To take the earlier position first. The essential point which it is sought to bring out is that while there is a contradictory element present in all willing (since all willing, good and bad, implies the effort to realise 'self' through the inclusion of an obstructive 'not-self), the bad will has as its distinctive feature the attempt to realise self not merely against a contradiction but 'in and as a contradiction.' Each self naturally builds up, in Bosanquet's view, out of the material furnished by its diverse interests, its own ideal of the best life, a 'relative world of perfection,1 comprising the system of activities regarded as best calculated to promote harmonious experience. Against this ideal there stand in sharp contrast for the self such divergent activities as are recognised to be (however attractive per se) inimical to harmony, to the satisfaction of self as a whole. When the self identifies itself in will with the former type of end, its will is, so far, 'good'; when with the latter type, 'bad.' The essence of the good will is thus the attempt to realise oneself (against a contradictory element) in the direction of recognised harmony of being. The essence of the bad will is the attempt to realise oneself (against a contradictory element) in the direction of recognised discord. The latter is, as Bosanquet in forthright terms here expresses it, 'interested to realise itself in and as a contradiction.'2 Or, again (and the opposition of principle between good and bad could hardly be more starkly defined), 'the point of the content [of the bad will] is not in any whole which it subserves, but in hostility to the identification of the self with such a whole.'3
1 Value and Destiny of the Individual, p. 206.
2 Ibid., p. 207. 3 Ibid., p. 209.
This doctrine seems to me to be fundamentally sound; although naturally a much ampler development would be demanded in any systematic exposition of it. But the present point is that we do surely get in it perfectly clearly the admission of a radical antagonism between good and bad willing. The good will is the willing of an end recognised as conducive to harmonious being, and the bad will is the willing of an end recognised as opposed to this harmony. The good will is a manifestation of the 'nisus towards totality.' The whole point of the bad will is that it is not.
Thus, if this were the whole story, we might well wonder what such a doctrine is doing in the pages of an Absolute Idealist. How is it possible to maintain both that Reality is a single systematic whole animated by the 'spirit of noncontradiction' (to use one of Bosanquet's own expressions), and that certain manifestations of that Whole have as their special characteristic the direct opposition to the 'spirit of non-contradiction'? It certainly seems as if one of these doctrines must go. Either the doctrine of the Rational Absolute, or the doctrine above offered of the bad will, is a false doctrine. And Bosanquet does in fact, as I have already indicated, supply us almost immediately with a virtual recantation of the latter.
At this next stage the distinction between good and evil is expressly declared to be parallel to the distinction between truth and error. And we know what Bosanquet makes of the latter distinction. In the present chapter he sums it up thus: 'Error differs from truth simply in systematic distinction and completeness. Its character of falsity is a matter of degree, normally reducible to exaggerated emphasis on some one element in a whole.'1 The difference is simply one of degree. And so it is, we now find, with the difference of good from evil. Even earlier in the chapter, indeed, we had been told that good and evil were 'of the same stuff.'2 But this identity might merely have referred, and from the context seemed merely to refer, to the unfashioned 'raw material' of willing. Good and bad willing do draw from a common storehouse. Now, however, it becomes evident that the identity is affirmed not merely of the raw material, but of the finished product also, the spiritual act of willing. The defect of the bad will turns out to be, not that it repudiates the end of self-completion, but that, seizing on a false clue, it aims at self-completion where self-completion is not to be found. It differs from the good will merely in the less adequate character of the content in which self-completion is sought. Far from there being any mortal antagonism between them, there is, we are informed, 'room in good for the character of all evil, redistributed and resystematised.'1 Or, again, 'there is nothing in evil which cannot be absorbed in good and contributory to it.' 2
1 Value and Destiny of the Individual, p. 214.
2 Ibid., p. 205.
What, then, we may ask, becomes of the thesis expounded but a few pages back, that the bad self 'is interested to realise itself in and as a contradiction?' Bosanquet seems dimly to realise that what he is now saying clashes with that thesis, and in a highly significant passage he suggests that we may perhaps have to return to the Socratic doctrine that 'no one sins voluntarily.' We may have to agree, he tells us, that 'in the moment of evil volition the inherent contradiction is blunted, and the system willed and recognised as good... is modified by self-deception so as apparently to accept for the moment the evil attitude.'3 In other words, we 'may have to agree' that the earlier doctrine of the essence of the bad will was just a mistake.
This later position represents, I think, Bosanquet's real or dominant attitude. There is a passage in the earlier volume of his Gifford Lectures which prepares us for it, and is worth quoting. We find him there eulogising the ethical theory of T. H. Green on the ground that 'it is undoubtedly not easy in this theory to distinguish otherwise than in degree between moral good and evil. And I believe this to be an indication that its main outline, its metaphysical fabric, is sound.'1
1 Value and Destiny of the Individual, p. 216.
2 Ibid., p. 217. 3 Ibid., p. 216.