Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER I.: VITUPERATIVE PERSONALITIES— (ad odium.) - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 2
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CHAPTER I.: VITUPERATIVE PERSONALITIES— (ad odium.) - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 2 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 2.
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VITUPERATIVE PERSONALITIES—(ad odium.)
To this class belongs a cluster of fallacies so intimately connected with each other, that they may first be enumerated, and some observations be made upon them in the lump. By seeing their mutual relations to each other—by observing in what circumstances they agree, and in what they differ—a much more correct as well as complete view will be obtained of them, than if they were considered each of them by itself.
The fallacies that belong to this cluster may be denominated—
1. Imputation of bad design.
2. Imputation of bad character.
3. Imputation of bad motive.
4. Imputation of inconsistency.
5. Imputation of suspicious connexions—Noscitur ex sociis.
6. Imputation founded on identity of denomination—Noscitur ex cognominibus.
Of the fallacies belonging to this class, the common character is the endeavour to draw aside attention from the measure to the man;* and this in such sort as, from the supposed imperfection on the part of the man by whom a measure is supported or opposed, to cause a correspondent imperfection to be imputed to the measure so supported, or excellence to the measure so opposed. The argument in its various shapes amounts to this:—In bringing forward or supporting the measure in question, the person in question entertains a bad design; therefore the measure is bad:—he is a person of a bad character; therefore the measure is bad:—he is actuated by a bad motive; therefore the measure is bad:—he has fallen into inconsistencies; on a former occasion, he either opposed it, or made some observation not reconcilable with some observation which he has advanced on the present occasion; therefore the measure is bad:—he is on a footing of intimacy with this or that person, who is a man of dangerous principles and designs, or has been seen more or less frequently in his company, or has professed, or is suspected of entertaining some opinion which the other has professed, or been suspected of entertaining; therefore the measure is bad:—he bears a name that at a former period was borne by a set of men now no more, by whom bad principles were entertained, or bad things done; therefore the measure is bad.
In these arguments, thus arranged, a sort of anti-climax may be observed; the fact intimated by each succeeding argument being suggested in the character of evidence of the one immediately preceding it, or at least of some one or more of those which precede it, and the conclusion being accordingly weaker and weaker at each step. The second is a sort of circumstantial evidence of the first, the third of the second, and so on. If the first is inconclusive, the rest fall at once to the ground.
Exposure.—Various are the considerations which concur in demonstrating the futility of the fallacies comprehended in this class, and (not to speak of the improbity of the utterers) the weakness of those with whom they obtain currency—the weakness of the acceptors:—
1. In the first place comes that general character of irrelevancy which belongs to these, in common with the several other articles that stand upon the list of fallacies.
2. In the next place comes the complete inconclusiveness. Whatsoever be their force as applied to a bad measure—to the worst measure that can be imagined, they would be found to apply with little less force to all good measures—to the best measures that can be imagined.
Among 658, or any such large number of persons taken at random, there will be persons of all characters: if the measure is a good one, will it become bad because it is supported by a bad man? If it is bad, will it become good because supported by a good man? If the measure be really inexpedient, why not at once show that it is so? Your producing these irrelevant and inconclusive arguments in lieu of direct ones, though not sufficient to prove that the measure you thus oppose is a good one, contributes to prove that you yourselves regard it as a good one.
After these general observations, let us examine, more in detail, the various shapes the fallacy assumes.
To begin with the imputation of bad design.
The measure in question is not charged with being itself a bad one; for if it be, and in so far as it is thus charged, the argument is not irrelevant and fallacious. The bad design imputed, consists not in the design of carrying this measure, but some other measure, which is thus, by necessary implication, charged with being a bad one. Here, then, four things ought to be proved: viz. 1. That the design of bringing forward the supposed bad measure is really entertained; 2. That this design will be carried into effect; 3. That the measure will prove to be a bad one; 4. That but for the actually proposed measure, the supposed bad one would not be carried into effect.
This is, in effect, a modification of the fallacy of distrust, which will shortly be treated of.
But on what ground rests the supposition that the supposed bad measure will, as such a consequence, be carried into effect? The persons by whom, if at all, it will be carried into effect, will be either the legislators for the time being, or the legislators of some future contingent time. As to the legislators for the time being, observe the character and frame of mind which the orator imputes to these his judges:—“Give not your sanction to this measure; for though there may be no particular harm in it, yet if you do give your sanction to it, the same man by whom this is proposed, will propose to you others that will be bad; and such is your weakness, that, however bad they may be, you will want either the discernment necessary to enable you to see them in their true light, or the resolution to enable you to put a negative upon measures, of the mischief of which you are fully convinced.” The imbecility of the persons thus addressed in the character of legislators and judges—their consequent unfitness for the situation,—such, it is manifest, is the basis of this fallacy. On the part of these legislators themselves, the forbearance manifested under such treatment on the part of the orator—the confidence entertained of his experiencing such forbearance—afford no inconsiderable presumption of the reality of the character so imputed to them.
Imputation of bad character.
The inference meant to be drawn from an imputation of bad character, is either to cause the person in question to be considered as entertaining bad designs—i. e. about to be concerned in bringing forward future contingent and pernicious measures—or simply to destroy any persuasive force with which, in the character of authority, his opinion is likely to be attended.
In this last case, it is a fallacy opposed to a fallacy of the same complexion, played off on the other side: to employ it, is to combat the antagonist with his own weapons. In the former case, it is another modification of the fallacy of distrust—of which hereafter.
In proportion to the degree of efficiency with which a man suffers these instruments of deception to operate upon his mind, he enables bad men to exercise over him a sort of power, the thought of which ought to cover him with shame. Allow this argument the effect of a conclusive one, you put it into the power of any man to draw you at pleasure from the support of every measure which in your own eyes is good—to force you to give your support to any and every measure which in your own eyes is bad. Is it good?—the bad man embraces it, and by the supposition, you reject it. Is it bad?—he vituperates it, and that suffices for driving you into its embrace. You split upon the rocks, because he has avoided them—you miss the harbour, because he has steered into it.
Give yourself up to any such blind antipathy, you are no less in the power of your adversaries than by a correspondently irrational sympathy and obsequiousness you put yourself into the power of your friends.
Imputation of bad motive.
The proposer of the measure, it is asserted, is actuated by bad motives, from whence it is inferred that he entertains some bad design. This, again, is no more than a modification of the fallacy of distrust; but one of the very weakest—1. Because motives are hidden in the human breast; 2. Because, if the measure is beneficial, it would be absurd to reject it on account of the motives of its author. But what is peculiar to this particular fallacy, is the falsity of the supposition on which it is grounded; viz. the existence of a class or species of motives, to which any such epithet as bad, can with propriety be applied. What constitutes a motive, is the eventual expectation either of some pleasure or exemption from pain; but forasmuch as in itself there is nothing good but pleasure, or exemption from pain, it follows that no motive is bad in itself, though every kind of motive may, according to circumstances, occasion good or bad actions;* and motives of the dissocial cast may aggravate the mischief of a pernicious act. But if the act itself to which the motive gives birth—if in the proposed measure in question there be nothing pernicious,—it is not in the motive’s being of the dissocial class—it is not in its being of the self-regarding class,—that there is any reason for calling it a bad one. Upon the influence and prevalence of motives of the self-regarding class, depends the preservation, not only of the species, but of each individual belonging to it. When, from the introduction of a measure, a man beholds the prospect of personal advantage in any shape whatever to himself,—say for example a pecuniary advantage, as being the most ordinary and palpable, or, dyslogistically speaking, the most gross,—it is certain that the contemplation of this advantage must have had some share in causing the conduct he pursues: it may have been the only cause. The measure itself being by the supposition not pernicious, is it the worse for this advantage? On the contrary, it is so much the better. For of what stuff is public advantage composed, but of private and personal advantage?
Imputation of inconsistency.
Admitting the fact of the inconsistency, the utmost can amount to, in the character of an argument against the proposed measure, is, the affording a presumption of bad design in a certain way, or of bad character in a certain way and to a certain degree, on the part of the proposer or supporter of the measure. Of the futility of that argument, a view has been already given: and this, again, is a modification of the fallacy of distrust.
That inconsistency, when pushed to a certain degree, may afford but too conclusive evidence of a sort of relatively bad character, is not to be denied: if, for example, on a former occasion, personal interest inclining him one way (say against the measure,) arguments have been urged by the person in question against the measure; while on the present occasion, personal interest inclining him the opposite way, arguments are urged by him in favour of the measure,—or if a matter of fact, which on a former occasion was denied, be now asserted, or vice versâ—and in each case, if no notice of the inconsistency is taken by the person himself;—the operation of it to his prejudice will naturally be stronger than if an account more or less satisfactory is given by him of the circumstances and causes of the variance.
But, be the evidence with regard to the cause of the change what it may, no inference can be drawn from it against the measure, unless it be that such inconsistency, if established, may weaken the persuasive force of the opinion of the person in question in the character of authority: and in what respect and degree an argument of this complexion is irrelevant, has been already brought to view.
Imputation of suspicious connexions—(noscitur ex sociis.)
The alleged badness of character on the part of the alleged associate being admitted, the argument now in question will stand upon the same footing as the four preceding; the weakness of which has been already exposed, and will constitute only another branch of the fallacy of distrust. But before it can stand on a par even with those weak ones, two ulterior points remain to be established:—
1. One is, the badness of character on the part of the alleged associate.
2. Another is, the existence of a social connexion between the person in question and his supposed associate.
3. A third is, that the influence exercised on the mind of the person in question is such, that in consequence of the connexion he will be induced to introduce and support measures (and those mischievous ones) which otherwise he would not have introduced or supported.
As to the two first of these three supposed facts, their respective degrees of probability will depend on the circumstances of each case. Of the third, the weakness may be exposed by considerations of a general nature. In private life, the force of the presumption in question is established by daily experience: but in the case of a political connexion, such as that which is created by an opposition to one and the same political measure or set of measures, the presumption loses a great part, sometimes the whole, of its force. Few are the political measures, on the occasion of which men of all characters, men of all degrees in the scale of probity and improbity, may not be seen on both sides.
The mere need of information respecting matters of fact, is a cause capable of bringing together, in a state of apparent connexion, some of the most opposite characters.
Imputation founded on identity of denomination—(noscitur ex cognominibus.)
The circumstances by which this fallacy is distinguished from the last preceding is, that in this case, between the person in question, and the obnoxious persons by whose opinions and conduct he is supposed to be determined or influenced, neither personal intercourse nor possibility of personal intercourse can exist. In the last case, his measures were to be opposed because he was connected with persons of bad character,—in the present, because he bears the same denomination as persons now no more, but who in their own time were the authors of pernicious measures. In so far as a community of interest exists between the persons thus connected by community of denomination, the allegation of a certain community of designs is not altogether destitute of weight. Community of denomination, however, is but the sign, not the efficient cause, of community of interest. What have the Romans of the present day in common with the Romans of early times? Do they aspire to recover the empire of the world?
But when evil designs are imputed to men of the present day, on the ground that evil designs were entertained and prosecuted by their namesakes in time past, whatsoever may be the community of interest, one circumstance ought never to be out of mind:—this is, the gradual melioration of character from the most remote and barbarous, down to the present time; the consequence of which is, that in many particulars the same ends which were formerly pursued by persons of the same denomination are not now pursued; and if in many others the same ends are pursued, they are not pursued by the same bad means. If this observation pass unheeded, the consequences may be no less mischievous than absurd: that which has been, is unalterable. If, then, this fallacy be suffered to influence the mind, and determine human conduct, whatsoever degree of depravity be imputed to preceding generations of the obnoxious denomination—whatsoever opposition may have been manifested towards them or their successors,—must continue without abatement to the end of time. “Be my friendship immortal, my enmity mortal,” is the sentiment that has been so warmly and so justly applauded in the mouth of a sage of antiquity: but the fallacy here in question proposes to maintain its baneful influence for ever.
It is in matters touching religious persuasion, and to the prejudice of certain sects, that this fallacy has been played off with the greatest and most pernicious effect. In England, particularly against measures for the relief of the Catholics, “those of our ancestors, who, professing the same branch of the Christian religion as that which you now profess, were thence distinguished by the same name, entertained pernicious designs, that for some time showed themselves in pernicious measures; therefore you, entertaining the same pernicious designs, would now, had you but power enough, carry into effect the same pernicious measures:—they, having the power, destroyed by fire and faggot those who, in respect of religious opinions and ceremonies, differed from them; therefore, had you but power enough, so would you.” Upon this ground, in one of the three kingdoms, a system of government continues, which does not so much as profess to have in view the welfare of the majority of the inhabitants,—a system of government in which the interest of the many is avowedly, so long as the government lasts, intended to be kept in a state of perpetual sacrifice to the interest of the few. In vain is it urged, these inferences, drawn from times and measures long since past, are completely belied by the universal experience of all present time. In the Saxon kingdom, in the Austrian empire, in the vast and ever-flourishing empire of France, though the sovereign is Catholic, whatsoever degree of security the government allows of, is possessed alike by Catholics and Protestants. In vain is it observed (not that to this purpose this or any other part of the history of the 17th century is worth observing)—in vain is it observed, and truly observed, the Church of England continued her fires after the Church of Rome had discontinued hers.*
It is only in the absence of interest, that experience can hope to be regarded, or reason heard. In the character of sinecurists and over-paid placemen, it is the interest of the members of the English government to treat the majority of the people of Ireland on the double footing of enemies and subjects; and such is the treatment which is in store for them to the extent of their endurance.
Cause of the prevalence of the fallacies belonging to this class.
Whatsoever be the nature of the several instruments of deception by which the mind is liable to be operated upon and deceived, the degree of prevalence they experience—the degree of success they enjoy, depends ultimately upon one common cause, viz. the ignorance and mental imbecility of those on whom they operate. In the present instance, besides this ultimate cause or root, they find in another fallacy, and the corresponding propensity of the human mind, a sort of intermediate cause. This is the fallacy of authority: the corresponding propensity is the propensity to save exertion by resting satisfied with authority. Derived from, and proportioned to, the ignorance and weakness of the minds to which political arguments are addressed, is the propensity to judge of the propriety or impropriety of a measure from the supposed character or disposition of its supporters or opposers, in preference to, or even in exclusion of, its own intrinsic character and tendency. Proportioned to the degree of importance attached to the character and disposition of the author or supporter of the measure, is the degree of persuasive force with which the fallacies belonging to this class will naturally act.
Besides, nothing but laborious application and a clear and comprehensive intellect, can enable a man on any given subject to employ successfully relevant arguments drawn from the subject itself. To employ personalities, neither labour nor intellect is required: in this sort of contest, the most idle and the most ignorant are quite on a par with, if not superior to, the most industrious and the most highly-gifted individuals. Nothing can be more convement for those who would speak without the trouble of thinking: the same ideas are brought forward over and over again, and all that is required is to vary the turn of expression. Close and relevant arguments have very little hold on the passions, and serve rather to quell than to inflame them; while in personalities, there is always something stimulant, whether on the part of him who praises, or him who blames. Praise forms a kind of connexion between the party praising and the party praised, and vituperation gives an air of courage and independence to the party who blames.
Ignorance and indolence, friendship and enmity, concurring and conflicting interest, servility and independence—all conspire to give personalities the ascendency they so unhappily maintain. The more we lie under the influence of our own passions, the more we rely on others being affected in a similar degree. A man who can repel these injuries with dignity may often convert them into triumph: “Strike me, but hear,” says he; and the fury of his antagonist redounds to his own discomfiture.
[* ]On the subject of personalities of the vituperative kind, the following are the instructions given by Gerard Hamilton: they contain all he says upon the subject. I. 31, 367, p. 67—“It is an artifice to be used (but if used by others, to be detected,) to begin some personality, or to throw in something that may bring on a personal altercation, and draw off the attention of the House from the main point.” II. 36 (470) p. 86—“If your cause is too bad, call, in aid, the party” (meaning, probably, the individual who stands in the situation of party, not the assemblage of men of whom a political party is composed)—“if the party is bad, call, in aid, the cause: if neither is good, wound the opponent.” III., “If a person is powerful, he is to be made obnoxious; if helpless, contemptible; if wicked, detestable.” In this we have, so far as concerns the head of personalities, “the whole fruit and result of the experience of one who was by no means unconversant with law,” (says his editor, p. 6,) “and had himself sat in parliament for more than forty years; . . . . devoting almost all his leisure and thoughts, during the long period above mentioned, to the examination and discussion of all the principal questions agitated in parliament, and of the several topics and modes of reasoning by which they were either supported or opposed.”
[* ]See Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislat on, Vol. I.
[* ]Under James I., when, for being Anabaptists or Arians, two men were burnt in Smithfield.