Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER 6.: Justice - The Principles of Ethics, vol. 1
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CHAPTER 6.: Justice - 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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138. Perhaps the soul of goodness in things evil is by nothing better exemplified than by the good thing, justice, which, in a rudimentary form, exists within the evil thing revenge. Meeting aggression by counteraggression is, in the first place, an endeavor to avoid being suppressed by the aggressor, and to maintain that ability to carry on life which justice implies; and it is, in the second place, an endeavor to enforce justice by establishing an equality with the aggressor: inflicting injuries as great as have been received.
This rude process of balancing claims usually fails to establish equilibrium. Revenge, habitually carried not as far only as suffices to compensate for injuries received but, if possible, farther, evokes re-revenge, which also, if possible, is carried to excess; and so there results chronic wars between tribes and chronic antagonisms between families and between individuals. These commonly continue from generation to generation.
But occasionally there is shown a tendency towards establishment of an equilibrium, by bringing aggression and counteraggression to a definite balance, achieved by measure. Let us look at the evidence.
139. Men of various rude types, as the Australians, constantly show the idea, tacitly asserted and acted upon, that the loss of a life in one tribe must be compensated by the infliction of a death in another tribe; some member of which is known, or supposed, to have caused the said loss of life. And since deaths from disease and old age are, among others, ascribed to the machinations of foes–since equivalent deaths must be inflicted for these also, there have to be frequent balancing of losses. (It seems clear, however, that these revenges and re-revenges cannot be always carried out as alleged. For if not only deaths by violence but deaths by disease entail them the two tribes must soon disappear by mutual extirpation.) Races much more advanced in some cases carry out, not this secret balancing of mortality accounts between tribes, but an overt balancing. This is the case with the Sumatrans, among whom the differences are squared by money payments.
This maintenance of intertribal justice, prompted in part by consciousness of that corporate injury which loss of a member of the tribe entails, and requiring the infliction of an equivalent corporate injury on the offending tribe, has the trait that it is indifferent what member of the offending tribe is killed in compensation: whether it be the guilty man or some innocent man matters not. This conception of intertribal justice is repeated in the conception of inter-family justice. Those early types of social organization in which the family is the unit of composition, show us that in each family there arises an idea allied to the idea of nationality; and there results an allied system of reprisals for the balancing of injuries. The Philippine Islands supply evidence. “In the province of La Isabela, the Negrito and Igorrote tribes keep a regular Dr. and Cr. account of heads.” A further interesting illustration is yielded by the Quianganes of Luzon. From an account of them given by Prof. F. Blumentritt, here is a translated passage:
Blood vengeance is a saaed law with the Quianganes. If one plebeian is killed by another, the matter is settled in a sintple manner by killing the murderer or some one of his family who is likewise a plebeian. But if a prominent man or noble is killed by a plebeian, vengeance on the murderer, a mere plebeian, is not enough; the victim of the sin-offering must be an equivalent in rank. Another nobleman must fall for the murdered noble, for their doctrine is–What kind of an equivalent is it to kill some one who is no better than a dog? Hence the family of the slain noble looks around to see if it cannot find a relative of the murderer to wreak vengeance upon, who is also a noble; while the murderer himself is ignored. If no noble can be found among his relatives, the family of the murdered man wait patiently till some one of them is received into the noble’s caste; then the vendetta is prosecuted, although many years may have elapsed. when the blood-feud is satisfied a reconciliation of the contending factions takes place. In all the feuds the heads of the murdered champions are cut off and taken home, and the head-hunters celebrate the affair festally. The skulls are fixed to the front of the house.
Here the need for inflicting an injury of like amount, and so equalizing the losses, is evidently the dominant need. The Semitic peoples in general furnish kindred facts. Burckhardt writes:
It is a received law among all the Arabs, that whoever sheds the blood of a man, owes blood on that account to the family of the slain person. . . . The lineal descendants of all those who were entitled to revenge at the moment of the man-slaughter, inherit this right from their parents.
And respecting this system of administering rude justice by the balancing of deaths between families, Burckhardt remarks: “I am inclined to believe that this salutary institution has contributed, in a greater degree than any other circumstance, to prevent the warlike tribes of Arabia from exterminating one another . . . the terrible ‘blood-revenge’ renders the most inveterate war nearly bloodless.” The evident implication being that dread of this persistent revenge, makes members of different families and tribes fearful of killing one another. That with the feelings and practices of existing Semites, those of ancient Semites agreed, there is good reason to believe. The authorization of blood-revenge between families, is implied in 1 Kings ii. 31, 33, as well as elsewhere. How among European peoples in early times, kindred conceptions led to kindred usages, need not be shown in detail. The fact that when the system of taking life for life was replaced by the system of compensations, these were adjusted to ranks, so that the murder of a person more valuable to the group he belonged to was compounded for by a larger fine payable to it, shows how dominant was the idea of group injury and how dominant was the idea of equivalence.
140. But these ideas of family injury and family guilt have all along been accompanied by ideas of individual injury and individual guilt: here very distinct and there less distinct.
They are very distinct among some peoples in early social stages, as is shown by the account which Im Thurn gives of the Guiana tribes.
In the absence of anything corresponding to police regulations, their mutual relations in everyday life are very well-ordered by the traditional respect which each individual feels for the rights of the others, and by their dread of adverse public opinion should they act contrary to such traditions. . . . The smallest injury done by one Indian to another, even if unintentional, must be atoned by suffering a similar injury.
And that among the Hebrews there was a balancing of individual injuries is a fact more frequently referred to than is the fact that there was a balancing of family injuries; as witness the familiar “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” prescribed in Deuteronomy xix.
The decline of family responsibility and growth of individual responsibility seem to be concomitants of the change in social organization from the type in which the family is the unit of composition to the type in which the individual is the unit of composition. For, evidently as fast as the family organization dissolves, there cease to be any groups which can be held responsible to one another for injuries inflicted by their members; and as fast as this happens the responsibility must fall on the members themselves. Thus it naturally happens that along with social evolution, there emerges from that unjust form of retaliation, in which the groups more than their component men are answerable, that just form in which the men themselves are answerable: the guilty person takes the consequences of his acts, and does not leave them to be borne by other persons.
An instructive contrast in the literature of the Hebrews supports this conclusion. In the earlier writings, God is represented as punishing not only those who have sinned against him, but their posterity for generations. In the later writings, however, there occurs the prophecy of a time when this shall no longer be. Here is a passage from Jeremiah xxxi. 29, 30: “In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.”
That in European peoples growth of this factor in the conception of justice has gone along with the lapsing of group organization and the rise of individual citizenship, is clear. And it is interesting to observe how strange now seem to us the old idea and sentiment, when we come in contact with them, as in China, where the group organization lingers, and it is thought sufficient if, in compensation for one of our people who has been murdered, a victim is delivered up: no matter whether the victim be the guilty man or not.
141. But while, in the more advanced social stages, maintenance of the relation between conduct and consequence comes to be recognized as required by justice; in early social stages the idea of equality is that which chiefly obtains recognition, under the form of an infliction of equivalent injuries. It could scarcely be otherwise. During times of unceasing strife, with entailed wounds and deaths, this is the only equality admitting of distinct maintenance. Evidently, however, from this practice of balancing deaths and mutilations, there tends to arise one component in the conception of equity.
We may see, too, that the activities of militant life themselves afford scope for some further development of the idea; and occasionally there grow up usages requiring some maintenance of equality, even in the midst of conflict. Speaking of certain early wars recorded in the Indian books, Wheeler remarks that
The sentiment of honor which undoubtedly prevailed amongst the ancient Kshatriyas made them regard an attack upon a sleeping enemy as a heinous crime. . . . Aswatthama even whilst bent upon being revenged on the murderer of his father, awoke his sleeping enemy before slaying him.
And various histories yield occasional signs of the belief that under certain circumstances–especially in personal combats–foes should be placed under something like equal conditions before they are attacked; though, very generally the aim has been the reverse–to attack them under every disadvantage.
That all along the idea of likeness of treatment has entered into human relations at large, but chiefly among members of the same society is manifest. But any considerable development of it has been inconsistent with militant life and militant organization. While war, even when retaliatory has necessarily been a discipline in injustice, by inflicting wounds and death upon individuals who have mostly been guiltless of aggression, it has, at the same time, necessitated within each society a type of organization which has disregarded the requirements of justice; alike by the coercive arrangements within its fighting part, by the tyranny over slaves and serfs forming its industrial part, and by the subjection of women. Hence the broad fact that throughout civilization the relations of citizens have become relatively equitable only as fast as militancy has become less predominant; and that only along with this change has the sentiment of justice become more pronounced.
As yielding converse evidence I must again refer to the habits and sentiments which accompany entire peacefulness. Already in the last chapter but one I have named some peoples whose unaggressiveness towards other peoples is accompanied by unaggressiveness among themselves; and of course this trait is in part ascribable to that regard for others’ claims which justice implies. Already, too, in the last chapter, I have quoted various travelers in proof of the great honesty characterizing tribes of this same class: and of course their honesty may be taken as, in a considerable degree, proof of the prevailing sentiment of justice. Here, to this indirect evidence, I may add evidence of a more direct kind, furnished by the treatment of women and children among them. In The Principles of Sociology, sections 324, 327, I have drawn a contrast between the low status of women among militant savages, as well as the militant semicivilized, and the high status of women among these uncultured but unmilitant peoples; showing that by the Todas, low as they are in sundry respects, the women are relieved from all hard work, and “do not even step out of doors to fetch water or wood”; that the wives of the Bodo and Dhimáls “are free from all outdoor work whatever”; that among the Hos a wife “receives the fullest consideration due to her sex”; and that among the “industrious, honest, and peace-loving Pueblos,” no girl is forced to marry against her will, and “the usual order of courtship is reversed"–facts all of them showing a recognition of that equality of claims which is an essential element in the idea of justice. And here I may add an instance not before mentioned, furnished by the Manansas, who occupy a hill country in which they have taken refuge from the invading Bamangwatos and Makololo. Said one of them to Holub, “We want not the blood of the beasts, much less do we thirst for the blood of men”; and hence they are regarded with great contempt by the more powerful tribes. Holub, however, testifying to their honesty and fidelity, says that “nothing worse seems to be alleged against them than their habitual courtesy and good-nature”; and he adds, “They treat their women in a way that offers a very favorable contrast to either the Bechuanas or the Matabele": that is, they are relatively just to them. Similarly, in The Principles of Sociology, sections 330–32, I have shown how much the way in which children are treated by warlike peoples who exercise over them the powers of life and death, and behave to boys far better than to girls, differs from the way in which they are treated by these unwarlike peoples, whose conduct to them is both kind and equal; girls are dealt with as fairly as boys.
To these indications that the sentiment of justice is marked where the habits are peaceful, something should be added respecting the overt expression of it. Little that is definite can be expected from the uncultured, since both the sentiment and the idea are complex. We may, however, infer that in a Wood-Veddah who cannot conceive that a man should take that which is not his own, there exists a sufficiently clear, if not a formulated, idea of justice; and we may fairly say that this idea is implied in the peaceful Thârus who, when they fly to the hills for refuge, “always leave any arrears of rent that may be due tied up in a rag to the lintel of their deserted house.” Nor can we doubt that both the sentiment and idea, from which result regard for other men’s claims, must be dominant in the Hos, of whom we read that one suspected of theft is not unlikely to commit suicide, as also in the Let-htas, an aboriginal hill tribe in Burma, described as ideally good, among whom one accused by several of an evil act “retires to some secluded spot, there digs his grave and strangles himself.” But it is only when we pass to peoples who have risen to a state of culture high enough to evolve literatures, that we get definite evidence concerning the conception of justice which has arisen, and among these we meet with a very significant fact.
For throughout ancient societies at large, militant in their activities, in their types of structure, and in the universally established system of status of compulsory cooperation, justice is not differentiated in thought from altruism in general. In the literatures of the Chinese, the Persians, the Ancient Indians, the Egyptians, the Hebrews, justice is in the main confounded with generosity and humanity. The maxim commonly supposed to be especially Christian, but which, as we have seen, was in kindred forms enunciated among various peoples in pre-Christian days, shows us this. “Do unto others as ye would that they should do unto you,” is an injunction