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The Transom

A great many thanks to The President and Founder at

The Illimitable Ocean of Inexplicability

for his divination of the following publication. Thanks also to The Internet Archive for making this text available. It was the fact that this document contained the term "infinitely remote" that it materialized in search results for the same. What follows is a very interesting and fun (if dry) read.

Posted here for posterity: Enjoy!

460 International Journal of Ethics. 


When a philosopher boasts that he has riddled with con- 
tradictions the scientific, moral and religious experiences of 
mankind, one is forced to ask whether he has not after all been 
firing at dummies. The principle of contradiction is doubtless 
a valiant weapon; but sometimes "the engineer is hoist with 
his own petard." Before we believe that science is vitiated 
by error to an unknown degree, that morality is at root hypo- 
crisy, and that religion "inevitably contains and rests upon an 
element of 'make-believe,' " we must be assured that the meta- 
physician is dealing with human experience and not with fig- 
ments of his own elaboration. 

In criticizing Mr. Taylor's book* I propose to ask two ques- 
tions. I shall inquire how far on the one hand his theory gives 
an adequate account of experience, and on the other how far 
it is consistent with itself. If at any time I appear dogmatic 
I ask indulgence. I have endeavored to attain clearness at all 
costs. Sitting on the hedge suggests discomfort ; and although 
a sprinkling of saving clauses appears more modest and is 
perhaps more judicious, yet it tends to obscure the question at 
issue. And this would be most undesirable. We cannot af- 
ford to treat the problem of conduct like the Scottish minister 
who exhorted his brethren to look certain difficulties in the 
face and pass on : this question has got to be faced and an- 

I propose first of all to give a short account of Mr. Taylor's 
main line of argument. This is the more desirable inasmuch 
as his essay contains much matter, interesting perhaps and 
suggestive, but liable, like pianos and kitchen-ranges in a 
mobile column, to distract attention and encumber movement. 

After some general remarks on the nature of metaphysical 
truth and scientific explanation, Mr. Taylor proceeds to attack 
the school of moral philosophy associated with the name of 
T. H. Green. His aim is to expose the fundamental fallacy in 
every system of ethics, which regards it as a teleological sci- 
ence in distinction from an empirical investigation. He as- 
sails Green's contention that a theory of morals should be pre- 
ceded by a metaphysical analysis of the nature of the self, 
maintaining that the psychologist is competent to deal with 
all the facts of morality. Finally he holds that the notion of 
an eternal self-conscious principle is absurd, and could in no 
case be of any value for the solution of the problem of con- 

The ground being so far cleared, the roots of Ethics are 
•discovered in the moral sentiments of mankind. Theories 
about motives and obligation, conscience and freedom are rank 
with popular confusions and fallacious metaphysics. In the 
words of Paul Somerset "Right and Wrong are but figments 
and the shadow of a word; but for all that, there are certain 
things that I cannot do and there are certain others that I will 
not stand." It is in the feelings or emotions of approval or 
disapproval, with which men review past or anticipate future 
actions, that the moralist must find the foundations of his sci- 
ence. Beginning here the student of ethics will find his 
groundwork almost completed. For the sentiments awakened 
by different kinds of action are already embodied in the judg- 
ments of the market-place, the pulpit, the club and the statute- 
book. With these as his base the moralist may proceed to 
give an historical account of the development of ethical feel- 
ings and ideas; or else attempt to discover the main principle 
or principles presupposed in the fluid masses of popular opin- 
ion, and by their help to construct a consistent moral ideal. 
After a short survey of the evolution of the conceptions of 
obligation and responsibility, conscience and moral personality, 
Mr. Taylor attacks the main problem of his essay. 


At the outset he discovers an irreconcilable dualism per- 
meating moral practice and moral theory alike. For men ap- 
prove of two principles of conduct that are both ultimate and 
incompatible with one another, — self-assertion and social ser- 
vice. Even in the biological world this radical divergence 
may be traced. The evolution of the species demands at once 
the instincts of self-preservation and self-sacrifice. There, as 

462 International Journal of Ethics. 

in the moral world, the two principles no doubt do not conflict 
as a rule; but there are cases where self-devotion is required 
and no compensation allowed. 

Many have attempted to bring one of these principles under 
the other ; but this appears impossible. Altruism will not cover 
all the facts. For as Shakespeare says, "Self-love is not so 
vile a sin as self-neglecting." A life devoted to social service 
appears self-contradictory; and is not wholly approved by the 
sentiments of mankind. Neglect of aesthetic and intellectual 
self-culture, abnegation of the joys meted to man by a parsi- 
monious nature, a life of drudgery for the moral or spiritual 
benefit of others, does not always excite the admiration which 
is due to complete virtue; and on what ground of reason can 
we claim that we ought to secure for others what we do not 
think worth securing for ourselves? Nor can egoism assume 
the sole title to the throne. Consistent pursuit of personal sat- 
isfaction, sincere cultivation of science or art, thorough devo- 
tion to full and harmonious self-development, must involve a 
man in actions towards others which would call forth the in- 
dignation of society, if not the severity of the law. 

Neither egoism nor altruism meet with the full approval of 
mankind ; and yet there is no recognized principle upon which 
decisions can be based when these conflict. A compromise is 
necessary : for no man can succeed in serving with equal devo- 
tion two masters, himself and his fellows. We are only pre- 
vented by the arbitrary dictates of established usage from 
"oscillating perpetually between the two equally ultimate and 
quite irreconcilable poles" of self-assertion and self-surrender. 
This radical flaw in morality becomes clearer, if we ask the 
question, whether either type of moral ideal can be pursued 
without some departure from that singleness of purpose which 
is inherent in the nature of every true ideal. The answer may 
be best summed up in the words of the author : "If your object 
is self-culture, you have to choose between self-mutilation in 
one direction for the sake of development in another, and mere 
superficial dilettanteism, and neither really answers to your 
original ideal. If your object is social amelioration you can 
only procure it at the expense of inflicting the very wounds, 

"The Problem of Conduct;" A Criticism. 463 

which you regard it as your mission to heal" (p. 278). For 
"herein lies the truly laughable paradox of benevolence; ben- 
evolence has its spring in our pity for the unfit and incapaci- 
tated, yet the moment you organize it on such lines as to pre- 
vent it becoming a social pest, it stands revealed as a potent 
agent in the work of their extermination" (p. 2^2). In short 
there is "a hidden root of insincerity and hypocrisy beneath all 
morality" (p. 243). 

This theory is reinforced by a review of moral progress. 
On metaphysical grounds Mr. Taylor holds that all progress 
is illusory. However far the human race may appear to go, 
the advance cannot be real from the point of view of meta- 
physics; ex nihilo nihil Hi; every change has its sufficient 
cause in the totality of its conditions; and therefore, if we 
could "see life steadily and see it whole," we should find that 
"the complete reality after the change is identical with the com- 
plete reality before it" (p. 284). Progress in one quarter only 
implies retrogression in another ; human endeavor with its vic- 
tories and its failures means no more than that the Absolute 
is shuffling the cards. 

These abstract considerations are supported by some reflec- 
tions upon the price that has to be paid for civilization, and 
the impossibility of finding any real satisfaction in the moral 
life. Literary, artistic and scientific culture may be enjoyed 
by a few; but it must be bought at the price of an industrial 
organization, which condemns multitudes to joyless toil and 
many to ever increasing penury and distress. Along with the 
cruelty and turbulence of our forefathers civilization threatens 
to rob us of their courage, their self-reliance, their promptitude 
in action. Yet "the Koran or the sword" is still our war cry. 
We are really exterminating the peoples whom we are pleased 
to think we are civilizing, in order to prepare the way for the 
creation of a race that is to share our ideals. "Sometimes the 
extermination is effected by Maxim guns, sometimes by the 
maxims of the missionary and the school-master" (p. 366). 
After all we believe that might is right. 

Finally the goal of ethics is beset with an insoluble anti- 
nomy. If we are not doomed to irremediable failure, the end 

464 Internationai Journal of Ethics. 

must be something that can be won and enjoyed within the 
limits of the individual's present life. But a moral end must in 
its very nature be incapable of attainment. An end worth 
striving for must be "infinite and therefore infinitely remote" 
(p. 401). And thus we seem to be damned from our cradles 
to internal contradiction. The moral life is a kingdom divided 
against itself. 

If then the practical life is to be saved at all it must be by 
falling back upon religion. In Mr. Taylor's opinion the es- 
sence of religious experience consists in a union of feelings of 
deep humility and extreme exaltation, of humility, as we con- 
template the infinite distance that separates us from the ideal, 
of exaltation, when we reflect that we are "as functions of the 
perfect universe already perfect." Before God the good and 
the bad are alike guilty. The universe demands for its perfec- 
tion vessels of dishonor as well as vessels of honor. God is 
"a consuming fire" and "a night in which all cows are black." 
But it is our misfortune that we cannot enjoy these elevating 
conceptions without hypocrisy. We must strive to be good; 
for, though the wicked man may be in the eyes of religion 
already perfect, he does not and cannot, alas ! know himself to 
be so. But goodness, as we have seen, is unattainable ; and efifort 
is only an illusion. Hence "all religion inevitably contains and 
rests upon an element of 'make-believe' " (p. 489). Thus it 
appears that the practical life is throughout "based upon more 
or less subtly disguised compromise" (p. 488), and is there- 
fore self-contradictory and absurd ; and it only remains for the 
metaphysician to transcend both morality and religion, and in 
the rare atmosphere of ultimate truth to recognize the "final 
identity of 'God' and 'Devil' " (p. 492). 

Such is a brief outline of Mr. Taylor's argument, presented 
largely in his own words, and, when that is not the case, I hope 
with scrupulous fidelity to his thought. And I think it may be 
at once said that no one will be allured into acceptance of his 
conclusions by their attractiveness. A theory which makes non- 
sense of life could only claim our assent by demonstrating that 
its presuppositions are inevitable and its reasoning sound. Some 
may find it possible to live and work even though they fear that 

"The Problem of Conduct;" A Criticism. 465 

there is and must ever be an internecine war between practice 
and speculation. But not even "the vulgar" share with the 
metaphysician the happy facility of saying yes and no at the 
same moment, of endeavoring to write a book on the problem 
of conduct to prove that problem and endeavor alike are illu- 
sory, of rejecting human science as false "to an unknown de- 
gree of error," in favor of a "knowledge about the ultimate 
constitution of things," which is after all merely "formal." 
Before we declare that reason is bankrupt, we must make our- 
selves quite sure that the accounts are stated correctly. 

And it is the bankruptcy of reason that Mr. Taylor pro- 
claims. He speaks no doubt as though the metaphysician has 
access to a sphere of truth closed to the practical and religious 
man; but his claim is mere words. His contention that there 
is a radical flaw in the practical life is suicidal. For the dis- 
tinction between practical and speculative aspects is, as he 
acknowledges, merely logical (p. 470). Our thoughts are 
always directed to the attainment of an ideal goal ; our actions 
are our actions only because they are impregnated with 
thought. But instead of examining rigorously this funda- 
mental interconnection of thinking and striving, Mr. Taylor 
would summarily dispone of conation in a few paragraphs in 
the middle of his essay; so that, despite his boast that the 
panoply of psychology renders his argument invulnerable, he 
appears to have forgotten his breastplate. 

To consider this question in detail — Mr. Taylor holds that 
all the phenomena of mental activity or effort, described by the 
term "conation," are analyzable into elements of cognition and 
feeling. He says, "If 'conation' is something psychical, it 
-will be identical with a peculiar combination of kinsesthetic 
sensations with varying emotional tension; if it is something 
more than this, it is apparently identical with muscular con- 
traction, and is thus purely physiological" (p. 172). For an 
analysis of successful conation reveals the following facts only. 
The pleasantly or painfully toned anticipation of a certain ex- 
perience happens to be followed by a series of complex sensa- 
tions of sight, pressure, contact and the like, the last term issu- 
ing in the expected experience. "Throughout the series the 
Vol. XII.— No. 4. 31 

466 International Journal of Ethics. 

emotional tension arising from the conflict between the feeHngs 
awakened by the anticipation and those awakened by its con- 
tinuance in the merely 'ideal' form is constantly changing" 
(p. 171), until at last it becomes zero as the anticipated pleas- 
ure is actually enjoyed. 

In a theory which knows only of cognition and feeling the 
phrase "emotional tension" seems out of place, and therefore 
challenges our scrutiny. Emotional tension arises, we are told, 
"from the contrast between the pleasure of the anticipation 
and the unpleasantness of its non-realization" (p. 173). Now 
as Mr. Taylor reminds us elsewhere a pleasure or pain that is 
not felt is a psychological monstrosity (p. 114). Hence he 
must mean that two ideas are present to consciousness at 
once, the one attended by pleasure, the other by pain ; and that 
these two quarrelsome retainers fall to fighting with each other, 
and thus produce the necessary emotional tension. This of 
course is outrageous "symbolism," and contradicted by what 
Mr. Taylor says in another place. "It should never be for- 
gotten," he says, "that in speaking of the pleasurable or pain- 
ful character of a particular sensation or idea [in distinction 
from the whole content of consciousness] we are indulging in 
exactly the same abstracting process as when we describe an 
explosion as due to the lighting of the fuse" (p. 121). But if 
we remember this, and insist that emotional tone never belongs 
to a single sensation or idea, but to the whole content of con- 
sciousness only, what are we to make of the "emotional ten- 
sion" which is so prominent a feature in conative processes? 
We cannot say that the whole content of consciousness is at one 
and the same time both pleasantly and painfully toned ; but, as 
this is impossible, where are we to find the contrast or conflict 
of pleasure and pain ? 

This reasoning is no doubt of the nature of an argumentum 
ad hominem; but wherever an attempt is made to get rid of 
conation it will be found to return in disguise. If then emo- 
tional tension is cut out of Mr. Taylor's account, nothing is left 
save a series of kinsesthetic sensations. But these alone afford 
no ground for the distinction of reflex from volitional actions. 
I take snuff in the pleasant expectation of sneezing. The action 

"The Problem of Conduct;" A Criticism. 467 

is followed in due course by the desired effect over which I 
have no control. I rise to propose a toast anticipating with 
pleasure the resumption of my seat; but the intervening five 
minutes are filled with feelings of intense effort. In each case 
I have expectations succeeded by various sensations; but in 
the latter the sense of endeavor is great, in the former it is, if 
it can be said to exist at all, a negligible quantity. 

And moreover, how can a theory which identifies conation 
with kinaesthetic sensations deal with the case of a man who 
is trying to understand a book or work out an idea, as we say, 
in his head? Nowhere is the sense of effort stronger; but 
where are the sensations of sight, pressure, contact and the 
like? And if Mr. Taylor, following certain eminent authori- 
ties, should assert that here the contraction of the eyebrows, 
the setting of the teeth, and the like, give the requisite sensa- 
tions we would ask in return, how it is possible to experience 
these sensations and yet not try to understand anything at all, 
and vice versa. 

But in truth those who extrude conation from psychology 
remind one of the proverb of not seeing the wood for the trees. 
In the greater part of our waking life we are pursuing ends, 
trying to realize ideas, be they far-reaching or trifling, with 
varying effort and success. As Mr. Taylor insists, all truly 
human conduct is "telic" or purposive (p. 188), determined by 
the more or less definite anticipation of an end or result. But 
does not this imply an active principle "which constitutes self- 
hood, without which there would be no self and strictly speak- 
ing no humanity at all ?" Discard activity, attention, endeavor, 
and you withdraw the rivets without which life would never be 
other than a chaotic manifold of sensations and feelings. The 
psychologist must choose one of two courses; either he must 
recognize activity — the fact that we more or less systematically 
direct the focus of consciousness, so to speak, to this or that 
part of the total field, — or else he must admit that ideas some- 
how hold together "like the bits of stick and sand with which 
the young caddis covers its nakedness." If he dislikes the 
latter alternative, he must acknowledge conation. Perhaps the 
term "conation" is not quite appropriate for the element I wish 

468 International Journal of Ethics. 

to indicate. It suggests effort, which is a special form of ac- 
tivity, and presupposes a felt obstacle that must be overcome. 
In the same way the popular use of the term "attention" implies 
a conscious attempt to fix an idea or bring some part of the 
content of consciousness more fully into view. But even where 
there is no sense of effort, where introspection cannot dis- 
cover anything which may be confused with kinsesthetic sensa- 
tions, emotional tension and what not, we still seem justified in 
insisting upon the activity of the mind. In reverie we keep 
our ideas in the channel that pleases us, we select this aspect 
and reject that, although we have no such experience of strain 
as we suffer when we determine to listen to a very dull ser- 
mon. If it is true that Mozart composed and Scott wrote with- 
out effort, it is absurd to think of them merely as passive ob- 
servers of their ideas. Even observation means activity. 

But Mr. Taylor will have nothing to do with the concept 
of mental activity. Since he deals with human conduct upon 
the platform of popular opinion and natural science, he 
demands that ethics shall use only the categories of physics 
and chemistry, although he is quite ready upon occasion to 
employ the higher conceptions of teleology. Such confusion 
seems inevitable if on^ determines to base morals upon the un- 
criticized sentiments of mankind, without any preliminary in- 
vestigation, whether called metaphysical or not, into the point 
of view ironi which ethical conduct ought to be regarded. 
Mr. Taylor regards the ideas of activity and free cause as 
worthless. For, he tells us, science requires a concept of causal 
relation which can be applied indiscriminately to the changes 
in the organic and the inorganic world. The organic world 
apparently includes both the physiological and psychological 
aspects of life. Otherwise why should ethics not employ such 
a concept as that of a free cause ? But it is difficult to gratify 
the desire for a conception of causality that shall be equally ap- 
plicable to physical and psychical changes. For however 
closely cerebral and mental processes are intertwined, it must 
be admitted that there is no such continuity between them as is 
found in physical and chemical changes. There is no common 
element. In the former the amount of energy — ^actual or po- 

"The Problem of Conduct,-" A Criticism. 469 

tential — remains constant; in the latter the atomic weights 
remain the same. But where is the identical element in the 
idea of lighting my pipe and the nervous and muscular move- 
ments necessary to its realization? A natural science may 
believe that it has found a true cause when it has discovered the 
definite conditions under which a given change will regularly 
occur, and without which it will not take place. Natural 
philosophy has no doubt made great advances because it has 
concentrated its attention upon the discovery of "unconditional 
antecedents," without troubling about the perhaps insoluble 
question, how physical changes do occur. But until physicists 
have made a real conquest over psychical life, instead of blus- 
tering about it in inappropriate metaphors drawn from physics, 
electricity or chemistry, they have no right to command 
psychologists, as Mr. Taylor does, to substitute for "force" 
some such phrase as "rate of change of momentum" (p. 20), 
or denote by energy only what "can be calculated in terms of 
mass and velocity." Those who hold that we have no direct 
experience of activity should attempt to explain how it is that 
children and savages inform all objects with it, and only learn 
by long experience that things are not persons. Activity, 
force, energy are so far from being the merely symbolic ex- 
pressions of "spiritualist philosophers" and scientific obscurant- 
ists that they are among the most elementary facts of the expe- 
rience of a child. 

Having rejected activity, Mr. Taylor naturally relapses from 
time to time into psychological atomism. On the one hand, 
it is true, he recognizes Hume's failure to destroy personal 
identity, and holds that "the self," to which the contents of 
all my adult experiences, in so far as they are attended to at all, 
are related as "its" experiences, cannot possibly be identified 
with any one in the series of experiences, nor yet with the mere 
succession considered simply as a succession of atomic psych- 
ical events" (p. 71). But on the other hand, when discussing 
the nature of the self, he says, "in the empirically ascertained 
fact that the organic sensations and the accompanying feeling- 
tone are relatively stable within long periods of life, we have 
all that is necessary for the growth of a distinction between 

470 International Journal of Ethics. 

the permanent self and its incessantly changing sensations and 
ideas" (p. 73). I freely admit that relatively stable organic 
sensations and generally speaking a relatively stable environ- 
ment are essential to personal identity, so far as we know it. 
In wonderland Alice might well exclaim "Who in the world 
am I?" But are relatively permanent organic sensations all 
that is necessary? To what are they relatively permanent? 
To the self? But the self is their product. Surely here the 
admitted absurdity is committed of identifying the self with 
certain of its experiences. The self is reduced to an aggregate 
of sensations which have been strong enough to force them- 
selves into the forefront of consciousness. For as Mr. Taylor 
says, "Attending to a presentation seems to be no more than 
another name for the fact that that presentation is successful 
in detaching itself from the larger mass of undifferentiated 
consciousness" (p. 11). A fictitious self receives within its 
fictitious embrace those presentations which jostle most vigor- 
ously against it. This is indeed psychological atomism, which, 
however serviceable, is admitted to be "inadequate to the point 
of absurdity" (p. 85). 

We may now take leave of Mr. Taylor's psychology and 
turn to his metaphysics. He holds that it is a "radically mis- 
chievous" error to regard progress as real. On the contrary 
"All progress is an illusion — a phenomenon which disappears 
the moment you cease to concentrate your attention on some 
one subordinate part of the whole world of facts to the neglect 
of all the rest" (p. 281). What from our point of view is 
sheer loss and retrogression would, if our outlook upon the 
world were from a different quarter, appear as pure gain and 
progress. "In the universe as a whole there is neither gain 
nor loss but simply compensation" (p. 283). 

I should like in passing to protest against this notion of com- 
pensation. It may be applicable to changes in a material sys- 
tem, and to whatever can be adequately translated into terms 
of money, but to say that the extinction of a human soul can be 
balanced in the account of the universe seems to me nonsense. 
If a life rich in experience and character is snuflfed out, that is 
sheer loss; a loss in no sense made good by the transference 

"The Problem of Conduct;" A Criticism. 471 

of the germ of life to some distant constellation whether on the 
meteoric fragments of an exploded planet or otherwise {of. p. 

But ultimately compensation, according to Mr. Taylor's 
argument, is unintelligible. For it means change and change 
even within the universe is mere appearance. There may be a 
redistribution of energy within a partial system, while the total 
energy of the system and its relation to other systems remains 
the same {cf. p. 314). For from the wider point of view the 
partial system is seen to maintain its identity through its 
changes. But how is it possible "to find a point of view from 
which a whole, standing in no relations to anything outside it- 
self, can be seen to be the same whole though it appears now 
as A now as B" (p. 314) ? The problem is insoluble. Either 
the identity or the changes must be sacrificed. Either we must 
say "there is not really a whole at all, but only disconnected 
and utterly disparate successive states, which are states of noth- 
ing" (p. 314) ; or we must conclude that "change and becom- 
ing" would vanish altogether, if once we could take in the 
whole contents of reality in a single comprehensive experience 


Mr. Taylor accepts* the latter alternative and draws the fit- 
ting corollary that the universe is already perfect; that en- 
deavor is a delusion; right and wrong are but figments and 
the shadow of a word; ignorance no less than knowledge, 
misery no less than happiness, crime, lust, murder no less than 
courage, purity, justice are necessary to the unspeakable bless- 
edness and perfection of the Absolute. 

Perhaps only "the vulgar" would accept this inference as a 
sufficient refutation of a metaphysical theory. I must therefore 
endeavor to examine it on its own ground, although it would 
be presumptions to hope to do more than ofifer a few well-worn 
suggestions upon so important and well recognized a crux as 
change. First then we may note that however absurd it may 
seem to speak of identity in difference, to say that one and the 
same thing passes through successive phases, it is the one kind 
of experience that is always with us. We change ; our environ- 
ment changes ; yet we cannot say with Heracleitus xdvra fiet 

472 International Journal of Ethics. 

ebSiv ixivet. We abide. Otherwise how could we possibly 
experience any series of events? 

Further it seems absurd to attempt to extract the identity or 
the differences from the whole and isolate either of them. For 
a bare identity would be nothing. And differences that were 
not differences of something, that, however disparate in them- 
selves, were not at least united by their presence to one con- 
sciousness, would not be differences at all. Yet certain critics 
offer us a dilemma based upon the assumption that reason 
should be able to segregate these mutually dependent elements. 
They challenge us either to separate the one self from its many 
appearances, as though they were chemical elements, and pro- 
duce them bottled, sealed and labelled; or else to admit that 
personal identity is a fiction practically convenient perhaps but 
intellectually ridiculous. 

In regard to progress, Mr. Taylor holds that either the iden- 
tity of the whole or its changes must be sacrificed ; and which- 
ever operation is chosen, progress is doomed. I cannot see 
that we are bound to grasp at either horn of the dilemma. It 
is as true, or false, to say that identity is an accidental aspect 
of change, as that change is an accidental aspect of identity. 
Both are necessary. No doubt science demands that the com- 
plete reality after the change shall be identical with the com- 
plete reality before it. But science also demands a process. 
Causal explanation would be meaningless if antecedent and 
consequent were telescoped into one timeless existence. Evo- 
lution in the same way compels us to adopt both points of view. 
The embryo is in one sense the full grown animal ; in another 
sense it is not. Or what would be the meaning of the growth ? 

But perhaps it will be said ; "Human experience does indeed 
presuppose identity in difference, the permanent in change ; but 
that fact does not make it a whit more rational ; on the contrary 
it demonstrates its unintelligibility." Now I do not contend 
that human thought has found adequate expression for the 
fullness of its experience. We are compelled to shift our 
ground continually in order to view this or that aspect ; so far 
are we from being able to see life steadily and see it whole. 
But I do hold that it is unphilosophical, first to call one aspect 

"The Problem of Conduct f A Criticism. 473 

reality, and another mere appearance; and secondly to talk of 
human experience as vitiated to the core by self-contradic- 
tory principles in contrast to the pure experience of the Abso- 
lute. Such a philosophy is the counterpart of that mysticism 
which is so absorbed in the beauty and holiness of the unseen 
and eternal as to regard this world as altogether hideous and 
vile. For, if human experience is so radically afHicted with 
discord, hypocrisy and vanity, as Mr. Taylor would lead us to 
suppose, what meaning is conveyed by the phrase "pure ex- 
perience of the Absolute?" To say that it is harmonious and 
comprehensive conveys to me at least nothing. To say that 
it is eternally the same suggests to me only boredom. In a 
word if we may not assume that the constitution of the human 
mind is on the whole truthful and trustworthy, we may as 
well give up philosophy as but an idle amusement not worth 
the trouble. If those conceptions that make experience possible 
are vicious through and through, it is nonsense for men to claim 
that they possess a science of metaphysics which can throw 
light upon the ultimate constitution of things. 

So far I have endeavored to cut the ground away from Mr, 
Taylor's feet by indicating what appear to me as radical defects 
in his psychological and metaphysical presuppositions. I shall 
now attempt to exhibit the fallacy in his argument that morality 
is vitiated by an irreconcilable dualism. He contends that there 
are two ultimate moral principles, egoism and altruism, neither 
of which alone comprehends all the facts, while no higher cate- 
gory can be found to adjust their rival claims. The one prin- 
ciple says "Enrich yourself at all costs; find out and satisfy 
your inclinations; discover your powers and cultivate them 
resolutely though the heavens threaten ruin." The other re- 
plies "Spend yourself in the service of others; do what you 
most dislike; deny all if only you may make others happier." 
"Build for thy soul a lordly pleasure house" sings the one; 
and the other answers harshly "Live laborious days." Such 
are the twin principles of morality, implicit obedience to either 
of which would render life intolerable if not impossible. Com- 
promise is therefore necessary; and compromise is only a fair 
name for hypocrisy. Few will deny that if egoism and altru- 

474 International Journal of Ethics. 

ism, as just presented, are ultimate ethical principles, then 
morality is distracted by an irresoluble contradiction. Altru- 
ism is absurd; for it bids us trample on that pearl of great 
price which we are morally bound to save for others. Egoism 
is absurd; for it bids us fill with a sieve a broken pitcher. And 
no sane man could hope to effect a compromise. But are ego- 
ism and altruism ultimate moral principles? 

Had Mr. Taylor confined his illustrations and arguments to 
proving this, his demonstration of the bankruptcy of morality 
would hardly have appeared plausible. But he has confused 
the self-assertion of Thrasymachus or Callicles with the Hege- 
lian idea of self-realization, and the self-sacrifice or altruism 
of popular text-books with the Platonic conception of social 
justice. A careful reader of "The Problem of Conduct" will 
I think find this accusation fair. Apart from such phrases as 
"The Hegelian egoists of the school of Green" (p. 224), self- 
realization is constantly used as equivalent to self-culture, self- 
assertion and egoism, and justice is made a variant for social 
service, self-sacrifice and altruism. "The highest and most 
perfect expression of the principle of moral altruism" says Mr. 
Taylor, "seems to be found in that law of justice," according 
to which the duties erf each individual are determined by the 
common good of all (p. 202). But how can this principle be 
fairly identified with altruism, unless altruism is regarded as a 
principle, which attempts to decide as to the relative claims of 
self and others, and does not arbitrarily make over every- 
thing to the latter? But if this view is accepted, Mr. Taylor's 
refutation of altruism falls to the ground. 

But perhaps the Platonic ideal of justice is as absurd as 
altruism in the stricter sense of the word. This is Mr. Taylor's 
view. For, as he says, the demands of the common good "may 
prevent a man from doing full justice to his own powers and 
capabilities of intellectual or physical development" (p. 204) ; 
he may be compelled "to mutilate himself" for the sake of his 
family or his country ; the state may hinder him from purchas- 
ing the satisfaction of his tastes and passions with the sweat and 
blood of his fellow-men. Doubtless this is a serious difficulty, if 
egoism is to be accepted as an ultimate moral principle. But why 

"The Problem of Conduct;" A Criticism. 475 

should one make this assumption? Why should one accept 
egoism as the ultimate principle of morality? Who is the 
egoist? Is he the man, whose archetype is the dog in the 
manger ; one who snarls and grumbles over what is worthless ; 
who cultivates himself, yet grows not; a dilettante in art and 
literature, a man of the world ? Shuddering at the thought of 
arrested development and self-mutilation, he sneers at the 
hypocrisy of the vulgar in catchwords borrowed from a philos- 
ophy he has never taken the pains to understand. Can this 
man be one of our moral ideals? We appeal to Mr. Taylor's 
jury, the moral sentiments. The case goes against him by 
default. This egoist dare not challenge the popular verdict. 

But perhaps this species is too tame. The true egoist is one 
who has many and great lusts and is determined to satisfy 
them. He desecrates love and beauty, then tosses them aside; 
his meat and drink are robbery, rape and murder. Have we 
found our ideal? The jury need hardly be asked to consider 
their verdict. 

But, I shall be told, these sketches are unfair. Mr. Taylor 
does not mean by egoist either of these monsters. It may be 
so ; for he does not make his position clear. Many of his illus- 
trations point to one or other of these t)^s; and I confess 1 
cannot see any other issue, if the cleavage between the self and 
others is logically maintained. If a man considers every act 
with his eye concentrated upon his own private satisfaction, 
regardless of the claims of others, his family, his neighbors 
and his country ; if he rejects all ideals the realization of which 
will transcend his own finite experience, then his life will ap- 
proximate to one or other of the extremes that I have indi- 
cated, the direction being determined partly by the vehemence 
of his passions, partly by the opportunities of his environment. 

But Mr. Taylor is too adroit to leave egoism in this sorry 
plight ; he summons the theory of self-realization to aid. The 
strenuous pursuit of an ideal of art or knowledge is introduced 
as an aspect of egoism. But how can the chasm between the 
self and others now be kept open? If a man is sincere in the 
desire that a certain ideal should be realized, is it essential that 
he should privately enjoy the satisfaction of its realization? 

476 International Journal of Ethics. 

Will he not lay down even his life for it? Must he not in any 
case suppress many sides of his nature, leave idle many capaci- 
ties, "mutilate" himself, if he would seek the pearl of great 
price? As Mr. Taylor has shown, his type of egoism, the 
scholar, is in many respects the type of self-sacrifice. He sac- 
rifices money, position, health ; deserts many an enchanting isle 
if only he may get a glimpse of the truth; and how often 
when evening comes he is found but as a little child gathering 
shells upon the sea-shore. 

Thus the fundamental contradiction of morality seems to 
vanish. Altruism is absorbed in social justice; egoism is taken 
up into self-realization. And these do not conflict. For 
Plato's theory of social justice is only the theory of self- real- 
ization, presented in a form such as was suitable when the 
conception of the city-state seemed to represent the richest, 
most harmonious and comprehensive type of society possible. 
In the realization of the common good each individual attains 
his highest development and fullest satisfaction. 

But, I shall be told, even if it is inaccurate to describe mo- 
rality as a thinly disguised hypocrisy, yet satisfaction can never 
be expected from it, since the moral ideal must be "infinite and 
therefore infinitely remote" (p. 401). However we strive, 
we are not a jot nearer our goal at the last than at the first; 
whatever we do, we "fall equally short of the 'heart's desire' " 
(p. 395). But is an ideal that is "infinite therefore infinitely 
remote?" Is there not here an equivocation in the use of "in- 
finite?" We say the moral ideal must be infinite, meaning that 
it must be complete, perfectly satisfying, conditioned by noth- 
ing beyond. But when we speak of space as infinite, we mean 
that it can not limit itself. The phrase "infinite distance" is 
really unintelligible, since it implies an extensive quantity at 
once definite and indefinite. One might as well talk of invis- 
ible colors or inaudible sounds. It does not therefore seem to 
follow that an infinite ideal must be infinitely remote. And an 
appeal to experience surely shows that Mr. Taylor's assertion 
IS unfounded. Complete satisfaction in any sphere of human 
life is doubtless out of the question. Conditioned as we are 
by a physical organism which grows and decays in the world 

Scholars of the Cloister — A Defence. 477 

of time and space we cannot hope to exhaust the fullness of 
the world. But there is a difference between complete satisfac- 
tion and no satisfaction at all. If the ideal is never actualized 
here, yet it need not altogether elude us. So long as he has 
strength, the plain man is content to go on working as well 
as he can. Something is accomplished ; and he is not unhappy. 
Why be like an unwholesome schoolboy who is always count- 
ing the number of hours until the holidays, and never enjoys 
them when they come? But time forbids me to pursue these 
reflections any further. I trust that my arguments have not 
"been unfair. But a book which makes nonsense of life must 
expect unveiled hostility. We do not want a philosophy 
"which finds bad reasons for being what we cannot help being" 
(p. 201), and then spurns human experience, permitting, if 
anything, what seem the deepest and truest views of life to be 
retained merely on scientific sufferance. We want an idealism 
which, having reached some peak of speculation, can tell us 
the true relations of what we from the valleys see fitfully amid 
the storm and the mist. But for the true philosopher, as for 
the poet and the artist, we must await the favor of heaven. In 
the meantime, however, there is employment for the humble 
spade- worker. He may. prepare the ground for the new seed, 
hy trenching diligently and trying to subvert the luxuriant 
aftermath of the last philosophical harvest. 

Alfred J. Jenkinson. 
Hertford College, Oxford. 


It is one of the commonplaces of history that spiritual or 
ecclesiastical Rome did not fall with material, political Rome. 
The Roman Church was a product at once of Latin and of 
Christian influences, being in its splendid organization a special 
tribute to the Roman Law and in its peculiar power a witness 
to the vitality which the spirit of Christianity gave to the Law, 
and in consequence it was able to withstand the barbarian 


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