§2. Ethical and Esthetical Goodness


129. I cannot linger more upon the general conception of Normative Science. I must come down to the particular Normative Sciences. These are now commonly said to be logic, ethics, and esthetics. Formerly only logic and ethics were reckoned as such. A few logicians refuse to recognize any other normative science than their own. My own opinions of ethics and esthetics are far less matured than my logical opinions. It is only since 1883 that I have numbered ethics among my special studies; and until about four years ago, I was not prepared to affirm that ethics was a normative science. As for esthetics, although the first year of my study of philosophy was devoted to this branch exclusively, yet I have since then so completely neglected it that I do not feel entitled to have any confident opinions about it. I am inclined to think that there is such a Normative Science; but I feel by no means sure even of that.

Supposing, however, that normative science divides into esthetics, ethics, and logic, then it is easily perceived, from my standpoint, that this division is governed by the three categories. For Normative Science in general being the science of the laws of conformity of things to ends, esthetics considers those things whose ends are to embody qualities of feeling, ethics those things whose ends lie in action, and logic those things whose end is to represent something.

130. Just at this point we begin to get upon the trail of the secret of pragmatism, after a long and apparently aimless beating about the bush. Let us glance at the relations of these three sciences to one another. Whatever opinion be entertained in regard to the scope of logic, it will be generally agreed that the heart of it lies in the classification and critic of arguments. Now it is peculiar to the nature of argument that no argument can exist without being referred to some special class of arguments. The act of inference consists in the thought that the inferred conclusion is true because in any analogous case an analogous conclusion would be true. Thus, logic is coeval with reasoning. Whoever reasons ipso facto virtually holds a logical doctrine, his logica utens.2) This classification is not a mere qualification of the argument. It essentially involves an approval of it — a qualitative approval. Now such self-approval supposes self-control. Not that we regard our approval as itself a voluntary act, but that we hold the act of inference, which we approve, to be voluntary. That is, if we did not approve, we should not infer. There are mental operations which are as completely beyond our control as the growth of our hair. To approve or disapprove of them would be idle. But when we institute an experiment to test a theory, or when we imagine an extra line to be inserted in a geometrical diagram in order to determine a question in geometry, these are voluntary acts which our logic, whether it be of the natural or the scientific sort, approves. Now, the approval of a voluntary act is a moral approval. Ethics is the study of what ends of action we are deliberately prepared to adopt. That is right action which is in conformity to ends which we are prepared deliberately to adopt. That is all there can be in the notion of righteousness, as it seems to me. The righteous man is the man who controls his passions, and makes them conform to such ends as he is prepared deliberately to adopt as ultimate. If it were in the nature of a man to be perfectly satisfied to make his personal comfort his ultimate aim, no more blame would attach to him for doing so than attaches to a hog for behaving in the same way. A logical reasoner is a reasoner who exercises great self-control in his intellectual operations; and therefore the logically good is simply a particular species of the morally good. Ethics — the genuine normative science of ethics, as contradistinguished from the branch of anthropology which in our day often passes under the name of ethics — this genuine ethics is the normative science par excellence, because an end — the essential object of normative science — is germane to a voluntary act in a primary way in which it is germane to nothing else. For that reason I have some lingering doubt as to there being any true normative science of the beautiful. On the other hand, an ultimate end of action deliberately adopted — that is to say, reasonably adopted — must be a state of things that reasonably recommends itself in itself aside from any ulterior consideration. It must be an admirable ideal, having the only kind of goodness that such an ideal can have; namely, esthetic goodness. From this point of view the morally good appears as a particular species of the esthetically good.

131. If this line of thought be sound, the morally good will be the esthetically good specially determined by a peculiar superadded element; and the logically good will be the morally good specially determined by a special superadded element. Now it will be admitted to be, at least, very likely that in order to correct or to vindicate the maxim of pragmatism, we must find out precisely what the logically good consists in; and it would appear from what has been said that, in order to analyze the nature of the logically good, we must first gain clear apprehensions of the nature of the esthetically good and especially that of the morally good.

132. So, then, incompetent as I am to it, I find the task imposed upon me of defining the esthetically good — a work which so many philosophical artists have made as many attempts at performing. In the light of the doctrine of categories I should say that an object, to be esthetically good, must have a multitude of parts so related to one another as to impart a positive simple immediate quality to their totality; and whatever does this is, in so far, esthetically good, no matter what the particular quality of the total may be. If that quality be such as to nauseate us, to scare us, or otherwise to disturb us to the point of throwing us out of the mood of esthetic enjoyment, out of the mood of simply contemplating the embodiment of the quality — just, for example, as the Alps affected the people of old times, when the state of civilization was such that an impression of great power was inseparably associated with lively apprehension and terror — then the object remains none the less esthetically good, although people in our condition are incapacitated from a calm esthetic contemplation of it.

This suggestion must go for what it may be worth, which I dare say may be very little. If it be correct, it will follow that there is no such thing as positive esthetic badness; and since by goodness we chiefly in this discussion mean merely the absence of badness, or faultlessness, there will be no such thing as esthetic goodness. All there will be will be various esthetic qualities; that is, simple qualities of totalities not capable of full embodiment in the parts, which qualities may be more decided and strong in one case than in another. But the very reduction of the intensity may be an esthetic quality; nay, it will be so; and I am seriously inclined to doubt there being any distinction of pure esthetic betterness and worseness. My notion would be that there are innumerable varieties of esthetic quality, but no purely esthetic grade of excellence.

133. But the instant that an esthetic ideal is proposed as an ultimate end of action, at that instant a categorical imperative pronounces for or against it. Kant, as you know, proposes to allow that categorical imperative to stand unchallenged — an eternal pronouncement. His position is in extreme disfavor now, and not without reason. Yet I cannot think very highly of the logic of the ordinary attempts at refuting it. The whole question is whether or not this categorical imperative be beyond control. If this voice of conscience is unsupported by ulterior reasons, is it not simply an insistent irrational howl, the hooting of an owl which we may disregard if we can? Why should we pay any more attention to it than we would to the barking of a cur? If we cannot disregard conscience, all homilies and moral maxims are perfectly idle. But if it can be disregarded, it is, in one sense, not beyond control. It leaves us free to control ourselves. So then, it appears to me that any aim whatever which can be consistently pursued becomes, as soon as it is unfalteringly adopted, beyond all possible criticism, except the quite impertinent criticism of outsiders. An aim which cannot be adopted and consistently pursued is a bad aim. It cannot properly be called an ultimate aim at all. The only moral evil is not to have an ultimate aim.

134. Accordingly the problem of ethics is to ascertain what end is possible. It might be thoughtlessly supposed that special science could aid in this ascertainment. But that would rest on a misconception of the nature of an absolute aim, which is what would be pursued under all possible circumstances — that is, even though the contingent facts ascertained by special sciences were entirely different from what they are. Nor, on the other hand, must the definition of such aim be reduced to a mere formalism.

135. The importance of the matter for pragmatism is obvious. For if the meaning of a symbol consists in how it might cause us to act, it is plain that this "how« cannot refer to the description of mechanical motions that it might cause, but must intend to refer to a description of the action as having this or that aim. In order to understand pragmatism, therefore, well enough to subject it to intelligent criticism, it is incumbent upon us to inquire what an ultimate aim, capable of being pursued in an indefinitely prolonged course of action, can be.

136. The deduction of this is somewhat intricate, on account of the number of points which have to be taken into account; and of course I cannot go into details. In order that the aim should be immutable under all circumstances, without which it will not be an ultimate aim, it is requisite that it should accord with a free development of the agent's own esthetic quality. At the same time it is requisite that it should not ultimately tend to be disturbed by the reactions upon the agent of that outward world which is supposed in the very idea of action. It is plain that these two conditions can be fulfilled at once only if it happens that the esthetic quality toward which the agent's free development tends and that of the ultimate action of experience upon him are parts of one esthetic total. Whether or not this is really so, is a metaphysical question which it does not fall within the scope of Normative Science to answer. If it is not so, the aim is essentially unattainable. But just as in playing a hand of whist, when only three tricks remain to be played, the rule is to assume that the cards are so distributed that the odd trick can be made, so the rule of ethics will be to adhere to the only possible absolute aim, and to hope that it will prove attainable. Meantime, it is comforting to know that all experience is favorable to that assumption.


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