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- The Nature of Goodness - 6/23 -

environed object which is to be changed at their demand. No such state of things exists. There is no fixed environment. It is always fixable. Every environment is plastic and derives its character, at least partially, from the environed object. Each stone sends out its little gravitative and chemical influence upon surrounding stones, and they are different through being in its neighborhood. The two become mutually affected, and it is no more suitable to say that the object must adapt itself to its environment than that the environment must be adapted to its object.

Indeed, in persons this second form of statement is the more important; for the forcing of circumstances into accordance with human needs may be said to be the chief business of human life. The man who adapts himself to his ignorant, licentious, or malarial surroundings, is not a type of the good man. Of course disregard of environment is not good either. Circumstances have their honorable powers, and these require to be studied, respected, and employed. Sometimes they are so strong as to leave a person no other course than to adapt himself to them. He cannot adapt them to himself. Plato has a good story of how a native of the little village of Seriphus tried to explain Themistocles by means of environment. "You would not," he said to the great man, "have been eminent if you had been born in Seriphus." "Probably not," answered Themistocles, "nor you, if you had been born in Athens."

The definition we are discussing, then, is not true--indeed it is hardly intelligible--if we take it in the one-sided way in which it is usually announced. The demand for adaptation does not proceed exclusively from environment, surroundings, circumstance. The stone, the tree, the man, conforms these to itself as truly as it is conformed to them. There is mutual adaptation. Undoubtedly this is implied in the definition, and the petty employment of it which I have been attacking would be rejected also by its wiser defenders. But when its meaning is thus filled out, its vagueness rendered clear, and the mutual influence which is implied becomes clearly announced, the definition turns into the one which I have offered. Goodness is the expression of the largest organization. Its aim is everywhere to bring object and environment into fullest cooperation. We have seen how in any organic relationship every part is both means and end. Goodness tends toward organism; and so far as it obtains, each member of the universe receives its own appropriate expansion and dignity. The present definition merely states the great truth of organization with too objective an emphasis; as that which found the satisfaction of desire to be the ground of goodness over-emphasized the subjective side. The one is too legal, the other too aesthetic. Yet each calls attention to an important and supplementary factor in the formation of goodness.


In closing these dull defining chapters, in which I have tried to sum up the notion of goodness in general--a conception so thin and empty that it is equally applicable to things and persons--it may be well to gather together in a single group the several definitions we have reached.

Intrinsic goodness expresses the fulfillment of function in the construction of an organism.

By an organism is meant such an assemblage of active and differing parts that in it each part both aids and is aided by all the others.

Extrinsic goodness is found when an object employs an already constituted wholeness to further the wholeness of others.

A part is good when it furnishes that and that only which may add value to other parts.

A greater good is one more largely contributory to the organism as its end.

A higher good is one more fully expressive of that end.

Probably, too, it will be found convenient to set down here a couple of other definitions which will hereafter be explained and employed. A good act is the expression of selfhood as service. By an ideal we mean a mental picture of a better state of existence than we feel has actually been reached.


Alexander's Moral Order and Progress, bk. iii. ch. i. Section 10.

Martineau's Types of Ethical Theory, vol. ii. bk. i. ch. i. Section 2.

Mackenzie's Manual of Ethics, ch. v. Section 13 & ch. vii. Section 2.

Janet's Theory of Morals, ch. iii.

Dewey's Outlines of Ethics, Section lxvii.

Spencer's Principles of Ethics, pt. i. ch. 3.




In the preceding chapters I have examined only those features of goodness which are common alike to persons and to things. Goodness was there seen to be the expression of function in the construction of an organism. That is, when we ask if any being, object, or quality is good, we are really inquiring how organic it is, how much it contributes of riches or solidity to some whole or other. There must, then, be as many varieties of goodness as there are modes of constructing organisms. A special set of functions will produce one kind of organism, a different set another; and each of these will express a peculiar variety of goodness. If, then, into the construction of a person conditions enter which are not found in the making of things, these conditions will render personal goodness to some extent unlike the goodness of everything else.

Now I suppose that in the contacts of life we all feel a marked difference between persons and things. We know a person when we see him, and are quite sure he is not a thing. Yet if we were called on to say precisely what it is we know, and how we know it, we should find ourselves in some difficulty. No doubt we usually recognize a human being by his form and motions, but we assume that certain inner traits regularly attend these outward matters, and that in these traits the real ground of difference between person and thing is to be found. How many such distinguishing differences exist? Obviously a multitude; but these are, I believe, merely various manifestations of a few fundamental characteristics. Probably all can be reduced to four,-- they are self-consciousness, self-direction, self-development, and self-sacrifice. Wherever these four traits are found, we feel at once that the being who has them is a person. Whatever creature lacks them is but a thing, and requires no personal attention. I might say more. These four are so likely to go together that the appearance of one gives confidence of the rest. If, for example, we discover a being sacrificing itself for another, even though we have not previously thought of it as a person, it will so stir sympathy that we shall see in it a likeness to our own kind. Or, finding a creature capable of steering itself, of deciding what its ends shall be, and adjusting its many powers to reach them, we cannot help feeling that there is much in such a being like ourselves, and we are consequently indisposed to refer its movements to mechanic adjustment.

If, then, these are the four conditions of personality, the distinctive functions by which it becomes organically good, they will evidently need to be examined somewhat minutely before we can rightly comprehend the nature of personal goodness, and detect its separation from goodness in general. Such an examination will occupy this and the three succeeding chapters. But I shall devote myself exclusively to such features of the four functions as connect them with ethics. Many interesting metaphysical and psychological questions connected with them I pass by.


There is no need of elaborating the assertion that a person is a conscious being. To this all will at once agree. More important is it to inspect the stages through which we rise to consciousness, for these are often overlooked. People imagine that they are self- conscious through and through, and that they always have been. They assume that the entire life of a person is the expression of consciousness alone. But this is erroneous. To a large degree we are allied with things. While self-consciousness is our distinctive prerogative, it is far from being our only possession. Rather we might say that all which belongs to the under world is ours too, while self- consciousness appears in us as a kind of surplusage. No doubt it is by the distinctive traits, those which are not shared with other creatures, that we define our special character; but these are not our sole endowment. Our life is grounded in unconsciousness, and with this, as students of personal goodness, we must first make acquaintance.

Yet how can we become acquainted with it? How grow conscious of the unconscious? We can but mark it in a negative way and call it the absence of consciousness. That is all. We cannot be directly aware of ourselves as unconscious. Indeed, we cannot be quite sure that the physical things about us, even organic objects, are unconscious. If somebody should declare that the covers of this book are conscious, and respond to everything wise or foolish which the writer puts between them, there would be no way of confuting him. All I could say would be, "I see no signs of it." My readers occasionally give a response and show that they do or do not agree with what I say. But the volume itself lies in stolid passivity, offering no resistance to whatever I record in it. Since, then, there is no evidence in behalf of consciousness, I do not unwarrantably assume its presence. I save my belief for objects where it is indicated, and indicate its absence elsewhere by calling such objects unconscious.

But if in human beings consciousness appears, what are its marks, and how is it known? Ought we not to define it at starting? I believe it cannot be defined. Definition is taking an idea to pieces. But there are no pieces in the idea of consciousness. It is elementary, something in which all other pieces begin. That is, in attempting to define consciousness, I must in every definition employed really assume that my hearer is acquainted with it already. I cannot then define it without covert reference to experience. I might vary the

The Nature of Goodness - 6/23

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