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Where Then Does The Error Lie?
Where, then, does the error lie in the four possible propositions
respecting man's nature? It lies not in their subject, but in the
predicate-that is to say, in the use of the terms 'good' and 'bad.'
Now let us examine how does good differ from bad. A good action ever
promotes interests in a sphere far wider than a bad action. Both are
the same in their conducing to human interests, but differ in the
extent in which they achieve their end. In other words, both good
and bad actions are performed for one end and the same purpose of
promoting human interests, but they differ from each other as to the
extent of interests. For instance, burglary is evidently bad action,
and is condemned everywhere; but the capturing of an enemy's property
for the sake of one's own tribe or clan or nation is praised as a
meritorious conduct. Both acts are exactly the same in their
promoting interests; but the former relates to the interests of a
single individual or of a single family, while the latter to those of
a tribe or a nation. If the former be bad on account of its ignoring
others' interests, the latter must be also bad on account of its
ignoring the enemy's interests. Murder is considered bad everywhere;
but the killing of thousands of men in a battle-field is praised and
honoured, because the former is perpetrated to promote the private
interests, while the latter those of the public. If the former be
bad, because of its cruelty, the latter must also be bad, because of
The idea of good and bad, generally accepted by common sense, may be
stated as follows: 'An action is good when it promotes the interests
of an individual or a family; better when it promotes those of a
district or a country; best when it promotes those of the whole
world. An action is bad when it inflicts injury on another
individual or another family; worse when it is prejudicial to a
district or a country; worst when it brings harm on the whole world.
Strictly speaking, an action is good when it promotes interests,
material or spiritual, as intended by the actor in his motive; and it
is bad when it injures interests, material or spiritual, as intended
by the actor in his motive.'
According to this idea, generally accepted by common sense, human
actions may be classified under four different heads: (1) Purely good
actions; (2) partly good and partly bad actions; (3) neither good nor
bad actions; (4) purely bad actions. First, purely good actions are
those actions which subserve and never hinder human interests either
material or spiritual, such as humanity and love of all beings.
Secondly, partly good and partly bad actions are those actions which
are both for and against human interests, such as narrow patriotism
and prejudiced love. Thirdly, neither good nor bad actions are such
actions as are neither for nor against human interests--for example,
an unconscious act of a dreamer. Lastly, purely bad actions, which
are absolutely against human interests, cannot be possible for man
except suicide, because every action promotes more or less the
interests, material or spiritual, of the individual agent or of
someone else. Even such horrible crimes as homicide and parricide
are intended to promote some interests, and carry out in some measure
their aim when performed. It follows that man cannot be said to be
good or bad in the strict sense of the terms as above defined, for
there is no human being who does the first class of actions and
nothing else, nor is there any mortal who does the fourth class of
actions and nothing else. Man may be called good and bad, and at the
same time be neither good nor bad, in that he always performs the
second and the third class of actions. All this, nevertheless, is a
more play of words. Thus we are driven to conclude that the
common-sense view of human nature fails to grasp the real state of
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