Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER 7.: Generosity - The Principles of Ethics, vol. 1
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CHAPTER 7.: Generosity - 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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142. To bring into intelligible order the kinds of conduct ordinarily grouped under the name generosity is difficult; partly because much which passes under the name is not really prompted by generous feeling, and partly because generosity rightly so-called is complex in nature and its composition variable.
Generosity is a double-rooted sentiment: one of its roots being very ancient and the other very modern. Its ancient root is the philoprogenitive instinct, which, as manifested throughout a large part of the animal kingdom, leads to the sacrifice of self for the benefit of offspring. This form of generosity coexists in many creatures with absolute disregard of the welfare of all save offspring: conspicuously so in the Carnivora and less conspicuously so in the Herbivora. The relatively modern root of generosity is sympathy which is shown by some of the higher gregarious creatures, as the dog, in considerable degrees. This trait is more variously and largely displayed by human beings, and especially by certain higher types of them. The earlier factor in the sentiment is personal and narrow, while the later is impersonal and broad.
In mankind, generosity ordinarily combines the two. The love of the helpless, which constitutes the essential part of the philoprogenitive instinct, is, nearly always, associated with fellow feeling: the parent sympathizes with the pleasures and pains of the child. Conversely the feeling which prompts a generous act of one adult to another, commonly includes an element derived from the early instinct. The individual aided is conceived in a distinct or vague way as an object of pity; and pity is a sentiment closely allied to the parental, since it is drawn out towards some being relatively helpless or unfortunate or suffering.
To this mixed nature of the sentiment as commonly displayed, is due the confusion in its manifestations among races in different stages; and to it must consequently be ascribed the perplexities which stand in the way of satisfactory inductions.
143. As a preliminary it should be further remarked that the sentiment of generosity, even in its developed form, is simpler than the sentiment of justice; and hence is earlier manifested. The one results from mental representations of the pleasures or pains of another or others–is shown in acts instigated by the feelings which these mental representations arouse. But the other implies representations, not simply of pains or pleasures, but also, and chiefly representations of the conditions which are required for, or are conducive to, the avoidance of pains or procuring of pleasures. Hence it includes a set of mental actions superposed on the mental actions constituting generosity.
Recognition of this truth makes comprehensible the order of their succession in the course of civilization. And this order will be rendered still more comprehensible if we remember that generosity among people of low intelligence, often results from inability to represent to themselves distinctly the consequences of the sacrifices they make–they are improvident.
144. First to be dealt with is that pseudo-generosity mainly composed of other feelings than benevolent ones. The wish for the welfare of another is, indeed, rarely without alloy: there are mostly present other motives–chiefly the desire for applause. But to the lowest of the actions apparently caused by generosity these other motives form the predominant or sole prompters instead of the subordinate prompters.
The display of hospitality among uncivilized and barbarous peoples furnishes striking examples. Of the Bedouin “at once rapacious and profuse,” and who is scrupulously hospitable, Palgrave says: “He has in general but little to offer, and for that very little he not unfrequently promises himself an ample retribution, by plundering his last night’s guest when a few hours distant on his morning journey.” Similarly of the Kirghiz, we are told by Atkinson that a chief who does not molest travelers while with him, sends his followers to rob them on their march. In East Africa, too, a chief of Urori “will entertain his guests hospitably as long as they remain in his village, but he will plunder them the moment they leave it.” Still more startling are the apparent incongruities of conduct among the Fijians. “The same native who within a few yards of his house would murder a coming or departing guest for sake of a knife or a hatchet, will defend him at the risk of his own life as soon as he has passed his threshold.” And then how little relation there is between generosity rightly so-called and hospitality in such cases, is further shown by the statement of Jackson that the Europeans who have lived long among Fijians have become hospitable: “a practice which they have adopted through the example of these savages.”
Among the uncivilized at large, of whatever type, hospitality of a less treacherous kind, prompted apparently by usage the origin of which is difficult to understand, is constantly displayed. “‘Custom’ enjoins the exercise of hospitality on every Aino. They receive all strangers as they received me, giving them of their best, placing them in the most honorable place, bestowing gifts upon them, and, when they depart, furnishing them with cakes of boiled millet.” We read that among the Australians, the laws of hospitality require that strangers should be perfectly unmolested during their sojourn. Jackson says that according to the rules of Samoan hospitality, strangers are well treated, receiving the best of everything. According to Lichtenstein “the Caffres are hospitable”; and that “the hospitality of the Africans has been noticed by almost every traveler who has been much among them” is remarked by Winterbottom. Of the tribes inhabiting North America Morgan says: “One of the most attractive features of Indian society was the spirit of hospitality by which it was pervaded. Perhaps no people ever carried this principle to the same degree of universality as did the Iroquois.” So, too, Angas tells us of the New Zealanders that they are very hospitable to strangers.
By this last people we are shown in how large a measure the love of applause is a factor in apparent generosity. The New Zealanders, writes Thomson, have a great admiration of profuseness, and desire to be considered liberal at their feasts; and elsewhere he says that by them “heaping up riches, unless to squander, was disgraceful.” To an allied feeling may be ascribed the trait presented by the people of St. Augustine Island, among whom the dead were judged and sent to happiness or misery according to their “goodness” or “badness”; and “goodness meant one whose friends had given a grand funeral feast, and badness a person whose stingy friends provided nothing at all.” To this peremptory desire for approval is in some cases due an expenditure, on the occasion of a death or a marriage, so great that the family is impoverished by it for years; and in one case, if not in more cases, female infanticide is committed with the view of avoiding the ruinous expense which a daughter’s marriage entails.
To the prompters of pseudo-generosity thus disclosed, may be added another disclosed by the habits of civilized settlers in remote regions. Leading solitary lives as such men do, the arrival of a stranger brings an immense relief from monotony and gratifies the craving for social intercourse. Hence it happens that travelers and sportsmen are not only welcomed but even pressed to stay.
Manifestly, then, the sentiment which in many cases instigates hospitality to visitors and feasts to friends, is a proethical sentiment. There goes with it little, or none, of the ethical sentiment proper.
145. We find, however, among some of the most uncivilized peoples, displays of a generosity which is manifestly genuine–sometimes, indeed, find displays of it greater than among the civilized.
Burchell tells us even of the Bushmen that towards one another they “exercise the virtues of hospitality and generosity; often in an extraordinary degree.” So, too, he says that the Hottentots are very hospitable among themselves, and often to people of other tribes; and Kolben expresses the belief that “In Munificence and Hospitality the Hottentots, perhaps, go beyond all the other Nations upon Earth.” Of the East Africans, again, Livingstone says: “The real politeness with which food is given by nearly all the interior tribes, who have not had much intercourse with Europeans, makes it a pleasure to accept.” Though, in the following extract concerning the people of Loango, there is proof that love of approbation is a strong prompter to generous actions, yet there seems evidence that there is mingled with it a true sentiment of generosity.
They are always ready to share the little they have with those whom they know to be in need. lf they have been fortunate in hunting and fishing, or have procured something rare, they immediately run and tell their friends and neighbors, taking to each his share. They would choose to stint themselves rather than not give them this proof of their friendship. . . . They call the Europeans close fists, because they give nothing for nothing.
Other races, some lower and some higher, yield like facts. We read that the Australian natives who have been successful in hunting always, and without any remark, supply those of their number who have been unsuccessful with a share of their meal. The account given by Vancouver of the Sandwich Islanders, shows that, in their generosity towards strangers, they were like most uncivilized peoples before bad treatment by Europeans had demoralized them. He says: “Our reception and entertainment here [at Hawaii] by these unlettered people, who in general have been distinguished by the appellation of savages, was such as, I believe, is seldom equalled by the most civilized nations of Europe.” Brett describes the Guiana tribes as “passionately fond of their children; hospitable to every one; and, among themselves, generous to a fault.” These instances I may reinforce by one from a remote region. Bogle stayed while in Tibet with the Lama’s family–that is, with his relations, at whose hands he received much kindness. When he offered them presents they refused to accept them, saying, “You. . . are come from a far country; it is our business to render your stay agreeable; why should you make us presents?”
146. Various of the uncivilized display generosity in other ways than by hospitality and in ways which exhibit the sentiment more clearly detached from other sentiments. Illustrations are furnished by that very inferior race, the Australians. They were always willing to show Mr. Eyre where water was to be had, and, even unsolicited, would help his men to dig for it. Their kindness in this respect seems the more remarkable on remembering how difficult it was for them to find a proper supply for themselves. Sturt tells us that a friendly native has been known to interpose, at great personal risk, on behalf of travelers whom a hostile tribe was about to attack. With an adjacent race it was the same. During troubled times in Tasmania, the lives of white people were in several instances “saved by the native women, who would often steal away from the tribe, and give notice of an intended attack.” Under another form, much generosity of feeling is shown by the Tongans. Mariner writes of them that
They never exult in any feats of bravery they may have performed, but, on the contrary, take every opportunity of praising their adversaries; and this a man will do, although his adversary may be plainly a coward, and will make an excuse for him, such as the unfavorableness of the opportunity or great fatigue, or ill state of health, or badness of his ground, &c.
These, and many kindred facts, make it clear that the name savages,” as applied to the uncivilized, misleads us; and they suggest that the name might with greater propriety be applied to many among ourselves and our European neighbors.
147. If, as we see, under the form of hospitality enforced by custom, in which it is largely simulated, or under forms in which it is more manifestly genuine, generosity is widely prevalent among peoples who have not emerged from low stages of culture; we need not be surprised to find expressions of generous sentiments, and injunctions to perform generous actions, in the early literatures of races which have risen to higher stages. The ancient Indian books furnish examples. Here, from the Rig-Veda, is an extract exhibiting the interested or nonsympathetic prompting of generosity: “The givers of largesses abide high in the sky; the givers of horses live with the sun; the givers of gold enjoy immortality; the givers of raiment prolong their lives.” Similarly Rig-Veda X. 107, eulogizes liberality to priests.
I regard as the king of men him who first presented a gift. . . . The wise man makes largesse, giving his breastplate. Bountiful men neither die nor fall into calamity; they suffer neither wrong nor pain. Their Iiberality confers on them this whole world as well as heaven.
In the Code of Manu, too, we read that strangers are to be allowed to sojourn and be well entertained. He must eat before the householder (iii. 105). “The honoring of a guest confers wealth, reputation, life, and heaven” (iii. 106; iv 29) and delivers from guilt (iii. 98). And kindred reasons for hospitality are given by Apastamba: The reception of guests is rewarded by ``immunity from misfortunes, and heavenly bliss” (ii. 3, 6, 6). “He who entertains guests for one night obtains earthly happiness, a second night gains the middle air, a third heavenly bliss, a fourth the world of unsurpassable bliss; many nights procure endless worlds” (ii. 3, 7, 16). The literature of the Persians contains kindred thoughts. In the Shâyast, the clothing of the soul in the next world is said to be formed “out of almsgivings.” Passages in the Gulistan enjoin liberality while reprobating asceticism: “The liberal man who eats and bestows, is better than the religious man who fasts and hoards. Whosoever hath forsaken luxury to gain the approbation of mankind, hath fallen from lawful into unlawful voluptuousness.” And in the same work we have a more positive injunction to be generous, but still associated with self-interest as a motive: “Do good, and do not speak of it, and assuredly thy kindness will be recompensed to thee.”
Passing to China we find in Confucius various kindred injunctions; dissociated, too, from promptings of lower motives. Here are examples:
Now the man of perfect virtue, wishing to be established himself, seeks also to establish others; wishing to be enlarged himself, he seeks also to enlarge others.
The Master said, “Though a man have abilities as admirable as those of the duke of Chow, yet if he be proud and, niggardly those other things are really not worth being looked at.
When any of his [Confucius’s] friends died, if he had no relations who could be depended on for the necessary offices, he would say “I will bury him.
That in the sacred books of the Hebrews are to be found kindred admonitions, here joined with promises of supernatural rewards and there without such promises, needs no saying. It should be added, however, that we are not enabled by these quoted passages to compare the characters displayed by Indians, Persians, Chinese, or Hebrews, with the characters described in the foregoing accounts travelers give us of the uncivilized; for these passages come from the writings of exceptional men–poets and sages. But though violent reaction against an all-pervading selfishness may mostly be the cause of exaggerated expressions of generosity, we must admit that the possibility of such exaggerated expressions goes for something.
148. Concerning generosity among European peoples, as exhibited in history at successive stages of their progress, no very definite statements can be made. We have evidence that in early days there existed much the same feelings and practices as those now existing among savages–practices simulating generosity. Tacitus says of the primitive Germans: “No nation indulges more profusely in entertainments and hospitality. To exclude any human being from their roof is thought impious.” And these usages and ideas went, as we know along with utter lack of sympathy: they implied the generosity of display sanctified by tradition.
Throughout the Middle Ages and down to comparatively recent times, we see, along with a decreasing generosity of display little more than the generosity prompted by hope of buying divine favor. The motive has been all along expressed in the saying, “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth to the Lord” (Proverbs xix. 17); and the Lord is expected to pay good interest. Christianity even in its initial form, represents the giving of alms as a means of salvation; and throughout many centuries of Christian history the giving of alms had little other motive. Just as they built chapels to compound for crimes and manumitted slaves to make peace with God; so, beyond a desire for the applause which followed largesse, the only motive of the rich for performing kind actions was an other-worldly motive–a dread of hell and wish for heaven. As Mr. Lecky remarks, “Men gave money to the poor, simply and exclusively for their own spiritual benefit, and the welfare of the sufferer was altogether foreign to their thoughts.” How utterly alien to generosity rightly so-called, was the feeling at work, is shown by the unblushing, and indeed self-satisfied, avowal made by Sir Thomas Browne in the passage which Mr. Lecky quotes from him–"I give no alms to satisfy the hunger of my brother, but to fulfill and accomplish the will and command of my God.”
In modern days, however, we may recognize a growing proportion of true generosity–the ethical sentiment as distinguished from the proethical sentiment. Though there is still in predominant amount that transcendental self-seeking which does good here merely to get happiness hereafter–though there are even multitudes who, in the spirit of Sir Thomas Browne, feel no shame in the avowal that their kindnesses to others are prompted by the wish to please God more than by the wish to further human welfare; yet there are many who, in conferring benefits, are prompted mainly and others who are prompted wholly by fellow feeling with those whom they aid. And beyond the manifestations of this sentiment of true generosity in private actions, there are occasionally manifestations of it in public actions; as when the nation made a sacrifice of twenty millions of money that the West Indian slaves might be emancipated.
That this development of true generosity has been consequent on increase of sympathy and that sympathy has gained scope for exercise and growth with the advance to an orderly and amicable social life, scarcely needs saying.
149. For reasons given at the outset, it is difficult to bring the various manifestations of pseudo-generosity and generosity proper, into generalizations of a definite kind. And the impediment due to the complexity and variable composition of the emotion prompting generous acts, is made greater by the inconsistency of the traits which men, and especially the lower types of men, present. Unbalanced as their natures are, they act in quite opposite ways according to the impulse which is for the moment in possession of consciousness. Angas tells us that “infanticide is frequent among the New Zealanders.” Yet “both parents are almost idolatrously fond of their children”; and while Cook described them as “implacable towards their enemies,” Thomson observed that they were kind to their slaves. Other instances are furnished by the Negro races. Reade says that in parts of equatorial Africa where there is the greatest treachery there are also strong marks of affectionate friendship. Concerning the East Africans Burton writes: “When childhood is passed, the father and son become natural enemies, after the manner of wild beasts. Yet they are a sociable race, and the sudden loss of relatives sometimes leads from grief to hypochondria and insanity.” Lacking those higher emotions which serve to coordinate the lower, these last severally determine the actions now this way and now that, according to the incidents of the moment. Hence only by comparison of extremes are we likely to discover any significant relations of facts.
In the accounts of those most ferocious savages, the cannibal Fijians, who worship cannibal gods–savages whose titles of honor are “the waster of” such a coast, “the depopulator of” such an island, and who committed atrocities which Williams said “I dare not record here,” no mention is made of any generosity save that which results from display. Among the predatory red men of North America, the Dakotas may be singled out as those who, in the greatest degree, show the aggressiveness and revengefulness fostered by a life of chronic war–men by whom prisoners, especially aged ones, are handed over to the squaws to torture for their amusement. Here generosity is referred to only to note its absence: the Dakota is ungenerous, says Burton–never gives except to get more in return. Similarly of the Nagas, ever fighting, village with village as well as with neighboring races, carrying blood feuds to extremes, dreaded as robbers and murderers, and always mutilating their dead enemies, we read that “they are totally devoid of a spark of generosity and will not give the most triffing articles without receiving remuneration.”
Of the converse connection of traits the evidence is usually not clear, for the reason that the generosity ascribed to tribes which do not carry on perpetual hostilities is mostly of the kind shown in hospitality which is always open to the interpretation of being due in part, if not wholly to usage or love of display Thus Colquhoun, who talks of the “hospitable aborigines” and says “it is quite refreshing to turn from the Christian Anamites to the less repulsive, if heathen, hill-tribes” (the Steins who inhabit “fever-stricken haunts,” where they can lead peaceful lives), says that “amongst them a stranger is certain of a welcome; the fatted pig or fowl is at once killed, the loving cup produced.” Similarly in his earlier work, Across Chrysê, Mr. Colquhoun, speaking of indigenous peoples here and there islanded among the conquering Tartars, speaks of them as “very pleasant in their ways, kind and hospitable”; and afterward he quotes the impressions of a resident French missionary who spoke of the peaceful native inhabitants as “simple, hospitable, honest,” having “le bon coeur,” while of the governing Chinese, and especially the military mandarins, his verdict was–"être mandarin, c’est être voleur, brigand!” Of like meaning is the contrast drawn by the Abbé Favre in his Account of the Wild Tribes of the Malayan Peninsula. On the one hand he describes the conquering race, the Malays, as being full of predatory vices, lying, cheating, plundering–"no man can entrust them with anything”; and, so far from being hospitable, using every means to fleece the traveler. On the other hand of the aboriginal peoples, who “fled to the fastnesses of the interior, where they have since continued in a savage state,” he tells us that their disputes are settled “without fighting or malice,” that they are “entirely inoffensive,” and “generally kind, affable, inclined to gratitude and to beneficence,” “liberal and generous.” Briefly contrasting the two, he says–"The actions of Malays generally show low sentiments and a sordid feeling; but the Jakuns are naturally proud and generous”; and then he asks, “Whence then comes so remarkable a difference?” As a cause he comments on the “plundering and bloody actions” of the piratical Malays; while the Jakuns have been led into quiet lives in their fastnesses. Let me add, lastly the case of the peaceful and “simple Arafuras,” of whom the French resident, M. Bik, says: “They have a very excusable ambition to gain the name of rich men, by paying the debts of their poorer fellow villagers. . . . Thus the only use they make of their riches is to employ it in settling differences.”