We come now to the main problem of the chapter. I have tried to show, with special reference to the metaphysic of Absolute Idealism, the difficulty - nay, the impossibility - of any reconciliation of the moral point of view with a rationalistic interpretation of the nature of reality. It follows that if we can exhibit the moral point of view, the recognition of 'oughtness,' as an integral, untranscendible, aspect of human experience, we shall be able to claim that human experience in one of its ultimate aspects confirms the validity of our supra-rational hypothesis. If moral obligation is, then the 'intelligible Reality' is not. I shall try to demonstrate, then, that moral obligation indubitably is. The 'approach' here is important, and it will be advisable to consider the problem first in its general bearings.
The plain man never doubts the reality of moral obligation any more than he doubts the reality of personal freedom. And here too his belief rests upon a supposed 'direct' experience. He does not profess to be able to 'explain' this experience to anyone who does not possess it. For it is essentially sui generis, is just itself. He can do no more, by way of communicating its meaning, than distinguish it off from certain other experiences which bear a superficial resemblance to it, and might be confused with it. But he is sure that from time to time he does have this experience, this consciousness that he 'ought' to act in such and such a way. If he becomes a little less of the 'plain' man, he will admit the possibility of being mistaken as to what it is he ought to do. For he can soon be brought to see that into the determination of the 'what' there enter many factors besides direct experience. But this, he will be justified in telling us, does not render it doubtful that he ought to do something. For so long as he is being persuaded that he ought not to do X (which he had previously approved) only on the ground that he 'ought' to do Y, the argument is being carried on within the circle of the 'ought.' And the recognition that there is an 'ought' is just the recognition of the reality of moral obligation and value.
Now (again as in the case of 'freedom') the onus of proof certainly lies upon those who choose to reject the all but universal testimony of human experience. And so far as I can see, there is really but one way in which the critic can hope to persuade those who suppose themselves to have direct experience of the 'ought' that moral obligation is not a reality. He must induce them to see that the experience in question is resoluble without remainder into non-moral ingredients. If a man can be brought to believe that what he has taken to be direct experience of a unique meaning - of the 'ought' - is in fact a disguised fear, or a disguised wish, or some other complex of non-moral elements, then, and then alone, he may be ready to agree that moral obligation, with all that it implies, is a mere chimera, the product of a mental muddle. Doubtless this is not the only way in which it has been sought in practice to discredit morality. But it is the only way which can pretend to logicality of method. The popular plan of seeking to establish a positive relationship between particular 'moral sentiments' and the particular 'desires' of the community in which they occur, carries with it an a-moral inference only by confusion. The dependence upon desires may very well be established. But to show that particular moral sentiments depend on a particular context of desires is not to show that they are merely such. The recognition of the 'ought,' which is what makes moral sentiments moral sentiments, has got to be explained away, or the moral sceptic has made out no case. He has got to try to show, by analysis of the so-called 'moral' experience, that it is only through an understandable illusion that the agent has supposed there to be anything present other than 'non-moral' components.
It follows that it should in principle constitute an adequate defence of the reality of moral obligation, if one can show that the sceptic's attempts to dissolve so-called 'moral' experience into something non-moral are in fact incompetent to explain the experience which they set out to explain. And this does not seem to be at all a difficult task. It has often been undertaken effectively enough as a mere preliminary incident in the exposition of an ethical system. For the would-be champion of moral experience does not have to face sceptical analyses of anything like so formidable or authoritative a nature as does the would-be champion of 'effort of will.' It has proved in practice a simple enough business to overthrow the sceptical analysis of moral experience by making it clear that if that experience were really as it appears in the analysis, the nature of the emotional and ideal responses called forth by the experience, as attested in common speech, becomes quite unintelligible.
Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that the great bulk of philosophers are agreed that moral experience cannot be 'explained away,' there does not seem to be anything approaching universal application of this belief to metaphysical practice. If the reality of moral obligation is accepted, then surely a place should be left for morality in any metaphysical theory of reality that is adopted? Yet many thinkers who would repudiate the suggestion that moral experience can be 'explained away' seem quite ready to adopt, for example, a deterministic view of reality. And the two positions are mutually incompatible.