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CHAPTER 9.: Criticisms and Explanations - 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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Criticisms and Explanations
56. Comparisons of the foregoing chapters with one another, suggest sundry questions which must be answered partially if not completely before anything can be done towards reducing ethical principles from abstract forms to concrete forms.
We have seen that to admit the desirableness of conscious existence, is to admit that conduct should be such as will produce a consciousness which is desirable–a consciousness which is as much pleasurable and as little painful as may be. We have also seen that this necessary implication corresponds with the a priori inference, that the evolution of life has been made possible only by the establishment of connections between pleasures and beneficial actions and between pains and detrimental actions. But the general conclusion reached in both of these ways, though it covers the area within which our special conclusions must fall, does not help us to reach those special conclusions.
Were pleasures all of one kind, differing only in degree; were pains all of one kind, differing only in degree; and could pleasures be measured against pains with definite results; the problems of conduct would be greatly simplified. Were the pleasures and pains serving as incentives and deterrents, simultaneously present to consciousness with like vividness, or were they all immediately impending, or were they all equidistant in time; the problems would be further simplified. And they would be still further simplified if the pleasures and pains were exclusively those of the actor. But both the desirable and the undesirable feelings are of various kinds, making quantitative comparisons difficult; some are present and some are future, increasing the difficulty of quantitative comparison; some are entailed on self and some are entailed on others; again increasing the difficulty. So that the guidance yielded by the primary principle reached, is of little service unless supplemented by the guidance of secondary principles.
Already, in recognizing the needful subordination of presentative feelings to representative feelings, and the implied postponement of present to future throughout a wide range of cases, some approach towards a secondary principle of guidance has been made. Already too, in recognizing the limitations which men’s associated state puts to their actions, with the implied need for restraining feelings of some kinds by feelings of other kinds, we have come in sight of another secondary principle of guidance. Still, there remains much to be decided respecting the relative claims of these guiding principles, general and special.
Some elucidation of the questions involved, will be obtained by here discussing certain views and arguments set forth by past and present moralists.
57. Using the name hedonism for that ethical theory which makes happiness the end of action; and distinguishing hedonism into the two kinds, egoistic and universalistic, according as the happiness sought is that of the actor himself or is that of all, Mr. Sidgwick alleges its implied belief to be that pleasures and pains are commensurable. In his criticism on (empirical) egoistic hedonism he says:
The fundamental assumption of Hedonism, clearly stated, is that all feelings considered merely as feelings can be arranged in a certain scale of desirability, so that the desirability or pleasantness of each bears a definite ratio to that of all the others.
[Methods of Ethics, 2d ed., p. 115.]
And asserting this to be its assumption, he proceeds to point out difficulties in the way of the hedonistic calculation; apparently for the purpose of implying that these difficulties tell against the hedonistic theory.
Now though it may be shown that by naming the intensity the duration, the certainty, and the proximity, of a pleasure or a pain, as traits entering into the estimation of its relative value, Bentham has committed himself to the specified assumption; and though it is perhaps reasonably taken for granted that hedonism as represented by him, is identical with hedonism at large; yet it seems to me that the hedonist, empirical or other, is not necessarily committed to this assumption. That the greatest surplus of pleasures over pains ought to be the end of action, is a belief which he may still consistently hold after admitting that the valuations of pleasures and pains are commonly vague and often erroneous. He may say that though indefinite things do not admit of definite measurements, yet approximately true estimates of their relative values may be made when they differ considerably; and he may further say that even when their relative values are not determinable, it remains true that the most valuable should be chosen. Let us listen to him.
A debtor who cannot pay me, offers to compound for his debt by making over one of sundry things he possesses–a diamond ornament, a silver vase, a picture, a carriage. Other questions being set aside, I assert it to be my pecuniary interest to choose the most valuable of these; but I cannot say which is the most valuable. Does the proposition that it is my pecuniary interest to choose the most valuable therefore become doubtful? Must I not choose as well as I can; and if I choose wrongly must I give up my ground of choice? Must I infer that in matters of business I may not act on the principle that, other things equal, the more profitable transaction is to be preferred; because in many cases I cannot say which is the more profitable, and have often chosen the less profitable? Because I believe that of many dangerous courses I ought to take the least dangerous, do I make “the fundamental assumption” that courses can be arranged according to a scale of dangerousness; and must I abandon my belief if I cannot so arrange them? If I am not by consistency bound to do this, then I am no more by consistency bound to give up the principle that the greatest surplus of pleasures over pains should be the end of action, because the “commensurability of pleasures and pains” cannot be asserted.
At the close of his chapters on empirical hedonism, Mr. Sidgwick himself says he does “not think that the common experience of mankind, impartially examined, really sustains the view that egoistic Hedonism is necessarily suicidal”; adding, however, that the “uncertainty of hedonistic calculation cannot be denied to have great weight.” But here the fundamental assumption of hedonism, that happiness is the end of action, is still supposed to involve the assumption that “feelings can be arranged in a certain scale of desirability”. This we have seen it does not: its fundamental assumption is in no degree invalidated by proof that such arrangement of them is impracticable.
To Mr. Sidgwick’s argument there is the further objection, no less serious, that to whatever degree it tells against egoistic hedonism, it tells in a greater degree against universalistic hedonism, or utilitarianism. He admits that it tells as much; saying “whatever weight is to be attached to the objections brought against this assumption [the commensurability of pleasures and pains] must of course tell against the present method.” Not only does it tell, but it tells in a double way I do not mean merely that, as he points out, the assumption becomes greatly complicated if we take all sentient beings into account, and if we include posterity along with existing individuals. I mean that, taking as the end to be achieved the greatest happiness of the existing individuals forming a single community the set of difficulties standing in the way of egoistic hedonism, is compounded with another set of difficulties no less great, when we pass from it to universalistic hedonism. For if the dictates of universalistic hedonism are to be fulfilled, it must be under the guidance of individual judgments, or of corporate judgments, or of both. Now any one of such judgments issuing from a single mind, or from any aggregate of minds, necessarily embodies conclusions respecting the happinesses of other persons; few of them known, and the great mass never seen. All these persons have natures differing in countless ways and degrees from the natures of those who form the judgments; and the happinesses of which they are severally capable differ from one another, and differ from the happinesses of those who form the judgments. Consequently, if against the method of egoistic hedonism there is the objection that a man’s own pleasures and pains, unlike in their kinds, intensities, and times of occurrence, are incommensurable; then against the method of universalistic hedonism it may be urged that to the incommensurability of each judge’s own pleasures and pains (which he must use as standards) has now to be added the much more decided incommensurability of the pleasures and pains which he conceives to be experienced by innumerable other persons; all differently constituted from himself and from one another.
Nay more–there is a triple set of difficulties in the way of universalistic hedonism. To the double indeterminateness of the end has to be added the indeterminateness of the means. If hedonism, egoistic or universalistic, is to pass from dead theory into living practice, acts of one or other kind must be decided on to achieve proposed objects; and in estimating the two methods we have to consider how far the fitness of the acts respectively required can be judged. If, in pursuing his own ends, the individual is liable to be led by erroneous opinions to adjust his acts wrongly much more liable is he to be led by erroneous opinions to adjust wrongly, more complex acts to the more complex ends constituted by other men’s welfares. It is so if he operates singly to benefit a few others; and it is still more soif he cooperates with many to benefit all. Making general happiness the immediate object of pursuit, implies numerous and complicated instrumentalities officered by thousands of unseen and unlike persons, and working on millions of other persons unseen and unlike. Even the few factors in this immense aggregate of appliances and processes which are known, are very imperfectly known; and the great mass of them are unknown. So that even supposing valuation of pleasures and pains for the community at large is more practicable than, or even as practicable as, valuation of his own pleasures and pains by the individual; yet the ruling of conduct with a view to the one end is far more difficult than the ruling of it with a view to the other. Hence if the method of egoistic hedonism is unsatisfactory far more unsatisfactory, for the same and kindred reasons, is the method of universalistic hedonism, or utilitarianism.
And here we come in sight of the conclusion which it has been the purpose of the foregoing criticism to bring into view. The objection made to the hedonistic method contains a truth, but includes with it an untruth. For while the proposition that happiness, whether individual or general, is the end of action, is not invalidated by proof that it cannot under either form be estimated by measurement of its components; yet it may be admitted that guidance in the pursuit of happiness by a mere balancing of pleasures and pains, is, if partially practicable throughout a certain range of conduct, futile throughout a much wider range. It is quite consistent to assert that happiness is the ultimate aim of action, and at the same time to deny that it can be reached by making it the immediate aim. I go with Mr. Sidgwick as far as the conclusion that “we must at least admit the desirability of confirming or correcting the results of such comparisons [of pleasures and pains] by any other method upon which we may find reason to rely”; and I then go further, and say that throughout a large part of conduct guidance by such comparisons is to be entirely set aside and replaced by other guidance.
58. The antithesis here insisted upon between the hedonistic and considered in the abstract, and the method which current hedonism, whether egoistic or universalistic, associates with that end; and the joining acceptance of the one with rejection of the other; commits us to an overt discussion of these two cardinal elements of ethical theory I may conveniently initiate this discussion by criticizing another of Mr. Sidgwick’s criticisms on the methods of hedonism.
Though we can give no account of those simple pleasures which the senses yield, because they are undecomposable, yet we distinctly know their characters as states of consciousness. Conversely, the complex pleasures formed by compounding and re-compounding the ideas of simple pleasures, though theoretically resolvable into their components, are not easy to resolve; and in proportion as they are heterogeneous in composition, the difficulty of framing intelligible conceptions of them increases. This is especially the case with the pleasures which accompany our sports. ~Theating of these, along with the pleasures of pursuit in general, for the purpose of showing that “in order to get them one must forget them,” Mr. Sidgwick remarks:
A man who maintains throughout an epicurean mood, fixing his aim on his own pleasure, does not catch the full spirit of the chase; his eagerness never gets just the sharpness of edge which imparts to the pleasure its highest zest and flavor. Here comes into view what we may call the fundamental paradox of Hedonism, that the impulse towards pleasure, if too predominant, defeats its own aim. This effect is not visible, or at any rate is scarcely visible, in the case of passive sensual pleasures. But our active employments generally, whether the activities on which they attend are classed as “bodily” or as “intellectual” (as well as of many emotional pleasures), it may certainly be said that we cannot attain them, at least in their best form, so long as we concentrate our aim on them.
[Methods of Ethics, 2d ed., p. 41.]
Now I think we shall not regard this truth as paradoxical after we have duly analyzed the pleasure of pursuit. The chief components of this pleasure are–first, a renewed consciousness of personal efficiency (made vivid by actual success and partially excited by impending success) which consciousness of personal efficiency, connected in experience with achieved ends of every kind, arouses a vague but massive consciousness of resulting gratifications; and, second, a representation of the applause which recognition of this efficiency by others has before brought, and will again bring. Games of skill show us this clearly. Considered as an end in itself, the good cannon which a billiard player makes yields no pleasure. Whence then does the pleasure of making it arise? Partly from the fresh proof of capability which the player gives to himself, and partly from the imagined admiration of those who witness the proof of his capability: the last being the chief, since he soon tires of making cannons in the absence of witnesses. When from games which, yielding the pleasures of success, yield no pleasure derived from the end considered intrinsically, we pass to sports in which the end has intrinsic value as a source of pleasure, we see substantially the. same thing. Though the bird which the sportsman brings down is useful as food, yet his satisfaction arises mainly from having made a good shot, and from having added to the bag which will presently bring praise of his skill. The gratification of self-esteem he immediately experiences; and the gratification of receiving applause he experiences, if not immediately and in full degree, yet by representation; for the ideal pleasure is nothing else than a faint revival of the real pleasure. These two kinds of agreeable excitement present in the sportsman during the chase, constitute the mass of the desires stimulating him to continue it; for all desires are nascent forms of the feelings to be obtained by the efforts they prompt. And though while seeking more birds these representative feelings are not so vividly excited as by success just achieved, yet they are excited by imaginations of further successes; and so make enjoyable the activities constituting the pursuit. Recognizing, then, the truth that the pleasures of pursuit are much more those derived from the efficient use of means than those derived from the end itself, we see that “the fundamental paradox of hedonism” disappears.
These remarks concerning end and means, and the pleasure accompanying use of the means as added to the pleasure derived from the end, I have made for the purpose of drawing attention to a fact of profound significance. During evolution there has been a superposing of new and more complex sets of means upon older and simpler sets of means; and a superposing of the pleasures accompanying the uses of these successive sets of means; with the result that each of these pleasures has itself eventually become an end. We begin with a simple animal which, without ancillary appliances, swallows such food as accident brings in its way; and so, as we may assume, stills some kind of craving. Here we have the primary end of nutrition with its accompanying satisfaction, in their simple forms. We pass to higher types having jaws for seizing and biting–jaws which thus, by their actions, facilitate achievement of the primary end. On observing animals furnished with these organs, we get evidence that the use of them becomes in itself pleasurable irrespective of the end: instance a squirrel, which, apart from food to be so obtained, delights in nibbling everything it gets hold of. Turning from jaws to limbs we see that these, serving some creatures for pursuit and others for escape, similarly yield gratification by their exercise; as in lambs which skip and horses which prance. How the combined use of limbs and jaws, originally subserving the satisfaction of appetite, grows to be in itself pleasurable, is daily illustrated in the playing of dogs. For that throwing down and worrying which, when prey is caught, precedes eating, is, in their mimic fights, carried by each as far as he dares. Coming to means still more remote from the end, namely those by which creatures chased are caught, we are again shown by dogs that when no creature is caught there is still a gratification in the act of catching. The eagerness with which a dog runs after stones, or dances and barks in anticipation of jumping into the water after a stick, proves that apart from the satisfaction of appetite, and apart even from the satisfaction of killing prey, there is a satisfaction in the successful pursuit of a moving object. Throughout, then, we see that the pleasure attendant on the use of means to achieve an end, itself becomes an end.
Now if we contemplate these as phenomena of conduct in general, some facts worthy of note may be discerned–facts which, if we appreciate their significance, will aid us in developing our ethical conceptions. One of them is that among the successive sets of means, the later are the more remote from the primary end; are, as coordinating earlier and simpler means, the more complex; and are accompanied by feelings which are more representative. Another fact is that each set of means, with its accompanying satisfactions, eventually becomes in its turn dependent on one originating later than itself. Before the gullet swallows, the jaws must lay hold; before the jaws tear out and bring within the grasp of the gullet a piece fit for swallowing, there must be that cooperation of limbs and senses required for killing the prey; before this cooperation can take place, there needs the much longer cooperation constituting the chase; and even before this there must be persistent activities of limbs, eyes, and nose, in seeking prey. The pleasure attending each set of acts, while making possible the pleasure attending the set of acts which follows, is joined with a representation of this subsequent set of acts and its pleasure, and of the other which succeed in order; so that along with the feelings accompanying the search for prey, are partially aroused the feelings accompanying the actual chase, the actual destruction, the actual devouring, and the eventual satisfaction of appetite. A third fact is that the use of each set of means in due order, constitutes an obligation. Maintenance of its life being regarded as the end of its conduct, the creature is obliged to use in succession the means of finding prey, the means of catching prey, the means of killing prey, the means of devouring prey. Lastly it follows that though the assuaging of hunger, directly associated with sustentation, remains to the last the ultimate end; yet the successful use of each set of means in its turn is the proximate end–the end which takes temporary precedence in authoritativeness.
59. The relations between means and ends thus traced throughout the earlier stages of evolving conduct, are traceable throughout later stages; and hold true of human conduct, up even to its highest forms. As fast as, for the better maintenance of life, the simpler sets of means and the pleasures accompanying the uses of them, come to be supplemented by the more complex sets of means and their pleasures, these begin to take precedence in time and in imperativeness. To use effectually each more complex set of means becomes the proximate end, and the accompanying feeling becomes the immediate gratification sought; though there may be, and habitually is, an associated consciousness of the remoter ends and remoter gratifications to be obtained. An example will make clear the parallelism.
Absorbed in his business the trader, if asked what is his main end, will say–making money. He readily grants that achievement of this end is desired by him in furtherance of ends beyond it. He knows that in directly seeking money he is indirectly seeking food, clothes, house room, and the comforts of life for self and family. But while admitting that money is but a means to these ends, he urges that the money-getting actions precede in order of time and obligation, the various actions and concomitant pleasures subserved by them; and he testifies to the fact that making money has become itself an end, and success in it a source of satisfaction, apart from these more distant ends. Again, on observing more closely the trader’s proceedings, we find that though to the end of living comfortably he gets money, and though to the end of getting money he buys and sells at a profit, which so becomes a means more immediately pursued, yet he is chiefly occupied with means still more remote from ultimate ends, and in relation to which even the selling at a profit becomes an end. For leaving to subordinates the actual measuring out of goods and receiving of proceeds, he busies himself mainly with his general affairs–inquiries concerning markets, judgments of future prices, calculations, negotiations, correspondence: the anxiety from hour to hour being to do well each one of these things indirectly conducive to the making of profits. And these ends precede in time and obligation the effecting of profitable sales, just as the effecting of profitable sales precedes the end of moneymaking, and just as the end of moneymaking precedes the end of satisfactory living. His bookkeeping best exemplifies the principle at large. Entries to the debtor or creditor sides are being made all through the day; the items are classified and arranged in such way that at a moment’s notice the state of each account may be ascertained; and then, from time to time, the books are balanced, and it is required that the result shall come right to a penny: satisfaction following proved correctness, and annoyance being caused by error. If you ask why all this elaborate process, so remote from the actual getting of money, and still more remote from the enjoyments of life, the answer is that keeping accounts correctly is fulfilling a condition to the end of moneymaking, and becomes in itself a proximate end–a duty to be discharged, that there may be discharged the duty of getting an income, that there may be discharged the duty of maintaining self, wife, and children.
Approaching as we here do to moral obligation, are we not shown its relations to conduct at large? Is it not clear that observance of moral principles is fulfillment of certain general conditions to the successful carrying on of special activities? That the trader may prosper, he must not only keep his books correctly, but must pay those he employs according to agreement, and must meet his engagements with creditors. May we not say, then, that conformity to the second and third of these requirements is, like conformity to the first, an indirect means to effectual use of the more direct means of achieving welfare? May we not say, too, that as the use of each more indirect means in due order becomes itself an end, and a source of gratification; so, eventually, becomes the use of this most indirect means? And may we not infer that though conformity to moral requirements precedes in imperativeness conformity to other requirements; yet that this imperativeness arises from the fact that fulfillment of the other requirements, by self or others or both, is thus furthered?
60. This question brings us round to another side of the issue before raised. When alleging that empirical utilitarianism is but introductory to rational utilitarianism, I pointed out that the last does not take welfare for its immediate object of pursuit, but takes for its immediate object of pursuit conformity to certain principles which, in the nature of things, causally determine welfare. And now we see that this amounts to recognition of that law, traceable throughout the evolution of conduct in general, that each later and higher order of means takes precedence in time and authoritativeness of each earlier and lower order of means. The contrast between the ethical methods thus distinguished, made tolerably clear by the above illustrations, will be made still clearer by contemplating the two as put in opposition by the leading exponent of empirical utilitarianism. Treating of legislative aims, Bentham writes:
But justice, what is it that we are to understand by justice: and why not happiness but justice? What happiness is, every man knows, because, what pleasure is, every man knows, and what pain is, every man knows. But what justice is–this is what on every occasion is the subject-matter of dispute. Be the meaning of the word justice what it will, what regard is it entitled to otherwise than as a means of happiness.6
Let us first consider the assertion here made respecting the relative intelligibilities of these two ends; and let us afterwards consider what is implied by the choice of happiness instead of justice.
Bentham’s positive assertion that “what happiness is every man knows, because, what pleasure is, every man knows, is met by counterassertions equally positive. “Who can tell,” asks Plato, “what pleasure really is, or know it in its essence, except the philosopher, who alone is conversant with realities.”7 Aristotle, too, after commenting on the different opinions held by the vulgar, by the political, by the contemplative, says of happiness that “to some it seems to be virtue, to others prudence, and to others a kind of wisdom: to some again, these, or some one of these, with pleasure, or at least, not without pleasure; others again include external prosperity.”8 And Aristotle, like Plato, comes to the remarkable conclusion that the pleasures of the intellect, reached by the contemplative life, constitute the highest happiness!9 How disagreements concerning the nature of happiness and the relative values of pleasures, thus exhibited in ancient times, continue down to modern times, is shown in Mr. Sidgwick’s discussion of egoistic hedonism, above commented upon. Further, as was pointed out before, the indefiniteness attending the estimations of pleasures and pains, which stands in the way of egoistic hedonism as ordinarily conceived, is immensely increased on passing to universalistic hedonism as ordinarily conceived; since its theory implies that the imagined pleasures and pains of others are to be estimated by the help of these pleasures and pains of self, already so difficult to estimate. And that anyone after observing the various pursuits into which some eagerly enter but which others shun, and after listening to the different opinions concerning the likableness of this or that occupation or amusement, expressed at every table, should assert that the nature of happiness can be fully agreed upon, so as to render it a fit end for direct legislative action, is surprising.
The accompanying proposition that justice is unintelligible as an end, is no less surprising. Though primitive men have no words for either happiness or justice; yet even among them an approach to the conception of justice is traceable. The law of retaliation, requiring that a death inflicted by one tribe on another, shall be balanced by the death either of the murderer or of some member of his tribe, shows us in a vague shape that notion of equalness of treatment which forms an essential element in it. When we come to early races who have given their thoughts and feelings literary form, we find this conception of justice, as involving equalness of action, becoming distinct. Among the Jews, David expressed in words this association of ideas when, praying to God to “hear the right,” he said–"Let my sentence come forth from thy presence; let thine eyes behold the things that are equal”; as also, among early Christians, did Paul when to the Colossians he wrote–"Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal.” Commenting on the different meanings of justice, Aristotle concludes that “the just will therefore be the lawful and the equal; and the unjust the unlawful and the unequal. But since the unjust man is also one who takes more than his share,” &c. And that justice was similarly conceived by the Romans they proved by including under it such meanings as exact, proportionate, impartial, severally implying fairness of division; and still better by identification of it with equity which is a derivative œquus: the word œquus itself having for one of its meanings just or impartial. This coincidence of view among ancient peoples respecting the nature of justice, has extended to modern peoples; who by a general agreement in certain cardinal principles which their systems of law embody forbidding direct aggressions, which are forms of unequal actions, and forbidding indirect aggressions by breaches of contract, which are other forms of unequal actions, one and all show us the identification of justice with equalness. Bentham, then, is wrong when he says–"But what justice is–this is what on every occasion is the subject-matter of dispute.” He is more wrong, indeed, than has thus far appeared. For, in the first place, he misrepresents utterly by ignoring the fact that in ninety-nine out of every hundred daily transactions between men, no dispute about justice arises; but the business done is recognized on both sides as justly done. And in the second place if, with respect to the hundredth transaction there is a dispute, the subject matter of it is not “what justice is,” for it is admitted to be equity or equalness; but the subject matter of dispute always is–what, under these particular circumstances, constitutes equalness?–a widely different question.
It is not then self-evident, as Bentham alleges, that happiness is an intelligible end while justice is not; but, contrariwise, examination makes evident the greater intelligibility of justice as an end. And analysis shows why it is the more intelligible. For justice, or equity or equalness, is concerned exclusively with quantity understated conditions; whereas happiness is concerned with both quantity and quality under conditions not stated. When, as in case of theft, a benefit is taken while no equivalent benefit is yielded–when, as in case of adulterated goods bought or base coin paid, that which is agreed to be given in exchange as of equal value is not given, but something of less value–when, as in case of broken contract, the obligation on one side has been discharged while there has been no discharge, or incomplete discharge, of the obligation on the other; we see that, the circumstances being specified, the injustice complained of refers to the relative amounts of actions, or products, or benefits, the natures of which are recognized only so far as is needful for saying whether as much has been given, or done, or allowed, by each concerned, as was implied by tacit or overt understanding to be an equivalent. But when the end proposed is happiness, the circumstances remaining unspecified, the problem is that of estimating both quantities and qualities, unhelped by any such definite measures as acts of exchange imply, or as contracts imply, or as are implied by the differences between the doings of one aggressing and one aggressed upon. The mere fact that Bentham himself includes as elements in the estimation of each pleasure or pain, its intensity, duration, certainty, and proximity, suffices to show how difficult is this problem. And when it is remembered that all pleasures and pains, not felt in particular cases only but in the aggregate of cases, and severally regarded under these four aspects, have to be compared with one another and their relative values determined, simply by introspection; it will be manifest both that the problem is complicated by the addition of indefinite judgments of qualities to indefinite measures of quantities, and that it is further complicated by the multitudinousness of these vague estimations to be gone through and summed up.
But now passing over this assertion of Bentham that happiness is a more intelligible end than justice, which we find to be the reverse of truth, let us note the several implications of the doctrine that the supreme legislative body ought to make the greatest happiness of the greatest number its immediate aim.
It implies, in the first place, that happiness may be compassed by methods framed directly for the purpose, without any previous inquiry respecting the conditions that must be fulfilled; and this presupposes a belief that there are no such conditions. For if there are any conditions without fulfillment of which happiness cannot be compassed, then the first step must be to ascertain these conditions with a view to fulfilling them; and to admit this is to admit that not happiness itself must be the immediate end, but fulfillment of the conditions to its attainment must be the immediate end. The alternatives are simple: Either the achievement of happiness is not conditional, in which case one mode of action is as good as another, or it is conditional, in which case the required mode of action must be the direct aim and not the happiness to be achieved by it.
Assuming it conceded, as it will be, that there exist conditions which must be fulfilled before happiness can be attained, let us next ask what is implied by proposing modes of so controlling conduct as to further happiness, without previously inquiring whether any such modes are already known? The implication is that human intelligence throughout the past, operating on experiences, has failed to discover any such modes; whereas present human intelligence may be expected forthwith to discover them. Unless this be asserted, it must be admitted that certain conditions to the achievement of happiness have already been partially if not wholly ascertained; and if so, our first business should be to look for them. Having found them, our rational course is to bring existing intelligence to bear on these products of past intelligence, with the expectation that it will verify the substance of them while possibly correcting the form. But to suppose that no regulative principles for the conduct of associated human beings have thus far been established, and that they are now to be established de novo, is to suppose that man as he is differs from man as he was in an incredible degree.
Beyond ignoring the probability or rather the certainty, that past experience generalized by past intelligence, must by this time have disclosed partially, if not wholly, some of the essential conditions to the achievement of happiness, Bentham’s proposition ignores the formulated knowledge of them actually existing. For whence come the conception of justice and the answering sentiment. He will scarcely say that they are meaningless, although his proposition implies as much; and if he admits that they have meanings, he must choose between two alternatives either of which is fatal to his hypothesis. Are they supernaturally caused modes of thinking and feeling, tending to make men fulfill the conditions to happiness? If so their authority is peremptory. Are they modes of thinking and feeling naturally caused in men by experience of these conditions? If so, their authority is no less peremptory. Not only then, does Bentham fail to infer that certain principles of guidance must by this time have been ascertained, but he refuses to recognize these principles as actually reached and present to him.
And then after all, he tacitly admits that which he overtly denies, by saying that–"Be the meaning of the word justice what it will, what regard is it entitled to otherwise than as a means to happiness?” For if justice is a means having happiness as its end, then justice must take precedence of happiness, as every other means takes precedence of every other end. Bentham’s own elaborate polity, is a means having happiness as its end, as justice is, by his own admission, a means having happiness as an end. If, then, we may properly skip justice, and go directly to the end happiness, we may properly skip Bentham’s polity, and go directly to the end happiness. In short, we are led to the remarkable conclusion that in all cases we must contemplate exclusively the end and must disregard the means.
61. This relation of ends to means, underlying all ethical speculation, will be further elucidated if we join with some of the above conclusions, certain conclusions drawn in the last chapter. We shall see that while greatest happiness may vary widely in societies which, though ideally constituted, are subject to unlike physical circumstances, certain fundamental conditions to the achievement of this greatest happiness, are common to all such societies.
Given a people inhabiting a tract which makes nomadic habits necessary, and the happiness of each individual will be greatest when his nature is so molded to the requirements of his life, that all his faculties find their due activities in daily driving and tending cattle, milking, migrating, and so forth. The members of a community otherwise similar, which is permanently settled, will severally achieve their greatest happiness when their natures have become such that a fixed habitat, and the occupations necessitated by it, supply the spheres in which each instinct and emotion is exercised and brings the concomitant pleasure. The citizens of a large nation industrially organized, have reached their possible ideal of happiness, when the producing, distributing, and other activities, are such in their kinds and amounts, that each citizen finds in them a place for all his energies and aptitudes, while he obtains the means of satisfying all his desires. Once more we may recognize as not only possible but probable, the eventual existence of a community also industrial, the members of which, having natures similarly responding to these requirements, are also characterized by dominant aesthetic faculties, and achieve complete happiness only when a large part of life is filled with æsthetic activities. Evidently these different types of men, with their different standards of happiness, each finding the possibility of that happiness in his own society, would not find it if transferred to any of the other societies. Evidently though they might have in common such kinds of happiness as accompany the satisfaction of vital needs, they would not have in common sundry other kinds of happiness.
But now mark that while, to achieve greatest happiness in each of such societies, the special conditions to be fulfilled must differ from those to be fulfilled in the other societies, certain general conditions must be fulfilled in all the societies. Harmonious cooperation, by which alone in any of them the greatest happiness can be attained, is, as we saw, made possible only by respect for one another’s claims: there must be neither those direct aggressions which we class as crimes against person and property, nor must there be those indirect aggressions constituted by breaches of contracts. So that maintenance of equitable relations between men, is the condition to attainment of greatest happiness in all societies; however much the greatest happiness attainable in each may differ in nature, or amount, or both.
And here a physical analogy may fitly be used to give the greatest definiteness to this cardinal truth. A mass of matter of whatever kind, maintains its state of internal equilibrium, so long as its component particles severally stand toward their neighbors in equidistant positions. Accepting the conclusions of modern physicists, which imply that each molecule moves rhythmically, then a balanced state implies that each performs its movements within a space bounded by the like spaces required for the movements of those around. If the molecules have been so aggregated that the oscillations of some are more restrained than the oscillations of others, there is a proportionate instability. If the number of them thus unduly restrained is considerable, the instability is such that the cohesion in some part is liable to fail, and a crack results. If the excesses of restraint are great and multitudinous, a trifling disturbance causes the mass to break up into small fragments. To which add that the recognized remedy for this unstable state, is an exposure to such physical condition (ordinarily high temperature) as enables the molecules so to change their relative positions that their mutual restraints become equal on all sides. And now observe that this holds whatever be the natures of the molecules. They may be simple; they may be compound; they may be composed of this or that matter in this or that way. In other words, the special activities of each molecule, constituted by the relative movements of its units, may be various in their kinds and degrees; and yet, be they what they may, it remains true that to preserve internal equilibrium throughout the mass of molecules, the mutual limitations of their activities must be everywhere alike.
And this is the above-described prerequisite to social equilibrium, whatever the special natures of the associated persons. Assuming that within each society such persons are of the same type, needing for the fulfillment of their several lives kindred activities, and though these activities may be of one kind in one society and of another kind in another, so admitting of indefinite variation, this condition to social equilibrium does not admit of variation. It must be fulfilled before complete life, that is greatest happiness, can be attained in any society; be the particular quality of that life, or that happiness, what it may.10
62. After thus observing how means and ends in conduct stand to one another, and how there emerge certain conclusions respecting their relative claims, we may see a way to reconcile sundry conflicting ethical theories. These severally embody portions of the truth; and simply require combining in proper order to embody the whole truth.
The theological theory contains a part. If for the divine will, supposed to be supernaturally revealed, we substitute the naturally revealed end towards which the Power manifested throughout evolution works; then, since evolution has been, and is still, working towards the highest life, it follows that conforming to those principles by which the highest life is achieved, is furthering that end. The doctrine that perfection or excellence of nature should be the object of pursuit, is in one sense true; for it tacitly recognizes that ideal form of being which the highest life implies, and to which evolution tends. There is a truth, also, in the doctrine that virtue must be the aim; for this is another form of the doctrine that the aim must be to fulfill the conditions to achievement of the highest life. That the intuitions of a moral faculty should guide our conduct, is a proposition in which a truth is contained; for these intuitions are the slowly organized results of experiences received by the race while living in presence of these conditions. And that happiness is the supreme end is beyond question true; for this is the concomitant of that highest life which every theory of moral guidance has distinctly or vaguely in view.
So understanding their relative positions, those ethical systems which make virtue, right, obligation, the cardinal aims, are seen to be complementary to those ethical systems which make welfare, pleasure, happiness, the cardinal aims. Though the moral sentiments generated in civilized men by daily conduct with social conditions and gradual adaptation to them, are indispensable as incentives and deterrents; and though the intuitions corresponding to these sentiments, have, in virtue of their origin, a general authority to be reverently recognized; yet the sympathies and antipathies hence originating, together with the intellectual expressions of them, are, in their primitive forms, necessarily vague. To make guidance by them adequate to all requirements, their dictates have to be interpreted and made definite by science; to which end there must be analysis of those conditions to complete living which they respond to, and from converse with which they have arisen. And such analysis necessitates the recognition of happiness for each and all, as the end to be achieved by fulfillment of these conditions.
Hence, recognizing in due degrees all the various ethical theories, conduct in its highest form will take as guides, innate perceptions of right duly enlightened and made precise by an analytic intelligence; while conscious that these guides are proximately supreme solely because they lead to the ultimately supreme end, happiness special and general.
[]Constitutional Code, chap. xvi, Supreme Legislative–Section vi, Omnicompetence.
[]Republic, Bk. ix.
[]Nicomachean Ethics, Bk. i. chap. 8.
[]Bk. x., chap. 7.
[]This universal requirement it was which I had in view when choosing for my first work, published in 1850, the title Social Statics.