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Other

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by

Kant's Treatment of Causality

The

Morality

of

Punishment

general theory of ethics)

Idealism

the

Same

Author

(with

some

suggestions

for

a

A

Short

Commentary

on Kant's

Critique

of Pure

Reason

Reason and Intuition Academy)

(Annual Philosophical Lecture to

British

The Individual,

the State,

and World Government

Fundamental

Questions

of Philosophy

Second Thoughts

in

Moral

Philosophy

THE

DEFINITION

OF

GOOD

A.

C.

By

EWING

M.A., D.Phil.

(Oxon); M.A.,

Litt.D.

(Cantab).

Fellow of the British Academy

Lecturer in Moral Science in the

Univer'sity

of Cambridge

{R\

LONDON

ROUTLEDGE

&

NEW

YORK:

THE

KEGAN

PAUL

HUMANITIES

LTD

PRESS

I_

)1--2.'-I

,-'.)

Pi.

GGlt

bs-:+

G:!>

LONDON ROUTLEDGE & NEW YORK: THE KEGAN PAUL HUMANITIES LTD PRESS I_ )1--2. '-I ,-'.) Pi.

--

--

First published in Great Britain in 1948 by Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd Broadway House, 68-74 Carter Lane, London, E.C.4

Second impression 1966

Printed in Great Britain by Compton Printing Works Ltd. London, N.1

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher, except for the quotation of briefpassages in criticism.

Preface

The question What is the definition of goodness must be

distinguished from the question What things are good; and it · is the former, not the latter, question which I discuss in this book. This question, while less immediately and obviously practical, is more fundamental, since it raises the issue whether ethics is explicable wholly in terms of something else, for example, human psychology, and it certainly ought to be, answered before we decide either on the place value is to occupy in our conception of reality or on the ultimate charac- teristics which make one action right and another wrong. I shall not attempt to give a list of those to whom I am in- debted, because such a list would probably embrace all the main works on ethics which I have read and most of the people who have discussed with me, orally, the fundamental concepts of ethics. I must express my gratitude to my mother for her valued help in proofreading. I also have to thank the editors of Mind and Philosophy for having allowed me to use articles I had previously published in these periodicals.

TRINITY

HALL

CAMBRIDGE

ENGLAND

November, 1946

A. C.EwrNG

Contents

 

PREFACE

V

I

SuBJECTIVISM

II

NATURALISM

III

THE

COHERENCE

THEORY

OF

ETHICS,

AND

SOME

OTHER NoN-NATURALIST DEFINITIONS OF THE

 

FUNDAMENTAL ETHICAL TERMS

 

I V

DIFFERENT MEANINGS

OF

''Gooo" AND

"OUGHT"

112

V

AN

ANALYSIS OF GooD IN TERMS OF

OUGHT

 

145

V I

CONSEQUENCES

OF

THE

ANALYSIS

FOR

A

GENERAL

THEORY OF ETHICS

 

186

INDEX

--

CHAPTER

I

Subjectivism

One class of answer to the question how "good" is to be defined is given by the subjectivists. But, before we consider this type of answer, we must try to make clear to ourselves what could be meant by the "objectivity" of ethical judgements or of value judgements in general. It obviously does not mean that they ascribe value properties to physical objects. These clearly do not possess ethical qualities. It might indeed be held that they possessed the property of beauty and therefore the property of intrinsic goodness quite independently of being perceived. This view does not. seem to me obviously false, but it is plain that most philosophers who have asserted the objec- tivity of value judgements did not wish to commit themselves to it, still less to maintain that all value judgements were objective in precisely the same sense as that in which judgements abont physical objects are. We can therefore rule out at once the sense of "objective" as referring to what exists independently of being experienced. What then does "objective" mean when used in reference to ethics? 1. It may mean "claiming to be true." Obviously in this sense judgements about psychological events and dispositions are objective, though they do not refer to what exists inde- pendently of experience, and in this sense ethical judgements may be objective. To say they are is indeed to say no more than that they are judgements and not merely something else which we have confused with judgements. But even this much is denied by some who maintain that so-called ethical judge- ments are only exclamations, commands, or wishes.

I

2 THE

DEFINITION

OF

GOOD

How e

cal p1dgements

t h

t o be true, w o ul d

, ;

ver, a person who admitt

'

bu r d

ver have no t u su

o

e me

·

"

d

a l! an y \

t h

.

Ju

.e

at they w

.

e n scn fi c

b

So

b' Je ctive " her . ·

e d t h

_ere

n on

e o ccu rrence of ethi-

ever m fact tru e o r

for believing th e m

.

at we could e

·

tive view o f ethics ·

ed as h o l

e may

b e

ding an obi' e c -

taken as imply-

mg that ethical judg e ments

rn genera

at least justifiably beli

vo I ves the rej e ctio n o f

.

I

are sometimes tru

eve d

3. B ur t h. Is wo u

ld

.

.

m

e abn d can be to

partic u lar and

e true .

· An

0

va I

b.

d gements

so metimes known o r

ue JU

·

.

Je c n

scepnc1sm m ethi c s

.

nor by its e lf be

su IE.

.

.

e th' Ica l l,

l Y meant

d gements are

I have

a c ertam

·

·

d g e menr and co

rue, yet anybody wh

to

b

.

.

.

1

es1des

.

ce_rtdam md e p

.

·

Th

.

·

ey ar e

e e mg described

f

r

.

ve vi

e w iu-

ho lders of the vi e w that

pose "A is go o d" si

A

mp

· ,, I

t would

then b

crent to sansfy the

objective. Sup-

f e e 1. mg about

tru e and known to bee \JU

a posmon . .

uld pe rfectly well be

0 mamtamed . . such

h oldmgasub' 1e ct1ve and no r an

e -

assertmg that th e y are

en denc e of the fe e l-

merely

n on that ethical

pbrof o s

w o uld be said

b. Jecnve · view of ethic

e

o

menrs ar e obi' e cr i ve

.

'

s

Tl

f

tl1e re

.

ore ,e

a

JU d gements, asserts of them

ings or attitude of the

JU d gemenrs ab o ut his

.

fe

ven

if partly bas e d on

'

J.udg

person JU gmg

·

]'

: If:; 0

.

g,

no r

.

in

f or that

: h

y

are

the

be

matt e r his thoughts. no t

about the fe e ling

Itself bur ab o ut som e th

somer

mere ly of the man's

h.

mg which

.

e

cann o t

o wn

e view that "

excludes the follow· mg

·

Th

t hi c al

ali

(b)

. "

o f

,

th

Th

mg to which

a d ehqu ate

l

Y

psyc ology

Vle w s th

t

po ints, and

tenns

. ud gemenrs ar e o

J

·

(a)

ey

em tr;,

h.

th

c

bj e c ti v e " th e refore t h

ey

are not r e alJy

or that we ere

Judgements at

neve r justified in thinking :ht

at

are alJ fals e

j u dgeme nts abo u t one's own

ny

t1ve

(_c) that they ar e mer

e ly

dispositions.

"s u b. Je c-

understo o d

o og1ca] state or

e se three alternarfv?'

e

.

" o b' Jectrve" vi e w is views als may be called

.

.

o

ommonly

c

them

y

as excluding any view which ho lds

My use of this term is

,

Foundations of Ethics

,

to be analysabl e

R oss in

.

quite di:ff erenr from the use made of it b

·

7.

Chap

SUBJECTIVISM

3

exclusively

tion is

in terms of human psych o log y , but here a distinc-

required between "naturalism" and "subjectivism." A

person who o pp o ses naturalist th e o ri e s of e thics in general is

de fending the objectivity o f

ethics, but a naturalist theory ne e d not be, th o u g h it may be,

subjective.' A typical example o f naturalist ethics would be the

theory that to say so me action is right o r s o me experienc e g o od

a certain gr o up,

rend to have a particular kind o f fee ling about it or that it t e nds

to th e satisfaction o f mo st men's desir e s. N o w o n such a theory

"good" and "right" still stand for o bjective facts quite in- de pendent o f th e attit u de towards them o f th e person wh o

makes th e e thical judgement in questi o n; that is, they stand for

facts about a class of peopl e , or people in general. Th e y would

still b e as objective as the judgement that many Germans

admired Hitl e r or that generally a man is distressed by the

death o f his parents. These f o rms o f naturalist ethics diff e r

merely me ans that niost

often spoken of rath e r lo o sely as

men, or mo st me n in

tr o m non-naturalist f o rms not in denying the objectivity

of

e thics, f o r judgem e nts o f psychology are objective, but

in

making ethics a branch o f an e mp ir i c al sci e nc e , and will there-

fore b e discussed not in th e pres e nt chapter but in the f o llow- ing one. Perhaps the mo st striking f e ature of pre sent-day ethics is the frequent o ccurrence of theo rie s of a frankly naturalist or subjectivist type. For this th e re ar e several o bvious ca u ses. Firstly, the success o f the natural sciences as compared with

phil o s o p hy and the failure o f o bscurantist opp o sition in the

name o f re ligio n have made pe o ple reluctant to admit anything which cannot be subject e d to th e methods o f empirical sci e nce. Secondly, the decline in the influence o f organized Christianity and the widespr e ad doubts as t o the justification o f its central

both

naturalist and subjective; (a) and (b) could not claim that ethical proposi- tions are part of a natural science, and thecefore I should hesitate to call them naturalist.

2 Of

the

three

types

of

subjective

theory

above

I should

call

(c)

-

-

-

4 THE

DEFINITION

OF

GOOD

th e ologic l

about et h i cs. This

though t that c h ic

have lost

g e in et h ical views between

belie!s hav e cont_ribut e d to th e ris e of

w s

th eir faith

m

es s e:1 i ally bo ud

r

1s a

ly , since

never b e f ore

the war of

( and,

I

scepticism

must sp e ci ally be t h e cas e with t h ose who

up with r e ligion bur

elig10u. Thirdly, th e radical diver-

differ e nt pe ople and diff e rent

t h ink ,

1914- 18 th e r e has

rationalism in all sp h er es ,

con s e que nt t e nde ncy to r e g ard any a priori

with great su s picion and to connect "valu e

ly with fe e

c1vil1zat1ons ha s be e n realized_ as

exaggerat e d) . Fourrh

be en a world wide r e action against

so t h at t er e

el e me nt m ethics

judge ments" clos e

of s ay ing that th ey

ling, even som e times to th e extent

e x-

howev e r , exaggerate the

ethical

a

ar e

not judg e me nts at all bur only

write

pr e s s ions of f e eling . We must not,

pr evalence of s uch literature publi s h e d

manual

opinions. When I reviewe d the

in

1937

and

1938 in order

to

for the Institut International de Collab o r ation Philo-

ound

hat on the continent

was

decidedly

of Eu r ope naturalist

among

ethics

th e / exception

n

even noted an as s ertion in

article by Pro-

the objectivity of value can now be re-

on e of th e things "we know" in axiology, in th e

among critical opinion ther e is a

in

1s too early to say how the s i tuation will be affected

large mea s ure of

markedly

'

or. sub1 e ct1vrst _I philosoph e r s. I

fessor Urban' th at

sophiq e

gard e d as s e nse that

ass e nt on t is point ev e n in America and more

Europe. It

by the war.

The

simple s r for'.'1 of th e s

ubj e ctivist vi e w is that

according

to

assert only that th e p e rson w h o makes

t e nds to_ have certain}eelings. "Thi s is

suc h a vi e w becomes

approval on considering this." A number of inc r e di bl y para-

whic h

_

e th ical Judge me nts,

_

th

ough g e nuine judgements,

the judgement has or

"right" on e mot ion of

good" or

J

an

I have [ or tend to have

8 This

w s tion of Pans.

unfortunately never published, owing to the

German

4 ]our12al of Philosophy, r937, p. 588 ff.

occupa-

SUBJECTIVISM

5

doxical consequence s would follow from the adoption of this vie w . Fir stly , th e judge ments could not be false unless the pe r -

had made a mi s t ake about h is own psychology.

Se condly,

thing

me

never me an t h e s ame by it on two differ e nt occasions, b e caus e

an "This is approved by me." Ind e ed th e sam e pers on would

e ach would

son judging

two diffe rent pe ople would ne v e r mean the same

when the y made s uch a judgement, sinc e

each time he would me an "I now f e e l [or t e nd to feel] approval ---

it

to be bad, our judg e ments would ne v e r be log1caliy 1_ncom-

It is nor_ a suffi ient reply to P?mt out

chat th e y can s t ill be mcompat1ble with e ach other m s ome

expre ss

to

attitudes which ar e

different sense,

patible with each other

of this ." Thirdly, if I judge something to be good and. you j dge

_-

for e xample in th e

sense t h at

th e y

in conflict with e ach oth e r

or lead

incompatibl e policies. For w e do not

judgement "This is good" and

(in the corresponding s ens e of the word) lead to or express

incompatible polici e s lik e A's judg e me nt "I de s ire to"fu r t h e r X"

and B's judg e ment "I de s ire to oppose X." We two judgements logically contradict e ach oth er

1s

logically impossible that they could both be true. No doubt,

since "good" and "bad" can each be use

"thi s is bad" may not always contradict

y

rate

they sometim e s do so, and on t h

could, when ass e r t e d by diff e rent p e opl e , ne v er

Fourthly, no argument or rational discus s i on, nor ind e ed any

citation of e mpirical facts, could be in any degree relevant to

suppo r ting or casting doubt on any ethical judgement unless it could be directed to s h owing that the person w h o makes the

judgem e nt

e ncies to hav e f e elings. It is true that argument or fre s h knowl-

ha s made a mi s take about h is own feelings or t e nd-

see me re ly that A's

B' s

judg e me nt "This is bad"

see that. t

so

that

it

e

in iff_ere_nt sense ;

this

"'

1s

good,

me an

mstrumen

t

a

II

_any

be cause , for examp

I

e,

"

goo

d"

may

good" and "b 8: d" may mean "intr insi cally bad"; ut at

_

e view under d1scu s s 10n they

do so.

6 THE

DEFINITION

OF

GOOD

edge about the circumstances and likely consequences of an act might lead me to have different feelings about it and so judge

it

vice versa;

but it would not in any way indicate that my previous judge-

but

since they referred only to my feelings at different times they

was ill on

would not contradict each other any more

ment

right

while

I

had judged

it

wrong

before,

be

or

than

was false.'

The judgements

would

different;

"I

January

r"

contradicts

"I was

well

on

February

r."

Yet it is

clear that

argument

can

really

cast

doubt

on propositions in

ethics.

con-

ceive that I might possibly be wrong in this belief and yet be

disapproval.

at least,

of the

me

as thinking that I may

feelings, for I think that

come in the

may possibly be wrong is not the same

Since

it is quite

this

certain

Fifthly,

I

could not,

while

asserting

tend

this

an

ethical belief,

that I

now feel (or

to feel)

in

clear that I can conceive

another

ethical

some

cases

argument provides

To

reductio ad absurdum

belief now

theory.

think that an

future to have

expressed by

different

the present judgement

may be

wrong and

not

a future

one.

To

put the

objection

in

another

way,

it

would follow from

the

theory that

to

say "If I

feel approval

of A,

A

is always

a

right

piece of gross conceit, if made in any ordinary context.

if it were true

the

statement. I

are

cases

[good]" is

to utter

if

I

tautology.

a

it

Even

at

(good),

be certain that my judgements

only

as

a different

But

is

not, it

always

is

that,

to

not

feel

approval of A,

is

so

this

is

defined

I

shall

quite

to

time judge A

correct

need

be right

always

(unless judgement

cover

of knowledge).

5

I

the

am

therefore

in

Ethics

in

no

doubt

quite

and

unmoved

Langua{!,e

by

as

to

a

really

very able

see it

but

any

it

docs

of the

to

be

the

how

ebbor tc

argument

does

not

relevant, but

discussion

can

be

by

C.

relevant

it to

be

other

those

any

L.

to

relevant

sense.

who

real

mentioned against

Stevenson

ethical disagreements

which

The

in

on a subjectivist view. It

we

sl ow

sense

book is

already

m ·some

exposition of

not,

objections

as

far

subjectivism fo.r

as

that

I

can see,

I have

bnng

are

argument

it,

convinced,

for it

or

avoid

SUBJECTIVISM

7

Sixthly,

it would follow from

the

theory

under discussion

that,

when I judge

that Hitler was

bad or

acted

wrongly,

I am not really talking

psychology.

about Hitler at all but about my

all

fully

which they

sufficient

reductio

are deduced.

ad

own

.

qmte

. To me the consequences that I have ment10ned are

a

incredible

surdum

and

of the

constitute

theory

ab-

from

They

hold whether it is applied

only to

could

"good";

and that

affai

at

whole."

both

not,

to

"good" and

to

"right"

the

applied

or

theory

to

"good"

state

one

of them.

to

I

do

see

without being

it applied

however,

how

also

be

applied

but

it

"right"

"right"

might be

was

held that

only to

the

to be defined as

"a means to

of

for which

(of those

prodncible

in the

context) I

felt,

time

I

made

the

judgement,

most

approval

on

the

This would be

of

a naturalist non-subjectivist theory

How-

cannot be the meaning of "right," for

might

combined with a subjectivist theory of "good."

emotions

were ill

adjusted

to be,

I

a quite

wrong

ction

the

most

effective

means

to

felt

most

approval. I

should

it

to

be

wrong at

the time

rs

the

"right"

ever, it is clear that this

if my

be,

the

probably

and be believed by me

state

of affairs

for

in

that

case

which

not judge

what

I really thought good and my emotional feeling of appr?val);

was

(though I might even do

this if I

distinguished between

but I might

wrong

qnite

well judge afterwards

not only that

it

but

that my

earlier judgement

that

it

was

right

as

mistaken,

whiJe

admitting that the

act was the

most

effective

means

to

the

state towards

which at the time

I made

the first

judgement I felt most approval. Nor can we define a right act

should

as

always or ultimately feel most approval," for that would make

it a prophecy about my future emotions.

ot

necessarily invalidate my present Judgement that some p mc-

ular act

disposition

my

no

emot10nal

"means,

etc.,

to the

state of affairs towards which

I

It clearly would

that

my such a way

that

I

is

right

if

it

should

turn

life

one

in

changed

later in

8 THE

DEFINITION

OF GOOD

longer felt approval of the state

of affairs to which

the action

was

an efficient means.

It is true that

I

should in

that

case be

disposed

later to

contradict

my

present

judgement,

but it

certainly

would

not

mean

that my

present

judgement

as to

the

of

a

certain emotional state about the proposed act or be persuaded

that it is

tional state

with

I

am not

about the

am asking,

an objective

own

emotions. And likewise when I am making up my own mind I

for

if

do not really want

to

some people's requests

advice),

practical

rightness

Finally,

if

I

ethics,

the best

in

of the

act was necessarily

for

false.

on

be

ask somebody

I

do

means

(or

in

I want

for

advice

to

a

question

into

emo-

Or

not merely want

to

what will

other

brought

such an

matter).

is the case be agreed

produce

for

that

me if that is

all

asking in

the

people,

at least,

(which

I suppose

it would

that

right spirit, that is, I

only to feel

know what is

right but

comfortable

advice

has

relation

I

to

act advised. When

I

am

genuine,

characteristic and

do

not regard

myself, that a

my

I am asking for

whether a

not

merely

feeling

of

ethi al

proposed act

about its

a

as

my

approval as

right but

only

proof, even

certain act is

an indication.

Because

emotions are

conservative,

a man may easily have the

feeling

of disapproval

towards

something

he thinks right

if

he

offends

But there are

or bad,

often

panies it.

Practically

formerly

his

thought

but

it

which he

wrong

or

towards

believes is

something

ethically neutral.

which

taste

cases where I clearly see that

obligatory

the

or

feeling

something is

this insight

usually

whether the

good

has

accom-

right and

been

wrong, and

which

confused with

the

same

objections apply

sub-

jectivist

takes

ethical

judgements

to

be

about

the speaker's

feelings

or

about

his

thought or

about

an

attitude of

mind

including

feeling,

thought,

and

conation alike.

Further,

if we

introduce

the

notion

of thinking into

the definition,

an

addi-

tional

objection

arises. For, if

"this

is

good

or

right"

means

SUBJECTIVISM

good or

right,"

9

it may be

or includes in its meaning "I think it good or right,"

objected

think that

vicious

that

"I think this

good or

right"

would be_come

"I

so

that we have

either

a

I have not included in

used

that from

same

the

the sub-

act may be both

I think it

an

circle or

infinite regress. be noted that

sometimes

It should however

the

objections

argument

jectivist view it would

follow that the

right when I

speak

about

it,

that is,

approved by

me,

and

wrong when you speak about it, that is,

disapproved

by you.

For

right

subjectivist

the same sense of "right."

that

the

objection.

should note

"disapproval." As used in recent philosophical

on

any

view the

in

same

act

might

be

both

right

Even

not

on the

in

believe

every time

furthur

and

(wrong)

"good"

word

We

is

different

it

need not

"right"

by a

an

senses of

be

"right."

and

view

or

used

both right

not right

It is, however,

very hard to

means

something different

and this

is

a

different speaker,

ambi

g u

ity in

the

terms

"approval"

discussion

and

they

have

commonly stood

for

emotions,

but

in

ordinary

speech

they

usually express

a judgement.

"I

approve

of A"

is

then

identical with "I judge A good,"

"I disapprove of A" with "I

judge

A bad"

(in some