If this were a treatise on moral philosophy, there is a multitude of subsidiary matters which would now require to be dealt with, consequent upon the discussions of the last chapter.1
It would be interesting to consider also the deeper implications of that 'unitary self-consciousness' which, we have seen, lies at the root of the self's recognition of a morally obligatory course of conduct. I am entirely opposed to views of the Greenian type which strive to see in the finite self-consciousness a temporal and partial manifestation of an 'eternal self-consciousness.' Indeed the reader who has laboured on thus far will not need to be informed that anything in the nature of a 'metaphysical 'explanation of finite self-consciousness is for me in principle impossible. On the other hand, it might be worth while to show how, just as in the sphere of knowledge complete theoretical satisfaction is not possible short of immersion in the Whole, so, too, complete practical satisfaction - the 'end' which would answer with perfect and final adequacy to the demands of a self-conscious self - is incapable of finding expression in any finite system of life. The implication which would suggest itself would be that the moral impulse (which seems, in my interpretation of it, to be at first glance so 'unspiritual') is in reality a manifestation of man's kinship, in some sense, with the Infinite.
1 One of the more important of such tasks would be that of showing how the 'conceived good of the self as a whole' develops a content both deeper and wider in response to the advancing refinement and elaboration of the self's interests which cultural enlightenment brings in its train. A detailed account of this progress would, I think, furnish an unanswerable refutation of those who persist in regarding the 'conceived good of the self as a whole' as a 'mean and grovelling' makeshift for a moral principle. But the principle of the refutation has already been indicated (see especially Section 6 of the previous chapter) and the benefits of an ampler treatment are not, in my judgment, commensurate with the space which would require to be devoted to it.
These (and much else that is here neglected) are important matters, but their bearing on our central thesis is not, I think, sufficiently direct to make the consideration of them an obligation.
The plan of the book imposes other demands, however. It is necessary to limit attention to those more fundamental questions in the ethical field whose settlement importantly affects, or is importantly affected by, the general philosophical doctrine which I am concerned to establish. The significance of the problem of Chapter VI (The Reality Of Moral Obligation. Section 1. Absolute Idealism And The Status Of Morality). in this respect has been sufficiently made out. But there is another central ethical issue which, as I hope to show, has an almost equal significance. This is the problem of the true principle of moral evaluation. The only solution of that problem, I shall argue, which does justice to actual moral experience, is one which presupposes the truth of some of the main positions which I have been advocating. For this reason (as well as for others which will engage us later) it is a solution which there is, of course, almost universal reluctance to adopt. But if we follow 'the wind of the argument, whithersoever it leads,' refusing to allow the crosscurrents of metaphysical predilections to divert us from our course, we can reach, in my opinion, no other possible termination.
Now at first sight it may appear as if this our present problem were the same as the problem of determining the nature of 'the moral end': that the 'moral end' is, almost by definition, that in terms of which moral valuation should proceed. If the moral end means that which man 'ought' to do or be - and why otherwise call it the 'moral' end? - it may seem to be self-evident that we should judge conduct to be morally good or bad according as it attains to or falls short of the moral end.
But although there is a sense (dependent, as a matter of fact, upon a rather special interpretation of the term 'moral end') in which this is true enough, a mere glance at the several moral ends proposed by the great ethical systems of the world should be enough to raise grave doubts as to whether the identification of' moral end' with' principle of moral evaluation' can be so simply effected. For one feature common to almost all of these ends is that they are in their nature such that the mass of men, with their environmental, cultural, and other limitations, are quite incapable of attaining them. Such an end cannot be an end which all men 'ought' to attain (if 'ought' implies 'can'), and cannot therefore be set up as a universal standard of moral praise and blame.
Nevertheless, unless language is being abused, the expression 'moral end' must be intended to signify something that in some way has obligatory force. There must surely be some sense in which this significance can be understood to attach to the 'moral ends' even of highly sophisticated ethical theories. Can we not find a justification for the ascription, by these theories, of the adjective 'moral' to the ends which they offer us? - for this is what it comes to.
I think that if the attempt were made its best hope of success would be along some such lines as these. We do not intend by the term 'moral end,' it might be said, that it is the end which all men ought to attain. We understand well enough that it is impossible for the multitude, and perhaps, in its completeness, for any man, to attain. What we mean is rather that it is the end which all men ought to strive to attain. And since all men can 'strive to attain' the end proposed by our theory, the objection to calling it a 'moral' end vanishes. Persons can in an intelligible sense be morally esteemed or censured according as they do or do not 'strive to attain' our end.