Front Page Titles (by Subject) PART III.: FALLACIES OF DELAY, THE SUBJECT-MATTER OF WHICH IS DELAY IN VARIOUS SHAPES—AND THE OBJECT, TO POSTPONE DISCUSSION, WITH A VIEW OF ELUDING IT. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 2
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PART III.: FALLACIES OF DELAY, THE SUBJECT-MATTER OF WHICH IS DELAY IN VARIOUS SHAPES—AND THE OBJECT, TO POSTPONE DISCUSSION, WITH A VIEW OF ELUDING IT. - 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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FALLACIES OF DELAY,
THE QUIETIST, OR “NO COMPLAINT”—(ad quietem)
Exposition.—A new law or measure being proposed in the character of a remedy for some incontestable abuse or evil, an objection is frequently started, to the following effect:—“The measure is unnecessary; nobody complains of disorder in that shape in which it is the aim of your measure to propose a remedy to it: even when no cause of complaint has been found to exist, especially under governments which admit of complaints, men have in general not been slow to complain; much less where any just cause of complaint has existed.” The argument amounts to this:—Nobody complains, therefore nobody suffers. It amounts to a veto on all measures of precaution or prevention, and goes to establish a maxim in legislation, directly opposed to the most ordinary prudence of common life;—it enjoins us to build no parapets to a bridge till the number of accidents has raised an universal clamour.
Exposure.—The argument would have more plausibility than it has, if there were any chance of complaints being attended to—if the silence of those who suffer did not arise from despair, occasioned by seeing the fruitlessness of former complaints. The expense and vexation of collecting and addressing complaints to parliament being great and certain, complaint will not commonly be made without adequate expectation of relief. But how can any such expectation be entertained by any one who is in the slightest degree acquainted with the present constitution of parliament? Members who are independent of and irresponsible to the people, can have very few and very slight motives for attending to complaints, the redress of which would affect their own sinister interests. Again, how many complaints are repressed by the fear of attacking powerful individuals, and incurring resentments which may prove fatal to the complainant!
The most galling and the most oppressive of all grievances is that complicated mass of evil which is composed of the uncertainty, delay, expense, and vexation in the administration of justice: of this, all but a comparatively minute proportion is clearly factitious* —factitious, as being the work, originally and in its foundation, of the man of law; latterly, and in respect of a part of its superstructure, of the man of finance. In extent, it is such, that of the whole population there exists not an individual who is not every moment of his life exposed to suffer under it: and few advanced in life, who, in some shape or other, have not actually been sufferers from it. By the price that has been put upon justice, or what goes by the name of justice, a vast majority of the people, to some such amount as 9-10ths or 19-20ths, are bereft altogether of the ability of putting in for a chance for it; and to those to whom, instead of being utterly denied this sort of chance, is sold, it is sold at such a price, as, to the poorest of such as have it still in their power to pay, the price is utter ruin—and even to the richest, matter of serious and sensible inconvenience.
In comparison of this one scourge, all other political scourges put together are feathers: and in so far as it has the operations of the man of finance for its cause, if, instead of onetenth upon income, a property tax amounted to nine-tenths, still an addition to the property tax would, in comparison of the affliction produced by the sum assessed on law-proceedings, be a relief: for the income-tax falls upon none but the comparatively prosperous, and increases in proportion to the prosperity—in proportion to the ability to sustain it; whereas the tax upon law-proceedings falls exclusively upon those whom it finds labouring under affliction—under that sort of affliction which, so long as it lasts, operates as a perpetual blister on the mind.
Here, then, is matter of complaint for every British subject that breathes—here, injustice, oppression, and distress are all extreme: complaint there is none. Why? Because, by unity of sinister interest, and consequent confederacy between lawyer and financier, relief is rendered hopeless.
FALLACY OF FALSE CONSOLATION—(ad quietem.)
Exposition.—A measure having for its object the removal of some abuse, i. e. of some practice, the result of which is, on the part of the many, a mass of suffering more than equivalent to the harvest of enjoyment reaped from it by the few, being proposed,—this argument consists in pointing to the general condition of the people in this or that other country, under the notion, that in that other country, either in the particular respect in question, or upon the whole, the condition of the people is not so felicitous as, notwithstanding the abuse, it is in the country in and for which the measure of reform is proposed.
“What is the matter with you?” “What would you have?” Look at the people there, and there: think how much better off you are than they are. Your prosperity and liberty are objects of envy to them;—your institutions are the models which they endeavour to imitate.
Assuredly, it is not to the disposition to keep an eye of preference turned to the bright side of things, where no prospect of special good suggests the opposite course,—it is not to such a disposition or such a habit, that by the word fallacy it is proposed to affix a mark of disapprobation.
When a particular suffering, produced as it appears by an assignable and assigned cause, has been pointed out as existing, a man, instead of attending to it himself, or inviting to it the attention of others, employs his exertions in the endeavour to engage other eyes to turn themselves to any other quarter in preference (he being of the number of those whose acknowledged duty it is to contribute their best endeavours to the affording to every affliction within their view, whatsoever relief may be capable of being afforded to it without preponderant inconvenience)—then, and then only, is it, that the endeavour becomes a just ground for censure, and the means thus employed present a title to be received upon the list of fallacies.
Exposure.—The pravity as well as fallaciousness of this argument can scarcely be exhibited in a stronger or truer light than by the appellation here employed to characterize it.
1. Like all other fallacies upon this list, it is nothing to the purpose.
2. In his own case, no individual in his senses would accept it. Take any one of the orators by whom this argument is tendered, or of the sages on whom it passes for sterling: with an observation of the general wealth and prosperity of the country in his mouth, instead of a half-year’s rent in his hand, let any one of his tenants propose to pay him thus in his own coin,—will he accept it?
3. In a court of justice, in an action for damages,—to learned ingenuity did ever any such device occur as that of pleading assets in the hand of a third person, or in the hands of the whole country, in bar to the demand? What the largest wholesale trade is to the smallest retail, such, and more in point of magnitude, is the relief commonly sought for at the hands of the legislator, to the relief commonly sought for at the hands of the judge:—what the largest wholesale trade is to the smallest retail trade, such in point of magnitude, yea and more, is the injustice endeavoured at by this argument when employed in the seat of legislative power, in comparison of the injustice that would be committed by deciding in conformity to it in a court of justice.
No country so wretched, so poor in every element of prosperity, in which matter for this argument might not be found.
Were the prosperity of the country ever so much greater than at present—take for the country any country whatsoever, and for present time any time whatsoever—neither the injustice of the argument, nor the absurdity of it, would in any the smallest degree be diminished.
Seriously and pointedly, in the character of a bar to any measure of relief—no, nor to the most trivial improvement, can it ever be employed. Suppose a bill brought in for converting an impassable road anywhere into a passable one, would any man stand up to oppose it who could find nothing better to urge against it than the multitude and goodness of the roads we have already? No: when in the character of a serious bar to the measure in hand, be that measure what it may, an argument so palpably inapplicable is employed, it can only be for the purpose of creating a diversion—of turning aside the minds of men from the subject really in hand, to a picture which by its beauty it is hoped, may engross the attention of the assembly, and make them forget for the moment for what purpose they came there.
PROCRASTINATOR’S ARGUMENT (ad socordiam.)
“Wait a little, this is not the time.”
Exposition.—To the instrument of deception here brought to view, the expressions that may be given are various to an indefinite degree; but in its nature and conception nothing can be more simple.
To this head belongs every form of words by which, speaking of a proposed measure of relief, an intimation is given, that the time, whatever it be, at which the proposal is made, is too early for the purpose; and given without any proof being offered of the truth of such intimation,—such as, for instance, the want of requisite information, or the convenience of some preparatory measure.
Exposure.—This is the sort of argument or observation which we so often see employed by those who, being in wish and endeavour hostile to a measure, are afraid or ashamed of being seen to be so. They pretend, perhaps, to approve of the measure—they only differ as to the proper time of bringing it forward; but it may be matter of question whether, in any one instance, this observation has been applied to a measure by a man whose wish it was not, that it should remain excluded for ever.
It is in legislation the same sort of quirk, which in judicial procedure is called a plea in abatement. It has the same object, being never employed but on the side of a dishonest defendant, whose hope it is to obtain ultimate impunity and triumph by overwhelming his injured adversary with despair, impoverishment, and lassitude.
A serious refutation would be ill bestowed upon so frivolous a pretence. The objection exists in the will, not in the judgment, of the objector. “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath day?” was the question put by Jesus to the official hypocrites. Which is the properest day to do good?—which is the properest day to remove a nuisance? Answer: The very first day that a man can be found to propose the removal of it; and whosoever opposes the removal of it on that day, will, if he dare, oppose the removal on every other.
The doubts and fears of the parliamentary procrastinator are the conscientious scruples of his prototype the Pharisece; and neither the answer nor the example of Jesus has succeeded in removing these scruples. To him, whatsoever is too soon to-day, be assured that to-morrow, if not too soon, it will be too late.
True it is, that, the measure being a measure of reform or improvement, an observation to this effect may be brought forward by a friend to the measure: and in this case, it is not an instrument of deception, but an expedient of unhappily necessary prudence.
Whatsoever it may be some centuries hence, hitherto the fault of the people has been, not groundless clamour against imaginary grievances, but insensibility to real ones,—insensibility, not to the effect—the evil itself, for that, if it were possible, far from being a fault, would be a happiness,—but to the cause—to the system or course of misrule which is the cause of it.
What, therefore, may but too easily be—what hitherto ever has been—the fact, and that throughout a vast proportion of the field of legislation, is, that in regard to the grievances complained of, the time for bringing forward a measure of effectual relief is not yet come. Why? Because, though groaning under the effect, the people, by the artifice and hypocrisy of their oppressors having been prevented from entertaining any tolerably adequate conception of the cause, would at that time regard either with indifference or with suspicion the healing hand that should come forward with the only true and effectual remedy. Thus it is, for example, with that Pandora’s box of grievances and misery, the contents of which are composed of the evils opposite to the ends of justice.
SNAIL’S-PACE ARGUMENT.—(ad socordiam.)
“One thing at a time! Not too fast! Slow and sure!”
Exposition.—The proposed measure being a measure of reform, requiring, that for the completion of the beneficial work in question a number of operations be performed, capable, all or some of them, of being carried on at the same time, or successively without intervals, or at short intervals, the instrument of deception here in question consists in holding up to view the idea of graduality or slowness, as characteristic of the course which wisdom would dictate on the occasion in question. For more effectual recommendation of this course, to the epithet gradual are commonly added some such eulogistic epithets as moderate and temperate; whereby it is implied, that in proportion as the pace recommended by the word gradual is quickened, such increased pace will justly incur the censure expressed by the opposite epithets, immoderate, violent, precipitate, extravagant, intemperate.
Exposure.—This is neither more nor less than a contrivance for making out of a mere word an excuse for leaving undone an indefinite multitude of things, which the arguer is convinced, and cannot forbear acknowledging, ought to be done.
Suppose half a dozen abuses, which equally and with equal promptitude stand in need of reform—this fallacy requires, that without any reason that can be assigned, other than what is contained in the pronouncing or writing of the word gradual, all but one or two of them shall remain untouched.
Or, what is better, suppose that, to the effectual correction of some one of these abuses, six operations require to be performed—six operations, all of which must be done ere the correction can be effected,—to save the reform from the reproach of being violent and intemperate, to secure to it the praise of graduality, moderation, and temperance, you insist, that of these half-a-dozen necessary operations, some one or some two only shall be talked of, and proposed to be done;—one, by one bill to be introduced this session, if it be not too late (which you contrive it shall be;) another, the next session; which time being come, nothing more is to be said about the matter—and there it ends.
For this abandonment, no one reason that will bear looking at can be numbered up, in the instance of any one of the five measures endeavoured to be laid upon the shelf; for if it could, that would be the reason assigned for the relinquishment, and not this unmeaning assemblage of three syllables.
A suit which, to do full justice to it, requires but six weeks, or six days, or six minutes in one day—has it been made to last six years? That your caution and your wisdom may not be questioned, by a first experiment reduce the time to five years; then if that succeeds, in another parliament, should another parliament be in a humour (which it is hoped it will not,) reduce it to four years; then again to three years; and if it should be the lot of your grandchildren to see it reduced to two years, they may think themselves well off, and admire your prudence.
Justice—to which in every eye but that of the plunderer and oppressor, rich and poor have an equal right—do nine-tenths of the people stand excluded from all hope of, by the load of expense that has been heaped up. You propose to reduce this expense. The extent of the evil is admitted, and the nature of the remedy cannot admit of doubt; but by the magic of the three syllables gra-du-al, you will limit the remedy to the reduction of about one-tenth of the expense. Some time afterwards you may reduce another tenth, and go on so, that in about two centuries, justice may, perhaps, become generally accessible.
Importance of the business—extreme difficulty of the business—danger of innovation—need of caution and circumspection—impossibility of foreseeing all consequences—danger of precipitation—everything should be gradual—one thing at a time—this is not the time—great occupation at present—wait for more leisure—people well satisfied—no petitions presented—no complaints heard—no such mischief has yet taken place—stay till it has taken place:—such is the prattle which the magpie in office, who, understanding nothing, understands that he must have something to say on every subject shouts out among his auditors as a succedaneum to thought.
Transfer the scene to domestic life, and suppose a man who, his fortune not enabling him without running into debt to keep one race-horse, has been for some time in the habit of keeping six: to transfer to this private theatre the wisdom and the benefit of the gradual system, what you would have to recommend to your friend would be something of this sort:—Spend the first year in considering which of your six horses to give up; the next year, if you can satisfy yourself which it shall be, give up some one of them: by this sacrifice, the sincerity of your intention and your reputation for economy will be established; which done, you need think no more about the matter.
As all psychological ideas have their necessary root in physical ones, one source of delusion in psychological arguments consists in giving an improper extension to some me taphor which has been made choice of.
It would be a service done to the cause of truth, if some advocate for the gradual system would let us into the secret of the metaphor or physical image, if any, which he has in view, and in the same language give us the idea of some physical disaster as the result of precipitation. A patient killed by rapid bleeding—a chariot dashed in pieces by runaway steeds—a vessel overset by carrying too much sail in a squall,—all these images suppose a degree of precipitation which, if pursued by the proposers of a political measure, would be at once apparent, and the obvious and assignable consequence of their course would afford unanswerable arguments against them.
All this while, though by a friend to the measure no such word as above will be employed in the character of argument, yet cases are not wanting in which the dilatory course recommended may be consented to, or even proposed by him.
Suppose a dozen distinct abuses in the seat of legislative power, each abuse having a set of members interested in the support of it,—attack the whole body at once, all these parties join together to a certainty, and oppose you with their united force. Attack the abuses one by one, and it is possible that you may have but one of these parties, or at least less than all of them, to cope with at a time. Possible? Yes: but of probability, little can be said. To each branch of the public service belongs a class of public servants, each of which has its sinister interest, the source of the mass of abuses on which it feeds; and in the person and power of the universal patron, the fountain of all honour and of all abuse, all those sinister interests are joined and embodied into one.
This is a branch of science in which no man is ever deficient; this is what is understood—understood to perfection, by him to whom nothing else ever was or can be clear,—Hoc discunt omnes, unto alpha et beta puelli.
If there be a case in which such graduality as is here described can have been consented to, and with a reasonable prospect of advantage, it must have been a case in which, without such consent, the whole business would be hopeless.
Under the existing system, by which the door of the theatre of legislation is opened by opulence to members in whose instance application of the faculty of thought to the business about which they are supposed to occupy themselves would have been an effect without a cause, so gross is the ignorance, and in consequence, even where good intention is not altogether wanting, so extreme the timidity and apprehension, that on their part, without assurance of extreme slowness, no concurrence to a proposal for setting one foot before another, at even the slowest pace, would be obtained at all; their pace, the only pace at which they can be persuaded to move, is that which the traveller would take, whose lot it should be to be travelling in a pitch-dark night over a road broken and slippery, edged with precipices on each side. Time is requisite for quieting timidity: why? Because time is requisite for instructing ignorance.
Lawyers; their interest in the employment of this fallacy.
In proportion to the magnitude of their respective shares in the general fund of abuse, the various fraternities interested in the support of abuses have each of them their interest in turning to the best account this as well as every other article in the list of fallacies.
But it is the fraternity of lawyers, who (if they have not decidedly the most to gain by the dexterous management of this or of other fallacies) have, from the greatest quantity of practice, derived the greatest degree of dexterity in the management of it.
Judicature requiring reflection, and the greater the complication of the case, the greater the degree and length of reflection which the case requires: under favour of this association, they have succeeded in establishing a general impression of a sort of proportion in quantity, as well as necessity of connexion, between delay and attention to justice. Not that, in fact, a hundredth part of the established delay has had any origin in a regard for justice; but—for want of sufficient insight into that state of things by which, in persons so circumstanced in power and interest, the general prevalence of any such regard has been rendered physically impossible—in his endeavours to propagate the notion of a sort of general proportion between delay and regard for justice, the man of law has, unhappily, been but too successful. And it is, perhaps, to this error in respect to matters of fact, that the snail’s-pace fallacy is indebted, more than to any other cause, for its dupes. Be this as it may, sure it is, that in no track of reform has the rate of progress which it is the object of this fallacy to secure, been adhered to with greater effect. By the statute-book, if run over (and little more than the titles would be necessary) in this view, a curious exemplification of the truth of this observation is afforded. An abuse so monstrons, that, on the part of the judicial hands by which it was manufactured, the slightest doubt of the mischievousness of it was absolutely impossible;—generation after generation groaning under this abuse;—and at length, when, by causes kept of course as much as possible out of sight, the support of the abuse has been deemed no longer practicable, comes at length a remedy. And what remedy? Never anything better than a feeble pailiative.
FALLACY OF ARTFUL DIVERSION—(ad verecundiam.)
Exposition and Exposure.—The device here in question may be explained by the following direction or receipt for the manufacture and application of it:—
When any measure is proposed, which on any account whatsoever it suits your interest or your humour to oppose, at the same time that, in consideration of its undeniable utility, or on any other account, you regard it unadvisable to pass direct condemnation on it,—hold up to view some other measure, such as, whether it bear any relation or none to the measure on the carpet, will, in the conception of your hearers, present itself as superior in the order of importance. Your language then is,—Why that? (meaning the measure already proposed)—why not this? or this? mentioning some other, which it is your hope to render more acceptable, and by means of it to create a diversion, and turn aside from the obnoxious measure the affections and attention of those whom you have to deal with.
One case there is, in which the appellation of fallacy cannot with justice be applied to this argument; and that is, where the effectuation or pursuit of the measure first proposed would operate as a bar or an obstacle to some other measure of a more beneficial character held up to view by the argument as competitor with it: and what, in the way of Exposure, will be said of the sort of expedient just described, will not apply to this case.
However, where the measure first proposed is of unquestionable utility, and you oppose it merely because it is adverse to your own sinister interest, you must not suggest any relevant measure of reform in lieu of it, except in a case in which, in the shape of argument, every mode of opposition is considered as hopeless; for unless for the purpose of forestalling the time and attention that would be necessary to the effectuation of the proposed beneficial measure, a measure altogether irrelevant and foreign to it is set up, a risk is incurred, that something, however inferior in degree, may be effected towards the diminution of the abuse or imperfection in question.
In the character of an irrelevant counter-measure, any measure or accidental business whatever may be made to serve, so long as it can be made to pre-occupy a sufficient portion of the disposable time and attention of the public men on whose suffrages the effectuation or frustration of the measure depends.
But supposing the necessity for a relevant counter-measure to exist, and that you have accordingly given introduction to it, the first thing then to be done is, to stave off the undesirable moment of its effectuation as long as possible.
According to established usage, you have given notice of your intention to propose a measure on the subject and to the effect in question. The intention is of too great importance to be framed and carried into act in the compass of the same year or session: you accordingly announce your intention for next session. When the next session comes, the measure is of too great importance to be brought on the carpet at the commencement of the session; at that period it is not yet mature enough. If it be not advisable to delay it any longer, you oring it forward just as the session closes. Time is thus gained, and without any decided loss in the shape of reputation; for what you undertook, has to the letter been performed. When the measure has been once brought in, you have to take your choice, in the first place, between operations for delay and operations for rejection. Operations for delay exhibit a manifest title to preference: so long as their effect can be made to last, they accomplish their object, and no sacrifice either of design or of reputation has been made. The extreme importance and extreme difficulty are themes on which you blow the trumpet, and which you need not fear the not hearing sufficiently echoed. When the treasury of delay has been exhausted, you have your choice to take between trusting to the chapter of accidents for the defeat of the measure, or endeavouring to engage some friend to oppose it, and propose the rejection of it. But you must be unfortunate indeed, if you can find no opponents, no tolerably plausible opponents, unless among friends, and friends specially commissioned for the purpose: a sort of confidence more or less dangerous must in that case be reposed.
Upon the whole, you must however be singularly unfortunate or unskilful, if by the counter-measure of diversion any considerable reduction of the abuse or imperfection be, spite of your utmost endeavours, effected, or any share of reputation that you need care about, sacrificed.
[* ]See Scotch Reform, in Vol. V.