Front Page Titles (by Subject) THE PRINCIPLES OF ETHICS. GENERAL PREFACE - The Principles of Ethics, vol. 1
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THE PRINCIPLES OF ETHICS. GENERAL PREFACE - Herbert Spencer, The Principles of Ethics, vol. 1 
The Principles of Ethics, introduction by Tibor R. Machan (Indianapolis: LibertyClassics, 1978). Vol. 1.
Part of: The Principles of Ethics, 2 vols.
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THE PRINCIPLES OF ETHICS. GENERAL PREFACE
The divisions of which this work consists have been published in an irregular manner. Part I was issued in 1879; Part W in 1891; Parts II and III, forming along with Part I, the first volume, were issued in 1892; and Parts V and VI, concluding the second volume, have now, along with Part IV been just issued. The reasons for this seemingly eccentric order of publication, primarily caused by ill health, will be found stated in the respective prefaces; which, by those who care to understand why the succession named has been followed, should be read in the order: Preface to Part I; then that to Part IV; Preface to Vol. I; and then that to Vol. II.
The preservation of these respective prefaces, while intended to account for the anomalous course pursued, serves also to explain some repetitions which, I fancy have been made requisite by the separate publication of the parts: the independence of each having been a desideratum.
Now that the work is complete, it becomes possible to prefix some general remarks, which could not rightly be prefixed to any one of the installments.
The ethical doctrine set forth is fundamentally a corrected and elaborated version of the doctrine set forth in Social Statics, issued at the end of 1850. The correspondence between the two is shown, in the first place, by the coincidence of their constructive divisions. In Social Statics the subject matter of morality is divided into parts which treat respectively of Private Conduct, Justice, Negative Beneficence, and Positive Beneficence; and these severally answer to Part III, Part IV, Part V, and Part VI, constituting the constructive portion of this work: to which there are, however, here prefixed Part I, The Data, and Part II, The Inductions; in conformity with the course I have pursued throughout The Synthetic Philosophy. In Social Statics one division only of the ethical system marked out was developed–justice; and I did not, when it was written, suppose that I should ever develop the others.
Besides coinciding in their divisions, the two works agree in their cardinal ideas. As in the one so in the other, man, in common with lower creatures, is held to be capable of indefinite change by adaptation to conditions. In both he is regarded as undergoing transformation from a nature appropriate to his aboriginal wild life, to a nature appropnate to a settled civilized life; and in both this transformation is described as a molding into a form fitted for harmonious cooperation. In both, too, this molding is said to be effected by the repression of certain primitive traits no longer needed, and the development of needful traits. As in the first work, so in this last, the great factor in the progressive modification is shown to be sympathy It was contended then, as it is contended now that harmonious social cooperation implies that limitation of individual freedom which results from sympathetic regard for the freedoms of others; and that the law of equal freedom is the law in conformity to which equitable individual conduct and equitable social arrangements consist. Morality, truly so called, was described in the original work as formulating the law of the “straight man”; and this conception corresponds with the conception of absolute ethics, set forth in this work. The theory then was, as the theory still is, that those mental products of sympathy constituting what is called the “moral sense,” arise as fast as men are disciplined into social life; and that along with them arise intellectual perceptions of right human relations, which become clearer as the form of social life becomes better. Further, it was inferred at that time as at this, that there is being effected a conciliation of individual natures with social requirements; so that there will eventually be achieved the greatest individuation along with the greatest mutual dependence–an equilibrium of such kind that each, in fulfilling the wants of his own life, will spontaneously aid in fulfilling the wants of all other lives. Finally in the first work there were drawn essentially the same corollaries respecting the rights of individuals and their relations to the state, that are drawn in this last work.
Of course it yields me no small satisfaction to find that these ideas which fell dead in 1850, have now become generally diffused; and, more especially since the publication of the Data of Ethics in 1879, have met with so wide an acceptance that the majority of recent works on ethics take cognizance of them, and, in many cases, tacitly assume them, or some of them. Sundry of these works convey either the impression that the evolutionary view of ethics has long been familiar, or else that it dates from 1859, when the doctrine of “natural selection” was promulgated. In this connection I may name Mr. S. Alexander’s Moral Order and Progress, and still more the Review of the Systems of Ethics Founded on Evolution by Mr. C. M. Williams. Alike in the introductory remarks of this last volume, and in the paragraph closing the account given of the views of Darwin, Wallace, and Haeckel, it is alleged that these great original authorities paved the way for a system of evolutionary ethics.” Though in the exposition of my own views, which immediately succeeds, there is a recognition of the fact that they date back to 1851, yet the collocation, as well as the express statements, practically cancel this inconsistent admission; and leave the impression that they are sequences of those of Mr. Darwin. And this, indeed, is the established general belief; as is sufficiently shown by the phrase “Darwinism in ethics,” frequently to be met with, and which I now have before me in a review of Mr. Williams’ book.
Rectification of this misbelief is of course hopeless. The world resents any attempt to show that it has fallen into an error; so that I should perhaps best consult my personal interests by saying nothing. But it seems to me proper to point out, as a matter of historical truth, that in this case, as in other cases, the genesis of ideas does not always follow the order of logical sequence; and that the doctrine of organic evolution in its application to human character and intelligence, and, by implication, to society, is of earlier date than The Origin of Species.
Without entering at length upon the prolegomena of ethics, it may be well here to state briefly one of them. The tacit assumption made in this work, as more or less consistently in all modern works on ethics, is that the conduct dealt with is the conduct of and between like-natured individuals–individuals whose likenesses of nature are so great in comparison with their differences as to constitute them of the same kind.
The possibility of another assumption, and consequently of another ethics, may be best shown by an analogy The several kinds of social insects, though they do not form societies proper (since a nest of them is one large family descended from the same parents) yet show us that there may exist a body of cooperators among which a marked inequality is an essential trait; and they illustrate the possibility of a social organization such that the normal conduct of class to class is guided by rules appropriate to each class, and not common to all classes. They suggest that dissimilar members of a community may work together harmoniously on principles adapted to inequalities of nature. And they draw attention to the fact that there have been, and are, human societies constituted in a way which is analogous, to the extent that its classes of units, clearly marked off from one another, and devoted to different kinds of activities, either have, or tend to acquire, contrasted characters proper to their relative positions, and reciprocal codes of conduct which are thought obligatory. Societies formed of dominant and enslaved races obviously answer to this description. In the United States in slavery days, it was common for slaves to jeer at free Negroes as having no white man to take care of them. To such an extent may the sentiments become molded to relations of inequality that, as in South Africa, the servants of a mild master will speak contemptuously of him because he does not thrash them. With extreme cases such as these to give the clue, we may perceive that wherever there are ruling classes and servile classes, as throughout Europe in early days, there comes to be an adjustment of natures such that command on the one side and obedience on the other are the natural concomitants of the social type. By continuous breeding of each class within itself, there tends to arise a differentiation into two varieties, such that the one becomes organically adapted to supremacy and the other to subordination. And it needs but to recall the ancient feudal loyalty running down through all grades, or the fealty shown by an ancient Highlander to his chief, to see that there grew up ethical conceptions adjusted to the conditions.
But systems of ethics appropriate to social systems characterized by these organized inequalities of status cannot be the highest systems of ethics. Manifestly they presuppose imperfect natures–natures which are not self-sufficing. On the one side there is the need for control from without for the proper regulation of conduct; and on the other side there is the need for exercise of control, which, in an opposite way implies lack of self-sufficingness. Further, external regulation is less economical of energy than internal regulation. When classes of inferiors are governed by classes of superiors, there is a waste of action which does not occur when all are self-governed. But chiefly the imperfection of ethical systems appropriate to societies characterized by organized inequality. is that sympathy and all those emotions into which sympathy enters, and all that happiness of which sympathy is the root, remain incomplete. Alien natures cannot sympathize in full measure–can sympathize only in respect of those feelings which they have in common. Hence the unlikenesses presupposed between permanently ruling classes and permanently subject classes, negative that highest happiness which a rational ethics takes for its end.
Throughout this work, therefore, the tacit assumption will be that the beings spoken of have that substantial unity of nature which characterizes the same variety of man; and the work will not, save incidentally or by contrast, take account of mixed societies, such as that whic we have established in India, and still less of slave societies.