We must now face an objection, the discussion of which will lead us eventually to a recognition of the second major influence which causes the moral judgments of mankind to seem often to be concerned with 'content.' The objection is as follows: 'Are you not,' it is asked, 'omitting to notice the familiar and very necessary distinction between "Merit" and Goodness.1 We are quite prepared to admit that in judging the "meritoriousness" of conduct it is the will-energy involved, the aspect of spiritual striving, which it is proper to consider. But it does not by any means follow that the "goodness" of the conduct is measurable by the same principle. Goodness, we should insist - and we should claim here to have behind us the suffrage of common sense - is a wider term than Merit, and does accept the relevance of "content." Two acts of hypothetically identical will-energy may be of like "merit," but if one is directed to the ideal of an ignoramus, and the other to the ideal of a man of wide culture, it is paradoxical to say that they are equal in "goodness." The latter person is, by general consent, "the better man." '
1 The distinction of Goodness from Merit may be given a different signification - Goodness as implying 'effortless' conformity to the standard which in meritorious conduct is conformed to only with 'struggle.' The manner in which I should deal with the distinction in these terms will perhaps be apparent from what has preceded, but a condensed statement may be helpful. I should maintain that what is here called 'Goodness' either has no moral value, or if it has moral value, that value is 'retrospective,' being derived wholly from the 'effort' of past 'meritorious' acts of will. Let us consider. An act (first) which issues merely from a 'natural disposition 'may elicit approval, but does it ever elicit that 'respect' which is inherent in 'moral' approval? Surely the question answers itself, and in an emphatic negative. Often, however, a good act issues from a natural disposition which has been stabilised through much willing in the past which was effortful. Then the case is different. We do then morally commend the agent, but only in virtue of his identity with the person who by 'effort' made this 'effortless' action possible. The moral commendation is essentially retrospective. The agent's present effortless action is commended as an evidence of past effort. 'Good' action from 'acquired 'habit, where the acquisition involves effort, falls under the same category. And I am confident that our moral approval of the 'saint' finds a similar explanation. Moral approval here, in so far as it is really 'moral,' is elicited by our consciousness of the long and arduous self-denying discipline, involving hard and sustained 'effort of will,' which must have gone to make him the man he is now.
There is a good deal of plausibility in this contention. The distinction which it notices is commonly recognised, and it will be needful to consider its nature and significance at some length if its innocuousness for our theory is to be completely established. But meantime there is no difficulty in exposing its fundamental defect in so far as it purports to offer a relevant comment upon strictly moral theory. It is necessary only to ask (as we did in the case of the similar distinction of 'subjective' from 'objective' Tightness) which of the two criteria, that of 'Merit' or that of 'Goodness,' is the proper one to apply in the appraisement of strictly moral goodness? If the critic says that it is that of 'Goodness,' then he has to face all the difficulties that assail the introduction of content into matters of the 'ought.' And if he admits that it is the criterion of 'Merit' that is to be used, then he is really accepting all that I contend for, viz. that 'will-energy' alone counts in the appraisment of moral value. Merit and Moral Goodness are now implied to be identical, and the distinction between Merit and so-called 'Goodness' must be admitted to be a distinction which does not fall within the sphere of morality proper at all.
This reply does, I think, dispose of the objection in principle. The so-called distinction of Merit and Goodness turns out to be really a distinction between Moral Goodness as such, and an intelligent or cultured form of Moral Goodness. Yet it would not be altogether satisfactory to arrest our argument here. The objection obstinately recurs, claiming impressive support from the mass of general opinion, that the 'cultured' moral person is 'the better man,' even if he be not a 'morally better' man. It is highly desirable to understand the significance of this implicit acceptance of a 'value' which is not 'moral value,' and which stands, prima facie, in possible competition with 'moral value.' Actually it arises, in my view, as one indirect consequence of the original too common error of regarding certain contents as possessed of moral value in their own right. I have already dealt with one of the factors which incline us to make this mistake - the intrusion of private interests. But this factor will not account for anything like all of the cases in which value is ascribed to content as such. There is another factor much more general in its scope, a factor not of the nature of personal bias but rather of loose thinking. If we consider it now, we shall be led, I think, to see the ground of the common acceptance of an objective value which is yet not a moral value.