Life and Pleasure (I)

The late H. W. B. Joseph

All men desire their own happiness: which is not to say that they desire nothing else, or regulate all their actions with a view to it. But very many men are also puzzled and perhaps distressed by the fact of unhappiness, whosever it may be. For it seems evil, and evil is a problem, whether seen in animal pain, or in human unhappiness, or in wrong-doing, or in what, though not the work of man, yet seems unjust: as, for example, that one who does his duty should perish miserably. True, we should most of us say that our own interest has nothing to do with our duty; and the Psalmist blesses him that sweareth unto his neighbour and disappointeth him not, “though it were to his own hindrance.” Yet almost in the same breath he declares that such a man shall never fall, that he shall dwell in the tabernacle of the Lord, and rest upon his holy hill. Clearly he thought that, unless this were so, something would be very much amiss, though even so he might have maintained that a man ought to keep the promise which he has sworn to his neighbour. It has been impressively contended by Professor Prichard that there is no sense of “advantage” in which the question whether to keep his promise is advantageous to me is relevant to the question whether I ought to keep it, not even if I identify my own advantage with what advantages society: “our conviction that we ought to do certain actions does not in fact arise from our thought that our action will conduce to the good of society which is also our own good.” Yet the contemplation of a world in which, though men did their duty, they were always involved in misery by doing it, would be gravely disconcerting. Kant himself could not believe such a world possible, though more almost than any other moralist he insisted that our consciousness of obligation had no connection with any thought of how discharging it bore upon our happiness, nor the obligation itself with how discharging it actually did so. Rather than admit that there could in the last resort be even a partial maladjustment between virtue and happiness, he was prepared to accept what he claimed to have shown that the speculative reason could never establish, the existence of an all-powerful and all-righteous God.