In the same way, Dr Rashdall's failure to appreciate the all-important distinction to which I have been calling attention is the only conclusion which really follows from the 'dilemma' with which he confronts, and by means of which he proposes to confute, the Idealist doctrine of desire. That doctrine, he tells us, must mean either of two things. Either it means that the object is always a prospective state of private satisfaction; or it means just that a man's desires are his own desires. The former assertion, he points out, is false to the facts; and the latter assertion is an insignificant tautology which carries us nowhere.1
But the Idealist doctrine means neither of these things. The former meaning has been sufficiently considered, and I wish to add only one observation here. The Idealist has spoken much, and it may be at times with insufficient caution, of all desire being for 'self-satisfaction,' and of the object of desire being conceived as a 'mode of self-satisfaction.' It is at least understandable that, where due warning is not given, this manner of speech should be taken as meaning that no object can be desired save in so far as it is conceived to be a means to self-satisfaction. But on reflection it is surely evident that to conceive an object as a means to self-satisfaction is by no means the same thing as to conceive an object as a mode of self-satisfaction. The latter is a legitimate enough expression for the Idealist doctrine that the object in desire is always conceived by the agent as something which he wants, a 'good for him.' The former expression, on the other hand, undoubtedly suggests that the agent is always dominated by interest in the future state of his private self, i.e. that all desire is ultimately egoistic. This is not the meaning of the Idealist doctrine, and where (if at all) the Idealist slips into a form of words which suggests it, he must certainly accept some responsibility for the misconstruction.1
1 Rashdall's The Theory of Good and Evil, Book 1., chap, ii., section 6. '... I can only understand the idea of "aiming at self-satisfaction" to mean that my motive is a certain future state of my own consciousness. And later : 'Of course there is a sense in which every action is interested.
... It simply amounts to saying that a desire which is to move me must be my desire'.
What of the other horn of the dilemma? If not asserting universal selfishness, is Idealism asserting the insignificant tautology that my desires are my own desires? Far from it. In maintaining that the object of desire is a 'conceived personal good' the Idealist is contending for the recognition of an important aspect of desire which is not suggested by saying simply that 'my desires are my own desires,' or anything of the sort. He is drawing attention to the fact that it is characteristic of desire, as distinct from mere impulse or instinctive appetite, that in it the self so disengages itself from the flow of its impulses as to present the object to itself as a good for the self. He is drawing attention, in other words, to the self-referent aspect of desire which is made possible by the fact of selfconsciousness, and without which there would be no such thing as morally responsible conduct. This is, at the lowest estimate, a valuable service to psychology: but it may very well prove to be of first-rate importance for moral theory also.
1 Perhaps Bradley is, of all Idealist philosophers, the most addicted to the use of questionable language with regard to the nature of desire. His delight in paradox not infrequently impels him to choose precisely that form of words for the expression of his views which will most deeply shock the sensibilities of his opponents. Thus a great deal has been made of the dictum in Ethical Studies that 'all we can desire is, in a word, self' (p. 66). And I am ready to admit that such an expression, if taken by itself, is liable to mislead. But I must protest against those who have fastened upon it with avidity as an uncompromising confession of psychological egoism, that any philosophical statement must be read in the light of its context. If we study the context here, what do we find? We find that Bradley not only expressly distinguishes his view from the view that we always desire a future state of our 'self' as this or that individual man (footnote, p. 67), but, moreover, actually goes on to explain (appendix to same chapter) what else he does mean by saying that in desire our object is always 'self.' The critic who wants to make Bradley out an egoist will (to adopt one of Bradley's own phrases) 'do well still to ignore' these and a host of other passages.