Philosophy

Articles

Social Morality and Individual Ideal1

P. F. Strawsona1

a1 University College, Oxford

Men make for themselves pictures of ideal forms of life. Such pictures are various and may be in sharp opposition to each other; and one and the same individual may be captivated by different and sharply conflicting pictures at different times. At one time it may seem to him that he should live—even that a man should live —in such-and-such a way; at another that the only truly satisfactory form of life is something totally different, incompatible with the first. In this way, his outlook may vary radically, not only at different periods of his life, but from day to day, even from one hour to the next. It is a function of so many variables: age, experiences, present environment, current reading, current physical state are some of them. As for the ways of life that may thus present themselves at different times as each uniquely satisfactory, there can be no doubt about their variety and opposition. The ideas of self-obliterating devotion to duty or to the service of others; of personal honour and magnanimity; of asceticism, contemplation, retreat; of action, dominance and power; of the cultivation of “an exquisite sense of the luxurious”; of simple human solidarity and co-operative endeavour; of a refined complexity of social existence; of a constantly maintained and renewed affinity with natural things—any of these ideas, and a great many others too, may form the core and substance of a personal ideal.

Footnotes

1 This paper has been read at philosophical societies in a number of British universities. I am grateful to my critics on these occasions for forcing me to make myself at least a little clearer.