The Method of Idealist Ethics
Updated: Dec 11, 2019
Mellone, Sydney H. “The Method of Idealist Ethics.” The Philosophical Review 4, no. 1 (1895): 47–64. https://doi.org/10.2307/2175844.
"Moralists are too apt to push their prescriptions upon the healthy, instead of reserving them for disease; to invent artificial reasons for what everybody, unless annoyed by exhortation, will do of his own accord; and to fancy themselves the improvers of Nature, rather than her vindicators and interpreters"
I. THE subject of the present paper arises out of the following well-worn topics, with regard to which I propose to discuss certain possible conclusions: (a) In what sense is Ethics a science, how does it stand in relation to phenomena as they exist, in what respects does it agree with or differ from the special sciences? (b) What is the relation between the science of Ethics and that of Metaphysics or Ontology? Involved in these questions is another: What constitutes a ' special science ' in distinction from Metaphysics? The bearings of this question, have been discussed in an article in the October number of Mind, entitled "Psychology, Epistemology, Ontology, Compared and Distinguished." To this I may be permitted to refer, since what follows forms a sequel, or rather a complement, to it.
We may start with the definition of Ethics as having for its subject-matter the ultimate End or purpose, the supreme ideal of human life. With regard to such an End, the following questions arise: (1) What is the ground for affirming that there is such an ultimate End or ideal? What, indeed, do we mean by an End or purpose? (2) the terms in which we state it must derive all their meaning from reference to the actual facts of our inner experience ; otherwise they could have no meaning. (3) How do the accepted moral rules stand in relation to the End? In what sense, if any, can they be 'deduced' from it, or criticised in the light of it? I shall consider later the view that there is no such End, either for the individual or for the collective (social) life. If we do accept the teleological view that there is a supreme ideal of human life, a supreme standard of worth or value, then we must critically establish the grounds of it, and not accept it simply because the conception of a general or ultimate Good is current in ordinary thought, as Professor Sidgwick does (Methods, bk. I, ch. ix ; bk. Ill, ch. xiv). This writer apparently accepts it just because moralists have been in the habit of theorizing, and practical people of talking and thinking, as if there were an ultimate Good. Finding no general agreement as to what it is, he enters on the task of precisely defining its nature. He tacitly assumes that the only significant use of the conception for Ethics is that we may deduce practical rules of conduct from it, and to a great extent justify by it the accepted rules ; the sole object of bringing it into clear consciousness is that it may afford practical guidance. Hence the conclusion that in so far as Virtue is a constituent of the ultimate Good for man, our " reason in relation to practice" is landed in a circle. In other words: in so far as the supreme good consists in virtuous conduct, we cannot deduce rules of virtue from it, unless we know them already ; neither can we defend the accepted rules by appealing to the conception of the supreme Good, since that would be to defend them by appealing to themselves. Thus, if we admit the previous assumption, it is evidently unreasonable to regard Virtue as having any more than a quite subordinate place as a constituent of the Good ; and accordingly Professor Sidgwick proceeds to argue that the Good must consist in happiness ' in the Utilitarian (not the ordinary) sense of that word : that is, the sense in which it signifies pleasure valued only according to its quantity.
I have referred to what appears to me to be Professor Sidgwick's treatment of the idea of Good, in order that the view which I am about to suggest may be emphasized by its contrast therewith. We may abandon the assumption to which I have referred, in the form in which Professor Sidgwick appears to hold it, and we may abandon the attempt to fill in ab extra the conception of the Good; we need not take it and try whether Pleasure, Virtue, Knowledge, etc., will fit it or not. We may turn to the facts which lead us to suppose that there is a supreme end ; and if there are such facts, they ought to show us how to ' fill in ' the conception, in other words, give a clue as to the form in which we may represent the End. As a preliminary, however, to a more exact statement of the teleological treatment of Ethics, I proceed to indicate a possible grouping of ethical inquiries, in order to observe their relative importance.
II. The most convenient starting-point for Ethics is the fact of moral judgment. We say of an act that it is right,' our 'duty,' 'ought' to be done; or again that it is 'wrong,' 'ought not' to be done. We also recognize that there is a Good for man, which is believed to be realized, at least in part, in the performance of duty. We have, further, certain characteristic emotions that attach to these distinctions. In proportion as man becomes an intelligent being, with the growth of education, civilization, and (in general terms) with the maturing of social life, he manifests these ethical characteristics in ways that tend to become similar. Now Ethics, according to the most general possible statement of its problem, seeks for the meaning and significance of these characteristics of our nature. The inquiries to which this attempt gives rise may be grouped as follows:
(1) The most general questions that may be called the ' Metaphysic of Ethics,' embracing: (a) the meaning and significance of what is called ' moral authority,' i.e., the feelings of obligation and personal origination and responsibility; (b} the nature of the Good which seems to be realized in the performance of duty, and the possibility of there being a supreme Good.
(2) The ultimate criterion of morality in conduct : the meaning or ' connotation ' of the conception of Right. Using a metaphor derived from formal logic, we may say the general problem here is : What are the ' attributes ' of Tightness in conduct? With this is connected the perplexing question of the precise objects of moral judgment: To what elements in the complex fact that we call a ' voluntary act ' or conduct ' does the judgment refer?
(3) The proximate criterion of morality: the 'denotation' of Right. The general problem here is: How do we find out what particular actions are right? This is what is known as Applied Ethics; and it corresponds to Professor Sidgwick's definition of a Method of Ethics.
First of all, we must notice the relation of these inquiries to one another. As regards (2) and (3), it is evident that an answer to the former carries with it an answer to the latter. In answering (2) we should arrive at some kind of general principle, and the problem (3) would consist in applying this to particular cases. On the other hand, an answer to (3) e.g., 'tendency of the act to promote the greatest happiness of all concerned' does not necessarily carry with it an answer to (2). Hence it is possible to expatiate largely in a quasi scientific manner in the region of applied Ethics without touching any of the deeper problems.
It is more important, however, to observe the relation of (1) and (2). Here, again, it is evident that an answer to the former carries with it an answer to the latter, since if there is a supreme End or ultimate Good, right conduct must consist in promoting it. But it is also evident that any answer to (2) presupposes at least a partial answer to (1). Indeed, whether (1) and (2) are not identical, depends on the wider or narrower sense in which the word ' conduct ' is understood. It may be taken as coextensive with the whole of human conscious activity in the widest sense the whole of rational action in all directions. In this case the Right means the Summum Bonum, the ideal of the whole life of the man, as realized in conation, feeling, and thinking. I might illustrate by reference to Greek Ethics, where this view was widely taken: by Aristotle, in particular, it was firmly held ; well-being, according to his conception of it, was such an ideal. Here question (2) becomes identical with (1).
But we may distinguish a region of mental activity where obligation is commonly supposed to obtain in a more special way than it does in our general intellectual and emotional processes: the sphere of ' volition ' as manifested in outward movements. This is 'conduct ' in the ordinary sense; and 'moral obligation,' as ordinarily understood, is limited more or less definitely to this sphere. It is with 'conduct' in this narrower sense that modern, and especially English, Ethics has dealt. Here question (2) is a narrower question than (1). But it might still be maintained that we cannot proceed far in dealing with (2) without having (consciously or unconsciously) adopted some definite point of view with regard to the inquiries embraced under (1). Thus the Intuitionists hold that Duty consists in obedience to certain moral laws which are inherent in human nature, and are ' intuitively known to be unconditionally binding.' Here there is apparently no reference to a supreme End of life; nevertheless these writers, as a rule, have theorized as if obedience to these laws constituted the highest human good. This view was explicitly formulated by the profoundest among them, when he said, "The one unconditional Good is the Good Will."
Question (1), then, is the most fundamental: What is the supreme Ideal of human life?
Now the problem of whether there is such an ideal, and of the form under which we may represent it, can evidently be settled only by an appeal to the facts of our inner conscious experience to the actual constitution of the human mind. Its constitution is shown to us, at least in part, by Psychology ; but we must push the psychological question so far that it becomes ontological. We cannot rest content with a conclusion which, though it is true 'for Psychology,' true in the psychological reference, may yet be wholly or partly false in some other reference. We want to know what the human mind or self may become, what developments of its being are possible; and for this we must have an at least partly true conception of what it is. In other words: the question of there being an ultimate Ideal is an ontological one; it is, in fact, the question of the nature and purpose of the individual life.
If, as I have suggested, the facts of experience which lead us to adopt a teleological view will also show us in what way we may represent the End, if the End will have to be formulated in terms of these facts, then we cannot use it (our representation of the End) as a premise from which to deduce detailed rules for passing ethical judgment on those facts. The Ideal will be 'regulative,' not in the sense that it shows us in detail what we ought to do, but in the sense of showing us that in every situation, in every walk of life, there is something to be done; and requiring us to find what it is (so far as we are able) and to do it. It is, I think, very satisfactory to observe the way in which a group of writers some of whom may not object to be classed as ' Neo-Hegelians '-- have laid stress upon this. Thus, Mr. J. H. Muirhead says: "It would be a mistake to confuse the task of the moral philosopher, which is to bring the human End or Standard of moral judgment to clear consciousness, with the task of the ethical writer, which is to make this clear consciousness prevail and turn it to practical account for the guidance of life " (Mind, No.7, P- 397) Similarly, Mr.J.S. Mackenzie says: "What seems to be needed is rather a critical study, . . . defining for us the ideal by which we are to be inspired, but leaving the particular applications of it to the sensible good neighbor and citizen" (Mind, No.10, p. 200). Professor John Dewey puts the matter as clearly as could be wished. Speaking of " the possibility of deciding whether this or that proposed act is right," he says: "We do not have to trace the connection of the act with some end beyond, such as pleasure, or abstract law. We have only to analyze the act itself. We have certain definite and wholly concrete facts: the given capacity of the person at the given moment, and his given surroundings. The judgment as to the nature of these facts is, in and for itself, a judgment as to the act to be done. The question is not What is the probability that this act will result in the balance of maximum pleasure ; it is not, What general rule can we hunt up under which to bring this case. It is simply, What is this case? The moral act is not that which satisfies some far-away principle, hedonistic or transcendental. It is that which meets the present actual situation. Difficulties, indeed, arise, but they are the difficulties of resolving a complex case. They are intellectual, not moral. The case made out, the moral end stands forth" (Outlines of Ethics, pp.134-5). As Professor Dewey has it elsewhere, the content of the moral end " is concrete to the core, including every detail of conduct ; and this not in a rigid formula, but in the movement of life." We may cordially assent to the contention which these quotations illustrate without necessarily adopting the particular view of the End as ' self-realization' (i.e., the 'realization of a community of persons') upheld by the writers that I have referred to. The truth and significance of the fact that man is only moral and even only human ' in society ' i.e., when living in the presence of his fellows may be fully acknowledged without turning the admission into an ontological dogma that society is an organic unity ' in the sense in which these and other writers maintain it, or that society can ever become so.
The result to which we have so far been led is, that Ethics becomes a link or transition between Psychology and Ontology : its business is to emphasize those facts of mind which support the teleological view, and which help us to define the ideal. It has a negative function, inasmuch as it will exclude, as false, certain principles of individual, social, and political action that are frequently met with ; it has a positive function, inasmuch as it shows that in every situation there is a demand made upon us, there and then, to do our best.
Note. It must be observed that, for the social side of conduct, important practical guidance may be derived by the ethical writer ' and ' practical reformer/ not only from the best insight of his own time, but by considering the expansion of the conception of Right which takes place with the maturing of social life in the course of history. There can be no doubt that ideas of the concrete forms of duty have been modified in the course of time, according to the varying requirements of social life and conditions; and a study of this process of growth must be of value for understanding what forms of social conduct are appropriate to the present conditions. On this view the question is purely sociological, not biological; we start with individuals living in the presence of their fellows; individuals who have the capacity for sympathetic insight into the social consequences of their conduct, the capacity for sympathy which is based on the ability to represent to one's self the life and feelings of another, and who are capable of valuing such social consequences as one form of the standard. Within such a moral world we may have an intelligible evolution of ideas of Duty and Right.
This study, however, would belong essentially to practical or applied Ethics. Valuable material for it exists in many sociological and ethical writings.
III. I now proceed to indicate the facts which support the teleological view that there is an ultimate Ideal of human life, which justifies us in attaching an ethical value to all forms of human activity (whether outward conduct or inner movement of intellect and feeling).
We have seen that in addition to the function of our personality which appears in knowledge, in judgments as to the whether or not of a thing's existence, or the how of its existence, that is, in judgments depending on a standard of Truth, we also form judgments depending on a standard of Value. Such judgments of value fall into two classes, which may be distinguished by saying that one class relates to the value of things as determined by characteristic relations that are in no sense the product of will. These are the aesthetic judgments, depending on a standard of Beauty. The other class relates to events that are much more within our own control, our conduct and character as conscious beings. These are the ethical judgments, depending on a standard of Right, that is, on a meaning or purpose in our lives. These judgments of Value, in both kinds, seem to be quite distinct from the intellectual judgments referred to above, which are judgments of fact, while the others are upon fact ; but we must look more closely still at their difference and connection.
It is by means of these factual judgments that individual minds attain to knowledge; that is, each recognizes or reproduces ideally (in his own consciousness) what really exists. The ideal goal of all attempts at knowledge is to attain to an understanding or comprehension of Reality as a whole, of all kinds of existence regarded as belonging together; whereas the special sciences deal only with particular kinds of existence, regarded in separation. Thus, Physics deals with the laws and modes of matter in motion; Biology (and Physiology), with the general facts and special functions of living beings; Psychology, with the facts and functions of consciousness. Metaphysics attempts to comprehend the different kinds of existence together; it has not to 'deal with Reality as a whole' in the sense that it ignores all the results of the special sciences, but in the sense that it seeks to combine these results, removing their limitations and doing justice to each.
Now this idea of a completely unified knowledge is itself a standard of Value, by which we test those attempts at scientific knowledge to which men have hitherto attained. It is an ideal of consistency, in this sense: the more consistently we are able to coordinate the results of the sciences with one another, the more nearly we believe ourselves to have approached to a knowledge of the universe as a whole, of Reality, in all its kinds, considered as one whole ; in other words, the more nearly we have approached to a completely unified knowledge. This ideal thus constitutes a standard of Truth in general, in distinction from the more or less particular or limited truths (factual judgments, hypotheses, and theories) with which we deal in science and common life. It is one aspect of Value, which may be called the logical, and is coordinate with the ethical and aesthetic aspects.
The motive which prompts us to seek for standards of Value in these three aspects, is experienced by us under the form of Feeling. Hence the standard, when we find it, is felt by us as an obligatory ideal: in Thought, an ideal of Truth; in Conduct and Character, of Goodness; in (creative) Art, of Beauty. The feeling for Value as Truth, which is the mainspring of all attempts at science and philosophy, authenticates itself: its authority needs no defense. To ignore it, or explain it away, would be to lapse into universal skepticism; and this as we might with Kant appeal to history to show is not a possible permanent attitude of the human mind. Men have rested in such a result for a while, but never for long. We may take it for granted that the human race will ever persist in the attempt to organize into one, and to make intelligible, all branches of their knowledge. Now in this attempt we must be guided by the significance we attach to the feeling for Value in its ethical and aesthetic aspects ; and here the vital question is: Why may we not attach to them as much significance and authority as must be attached to the feeling for Value as Truth? Can we ignore or explain away the feeling for Value in two of its aspects, while we regard the third (Value as Truth) as supreme? I proceed to indicate two ways in one or other of which this question must be answered: the view of ontological Idealism, and that opposite view which may be called Naturalism or Materialism.
Naturalism maintains that wholly unconscious and unspiritual realities e.g., the 'Unknowable/ 'Unconscious Will,' 'Unconscious Intellect,' the 'Atom and Void,' etc., though by no means necessarily the undefinable 'matter' of ordinary phraseology, are the most fundamental realities in the Universe; our ideals of Value are of no more significance for the nature of the Whole are no less the product of blind struggles with circumstance than is the fact that we are bipeds. The weakness of this theory, from the purely rational point of view, becomes apparent when we consider the way in which the Ideal of Value, as a fact of conscious experience, is 'explained.' Nature, in the lower or narrower sense in which the term is used to denote all that happens in the known world except the conscious activities of human beings, is hypostatized, treated as a Ding-an-sich or self-existent thing, and then man's conscious life is explained as its 'product,' as evolved or developed 'from' it, etc., according to the current phraseology. But what is not explained is the fact that the mind of man has persisted, and seemingly always will persist, in the attempt to think consistently about Reality and to make it rational and intelligible. Materialism itself, like every science and every philosophy, does homage to this tendency, and practically acknowledges its Ideal as supreme; and the problem, What is its significance? Whence comes it? presses for solution. It is curious that neither evolutionists nor associationists have endeavored to 'explain' how it is inevitably, 'by nature,' all men endeavor to understand and comprehend things for the sake of understanding them. It would seem that a really consistent Naturalism must be tantamount to Skepticism.
It is most reasonable to regard the three aspects of the Ideal of Value as coordinate, so that whatever significance is attached to one of them may be claimed for the others also.
IV. An equal significance for the three aspects is claimed by the hypothesis to which - I have referred as Idealism. I regard the group of writers referred to above as not justified in arrogating to themselves the sole right to distinguish their ontological theory or method by this title. It would be less misleading to call that method ' Intellectualism,' since it proceeds by laying what is surely a one-sided emphasis on the intellectual side of our mental life; it refuses to regard the Ideals of Goodness and Beauty as having any worth unless they can be shown to be 'rational,' as the phrase is: i.e., unless they can be expressed in purely intellectual terms, reduced to cases of the cognitive process or states of thought.' This is to subordinate all else to certain quite imaginary demands of the intellectual Ideal. In reality Truth is more modest. I proceed to set forth the complete Idealistic view, and conclude by indicating a fundamental difficulty in it; a difficulty, however, which does not appear to be fatal.
(a) I begin with the most general possible statement of the position. According to Idealism, the facts are explained if there exists a Universal Being, 'universal,' because in vitally necessary relation to each subjective human consciousness and to the objective system of things, who is the fullest realization of all to which these strivings and aspirations of ours may be dimly discerned to tend. Idealism finds in the conscious and self-conscious life with its ideal ends, the True, the Beautiful, the Good, a key to the nature of the whole, the Absolute. It holds that "we must be in earnest with the unity of the world, but must not forget that, regarded as a system of forces, the world possesses no such unity. It acquires it only when regarded in the light of an End of absolute value or worth, which is realized or attained in it; and such an End-in-itself we find only in the self-conscious life of man, in the world of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, which he builds up for himself and of which he constitutes himself a citizen."
Thus, in the first place, Idealism recognizes that the deepest reality in the universe is a Conscious Activity not different in kind from our own consciousness, in which it manifests itself most fully. The problem of Ontology then becomes, to show how it is concealed and revealed in varying degrees in the various forms of natural activity known to the sciences.
This, however, is only a preliminary statement.
(b) The most fruitful form of this view is, I think, that which finds in Feeling the most fundamental medium of connection and communication between the individual and the universal consciousness, and which therefore regards the Absolute not merely as an Intelligent Will' or thinking activity, but as containing within it a principle of Feeling. One aspect of its very essence thus wells up in us and is experienced by us in the form of our Ideals of Value, the " Primary Sentiments," as Dr. Martineau calls them, of Wonder, Admiration, Reverence, the impulses to seek for and realize Truth, Goodness, Love. Much of the mystery and contradiction that Hegel seemed to find in "Thought" becomes, I think, perfectly intelligible when applied to Feeling. I can see nothing contradictory in the gradual emergence of a universal principle of Feeling in and through a 'finite centre' of Feeling (the individual consciousness), which is thus aufgehoben without losing its individuality.
It will be evident that this rests on the supposition that Feeling is not merely an aspect,' attribute,' 'tone,' etc., of presentations, sensations, or whatever the cognitive elements may be called. Feeling I regard as an ontological fact, its momentary stirring and transient ebullitions being manifestations of a subjective store. I have assumed throughout that purposive action means nothing more or less than feeling prompted action, where the end or purpose is the presentation or system of ideas that calls forth and conditions the feeling. It is true that it behooves us to be cautious in dealing with this question of the 'place of feeling in mental life.' Dr. J. Ward has most justly remarked that " there is, perhaps, no question that runs us further into the dim recesses of metaphysics than this one of the connection of feeling and movement." Still, before a theory can be true or false, it must be sufficiently clear, distinct, and consistent to be intelligible; and it may be questioned whether any other account of the active side of our consciousness any other than that which regards activity as always first prompted by feeling, and sustained in response to movements of feeling is intelligible. The whole trend of modern Psychology is distinctly towards such a conclusion; and if it is true 'for Psychology,' it is true for the reality of Life.
(c) The primary sentiments thus constitute a threefold striving in our nature: a striving after what, from the individual view-point, is not yet realized but may be so, after what is potentially ours. From the universal viewpoint, these Feelings, as they tend to become supreme, constitute a self- surrender, as it were, to that which is eternally real, to that of which it may be said, as of Aristotle's unmoved Mover, the apparent inconsistency between the two statements will be further discussed immediately.
Idealism is here in conflict with a dominant tendency of the present time, which is, to dwell on such ideals almost to the verge of sentimentality, and yet deny to them any ontological significance. Nevertheless, "amid all the sickly talk about 'ideals' which has become the commonplace of our age, it is well to remember that so long as they are a mere self-painting of the yearning spirit, and not its personal surrender to immediate communion with Infinite Perfection, they have no more solidity or steadiness than the floating air-bubbles glittering in the sunshine and broken by the passing wind. You do not so much as touch the threshold of religion [Idealism] so long as you are detained by the phantoms of your thought; the very gate of entrance to it, the moment of new birth, is the discovery that your gleaming ideal is the everlasting Real; no transient brush of a fancied angel's wing, but the abiding presence and persuasion of the Soul of souls." (James Martineau.)
Thus the essence of the Idealist view is, that what for us, as individuals, is not yet realized but may be so, is for the Absolute eternally real ; in the consciousness of the Absolute is eternally realized the goal to which our felt Ideals would direct us. Now, herein is necessarily involved nothing less than this: A process in time cannot be the ultimate and most fundamental fact in the universe. In so far as the Absolute is such a process, or has a history, its essential nature is not manifest. This, again, is only to say in other words that every consistent Idealism must regard the world as fundamentally rational, righteous, and perfect.
On the other hand, it is equally essential firmly to keep hold on the reality of the time-processes of growth and change in individual lives, for which the Ideal may be more or less fully realized. For " in all real growth it is implied that though the less perfect is destined to give place to the more perfect, the less perfect exists in its own time and place no less than the more perfect to which it leads up." Hence come the irrationality and unrighteousness which enter into actual life. To deny this would be to deny the very motive for which Idealism exists, the very one which gives it all its significance ; for the experience of the threefold epw? or longing, as felt in individual centers of life, is the main motive to the construction of an idealistic theory of things. Hence these finite centers of life must have a reality of their own, and not be mere acci- dents or incidents of a universal Life. It is not enough to hold, with Parmenides and Spinoza, that -
"The One remains, the many change and pass; Heaven's light forever shines, Earth's shadows fly; Life, like a dome of many-colored glass, Stains the white radiance of Eternity, Until Death tramples it to fragments"
Such a view may be found satisfactory if everything is subordinated to the (supposed) demands of the purely intellectual ideal; but history shows that an intellectualism of this kind inevitably ends by passing over into Naturalism. The system of Spinoza is already there; the systems of Aristotle and of Hegel reached the same result in the hands of certain of their followers.
Another consideration confirms our conclusion. If a process in time is the most fundamental fact in the universe, the very idea of a Final Cause or world-aim would have to be rejected as a figment of the imagination. To speak of a Final Cause implies that the ultimate and most reasonable explanation of existence must be sought, not in a 'First Cause' or state out of which things emerge, but in a goal towards which they move, a Telos? or End regarded as the explanatory cause of the whole development. Hence, on the one side, unless the movement the process of change is real, there is nothing to explain, and it would be meaningless to speak of a Final Cause; on the other side, unless the Telos? in all its fullness is an abiding reality through the process, it is no explanation ; it would have to be thought of as another process added on to the former.
(d) It will be seen that we have come upon the problem, In what sense is Time a reality ? It must be observed that by Time is not meant abstract or 'empty' Time, Time unfilled by any kind of events, Time without any kind of content. This is an abstraction which it is perfectly useless to talk about, even if it were intelligible, which is doubtful. Time is only experienced by us in the form of a succession of changing events, and for our experience it can mean nothing else; I therefore regard it as accepted that the conception of Time is indistinguishable from that of Change or Becoming (these terms being used as synonymous), that Time as conceived is simply the general schema or form of Change.
The conclusion to which Idealism points is in brief this: Time or Change is neither an absolute reality nor an absolute unreality; notwithstanding that each of these views has been maintained in an extreme form by thinkers in ancient and modern times, and in the Eastern and Western worlds. They are not mutually exclusive alternatives, one or the other of which must be true; nor can we form an absolute antithesis between temporal and super-temporal existence. There must be some via media between them, which makes it possible to conceive of Reality as a multiplicity of individual, finite, growing lives, immanent in a universal and eternally complete Life.
To resume: Ethics, in the proper sense, as dealing with the ultimate Ideal of human life, is a part of Ontology. It has a twofold problem, corresponding to the two meanings of the ambiguous assertion that it ' has to show what the supreme End of human existence is When we ask, What is the End? we may be asking either: (1) How are we to define the End? or (2) What do we mean by saying that this is the End? And in a penetrating analysis of the sense in which we can say there is an End, i.e., of the sense in which reality can be predicated of it, we are compelled to raise the deepest problems of Ontology. It is not enough for Ethics to try to define the End, without showing us the exact sense in which we can affirm its reality. The Ethics of Conduct, on the other hand, is not a coherent science, but a body of doctrines bearing on practice; it assumes the End, and looks to Sociology and Psychology, i.e., to the facts of social morality (actual and historical) and the facts of the individual life, for guidance in realizing the End.
Note. It is idle to maintain that in the present state of our knowledge we have anything more than dark hints towards a solution of the problem referred to above, the reality of Time. Evidently it is only another form of the question, How is it that an individual can be immanent in, and share in, a Universal Life, and yet have a distinct Selfhood of his own? If we could explain this, we should be explaining ' the relation of Ought and Is,' since what ought to be made real by and for the individual life is real for the Universal Life. It is, again, only to ask in other words for a complete interpretation of Evolution; for Evolution is a process in Time.
The Idealist view of Evolution has already been implied. It was first distinctly formulated by Aristotle. It may be expressed in Tyndall's words (from the famous address to the British Association): if we are to understand what Evolution really is, "we must radically revise our notions of matter" and discern in it "the promise and potency of every form of life." If matter has 'evolved' or given birth to life, consciousness, rationality, freedom, morality, we may not think that these are anything less than they seem, but that matter is something far more than it seems. By this is meant that if dead matter (or what appears to be such) passes 'naturally' into organic life, it is because the former already implicitly contains the capacity for organizing itself ; if organic life passes into fully conscious life, it is because organic life (together with the inorganic out of which.it emerged) implicitly contains the principle through which consciousness arises; and so on. In brief: whatever has been evolved must originally have been involved.
If this is true, then we are able to regard the process of Evolution as a gradual emergence, a gradual bringing to light, of what the 'matter and energy' of Nature really are; and we explain what Nature is (or, which is the same thing, what Evolution is) by looking, not to its beginning, but to its End. In this way we are able to regard physical or non-human Nature as the manifestation of a deeper cosmic process, which has a vital relation to human ideal aims of Truth, Goodness, Beauty. But, as before, it must be observed that this is not to attain to a full explanation, but only to begin to see the possibility of one.