This is better, if only because of its recognition that moral valuation implies an 'ought' which is meaningless without a 'can.' But it will not suffice. It is still impossible to hold that these suggested ends are 'moral' ends, even in the sense that all men ought to 'strive to attain' them. For, when we think the matter out, it becomes clear that there is only one end which we can say in strictness all men ought to strive to attain, and that is the end, be it what it may, which each individual agent presents to himself as morally best. Of no concrete end whatever set up 'from the outside' can this be justly said. For no matter what it be, it will be true that a great many people (and it must be borne in mind that the savage as well as the sage must be considered in the determination of a universal moral criterion) not only do not, but could not, present such an end to themselves as morally right. It will be, for many, beyond their mental horizon, or outside their mental perspective. And you cannot call such persons 'bad' because they do not strive to attain an ideal which they do not and cannot apprehend as such. You may say they are stupid, if you like, but if the end in question could not be their moral end, it is nonsense to suggest that they 'ought' to be aiming at it. On the contrary, often it will be true that they definitely ought not to aim at it, for it may enjoin something which is in direct conflict with their own moral end. It is the extremity of theory to hold that a man 'ought' to do what he believes to be wrong.
These considerations are all very simple. So simple, that one would be ashamed to dwell upon them were it not that very few ethical writers seem prepared to take them in real earnest. If they are taken in earnest, it seems an unavoidable inference that we are only entitled to evaluate conduct in terms of 'the moral end,' if by 'the moral end' we mean, not some ideal laid down ab extra by 'enlightened' thinking, but just the ideal of the morally best which presents itself to the agent whose conduct is under review. Some qualifications will, of course, require to be introduced to take account of the obvious fact that the agent's present ideal may, owing to his own past faults, be less enlightened than it could have been. But, apart from refinements, the gist of the matter is as I have expressed it. I can see no way of evading the result unless we insist, against all the implications of language, that moral valuation has nothing to do with an 'ought' or an ought not,' and has no implications of 'praise' and 'blame'
There is, indeed, an easy solvent often proposed, resting on a distinction between 'subjective rightness' and 'objective Tightness.' It is 'subjectively right,' we are told, for each man to follow his own ideal, the dictates of his own 'conscience': but this conduct will only be 'objectively right' in so far as the individual ideal coincides with the ideal endorsed by enlightened ethical thinking. In terms of this distinction, it is claimed, we can see that the ethical systems which offer us 'moral ends' are offering us ends which are 'morally right,' but in the sense of possessing 'objective moral Tightness,' not 'subjective moral rightness'.
But there is no way of escape in this direction. The short but sufficient answer to all theories of the kind is a question. 'Which, subjective or objective rightness, is the criterion which we are to use in appraising the moral worth of persons?' When once we face this question fairly, we find that no advance has been made by the distinction. For unless we are prepared to banish the 'ought' from the meaning of morality, we are forced to reply that it is in terms of the 'subjectively right,' and of that alone, that moral appraisement must function.
As to this whole conception of 'objective rightness,' I must confess that it seems to me one of the most confused, and confusing, in the sphere of morals. One would suppose that (if it is to deserve its title) it must give us that which all men ought to do. But it cannot support this meaning. For it seems undeniable that what each man ought to do is to pursue his own ideal (which may, of course, undergo refinement, elaboration, or even reform, in the course of experience). If we ask, then, who it is that ought to follow the so-called 'objectively right,' the only answer seems to be, that rather small body of persons to whom, in virtue of its happening to be their individual ideal, it is at the same time 'subjectively right'.
And I do not think the use of the term can be defended by analogy with subjectivity and objectivity in the sphere of 'truth.' It is the case that in this sphere we assign the title 'objective' to the truth as it appears to fully enlightened thinking. But there is a justification for this which does not obtain in the case of morals. What is 'true' to enlightened thinking is 'true,' we are all ready to agree, for every person, whether 'every person' apprehends it or not. That is the warrant, and it is a sufficient one, for our calling it 'objective' truth. But what is 'right' to enlightened thinking we may not similarly suppose to be 'right,' i.e. morally obligatory, for every person, irrespective of every person's apprehension. The 'apprehension' in this case seems quite vital. It seems to me, therefore, that the propriety of assigning the title 'objective' to 'intellectually enlightened' moral content is not to be made out by analogy with the sphere of truth.
Is there any way out of all these difficulties? I can see none, except the frank avowal by theories of the 'moral end' that they are using this term only as signifying 'the most satisfying state of mankind,' or something of the sort, without any direct implication of 'oughtness.' And if this line is taken, then I reply that you have not got in your 'end' a principle by which you can evaluate man's moral worth, whatever else you may have got. And that is all that I here contend for.
These brief remarks may have conveyed some indication, if only by exclusion, of the kind of theory of the principle of moral valuation which I am now to expound in detail. Perhaps I may venture to hope that the difficulties which have appeared in the conventional type of theory will have influenced the reader to regard with tolerance an attempt which will differ at least in offering no obvious violence to actual moral experience. However that may be, I propose now, making a fresh start (though not scrupling to emphasise further some points that have already been broached) to raise the direct question 'what is the true principle of moral valuation?'