Graphic Rule


In pursuing the question What is the good?, or What things are good?, thinkers have often brought in the ideas of means and ends, and interpreted the question thereby.

Plato in his Republic made his speakers divide goods into those that we welcome only for their consequences, those that we welcome only for themselves, and those that we welcome both for their consequences and for themselves; and declare that the third kind is the best. He made his 'Adimantus' urge 'Socrates' to show that justice is good in itself, apart from the question whether its consequences are good.

Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics wrote of the good as that which is the end of all things, and as something that is a pure end, and not also a means. There must be such a pure end, he argued; for, if everything were desired for the sake of something else, desire would be empty and vain. This pure end is happiness, which in fact is sought always for its own sake and never as a means.

John Dewey, in his interesting book Human Nature and Conduct, sets himself to oppose Aristotle on this matter, to depreciate ends and praise means. Ends, he says, are only points of redirection. With this may be compared Mr. Harrod's statement that the plain man applies the word 'good' to means only, never to ends (Mind, 1936, pp. 141-2).

Moore in Principia Ethica adopted the distinction between being good in itself and being good as a means to something else, and expressed it as the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic goodness (pp. 21-27). He regarded the search for the good as the search for intrinsic goodness only. It is an error, he wrote, p. 187, to suppose that 'what seems absolutely necessary here and now, for the existence of anything good ... is therefore good in itself'.

All of these views are fundamentally mistaken in the same way, however they differ from each other. Neither the question What is the good? nor the question What things are good? is a search for either ends or means or both. The question cannot be accurately expressed with these words. 'Good' is an evaluative word; but 'ends' and 'means' are not evaluative words, or not nearly to the same extent as 'good'. Hence to rewrite the question by omitting 'good' and introducing 'end' is to ask a different question. Even if, like Moore, you retain the word 'good', but covertly introduce the notion of an end by talking of 'intrinsic good', you are still changing the question; for in calling a thing good, or wondering whether it is good, we are not thinking either of ends or of means or of their difference. To say positively what we are doing, the only accurate expression is just this, that we are judging it good, but more loosely we can also say that we are evaluating it, appraising it, giving ourselves the principle of furthering its existence, contemplating it with satisfaction, or deciding to recommend it.

The following consideration helps to show that the distinction between means and end is irrelevant to the question what things are good. It could logically happen, and probably does happen, that two persons agree that a certain thing is good, while one of them regards it purely as a means and the other purely as an end. For example, perhaps there are two men who both think that equality is a great good; but one of them regards it merely as an end; he is passionately attached to equality as such, and does not care what the consequences are; while the other has no love for equality as such, but thinks it a very necessary and efficacious means to various highly important results. It would be a mistake to belittle the agreement existing between these two men. Each of them will say that equality is a great good. Each of them will work hard for equality. They may both be earnest members of the British Labour Party for life and never come to any disagreement with the Party or each other on the matter of equality.

The relation of means to end is the relation of cause to effect regarded by someone who intends the effect. It entails both causation and intention, and is non-existent when either of them is absent. A match is a means of lighting a fire only if both a match causes the fire to light and somebody intends the fire to light. If the match by some strange accident lights the fire without anyone's intending to light the fire, it is not a means to the lighting but merely a cause thereof. The cause of an effect becomes the means to it when it is intended by somebody to cause it. The effect becomes an end when someone introduces the cause with the intention of producing that effect.

Thus an end is an effect which somebody intends to produce by means of some cause. But this is not the same as a good. In thinking that something is good, we do not necessarily have the notion of cause and effect in our minds. It may be a good effect, or a good cause, but more often it is just a good. If we rephrase the question what things are good as something about ends, we introduce the notion of causation, which was not there before, and thus alter the question.

There is, however, another and wider sense of the word 'end' to which the argument does not apply. An end is not always something which we intend to effect by means of some cause. It can be anything which we intend, whether we require some means in order to produce it, or can produce it directly without any means. Your intention and end may be to light a fire, in which case you will have to look for some means, such as a match. But it may also be to sing, in which case you will not have to look for any means; you will just sing. Thus ends and means are not correlative. Every means is the means to some end; but not every end is the effect of some means.

In this wider sense of 'end', however, it is still true that you alter the question if you use it to explain what you mean by What things are good? Although you no longer have the inappropriate notion of cause and effect, you still have something inappropriate, namely a much too direct and specific purposiveness. To call a thing an end is to imply that you, or somebody else, is going after it, or ought to go after it, in a very definite and particular way; but to call it good is far more indefinite. To call it good implies that one would or should go after it under certain circumstances, but not that the circumstances are present, or ever will be present. Hence even in this wider sense it is a mistake to use the word 'end' to express our question; and, of course, there is always the danger of falling back into the still less appropriate narrow sense.

Men value means as well as ends, and call both of them good. Not merely does the blazing fire seem a good thing to them, but also the match that is a means thereto.

Men come to value things as ends just because they recognize them as effective means. This has often been insisted on; and may be summed in the phrase that means often become ends. If you ask a man to give you a reason why a thing is good, or to justify his praise of it, nine times out of ten his reason consists in representing the thing as a means to something else. Democracy, he may say, is good because it makes the government look sharp to remedy the people's miseries. Nine times out of ten there is nothing that you can say, to bring a man to value something which he does not yet value, except that it is a means to something. A famous example of this is the discussion of the goodness of justice in Plato's Republic. 'Adimantus' proposes, and 'Socrates' undertakes, the task of showing that justice is good in itself, regardless of its consequences. Yet in the very act of proposing this task 'Adimantus', without realizing that he is doing so, also represents it as the task of showing that being just has good consequences in a man's soul; and it is this latter task that 'Socrates' actually fulfils.

If you are asked to show that justice possesses some intrinsic property wholly independent of man, whose name is 'goodness', it is futile for you to argue that justice is a means to a desirable state of the soul; your premiss would be quite irrelevant to your conclusion. It is absurd to try to prove that justice is good in itself from the premiss that it is a good means to something.

On the other hand, it is sensible to try to get a man to love justice by showing him that justice is a means to a happy state of the soul. If someone says to you 'Make me love justice, make me value it highly and be sure that it is good', then it is very useful to point out to him that justice is a means to something he already loves. And the question, Is justice good?, is in fact far more like the request, 'Make me love justice!', than it is like the question, Does justice possess a certain property?

For this reason, if we represent the question What things are good? as a search for ends rather than means, or for intrinsic rather than extrinsic goodness, we cut ourselves off from the chief way of answering it. We have satisfactorily answered the question What things are good? when and only when we have achieved stable and confident valuations of things. But the main way to achieve stable and confident valuations of things is to discover their consequences; and we discourage ourselves from doing this if we say we are looking for ends. For an end, as an end, is something with whose consequences if any we are not concerned.

Since nine tenths of our actual reasons for thinking a thing good are its consequences, those who say they are looking for ends, and decline to consider consequences, find very few things good. They impoverish the world. They come out with a disappointingly small set of things worth having or doing. Thus G. E. Moore, who is perhaps the most resolute excluder of all consequences and all 'extrinsic' goodness, comes to the strange conclusions that virtue is not much of a good, and that in fact only two things are very good, the perception of beauty and personal affection. To insist on the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic is to be in danger of emptying life of interest and satisfaction. It is a great pity to be reduced to saying that, for example, 'the individual personality of man alone has intrinsic and ultimate worth' (Ernest Barker, Reflections on Government, pp. 15-16). It is a great pity to say of anything that it is the only ultimate good.

If you go as far as Aristotle, and demand a good that is a pure end and in no way also a means, you are demanding an impossibility, and will be left with no good at all. Aristotle thought he was left with happiness, which, he said, is sought always for its own sake and never as a means to something else. But happiness is often sought as a means to something else. The manager of a factory tries to make the workers happy in order to get greater production. The politician tries to make the voters happy in order to stay in power. A man may try to make himself happy in order to make himself more efficient, or more conscientious, or in order to make his family happier. Everything whatever logically could be sought by someone as a means to something else. And it seems very probable that everything that is sought by anybody is sought by somebody as a means to something else. And, if that is so, Aristotle's good is non-existent.

To recommend anything as the sole end must be ineffective in so far as it is selfconsistently done. For we can get a man to adopt an end only by starting from other ends which he already has, and we must therefore acknowledge those other ends in order to move him.

Most persons assume that every good is a means to some other good, and derives at least part of its goodness from its being a means to other goods. The common man is accustomed to ask about any proposed good: What is the use of it? And this is equivalent to asking what it is a means to. He is disconcerted or sceptical if he is told that some goods are useless and not means to any other good.

There is nothing selfcontradictory in the common man's opinion, though followers of Aristotle sometimes think that there is. It is perhaps selfstultifying to say that every good thing derives all of its goodness from being a means to some other good; for from this it perhaps follows that there are no goods at all. But there is nothing foolish about saying that every good derives at least part of its own goodness from being a means to some other good. And it is probably true; for it is probably true that every good may lead to some further good, and if it does so it is a better good in virtue of that. Plato's characters were right when they agreed that the best kind of good is that which we welcome both for itself and for its consequences; and Aristotle was completely wrong in arguing that there must be a good which is to no degree good in its consequences, because otherwise all desire would be empty and vain.

It is a great mistake to say 'So and so is merely a means; therefore it has no fundamental value. We do, in fact, value profoundly a number of things which, when we examine them, we seem to be valuing purely for their results. Political goods like democracy are notable examples. Our whole recommendation of them may consist in pointing out that they are means to other goods. Yet we consider them also very great goods in themselves. They engage our emotions profoundly. And it is sometimes good that they should do so. It is sometimes an error to try to loosen our affection for them by saying that they are mere means, or merely extrinsic goods. In my recital of goods I shall therefore not reject anything on the ground that it is merely extrinsic, and I shall frequently recommend things by their consequences.

It is also a great pity to make the opposite error, the error of declaring that only means are good and ends are worthless, as Dewey appears to have done and as the common man tends to do. This mistake often lurks in the gospel of progress; the present is considered to be good only so far as it is leading to some better future and so on for ever; the jam is always for tomorrow. The beginning of wisdom is to recognize and embrace the possibility of finding good things here and now. It is a mistake to value literature only as a means to political improvements, or to value knowledge only as a means to the prevention of disease, or to value music only as a means to the glory of one's State. It is better to love them all for themselves.

The beginning of wisdom is to value something for itself. (And the second step in wisdom is to value a second thing for itself.) This first step is hard for the simple-minded. They go wrong from the beginning by looking for 'the ultimate purpose of existence', an enterprise destructive of happiness and integrity. We must say to them: 'You love some things. Keep on loving them. Approve of your loving them. It is a good thing that you love them. Do not let the indifference or the disapproval of others weaken your love or your approval of your love. Nothing should weaken it except the discovery that one of your loves is on the whole harmful to you or others. Add to your loves.'

To this discussion of ends and means I will append some comment on the common phrase 'the end justifies the means'. It is a common gambit in argument to suggest that your opponent is implying the doctrine that the end justifies the means, and to infer from this that he is wrong, because this doctrine is odious.

This gambit is always bad and should never be used. The doctrine that the end justifies the means is not odious; it is meaningless. What end? And what means? It is obviously true that some ends justify some means; for example, if you want to smoke a cigarette, that justifies you in making a spill out of yesterday's newspaper and setting it alight. It is obviously false that all ends justify all means; for example, if you want to smoke a cigarette, that does not justify you in making a spill out of a five-pound note and setting it alight. Sometimes the proposed means is justified and sometimes it is not. We have to judge separately for each given case whether it is justified. The blanket condemnation of an opponent, on the ground that he has allowed the end to justify the means, is therefore absurd. One might as well issue a blanket condemnation of eating, because people sometimes eat when they ought not to.

Graphic Rule


What kind of a choice is it to ask in general what things are good? For evidently it is not what we most commonly call choice, such as choosing between two plays after deciding to go to a theatre. I proceed to characterize the kind of choice or evaluation expressed in an answer to the question What things are good?

In the first place, it is a pure choice. The word 'good' is being used here purely evaluatively, without any descriptive dimension at all. We are simply trying to decide where to put our love and praise.

In the second place, choices may be particular or general. We may choose to put this particular yellow flower in just here, or we may choose to put some kind of yellow flower somewhere about here. Our question, What things are good?, is an invitation to general, not to particular, choice. It is not like saying 'What shall I do now?' but more like saying 'What shall be my general line of action in a certain sphere?' It is a choice, but a choice that does not lead to any particular action without some further choice and some particular occasion. It is a general decision that will influence a great many particular decisions but not suffice to determine any. Or, if the notion of a general decision is objectionable, we may say that it is an evaluation rather than a decision.

In the third place, this kind of general choice, this activity of answering the question What things are good? is one that goes on throughout our lives. The child tries to learn from its elders what to approve and what to disapprove. That is the point of the recurrent joke in 1066 And All That: 'He was a good king' and 'He was a bad king'. We want so much to judge each king. When we grow up we do not abandon this childish activity; nor do we think that we have completed it. We do it continually, but more complicatedly and critically and generally. It is one of our main interests in life. Or perhaps I should say: it is our interest in life. We long to be confident and abiding in our valuations instead of uncertain and bewildered.

Thus our question What things are good? is an expression of one of the most pervasive and important aspects of our life, our evaluating activities. But it is not merely an expression of this. It is also, in the fourth place, a criticism of this.

For, strange as it seems, we often evaluate our own evaluations, and approve or disapprove our own tastes. Many men are proud of themselves for disliking milk, or approve of themselves for thinking their country better than other countries, or thank God that they value Beethoven and not jazz. The exhortation to 'lay not up for yourselves treasures ... where moth and rust doth corrupt' is an evaluation of an evaluation. One can have a sneaking approval of something, that is, approve of it and disapprove of oneself for approving of it. We wish to approve of our own approvals, and to be pleased with ourselves as appraisers of the world. We thus become critical of our own evaluations, and interested in putting the question what things are good although we already have a set of answers to it. We distinguish what we do value from what we will try to value, because we recognize the truth of Bosanquet's opinion that 'to like and dislike rightly is the goal of all culture worthy of the name' (Three Lectures on Aesthetics. I recommend this little book to you).

While we have all already made many valuations which we are never going to change, yet we are also all engaged all the time in making further evaluations and in reconsidering those we have made. A general choice can always be reconsidered just because it is general. A particular choice, such as to go to a theatre this evening, can no longer be reconsidered when this evening is passed. We can, of course, condemn or approve ourselves for having gone to the theatre yesterday; but the decision itself is completely exhausted; the actions which it potentially contained are all done. A general choice, on the other hand, may always bear on further possible actions, so long as the chooser lives. The opinion, for example, that Bach is a good composer, bears on all future occasions when I might hear or avoid hearing Bach. At all times of my life, therefore, this opinion retains some practical force. At all times of my life, therefore, the reconsideration of this opinion will itself be a practical matter.

General choices which can be reconsidered will be reconsidered from time to time. A man will sometimes reconsider his evaluations if they are challenged, or if unpleasant consequences of them force themselves upon his nonce more strongly than before, or if his tastes change, or simply because he has the habit of evaluating his own evaluations.

Choice can be wise or foolish. We desire to answer the question What things are good? wisely rather than foolishly.

Wise choice proceeds upon principles. Placing an action under a principle relates it to all the other possible actions flowing from that principle. Practical principles include moral laws, maxims of prudence, statements of standards, and the individual's private rules. Practical principles are themselves choices. That is, to have one and act on it is to have adopted and be carrying out a general choice.

Our practical principles often take the form of setting up standards. And whether a certain thing meets a certain standard is a question of fact, not of choice. This point was very illuminatingly made by Mr. Urmson in his article 'On Grading' in Mind for 1950. It was also made by a number of other writers during the years 1949-52, usually with the intention of rebutting the subjectivism of Professor C. L. Stevenson's Ethics and Language. But these writers all failed to mention that a standard becomes your standard only when you adopt it, and an adoption is a choice. Before you can answer the question of fact, whether the thing meets your standard, you must answer the question of choice, what standard you adopt.

It is a fact, perhaps, that the motor-cars of 1960 satisfy most people's standards better than the motor-cars of 1930. But that does not make everyone call the motor-cars of 1960 better, because not everyone adopts the standards by which they are better. There are some oldfashioned codgers who cling to other standards, and by those standards correctly call the motor-cars of 1930 better than those of 1960. The man who calls those of 1930 better, and the man who calls those of 1960 better, may both be quite correct on their respective questions of fact, namely Which car meets my standard better?, and may be differing merely in their choice of standard. It is important neither to represent the question whether a thing is good as a mere question of choice, by suppressing the question whether it in fact meets your standard, nor to represent it as a mere question of fact, by suppressing the question what standard you have chosen.

The rebutters of Professor Stevenson round the year 1950 made the mistake of soft-pedalling the question of the choice of standard. For example, Professor Toulmin, in his The Place of Reason in Ethics, 1950, can be seen on close inspection to be adopting some kind of vaguely utilitarian standard of right and wrong, but drawing no attention to the fact and concentrating interest on the derivation of particular duties from the standard. One of these writers, Mr. Tomas (Mind, 1951), actually shows, though it is contrary to his intention to do so, that the element of choice is far more pervasive even than Stevenson said.

There are good reasons for adopting one standard to the exclusion of another. Certain choices of standard may properly be called wise. Others may properly be called foolish, or even insane. Wise men look for standards, perhaps, that correspond to our natural propensities, or help us to achieve our purposes, or tend to make us happy rather than unhappy, or are likely to be generally adopted. All that is true and should not be overlooked. Nor should it cause us to overlook the fact that the wise man is still adopting a standard, however wisely; he is not just reading off a fact.

Ultimate choices must occur, in one sense of the phrase. That is, at any given time any given person must have principles which he is not deducing from any ulterior principle. Even if there could be an infinite regress of practical principles, none of us could actually have the whole infinite series in mind. We all inevitably have, at every moment, some principles behind which we have not gone; and those are our ultimates for the moment.

Each of us naturally tends to find other people's ultimate principles highly arbitrary and insecure. A few of us find all ultimate principles as such highly arbitrary and insecure, and wish there were some way of avoiding them. But, since we cannot hold in mind or run through an infinite deduction of principles, the only way to avoid having a first principle is to have no principle at all, like a lizard perhaps.

If we conclude that we must have at least one underived principle, we next hope that at any rate it may be selfevident and certain. But even that is too much to hope; for a practical principle cannot be selfevident. There are only two kinds of selfevidence, the perceived truth and the analytic truth; and neither of these can be a practical principle. That I am now talking, which is a truth I now perceive, is not a practical principle but a description of fact. And no analytic truth is a practical principle because analytic truths are compatible with any and every state of affairs. The command, 'Thou shalt do no evil', sounds like an analytic but practical precept; but it is not practical, for it does not tell us what is evil. 'Thou shalt do no murder' is selfevident but analytic. 'Thou shalt not kill' is practical but dubious.

It is inevitable, then, to have at every moment practical principles which for the moment are neither derived nor selfevident. But it is not inevitable to be uneasy and insecure about this, nor is it necessarily an unreasonable state of mind. The way to ease and reasonableness lies in the examination of consequences.

It is wise to choose in view of probable consequences, and foolish to choose without considering consequences. In order to decide whether a thing is good, the wise man ascertains the facts of its nature, connexions, conditions and effects. He does not call democracy good, or television bad without having reached firm views as to their consequences. He differs from the fool in paying more attention to facts before he makes his choices, in being more of a scientist in his practice. Thus the question What things are good?, though not a question of fact, yet ought to be decided by reference to facts.

This characteristic of the wise chooser, that he ascertains facts more than does the fool, helps to make many people believe that the question What things are good? is itself a question of fact. And, when they hear someone say it is not a question of fact, they tend to infer wrongly that he means that no attention need be paid to facts in answering it. They tend to assume wrongly that to deny that it is a question of fact is to recommend that it should be decided carelessly and irresponsibly. On the other hand, people who see clearly the element of choice or decision in the question What things are good? occasionally assume that therefore the question may be or even must be answered without consulting the facts. The double truth is that What things are good? both is a question of choice and ought to be answered only after careful examination of facts. We wish to make our decisions and evaluations in view of the world as it is, not in view of some imaginary world which we erroneously suppose to be the real world, nor in view of nothing at all.

The wise man's particular choices are guided both from below by the consequences which he expects and from above by his principles or general choices. The reasons for a choice are both the consequences which it would produce and the principles under which it can be placed. The higher and nearer to ultimacy the choice is, the fewer principles it can be placed under, but also, in compensation, the more consequences it involves. Ultimate choices can be recommended only by their consequences, but their consequences are enormous. Thus no choice of any importance need be without its reasons; for either it falls under principles, or it involves grave consequences, or it is unimportant. A good paradigm of ultimate choosing, where everything depends on the consequences because there are no ulterior principles to appeal to, is the choice which, in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, the controller sets before the savage.

Ultimate principles are no more undiscussable than ultimate laws of nature or axioms in geometry. They are endlessly discussable. They merely have the peculiarity that the discussion of them consists entirely in the consideration of their consequences. They can be discussed and they ought to be discussed. We ought to criticize them. We ought to make ourselves conscious of their existence, their natures, and their bearings.

In another sense of the phrase 'ultimate principle' there are no ultimate principles. For every man can always reconsider tomorrow the principle which he takes as ultimate today. Tomorrow he may decide to drop the principle, or he may deduce it from an ulterior principle. In either case it will no longer be an ultimate principle.

Graphic Rule


The process of making a wise choice, in view of principles and consequences, is judgement rather than deduction or induction or inference or intuition. Deduction plays a part in it, for example in seeing what a given principle implies in a given situation. But deduction never forms the whole of deliberation and judgement. There is in addition at least the choice to apply this principle to this situation. Induction also plays a part; for in predicting the consequences of a proposal we must use our inferences as to what the laws of nature are. But induction, too, never forms the whole of deliberation and judgement, because prediction is not choice. Both deduction and induction are radically distinct from judgement in that they are abstractive, separative, analytical, whereas judgement is concretive and synthetical. We judge what is best to do in this whole concrete situation. The wise man tries to see all the relevant principles and all the important consequences, and then to make a judgement on the whole.

Thus an important choice has far more grounds than an inference has. In an inference you can say quite shortly what the whole of your reason is for your conclusion. But in a wise judgement it is a very long business to give your reason, because your reason ought to be nothing less than the whole of the principles relevant to your choice and the whole of the consequences of your choice, and the whole situation in which it occurs. Hence in practice people sometimes renounce the effort to give a reason for their choice. They feel that they could only say part of it, and that to represent a part of it as the reason would be to misrepresent the choice. Hence choice often looks like intuition, that is, like something totally unreasoned. It often looks like intuition even to the wise chooser himself, who has really reviewed a great deal of matter in making it. Good choice is all-considering; and the all-considering sometimes looks like the nothing-considering.

The all-consideringness of wise choice is not well brought out in ordinary speech. We tend to speak of deliberation on the model of deduction, where the conclusion is drawn from quite a small number of quite abstract premisses. Thus a minister of the Crown, when declining to do something suggested by a member of parliament, will often say that he sees no reason for it. This is nearly always absurd. There is some reason for almost every possible line of action; and the fact that a member of parliament wants it done is quite a strong reason for doing it. The truth is that the minister has judged that upon the whole the reasons for not doing it are much stronger than the reasons for doing it; but we are reluctant, I do not know why, to talk like that.

Similarly, we are prone to ask 'What is your reason for that decision?', as if he had only one. It seems that the best answer would be: 'If I made this decision for only one reason I should be injudicious. I have made it, I hope, in view of the whole situation and the whole of my general principles, since that is the judicious way to reach a decision. If so, my reason for it is my view of the whole situation plus all my relevant principles.'

The worst of defending your abstention from something by saying that you see no reason for it is that you make some people think that, if there is some reason for doing it, it should be done; and that is folly.

The final judgement, after we have made our review of all the relevant considerations, is always a risk and often feels like a risk. Judgement is riskier than either deduction or induction. Deduction is safe and sure, a pleasant occupation for the timorous, because the premisses entail the conclusion. Induction is unsure, because the premisses do not entail the conclusion; but still it is theoretical; we are risking only a theory. Judgement is neither sure nor theoretical. It is risking our lives.

Though I have here discussed judgement in reference to choice, and contrasted it with induction, judgement is often required not merely for deciding what to do but also for deciding what the particular facts of the world are. It is a matter of judgement whether you can safely overtake another car or not, a question of deciding what emerges from the whole concrete situation which you perceive. Induction is more our process of adopting abstract and general statements about the world, than our process of deciding the nature and course of any concrete event. Whether there is a god, for example, a particular concrete question about the world, is a matter for judgement rather than for induction or deduction.

Judgement is not the same as skill or cleverness; and little skill or cleverness is required in order to make judicious choices. In card-games the great superiority of poker over bridge lies largely in the fact that poker requires little cleverness and much judgement; whereas bridge requires little judgement and much cleverness.

What Wittgenstein says about learning to judge the genuineness of an expression of feeling will do very well as a statement about acquiring good judgement an general. It runs as follows an Miss Anscombe's translation of Philosophical Investigations, p. 227: 'Can one learn this knowledge? Yes; some can. Not, however, by taking a course in it, but through "experience" -- Can someone else be a man's teacher in this? Certainly. From time to time he gives him the right tip. -- This is what "learning" and "teaching" are like here. -- What one acquires here is not a technique; one learns correct judgements. There are also rules, but they do not form a system, and only experienced people can apply them right. Unlike calculation rules.'

I believe that to be correct. I will add only that there is one sort of experience that is common to all judgement, in whatever sphere, and important for all good judgement; and that is simply the experience of seeing the need for judgement, and wanting to judge well, and forcing oneself to make a judgement. I believe that most people come to make fairly good judgements in every sphere with which they are acquainted, if they force themselves to judge and want to judge prudently and well. What makes us judge badly is rarely a lack of the capacity to judge well. It is usually a lack of strong desire to judge well, or the presence and triumph of some partial emotion.

Graphic Rule


What is it that makes judgement essential to practice and choice? What is it that makes the abstract reasoner and inferrer a dangerous politician? It is, of course, that all things are connected together by cause and effect, and therefore every good thing is connected to many bad things.

Every good thing is connected to many bad things. There hardly is such a thing as an 'innocent' pleasure. There hardly is a pain unrelated to any good. At any rate all great goods, all goods that count a lot in men's lives, are great evils too. What do you consider a great good? Religion? Political equality? Love? The good will? Each of these has done terrible harm. Any person who sets up some one good as a perfectly safe end, who thinks that this end justifies any means and any consequences, like Madame de Maintenon thinking that religion justifies the killing of Protestant Christians, is a grave danger to the world.

How then can it be wise to set up any goods for oneself at all if they are all evils too? How can it be prudent to offer any answer to the question What things are good? if all things do harm? Since all great goods are greatly harmful sometimes, it seems foolish to affirm them and set them up as objects of enthusiasm and pursuit.

Furthermore, there seems to be something wrong about the very idea of a list of goods. Such a list must, it seems, be endless and it must co-ordinate things that are not on the same level. Freedom, equality, reason, beauty, love, truth, morality, worship, justice, life, pleasure, happiness, democracy, virtue, power, progress, art, importance -- it seems that this can never come to an end, and that anyhow it destroys a certain differentiation and articulation of factors and aspects in the good.

We must admit, I think, that there is something essentially inadequate about a list or creed of great goods. We must admit that there can be no systematic list, because goods are on different levels and in different dimensions, and no complete list, because we do not want our ideal to be finished. A list of great goods, therefore, can only be a list of those things which at the time seem most important or specially engage the author's devotion; and such is the present course.

We must admit too, I think, that all good things are harmful sometimes. But, if so, we are compelled to choose between affirming goods that are sometimes harmful, and not affirming any general goods at all; and the former is clearly the better. It is foolish to decline ever to love a dog because dogs have some nasty habits. It is foolish never to love a cat or a woman because they sometimes scratch. It is foolish to deny the goodness of wine because of the terrible evils of alcoholism.

We might say that man needs slogans. This is a low and inaccurate way of putting it, but has its value. Slogans like 'liberty, equality, fraternity', or 'truth, beauty, goodness', can give life enormously greater interest and elevation. It is a question of choosing them rightly, and of deepening as much as possible our understanding of what they involve. An answer to the question What things are good? is, from this point of view, a choice of slogans for living, and an attempt to see far into the consequences of these slogans, their harm as well as their benefit.

Or we might say that man needs ideals. This also is a useful way of putting it, and higher than the former. But it is still inaccurate. For the word 'ideal' suggests something never yet realized, whereas beauty and truth and other great goods are often realized around us. We need goods that are always realized in part and unrealized in part, goods that both confirm the worth of some things that have already happened and guide us for the future.

Such goods, or such slogan-words, are to be found; and it is good that they should be from time to time examined and rejected or affirmed. It is good that we should start at once to value according to some general conceptions the actualities and possibilities of our existence. Though we shall never know enough to do so with final rightness, we ought to begin doing so at once. The enterprise helps to unify and give significance to all our petty evaluations of every day, and to make our lives as a whole firmer and better.

'But is it proper to conduct this enterprise in public? Why should I, or any man, publish his choices in a course of lectures and invite others to listen to them? A man's personal evaluations of life seem to be a private matter, not suitable for a public lecture. The question What things are good? was suitable for public discussion so long as it was thought to be a fact-finding or scientific question. But now that we see it to be a question of choice, it appears no more suitable for public discussion than the question whether to make or accept a proposal of marriage. It seems that the public inquiry should end with the discovery that Plato and his successors have been regarding as a public and scientific question what is really a matter of private choice.'

This reflection overlooks the social setting of our evaluations. Most of us desire to be in agreement with our fellows as to what is good and what is bad. To find good what everyone else finds bad is apt to be uncomfortable or worse. Most of us welcome the evaluations of others as a means of forming our own. Even when a man offers no reason in support of his opinion, we may still welcome it as giving us a new idea, or enlarging our conception of the possibilities. For example, suppose a man to say that flowers are out of place in a garden, which should contain only trees and grass. Even if he gives no reason for this judgement we may be glad to hear it. It may strike us as a novelty and worth considering. We may like to imagine ourselves maintaining such a garden and rejecting flowers, and to ask ourselves whether that would be a change for the better. Therefore it may be reasonable to publish personal evaluations as a service to others.

Furthermore, when we have achieved any stable and general evaluations, we desire to convert others to them; and it is permissible and reasonable to recommend them publicly.

Thus we may meet the difficulty by saying that, while the question what things are good is personal, it is not purely personal. The point of the word 'purely' is to suggest that each man ought to keep to himself his personal decision as to what things are good. And that suggestion is wrong. He will help both himself and others to decide better if he communicates his decisions and gets them criticized. Our choices can be wise or foolish; and they have more chance of being wise if they submit to criticism from others, and use the choices of others as a means of criticizing themselves.

When the question What things are good? is regarded as a mere question of objective fact, like What metals are lighter than iron?, personal preferences are disguised as objective facts, and private valuations are imposed on other persons by being represented as objective facts. We can now see that to do this is to be inadequately sincere. We must be as honest as possible; and it is no longer possible honestly to present our answers to the question What things are good? as scientific statements of independent facts which the uninstructed hearer ought to believe. Instead we must confess that they are private valuations and recommend them as such.

The answers which I shall give, to the question What things are good?, are my personal choices and evaluations. But they are also invitations to you. I try to find reasons to recommend them to you, and I try to carry you along with me in my choices, or at least to stimulate you into making your own.

You can find other lecturers on the question What things are good?, particularly in churches, who will assure you that they are not giving you their subjective opinions, but objective truths about good and evil independent of man, something much better, therefore than the private and unauthorized opinions of an impudent individual. If you think they are right, it is wise for you to go to them and leave me. But I think, you see, that the difference is that from them you get unconfessed choices instead of confessed ones, choices pretending to be scientific discoveries instead of admitting their nature. I believe myself to be doing consciously, and to that extent better, what some other people do under the false impression that they are not choosing policies but ascertaining facts.