Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER 8.: Humanity - The Principles of Ethics, vol. 1
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CHAPTER 8.: Humanity - 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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150. The division between the subject matter of this chapter and that of the last chapter, is in large measure artificial, and defensible only for convenience’ sake. Kindness, pity, mercy which we here group under the general head of humanity, are closely allied to generosity; though less liable than it to be simulated by lower feelings. They are all altruistic sentiments, and have for their common root, sympathy. Hence we may expect to find, as we shall find, that in respect of their relations to other traits of nature, and to type of social life, much the same may be said of them as may be said of generosity.
It may also be said of them, as of generosity, that while in their developed forms they are mainly prompted by mental representations of the pains or pleasures of other beings, they usually contain to the last, as they contain in chief measure at first, the parental feeling–the feeling which is excited by the consciousness of relative incapacity or helplessness–the pleasure felt in taking care of something which tacitly appeals for aid. And the mixed nature of these sentiments hence resulting, adds, as in the case of generosity to the difficulty of generalizing.
A further difficulty which is indeed a sequence of the last, results from the incongruous emotions which many types of men, and especially inferior types, display. Thus, while Moffat says “the Bushmen will kill their children without remorse,” and while Lichtenstein tells us that no other savages betray “so high a degree of brutal ferocity”; Moffat, speaking of their attentions to him when he was ill, says: “I was deeply affected by the sympathy of these poor Bushmen, to whom we were utter strangers.” Agreeing with Burchell, Kolben describes the Hottentots as friendly liberal, benevolent; and yet, from Kolben, as from Sparrman, we learn that they frequently bury infants alive, and leave their aged to die in solitary places. It is so, too, with the Australians. While they abandon their aged to perish, and often destroy their infants, they are represented as fond and indulgent parents, and as often showing kind feelings to travelers. More strange still is the contrast exhibited in Borneo, where, according to Boyle, a Dyak has often been seen rushing “through a captured village, clasping in his arms a young child as tenderly as possible, without relaxing his grasp of its father’s gory head.”
In face of such facts it seems unlikely that our inductions concerning the relations of humane feeling to type of man, and to social type, can be more than rudely approximate.
151. We may fitly begin with illustrations of entire lack of sympathy, now taking the negative shape of simple indifference to others’ suffering, and now taking the positive shape of delight in their suffering. Of the Karens Mason says: “I have stood over an old woman dying alone in a miserable shed, and tried in vain to induce her children and grandchildren, close by, to come to help her.” The lack of feeling shown by the Honduras people in Herrera’s day he illustrates by the refusal of a wife to kill a hen for her sick husband, because, as she said, “her husband would die, and then she should lose him and the hen too.” Various Negro races furnish kindred examples. While, concerning the natives of Loando, Monteiro says that “the Negro is not cruelly inclined” [not actively cruel], yet “he has not the slightest idea of mercy, pity, or compassion": “A fellow creature, or animal, writhing in pain or torture, is to him a sight highiy provocative of merriment and enjoyment.” Duncan and Burton agree in saying that the Dahomans, who “are void either of sympathy or gratitude, even in their own families,” are “in point of parental affection, inferior to brutes.” And then the Ashantis show us this indifference formulated as a principle of conduct. Two of their proverbs, as rendered by Burton, run thus: “If another suffers pain, (to you) a piece of wood suffers.” “The distress of others is no concern of yours; do not trouble yourself about it.”
Passing from negative to positive cruelty, we find in the Damaras illustrations of both. Baines says of them: “Everybody knows that in other tribes the aged and helpless are left to perish, but that a mother should refuse to pull a few bundles of grass to close up a sleeping hut for her sick daughter. . . . is almost beyond belief.” And, according to Galton, a sick man “is pushed out of his hut by his relations away from the fire into the cold; they do all they can to expedite his death.” So with the negative inhumanity of the Dahomans above named may be joined their positive inhumanity; shown, for instance, in the “annual customs” at which numbers of victims are slaughtered to supply a dead king “with fresh attendants in the shadowy world,” and again shown by decorating their buildings with great numbers of human skulls, which they make war to obtain. Of kindred testimonies Holub yields one concerning the Marutse, asserting that “a brutal cruelty is one of the predominant failings of these people”; and another is yielded by Lord Wolseley, who says that “the love of bloodshed and of watching human bodily suffering in any shape is a real natural pleasure to the Negroes of West Africa.”
To these cases of positive inhumanity may be added those displayed by the predatory tribes of North America who, while they discipline their young men by subjecting them to tortures, also torture their enemies. “Wolves of women borne,” as the Prairie Indians are called, hand over “an old man or woman” for torture, “to the squaws and papooses, pour les amuser.” Burton who tells us this, says of the Yutahs that they are “as cruel as their limited intellects allow them to be.” From another authority we learn that the squaws among the Comanches are crueler than the men, and delight in torturing the male prisoners.
152. How often misused words generate misleading thoughts! Savage, originally meaning rude, wild, uncultured, was consequently applied to aboriginal peoples. Behaving treacherously and cruelly to voyagers, as some of them did in retaliation, this trait was regarded as a universal trait; and “savage” came to mean ferocious. Hence the baseless belief that savageness in this sense, characterizes the uncivilized in contrast with the civilized. But the inhumanity which has been shown by the races classed as civilized, is certainly not less, and has often been greater, than that shown by the races classed as uncivilized.
Passing over the multitudinous cruelties which stain the annals of ancient Eastern nations, of whom the Assyrians may be named as a sample; merely naming the doings of the admired Homeric Greeks–liars, thieves, and murderers, as Grote shows–whose heroes revelled in atrocities; and not dwelling on the brutalities of the Spartans or the callousness, if nothing more, of other later Greeks; we may turn to the Romans, whose ruthless civilization, lauded by admirers of conquests, entailed on Europe centuries of misery. Twenty generations of predatory wars, developed a nature of which the savagery has rarely been equalled by that of the worst barbarian races known to us. Though the torture of captives has been practiced by the North American Indians, they have not been in the habit of torturing their slaves. Though there were subject tribes among the Fijians who were liable to be used for cannibal feasts, yet the Fijians did not go to the length of killing hundreds of his fellow slaves along with one who had murdered his master. And if very often the uncivilized reduce to bondage such of the conquered as are not slain, they do not form them into herds, make them work like beasts, and deny them all human privileges; nor do they use any of them to gratify their appetites for bloodshed by combats in arenas–appetites so rampant in Rome that the need for satisfying them was bracketed with the need for satisfying bodily hunger. Using the word “savage” in its modern acceptation, we may fairly say that, leaving the Fijians out of the comparison, the white savages of Rome outdid all which the dark savages elsewhere have done.
Were it not that men are blinded by the theological bias and the bias of patriotism, it would be clear to them that throughout Christian Europe also, during the greater part of its history the inhumanity fostered by the wars between societies, as well as by the feuds within each society, has been carried to extremes beyond those reached by inferior peoples whom we think of as ferocious. Though the atrocities committed by such semicivilized races as the Mexicans and Central Americans, such as skinning victims alive and tearing out their palpitating hearts, may not have been paralleled in Europe; yet Europeans, loudly professing a religion of love, have far exceeded them in the ingenuity of their multitudinous appliances for the infliction of prolonged agonies on heretics, on witches, and on political offenders. And even now though at home the discipline of a peaceful social life has nearly extinguished such inhumanities, yet by our people abroad there are still perpetrated inhuman deeds, if not of these kinds, yet of other kinds. The doings of Australian settlers to the natives, of “beachcombers” and kidnappers in the Pacific, do but exemplify in vivid ways the barbarous conduct of European invaders to native races–races which, when they retaliate, are condemned as “savage.”
153. While men of some varieties appear to be devoid of sympathy and the moral traits which it originates, there are men of other varieties who, inferior to ourselves as they may be in respect of culture, are our equals, and some of them our superiors, in respect of humanity. Here, in the briefest way I string together the testimonies of travelers, whose names will be found in the references.
The Veddahs are “in general gentle and affectionate”; widows are always supported by the community.” Tannese–"The sick are kindly attended to the last.” In New Guinea some tribes of Papuans have shown great humanity to Europeans placed at their mercy. Dyaks–"Humane to a degree which well might shame ourselves.” Malagasy–"Treat one another with more humanity than we do.” Esquimaux–"As between themselves, there can be no people exceeding them in this virtue–kindness of heart.” Iroquois–"Kindness to the orphan, hospitality to all, and a common brotherhood” were enjoined. Chippewas–before the white man came, there was more “charity practiced towards one another; and the widow and orphan were never allowed to live in poverty and want.” Araucanians–No indigent person is to be found . . . the “most incapable of subsisting themselves are decently clothed:” “generous and humane towards the vanquished.” Mandingos–"It is impossible for me to forget the disinterested charity and tender solicitude, with which many of these poor heathens . . . sympathized with me in my sufferings.” And Kolff, speaking of the “continued kindness” of the inhabitants of Luan, says–"I never met with more harmony contentment and toleration, more readiness to afford mutual assistance, more domestic peace and happiness, nor more humanity and hospitality.”
Though, as in the case of the Bushmen, characterized by Moffat in the first section of this chapter, humane actions on some occasions are associated with brutal actions on other occasions, yet in some of the peoples here instanced–the Veddahs, the Esquimaux, and the inhabitants of Luan–there is no such alloy.
154. In the literatures of ancient Eastern peoples, there are numerous expressions of humane sentiments and exhortations to humane actions–utterances of poets and sages, which, though they probably indicate in but small measure the prevailing sentiments, may be taken as in some measure significant of advance consequent on settled social life. Among the early Indian books, the Mahabharata contains the following:
And in the same book, the princess Savitri, urging Yama, the god of death, to give back the soul of her husband which he was carrying away tells the god how noble is the quality of mercy. She argues that to give is more divine than to take; to preserve is mightier than to destroy. The sacred book of the Persians, the Zend-Avesta, appears to have its humane precepts in some measure prompted by the doctrine of metempsychosis–kind treatment of animals being insisted upon partly for that reason; but Sadi, in the Gulistan, has definite injunctions of a relevant kind:
Show mercy to the weak peasant . . . it is criminal to crush the poor and defenceless subjects with the arm of power. . . . Thou who art indifferent to the sufferings of others deservest not to be called a man.
Charitable conduct was insisted upon among the Egyptians too. According to Birch and Duncker, it was enjoined “to give bread to the hungry water to the thirsty clothes to the naked, and shelter to the wanderer”; and the memoirs in the tombs “portray just and charitable lives, protection of the widow and the needy care for the people in times of famine.” Similarly the books of the Chinese sages agree in emphasizing the virtues which flow from fellow-feeling. According to Legge, Lâo-tsze “seems to condemn the infliction of capital punishment; and he deplores the practice of war.” In a like spirit Confucius says that “benevolence is the characteristic element of humanity.” And Mencius too, while alleging that the “feeling of commiseration is essential to man,” remarks that “so is the superior man affected towards animals, that, having seen them alive, he cannot bear to see them die.” To all which has of course to be added the evidence furnished by the sacred books of the Hebrews, in the later of which there are injunctions to show kindness and mercy, not to men only but to animals–injunctions which the European peoples who avowedly accepted them, along with the still more humane doctrine of Jesus, did so little throughout many centuries to practice, even in small measure.
155. Amid perturbing causes and conflicting testimonies, no general conclusions seem trustworthy save those reached by putting side by side the extreme cases. Comparisons so made justify anticipation.
Of the Karens, instanced above as absolutely heartless, it is said that “every tribe is antagonistic to each other,” and there is almost continual war. So too is it with another Indian race, the Afridis. The intensity of the fighting propensity among them is such that “an Afridi generally has a blood feud with nine out of ten of his own relations”; and their lack of all humane sentiment is implied by the statement that “ruthless, cowardly robbery, cold-blooded, treacherous murder, are to an Afridi the salt of life.” Then we have the case of the Dahomans, above shown to be utterly void of sympathy even with their own offspring, and whose absolutely militant social state is so exceptionally indicated by their army of Amazons. The wildest tribes of the North American Indians, too, the Dakotas and the Comanches, whose inhumanity is shown by torturing their prisoners, are tribes of warriors carrying on chronic feuds and perpetual wars.
Of the converse relation, the most marked cases above instanced are those exhibited by certain absolutely peaceful peoples–the Esquimaux, the inhabitants of Luan, the Veddahs. Among such, free as they are from those passions which intertribal enmities exercise and increase, we find an unusual display of that fellow-feeling which results in kindly behavior and benevolent actions.
And here, along with this contrast, may be joined a contrast of kindred nature, between the absence and presence of a trait allied to humane feeling–I mean gratitude; for of gratitude, as of humanity the ultimate root is sympathy. Of the fighting and destructive Fijians Williams says:
Ingratitude deeply and disgracefully stains the character of the Fijian heathen. . . . If one of them, when sick, obtained medicine from me, he thought me bound to give him food; the reception of food he considered as giving him a claim on me for covering; and, that being secured, he deemed himself at liberty to beg anything he wanted, and abuse me if I refused his unreasonable request.
On the other hand, what do we read about the Veddahs, living always in peace? Mr. Atherton describes them as “very grateful for attention or assistance”; and, as quoted by Pridham, Mr. Bennett says that after having given some Veddahs presents and done them a service,
a couple of elephants’ tusks, nearly six feet in length, found their way into his front verandah at night, but the Veddahs who had brought them never gave him an opportunity to reward them. “What a lesson in gratitude and delicacy” he observes, “even a Veddah may teach!”
Truly, indeed, they may teach this, by making in so unobtrusive a way and with great labor, a return greater in value than the obligation; and they may teach more–may teach that where there have not been preached the Christian virtues, these may be shown in a higher degree than where they are ostentatiously professed and perpetually enjoined.