Granted that the contrast of 'end of self-as-such' and 'end of desire' is thus characteristic of the conative experience of self-conscious or rational beings, our final task is to show that the former end presents itself to the self, as against the latter end, with all the authority of the moral imperative. Formally to 'prove' this is, of course, out of the question. In the last resort appeal must be made (as always in the case of 'ultimate' ends) to intuition. And perhaps even the word 'show' is too strong in this context. Nevertheless I think that a great deal can be done 'from without' to induce agreement, more especially by the removal of certain common prepossessions which are apt improperly (if unconsciously) to prejudice the issue. By this means, as well as by drawing attention to considerations which point to the a priori probability that the 'end of the self-as-such' should carry with it a unique claim upon the agent, it seems possible at least to dispose the reader favourably for that intuitive recognition of 'obligation' which, as I believe, must accompany any imaginative realisation of the contrast in question, if only it be unfettered by preliminary bias. I shall consider first some prejudicial prepossessions.
Among these hostile influences one of the most prevalent, I think, springs from what may be called the 'religious texture' of our common moral notions. To a great many people the idea of moral authority is so inextricably interwoven with their beliefs concerning the Deity that they find it hard to conceive of an 'ought' as having any meaning at all in a context which is (as they would describe it) purely 'secular.' And this attitude is, I think, natural enough. Once anything that can fairly be called a 'religion' has emerged, it is well-nigh impossible that one's moral ideas should not be linked up with, even in a manner absorbed by, one's religious ideas. The cosmic supremacy of the Deity can hardly be interpreted in a way which leaves to the moral imperative an independent authority, more especially since the Deity is as a rule conceived as embodying in Himself the perfected consummation of those values to which the moral imperative summons us.
But natural as it is thus to clothe the moral imperative with a religious significance, it seems sufficiently clear that it does not require for its recognition, or imply in its meaning, anything that would ordinarily be called religious belief. For a simple, but I think effective, answer it is only necessary to contemplate one of the outstanding characteristics of the spiritual life of our time. No one can deny the existence of a very considerable body of persons in our contemporary civilisation who, though candidly professing themselves devoid of any kind or sort of religious belief, declare both in their conduct and by verbal testimony their respect for the 'voice of Duty.' There seem no adequate grounds for gainsaying this, and much similar, evidence for the independence of moral experience.
I am saying no more, be it noted, than that the moral imperative may be recognised independently of religious ideas. I am far from suggesting that a religious significance may not legitimately be infused into morality. And in a wider sense of the word 'religion' than is customarily employed, in which its essence would consist in the conviction that the Perfect alone is ultimately real, it is possible, I think, to make out a pretty strong case for the view that morality is itself implicitly religion; that the recognition of the essential religious postulate is implicitly present in the moral self's consciousness of obligation to aim at 'harmonious' being. But these are high matters upon which we cannot enter here. Suffice it to point out that the independence of religion which I claim for moral experience, and which, so far as religion in its usual interpretation is concerned, seems sufficiently obvious, is not conceived as ruling out a priori all doctrines of the ultimate fusion of morality and religion.
In the second place, it may be felt to be an objection that the 'conceived good of the self as a whole,' since it confessedly gets all its content from the self's desires, will in many natures manifest itself in ends of a somewhat low and materialistic character - such ends, it may be suggested, as cannot without offence be supposed to be deliverances of our 'moral consciousness.' But the fact (for it is, of course, a fact) that often no very exalted content will pertain to the 'conceived good of the self as a whole,' ought surely to be regarded as a merit rather than a demerit of the present theory. We are searching for a 'moral principle.' But a genuine moral principle must be adequate to the facts of moral experience. And among the facts of moral experience must be counted those felt obligations on the part of undeveloped races towards ends which we should regard as 'low and materialistic' The 'felt obligations' of uncivilised man belong just as truly to the data of ethics as the felt 'obligations' of you and me. We shall not really have laid hold of the principle (or the principles, admitting for the moment the possibility of ethical pluralism) of our moral nature, if that principle (or those principles) be not such as to make intelligible the moralities of all men, civilised and uncivilised alike.
And there is certainly nothing essentially materialistic about the ideal of the conceived good of the self as a whole. Doubtless in the earlier stages of man's development the end representing the unity of the self's interests - the good of the self as a whole - would be concerned largely with the satisfaction of physical wants. Yet even here, and without having recourse to venturesome speculations as to the spiritual aspirations of savages, we can see that the end will not be wholly physical. The social interest is alive from the beginning, and must bring it about that the 'conceived good of the self as a whole' is felt to involve the satisfaction of the physical wants of the family, or the clan, as well as of one's self. The 'end of the self-as-such' therefore will include, even at the lower levels, the satisfaction of social as well as physical wants. But furthermore, however materialistically oriented at primitive levels, the principle in question is plainly capable of expanding, without loss of continuity, into something which bears little trace of its crude beginnings. As the human self advances in the fullness of time to a more developed consciousness of its own nature and possibilities, new and powerful interests emerge - interests in knowledge, in beauty, and, perhaps dwarfing all others, the religious interest in the union of the soul with God. When interests such as these develop, and manifest themselves, as they must, in the conceived good of the self as a whole, that end or ideal will have little in its nature to provoke the imputation of materialism.