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CHAPTER 13.: Trial and Compromise - 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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Trial and Compromise
82. In the foregoing two chapters the case on behalf of egoism and the case on behalf of altruism have been stated. The two conflict; and we have now to consider what verdict ought to be given.
If the opposed statements are severally valid, or even if each of them is valid in part, the influence must be that pure egoism and pure altruism are both illegitimate. If the maxim “Live for self” is wrong, so also is the maxim “Live for others.” Hence a compromise is the only possibility.
This conclusion, though already seeming unavoidable, I do not here set down as proved. The purpose of this chapter is to justify it in full; and I enunciate it at the outset because the arguments used will be better understood, if the conclusion to which they converge is in the reader’s view.
How shall we so conduct the discussion as most clearly to bring out this necessity for a compromise? Perhaps the best way will be that of stating one of the two claims in its extreme form, and observing the implied absurdities. To deal thus with the principle of pure selfishness, would be to waste space. Every one sees that an unchecked satisfaction of personal desires from moment to moment, in absolute disregard of all other beings, would cause universal conflict and social dissolution. The principle of pure unselfishness, less obviously mischievous, may therefore better be chosen.
There are two aspects under which the doctrine that others’ happiness is the true ethical aim presents itself. The “others” may be conceived personally as individuals with whom we stand in direct relations; or they may be conceived impersonally as constituting the community. Insofar as the self-abnegation implied by pure altruism is concerned, it matters not in which sense “others” is used. But criticism will be facilitated by distinguishing between these two forms of it. We will take the last form first.
83. This commits us to an examination of “the greatest happiness principle,” as enunciated by Bentham and his followers. The doctrine that “the general happiness” ought to be the object of pursuit, is not, indeed, overtly identified with pure altruism. But as if general happiness is the proper end of action, the individual actor must regard his own share of it simply as a unit in the aggregate, no more to be valued by him than any other unit, it results that since this unit is almost infinitesimal in comparison with the aggregate, his action, if directed exclusively to achievement of general happiness, is, if not absolutely altruistic, as nearly so as may be. Hence the theory which makes general happiness the immediate object of pursuit, may rightly be taken as one form of the pure altruism to be here criticized.
Both as justifying this interpretation and as furnishing a definite proposition with which to deal, let me set out by quoting a passage from Mr. Mill’s Utilitarianism:
The Greatest-Happiness Principle is a mere form of words without rational signification, unless one person’s happiness, supposed equal in degree (with the proper allowance made for kind), is counted for exactly as much as another’s. Those conditions being supplied, Bentham’s dictum, “everybody to count for one, nobody for more than one,” might be written under the principle of utility as an explanatory commentary
Now though the meaning of “greatest happiness” as an end, is here to a certain degree defined, the need for further definition is felt the moment we attempt to decide on ways of regulating conduct so as to attain the end. The first question which arises is–Must we regard this “greatest happiness principle” as a principle of guidance for the community in its corporate capacity or as a principle of guidance for its members separately considered, or both? If the reply is that the principle must be taken as a guide for governmental action rather than for individual action, we are at once met by the inquiry–What is to be the guide for individual action? If individual action is not to be regulated solely for the purpose of achieving “the greatest happiness of the greatest number,” some other principle of regulation for individual action is required; and “the greatest happiness principle” fails to furnish the needful ethical standard. Should it be rejoined that the individual in his capacity of political unit, is to take furtherance of general happiness as his end, giving his vote or otherwise acting on the legislature with a view to this end, and that in so far guidance is supplied to him, there comes the further inquiry–Whence is to come guidance for the remainder of individual conduct, constituting by far the greater part of it? If this private part of individual conduct is not to have general happiness as its direct aim, then an ethical standard other than that offered has still to be found.
Hence, unless pure altruism as thus formulated confesses its inadequacy, it must justify itself as a sufficient rule for all conduct, individual and social. We will first deal with it as the alleged right principle of public policy; and then as the alleged right principle of private action.
84. On trying to understand precisely the statement that when taking general happiness as an end, the rule must be, “everybody to count for one, nobody for more than one,” there arises the idea of distribution. We can form no idea of distribution without thinking of something distributed and recipients of this something. That we may clearly conceive the proposition we must clearly conceive both these elements of it. Let us take first the recipients.
“Everybody to count for one, nobody for more than one.” Does this mean that, in respect of whatever is portioned out, each is to have the same share whatever his character, whatever his conduct? Shall he if passive have as much as if active? Shall he if useless have as much as if useful? Shall he if criminal have as much as if virtuous? If the distribution is to be made without reference to the natures and deeds of the recipients, then it must be shown that a system which equalizes, as far as it can, the treatment of good and bad, will be beneficial. If the distribution is not to be indiscriminate, then the formula disappears. The something distributed must be apportioned otherwise than by equal division. There must be adjustment of amounts to deserts; and we are left in the dark as to the mode of adjustment–we have to find other guidance.
Let us next ask what is the something to be distributed? The first idea which occurs is that happiness itself must be divided out among all. Taken literally, the notions that the greatest happiness should be the end sought, and that in apportioning it everybody should count for one and nobody for more than one, imply that happiness is something that can be cut up into parts and handed round. This, however, is an impossible interpretation. But after recognizing the impossibility of it, there returns the question–What is it in respect of which everybody is to count for one and nobody for more than one?
Shall the interpretation be that the concrete means to happiness are to be equally divided? Is it intended that there shall be distributed to all in equal portions the necessaries of life, the appliances to comfort, the facilities for amusement? As a conception simply, this is more defensible. But passing over the question of policy–passing over the question whether greatest happiness would ultimately be secured by such a process (which it obviously would not) it turns out on examination that greatest happiness could not even proximately be so secured. Differences of age, of growth, of constitutional need, differences of activity and consequent expenditure, differences of desires and tastes, would entail the inevitable result that the material aids to happiness which each received would be more or less unadapted to his requirements. Even if purchasing power were equally divided, the greatest happiness would not be achieved if everybody counted for one and nobody for more than one; since, as the capacities for utilizing the purchased means to happiness would vary both with the constitution and the stage of life, the means which would approximately suffice to satisfy the wants of one would be extremely insufficient to satisfy the wants of another, and so the greatest total of happiness would not be obtained: means might be unequally apportioned in a way that would produce a greater total.
But now if happiness itself cannot be cut up and distributed equally, and if equal division of the material aids to happiness would not produce greatest happiness, what is the thing to be thus apportioned?–what is it in respect of which everybody is to count for one and nobody for more than one? There seems but a single possibility. There remains to be equally distributed nothing but the conditions under which each may pursue happiness. The limitations to action–the degrees of freedom and restraint, shall be alike for all. Each shall have as much liberty to pursue his ends as consists with maintaining like liberties to pursue their ends by others; and one as much as another shall have the enjoyment of that which his efforts, carried on within these limits, obtain. But to say that in respect of these conditions everybody shall count for one and nobody for more than one, is simply to say that equity shall be enforced.
Thus considered as a principle of public policy, Bentham’s principle, when analyzed, transforms itself into the principle he slights. Not general happiness becomes the ethical standard by which legislative action is to be guided, but universal justice. And so the altruistic theory under this form collapses.
85. From examining the doctrine that general happiness should be the end of public action, we pass now to examine the doctrine that it should be the end of private action.
It is contended that from the standpoint of pure reason, the happiness of others has no less a claim as an object of pursuit for each than personal happiness. Considered as parts of a total, happiness felt by self and like happiness felt by another, are of equal values; and hence it is inferred that, rationally estimated, the obligation to expend effort for others’ benefit, is as great as the obligation to expend effort for one’s own benefit. Holding that the utilitarian system of morals, rightly understood, harmonizes with the Christian maxim “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Mr. Mill says that “as between his own happiness and that of others, utilitarianism requires him to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator” (p. 24). Let us consider the alternative interpretations which may be given to this statement.
Suppose, first, that a certain quantum of happiness has in some way become available, without the special instrumentality of A, B, C, or D, constituting the group concerned. Then the proposition is that each shall be ready to have this quantum of happiness as much enjoyed by one or more of the others as by himself. The disinterested and benevolent spectator would clearly in such a case, rule that no one ought to have more of the happiness than another. But here, assuming as we do that the quantum of happiness has become available without the agency of any among the group, simple equity dictates as much. No one having in any way established a claim different from the claims of others, their claims are equal; and due regard for justice by each will not permit him to monopolize the happiness.
Now suppose a different case. Suppose that the quantum of happiness has been made available by the efforts of one member of the group. Suppose that A has acquired by labor some material aid to happiness. He decides to act as the disinterested and benevolent spectator would direct. What will he decide?–what would the spectator direct? Let us consider the possible suppositions; taking first the least reasonable.
The spectator may be conceived as deciding that the labor expended by A in acquiring this material aid to happiness, originates no claim to special use of it; but that it ought to be given to B, C, or D, or that it ought to be divided equally among B, C, and D, or that it ought to be divided equally among all members of the group, including A who has labored for it. And if the spectator is conceived as deciding thus today he must be conceived as deciding thus day after day; with the result that one of the group expends all the effort, getting either none of the benefit or only his numerical share, while the others get their shares of the benefit without expending any efforts. That A might conceive the disinterested and benevolent spectator to decide in this way and might feel bound to act in conformity with the imagined decision, is a strong supposition; and probably it will be admitted that such kind of impartiality so far from being conducive to the general happiness, would quickly be fatal to everyone. But this is not all. Action in pursuance of such a decision would in reality be negatived by the very principle enunciated. For not only A, but also B, C, and D have to act on this principle. Each of them must behave as he conceives an impartial spectator would decide. Does B conceive the impartial spectator as awarding to him, B, the product of A’s labor? Then the assumption is that B conceives the impartial spectator as favoring himself, B, more than A conceives him as favoring himself, A; which is inconsistent with the hypothesis. Does B, in conceiving the impartial spectator, exclude his own interests as completely as A does? Then how can he decide so much to his own advantage, so partially as to allow him to take from A an equal share of the benefit gained by A’s labor, towards which he and the rest have done nothing?
Passing from this conceivable, though not credible, decision of the spectator, here noted for the purpose of observing that habitual conformity to it would be impossible, there remains to be considered the decision which a spectator really impartial would give. He would say that the happiness, or material aid to happiness, which had been purchased by A’s labor, was to be taken by A. He would say that B, C, and D had no claims to it, but only to such happiness, or aids to happiness, as their respective labors had purchased. Consequently A, acting as the imaginary impartial spectator would direct, is, by this test, justified in appropriating such happiness or aid to happiness as his own efforts have achieved.
And so under its special form as under its general form, the principle is true only in so far as it embodies a disguised justice. Analysis again brings out the result that making “general happiness” the end of action, really means maintaining what we call equitable relations among individuals. Decline to accept in its vague form “the greatest-happiness principle,” and insist on knowing what is the implied conduct, public or private, and it turns out that the principle is meaningless save as indirectly asserting that the claims of each should be duly regarded by all. The utilitarian altruism becomes a duly qualified egoism.
86. Another point of view from which to judge the altruistic theory may now be taken. If, assuming the proper object of pursuit to be general happiness, we proceed rationally we must ask in what different ways the aggregate, general happiness, may be composed; and must then ask what composition of it will yield the largest sum.
Suppose that each citizen pursues his own happiness independently not to the detriment of others but without active concern for others; then their united happinesses constitute a certain sum–a certain general happiness. Now suppose that each, instead of making his own happiness the object of pursuit, makes the happiness of others the object of pursuit; then, again, there results a certain sum of happiness. This sum must be less than, or equal to, or greater than, the first. If it is admitted that this sum is either less than the first or only equal to it, the altruistic course of action is confessedly either worse than, or no better than, the egoistic. The assumption must be that the sum of happiness obtained is greater. Let us observe what is involved in this assumption.
If each pursues exclusively the happiness of others; and if each is also a recipient of happiness (which he must be, for otherwise no aggregate happiness can be formed out of their individual happinesses); then the implication is that each gains the happiness due to altruistic action exclusively; and that in each this is greater in amount than the egoistic happiness obtainable by him, if he devoted himself to pursuit of it. Leaving out of consideration for a moment these relative amounts of the two, let us note the conditions to the receipt of altruistic happiness by each. The sympathetic nature gets pleasure by giving pleasure; and the proposition is that if the general happiness is the object of pursuit, each will be made happy by witnessing others’ happiness. But what in such case constitutes the happiness of others? These others are also, by the hypothesis, pursuers and receivers of altruistic pleasure. The genesis of altruistic pleasure in each is to depend on the display of pleasures by others; which is again to depend on the display of pleasures by others; and so on perpetually. Where, then, is the pleasure to begin? Obviously there must be egoistic pleasure somewhere, before there can be the altruistic pleasure caused by sympathy with it. Obviously therefore, each must be egoistic in due amount, even if only with the view of giving others the possibility of being altruistic. So far from the sum of happiness being made greater if all make greatest happiness the exclusive end, the sum disappears entirely.
How absurd is the supposition that the happiness of all can be achieved without each pursuing his own happiness, will be best shown by a physical simile. Suppose a cluster of bodies, each of which generates heat; and each of which is, therefore, while a radiator of heat to those around, also a receiver of heat from them. Manifestly each will have a certain proper heat irrespective of that which it gains from the rest; and, each will have a certain heat gained from the rest irrespective of its proper heat. What will happen? So long as each of the bodies continues to be a generator of heat, each continues to maintain a temperature partly derived from itself and partly derived from others. But if each ceases to generate heat for itself and depends on the heat radiated to it by the rest, the entire cluster becomes cold. Well, the self-generated heat stands for egoistic pleasure; the heat radiated and received stands for sympathetic pleasure; and the disappearance of all heat if each ceases to be an originator of it, corresponds to the disappearance of all pleasure if each ceases to originate it egoistically.
A further conclusion may be drawn. Besides the implication that before altruistic pleasure can exist, egoistic pleasure must exist, and that if the rule of conduct is to be the same for all, each must be egoistic in due degree; there is the implication that, to achieve the greatest sum of happiness, each must be more egoistic than altruistic. For, speaking generally, sympathetic pleasures must ever continue less intense than the pleasures with which there is sympathy. Other things equal, ideal feelings cannot be as vivid as real feelings. It is true that those having strong imaginations may especially in cases where the affections are engaged, feel the moral pain, if not the physical pain of another, as keenly as the actual sufferer of it, and may participate with like intensity in another’s pleasure: sometimes even mentally representing the received pleasure as greater than it really is, and so getting reflex pleasure greater than the recipients’ direct pleasure. Such cases, however, and cases in which even apart from exaltation of sympathy caused by attachment, there is a body of feeling sympathetically aroused equal in amount to the original feeling, if not greater, are necessarily exceptional. For in such cases the total consciousness includes many other elements besides the mentally represented pleasure or pain–notably the luxury of pity and the luxury of goodness; and genesis of these can occur but occasionally: they could not be habitual concomitants of sympathetic pleasures if all pursued these from moment to moment. In estimating the possible totality of sympathetic pleasures, we must include nothing beyond the representations of the pleasures others experience. And unless it be asserted that we can have others’ states of consciousness perpetually reproduced in us more vividly than the kindred states of consciousness are aroused in ourselves by their proper personal causes, it must be admitted that the totality of altruistic pleasures cannot become equal to the totality of egoistic pleasures. Hence, beyond the truth that before there can be altruistic pleasures there must be the egoistic pleasures from sympathy with which they arise, there is the truth that, to obtain the greatest sum of altruistic pleasures, there must be a greater sum of egoistic pleasures.
87. That pure altruism is suicidal may be yet otherwise demonstrated. A perfectly moral law must be one which becomes perfectly practicable as human nature becomes perfect. If its practicableness decreases as human nature improves; and if an ideal human nature necessitates its impracticability; it cannot be the moral law sought.
Now opportunities for practicing altruism are numerous and great in proportion as there is weakness, or incapacity or imperfection. If we pass beyond the limits of the family, in which a sphere for self-sacrificing activities must be preserved as long as offspring have to be reared; and if we ask how there can continue a social sphere for self-sacrificing activities; it becomes obvious that the continued existence of serious evils, caused by prevalent defects of nature, is implied. As fast as men adapt themselves to the requirements of social life, so fast will the demands for efforts on their behalf diminish. And with arrival at finished adaptation, when all persons are at once completely self-conserved and completely able to fulfill the obligations which society imposes on them, those occasions for postponement of self to others which pure altruism contemplates, disappear.
Such self-sacrifices become, indeed, doubly impracticable. Carrying on successfully their several lives, men not only cannot yield to those around the opportunities for giving aid, but aid cannot ordinarily be given them without interfering with their normal activities, and so diminishing their pleasures. Like every inferior creature, led by its innate desires spontaneously to do all that its life requires, man, when completely molded to the social state, must have desires so adjusted to his needs that he fulfills the needs in gratifying the desires. And if his desires are severally gratified by the performance of required acts, none of these can be performed for him without balking his desires. Acceptance from others of the results of their activities can take place only on condition of relinquishing the pleasures derived from his own activities. Diminution rather than increase of happiness would result, could altruistic action in such case be enforced.
And here, indeed, we are introduced to another baseless assumption which the theory makes.
88. The postulate of utilitarianism as formulated in the statements above quoted, and of pure altruism as otherwise expressed, involves the belief that it is possible for happiness, or the means to happiness, or the conditions to happiness, to be transferred. Without any specified limitation the proposition taken for granted is, that happiness in general admits of detachment from one and attachment to another–that surrender to any extent is possible by one and appropriation to any extent is possible by another. But a moment’s thought shows this to be far from the truth. On the one hand, surrender carried to a certain point is extremely mischievous and to a further point fatal; and on the other hand, much of the happiness each enjoys is self-generated and can neither be given nor received.
To assume that egoistic pleasures may be relinquished to any extent, is to fall into one of those many errors of ethical speculation which result from ignoring the truths of biology. When taking the biological view of ethics we saw that pleasures accompany normal amounts of functions, while pains accompany defects or excesses of functions; further, that complete life depends on complete discharge of functions, and therefore on receipt of the correlative pleasures. Hence, to yield up normal pleasures is to yield up so much life; and there arises the question–to what extent may this be done? If he is to continue living, the individual must take certain amounts of those pleasures which go along with fulfillment of the bodily functions, and must avoid the pains which entire nonfulfillment of them entails. Complete abnegation means death; excessive abnegation means illness; abnegation less excessive means physical degradation and consequent loss of power to fulfill obligations, personal and other. When, therefore, we attempt to specialize the proposal to live not for self-satisfaction but for the satisfaction of others, we meet with the difficulty that beyond a certain limit this cannot be done. And when we have decided what decrease of bodily welfare, caused by sacrifice of pleasures and acceptance of pains, it is proper for the individual to make, there is forced on us the fact that the portion of happiness, or means to happiness, which it is possible for him to yield up for redistribution, is a limited portion.
Even more rigorous on another side is the restriction put upon the transfer of happiness, or the means to happiness. The pleasures gained by efficient action–by successful pursuit of ends, cannot by any process be parted with, and cannot in any way be appropriated by another. The habit of arguing about general happiness sometimes as though it were a concrete product to be portioned out, and sometimes as though it were coextensive with the use of those material aids to pleasure which may be given and received, has caused inattention to the truth that the pleasures of achievement are not transferable. Alike in the boy who has won a game of marbles, the athlete who has performed a feat, the statesman who has gained a party triumph, the inventor who has devised a new machine, the man of science who has discovered a truth, the novelist who has well delineated a character, the poet who has finely rendered an emotion, we see pleasures which must, in the nature of things, be enjoyed exclusively by those to whom they come. And if we look at all such occupations as men are not impelled to by their necessities–if we contemplate the various ambitions which play so large a part in life; we are reminded that so long as the consciousness of efficiency remains a dominant pleasure, there will remain a dominant pleasure which cannot be pursued altruistically but must be pursued egoistically.
Cutting off, then, at the one end, those pleasures which are inseparable from maintenance of the physique in an uninjured state; and cutting off at the other end the pleasures of successful action; the amount that remains is so greatly diminished, as to make untenable the assumption that happiness at large admits of distribution after the manner which utilitarianism assumes.
89. In yet one more way may be shown the inconsistency of this transfigured utilitarianism which regards its doctrine as embodying the Christian maxim “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and of that altruism which, going still further, enunciates the maxim “Live for others.”
A right rule of conduct must be one which may with advantage be adopted by all. “Act according to that maxim only which you can wish, at the same time, to become a universal law” says Kant. And clearly a passing over needful qualifications of this maxim, we may accept it to the extent of admitting that a mode of action which becomes impracticable as it approaches universality must be wrong. Hence, if the theory of pure altruism, implying that effort should be expended for the benefit of others and not for personal benefit, is defensible, it must be shown that it will produce good results when acted upon by all. Mark the consequences if all are purely altruistic.
First, an impossible combination of moral attributes is implied. Each is supposed by the hypothesis to regard self so little and others so much, that he willingly sacrifices his own pleasures to give pleasures to them. But if this is a universal trait, and if action is universally congruous with it, we have to conceive each as being not only a sacrificer but also one who accepts sacrifices. While he is so unselfish as willingly to yield up the benefit for which he has labored, he is so selfish as willingly to let others yield up to him the benefits they have labored for. To make pure altruism possible for all, each must be at once extremely unegoistic and extremely egoistic. As a giver, he must have no thought for self; as a receiver, no thought for others. Evidently this implies an inconceivable mental constitution. The sympathy which is so solicitous for others as willingly to injure self in benefiting them, cannot at the same time be so regardless of others as to accept benefits which they injure themselves in giving.
The incongruities that emerge if we assume pure altruism to be universally practiced, may be otherwise exhibited thus. Suppose that each, instead of enjoying such pleasures as come to him, or such consumable appliances to pleasure as he has worked for, or such occasions for pleasure as reward his efforts, relinquishes these to a single other, or adds them to a common stock from which others benefit; what will result? Different answers may be given according as we assume that there are, or are not, additional influences brought into play. Suppose there are no additional influences. Then, if each transfers to another his happiness, or means to happiness, or occasions for happiness, while some one else does the like to him, the distribution of happiness is, on the average, unchanged; or if each adds to a common stock his happiness, or means to happiness, or occasions for happiness, from which common stock each appropriates his portion, the average state is still, as before, unchanged. The only obvious effect is that transactions must be gone through in the redistribution; and loss of time and labor must result. Now suppose some additional influence which makes the process beneficial; what must it be? The totality can be increased only if the acts of transfer increase the quantity of that which is transferred. The happiness, or that which brings it, must be greater to one who derives it from another’s efforts, than it would have been had his own efforts procured it; or otherwise, supposing a fund of happiness, or of that which brings it, has been formed by contributions from each, then each, in appropriating his share, must find it larger than it would have been had no such aggregation and dispersion taken place. To justify belief in such increase two conceivable assumptions may be made. One is that though the sum of pleasures, or of pleasure-yielding things, remains the same yet the kind of pleasure, or of pleasure-yielding things, which each receives in exchange from another, or from the aggregate of others, is one which he appreciates more than that for which he labored. But to assume this is to assume that each labors directly for the thing which he enjoys less, rather than for the thing which he enjoys more, which is absurd. The other assumption is that while the exchanged or redistributed pleasure of the egoistic kind, remains the same in amount for each, there is added to it the altruistic pleasure accompanying the exchange. But this assumption is clearly inadmissible if, as is implied, the transaction is universal–is one through which each becomes giver and receiver to equal extents. For if the transfer of pleasures, or of pleasure-yielding things, from one to another or others, is always accompanied by the consciousness that there will be received from him or them an equivalent; there results merely a tacit exchange, either direct or roundabout. Each becomes altruistic in no greater degree than is implied by being equitable; and each, having nothing to exalt his happiness, sympathetically or otherwise, cannot be a source of sympathetic happiness to others.
90. Thus, when the meanings of its words are inquired into, or when the necessary implications of its theory are examined, pure altruism, in whatever form expressed, commits its adherents to various absurdities.
If “the greatest happiness of the greatest number, or in other words, “the general happiness,” is the proper end of action, then not only for all public action but for all private action, it must be the end; because, otherwise, the greater part of action remains unguided. Consider its fitness for each. If corporate action is to be guided by the principle, with its interpreting comment–"everybody to count for one, nobody for more than one"–there must be an ignoring of all differences of character and conduct, merits and demerits, among citizens, since no discrimination is provided for; and moreover, since that in respect of which all are to count alike cannot be happiness itself, which is indistributable, and since equal sharing of the concrete means to happiness, besides failing utimately would fail proximately to produce the greatest happiness; it results that equal distribution of the conditions under which happiness may be pursued is the only tenable meaning: we discover in the principle nothing but a roundabout insistence on equity. If, taking happiness at large as the aim of private action, the individual is required to judge between his own happiness and that of others as an impartial spectator would do, we see that no supposition concerning the spectator save one which suicidally ascribes partiality to him, can bring out any other result than that each shall enjoy such happiness, or appropriate such means to happiness, as his own efforts gain: equity is again the sole content. When, adopting another method, we consider how the greatest sum of happiness may be composed, and, recognizing the fact that equitable egoism will produce a certain sum, ask how pure altruism is to produce a greater sum; we are shown that if all, exclusively pursuing altruistic pleasures, are so to produce a greater sum of pleasures, the implication is that altruistic pleasures, which arise from sympathy, can exist in the absence of egoistic pleasures with which there may be sympathy–an impossibility; and another implication is that if, the necessity for egoistic pleasures being admitted, it is said that the greatest sum of happiness will be attained if all individuals are more altruistic than egoistic, it is indirectly said that as a general truth, representative feelings are stronger than presentative feelings–another impossibility. Again the doctrine of pure altruism assumes that happiness may be to any extent transferred or redistributed; whereas the fact is that pleasures of one order cannot be transferred in large measure without results which are fatal or extremely injurious, and that pleasures of another order cannot be transferred in any degree. Further, pure altruism presents this fatal anomaly; that while a right principle of action must be more and more practiced as men improve, the altruistic principle becomes less and less practicable as men approach an ideal form, because the sphere for practicing it continually decreases. Finally its self-destructiveness is made manifest on observing that for all to adopt it as a principle of action, which they must do if it is a sound principle, implies that all are at once extremely unegoistic and extremely egoistic–ready to injure self for others’ benefit, and ready to accept benefit at the cost of injury to others: traits which cannot coexist.
The need for a compromise between egoism and altruism is thus made conspicuous. We are forced to recognize the claims which his own well-being has on the attention of each by noting how, in some directions we come to a deadlock, in others to contradictions, and in others to disastrous results, if they are ignored. Conversely it is undeniable that disregard of others by each, carried to a great extent is fatal to society, and carried to a still greater extent is fatal to the family, and eventually to the race. Egoism and altruism are therefore coessential.
91. What form is the compromise between egoism and altruism to assume? how are their respective claims to be satisfied in due degree?
It is a truth insisted on by moralists and recognized in common life, that the achievement of individual happiness is not proportionate to the degree in which individual happiness is made the object of direct pursuit; but there has not yet become current the belief that, in like manner, the achievement of general happiness is not proportionate to the degree in which general happiness is made the object of direct pursuit. Yet failure of direct pursuit in the last case is more reasonably to be expected than in the first.
When discussing the relations of means and ends, we saw that as individual conduct evolves, its principle becomes more and more that of making fulfillment of means the proximate end, and leaving the ultimate end, welfare or happiness, to come as a result. And we saw that when general welfare or happiness is the ultimate end, the same principle holds even more rigorously; since the ultimate end under its impersonal form, is less determinate than under its personal form, and the difficulties in the way of achieving it by direct pursuit still greater. Recognizing, then, the fact that corporate happiness still more than individual happiness, must be pursued not directly but indirectly the first question for us is–What must be the general nature of the means through which it is to be achieved.
It is admitted that self-happiness is, in a measure, to be obtained by furthering the happiness of others. May it not be true that, conversely general happiness is to be obtained by furthering self-happiness? If the well-being of each unit is to be reached partly through his care for the well-being of the aggregate, is not the well-being of the aggregate to be reached partly through the care of each unit for himself? Clearly, our conclusion must be that general happiness is to be achieved mainly through the adequate pursuit of their own happinesses by individuals; while, reciprocally the happinesses of individuals are to be achieved in part by their pursuit of the general happiness.
And this is the conclusion embodied in the progressing ideas and usages of mankind. This compromise between egoism and altruism has been slow establishing itself; and towards recognition of its propriety, men’s actual beliefs, as distinguished from their nominal beliefs, have been gradually approaching. Social evolution has been bringing about a state in which the claims of the individual to the proceeds of his activities, and to such satisfactions as they bring, are more and more positively asserted; at the same time that insistence on others’ claims, and habitual respect for them, have been increasing. Among the rudest savages personal interests are very vaguely distinguished from the interests of others. In early stages of civilization, the proportioning of benefits to efforts is extremely rude: slaves and serfs get for work, arbitrary amounts of food and shelter: exchange being infrequent, there is little to develop the idea of equivalence. But as civilization advances and status passes into contract, there comes daily experience of the relation between advantages enjoyed and labor given: the industrial system maintaining, through supply and demand, a due adjustment of the one to the other. And this growth of voluntary cooperation–this exchange of services under agreement, has been necessarily accompanied by decrease of aggressions one upon another, and increase of sympathy: leading to exchange of services beyond agreement. That is to say, the more distinct assertions of individual claims and more rigorous apportioning of personal enjoyments to efforts expended, has gone hand in hand with growth of that negative altruism shown in equitable conduct and that positive altruism shown in gratuitous aid.
A higher phase of this double change has in our own times become conspicuous. If, on the one hand, we note the struggles for political freedom, the contests between labor and capital, the judicial reforms made to facilitate enforcement of rights, we see that the tendency still is towards complete appropriation by each of whatever benefits are due to him, and consequent exclusion of his fellows from such benefits. On the other hand, if we consider what is meant by the surrender of power to the masses, the abolition of class privileges, the efforts to diffuse knowledge, the agitations to spread temperance, the multitudinous philanthropic societies; it becomes clear that regard for the well-being of others is increasing pari passu with the taking of means to secure personal well-being.
What holds of the relations within each society holds to some extent, if to a less extent, of the relations between societies. Though to maintain national claims, real or imaginary, often of a trivial kind, the civilized still make war on one another; yet their several nationalities are more respected than in past ages. Though by victors portions of territory are taken and money compensations exacted; yet conquest is not now, as of old, habitually followed by entire appropriation of territories and enslavement of peoples. The individualities of societies are in a larger measure preserved. Meanwhile the altruistic intercourse is greater: aid is rendered on occasions of disaster by flood, by fire, by famine, or otherwise. And in international arbitration as lately exemplified, implying the recognition of claims by one nation upon another, we see a further progress in this wider altruism. Doubtless there is much to be said by way of setoff; for in the dealings of the civilized with the uncivilized, little of this progress can be traced. It may be urged that the primitive rule “Life for life” has been developed by us into the rule ``For one life many lives,” as in the cases of Bishop Patteson and Mr. Birch; but then there is the qualifying fact that we do not torture our prisoners or mutilate them. If it be said that as the Hebrews thought themselves warranted in seizing the lands God promised to them, and in some cases exterminating the inhabitants, so we, to fulfill the “manifest intention of Providence,” dispossess inferior races whenever we want their territories; it may be replied that we do not kill many more than seems needful, and tolerate the existence of those who submit. And should any one point out that as Attila, while conquering or destroying peoples and nations, regarded himself as “the scourge of God,” punishing men for their sins, so we, as represented by a High Commissioner and a priest he quotes, think ourselves called on to chastise with rifles and cannon, heathens who practice polygamy; there is the rejoinder that not even the most ferocious disciple of the teacher of mercy would carry his vengeance so far as to depopulate whole territories and erase scores of cities. And when, on the other hand, we remember that there is an Aborigines Protection Society, that there are commissioners in certain colonies appointed to protect native interests, and that in some cases the lands of natives have been purchased in ways which, however unfair, have implied some recognition of their claims; we may say that little as the compromise between egoism and altruism has progressed in international affairs, it has still progressed somewhat in the direction indicated.