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CHAPTER 14.: Conciliation - 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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92. As exhibited in the last chapter, the compromise between the claims of self and the claims of others seems to imply permanent antagonism between the two. The pursuit by each of his own happiness while paying due regard to the happiness of his fellows, apparently necessitates the ever-recurring question–how far must the one end be sought and how far the other? suggesting, if not discord in the life of each, still, an absence of complete harmony This is not the inevitable inference however.
When, in the Principles of Sociology, Part III, the phenomena of race-maintenance among living things at large were discussed, that the development of the domestic relations might be the better understood, it was shown that during evolution there has been going on a conciliation between the interests of the species, the interests of the parents, and the interests of the offspring. Proof was given that as we ascend from the lowest forms of life to the highest, race-maintenance is achieved with a decreasing sacrifice of life, alike of young individuals and of adult individuals, and also with a decreasing sacrifice of parental lives to the lives of offspring. We saw that, with the progress of civilization, like changes go on among human beings; and that the highest domestic relations are those in which the conciliation of welfare within the family becomes greatest, while the welfare of the society is best subserved. Here it remains to be shown that a kindred conciliation has been, and is, taking place between the interests of each citizen and the interests of citizens at large; tending ever towards a state in which the two become merged in one, and in which the feelings answering to them respectively fall into complete concord.
In the family group, even as we observe it among many inferior vertebrates, we see that the parental sacrifice, now become so moderate in amount as to consist with long-continued parental life, is not accompanied by consciousness of sacrifice; but, contrariwise, is made from a direct desire to make it: the altruistic labors on behalf of young are carried on in satisfaction of parental instincts. If we trace these relations up through the grades of mankind, and observe how largely love rather than obligation prompts the care of children, we see the conciliation of interests to be such that achievement of parental happiness coincides with securing the happiness of offspring: the wish for children among the childless, and the occasional adoption of children, showing how needful for attainment of certain egoistic satisfactions are these altruistic activities. And further evolution, causing along with higher nature diminished fertility, and therefore smaller burdens on parents, may be expected to bring a state in which, far more than now the pleasures of adult life will consist in raising offspring to perfection while simultaneously furthering the immediate happiness of offspring.
Now though altruism of a social kind, lacking certain elements of parental altruism, can never attain the same level; yet it may be expected to attain a level at which it will be like parental altruism in spontaneity–a level such that ministration to others’ happiness will become a daily need–a level such that the lower egoistic satisfactions will be continually subordinated to this higher egoistic satisfaction, not by any effort to subordinate them, but by the preference for this higher egoistic satisfaction whenever it can be obtained.
Let us consider how the development of sympathy which must advance as fast as conditions permit, will bring about this state.
93. We have seen that during the evolution of life, pleasures and pains have necessarily been the incentives to and deterrents from, actions which the conditions of existence demanded and negatived. An implied truth to be here noted is, that faculties which, under given conditions, yield partly pain and partly pleasure, cannot develop beyond the limit at which they yield a surplus of pleasure: if beyond that limit more pain than pleasure results from exercise of them, their growth must be arrested.
Through sympathy both these forms of feeling are excited. Now a pleasurable consciousness is aroused on witnessing pleasure; now a painful consciousness is aroused on witnessing pain. Hence, if beings around him habitually manifest pleasure and but rarely pain, sympathy yields to its possessor a surplus of pleasure; while, contrariwise, if little pleasure is ordinarily witnessed and much pain, sympathy yields a surplus of pain to its possessor. The average development of sympathy must, therefore, be regulated by the average manifestations of pleasure and pain in others. If the life usually led under given social conditions is such that suffering is daily inflicted, or is daily displayed by associates, sympathy cannot grow: to assume growth of it is to assume that the constitution will modify itself in such way as to increase its pains and therefore depress its energies; and is to ignore the truth that bearing any kind of pain gradually produces insensibility to that pain, or callousness. On the other hand, if the social state is such that manifestations of pleasure predominate, sympathy will increase; since sympathetic pleasures, adding to the totality of pleasures enhancing vitality, conduce to the physical prosperity of the most sympathetic, and since the pleasures of sympathy exceeding its pains in all, lead to an exercise of it which strengthens it.
The first implication is one already more than once indicated. We have seen that along with habitual militancy and under the adapted type of social organization, sympathy cannot develop to any considernable height. The destructive activities carried on against external enemies sear it; the state of feeling maintained causes within the society itself frequent acts of aggression or cruelty; and further, the compulsory cooperation characterizing the militant regime necessarily represses sympathy–exists only on condition of an unsympathetic treatment of some by others.
But even could the militant regime forthwith end, the hindrances to development of sympathy would still be great. Though cessation of war would imply increased adaptation of man to social life, and decrease of sundry evils, yet there would remain much nonadaptation and much consequent unhappiness. In the first place, that form of nature which has generated and still generates wars, though by implication raised to a higher form, would not at once be raised to so high a form that there would cease all injustices and the pains they cause. For a considerable period after predatory activities had ended, the defects of the predatory nature would continue: entailing their slowly diminishing evils. In the second place, the ill-adjustment of the human constitution to the pursuits of industrial life, must long persist, and may be expected to survive in a measure the cessation of wars: the required modes of activity must remain for innumerable generations in some degree displeasurable. And in the third place, deficiencies of self-control such as the improvident show us, as well as those many failures of conduct due to inadequate foresight of consequences, though less marked than now could not fail still to produce suffering.
Nor would even complete adaptation, if limited to disappearance of the nonadaptations just indicated, remove all sources of those miseries which, to the extent of their manifestation, check the growth of sympathy. For while the rate of multiplication continues so to exceed the rate of mortality as to cause pressure on the means of subsistence, there must continue to result much unhappiness; either from balked affections or from overwork and stinted means. Only as fast as fertility diminishes, which we have seen it must do along with further mental development (Principles of Biology, secs. 367–77), can there go on such diminution of the labors required for efficiently supporting self and family that they will not constitute a displeasurable tax on the energies.
Gradually then, and only gradually as these various causes of unhappiness become less can sympathy become greater. Life would be intolerable if, while the causes of misery remained as they now are, all men were not only in a high degree sensitive to the pains, bodily and mental, felt by those around and expressed in the faces of those they met, but were unceasingly conscious of the miseries everywhere being suffered as consequences of war, crime, misconduct, misfortune, improvidence, incapacity. But, as the molding and remolding of man and society into mutual fitness progresses, and as the pains caused by unfitness decrease, sympathy can increase in presence of the pleasures that come from fitness. The two changes are indeed so related that each furthers the other. Such growth of sympathy as conditions permit, itself aids in lessening pain and augmenting pleasure; and the greater surplus of pleasure that results makes possible further growth of sympathy.
94. The extent to which sympathy may develop when the hindrances are removed, will be better conceived after observing the agencies through which it is excited, and setting down the reasons for expecting those agencies to become more efficient. Two factors have to be considered–the natural language of feeling in the being sympathized with, and the power of interpreting that language in the being who sympathizes. We may anticipate development of both.
Movements of the body and facial changes are visible effects of feeling which, when the feeling is strong, are uncontrollable. When the feeling is less strong however, be it sensational or emotional, they may be wholly or partially repressed; and there is a habit, more or less constant, of repressing them: this habit being the concomitant of a nature such that it is often undesirable that others should see what is felt. So necessary with our existing characters and conditions are concealments thus prompted, that they have come to form a part of moral duty; and concealment for its own sake is often insisted upon as an element in good manners. All this is caused by the prevalence of feelings at variance with social good–feelings which cannot be shown without producing discords or estrangements. But in proportion as the egoistic desires fall more under control of the altruistic, and there come fewer and slighter impulses of a kind to be reprobated, the need for keeping guard over facial expression and bodily movement will decrease, and these will with increasing clearness convey to spectators the mental state. Nor is this all. Restrained as its use is, this language of the emotions is at present prevented from growing. But as fast as the emotions become such that they may be more candidly displayed, there will go, along with the habit of display, development of the means of display; so that besides the stronger emotions, the more delicate shades and smaller degrees of emotion will visibly exhibit themselves: the emotional language will become at once more copious, more varied, more definite. And obviously sympathy will be proportionately facilitated.
An equally important, if not a more important, advance of kindred nature, is to be anticipated. The vocal signs of sentient states will simultaneously evolve further. Loudness of tone, pitch of tone, quality of tone, and change of tone, are severally marks of feeling; and, combined in different ways and proportions, serve to express different amounts and kinds of feelings. As elsewhere pointed out, cadences are the comments of the emotions on the propositions of the intellect.13 Not in excited speech only, but in ordinary speech, we show by ascending and descending intervals, by degrees of deviation from the medium tone, as well as by place and strength of emphasis, the kind of sentiency which accompanies the thought expressed. Now the manifestation of feeling by cadence, like its manifestation by visible changes, is at present under restraint; the motives for repression act in the one case as they act in the other. A double effect is produced. This audible language of feeling is not used up to the limit of its existing capacity; and it is to a considerable degree misused, so as to convey other feelings than those which are felt. The result of this disuse and misuse is to check that evolution which normal use would cause. We must infer, then, that as moral adaptation progresses, and there is decreasing need for concealment of the feelings, their vocal signs will develop much further. Though it is not to be supposed that cadences will ever convey emotions as exactly as words convey thoughts, yet it is quite possible that the emotional language of the future may rise as much above our present emotional language, as our intellectual language has already risen above the intellectual language of the lowest races.
A simultaneous increase in the power of interpreting both visible and audible signs of feeling must be taken into account. Among those around we see differences both of ability to perceive such signs and of ability to conceive the implied mental states and their causes: here, a stolidity unimpressed by a slight facial change or altered tone of voice, or else unable to imagine what is felt; and there, a quick observation and a penetrating intuition, making instantly comprehensible the state of mind and its origin. If we suppose both these faculties exalted–both a more delicate perception of the signs and a strengthened constructive imagination–we shall get some idea of the deeper and wider sympathy that will hereafter arise. More vivid representations of the feelings of others, implying ideal excitements of feelings approaching to real excitements, must imply a greater likeness between the feelings of the sympathizer and those of the sympathized with; coming near to identity.
By simultaneous increase of its subjective and objective factors, sympathy may thus, as the hindrances diminish, rise above that now shown by the sympathetic as much as in them it has risen above that which the callous show.
95. What must be the accompanying evolution of conduct? What must the relations between egoism and altruism become as this form of nature is neared?
A conclusion drawn in the chapter on the relativity of pleasures and pains, and there emphasized as one to be borne in mind, must now be recalled. It was pointed out that, supposing them to be consistent with continuance of life, there are no activities which may not become sources of pleasure, if surrounding conditions require persistence in them. And here it is to be added, as a corollary that if the conditions require any class of activities to be relatively great, there will arise a relatively great pleasure accompanying that class of activities. What bearing have these general inferences on the special question before us?
That alike for public welfare and private welfare sympathy is essential, we have seen. We have seen that cooperation and the benefits which it brings to each and all, become high in proportion as the altruistic, that is the sympathetic, interests extend. The actions prompted by fellow feeling are thus to be counted among those demanded by social conditions. They are actions which maintenance and further development of social organization tend ever to increase; and therefore actions with which there will be joined an increasing pleasure. From the laws of life it must be concluded that unceasing social discipline will so mold human nature, that eventually sympathetic pleasures will be spontaneously pursued to the fullest extent advantageous to each and all. The scope for altruistic activities will not exceed the desire for altruistic satisfactions.
In natures thus constituted, though the altruistic gratifications must remain in a transfigured sense egoistic, yet they will not be egoistically pursued–will not be pursued from egoistic motives. Though pleasure will be gained by giving pleasure, yet the thought of the sympathetic pleasure to be gained will not occupy consciousness, but only the thought of the pleasure given. To a great extent this is so now. In the truly sympathetic, attention is so absorbed with the proximate end, others’ happiness, that there is none given to the prospective self-happiness which may ultimately result. An analogy will make the relation clear.
A miser accumulates money not deliberately saying to himself–"I shall by doing this get the delight which possession gives.” He thinks only of the money and the means of getting it; and he experiences incidentally the pleasure that comes from possession. Owning property is that which he revels in imagining, and not the feeling which owning property will cause. Similarly, one who is sympathetic in the highest sense, is mentally engaged solely in representing pleasure as experienced by another; and pursues it for the benefit of that other, forgetting any participation he will have in it. Subjectively considered, then, the conciliation of egoism and altruism will eventually become such that though the altruistic pleasure, as being a part of the consciousness of one who experiences it, can never be other than egoistic, it will not be consciously egoistic.
Let us now ask what must happen in a society composed of persons constituted in this manner.
96. The opportunities for that postponement of self to others which constitutes altruism as ordinarily conceived, must, in several ways, be more and more limited as the highest state is approached.
Extensive demands on the benevolent, presuppose much unhappiness. Before there can be many and large calls on some for efforts on behalf of others, there must be many others in conditions needing help–in conditions of comparative misery. But, as we have seen above, the development of fellow feeling can go on only as fast as misery decreases. Sympathy can reach its full height only when there have ceased to be frequent occasions for anything like serious self-sacrifice.
Change the point of view and this truth presents itself under another aspect. We have already seen that with the progress of adaptation each becomes so constituted that he cannot be helped without in some way arresting a pleasurable activity. There cannot be a beneficial interference between faculty and function when the two are adjusted. Consequently in proportion as mankind approach complete adjustment of their natures to social needs, there must be fewer and smaller opportunities for giving aid.
Yet again, as was pointed out in the last chapter, the sympathy which prompts efforts for others’ welfare must be gained by self-injury on the part of others; and must, therefore, cause aversion to accept benefits derived from their self-injuries. What is to be inferred? While each when occasion offers is ready anxious even, to surrender egoistic satisfactions; others, similarly natured, cannot but resist the surrender. If anyone, proposing to treat himself more hardly than a disinterested spectator would direct, refrains from appropriating that which is due, others, caring for him if he will not care for himself, must necessarily insist that he shall appropriate it. General altruism then, in its developed form, must inevitably resist individual excesses of altruism. The relation at present familiar to us will be inverted; and instead of each maintaining his own claims, others will maintain his claims for him: not, indeed, by active efforts, which will be needless, but by passively resisting any undue yielding up of them. There is nothing in such behavior which is not even now to be traced in our daily experiences as beginning. In business transactions among honorable men, there is usually a desire on either side that the other shall treat himself fairly. Not unfrequently there is a refusal to take something regarded as the other’s due, but which the other offers to give up. In social intercourse, too, the cases are common in which those who would surrender their shares of pleasure are not permitted by the rest to do so. Further development of sympathy cannot but make this mode of behaving increasingly general and increasingly genuine.
Certain complex restraints on excesses of altruism exist, which, in another way force back the individual upon a normal egoism. Two may here be noted. In the first place, self-abnegations often repeated imply on the part of the actor a tacit ascription of relative selfishness to others who profit by the self-abnegations. Even with men as they are, there occasionally arises a feeling among those for whom sacrifices are frequently made, that they are being insulted by the assumption that they are ready to receive them; and in the mind of the actor also, there sometimes grows up a recognition of this feeling on their part, and a consequent check on his too great or too frequent surrenders of pleasure. Obviously in more developed natures, this kind of check must act still more promptly. In the second place, when, as the hypothesis implies, altruistic pleasures have reached a greater intensity than they now possess, each person will be debarred from undue pursuit of them by the consciousness that other persons, too, desire them, and that scope for others’ enjoyment of them must be left. Even now may be observed among groups of friends, where some competition in amiability is going on, relinquishments of opportunities for self-abnegation that others may have them. “Let her give up the gratification, she will like to do so”; “Let him undertake the trouble, it will please him”; are suggestions which from time to time illustrate this consciousness. The most developed sympathy will care for the sympathetic satisfactions of others as well as for their selfish satisfactions. What may be called a higher equity will refrain from trespassing on the spheres of others’ altruistic activities, as a lower equity refrains from trespassing on the spheres of their egoistic activities. And by this checking of what may be called an egoistic altruism, undue sacrifices on the part of each must be prevented.
What spheres, then, will eventually remain for altruism as it is commonly conceived? There are three. One of them must to the last continue large in extent; and the others must progressively diminish, though they do not disappear. The first is that which family-life affords. Always there must be a need for subordination of self-regarding feelings to other-regarding feelings in the rearing of children. Though this will diminish with diminution in the number to be reared, yet it will increase with the greater elaboration and prolongation of the activities on their behalf. But as shown above, there is even now partially effected a conciliation such that those egoistic satisfactions which parenthood yields are achieved through altruistic activities–a conciliation tending ever towards completeness. An important development of family-altruism must be added: the reciprocal care of parents by children during old age–a care becoming lighter and better fulfilled, in which a kindred conciliation may be looked for. Pursuit of social welfare at large must afford hereafter, as it does now scope for the postponement of selfish interests to unselfish interests, but a continuallylessening scope; because as adaptation to the social state progresses, the needs for those regulative actions by which social life is made harmonious become less. And here the amount of altruistic actionwhich each undertakes must inevitably be kept within moderate bounds by others; for if they are similarly altruistic, they will not allow some to pursue public ends to their own considerable detriment that the rest may profit. In the private relations of men, opportunities for self-sacrifice prompted by sympathy must ever in some degree, though eventually in a small degree, be afforded by accidents, diseases, and misfortunes in general; since, however near to completeness the adaptation of human nature to the conditions of existence at large, physical and social, may become, it can never reach completeness. Flood, fire, and wreck must to the last yield at intervals opportunities for heroic acts; and in the motives to such acts, anxiety for others will be less alloyed with love of admiration than now. Extreme, however, as may be the eagerness for altruistic action on the rare occasions hence arising, the amount falling to the share of each must, for the reasons given, be narrowly limited. But though in the incidents of ordinary life, postponements of self to others in large ways must become very infrequent, daily intercourse will still furnish multitudinous small occasions for the activity of fellow feeling. Always each may continue to further the welfare of others by warding off from them evils they cannot see, and by aiding their actions in ways unknown to them; or, conversely putting it, each may have, as it were, supplementary eyes and ears in other persons, which perceive for him things he cannot perceive himself: so perfecting his life in numerous details, by making its adjustments to environing actions complete.
97. Must it then follow that eventually, with this diminution of the spheres for it, altruism must diminish in total amount? By no means. Such a conclusion implies a misconception.
Naturally under existing conditions, with suffering widely diffused and so much of effort demanded from the more fortunate in succoring the less fortunate, altruism is understood to mean only self-sacrifice; or, at any rate, a mode of action which, while it brings some pleasure, has an accompaniment of self-surrender that is not pleasurable. But the sympathy which prompts denial of self to please others, is a sympathy which also receives pleasure from their pleasures when they are otherwise originated. The stronger the fellow feeling which excites efforts to make others happy, the stronger is the fellow feeling with their happiness however caused.
In its ultimate form, then, altruism will be the achievement of gratification through sympathy with those gratifications of others which are mainly produced by their activities of all kinds successfully carried on–sympathetic gratification which costs the receiver nothing, but is a gratis addition to his egoistic gratifications. This power of representing in idea the mental states of others, which, during the process of adaptation has had the function of mitigating suffering, must, as the suffering falls to a minimum, come to have almost wholly the function of mutually exalting men’s enjoyments by giving everyone a vivid intuition of his neighbor’s enjoyments. While pain prevails widely it is undesirable that each should participate much in the consciousness of others; but with an increasing predominance of pleasure, participation in others’ consciousnesses becomes a gain of pleasure to all.
And so there will disappear that apparently permanent opposition between egoism and altruism, implied by the compromise reached in the last chapter. Subjectively looked at, the conciliation will be such that the individual will not have to balance between self-regarding impulses and other-regarding impulses; but, instead, those satisfactions of other-regarding impulses which involve self-sacrifice, becoming rare and much prized, will be so unhesitatingly preferred that the competition of self-regarding impulses with them will scarcely be felt. And the subjective conciliation will also be such that though altruistic pleasure will be attained, yet the motive of action will not consciously be the attainment of altruistic pleasure; but the idea present will be the securing of others’ pleasures. Meanwhile, the conciliation objectively considered will be equally complete. Though each, no longer needing to maintain his egoistic claims, will tend rather when occasion offers to surrender them, yet others, similarly natured, will not permit him in any large measure to do this; and that fulfillment of personal desires required for completion of his life will thus be secured to him: though not now egoistic in the ordinary sense, yet the effects of due egoism will be achieved. Nor is this all. As, at an earlier stage, egoistic competition, first reaching a compromise such that each claims no more than his equitable share, afterward rises to a conciliation such that each insists on the taking of equitable shares by others; so, at the latest stage, altruistic competition, first reaching a compromise under which each restrains himself from taking an undue share of altruistic satisfactions, eventually rises to a conciliation under which each takes care that others shall have their opportunities for altruistic satisfactions: the highest altruism being that which ministers not to the egoistic satisfactions of others only but also to their altruistic satisfactions.
Far off as seems such a state, yet every one of the factors counted on to produce it may already be traced in operation among those of highest natures. What now in them is occasional and feeble, may be expected with further evolution to become habitual and strong; and what now characterizes the exceptionally high may be expected eventually to characterize all. For that which the best human nature is capable of, is within the reach of human nature at large.
98. That these conclusions will meet with any considerable acceptance is improbable. Neither with current ideas nor with current sentiments are they sufficiently congruous.
Such a view will not be agreeable to those who lament the spreading disbelief in eternal damnation; nor to those who follow the apostle of brute force in thinking that because the rule of the strong hand was once good it is good for all time; nor to those whose reverence for one who told them to put up the sword, is shown by using the sword to spread his doctrine among heathens. From the ten thousand priests of the religion of love, who are silent when the nation is moved by the religion of hate, will come no sign of assent; nor from their bishops who, far from urging the extreme precept of the master they pretend to follow, to turn the other cheek when one is smitten, vote for acting on the principle–strike lest ye be struck. Nor will any approval be felt by legislators who, after praying to be forgiven their trespasses as they forgive the trespasses of others, forthwith decide to attack those who have not trespassed against them; and who, after a Queen’s Speech has invoked “the blessing of Almighty God” on their councils, immediately provide means for committing political burglary.
But though men who profess Christianity and practice paganism can feel no sympathy with such a view, there are some, classed as antagonists to the current creed, who may not think it absurd to believe that a rationalized version of its ethical principles will eventually be acted upon.
[]See essay “The Origin and Function of Music.”