Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VIII.: THE SOCIOLOGICAL VIEW. - The Data of Ethics
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CHAPTER VIII.: THE SOCIOLOGICAL VIEW. - Herbert Spencer, The Data of Ethics 
The Data of Ethics (London: Williams and Norgate, 1879).
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THE SOCIOLOGICAL VIEW.
§48. Not for the human race only, but for every race, there are laws of right living. Given its environment and its structure, and there is for each kind of creature a set of actions adapted in their kinds, amounts, and combinations, to secure the highest conservation its nature permits. The animal, like the man, has needs for food, warmth, activity, rest, and so forth; which must be fulfilled in certain relative degrees to make its life whole. Maintenance of its race implies satisfaction of special desires, sexual and philoprogenitive, in due proportions. Hence there is a supposable formula for the activities of each species, which, could it be drawn out, would constitute a system of morality for that species. But such a system of morality would have little or no reference to the welfare of others than self and offspring. Indifferent to individuals of its own kind, as an inferior creature is, and habitually hostile to individuals of other kinds, the formula for its life could take no cognizance of the lives of those with which it came in contact; or rather, such formula would imply that maintenance of its life was at variance with maintenance of their lives.
But on ascending from beings of lower kinds to the highest kind of being, man; or, more strictly, on ascending from man in his pre-social stage to man in his social stage; the formula has to include an additional factor. Though not peculiar to human life under its developed form, the presence of this factor is still, in the highest degree, characteristic of it. Though there are inferior species displaying considerable degrees of sociality; and though the formulas for their complete lives would have to take account of the relations arising from union; yet our own species is, on the whole, to be distinguished as having a formula for complete life which specially recognizes the relations of each individual to others, in presence of whom, and in co-operation with whom, he has to live.
This additional factor in the problem of complete living, is, indeed, so important that the necessitated modifications of conduct have come to form a chief part of the code of conduct. Because the inherited desires which directly refer to the maintenance of individual life, are fairly adjusted to the requirements, there has been no need to insist on that conformity to them which furthers self conservation. Conversely, because these desires prompt activities that often conflict with the activities of others; and because the sentiments responding to other's claims are relatively weak; moral codes emphasize those restraints on conduct which the presence of fellow men entails.
From the sociological point of view, then, Ethics becomes nothing else than a definite account of the forms of conduct that are fitted to the associated state, in such wise that the lives of each and all may be the greatest possible, alike in length and breadth.
§49. But here we are met by a fact which forbids us thus to put in the foreground the welfares of citizens, individually considered, and requires us to put in the foreground the welfare of the society as a whole. The life of the social organism must, as an end, rank above the lives of its units. These two ends are not harmonious at the outset; and though the tendency is towards harmonization of them, they are still partially conflicting.
As fast as the social state establishes itself, the preservation of the society becomes a means of preserving its units. Living together arose because, on the average, it proved more advantageous to each than living apart; and this implies that maintenance of combination is maintenance of the conditions to more satisfactory living than the combined persons would otherwise have. Hence, social self-preservation becomes a proximate aim taking precedence of the ultimate aim, individual self-preservation.
This subordination of personal to social welfare is, however, contingent: it depends on the presence of antagonistic societies. So long as the existence of a community is endangered by the actions of communities around, it must remain true that the interests of individuals must be sacrificed to the interests of the community, as far as is needful for the community's salvation. But if this is manifest, it is, by implication, manifest, that when social antagonisms cease, this need for sacrifice of private claims to public claims ceases also; or rather, there cease to be any public claims at variance with private claims. All along, furtherance of individual lives has been the ultimate end; and if this ultimate end has been postponed to the proximate end of preserving the community's life, it has been so only because this proximate end was instrumental to the ultimate end. When the aggregate is no longer in danger, the final object of pursuit, the welfare of the units, no longer needing to be postponed, becomes the immediate object of pursuit.
Consequently, unlike sets of conclusions respecting human conduct emerge, according as we are concerned with a state of habitual or occasional war, or are concerned with a state of permanent and general peace. Let us glance at these alternative states and the alternative implications.
§50. At present the individual man has to carry on his life with due regard to the lives of others belonging to the same society; while he is sometimes called on to be regardless of the lives of those belonging to other societies. The same mental constitution having to fulfil both these requirements, is necessarily incongruous; and the correlative conduct, adjusted first to the one need and then to the other, cannot be brought within any consistent ethical system.
Hate and destroy your fellow man, is now the command; and then the command is, love and aid your fellow man. Use every means to deceive, says the one code of conduct; while the other code says, be truthful in word and deed. Seize what property you can and burn all you cannot take away, are injunctions which the religion of enmity countenances; while by the religion of amity, theft and arson are condemned as crimes. And as conduct has to be made up of parts thus at variance with one another, the theory of conduct remains confused. There co-exists a kindred irreconcilability between the sentiments answering to the forms of co-operation required for militancy and industrialism respectively. While social antagonisms are habitual, and while, for efficient action against other societies, there needs great subordination to men who command, the virtue of loyalty and the duty of implicit obedience have to be insisted on: disregard of the ruler's will is punished with death. But when war ceases to be chronic, and growing industrialism habituates men to maintaining their own claims while respecting the claims of others, loyalty becomes less profound, the authority of the ruler is questioned or denied in respect of various private actions and beliefs. State-dictation is in many directions successfully defied, and the political independence of the citizen comes to be regarded as a claim which it is virtuous to maintain and vicious to yield up. Necessarily during the transition, these opposite sentiments are incongruously mingled. So is it, too, with domestic institutions under the two régimes. While the first is dominant, ownership of a slave is honourable, and in the slave submission is praiseworthy; but as the last grows dominant, slave-owning becomes a crime and servile obedience excites contempt. Nor is it otherwise in the family. The subjection of women to men, complete while war is habitual but qualified as fast as peaceful occupations replace it, comes eventually to be thought wrong; and equality before the law is asserted. At the same time the opinion concerning paternal power changes. The once unquestioned right of the father to take his children's lives is denied; and the duty of absolute submission to him, long insisted on, is changed into the duty of obedience within reasonable limits.
Were the ratio between the life of antagonism with alien societies, and the life of peaceful co-operation within each society, a constant ratio, some permanent compromise between the conflicting rules of conduct appropriate to the two lives might be reached. But since this ratio is a variable one, the compromise can never be more than temporary. Ever the tendency is towards congruity between beliefs and requirements. Either the social arrangements are gradually changed until they come into harmony with prevailing ideas and sentiments; or, if surrounding conditions prevent change in the social arrangements, the necessitated habits of life modify the prevailing ideas and sentiments to the requisite extent. Hence, for each kind and degree of social evolution determined by external conflict and internal friendship, there is an appropriate compromise between the moral code of enmity and the moral code of amity: not, indeed, a definable, consistent compromise, but a compromise fairly well understood.
This compromise, vague, ambiguous, illogical, though it may be, is nevertheless for the time being authoritative. For if, as above shown, the welfare of the society must take precedence of the welfares of its component individuals, during those stages in which the individuals have to preserve themselves by preserving their society; then such temporary compromise between the two codes of conduct as duly regards external defence, while favouring internal co-operation to the greatest extent practicable, subserves the maintenance of life in the highest degree; and thus gains the ultimate sanction. So that the perplexed and inconsistent moralities of which each society and each age shows us a more or less different one, are severally justified as being approximately the best under the circumstances.
But such moralities are, by their definitions, shown to be long to incomplete conduct; not to conduct that is fully evolved. We saw that the adjustments of acts to ends which, while constituting the external manifestations of life conduce to the continuance of life, have been rising to a certain ideal form now approached by the civilized man. But this form is not reached so long as there continue aggressions of one society upon another. Whether the hindrances to complete living result from the trespasses of fellow-citizens, or from the trespasses of aliens, matters not: if they occur there does not yet exist the state defined. The limit to the evolution of conduct is arrived at by the members of each society only when, being arrived at by members of other societies also, the causes of international antagonism end simultaneously with the causes of antagonism between individuals.
And now having from the sociological point of view recognized the need for, and authority of, these changing systems of ethics, proper to changing ratios between war-like activities and peaceful activities, we have, from the same point of view, to consider the system of ethics proper to the state in which peaceful activities are undisturbed.
§51. If, excluding all thought of dangers or hindrances from causes external to a society, we set ourselves to specify those conditions under which the life of each person, and therefore of the aggregate, may be the greatest possible; we come upon certain simple ones which, as here stated, assume the form of truisms.
For, as we have seen, the definition of that highest life accompanying completely-evolved conduct, itself excludes all acts of aggression—not only murder, assault, robbery and the major offences generally, but minor offences, such as libel, injury to property and so forth. While directly deducting from individual life, these indirectly cause perturbations of social life. Trespasses against others rouse antagonisms in them; and if these are numerous the group loses coherence. Hence, whether the integrity of the group itself is considered as the end; or whether the end considered is the benefit ultimately secured to its units by maintaining its integrity; or whether the immediate benefit of its units taken separately, is considered the end; the implication is the same: such acts are at variance with achievement of the end That these inferences are self-evident and trite (as indeed the first inferences drawn from the data of every science that reaches the deductive stage naturally are) must not make us pass lightly over the all-important fact that, from the sociological point of view, the leading moral laws are seen to follow as corollaries from the definition of complete life carried on under social conditions.
Respect for these primary moral laws is not enough, however. Associated men pursuing their several lives without injuring one another but without helping one another, reap no advantages from association beyond those of companionship. If, while there is no co-operation for defensive purposes (which is here excluded by the hypothesis) there is also no co-operation for satisfying wants, the social state loses its raison d'être—almost, if not entirely. There are, indeed, people who live in a condition little removed from this; as the Esquimaux. But though these, exhibiting none of the co-operation necessitated by war, which is unknown to them, lead lives such that each family is substantially independent of others, occasional co-operation occurs. And, indeed, that families should live in company without ever yielding mutual aid, is scarcely conceivable.
Nevertheless, whether actually existing or only approached, we must here recognize as hypothetically possible, a state in which these primary moral laws alone are conformed to; for the purpose of observing, in their uncomplicated forms, what are the negative conditions to harmonious social life. Whether the members of a social group do or do not co-operate, certain limitations to their individual activities are necessitated by their association; and after recognizing these as arising in the absence of co-operation, we shall be the better prepared to understand how conformity to them is effected when co-operation begins.
§52. For whether men live together in quite independent ways, careful only to avoid aggressing; or whether, advancing from passive association to active association, they co-operate; their conduct must be such that the achievement of ends by each shall at least not be hindered. And it becomes obvious that when they co-operate, there must not only be no resulting hindrance but there must be facilitation; since in the absence of facilitation there can be no motive to co-operate. What shape, then, must the mutual restraints take when co-operation begins? or rather—What, in addition to the primary mutual restraints already specified, are those secondary mutual restraints required to make co-operation possible?
One who, living in an isolated way, expends effort in pursuit of an end, gets compensation for the effort by securing the end; and so achieves satisfaction. If he expends the effort without achieving the end, there results dissatisfaction. The satisfaction and the dissatisfaction, are measures of success and failure in life-sustaining acts; since that which is achieved by effort is something which directly or indirectly furthers life, and so pays for the cost of the effort; while if the effort fails there is nothing to pay for the cost of it, and so much life is wasted. What must result from this when men's efforts are joined? The reply will be made clearer if we take the successive forms of co-operation in the order of ascending complexity. We may distinguish as homogeneous co-operation, (1), that in which like efforts are joined for like ends that are simultaneously enjoyed. As co-operation that is not completely homogeneous, we may distinguish, (2), that in which like efforts are joined for like ends that are not simultaneously enjoyed. A co-operation of which the heterogeneity is more distinct is, (3), that in which unlike efforts are joined for like ends. And lastly comes the decidedly heterogeneous co-operation, (4), that in which unlike efforts are joined for unlike ends.
The simplest and earliest of these, in which men's powers, similar in kind and degree, are united in pursuit of a benefit which, when obtained, they all participate in, is most familiarly exemplified in the catching of game by primitive men: this simplest and earliest form of industrial co-operation being also that which is least differentiated from militant co-operation; for the co-operators are the same, and the processes, both destructive of life, are carried on in analogous ways. The condition under which such co-operation may be successfully carried on, is that the co-operators shall share alike in the produce. Each thus being enabled to repay himself in food for the expended effort, and being further enabled to achieve other such desired ends as maintenance of family, obtains satisfaction: there is no aggression of one on another, and the co-operation is harmonious. Of course the divided produce can be but roughly proportioned to the several efforts joined in obtaining it; but there is actually among savages, as we see that for harmonious co-operation there must be, a recognition of the principle that efforts when combined shall severally bring equivalent benefits, as they would do if they were separate. Moreover, beyond the taking equal shares in return for labours that are approximately equal, there is generally an attempt at proportioning benefit to achievement, by assigning something extra, in the shape of the best part or the trophy, to the actual slayer of the game. And obviously, if there is a wide departure from this system of sharing benefits when there has been a sharing of efforts, the co-operation will cease. Individual hunters will prefer to do the best they can for themselves separately.
Passing from this simplest case of co-operation to a case not quite so simple—a case in which the homogeneity is incomplete—let us ask how a member of the group may be led without dissatisfaction to expend effort in achieving a benefit which, when achieved, is enjoyed exclusively by another? Clearly he may do this on condition that the other shall afterwards expend a like effort, the beneficial result of which shall be similarly rendered up by him in return. This exchange of equivalents of effort is the form which social co-operation takes while yet there is little or no division of labour save that between the sexes. For example, the Bodo and Dhimals “mutually assist each other for the nonce, as well in constructing their houses as in clearing their plots for cultivation.” And this principle—I will help you if you will help me—common in simple communities where the occupations are alike in kind, and occasionally acted upon in more advanced communities, is one under which the relation between effort and benefit, no longer directly maintained, is maintained indirectly. For whereas when men's activities are carried on separately, or are joined in the way exemplified above, effort is immediately paid for by benefit, in this form of co-operation the benefit achieved by effort is exchanged for a like benefit to be afterwards received when asked for. And in this case as in the preceding case, co-operation can be maintained only by fulfilment of the tacit agreements. For if they are habitually not fulfilled, there will commonly be refusal to give aid when asked; and each man will be left to do the best he can by himself. All those advantages to be gained by union of efforts in doing things that are beyond the powers of the single individual, will be unachievable. At the outset, then, fulfilment of contracts that are implied if not expressed, becomes a condition to social co-operation; and therefore to social development.
From these simple forms of co-operation in which the labours men carry on are of like kinds, let us turn to the more complex forms in which they carry on labours of unlike kinds. Where men mutually aid in building huts or felling trees, the number of days' work now given by one to another, is readily balanced by an equal number of days' work afterwards given by the other to him. And no estimation of the relative values of the labours being required, a definite understanding is little needed. But when division of labour arises—when there come transactions between one who makes weapons and another who dresses skins for clothing, or between a grower of roots and a catcher of fish—neither the relative amounts nor the relative qualities of their labours admit of easy measure; and with the multiplication of businesses, implying numerous kinds of skill and power, there ceases to be anything like manifest equivalence between either the bodily and mental efforts set against one another, or between their products. Hence the arrangement cannot now be taken for granted, as while the things exchanged are like in kind: it has to be stated. If A allows B to appropriate a product of his special skill, on condition that he is allowed to appropriate a different product of B's special skill, it results that as equivalence of the two products cannot be determined by direct comparison of their quantities and qualities, there must be a distinct understanding as to how much of the one may be taken in consideration of so much of the other.
Only under voluntary agreement, then, no longer tacit and vague but overt and definite, can co-operation be harmoniously carried on when division of labour becomes established. And as in the simplest co-operation, where like efforts are joined to secure a common good, the dissatisfaction caused in those who, having expended their labours do not get their shares of the good, prompts them to cease co-operating; as in the more advanced co-operation, achieved by exchanging equal labours of like kind expended at different times, aversion to co-operate is generated if the expected equivalent of labour is not rendered; so in this developed co-operation, the failure of either to surrender to the other that which was avowedly recognized as of like value with the labour or product given, tends to prevent co-operation by exciting discontent with its results. And evidently, while antagonisms thus caused impede the lives of the units, the life of the aggregate is endangered by diminished cohesion.
§53. Beyond these comparatively direct mischiefs, special and general, there have to be noted indirect mischiefs. As already implied by the reasoning in the last paragraph, not only social integration but also social differentiation, is hindered by breach of contract.
In Part II of the Principles of Sociology, it was shown that the fundamental principles of organization are the same for an individual organism and for a social organism; because both consist of mutually-dependent parts. In the one case as in the other, the assumption of unlike activities by the component members, is possible only on condition that they severally benefit in due degrees by one another's activities. That we may the better see what are the implications in respect of social structures, let us first note the implications in respect of individual structures.
The welfare of a living body implies an approximate equilibrium between waste and repair. If the activities involve an expenditure not made good by nutrition, dwindling follows. If the tissues are enabled to take up from the blood enriched by food, fit substances enough to replace those used up in efforts made, the weight may be maintained. And if the gain exceeds the loss, growth results. That which is true of the whole in its relations to the external world, is no less true of the parts in their relations to one another. Each organ, like the entire organism, is wasted by performing its function, and has to restore itself from the materials brought to it. If the quantity of materials furnished by the joint agency of the other organs is deficient, the particular organ dwindles. If they are sufficient, it can maintain its integrity. If they are in excess, it is enabled to increase. To say that this arrangement constitutes the physiological contract, is to use a metaphor which, though not true in aspect is true in essence. For the relations of structures are actually such that, by the help of a central regulative system, each organ is supplied with blood in proportion to the work it does. As was pointed out (Principles of Sociology,§254) well-developed animals are so constituted that each muscle or viscus, when called into action, sends to the vaso-motor centres through certain nerve-fibres, an impulse caused by its action; whereupon through other nerve-fibres, there comes an impulse causing dilatation of its blood-vessels. That is to say, all other parts of the organism when they jointly require it to labour, forthwith begin to pay it in blood. During the ordinary state of physiological equilibrium, the loss and the gain balance, and the organ does not sensibly change. If the amount of its function is increased within such moderate limits that the local blood-vessels can bring adequately-increased supplies, the organ grows: beyond replacing its losses by its gains, it makes a profit on its extra transactions; so being enabled by extra structures to meet extra demands. But if the demands made on it become so great that the supply of materials cannot keep pace with the expenditure, either because the local blood-vessels are not large enough or for any other reason; then the organ begins to decrease from excess of waste over repair: there sets in what is known as atrophy. Now since each of the organs has thus to be paid in nutriment for its services by the rest; it follows that the due balancing of their respective claims and payments is requisite, directly for the welfare of each organ, and indirectly for the welfare of the organism. For in a whole formed of mutually-dependent parts, anything which prevents due performance of its duty by one part reacts injuriously on all the parts.
With change of terms these statements and inferences hold of a society. That social division of labour which parallels in so many other respects the physiological division of labour, parallels it in this respect also. As was shown at large in the Principles of Sociology, Part II, each order of functionaries and each group of producers, severally performing some action or making some article not for direct satisfaction of their own needs but for satisfaction of the needs of fellow-citizens in general, otherwise occupied, can continue to do this only so long as the expenditures of effort and returns of profit are approximately equivalent. Social organs like individual organs remain stationary if there come to them normal proportions of the commodities produced by the society as a whole. If because the demands made on an industry or profession are unusually great, those engaged in it make excessive profits, more citizens flock to it and the social structure constituted by its members grows; while decrease of the demands and therefore of the profits, either leads its members to choose other careers or stops the accessions needful to replace those who die, and the structure dwindles. Thus is maintained that proportion among the powers of the component parts which is most conducive to the welfare of the whole.
And now mark that the primary condition to achievement of this result is fulfilment of contract. If from the members of any part payment is frequently withheld, or falls short of the promised amount, then, through ruin of some and abandonment of the occupation by others, the part diminishes; and if it was before not more than competent to its duty, it now becomes incompetent, and the society suffers. Or if social needs throw on some part great increase of function, and the members of it are enabled to get for their services unusually high prices; fulfilment of the agreements to give them these high prices, is the only way of drawing to the part such additional number of members as will make it equal to the augmented demands. For citizens will not come to it if they find the high prices agreed upon are not paid.
Briefly, then, the universal basis of co-operation is the proportioning of benefits received to services rendered. Without this there can be no physiological division of labour; without this there can be no sociological division of labour. And since division of labour, physiological or sociological, profits the whole and each part; it results that on maintenance of the arrangements necessary to it, depend both special and general welfare. In a society such arrangements are maintained only if bargains, overt or tacit, are carried out. So that beyond the primary requirement to harmonious co-existence in a society, that its units shall not directly aggress on one another; there comes this secondary requirement, that they shall not indirectly aggress by breaking agreements.
§54. But now we have to recognize the fact that complete fulfilment of these conditions, original and derived, is not enough. Social co-operation may be such that no one is impeded in the obtainment of the normal return for effort, but contrariwise is aided by equitable exchange of services; and yet much may remain to be achieved. There is a theoretically-possible form of society, purely industrial in its activities, which, though approaching nearer to the moral ideal in its code of conduct than any society not purely industrial, does not fully reach it.
For while industrialism requires the life of each citizen to be such that it may be carried on without direct or indirect aggressions on other citizens, it does not require his life to be such that it shall directly further the lives of other citizens. It is not a necessary implication of industrialism, as thus far defined, that each, beyond the benefits given and received by exchange of services, shall give and receive other benefits. A society is conceivable formed of men leading perfectly inoffensive lives, scrupulously fulfilling their contracts, and efficiently rearing their offspring, who yet, yielding to one another no advantages beyond those agreed upon, fall short of that highest degree of life which the gratuitous rendering of services makes possible. Daily experiences prove that every one would suffer many evils and lose many goods, did none give him unpaid assistance. The life of each would be more or less damaged had he to meet all contingencies single-handed. Further, if no one did for his fellows anything more than was required by strict performance of contract, private interests would suffer from the absence of attention to public interests. The limit of evolution of conduct is consequently not reached, until, beyond avoidance of direct and indirect injuries to others, there are spontaneous efforts to further the welfare of others.
It may be shown that the form of nature which thus to justice adds beneficence, is one which adaptation to the social state produces. The social man has not reached that harmonization of constitution with conditions forming the limit of evolution, so long as there remains space for the growth of faculties which, by their exercise, bring positive benefit to others and satisfaction to self. If the presence of fellow-men, while putting certain limits to each man's sphere of activity, opens certain other spheres of activity in which feelings while achieving their gratifications, do not diminish but add to the gratifications of others, then such spheres will inevitably be occupied. Recognition of this truth does not, however, call on us to qualify greatly that conception of the industrial state above set forth; since sympathy is the root of both justice and beneficence.
§55. Thus the sociological view of Ethics supplements the physical, the biological, and the psychological views, by disclosing those conditions under which only associated activities can be so carried on, that the complete living of each consists with, and conduces to, the complete living of all.
At first the welfare of social groups, habitually in antagonism with other such groups, takes precedence of individual welfare; and the rules of conduct which are authoritative for the time being, involve incompleteness of individual life that the general life may be maintained. At the same time the rules have to enforce the claims of individual life as far as may be; since on the welfare of the units the welfare of the aggregate largely depends.
In proportion as societies endanger one another less, the need for subordinating individual lives to the general life, decreases; and with approach to a peaceful state, the general life, having from the beginning had furtherance of individual lives as its ultimate purpose, comes to have this as its proximate purpose.
During the transitional stages there are necessitated successive compromises between the moral code which asserts the claims of the society versus those of the individual, and the moral code which asserts the claims of the individual versus those of the society. And evidently each such compromise, though for the time being authoritative, admits of no consistent or definite expression.
But gradually as war declines—gradually as the compulsory co-operation needful in dealing with external enemies becomes unnecessary, and leaves behind the voluntary co-operation which effectually achieves internal sustentation; there grows increasingly clear the code of conduct which voluntary co-operation implies. And this final permanent code alone admits of being definitely formulated, and so constituting ethics as a science in contrast with empirical ethics.
The leading traits of a code under which complete living through voluntary co-operation is secured, may be simply stated. The fundamental requirement is that the life-sustaining actions of each shall severally bring him the amounts and kinds of advantage naturally achieved by them; and this implies firstly that he shall suffer no direct aggressions on his person or property, and secondly that he shall suffer no indirect aggressions by breach of contract. Observance of these negative conditions to voluntary co-operation having facilitated life to the greatest extent by exchange of services under agreement, life is to be further facilitated by exchange of services beyond agreement: the highest life being reached only when, besides helping to complete one another's lives by specified reciprocities of aid, men otherwise help to complete one another's lives.