It is desirable to glance first of all at the subject-matter of moral valuation. Here, fortunately, we discover a pretty general agreement. Moral valuation is concerned with 'conduct,' and with 'character' as the symbol of conduct. And 'conduct' may be taken to mean, in its primary significance, the deliberately purposed acts of beings for whom the distinction of a 'good' that ought to be followed, and a 'bad' that ought to be eschewed, has both a general meaning and a concrete content. It is true, of course, that we often pass moral judgments upon, and give the name 'conduct' to, behaviour that is not directly animated by deliberate purpose. But wherever this happens (as it may, e.g. in judging 'habitual' action now become 'unconscious') the reference to deliberately purposed acts is implicitly present, and is the real foundation of our judgment. We praise or censure acts not deliberately purposed now only because they are the reflections of acts that were deliberately purposed in the past. The moral judgment in these cases is in fact essentially a retrospective judgment, 'you are blameworthy in acting so now, because you ought to have acted otherwise in the past.' And the judgment has present force against the agent just because we regard him, and he regards himself, as somehow the self-same person as he who performed the past bad acts. It is the past bad acts, deliberately purposed, that are the ultimate object of censure. Hence here, as elsewhere, moral valuation refers essentially to deliberately purposed action.1 If we abstract from this aspect of behaviour, nothing remains upon which a reflective person who is free from prepossessions would think of passing moral judgment.
1 I may, perhaps, be excused from considering independently moral judgments upon the emotions, for it is apparent that, mutatis mutandis, the same principle of explanation will serve. We do not praise or blame 'natural' emotions, but only those which are what they are in the individual through his own 'responsible' behaviour in the past.
Now in deliberately purposed, i.e. 'volitional,' acts there are two aspects, one constant and one occasional, each of which has a prima facie relevance for moral valuation. Every volitional act has in the first place, and in the very nature of the case, a conceived 'end' at which the agent aims. And the nature or content of this end is, of course, for very many persons the thing of chief significance in morally evaluating the act. In the second place, the volitional act may, or may not, be charged, as we have seen in an earlier chapter, with 'will-energy.' The actuality of will-energy, whose function consists in reinforcing the felt 'weaker but higher' end against the felt 'stronger but lower' end - or, as we have now come to regard it, reinforcing the 'end of the self-as-such' where this is in contrast with the 'end of desire' - is not only popularly assumed, but, as I have tried to show in Chapter V., is philosophically defensible. And it too must be granted at least prima facie significance in the moral valuation of conduct.
At the risk of vain repetition, I wish at this juncture to remind the reader of two points in connection with the concept of will-energy which it is essential to bear in mind if what follows is to be adequately understood.
First, will-energy is not to be identified with what, for want of a better expression, is called volitional activity. The formal act of identifying one's self with a conceived end does not of itself involve 'energising.' We are all very well aware of this wherever we deliberately choose what we regard as the 'easy' course as against the difficult 'energy-demanding' course which we believe to be right. Here obviously is volitional activity without will-energy. We are aware of energising only in these volitional acts in which we rise superior to the set of our desires in the direction of our ideal, transcending, as we may put it, the status quo of our existing conative tendencies.
And secondly, will-energy is not to be confused with either physical or mental energy. We may be conscious of intense physical or mental energy in situations which from the point of view of the will we know to be effortless, mere yieldings to 'the line of least resistance.' Conversely, we may be conscious of intense will-energy in situations in which body and mind are well-nigh passive - indeed, the very end which it is the function of will-energy to reinforce may sometimes be (as in the case cited on page 134) the suspension of all bodily and mental energies.
To proceed. We have distinguished as the two factors in volition that have prima facie relevance in moral valuation, the omnipresent factor of the end, or concrete content, willed, and the occasional factor of will-energy. On the basis of these two factors we can make a broad classification of the possible competing views as to the true criterion of moral valuation. These views will be three in number. We may hold (a) that it is solely the nature of the concrete content willed that matters, conduct being good or bad according as that content does or does not express what is taken to be the ultimate moral principle (or principles); or (b) that consideration must be given to both factors, concrete content willed and degree of will-energy (if any) expended, if full justice is to be done to the actual moral judgments of mankind; or (c) that will-energy is the sole thing that matters; that the only situation which has any direct1 moral significance is that in which there is a felt contrast of end of self-as-such and end of desire, with consequent demand for the expenditure of will-energy; and that moral value is proportionate to the degree of will-energy put forth.