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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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Naturalistic and Pragmatic Formulations. While
the analytic formulations began with language and
worked out towards the contexts and functions which


characterized moral phenomena and moral processes,
the naturalistic formulations went as directly as possi-
ble to the latter in order to explore them in as scientific
a spirit as possible. Utilitarianism had done this by
identifying the good as pleasure, studying pleasure with
respect to qualities, conditions of occurrence, modes
of increasing, and so on, although in a limited intro-
spective way. The good and the right were then related
as pleasure and the avoidance of pain to the stable
rules of their successful pursuit.

The differences among the naturalistic formulations,
especially with the emergence of general value theory,
tended to follow the different assumptions about the
most fruitful scientific study. R. B. Perry, in his General
Theory of Value
(1926), identified value as object of
interest rather than pleasure, apparently because in-
terest has a broader biological import and can be
exhibited in behavioral terms. Thus where Bentham
called intensity a measure of value, Perry spoke of the
degree of arousal of the organism. The function of the
right was broadly carried out by measures of the
maximal achievement of interest, with such criteria as
intensity, preference and inclusiveness, and with
specific exploration of different levels of integration
of interest. In the narrow sense, judgments of right and
wrong indicated the application of such criteria in
rule-formation within groups for group interests. By
contrast to Perry's approach, Stephen Pepper, in his
Sources of Value (1958), focused on the phenomenon
of appetition and purposive striving. Regarding it as
basic, Pepper maintained that the aspects of pleasure
or satisfaction generally, as well as those of interest
and direction, can be set within a framework of pur-
pose. The structure of such appetition is generalized
into a theory of value as a whole, and the concepts
of the good and the right find their place in the goals
and the modes of organization within that structure.

Pepper's formulation consciously set out from E. C.
Tolman's behaviorist studies (Purposive Behavior in
Animals and Men
). In corresponding fashion, other
kinds of psychological inquiry are associated with other
kinds of naturalistic ethical theory. The psychoanalytic
approach exerted wide influence in the mid-twentieth
century. The Freudian picture of the basic instinctual
tendencies operating on the pleasure principle, re-
strained and channeled by the ego operating on the
reality principle to postpone gratification, and by the
superego with its internalized parental prohibitions,
furnished a model into which ethics could readily be
fitted. Moral rules of right and wrong were often inter-
preted as superego phenomena, basically addressed to
problems of acquisitiveness, aggression, and sexuality.
Ideals and aspirations constituting the good rested on
ego-formation or on ego-superego relations. A great
part of the ethical theory that made use of psychoan-
alytic knowledge concerned itself with character and
virtue, falling into a self-development framework
rather than the goal-seeking or the juridical. But the
psychoanalytic exploration of conscience and guilt and
shame formations did affect deeply the theory of duty,
and the probing into phenomena of pleasure and its
sources, and phenomena of aspiration, contributed
greater depth to the understanding of the good.

For the most part, the utilitarian and naturalistic
theories have inherited the older goal-seeking frame-
work with its picture of the unified goal broken up
by evolutionary theory, by depth psychology, and by
social science and its study of historical goals and their
patterning. In the pragmatic formulations, akin to the
naturalistic in their close relation to the sciences, but
more directly incorporating the psychological study of
knowledge processes, the focus is more sharply on the
critical processes of evaluation and formation of rules.
In William James's Psychology (1890) and in Dewey's
reformulation of it, experience is not the passive
lining-up of sensory building-blocks; it is the active
attention and selection in the stream of consciousness
or the flux of events, guided by the existent state and
purposes of the organism, which creates signals and
stimuli out of what is going on, and guides awareness
and response. Categories, and ideas generally, are in-
struments for organizing one's activity and for resolv-
ing problems that arise. The body of ideas and habits
which characterize the self at any time is therefore
constantly undergoing change or is open to change in
response to the growth of experience. The process is
through and through an interactive one.

The psychological exploration is initially grounded
in James's great work. The logical analysis of knowl-
edge, so as to extend the analysis of action to it, is
carried out with the greatest technical refinement by
C. I. Lewis. The general philosophical picture in ap-
plication to a whole range of fields is most evident in
the instrumentalism of John Dewey. Lewis and Dewey
especially stress the unified character of knowledge as
against those who, like the emotivists, reject scientific
method in ethics.

James's treatment of the good and the right does
not go much beyond the general naturalistic concept
of the integration of men's wishes and desires, or where
it does it is to stress the creative frontier element in
willing. Lewis analyzes good or value as one kind of
empirical knowledge, where satisfactions disclosed in
experience serve as the experiential base. But such
judgments, though necessary, are not sufficient to de-
termine what is right to do, since some critique or
principle is needed to rank and systematize
goods—one's own as well as the relation of one's own


good with that of others. What is distinctive about
Lewis' analysis is that such a critique, imperative or
prescriptive, appears not only to guide action but in
the construction of all knowledge.

These rational imperatives, thus presupposed in the
enterprises of science and morality, are basically four,
each of which is presupposed in the succeeding ones.
The first two are the rules of consistency and cogency,
establishing logic and the methods of evidence as com-
pelling. The third is the rule of prudence, according
to which a man reckons his well-being in terms of his
whole life rather than in momentary or fragmentary
impulse. The fourth is the rule of justice, expressing
the phenomena of sociality and social grouping.

Dewey goes beyond reliance on the general charac-
ter of human psychology and the knowledge process
to the results of the specific sciences and the history
of man. The general background of his approach is
the acceptance on evolutionary and historical grounds
of increasingly rapid change in human life. Hence fixity
in goals, in rules, in specific forms of relevant character,
in specific patterns of self-social relations and in re-
sponsibility, is not to be expected. Given such change,
the basic need is for direction and guidance of change.
Intelligence is a general name for man's increasingly
stabilized method of evaluation. Accordingly, Dewey
refashions the initial picture of a moral situation and
the role of concepts of good and right. A moral situa-
tion is not primarily one in which moral principles
struggle with inclination; it is rather one in which there
is a problem or conflict of principles so that a decision
is necessary. Ethics embodies the lessons of reflective
experience as an aid to such decision.

Good refers, then, not to a set of ends, although its
base of phenomena is the purposive activity of men,
but to a mode of evaluating ends, that is, to the devel-
opment of a standard. The traditional sharp distinction
of means and ends is also reassessed. In effect, Dewey
is developing fresh categories for dealing with the
good, in the light of the psychological processes of
purposive activity. Ends are ends-in-view, targets that
are set up so that aiming at them will resolve the
problems in the situation. Similarly, desire is not mere
liking, but arises in a matrix in which to pursue the
object of desire will satisfy needs, harmonize habit
conflicts, and so on. Hence ends are constantly open
to evaluation in terms of consequences met in their

Judgments of right, duty, and rights arise in the
context of claims that are a constant feature of group
life. Guidance by rule, or principles, is thus unavoid-
able. It is this distinctive context which underlies the
claim that the right is separate from the good. Dewey,
consciously facing the traditional issue of the relation
of the right and the good, and the attempts to reduce
one to the other, decides that the categorial distinction
is supported by the basic difference in the phenomena
of desire and aspiration on the one hand, and inter-
personal claims within the group on the other. But it
does not follow that there are other standards than that
of the good for deciding between alternative rules or
principles of right. Hence Dewey's solution, in his and
James H. Tufts' major work on Ethics (rev. ed., 1932),
is the distinction of the concepts, but insistence on
evaluation of what is right by what promotes the good.
In his later Theory of Valuation (1939), however, the
concern with right and wrong recedes, and Dewey
deals rather with the way criteria for evaluation in all
fields rise and operate as standards and principles. The
emphasis throughout remains on the theory of reflec-
tive criticism.