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CHAPTER V.: secondary derivation of a first principle. - Herbert Spencer, Social Statics 
Social Statics: or, The Conditions essential to Happiness specified, and the First of them Developed, (London: John Chapman, 1851).
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secondary derivation of a first principle.
Having inquired how the Divine Idea, greatest happiness, is to be realized—having found that it is to be realized through the exercise of faculties—and having found that, to fulfil its end, such exercise of faculties must be confined within certain limits; let us now pursue the investigation a step further, and see whether there does not exist in man himself an impulse to claim that exercise, and an impulse to respect those limits. Some such provisions are clearly needful for the completion of the creative scheme. It would be quite at variance with the general law of our structure, that there should be nothing to restrain us from the undue exercise of faculties, but abstract considerations like those set forth in the last chapter. As elsewhere pointed out (p. 19), man is ruled by quite other instrumentalities than intellectual ones. The regulation of his conduct is not left to the accident of a philosophical inquiry. We may, therefore, expect to find some special agent by which the distinction between right and wrong exercise of faculties is recognised and responded to.
From what he has already gathered, the reader will of course infer that this agent is that Moral Sense, in whose existence we elsewhere saw good reason to believe. And possibly he will anticipate the further inference, that this first and all-essential law, declaratory of the liberty of each limited only by the like liberty of all, is that fundamental truth of which the moral sense is to give an intuition, and which the intellect is to develop into a scientific morality.
Of the correctness of this inference there are various proofs, upon an examination of which we must now enter. And first on the list stands the fact, that, out of some source or other in men’s minds, there keep continually coming utterances more or less completely expressive of this truth. Quite independently of any such analytical examinations as that just concluded, men perpetually exhibit a tendency to assert the equality of human rights. In all ages, but more especially in later ones, has this tendency been visible. In our own history we may detect signs of its presence as early as the time of Edward I., in whose writs of summons it was said to be “a most equitable rule, that what concerns all should be approved of by all.” How our institutions have been influenced by it may be seen in the judicial principle that “all men are equal before the law.” The doctrine that “all men are naturally equal” (of course only in so far as their claims are concerned), has not only been asserted by philanthropists like Granville Sharpe, but as Sir Robert Filmer, a once renowned champion of absolute monarchy, tells us, “Heyward, Blackwood, Barclay, and others that have bravely vindicated the rights of kings, ∗ ∗ ∗ with one consent admitted the natural liberty and equality of mankind.” Again, we find the declaration of American independence affirming that “all men have equal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;” and the similar assertion that “every man has an equal right with every other man to a voice in the making of the laws which all are required to obey,” was the maxim of the Complete Suffrage movement. In his essay on Civil Government, Locke, too, expresses the opinion that there is “nothing more evident than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection.” And those who wish for more authorities who have expressed the same conviction, may add the names of Judge Blackstone and “the judicious Hooker.”
The sayings and doings of daily life continually imply some intuitive belief of this kind. We take for granted its universality, when we appeal to men’s sense of justice. In moments of irritation it shows itself in such expressions as—“How would you like it?” “What is that to you?” “I’ve as good a right as you,” &c. Our praises of liberty are pervaded by it; and it gives bitterness to the invectives with which we assail the oppressors of mankind. Nay, indeed, so spontaneous is this faith in the equality of human rights, that our very language embodies it. Equity and equal are from the same root; and equity literally means equalness.
It is manifest, moreover, that some such faith is continually increasing in strength. Rightly understood, the advance from a savage to a cultivated state is the advance of its dominion. It is by their greater harmony with it that the laws, opinions, and usages of a civilized society are chiefly distinguished from those of a barbarous one. How instrumental it has been in modifying the events of the past was elsewhere hinted (p. 23). If we call to mind the political agitations that have run a successful course within these few years, and consider likewise those that are going on around us, we shall find them nearly all strongly tinctured by it. Nor can we contemplate the late European revolutions, and read the preambles to the new constitutions that have sprung out of them, without perceiving that a conviction of the equality of human rights is now stronger and more general than ever.
Not without meaning is the continued life and growth of this conviction. He must indeed have a strange way of interpreting social phenomena, who can believe that the re-appearance of it, with ever-increasing frequency, in laws, books, agitations, revolutions, means nothing. If we analyze them, we shall find all beliefs to be in some way dependent upon mental conformation—temporary ones upon temporary characteristics of our nature—permanent ones upon its permanent characteristics. And when we find that a belief like this in the equal freedom of all men, is not only permanent, but daily gaining ground, we have good reason to conclude that it corresponds to some essential element of our moral constitution: more especially since we find that its existence is in harmony with that chief pre-requisite to greatest happiness lately dwelt upon; and that its growth is in harmony with that law of adaptation by which this greatest happiness is being wrought out.
Such, at least, is the hypothesis here adopted. From the above accumulation of evidence it is inferred that there exists in man what may be termed an instinct of personal rights—a feeling that leads him to claim as great a share of natural privilege as is claimed by others—a feeling that leads him to repel anything like an encroachment upon what he thinks his sphere of original freedom. By virtue of this impulse, individuals, as units of the social mass, tend to assume like relationships with the atoms of matter, surrounded as these are by their respective atmospheres of repulsion as well as of attraction. And perhaps social stability may ultimately be seen to depend upon the due balance of these forces.
There exists, however, a dominant sect of so-called philosophical politicians who treat with contempt this belief that men have any claims antecedent to those endorsed by governments. As disciples of Bentham, consistency requires them to do this. Accordingly, although it does violence to their secret perceptions, they boldly deny the existence of “rights” entirely. They nevertheless perpetually betray a belief in the doctrines which they professedly reject. They inadvertently talk about justice, especially when it concerns themselves, in much the same style as their opponents. They draw the same distinction between law and equity that other people do. They applaud fairness, and honour, quite as if they thought them something more than mere words. And when robbed, or assaulted, or wrongly imprisoned, they exhibit the same indignation, the same determination to oppose the aggressor, utter the same denunciations of tyranny, and the same loud demands for redress, as the sternest assertors of the rights of man. By way of explaining such inconsistencies, it is indeed alleged, that the feeling thus manifested is nothing but the result of a gradually-acquired conviction that benefits flow from some kinds of action, and evils from other kinds; and it is said that the sympathies and antipathies respectively contracted towards these, exhibit themselves, as a love of justice, and a hatred of injustice. To which supposition it was by implication elsewhere replied, that it would be equally wise to conclude that hunger springs from a conviction of the benefit of eating; or that love of offspring is the result of a wish to maintain the species!
But it is amusing when, after all, it turns out that the ground on which these philosophers have taken their stand, and from which with such self-complacency they shower their sarcasms, is nothing but an adversary’s mine, destined to blow the vast fabric of conclusions they have based on it into nonentity. This so solid-looking principle of “the greatest happiness to the greatest number,” needs but to have a light brought near it, and lo! it explodes into the astounding assertion, that all men have equal rights to happiness (p. 22)—an assertion far more sweeping and revolutionary than any of those which are assailed with so much scorn.a .
When we see, then, that an instinct of personal rights manifests itself unceasingly in opinions and institutions; when further we find that the attempt to trace the monitions of this instinct to experience, betrays us into an absurdity; and when lastly, the dogma of those who most sturdily deny that there is such an instinct, proves to be only another emanation from it—we find ourselves in possession of the strongest possible evidence of its existence—the testimony of all parties. We are therefore justified in considering that existence as sufficiently proved.
But why, it may be asked, should there need any sentiment leading men to claim the liberty of action requisite for the due exercise of faculties, and prompting them to resist encroachments upon that liberty? Will not the several faculties themselves do this, by virtue of their desires for activity, which cannot otherwise be gratified? Surely there is no necessity for a special impulse to make a man do that which all his impulses conjointly tend to make him do.
This is not so serious an objection as it appears to be. For although, were there no such sentiment as this supposed one, each faculty in turn might impel its possessor to oppose a diminution of its own sphere of action, yet, during the dormancy of that faculty, there would be nothing to prevent the freedom requisite for its future exercise from being infringed upon. It may, perhaps, be rejoined, that the mere consciousness that there must again occur occasions for the use of such freedom will constitute a sufficient incentive to defend it. But plausible as this supposition looks, it does not tally with facts. We do not find on inquiry, that each faculty has a special foresight—takes thought for its gratifications to come: we find, on the contrary, that to provide for the future gratification of the faculties at large, is the office of faculties appointed solely for that purpose. Thus, referring once more by way of illustration to the acquisitive instinct, we see that, when this is wanting, the desires for food, for clothing, for shelter, together with those many other desires which property minsters to, do not of themselves prompt that accumulation of property on which the continuance of their satisfaction depends. Each of them, when active, impels the individual to take means for its present fulfilment; but does not prompt him to lay by the means for its future fulfilment. To so prompt him there needs a certain amount of this acquisitive instinct, which, in pursuing its own gratification, incidentally secures to other instincts the means of their gratification. Similarly, then, with liberty of action. It is argued, that as each faculty does not look after its own particular fund of necessaries, so neither does it look after its own particular sphere of activity; and that as there is a special faculty to which the providing of a general fund of necessaries is consigned, so likewise is there a special faculty to which the maintenance of a general sphere of activity is consigned. Or perhaps we may most clearly express the relationship in which these two faculties stand to the rest, by saying, that whilst it is the function of the one to accumulate the matter on which the faculties at large are to be exercised, it is the function of the other to preserve the freedom of motion by which that matter is both obtained and made use of.
Seeing, however, that this instinct of personal rights is a purely selfish instinct, leading each man to assert and defend his own liberty of action, there remains the question—Whence comes our perception of the rights of others?
The way to a solution of this difficulty has been opened by Adam Smith in his “Theory of Moral Sentiments.” It is the aim of that work to show that the proper regulation of our conduct to one another, is secured by means of a faculty whose function it is to excite in each being the emotions displayed by surrounding ones — a faculty which awakens a like state of sentiment, or, as he terms it, “a fellow feeling with the passions of others”—the faculty, in short, which we commonly call Sympathy. As illustrations of the mode in which this agent acts, he quotes cases like these:—
“Persons of delicate fibres, and weak constitution of body, complain that in looking on the sores and ulcers which are exposed by beggars in the streets, they are apt to feel an itching or uneasy sensation in the corresponding part of their own bodies.” “Men of most robust make observe, that in looking upon sore eyes they often feel a very sensible soreness in their own.” “Our joy for the deliverance of those heroes of tragedy or romance who interest us, is as sincere as our grief for their distress, and our fellow-feeling for their misery, is not more real than that for their happiness.” “We blush for the impudence and rudeness of another, though he himself appears to have no sense of the impropriety of his behaviour.”
To these facts cited by Adam Smith, may be added many others of like import; such as that people—women especially—start or shriek on seeing an accident occur to others; that unpractised assistants at surgical operations often faint; that out of the soldiers drawn up to witness a flogging, usually several drop down in the ranks; that a boy has been known to die on witnessing an execution. We have all experienced the uncomfortable feeling of shame produced in us by the blunders and confusion of a nervous speaker; and most likely every one has some time or other been put into a horrible tremor on seeing another at the edge of a precipice. The converse action of the faculty is equally observable. Thus, we find ourselves unable to avoid joining in the merriment of our friends, whilst unaware of its cause; and children, much to their annoyance, are often forced to laugh in the midst of their tears, by witnessing the laughter of those around them. These and many like evidences prove that, as Burke says, “sympathy must be considered as a sort of substitution by which we are put into the place of another man, and affected in many respects as he is affected.”
In tracing our benevolent actions to the influence of such a faculty—in concluding that we are led to relieve the miseries of others from a desire to rid ourselves of the pain given by the sight of misery, and to make others happy, because we participate in their happiness, Adam Smith puts forth what seems to be a quite satisfactory theory. But he has overlooked one of its most important applications. Not recognising any such impulse as that which urges men to maintain their claims, he did not see that their respect for the claims of others, may be explained in the same way. He did not perceive that the sentiment of justice is nothing but a sympathetic affection of the instinct of personal rights—a sort of reflex function of it. Such, however, must be the case, if that instinct exists, and if this hypothesis of Adam Smith’s be true. Here lies the explanation of those qualms of conscience, as we call them, felt by men who have committed dishonest actions. It is through this instrumentality that we receive satisfaction on paying another what is due to him. And with these two faculties also, originate that indignation which narratives of political oppression excite in us, and that gnashing of the teeth with which we read of the slave-dealer’s barbarities.
It was elsewhere hinted (p. 71), that though we must keep up the distinction between them, it is nevertheless true that justice and beneficence have a common root, and the reader will now at once perceive that the common root is—Sympathy. All the actions properly classified under the one, and which we describe as fair, equitable, upright, spring from the sympathetic excitement of the instinct of personal rights; whilst those usually grouped under the other, as mercy, charity, good-nature, generosity, amiability, considerateness, are due to the action of Sympathy upon one or more of the other feelings.
In support of the foregoing theory much detailed evidence can be adduced. If it be true that men’s perceptions of justice are generated in the way alleged, it will follow that, other things equal, those who have the strongest sense of their own rights, will have the strongest sense of the rights of their neighbours. And, by observing whether this is the case or not, we may put the theory to the proof. Let us do this.
The first illustration that suggests itself is afforded by the Society of Friends. Ever since they appeared in the days of Charles I., the members of that body have been remarkable for their determined assertion of personal liberty. They have shown it in their continued resistance to ecclesiastical power; in the obstinacy with which they successfully defied persecution; in their still-continued refusal to pay church-rates; and even in their creed, which does not permit a priesthood. Observe, now, how the sentiment which these peculiarities imply has manifested itself sympathetically. Penn and his followers were the only emigrants of their age who made any acknowledgment to the aborigines for the land they colonized. Of this same sect were the philanthropists who commenced the agitation for abolishing the slave trade; and who were most energetic in carrying it on. Amongst lunatic asylums, the York Retreat was one of the first, if not the first, in which a non-coercive treatment of the insane was adopted. They were Quakers too, who years ago began publicly to exclaim against the injustice as well as the cruelty of war. And, whilst it may be true that in business they are firm in the assertion of their claims, it is not less true that on the whole they are remarkable for honest dealing.
The English national character, as contrasted with that of other races, will supply a further illustration. We are universally distinguished for our jealous love of freedom—for the firm maintenance of our rights. At the same time we are not less distinguished for the greater equity of our general conduct. Although our behaviour to the natives of lands on which we have settled has been anything but praiseworthy, it has never been so abominable as that of the Spaniards and others. According to all accounts English merchants are noted everywhere for good faith and straightforwardness. Even amongst the most brutal of our population—even in the prize-ring itself, there is shown in that maxim which forbids the striking of a man when down, a greater sense of what is fair than the people of other countries show. And during these latter times, in which the popular demand for equal political rights has been so loud and so increasing, we have, as a nation, proved our greater regard for the rights of others, by an attempt to put down slavery all over the world.
Conversely, we find that those who have not a strong sense of what is just to themselves, are likewise deficient in a sense of what is just to their fellow men. This has long been a common remark. As one of our living writers puts it—the tyrant is nothing but a slave turned inside out. In earlier days, when feudal lords were vassals to the king, they were also despots to their retainers. In our own time, the Russian noble is alike a serf to his autocrat, and an autocrat to his serf. It is remarked even by school-boys, that the bully is the most ready of all to knock under to a bigger bully. We constantly observe that those who fawn upon the great are overbearing to their inferiors. That “emancipated slaves exceed all other owners (of slaves) in cruelty and oppression,”a is a truth established on numerous authorities. And that where opportunity offers the submissive nature becomes a tyrannical one, is further illustrated by the fact, that the negroes are frequently caught and sold by their own kings.
Thus we find the proposed theory to be supported both by direct and converse evidence. One qualification must be made, however. There is no necessary connection between a sense of what is due to self, and a sense of what is due to others. Sympathy and instinct of rights do not always co-exist in equal strength any more than other faculties do. Either of them may be present in normal amount, whilst the other is almost wanting. And, if devoid of sympathy, it is possible for a man who has a sufficient impulse to assert his own claims, to show no corresponding respect for the claims of his fellows. The instinct of rights being of itself entirely selfish, merely impels its possessor to maintain his own privileges. Only by the sympathetic excitement of it, is a desire to behave equitably to others awakened; and when sympathy is absent such a desire is impossible. Nevertheless this does not affect the general proposition, that where there exists the usual amount of sympathy, respect for the rights of others will be great or small, according as the amount of the instinct of personal rights is great or small. And thus in the average of cases, we may safely conclude that a man’s sense of justice to himself, and his sense of justice to his neighbours, bear a constant ratio to each other.
Further proof that there exists the mental arrangement here described, may be found in the fact, that some of the peculiar moral notions traceable to it are perfectly in harmony with certain of the abstract conclusions arrived at in the preceding chapter. We find in ourselves a conviction, for which we can give no satisfactory reason, that we are free, if we please, to do particular things which it is yet blamable to do. Though it may greatly diminish his happiness, a man feels that he has a right, if he likes, to cut off a limb, or to destroy his property. Whilst we condemn the want of consideration he shows towards some miserable debtor, we yet admit that the hard creditor is, in strict justice, entitled to the uttermost farthing. Notwithstanding our disgust at the selfishness of one who refuses to afford some friendly accommodation, we cannot deny that he is quite at liberty so to refuse. Now these perceptions, which, if the hypothesis be true, are referable to the instinct of personal rights acting in the one case directly, and in the other cases sympathetically, quite accord with foregoing inferences. We found that the law of equal freedom was the fundamental law. We found (p. 82) that no other limitations of activity could be as authoritative as that which it sets up. And we found further (p. 89) that in this, our state of adaptation, it would be wrong to establish any fixed boundary to the liberty of each, save the similar liberty of others. Such a correspondence between our instinctive beliefs, and the conclusions previously arrived at, lends additional probability to the hypothesis here advanced.
That there exists in us a mental mechanism by which the essential pre-requisite to greatest happiness is recognised and enforced, seems therefore abundantly manifest. We find the general principles of our structure to imply some such provision. In that Moral Sense, of whose existence we elsewhere saw the probability, we have an agent apparently answering to the requirement; and in this first condition to greatest happiness, we discover the axiom which the Moral Sense was to respond to. That man does possess a feeling which responds to this axiom, is evidenced by the more or less complete expression spontaneously given to it in political dogmas, in laws, and in the sayings of daily life: further proof of its existence being found in the fact, that those who nominally repudiate the belief it gives utterance to, themselves profess that belief in a disguised and incorrect form. By an analogy drawn from the impulse to accumulate, we are shown that an impulse to maintain liberty of action, is most likely essential to the completeness of the human constitution. How this impulse to maintain liberty of action can generate regard for the liberty of action of others, is explicable by an extension of Adam Smith’s doctrine of Sympathy; and that our sentiment of justice is really due to a sympathetic excitement of such impulse, numerous facts conspire to prove. Lastly, we find that the convictions originated in us after the manner here supposed, correspond with the results of abstract reasoning, not only as to the possession by each of a right to exercise his faculties, and as to a consequent limit of that right, but as to the peculiar sacredness of that right and this limit.
[a]We need not here debate the claims of this maxim. It is sufficient for present purposes to remark, that were it true it would be utterly useless as a first principle; both from the impossibility of determining specifically what happiness is, and from the want of a measure by which equitably to mete it out, could we define it.
[a]Four Years in the Pacific. By Lieut. Walpole.