[Self-realisation and Pleasure in the Ethics of Green and Sidgwick]
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[ 147 [Self-realisation and Pleasure in the Ethics of Green and Sidgwick] [Self-realisation and Pleasure in the Ethics of Green and Sidgwick] was written at Harvard in spring 1914 for “Philosophy 20d: Seminary in Ethics” taught by Professor Ralph Barton Perry. The object of this paper is to compare the self-realisation ethics of Green with the utilitarian ethics of Sidgwick; to consider the criticisms which each has passed upon the other, and to estimate the score on both sides.1 As the theory of Green pretends to be solidly established upon the Green metaphysic , and as Sidgwick says it isn’t, it will be well first to devote some attention to this metaphysic and to Sidgwick’s comments thereupon.2 This will cast light both upon Green’s attitude in ethics and upon Sidgwick’s attitude toward Green, inasmuch as there is involved, I think, a serious confusion of thought upon the part of the one and the other. The question with which Green occupies himself throughout the Prolegomena is, as Caird points out, an adaptation of the problem of Kant: how to count for and justify the presence of moral judgments in a purely natural world.3 There are two orders, equally real and laying equal claims to absolute validity. How can man be both part of a mechanism and a moral agent at the same time? Out of this obvious dilemma, which I presume most of us will admit, Green fashions his double-sided universe, mechanical on one side, spiritual on the other; satisfying the intellect and edifying the emotions. I wish to point out that the consequence of this diplomacy is a consistent materialism , and that upon this basis some of the ethics appears as mere verbiage, while much can be retained and is valuable. As a failure to perceive this aspect of Green’s metaphysics makes Sidgwick’s criticisms frequently misfire , and as the materialistic interpretation of Green provides the standpoint for comparison, which shows weaknesses in Sidgwick’s system, I shall insist upon the statement for a moment.4 It should be evident, in the first place, that the mental plays little or no part in the actual world of Green. He uses the words mental and spiritual, indeed, with the gracious ease of mid-Victorian idealism, but the mental is in fact not an active element in the world which we know, but rather an aspect under which the world as a whole may be contemplated.5 It is not your 1913-14: Harvard University 148 ] mind or mine which is mental as such, so to speak, but the divine mind expressing itself through these individual minds; which are indeed only “mental” by delegation. It is easy but not necessary to be deceived by Green’s language: he speaks always of relations as the “work of the mind,” but of course does not mean the individual mind. For the latter would show, to Green,onlyrelations.Relations,Greenurgeseverywhere,aretheveryessence of reality, though relations are emphatically the work of the mind. The very word reality is a word in strictness meaningless for Green, as the distinction between real and unreal exists only for an imperfect intelligence. It is a distinction , Green says, “between one particular reality and another; not between a real, as such or as a whole, and an unreal, as such or as a whole” (27). But as a matter of fact a “particular reality” would be an anomaly in Green’s system, which adopts internal relations. So Green does not succeed in disposing of unreal objects. The point made here is that there is no distinction of mentality between the real and the unreal, inasmuch as the work of the mind is just as real as anything else. The idea of a hundred thalers differs from the so-called reality of them only in that the relations are different.6 There is nothing specifically mental about either. Nowhere in the world of Green will you find anything mental to contrast with anything non-mental; and whether you say that everything is mental or that nothing is mental, it is all one. In saying that Green’s system is materialistic, then, we do not mean a Democritan materialism but relations instead of atoms.7 Relations and appearances, he insists, are as real as anything else, and we must seek the real, he tells us again, in a “uniform law of change” (31).8 I only mean that the world as a natural...


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