But by far the most potent of the prejudices against which our doctrine has to make itself good is that which arises from the failure to understand that it is not just a more or less refined form of egoism. I have already said a good deal on this matter. In principle the whole case of the objector was met when it was pointed out that what determines conduct as 'egoistic' is not that the agent seeks 'personal good,' but that he seeks personal good exclusively or predominantly in states of private satisfaction. But the importance of a right decision in this matter is so great that some further observations seem called for.
In the first place, I should like to make clear my position concerning the relation to morality of egoistic ends properly so-called. I am in full agreement with the critic of egoism in holding that no egoistic principle can exhaustively express the moral principle. But some critics go a great deal further than that. They maintain that the moral principle cannot express itself in an egoistic end at all; that morality, strictly speaking, only begins when universal ends, transcending the individual, claim allegiance. Following Croce, they would describe all egoistic action, in whatever circumstances, as directed to merely 'economic' good.
It does not seem to me that this distinction can be sustained. We may note first what seems plain matter of fact, that obligation of some kind may in suitable circumstances be felt towards an egoistic end. To take an obvious instance, there is the man who has a strong desire for a glass of wine, but is confronted by the remembrance that for him indulgence in wine means a headache and general malaise the following day. Even if his consideration of consequences keeps entirely within the universe of his private feelings, will he not feel that he 'ought' here to refrain from drinking? Will he not feel that, of the two courses, that which he clearly sees to be the more conducive to a satisfactory state of his private self 'ought' to be pursued as against that which, in spite of the ardour of his desire, he knows to be less conducive? It is pointless to reply that this is just a matter of 'prudence,' not of obligation. It is a matter of prudence, but it is also more. The agent does deem it more 'prudent' to refrain, but he also - and this is the significant thing - is conscious that he 'ought' to follow the more prudent course. He is conscious of an obligation to be prudent.
'But not a moral obligation,' it is said. Why not? I have been totally unable to discover any serious reasons offered for distinguishing off the kind of obligation experienced here from moral obligation. What essential difference is there? The agent will use precisely the same language in regard to it, and to its implications, as he would if the obligatory end were a social one. He will say that he knows he ought not to yield to the desire, and, if he does yield, he will consider himself a just object of censure. In fact, the only reason for denying to this obligation the title of 'moral' seems to be the quite arbitrary one that the objector has already defined morality to himself in terms which exclude egoistic ends. But definitions, if they are not to be purely formal, must wait upon experience, not dictate to it.
It remains to point out that on the view of the moral principle which I am trying here to maintain, the experience of obligation in the above illustration is fully understandable. I have been anxious to insist that there is no obstacle to the entry of 'altruistic' interests into the 'conceived good of the self as a whole'; but nothing has been said to suggest that' egoistic' interests, even of a purely hedonic nature, are debarred from it. In point of fact, private pleasure is obviously one of the things which man wants, one of the 'personal goods,' therefore, which have to be considered in determining the 'good of the self as a whole' (though in some cases, as we know, it comes to be regarded as of so little value by the side of certain other 'personal goods' that it is definitely among the least influential factors in that determination). Taking pleasure in this way as 'one' personal good, there is no difficulty in seeing that for a self who is conscious of himself as a perduring identical subject it must appear to be in accord with the good of the self as a whole that he should forgo any immediate pleasure which involves future pains far outweighing it. Even where no considerations of consequences save those affecting private pleasure and pain are before the mind - as a rule the situation is immensely more complicated - there is, therefore, for my view nothing surprising in the presence of a felt obligation. In the illustration taken, the agent will conceive it to be more in accord with the good of his self as a whole to refuse indulgence to the desire for wine, and will in consequence be conscious of an obligation to abstain.
There is this much truth, then, in Butler's famous doctrine of the 'manifest obligation' of 'Reasonable Self-love.' Man does recognise an obligation to follow that course which reason tells him is the more conducive to his 'happiness' on the whole - provided that the practical situation is not complicated by other considerations than those of his private feelings. What Butler fails to see is this limitation of the obligation, which arises from the fact that the obligation is in reality only a specific case of the general obligation to pursue the 'conceived good of the self as a whole.' Into this latter end all kinds of interests besides that of private happiness normally enter. And it is this end alone which is a 'manifest obligation' in any absolute sense. Butler's advocacy of the claims of Reasonable Self-love rests probably on a dim apprehension of the truth that 'personal good' can alone be deliberately sought. But his confusion of 'personal good' with 'private pleasure' makes it necessary for him, in order to be true to moral experience, to erect a second moral principle which will do justice to our sense of 'altruistic' obligations. Hence his dualism of Conscience and Reasonable Self-love, and the ethical chaos to which a duplication of 'ultimate' moral principles inevitably leads.