Front Page Titles (by Subject) § 3.: Of Regard to Our Good on the Whole - Selections from the Scottish Philosophy of Common Sense
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§ 3.: Of Regard to Our Good on the Whole - Thomas Reid, Selections from the Scottish Philosophy of Common Sense 
Selections from the Scottish Philosophy of Common Sense, edited, with an introduction by G.A. Johnston (Chicago: Open Court, 1915).
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Of Regard to Our Good on the Whole
It will not be denied that man, when he comes to years of understanding, is led, by his rational nature, to form the conception of what is good for him upon the whole.
How early in life this general notion of good enters into the mind, I cannot pretend to determine. It is one of the most general and abstract notions we form.
Whatever makes a man more happy or more perfect, is good, and is an object of desire as soon as we are capable of forming the conception of it. The contrary is ill, and is an object of aversion.
In the first part of life, we have many enjoyments of various kinds; but very similar to those of brute-animals.
They consist in the exercise of our senses and powers of motion, the gratification of our appetites, and the exertions of our kind affections. These are chequered with many evils of pain, and fear, and disappointment, and sympathy with the sufferings of others.
But the goods and evils of this period of life are of short duration, and soon forgot. The mind, being regardless of the past, and unconcerned about the future, we have then no other measure of good but the present desire; no other measure of evil but the present aversion.
Every animal desire has some particular and present object, and looks not beyond that object to its consequences, or to the connections it may have with other things.
The present object, which is most attractive, or excites the strongest desire, determines the choice, whatever be its consequences. The present evil that presses most, is avoided, though it should be the road to a greater good to come, or the only way to escape a greater evil. This is the way in which brutes act, and the way in which men must act, till they come to the use of reason.
As we grow up to understanding, we extend our view both forward and backward. We reflect upon what is past, and, by the lamp of experience, discern what will probably happen in time to come. We find that many things which we eagerly desired, were too dearly purchased, and that things grievous for the present, like nauseous medicines, may be salutary in the issue.
We learn to observe the connexions of things, and the consequences of our actions; and, taking an extended view of our existence, past, present, and future, we correct our first notions of good and ill, and form the conception of what is good or ill upon the whole; which must be estimated, not from the present feeling, or from the present animal desire or aversion, but from a due consideration of its consequences, certain or probable, during the whole of our existence.
That which, taken with all its discoverable connexions and consequences, brings more good than ill, I call good upon the whole.
That brute-animals have any conception of this good, I see no reason to believe. And it is evident that man cannot have the conception of it, till reason is so far advanced that he can seriously reflect upon the past, and take a prospect of the future part of his existence.
It appears, therefore, that the very conception of what is good or ill for us upon the whole, is the offspring of reason, and can be only in beings endowed with reason. And if this conception give rise to any principle of action in man, which he had not before, that principle may very properly be called a rational principle of action.
I observe, in the next place—That as soon as we have the conception of what is good or ill for us upon the whole, we are led, by our constitution, to seek the good and avoid the ill; and this becomes not only a principle of action, but a leading or governing principle, to which all our animal principles ought to be subordinate.
To prefer a greater good, though distant, to a less that is present; to choose a present evil, in order to avoid a greater evil, or to obtain a greater good, is, in the judgment of all men, wise and reasonable conduct; and, when a man acts the contrary part, all men will acknowledge that he acts foolishly and unreasonably. Nor will it be denied, that, in innumerable cases in common life, our animal principles draw us one way, while a regard to what is good on the whole, draws us the contrary way. Thus the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and these two are contrary. That in every conflict of this kind the rational principle ought to prevail, and the animal to be subordinate, is too evident to need, or to admit of proof.
Thus, I think, it appears, that, to pursue what is good upon the whole, and to avoid what is ill upon the whole, is a rational principle of action grounded upon our constitution as reasonable creatures.
It appears that it is not without just cause, that this principle of action has in all ages been called reason, in opposition to our animal principles, which in common language are called by the general name of the passions.
The first not only operates in a calm and cool manner, like reason, but implies real judgment in all its operations. The second—to wit, the passions—are blind desires of some particular object, without any judgment or consideration, whether it be good for us upon the whole, or ill.
It appears also, that the fundamental maxim of prudence, and of all good morals—That the passions ought, in all cases, to be under the dominion of reason—is not only self-evident, when rightly understood, but is expressed according to the common use and propriety of language.1
[1 ]Ibid., pp. 580-581.