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PART V - 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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CHARACTERS COMMON TO ALL THESE FALLACIES.
Upon the whole, the following are the characters which appertain in common to all the several arguments here distinguished by the name of fallacies:—
1. Whatsoever be the measure in hand, they are, with relation to it, irrelevant.
2. They are all of them such, that the application of these irrelevant arguments affords a presumption either of the weakness or total absence of relevant arguments on the side on which they are employed.
3. To any good purpose they are all of them unnecessary.
4. They are all of them not only capable of being applied, but actually in the habit of being applied, and with advantage, to bad purposes; viz. to the obstruction and defeat of all such measures as have for their object and their tendency, the removal of the abuses or other imperfections still discernible in the frame and practice of the government.
5. By means of their irrelevancy, they all of them consume and misapply time, thereby obstructing the course, and retarding the progress of all necessary and useful business.
6. By that irritative quality which, in virtue of their irrelevancy, with the improbity or weakness of which it is indicative, they possess, all of them, in a degree more or less considerable, but, in a more particular degree such of them as consist in personalities, they are productive of ill-humour, which in some instances has been productive of bloodshed, and is continually productive, as above, of waste of time and hindrance of business.
7. On the part of those who, whether in spoken or written discourses, give utterance to them, they are indicative either of improbity or intellectual weakness, or of a contempt for the understandings of those on whose minds they are destined to operate.
8. On the part of those on whom they operate, they are indicative of intellectual weakness: and on the part of those in and by whom they are pretended to operate, they are indicative of improbity; viz. in the shape of insincerity.
The practical conclusion is, that in proportion as the acceptance, and thence the utterance of them, can be prevented, the understanding of the public will be strengthened, the morals of the public will be purified, and the practice of government improved.
OF THE MISCHIEF PRODUCIBLE BY FALLACIES.
The first division that presents itself in relation to the mischief of a fallacy, may be expressed by the words specific and general.
The specific mischief of a fallacy consists in the tendency which it has to prevent or obstruct the introduction of this or that useful measure in particular.
The general mischief consists in that moral or intellectual depravation which produces habits of false reasoning and insincerity:—this mischief may again be distinguished into mischief produced within doors and mischief produced withoutl doors.
Under the appellation of mischief within doors, is to be understood all that mischief, that deception, which has its seat in the bosom of any member of the supreme legislative body.
Under the appellation of mischief without doors, all that which has its seat in the bosom of any person not included in that body—of any person whose station is among the people at large:—
CAUSES OF THE UTTERANCE OF THESE FALLACIES.
The causes of the utterance of these fallacies may, it should seem, be thus denominated and enumerated:—
1. Sinister interest—self-conscious sinister interest.
2. Interest-begotten prejudice.
3. Authority-begotten prejudice.
4. Self-defence, i. e. sense of the need of self-defence against counter-fallacies.
First cause,—Sinister Interest, of the operation of which the party affected by it is conscious.
The mind of every public man is subject at all times to the operation of two distinct interests—a public and a private one. His public interest is that which is constituted of the share he has in the happiness and well-being of the whole community, or of the major part of it: his private interest is constituted of, or by, the share he has in the well-being of some portion of the community less than the major part; of which private interest, the smallest possible portion is that which is composed of his own individual—his own personal—interest.
In the greater number of instances, these two interests are not only distinct, but opposite: and that to such a degree, that if either be exclusively pursued, the other must be sacrificed to it.
Take, for example, pecuniary interest. It is the personal interest of every public man at whose disposal public money extracted by taxes from the whole community is placed, that as large a share as possible, and if possible the whole of it, should remain there for his own use: it is at the same time the interest of the public, including his own portion of the public interest, that as small a share as possible, and if possible no part at all, remain in these same hands for his personal or any other private use.
Taking the whole of life together, there exists not, nor ever can exist, that human being in whose instance any public interest he can have had, will not, in so far as depends upon himself, have been sacrificed to his own personal interest. Towards the advancement of the public interest, all that the most public-spirited, which is as much as to say the most virtuous of men, can do, is to do what depends upon himself towards bringing the public interest—that is, his own personal share in the public interest, to a state as nearly approaching to coincidence, and on as few occasions amounting to a state of repugnance, as possible with his private interests.
Were there ever so much reason for regretting it, the sort of relation which is thus seen to have place between public and private interest would not be the less true: nor would it be the less incumbent on the legislator—nor would the legislator, in so far as he finds it reconcilable to his personal interest to pursue the public interest, be the less disposed and determined—to act and shape his measures accordingly.
But the more correct and complete a man’s conception of the subject is, the more clearly will he understand, that in this natural and general predominance of personal over every more extensive interest, there is no just cause for regret. Why? Because upon this predominance depends the existence of the species, and the existence of every individual belonging to it. Suppose for a moment the opposite state of things—a state in which every one should prefer the public to himself: and the consequences—the necessary consequences, would be no less ridiculous in idea, than disastrous and destructive in reality.
In the ordinary course and strain of legislation, no supposition inconsistent with this only true and rational one is acted upon. On this supposition is built whatsoever is done in the application made either of the matter of reward, or of the matter of punishment, to the purposes of government. The supposition is—that on the part of every individual whose conduct it is thus endeavoured to shape and regulate, interest, and that private interest, will be the cause by the operation of which his conduct will be determined: not only so, but that in case of competition as between such public and such private interest, it is the private interest that will predominate.
If the contrary supposition were acted upon, what would be the consequence? That neither in the shape of reward, nor in the shape of eventual punishment, would the precious matter of good and evil be wasted or exposed to waste, but (in lieu of requisition, with reward or punishment, or both, for its sanction, for securing compliance) advice and recommendation would be employed throughout the system of law, penal as well as remuneratory.
Thence it is, that in so far as in the instance of any class of men the state of the law is such as to make it the interest of men belonging to that body to give rise or continuance to any system of abuse however flagrant, a prediction that may be made with full assurance is, that the conduct of that body—that is, of its several members with few or no exceptions—will be such as to give rise or continuance to that system of abuse: and if there be any means which have been found to be, or promise to be, conducive to any such end, such means will accordingly, how inconsistent soever with probity in any shape, and in particular in the shape of sincerity, be employed.
A common bond of connexion, says Cicero somewhere, has place among all the virtues. To the word virtue, substitute the word abuse, meaning abuse in government, and the observation will be no less true. Among abuses in government, besides the logical commune vinculum composed of the common denomination abuse, there exists a moral commune vinculum composed of the particular and sinister interest in which all men who are members of a government so circumstanced have a share.
So long, then, as any man has any the smallest particle of this sinister interest belonging to him—so long has he an interest, and consequently a fellow-feeling with every other man who in the same situation has an interest of the like kind. Attack one of them, you attack all; and in proportion as each of them feels his share in this common concern dear to him, and finds himself in a condition to defend it, he is prepared to defend every other confederate’s share with no less alacrity than if it were his own. But it is one of the characteristics of abuse, that it can only be defended by fallacy. It is therefore the interest of all the confederates of abuse to give the most extensive currency to fallacies,—not only to such as may be serviceable to each individual, but also to such as may be generally useful. It is of the utmost importance to them to keep the human mind in such a state of imbecility, as shall render it incapable of distinguishing truth from error.
Abuses—that is to say, institutions beneficial to the few at the expense of the many—cannot openly, directly, and in their own character, be defended: if at all, it must be in company with, and under the cover of other institutions, to which this character either does not in fact appertain, or is not seen to appertain.
For the few who are in possession of power, the principle the best adapted, if it were capable of being set to work, would be that which should be applicable to the purpose of giving to the stock of abuses established at each given period, an unlimited increase.
No longer than about a century ago, a principle of this cast actually was in force, and that to an extent that threatened the whole frame of society with ruin; viz. under the name of the principle of passive obedience and non-resistance.
This principle was a primum mobile, by the due application of which, abuses in all shapes might be manufactured for use, to an amount absolutely unlimited.
But this principle has now nearly, if not altogether, lost its force. The creation of abuses has therefore of necessity been given up; the preservation of them is all that remains feasible: it is to this work that all exertions in favour of abuse have for a considerable time past, and must henceforward be confined.
Institutions—some good, some bad—some favourable to both the few and the many—some favourable to the few alone, and at the expense of the many—are the ingredients of which the existing system is composed. He who protects all together, and without discrimination, protects the bad. To this object the exertions of industry are still capable of being directed with a prospect of success: and to this object they actually do continue to be directed, and with a degree of success disgraceful to the probity of the few by whom such breach of trust is practised, and to the intellect of the many by whom it is endured.
If the fundamental principle of all good government—viz. that which states as being on every occasion the proper, and the only proper end in view and object of pursuit, the greatest happiness of the greatest number—were on every occasion set up as the mark; on each occasion the particular question would be, by what particular means can this general object be pursued with the greatest probability of success?
But by the habit of recurring to and making application of this one principle, the eye of the inquirer, the tongue of the speaker, and the pen of the writer, would, on every part of the field of legislation, be brought to some conclusion—passing condemnation on some or other of those abuses, the continuance of which has this common interest for its support.
In a word, so long as any one of these relatively profitable abuses continues unremedied,—so long must there be one such person, or more, to whose interest the use of reason is prejudicial, and to whom not only the particular beneficial measure from which that particular abuse would receive its correction, but every other beneficial measure, in so far as it is supported by reason, will also be prejudicial in the same way.
It is under the past and still existing state of things—in other words, under the dominion of usage, custom, precedent, acting without any such recurrence to this only true principle—that the abuses in question have sprung up. Custom, therefore, blind custom, in contradiction and opposition to reason, is the standard which he will on every occasion endeavour to set up as the only proper, safe, and definable standard of reference. Whatever is, is right: everything is as it should be. These are his favourite maxims—maxims which he will let slip no opportunity of inculcating to the best advantage possible.
Having, besides his share in the sinister interest, his share in the universal and legitimate interest, there must, to a corresponding extent, be laws and institutions, which, although good and beneficial, are no less beneficial to and necessary to his interest, than to that of the whole community of which he makes a part. Of these, then, in so far as they are necessary to his interest, he will be as sincere and strenuous a defender, as of those by which any part of the abuses which are subservient to his sinister interest is maintained.
It is conducive, for instance, to his interest, that the country should be effectually defended against the assault of the common enemy; that the persons and properties of the members of the community in general, his own included, should be as effectually as possible protected against the assaults of internal enemies—of common malefactors.
But it is under the dominion of custom—blind, or at best purblind custom—that such protection has been provided. Custom, therefore, being sufficient for his purpose—reason always adverse to it—custom is the ground on which it will be his endeavour to place every institution, the good as well as the bad. Referred to general utility as their standard, shown to be conformable to it by the application of reason to the case, they would be established and supported, indeed, on firmer ground than at present. But by placing them on the ground of utility, by the application of reason he has nothing to gain, while, as hath been seen above, he has every thing to lose and fear from it.
The principle of general utility, he will accordingly be disposed to represent in the character of “a dangerous principle:” for so long as blind custom continues to serve his purpose, such, with reference to him and his sinister interest, the principle of general utility really is.
Against the recognition of the principle of general utility, and the habit of employing reason as an instrument for the application of it, the leading members of the government, in so far as corruption has pervaded the frame of government, and in particular the members of all ranks of the profession of the law, have the same interest as in the eyes of Protestants and other non-catholics, the Pope and his subordinates had at the time and on the occasion of the change known in England by the name of the Reformation.
At the time of the Reformation, the opposition to general utility and human reason was conducted by fire and sword. At present, the war against these powers cannot be completely carried on by the same engines.
Fallacies, therefore, applied principally to the purpose of devoting to contempt and hatred those who apply the principle of general utility on this ground, remain the only instruments in universal use and request for defending the strongholds of abuse against hostile powers.
These engines we accordingly see applied to this purpose in prodigious variety, and with more or less artifice and reserve.
SECOND CAUSE—INTEREST BEGOTTEN-PREJUDICE.
If by interest in some shape or other—that is, by a motive of some sort or other—every act of the will, and thence every act of the hand, is produced, so, directly or indirectly, must every act of the intellectual faculty: though in this case the influence of the interest, of this or that motive, is neither so perceptible, nor in itself so direct as in the other.
But how (it may be asked) is it possible that the motive a man is actuated by can be secret to himself? Nothing is more easy—nothing more frequent: indeed the rare case is, not that of his not knowing, but that of his knowing it.
It is with the anatomy of the human mind as with the anatomy and physiology of the human body: the rare case is, not that of a man’s being unconversant, but that of his being conversant with it.
The physiology of the body is not without its difficulties: but in comparison of those by which the knowledge of the physiology of the mind has been obstructed, the difficulties are slight indeed.
Not unfrequently, as between two persons living together in a state of intimacy, either or each may possess a more correct and complete view of the motives by which the mind of the other, than of those by which his own mind, is governed.
Many a woman has in this way had a more correct and complete acquaintance with the internal causes by which the conduct of her husband has been determined, than he has had himself.
The cause of this is easily pointed out.—By interest, a man is continually prompted to make himself as correctly and completely acquainted as possible with the springs of action by which the minds of those are determined, on whom he is more or less dependent for the comfort of his life.
But by interest, he is at the same time diverted from any close examination into the springs by which his own conduct is determined.
From such knowledge he has not, in any ordinary shape, anything to gain,—he finds not in it any source of enjoyment.
In any such knowledge he would be more likely to find mortification than satisfaction. The purely social motives, the semi-social motives, and, in the case of the dissocial motives, such of them as have their source in an impulse given by the purely social or by the semi-social motives,* —these are the motives, the prevalence of which he finds mentioned as matter of praise in the instance of other men: it is by the supposed prevalence of these amiable motives, that he finds reputation raised, and that respect and good-will in which every man is obliged to look for so large a portion of the comfort of his life.
In these same amiable and desirable endowments he finds the minds of other men actually abounding and overflowing: abounding during their lifetime by the testimony of their friends, and after their departure by the recorded testimony enregistered in some monthly magazine, with the acclamation of their friends, and with scarce a dissenting voice from among their enemies.
But the more closely he looks into the mechanism of his own mind, the less of the mass of effects produced he finds referable to any of those amiable and delightful causes; he finds nothing, therefore, to attract him towards this study—he finds much to repel him from it.
Praise and self-satisfaction on the score of moral worth, being accordingly hopeless, it is in intellectual that he will seek for it. “All men who are actuated by regard for anything but self, are fools; those only whose regard is confined to self, are wise. I am of the number of the wise.”
Perhaps he is a man with whom a large proportion of the self-regarding motives may be mixed up with a slight tincture of the social motives operating upon the private scale. What in this case will he do? In investigating the source of a given action, he will in the first instance set it down, the whole of it, to the account of the amiable and conciliatory—in a word, the social motives. This, in the study of his own mental physiology, will always be his first step, and this will commonly be his last. Why should he look further?—why take in hand the probe?—why undeceive himself, and substitute a whole truth that would mortify him, for a half truth that flatters him?
The greater the share which the motives of the social class have in the production of the general tenour of a man’s conduct, the less irksome, it seems evident, this sort of psychological self-anatomy will be. The first view is pleasing; and the more virtuous the man, the more pleasing is that study which to every man has been pronounced the proper one.
But the less irksome any pursuit is, the greater, if the state of faculties, intellectual and active, permit, will be a man’s progress in it.
THIRD CAUSE—AUTHORITY-BEGOTTEN PREJUDICE.
Prejudice is the name given to an opinion of any sort, on any subject, when considered as having been embraced without sufficient examination: it is a judgment, which being pronounced before evidence, is therefore pronounced without evidence.
Now, at the hazard of being deceived, and by deception led into a line of conduct prejudicial either to himself or to some one to whom it would rather be his wish to do service, what is it that could lead a man to embrace an opinion without sufficient examination?
One cause is, the uneasiness attendant on the labour of examination: he takes the opinion up as true, to save the labour that might be necessary to enable him to discern the falsity of it.
Of the propensity to take not only facts but opinions upon trust, the universality is matter of universal observation. Pernicious as it is in some of its applications, it has its root in necessity, in the weakness of the human mind. In the instance of each individual, the quantity of opinion which it is possible for him to give acceptance or rejection to, on the ground of examination performed by himself, bears but a small proportion to that in which such judgment as he passes upon it cannot have any firmer or other ground than that which is composed of the like judgment pronounced by some other individual or aggregate of individuals: the cases in which it is possible for his opinion to be home-made, bear but a small proportion to the cases in which, if any opinion at all be entertained by him, that opinion must necessarily have been imported.
But in the case of the public man, this necessity forms no justification either for the utterance or for the acceptance of such arguments of base alloy, as those which are represented under the name of fallacies.
These fallacies are not less the offspring of sinister interest, because the force of authority is more or less concerned. Where authority has a share in the production of them, there are two distinguishable ways in which sinister interest may also have its share.
A fallacy which, in the mouth of A, had its root immediately in interest—in self-conscious sinister interest—receiving utterance from his pen or his lips, obtains, upon the credit of his authority, credence among acceptors in any multitude. Having thus rooted itself in the minds of men, it becomes constitutive of a mass of authority, under favour of which, such fallacies as appear conducive to the planting or rooting in the minds of men in general, the erroneous notion in question, obtain, at the hands of other men, utterance and acceptance.
2. Having received the prejudice at the hands of authority—viz. of the opinion of those whose adherence to it was produced immediately or mediately by the operation of sinister interest,—sinister interest operating on the mind of the utterer or acceptor of the fallacy in question, prompts him to bestow on it, in the character of a rational argument, a degree of attention exceeding that which could otherwise have been bestowed on it; he fixes, accordingly, his attention on all considerations, the tendency of which is to procure for it utterance or acceptance, and keeps at a distance all considerations by which the contrary tendency is threatened.
FOURTH CAUSE—SELF-DEFENCE AGAINST COUNTER-FALLACIES.
The opposers of a pernicious measure may be sometimes driven to employ fallacies, from their supposed utility as an answer to counter-fallacies.
“Such is the nature of men,” they may say, “that these arguments, weak and inconclusive as they are, are those which on the bulk of the people (upon whom ultimately everything depends) make the strongest and most effectual impression: the measure is a most mischievous one;—it were a crime on our parts to leave unemployed any means not criminal, that promise to be contributory to its defeat. It is the weakness of the public mind, not the weakness of our cause, that compels us to employ such engines in the defence of it.”
This defence might indeed be satisfactory, where the fallacies in question are employed—not as substitutes, but only as supplements to relevant and direct arguments.
But if employed as supplements, to prove their being employed in that character, and in that character only, and that the use thus made of them is not inconsistent with sincerity, two conditions seem requisite:—
1. That arguments of the direct and relevant kind be placed in the front of the battle, declared to be the main arguments, the arguments and considerations by which the opposition or support to the proposed measure was produced;
2. That on the occasion of employing the fallacies in question, an acknowledgment should be made of their true character, of their intrinsic weakness, and of the considerations which, as above, seemed to impose on the individual in question the obligation of employing them, and of the regret with which the consciousness of such an obligation was accompanied.
If, even when employed in opposition to a measure really pernicious, these warnings are omitted to be annexed to them, the omission affords but too strong a presumption of general insincerity. On the occasion in question, a man would have nothing to fear from any avowal made of their true character. Yet he omits to make this avowal. Why? Because he foresees that, on some other occasion or occasions, arguments of this class will constitute his sole reliance.
The more closely the above considerations are adverted to, the stronger is the proof which the use of such arguments, without such warnings, will be seen to afford of improbity or imbecility, or a mixture of the two, on the part of him by whom they are employed: of imbecility of mind, if the weakness of such arguments has really failed of becoming visible to him; of improbity, if, conscious of their weakness, and of their tendency to debilitate and pervert the faculties, intellectual and moral, of such persons as are swayed by them, he gives currency to them unaccompanied by such warning.
Is it of the one or of the other species of imperfection, or of a mixture of both, that such deceptious argumentation is evidentiary? On this occasion, as on others, the answer is not easy; nor, fortunately, is it material to estimate the connexion between these two divisions of the mental frame: so constantly and so materially does each of them exert an influence on the other, that it is difficult for either to suffer, but the other must suffer more or less along with it. On many a well-meaning man this base and spurious metal has no doubt passed for sterling; but if you see it burnished, and held up in triumph by the hands of a man of strong as well as brilliant talents—by a very Master of the Mint—set him down, without fear of injuring him, upon the list of those who deceive, without having any such excuse to plead as that of having been deceived.
USE OF THESE FALLACIES TO THE UTTERERS AND ACCEPTORS OF THEM.
Being all of them to such a degree replete with absurdity—many of them upon the face of them composed of nothing else—a question that naturally presents itself is, how it has happened that they have acquired so extensive a currency?—how it is that so much use has been made, and continues to be made, of them?
Is it credible (it may be asked,) that, to those by whom they are employed, the inanity and absurdity of them should not be fully manifest?—is it credible, that on such grounds political measures should proceed?
No, it is not credible: to the very person by whom the fallacy is presented in the character of a reason—of a reason on the consideration of which his opinion has been formed, and on the strength of which his conduct is grounded—it has presented itself in its genuine colours.
But in all assemblies in which shares in power are exercised by votes, there are two descriptions of persons whose convenience requires to be consulted—the speakers and the hearers.
To the convenience of persons in both these situations, the class of arguments here in question are in an eminent degree favourable:—
As to the situation of the speaker:—the more numerous and efficient the titles to respect which his argument enables him to produce, the more convenient and agreeable is that situation made to him. Probity in the shape of independence—superiority in the article of wisdom—superiority in the scale of rank: of all these qualities, the reputation is matter of convenience to a man; and of all these qualities, the reputation is by these arguments promised to be made secure.
1. As to independence:—when a man stands up to speak for the purpose of reconciling men to the vote he purposes to give, or for the purpose of giving to the side which he espouses whatsoever weight is regarded by him as attached to his authority,—the nature of the purpose imposes on him a sort of necessity of finding something in the shape of a reason to accompany and recommend it.
Though in fact directed and governed by some other will behind the curtain, and by the interest by which that other will is governed, decency is understood to require, that it is from his own understanding, not from the will of any other person, that his own will should be understood to have received its direction.
But it is not by the matter of punishment or the matter of reward—it is not by fears or hopes—it is not by threats or promises—it is by something of the nature, or in the shape at least of a reason, that understanding is governed and determined. To show, then, that it is by the determination of his own judgment that his conduct is determined, it is deemed advisable to produce some observation or other in the character of the determinate reason, from which, on the occasion in question, his judgment, and thence his will, and active faculty, have received their direction.
The argument is accordingly produced, and by this exhibition the independent character of his mind is established by irrefragable evidence.
To this purpose, every article in the preceding catalogue may with more or less effect be made to serve, according to the nature of the case.
2. Next as to superiority in the scale of wisdom:—on running over the list, different articles will be seen to present in this respect different degrees of convenience.
Some of them will be seen scarcely putting in any special title to this praise.
In others, while the reputation of prudence is secured, yet it is that sort of prudence, which by the timidity attached to it is rendered somewhat the less acceptable to an erect and commanding mind.
To this class may be referred the arguments ad metum and ad verecundiam,—the hydrophobia of innovation, and argument of the ghost-seer, whose nervous system is kept in a state of constant agitation by the phantom of Jacobinism dancing before his eyes,—the idolator, who beholding in ancestry, in authority, in allegorical personages of various sorts and sizes, in precedents of all sorts, in great characters dead and living, placed in high situations, so many tyrants to whose will, real or supposed, blind obsequiousness at the hands of the vulgar of all classes, may by apt ceremonies and gesticulation be secured, makes himself the first prostration, in the hope and confidence of finding it followed by much and still more devout prostration, on the part of the crew of inferior idolators, in whose breasts the required obsequiousness has been implanted by long practice.
Other arguments, again, there are, in and for the delivery of which the wisdom of the orator places itself upon higher ground. His acuteness has penetrated to the very bottom of the subject—his comprehension has embraced the whole mass of it—his adroitness has stripped the obnoxious proposal of the delusive colouring by which it had recommended itself to the eye of ignorance: he pronounces it speculative, theoretical, romantic, visionary: it may be good in theory, but it would be bad in practice: it is too good to be practicable: the goodness which glitters on the outside is sufficient proof, is evidence, and that conclusive, of the worthlessness that is within: its apparent facility suffices to prove it to be impracticable. The confidence of the tone in which the decision is conveyed, is at once the fruit and the sufficient evidence of the complete command which the glance of the moment sufficed to give him of the subject in all its bearings and dependencies. By the experience which his situation has led him to acquire, and the use which his judgment has enabled him to make of that experience, he catches up at a single glance those features which suffice to indicate the class to which the obnoxious proposal belongs.
3. By the same decision, delivered in the same tone, superiority of rank is not less strikingly displayed, than superiority of talent. It is no new observation how much the persuasion, or at least the expression given to it, is strengthened by the altitude of the rank as constituted or accompanied by the fullness of the purse.
The labour of the brain, no less than that of the hand, is a species of drudgery which the man of elevated station sees the propriety and facility of turning over to the base-born crowd below—to the set of plodders whom he condescends upon occasion to honour with his conversation and his countenance. By his rank and opulence he is enabled in this, as in other ways, to pick and choose what is most congenial to his taste. By the royal hand of Frederic, philosophers and oranges were subjected to the same treatment, and put to the same use. The sweets, the elaboration of which had been the work of years, were elicited in a few moments by the pressure of an expert hand.
The praise of the receiver of wisdom is always inferior to that of the utterer; but neither is the receiver, so he but make due profit of what he receives, without his praise.
The advantage he acquires from these arguments, is—that of being enabled to give the reason of the faith that is, or is supposed to be, in him.
In some circumstances, in which silence will not serve a man, it will, and to a certainty, be construed into a confession of self-convicting consciousness;—consciousness that what he does is wrong and indefensible,—that what he gives men to understand to be his opinion, is not really his opinion,—that of the supposed facts, which he has been asserting to form an apparent foundation for his supposed opinion, the existence is not true.
By a persuasion to any such effect, on the part of those with whom he has to do, his credit, his reputation, would be effectually destroyed.
Something, therefore, must be said, of which it may be supposed that, how little soever may be the weight properly belonging to it, it may have operated on his mind in the character of a reason. By this means his reputation for wisdom is all that is exposed to suffer;—his reputation for probity is saved.
Thus, in the case of this sort of base argument, as sometimes in the case of bad money, each man passes it off upon his neighbour, not as being unconscious of its worthlessness—not so much as expecting his neighbour to be really insensible of its worthlessness—but in the hope and expectation that the neighbour, though not insensible of its worthlessness, may yet not find himself altogether debarred from the supposition, that to the utterer of the base argument, the badness of it may possibly not have been clearly understood.
But the more generally current in the character of an argument any such absurd notion is, the greater is the apparent probability of its being really entertained: for there is no notion, actual or imaginable, that a man cannot be brought to entertain, if he be but satisfied of its being generally or extensively entertained by others.
PARTICULAR DEMAND FOR FALLACIES UNDER THE ENGLISH CONSTITUTION.
Two considerations will suffice to render it apparent that, under the British Constitution, there cannot but exist, on the one hand, such a demand for fallacies—and, on the other hand, such a supply of them, as, for copiousness and variety taken together, cannot be to be matched elsewhere.
1. In the first place, a thing necessary to the existence of the demand is, discussion to a certain degree free.
Where there are no such institutions as a popular assembly taking an efficient part in the government, and publishing or suffering to be published accounts of its debates,—nor yet any free discussion through the medium of the press,—there is, consequently, no demand for fallacies. Fallacy is fraud, and fraud is useless when everything may be done by force.
The only case which can enter into comparison with the English government, is that of the Anglo-American United States.
There, on the side of the outs, the demand for fallacies stands, without any difference worth noticing, on a footing similar to that on which it stands under the English constitution.
But the side of the outs is that side on which the demand for fallacies is by much the least urgent and abundant.
On the side of the ins, the demand for fallacies depends upon the aggregate mass of abuse: its magnitude and urgency depend upon the magnitude of that mass, and its variety upon the variety of the shapes in which abuse has manifested itself.
On crossing the water, fortune gave to British America, the relief that policy gave to the fox; of the vermin by which she had been tormented, a part were left behind.
No deaf auditors of the Exchequer,—no blind surveyors of melting irons,—no non-registering registrars of the Admiralty court, or of any other judicatory,—no tellers, by whom no money is told, but that which is received into their own pockets,—no judge acting as clerk under himself,—no judge pocketing £7000 a-year for useless work, for which men are forced to address his clerks,—no judge, who in the character of judge over himself sits in one place to protect, by storms of fallacy and fury, the extortions and oppressions habitually committed in another,—no tithe-gatherers exacting immense retribution for minute or never-rendered service.
With respect to the whole class of fallacies built upon authority,—precedent, wisdom of ancestors, dread of innovation, immutable laws, and many others, occasioned by ancient ignorance and ancient abuses—what readers soever there may be, by whom what is to be found under those several heads has been perused, to them it will readily occur, that in the American Congress the use made of these fallacies is not likely to be so copious as in that august assembly, which, as the only denomination it can with propriety be called by, has been pleased to give itself that of the Imperial Parliament of Great Britain and Ireland.
THE DEMAND FOR POLITICAL FALLACIES:—HOW CREATED BY THE STATE OF INTERESTS.
In order to have a clear view of the object to which political fallacies will in the greatest number of instances be found to be directed, it will be necessary to advert to the state in which, with an exception comparatively inconsiderable, the business of government ever has been, and still continues to be, in every country upon earth; and for this purpose must here be brought to view a few positions, the proof of which, if they require any, would require too large a quantity of matter for this place—positions which, if not immediately assented to, will at any rate, even by those whom they find most adverse, be allowed to possess the highest claim to attention and examination:
1. The end or object in view, to which every political measure, whether established or proposed, ought according to the extent of it to be directed, is the greatest happiness of the greatest number of persons interested in it, and that for the greatest length of time.
2. Unless the United States of North America be virtually an exception, in every known state the happiness of the many has been at the absolute disposal either of the one or of the comparatively few.
3. In every human breast—rare and short-lived ebullitions, the result of some extraordinary strong stimulus or incitement excepted—self-regarding interest is predominant over social interest: each person’s own individual interest, over the interests of all other persons taken together.
4. In the few instances, if any, in which, throughout the whole tenor or the general tenor of his life, a person sacrifices his own individual interest to that of any other person or persons, such person or persons will be a person or persons with whom he is connected by some domestic or other private and narrow tie of sympathy; not the whole number, or the majority of the whole number, of the individuals of which the political community to which he belongs is composed.
5. If in any political community there be any individuals by whom, for a constancy, the interests of all the other members put together are preferred to the interest composed of their own individual interest, and that of the few persons particularly connected with them these public-spirited individuals will be so few, and at the same time so impossible to distinguish from the rest, that to every practical purpose they may, without any practical error, be laid out of the account.
6. In this general predominance of self-regarding over social interest, when attentively considered, there will not be found any just subject of regret, any more than of contestation; for it will be found, that but for this predominance, no such species as that which we belong to could have existence: and that, supposing it, if possible, done away, insomuch that all persons, or most persons, should find respectively, some one or more persons, whose interest was respectively, through the whole of life, dearer to them, and as such more anxiously and constantly watched over than their own, the whole species would necessarily, within a very short space of time, become extinct.
7. If this be true, it follows, by the unchangeable constitution of human nature, that in every political community, by the hands by which the supreme power over all the other members of the community is shared, the interest of the many over whom the power is exercised, will on every occasion, in case of competition, be in act or in endeavour sacrificed to the particular interest of those by whom the power is exercised.
8. But every arrangement by which the interest of the many is sacrificed to that of the few, may with unquestionable propriety, if the above position be admitted, and to the extent of the sacrifice, be termed a bad arrangement; indeed, the only sort of bad arrangement—those excepted, by which the interest of both parties is sacrificed.
9. A bad arrangement, considered as already established and in existence, is, or may be termed, an abuse.
10. In so far as any competition is seen, or supposed to have place, the interests of the subject many being on every occasion, as above, in act or in endeavour constantly sacrificed by the ruling few to their own particular interests,—hence, with the ruling few, a constant object of study and endeavour is the preservation and extension of the mass of abuse: at any rate, such is the constant propensity.
11. In the mass of abuse, which, because it is so constantly their interest, it is constantly their endeavour to preserve, is included not only that portion from which they derive a direct and assignable profit, but also that portion from which they do not derive any such profit. For the mischievousness of that from which they do not derive any such direct and particular profit, cannot be exposed but by facts and observations, which, if pursued, would be found to apply also to that portion from which they do derive direct and particular profit. Thus it is, that in every community, all men in power—or, in one word, the ins—are, by self-regarding interest, constantly engaged in the maintenance of abuse in every shape in which they find it established.
12. But whatsoever the ins have in possession, the outs have in expectancy. Thus far, therefore, there is no distinction between the sinister interests of the ins and those of the outs, nor, consequently, in the fallacies by which they respectively employ their endeavours in the support of their respective sinister interests.
13. Thus far the interests of the outs coincide with the interest of the ins. But there are other points in which their interests are opposite. For procuring for themselves the situations and mass of advantages possessed by the ins, the outs have one, and but one, mode of proceeding. This is the raising their own place in the scale of political reputation, as compared with that of the ins. For effecting this ascendency, they have accordingly two correspondent modes: the raising their own, and the depreciating that of their successful rivals.
14. In addition to that particular and sinister interest which belongs to them in their quality of ruling members, these rivals have their share in the universal interest which belongs to them in their quality of members of the community at large. In this quality, they are sometimes occupied in such measures as in their eyes are necessary for the maintenance of the universal interest—for the preservation of that portion of the universal happiness of which their regard for their own interests does not seem to require the sacrifice: for the preservation, and also for the increase of it; for by every increase given to it they derive advantage to themselves, not only in that character which is common to them with all the other members of the community, but, in the shape of reputation, in that character of ruling members which is peculiar to themselves.
15. But in whatsoever shape the ins derive reputation to themselves, and thus raise themselves to a higher level in the scale of comparative reputation, it is the interest of the outs, as such, not only to prevent them from obtaining this rise, but if possible, and as far as possible, to cause their reputation to sink. Hence, on the part of the outs there exists a constant tendency to oppose all good arrangements proposed by the ins. But, generally speaking, the better an arrangement really is, the better it will generally be thought to be; and the better it is thought to be, the higher will the reputation of its supporters be raised by it. In so far, therefore, as it is in their power, the better a new arrangement proposed by the ins is, the stronger is the interest by which the outs are incited to oppose it. But the more obviously and indisputably good it is when considered in itself, the more incapable it is of being successfully opposed in the way of argument otherwise than by fallacies; and hence, in the aggregate mass of political fallacies, may be seen the character and general description of that portion of it which is employed chiefly by the outs.
16. In respect and to the extent of their share in the universal interest, an arrangement which is beneficial to that interest will be beneficial to themselves: and thus, supposing it successful, the opposition made by them to the arrangement would be prejudicial to themselves. On the supposition, therefore, of the success of such opposition, they would have to consider which in their eyes would be the greater advantage—their share in the advantage of the arrangement, or the advantage promised to them by the rise of their place in the comparative scale of reputation, by the elevation given to themselves, and the depression caused to their adversaries.
But, generally speaking, in a constitution such as the English in its present state, the chances are in a prodigious degree against the success of any opposition made by the outs to even the most flagrantly bad measure of the ins: much more, of course, to a really good one. Hence it is, that when the arrangement is in itself good, if with any prospect of success or advantage, any of the fallacies belonging to their side can be brought up against the arrangement, and this without prejudice to their own reputation,—they have nothing to stand in the way of the attempt.
17. In respect of those bad arrangements which by their sinister interest the ins stand engaged to promote, and in the promotion of which the outs have, as above, a community of interest,—the part dictated by their sinister interest is a curious and delicate one. By success, they would lessen that mass of sinister advantage which, being that of their antagonists in possession, is theirs in expectancy. They have, therefore, their option to make between this disadvantage and the advantage attached to a correspondent advance in the scale of comparative reputation. But, their situation securing to them little less than a certainty of failure, they are, therefore, as to this matter, pretty well at their ease. At the same time, seeing that whatsoever diminution from the mass of abuse they were to propose in the situation of outs, they could not, without loss of reputation, unless for some satisfactory reason, avoid bringing forward, or at least supporting, in the event of their changing places with the ins,—hence it is, that any such defalcation which they can in general prevail upon themselves to propose, will in general be either spurious and fallacious, or at best inadequate:—inadequate,—and by its inadequacy, and the virtual confession involved in it, giving support and confirmation to every portion of kindred abuse which it leaves untouched.
DIFFERENT PARTS WHICH MAY BE BORNE IN RELATION TO FALLACIES.
As in the case of bad money, so in the case of bad arguments: in the sort and degree of currency which they experience, different persons acting so many different parts are distinguishable.
Fabricator, utterer, acceptor, these are the different parts acted in the currency given to a bad shilling: these are the parts acted on the occasion of the currency given to a bad argument.
In the case of a bad argument, he who is fabricator must be utterer likewise, or in general it would not make its appearance. But for one fabricator who is an utterer, there may be utterers in any number, no one of whom was fabricator.
In the case of the bad argument, as in the case of the bad shilling, in the instance of each actor, the mind is, with reference to the nature and tendency of the transaction, capable of bearing different aspects, which, for purposes of practical importance, it becomes material to distinguish:—
1. Evil consciousness (in the language of Roman lawyers, dolus; in the language of Roman, and thence of English lawyers, mala fides:) 2. Blameable ignorance or inattention, say, in one word, Temerity, (in the same language sometimes culpa, sometimes temeritas:) 3. Blameless agency, actus; which, notwithstanding any mischief that may have been the casual result of it, was free of blame:—by these several denominations are characterized so many habitudes, of which, with relation to any pernicious result, the mind is susceptible.
In the case of the argument, as in the case of the shilling, where the mind is in that state in which the charge of evil-consciousness may with propriety be made, that which the man is conscious of is, the badness of the article which he has in hand.
In general, it is in the case of the fabricator that the mind is least apt to be free from the imputation of evil-consciousness. Be it the bad shilling—be it the bad argument—the making of it will have cost more or less trouble; which trouble, generally speaking, the fabricator will not have taken but in the design of utterance, and in the expectation of making, by means of such utterance, some advantage. In the instance of the bad shilling, it is certain—in the instance of the bad argument, it is more or less probable (more probable in the case of the fabricator than in the case of the mere utterer)—that the badness of it was known and understood. It is certainly possible that the badness of the argument may never have been perceived by the fabricator, or that the bad argument may have been framed without any intention of applying it to bad purposes. But in general, the more a man is exposed to the action of sinister interest, the more reason there is for charging him with evil-consciousness, supposing him to be aware of the action of the sinister interest.
However the action of the sinister interest may have been either perceived or unperceived—for without a certain degree of attention, a man no more perceives what is passing in his own, than what is passing in other minds—the book that lies open before him, though it be the object nearest to him, and though he be ever so much in the habit of reading, may, even while two eyes are fixed upon it, be read or not read, according as it happens that circumstances have, or have not, called his attention to the contents.
The action of a sinister interest may have been immediate or un-immediate.
Immediate; it may have been perceived or not perceived: un-immediate; it has, almost to a certainty, been unperceived.
Sinister interest has two media through which it usually operates. These are prejudice and authority; and hence, we have for the immediate progeny of sinister interest, interest-begotten prejudice and authority-begotten prejudice.
In what case soever a bad argument has owed its fabrication or its utterance to sinister interest, and that interest is not, at the time of fabrication or utterance, perceived, it has for its immediate parent either in-bred prejudice or authority.
Of the three operations thus intimately connected—viz. fabrication, utterance, and acceptance—that the two first are capable of having evil-consciousness for their accompaniment, is obvious. As to acceptance, a distinction must be made before an answer can be given to the question, whether it is accompanied with evil-consciousness.
It may be distinguished into interior and exterior. Where the opinion, how false soever, is really believed to be true by the person to whom it has been presented, the acceptance given to it may be termed internal: where, whether by discourse, by department, or other tokens, a belief of its having experienced an internal acceptance at his hands is, with or without design on his part, entertained by other persons; in so far may it be said to have experienced at his hands an external acceptance.
In the natural state of things, both these modes of acceptance have place together: upon the internal, the external mode follows as a natural consequence. Either of them is, however, capable of having place without the other: feeling the force of an argument, I may appear as if I had not felt it; not having received any impression from it, I may appear as if I had received an impression of greater or less strength, whichever best suits my purpose.
It is sufficiently manifest, that evil-consciousness cannot be the accompaniment of internal acceptance; but it may be an accompaniment, and actually is the accompaniment of external acceptance, as often as the external has not for its accompaniment the internal acceptance.
Supposing the argument such that the appellation of fallacy is justly applicable to it, whatsoever part is borne in relation to it—viz. fabrication, utterance, or acceptance—may with propriety be ascribed to want of probity or want of intelligence.
Hitherto the distinction appears plain and broad enough; but upon a closer inspection, a sort of a mixed, or a middle state between that of evil-consciousness and that of pure temerity—between that of improbity and that of imbecility—may be observed.
This is where the persuasive force of the argument admits of different degrees—as when an argument, which operates with a certain degree of force on the utterer’s mind, is, in the utterance given to it, represented as acting with a degree of force to any amount more considerable.
Thus, a man who considers his opinion as invested only with a certain degree of probability, may speak of it as of a matter of absolute certainty. The persuasion he thus expresses is not absolutely false, but it is exaggerated; and this exaggeration is a species of falsehood.
The more frequent the trumpeter of any fallacy is in its performance, the greater the progress which his mind is apt to make from the state of evil-consciousness to the state of temerity—from the state of improbity to the state of imbecility; that is, imbecility with respect to the subject-matter. It is said of gamblers, that they begin their career as dupes, and end as thieves: in the present case, the parties begin with craft, and end with delusion.
A phenomenon, the existence of which seems to be out of dispute, is that of a liar, by whom a lie of his own invention has so often been told as true, that at length it has come to be accepted as such even by himself.
But if such is the case with regard to a statement composed of words, every one of which finds itself in manifest contradiction to some determinate truth, it may be imagined how much more easily, and consequently how much more frequently, it may come to be the case, in regard to a statement of such nicety and delicacy, as that of the strength of the impression made by this or that instrument of persuasion, of which the persuasive force is susceptible of innumerable degrees, no one of which has ever yet been distinguished from any other, by any externally sensible signs or tokens, in the form of discourse or otherwise.
If substitution of irrelevant arguments to relevant ones is evidence of a bad cause, and of consciousness of the badness of that bad cause, much more is the substitution of application made to the will, to applications made to the understanding:—of the matter of punishment or reward, to the matter of argument.
Arguments addressed to the understanding may, if fallacious, be answered; and any mischief they had a tendency to produce, be prevented by counter-arguments addressed to the understanding.
Against arguments addressed to the will, those addressed to the understanding are altogether without effect, and the mischief produced by them is without remedy.
USES OF THE PRECEDING EXPOSURE.
But of these disquisitions concerning the state and character of the mind of those by whom these instruments of deception are employed, what, it may be asked, is the practical use?
The use is, the opposing such check as it may be in the power of reason to apply, to the practice of employing these poisoned weapons. In proportion as the virtue of sincerity is an object of love and veneration, the opposite vice is held in abhorrence:—the more generally and intimately the public in general are satisfied of the insincerity of him by whom the arguments in question are employed, in that same proportion will be the efficiency of the motives by the force of which a man is withheld from employing these arguments.
Suppose the deceptious and pernicious tendency of these arguments, and thence the improbity of him who employs them, in such sort held up to view as to find the minds of men sufficiently sensible of it—and suppose, that in the public mind in general, virtue in the form of sincerity is an object of respect, vice in the opposite form an object of aversion and contempt,—the practice of this species of improbity will become as rare, as is the practice of any other species of improbity to which the restrictive action of the same moral power is in the habit of applying itself with the same force.
If, on this occasion, the object were to prove the deceptious nature and inconclusiveness of these arguments, the exposure thus given of the mental character of the persons by whom they are employed, would not have any just title to be received into the body of evidence applicable to this purpose. Be the improbity of the persons by whom these arguments are employed ever so glaring, the arguments themselves are exactly what they are—neither better nor worse. To employ as a medium of proof for demonstrating the impropriety of the arguments, the improbity of him by whom they are uttered, is an expedient which stands itself upon the list of fallacies, and which in the foregoing pages has been brought to view.
But on the present occasion, and for the present purpose, the impropriety as well as the mischievousness of these arguments is supposed to be sufficiently established on other, and those unexceptionable, grounds: the object in view now is, to determine by what means an object so desirable as the general disuse of these poisonous weapons may in the completest and most effectual degree be attained.
Now, the mere utterance of these base arguments is not the only—it is not so much as the principal mischief in the case. It is the reception of them in the character of conclusive or influential arguments that constitutes the principal and only ultimate mischief. To the object of making men ashamed to utter them, must therefore be added, the ulterior object of making men ashamed to receive them—ashamed as often as they are observed to see or hear them—ashamed to be known to turn towards them any other aspect than that of aversion and contempt.
But if the practice of insincerity be a practice which a man ought to be ashamed of, so is the practice of giving encouragement to—of forbearing to oppose discouragement to that vice: and to this same desirable and useful end does that man most contribute, by whom the immorality of the practice is held up to view in the strongest and clearest colours.
Nor, upon reflection, will the result be found so hopeless as at first sight might be supposed. In the most numerous assembly that ever sat in either House, perhaps, not a single individual could be found, by whom, in the company of a chaste and well-bred female, an obscene word was ever uttered. And if the frown of indignation were as sure to be drawn down upon the offender by an offence against this branch of the law of probity as by an offence against the law of delicacy, transgression would not be less effectually banished from both those great public theatres, than it is already from the domestic circle.
If, of the fallacies in question, the tendency be really pernicious,—whosoever he be, who by lawful and unexceptionable means of any kind shall have contributed to this effect, will thereby have rendered to his country and to mankind good service.
But whosoever he be, who to the intellectual power adds the moderate portion of pecuniary power necessary, in his power it lies completely to render this good service.
In any printed report of the debates of the assembly in question, supposing any such instruments of deception discoverable, in each instance in which any such instrument is discoverable, let him, at the bottom of the page, by the help of the usual marks of reference, give intimation of it: describing it, for instance, if it be of the number of those which are included in the present list, by the name by which it stands designated in this list, or by any more apt and clearly designative denomination that can be found for it.
The want of sufficient time for adequate discussion, when carried on orally in a numerous assembly, has in no inconsiderable extent been held out by experience in the character of a real and serious evil. To this evil, the table of fallacies furnishes, to an indefinite extent, a powerful remedy.
There are few men of the class of those who read, to whose memory Goldsmith’s delightful novel, the Vicar of Wakefield, is not more or less present. Among the disasters into which the good Vicar is betrayed by his simplicity, is the loss inflicted on him by the craft of Ephraim Jenkins. For insinuating himself into the good opinion and confidence of men of more learning than caution, the instrument he had formed to himself consisted apparently of an extempore sample of recondite learning, in which, in the character of the subject, the cosmogony, and in the character of one of the historians, Sanchoniathon, were the principal figures. On one or two of the occasions on which it was put to use, the success corresponded with the design, and Ephraim remained undetected and triumphant. But at last, as the devil by his cloven foot, so was Ephraim, though in a fresh disguise, betrayed by the cosmogony and Sanchoniathon, to some persons to whose lot it had fallen to receive the same proof of recondite learning, word for word. Immediately the chamber rings, with—“Your servant, Mr. Ephraim!”
In the course of time, when these imperfect sketches shall have received perfection and polish from some more skilful hand, so shall it be done unto him (nor is there need of inspiration for the prophecy)—so shall it be done unto him, who in the tabernacle of St. Stephen’s, or in any other mansion, higher or lower, of similar design and use, shall be so far off his guard, as through craft or simplicity to let drop any of these irrelevant, and at one time deceptious arguments: and instead of, Order! Order! a voice shall be heard, followed, if need be, by voices in scores, crying aloud, “Stale! Stale! Fallacy of authority! Fallacy of distrust!” &c. &c.
The faculty which detection has of divesting deception of her power, is attested by the poet:—
“Quære peregrinum, vicinia rauca reclamat.”
The period of time at which, in the instance of the instruments of deception here in question, this change shall have been acknowledged to have been completely effected, will form an epoch in the history of civilization.
[* ]See Introduction to Morals and Legislation in Vol. I.