare, P. H. Nowell-Smith, Marcus Singer, end W. K. Frankena, to mention just a few, have all of them either explicitly or implicitly endorsed this view. And yet, it seems to me, if there is a mistake in moral philosophy it is that there is this logical separation of the considerations we appeal to show that something is to our advantage from the consideration we appeal to show how we ought morally to conduct ourselves.

What is usually glossed in discussions of personal interests vs. morality is the assumption that we can be quite clear about what it means to say that someone is acting in his interest or to his advantage as distinct from acting morally But I thing it will not take very much reflection to see that characterizing what it is that we are saying when we talk of someone so acting is far from simple.

The central consideration concerning what is in one´s interest or to one´s advantage revolves, of course, around what one´s happiness consists in. If, that is to say, a man will be happier as a result of acting one way rather than another, then acting that way, it is claimed, is to his advantage But this way of handling the matter has fatal consequences for preserving the distinction between personal interest and morality Surely there is no logical restriction on one´s happiness deriving from living morally. That is, it may be that one finds his happiness in acting morally, in living the just life, and so much so that were his wealth, health or even his very life were to come into conflict with so acting, he should gladly choose to sacrifice them. And if this is so, the alleged distinction between acting morally and acting in one´s interest becomes trivial. For if it is one´s happiness which is to determine what will be in one´s interest or to one´s advantage then living the just life may be in one´s interest just as much as living one´s life in any other way will be.

To be sure, many people would be happier if, where there is a conflict between acting morally and acting, say, so as to secure for themselves wealth, they choose wealth. But then there are people, surely, who would not be happier. Anyhow, what makes a person happy varies from person to person and it hardly seems reasonable to exclude acting in the way we take to be moral from this category. The fact is that people act in many different ways. Some of these ways of acting make them happier than other ways. And if we are to count whatever makes a person happy to be the deciding consideration for determining what will be in his interest, then it will make no more sense to distinguish moral actions from actions of personal interest than it will to distinguish actions, say, whereby one acquires for himself wealth or health from actions of personal interest. For it may very well be that acquiring wealth or health will conflict with a person´s happiness. It may, perhaps, prevent him from doing other things which he very much likes to do. And if so we should have the very same grounds for distinguishing between the acquisition of wealth and health and personal interest as we are now given for distinguishing between acting morally and personal interest. And these grounds are only that one´s happiness may be at stake.

But if this is so, what happens to the alleged distinction between acting morally and acting advantageously? One´s happiness is, after all, the key consideration for determining what is in his self-interest. But there is no conceptual absurdity indeed it is often the case that acting morally makes a person happy even where so acting is in conflict with acting in ways considered to be decidedly advantageous. One can, of course, make the logical point that advantageous behaviour, if truly advantageous, must make one happy. But this cannot be used in support of the claim that moral behaviour is only contingently related to advantageous behaviour. For, as we have already seen, it is plain that living morally may be what one´s happiness consists in. And then moral behaviour for such a person will necessarily be advantageous. Hence making such a logical point does nothing to distinguish moral behaviour from advantageous behaviour.

My argument has been so far that acting morally cannot be made distinct from acting in one´s interest because what a person derives his happiness from is an open question. One must be acting in his interest if his happiness is to be found in so acting. Acting morally may be what one´s happiness consists in. Hence for such a person living the moral life will necessarily be in his interest.

One difficulty about this last point I have made is, of course, the conflict alleged to hold between acting morally and acting in one´s interest. A situation which has just about become standard for illustrating what it means to act morally is one where we are asked whether it would be right to, say, jeopardize the lives or perhaps the welfare of others, when we find that, for the situation envisaged, doing so will put our own lives out of danger or perhaps secure our own welfare. But if this last point which I have suggested is sound and which would show Prichard to be making a mistake in moral philosophy by insisting upon a fundamental distinction between advantageous behaviour and moral behaviour we seem to be left with the rather perturbing conclusion that such a situation would count little, if at all, for illustrating the nature of a moral action. For here the implication seems to be that acting in one´s interest must be fundamentally distinct from acting morally.

This difficulty is, however, only apparent. Such actions are indeed morally significant but they do not show a basic cleavage between acting morally and acting in one´s interest. To see this we need only recognize that there is no absurdity in maintaining that a concern for the welfare of others against our own welfare would be in our interest were we to judge this as a quality, the existence of which an individual´s happiness were to consist in. Independently of any judgement about what behaviour an individual´s happiness consists in, there is no more ground for taking a concern for oneself as being an advantageous way of behaving than there is for taking a concern for others as being such a way. It is only after some such judgement that it makes sense to speak about what is, or is not, to one´s advantage. The important point to see here is that some judgement must first be made about which activities an individual´s happiness consists in before we come to any judgement about which activities it will be to his advantage to pursue. And if this is so, rather than being paradoxical to point out that it may be to one´s advantage not to be self-centred or unconcerned about others it may very well be enlightening.

What has probably prevented philosophers from seeing this matter aright is the identification we often make of understanding one´s action and learning of his motives for acting. To understand what one has done is often one with learning why he has done. So, for example, to understand that Jones has been helping Smith because he was hoping that Smith would invite him to some party is one why he has been helping him. But, such cases notwithstanding, it does not follow that any understanding we may come to of one´s actions will be one with his motives for acting. In particular, we may come to understand that we have been happy doing what we have done without it being true that our reason for having done it was the happiness we derived from it. If one recognizes that doing something has made him happy, it does not follow that he has done it because he wanted to be happy. He may have done it as a matter of course, or because he wanted to help another, or simply because someone asked him to do it. And if, as we are supposing, he was happy doing what he has done, surely, the realization that he was happy does not entail that if he continues doing it he will now be doing for the happiness he gets in doing it. He may continue to do it for the same reason he did before. Putting it a bit paradoxically, we may say of someone that he is happy doing what he does precisely because he realizes that it is not his happiness which motivates him.

The failure to see this simple truth is probably tied in with Prichard´s rejection of the task Plato has set for himself in The Republic. Obligations being what they are, it would indeed be paradoxical to argue that we ought to meet our obligations because it will be our advantage or make us happy to do so. Clearly, Prichard is right in pointing out that this is not why we ought to meet them. But then, neither does Socrates claim that our reason for meeting our obligations ought to be the happiness we see ourselves deriving. What he is pointing out, against Thrasymachus, is that it will be to our advantage to meet our obligations or, in general, to be just. And this is quite compatible with maintaining that one´s reason for being just ought not to be the happiness or advantage he believes he will derive from being so. And the fact, if it be a fact, as Socrates is trying to show, that this is an advantageous quality to possess i.e. a quality the possession of which will make one happy in no way requires that we are committed to adopting as our motive or reason for being just the advantage to ourselves we see in it. Indeed, if the quality is such that in order to possess it, one must look to happiness of others without looking to his own happiness, the happiness he may find in possessing it could not, ipso facto, be his reason or motive for possessing it.

I began by challenging Prichard´s distinction between self-interest and morality. I did this on the ground that living morally will or will not be in one´s interest depending only on the kind of person one is. Prichard´s argument was that it was a mistake to ask for a reason for living morally. If something is morally right to do, or some way is morally right to live, it is right to do or right to live that way, and it makes no more sense to ask why it is right than it does to ask why what is true, is true. A fortiori, then, according to Prichard, one can have as a reason for living morally that it will be advantageous for him to do so. But my argument has not been that one should ask for a reason for doing what one ought to do or for living the way one ought to live. My argument has been rather that there is nothing in Prichard´s argument which will show that living morally will not necessarily be in one´s interest. And consequently that Plato was not making a mistake in moral philosophy in trying to show this. The point is that showing it need not entail the supplying of a motive or a reason of self-interest for being moral. To show that living morally is in one´s interest does not entail showing why one ought to live that way. Plato´s argument, I believe, works the other way round. He tries to show how man ought to live. This for him is the logically primary consideration. But what is significant in Plato is that, for him, considerations of what is in one´s interest or where one´s happiness lies are logically dependent upon a knowledge of how man ought to live. When Glaucon presents the case for injustice, he asks that Socrates

"...... not be content merely to prove that justice is superior to injustice but explain how one is good, the other evil, in virtue of the intrinsic effect each has on its possessor, whether God or men see it or not."7

That is, the problem is not to show that as a resultof being just one will get what is advantageous, but rather that being just is itself advantageous. In short, the just way, being the way in which one ought to live, is itself to be shown advantageous. Against Thrasymachus Socrates is maintaining that there is no ready made formula for determining what is in man´s interest and moreover that the problem of justice which, I take it, is for Socrates the problem of how a man ought to live must be solved before we are in a position to speak about what is in a man´s interest. And this being so it will not be the case as Prichard believes that in showing the just life to be where man´s happiness lies that man is thereby being supplied with a motive or reason for living such a life. The reason and motives in accordance with which a man lives are themselves to be included in our judgment of how a man lives. If he is living justly, his reason and motives for acting will be of a sort peculiar to such a life. Reasons and motives therefore being a part of what our judgment of a just life consists in, it could not be the case that in showing the just life to be advantageous we are supplying ourselves with a reason or motive for living so.

But what about Plato´s argument? My argument has been only that for a given person moral life may necessarily be advantageous. I have argued that acting and living morally may for some person be the source from which his happiness derives. And For this reason such a person could not on logical grounds be unhappy in acting justly rather than unjustly. Plato´s argument goes much further. For him the just life is the source of any man´s happiness. And this on the face of it seems absurd. A man may be brought up to despise justice and love injustice. His happiness may come only from satisfying certain of his basic biological needs and doing as he pleases without any concern for others whatsoever. He may enjoy making others suffer and using them to satisfy his whims. Can Plato be taken seriously in believing that such a man could not be happy and certainly happier than a man who lives justly but is put on the rack by those who are not so just?

But in defence of Plato it can be argued that the particular form of happiness which a man will take to is something we are bound to judge his moral stature by. What I mean by this that since the source of a man´s happiness tells us something very significant about the kind of man he is, it puts us in a position to judge his moral worth. This is not to say that in judging a man immoral we are bound to judge that he cannot be happy. It is rather to suggest that the use of such expressions as ‘true happiness´ or ‘real happiness´, may reflect not a difference in degree between one man´s happiness and another´s but rather a difference in kind. It may be that in speaking of what will ‘really´ make a man happy or what ‘true happiness´ consists in, we are speaking of a form of happiness which the moral man takes to. And our grounds for thus honorifically considering it may be that it is in the moral man that we have our norm for judging the form of happiness most proper for man to take to. What I mean to suggest by this is that in mapping out the nature of the just man or the nature of the morally worthy individual we are in effect mapping out those norms central in our conception of what it is to be man. It is plain at any rate that this is what Plato conceives himself as doing. It is from his definition of the just man that we are given Plato´s picture of the nature of man. And this being so, there is for Plato a necessary coincidence between acting justly and being happy. Where a man acted injustly we would, if we followed Plato, be bound not to consider genuine the happiness he may derive from so acting. And this is because to be genuine the form of happiness enjoyed must be of the form proper for a man to enjoy.

What more adequate account of ‘genuine happiness´ or ‘true happiness´ can we have than the idea that it is the happiness in accordance with those norms we consider central to our conception of man? If his happiness is thus derived is it not, in a rather straight-forward sense, more genuine than that of a man whose happiness derives, say, form behaving like some animal other than man? It is sometimes argued that in agreeing that a satisfied pig does not enjoy a greater happiness than a dissatisfied socrates no concession is being made to non-hedonistic criteria of value. Why? Because Socrates does not have the desires and inclinations of a pig. Being what he is he would indeed be most unhappy if he were subjected to the form of happiness a pig enjoys. Unfortunately however, the implications of this reply have not been fully seen. In particular, it seems to me, there is in it the implication that a consideration of the happiness a creature enjoys depends first upon considering the kind of creature he is. If socrates would be unhappy with what makes a pig happy, so would a pig be unhappy with what makes Socrates happy. And this being so, we should, I think, be quite naturally led to distinguish the happiness a creature enjoys as being genuine when its happiness springs from those activities we consider central to our conception of the kind of creature he is.

It is this consideration, I believe, which lies behind Plato´s argument in The Republic. If the just man is, as Plato claims, behaving in accordance with activities that we consider central to our conception of what it is to be a man, we would, I think, be bound to judge his happiness more genuine than some one whose happiness sprang from behaviour we would not consider so. Mr. D. Z. Phillips in his excellent paper ‘On Morality´s Having a Point´8 has made an admirable attempt to show that it is always important to take into consideration the ‘background´ which attends moral beliefs and principles. To quote him extensively on this point:


"If we take note of the role of reasons in morality, we shall see that not anything can count as a moral belief. After all, why does one regard some rules as moral principles, and yet never regard other as such? Certainly, we can see the point of some rules as moral principles, but in the case of others we cannot. How is the point seen? There is much in the suggestion that it is to be appreciated in terms of the background which attends moral beliefs and principles. When rules which claims to be moral rules are devoid of this background we are puzzled. We do not know what is being said when someone claims that the given rule is a moral rule".9


And this "background", I believer, is the background of the conception of man and what his true happiness consists in. In concluding this discussion, I will state the different conclusions I have argued for. Living the moral life and living a life of happiness are allegedly two distinct orders. No one denies, of course, that the moral man may be happy and that the man who lives a life of happiness may be moral. What is denied is that the two come to the same thing. Against this I have argued first that for a particular man they may very well come to the same thing. It would simply be the case that for him living the just life or living morally would be the source from which his happiness derived. Hence for such a person there could be no conflict between what he finds in his interest and what he finds just. Nor will there be any question about the reason and/or motives of his actions. To judge that a man is morally worthy individually is to judge the reasons and motives for his actions as well. And the fact that his happiness is found in living a morally worthy life in no way commits us to the judgment that is why he lives that way. It is here that I have argued that Prichard was making a mistake. Prichard assumed that in showing the just life to be in a man´s interest we were, ipso facto, being supplied with a reason or motive for living that way. What he did see correctly was that acting and living justly could not logically be done for ulterior motives. But there need not be any question of acting from ulterior motives when it is shown that living the just life is man´s greatest source of happiness. To show this would mean to show that in considering those activities which a man would derive the greatest happiness from we were considering activities central to our conception of what it is to be a man and that such activities constitute as well the basis for our judgement of a man´s moral worth. In arguing that a man´s greatest happiness would as a matter of logic have to be understood as springing from activities we considered central to our conception of man I am not arguing that a man whose happiness does not so spring and who may enjoy the activities of a depraved person could not be happy. Indeed he may very well be. The logic of happiness is such that we are bound to consider someone happy only if for him everything is as he wants it to be, or even if those things he considers most important are so. For the man who has the inclinations and desires of a pig. happiness will come when he is able to live like one. He could then be said happy. It is, however, when we come to compare the happiness of such a man with a man who has the inclinations and desires central in our conception of what it is to be a truly authentic man, that we should find ourselves distinguishing between ‘true happiness´ or ‘genuine happiness´ and simply being happy. And the point of distinction is not that such a man´s happiness is greater in degree, but rather that his happiness in different in kind.


1. "Protagoras´ Doctrine of Justice and Virtue in the Protagoras of Plato", Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 42 (1953). Also see The Dialogues of Plato, translated with analyses and introduction by Benjamin Jowett, revised 4 volumes (Oxford, 1953).

2. Sidgwick, Henry: ‘Unreasouable Action´ in Practical Ethics London, 1898.

3. Kant, I., (i) The Metaphysics of Ethics, trans.

J. W. Semple, Edinburgh, 1886.

(ii) Critique of Practical Reasom and other Works on the Theory of Ethics, trans. T. K. Abbot, Longmans, London (1998).

(iii) Lectures on Ethics, Methuen, London (1930).

4. For the moral philosophy of Spinoza, see Stuart Hampshire´s Spinoza; London, Harmondsworth (1951) and H. H. Joachim´s A Study of Spinoza´s Ethics, Oxford (1901).

5. Russell, B., (i) Human Society in Ethics and Politics (London, 1955).

(ii) Religion and Science (London, 1935), Chapter 9.

6. See his article ‘Does Moral Philosophy Rest on a Mistake´, Mind (1912). He elaborates his views in Moral Obligation, Oxford University Press, (1950).

7. Plato, The Republic, trans, Francis MacDonald Comfor, (Oxford University Press, 1945) p. 52; (italics mine)

8. Phillips, D. Z. "On Morality´s Having A Point", Philosophy, (1965) p. 302.

9. Ibid., p. 309 (italics mine).

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