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CHAPTER 14.: Summary of Inductions - 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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Summary of Inductions
188. There the data are few and exact, definite conclusions can be drawn; but where they are numerous and inexact, the conclusions drawn must be proportionately indefinite. Pure mathematics exemplifies the one extreme, and sociology the other. The phenomena presented by individual life are highly complex, and still more complex are the phenomena presented by the life of aggregated individuals; and their great complexity is rendered still greater by the multiformity and variability of surrounding conditions.
To the difficulties in the way of generalization hence arising, must be added the difficulties arising from uncertainty of the evidence–the doubtfulness, incompleteness, and conflicting natures, of the statements with which we have to deal. Not all travelers are to be trusted. Some are bad observers, some are biased by creed or custom, some by personal likings or dislikings; and all have but imperfect opportunities of getting at the truth. Similarly with historians. Very little of what they narrate is from immediate observation. The greater part of it comes through channels which color, and obscure, and distort; while everywhere party feeling, religious bigotry, and the sentiment of patriotism, cause exaggerations and suppressions. Testimonies concerning moral traits are hence liable to perversion.
Many of the peoples grouped under the same name present considerable diversities of character: instance the Australians, of whom it is remarked that some tribes are quiet and tractable while others are boisterous and difficult to deal with. Further, the conduct, sentiments, and ideas of native peoples often undergo such changes that travelers between whose visits many years have elapsed, give quite different accounts. The original feelings and beliefs are frequently obscured by missionary influences, and, in a still greater degree, by contact with white traders and settlers. From all parts of the world we get proofs that aborigines are degraded by intercourse with Europeans. Here, then, are further causes which distort the evidence.
Yet again there are the complications consequent on changes of habitats and occupations. In this place tribes are forced into antagonism with their neighbors, and in that place they are led into quiet lives: one of the results being that conceptions and feelings appropriate to an antecedent state, surviving for a long time in a subsequent state, appear incongruous with it.
Thus we must expect to meet with anomalies, and must be content with conclusions which hold true on the average.
189. Before we can fully understand the significance of the inductions drawn, we must reconsider the essential nature of social cooperation. As we pointed out in section 48, from the sociological point of view “ethics becomes nothing else than a definite account of the forms of conduct that are fitted to the associated state”; and in subsequent sections it was made clear that, rising above those earliest groups in which the individuals simply live in contiguity without mutual interference and without mutual aid, the associated state can be maintained only by effectual cooperation: now for external defense, now for internal sustentation. That is to say the prosperity of societies depends, other things equal, on the extents to which there are fulfilled in them the conditions to such cooperation. Whence, through survival of the fittest, it follows that principles of conduct implying observance of these conditions, and sentiments enlisted in support of such principles, become dominant; while principles of conduct which concern only such parts of the lives of individuals as do not obviously affect social cooperation, do not acquire sanctions of such pronounced and consistent kinds.
This appears to be the explanation of the fact which must have struck many readers of the last two chapters, that the ideas and sentiments respecting temperance and chastity, display less intelligible relations to social type and social development, than do the ideas and sentiments concerning cooperative conduct, internal and external. For if, scattered throughout the community there are men who eat or drink to excess, such evils as are entailed on the community are indirect. There is, in the first place, no direct interference with military efficiency so long as within the armed force there is no such drunkenness or gluttony as sensibly affects discipline. And in the second place, there is no direct interference with the process of social sustentation, so long as one who eats or drinks to excess does not aggress upon his neighbor or in any way inconvenience him. While erring in either of these ways, a man may respect the persons and property of his fellows and may invariably fulfill his contracts–may, therefore, obey the fundamental principles of social cooperation. Whatever detriment society receives from his conduct arises from the deterioration in one of its units. Much the same thing holds with disregard of chastity; there is no necessary or immediate interference with the carrying on of cooperations, either external or internal; but the evil caused is an ultimate lowering of the population in number or quality. In both these cases the social consciousness, not distinctly awakened to the social results, does not always generate consistent social sentiments.
It is otherwise with those kinds of conduct which directly and obviously transgress the conditions to social cooperation, external or internal. Cowardice, or insubordination, diminishes in a very obvious way the efficiency of a fighting body; and hence, in respect of these, there are readily established consistent ideas and sentiments. So, too, the murdering or assaulting of fellow citizens, the taking away their goods, the breaking of contracts with them, are actions which so conspicuously conflict with the actions constituting social life, that reprobation of them is with tolerable regularity produced. Hence, though there are wide divergences of opinion and of feeling relative to such classes of offenses in different societies, yet we find these related to divergences in the types of social activities–one or other set of reprobations being pronounced according as one or other set of activities is most dominant.
Taken together, the preceding chapters show us a group of moral traits proper to a life of external enmity. Where the predominant social cooperations take the form of constant fighting with adjacent peoples, there grows up a pride in aggression and robbery, revenge becomes an imperative duty, skilful lying is creditable, and (save in small tribes which do not develop) obedience to despotic leaders and rulers is the greatest virtue; at the same time there is a contempt for industry and only such small regard for justice within the society as is required to maintain its existence. On the other hand, where the predominant social cooperations have internal sustentation for their end, while cooperations against external enemies have either greatly diminished or disappeared, unprovoked aggression brings but partial applause or none at all; robbery, even of enemies, ceases to be creditable; revenge is no longer thought a necessity; lying is universally reprobated; justice in the transactions of citizens with one another is insisted upon; political obedience is so far qualified that submission to a despot is held contemptible; and industry, instead of being considered disgraceful, is considered as, in some form or other, imperative on every one.
Of course the varieties of nature inherited by different kinds of men from the past, the effects of customs sanctified by age, the influences of religious creeds, together with the circumstances peculiar to each society complicate and qualify these relations; but in their broad outlines they are sufficiently clear–as clear as we can expect them to be.
190. Hence the fact that the ethical sentiments prevailing in different societies, and in the same society under different conditions, are sometimes diametrically opposed. Multitudinous proofs of this truth have been given in preceding chapters, but it will be well here to enforce it by a series of antitheses.
Among ourselves, to have committed a murder disgraces for all time a man’s memory, and disgraces for generations all who are related to him; but by the Pathâns a quite unlike sentiment is displayed. One who had killed a Mollah (priest), and failed to find refuge from the avengers, said at length: “I can but be a martyr. I will go and kill a Sahib.” He was hanged after shooting a sergeant, perfectly satisfied “at having expiated his offense.”
The prevailing ethical sentiment in England is such that a man who should allow himself to be taken possession of and made an unresisting slave, would be regarded with scorn; but the people of Drekete, a slave-district of Fiji, “said it was their duty to become food and sacrifices for the chiefs,” and “that they were honored by being considered adequate to such a noble task.”
Less extreme, though akin in nature, is the contrast between the feelings which our own history has recorded within these few centuries. In Elizabeth’s time, Sir John Hawkins initiated the slave trade, and in commemoration of the achievement was allowed to put in his coat of arms “a demimoor proper bound with a cord": the honorableness of his action being thus assumed by himself and recognized by Queen and public. But in our days, the making slaves of men, called by Wesley “the sum of all villainies,” is regarded with detestation; and for many years we maintained a fleet to suppress the slave trade.
Peoples who have emerged from the primitive family-and-clan organization, hold that one who is guilty of a crime must himself bear the punishment, and it is thought extreme injustice that the punishment should fall upon anyone else; but our remote ancestors thought and felt differently as do still the Australians, whose “first great principle with regard to punishment is, that all the relatives of a culprit, in the event of his not being found, are implicated in his guilt": “the brothers of the criminal conceive themselves to be quite as guilty as he is.”
By the civilized, the individualities of women are so far recognized that the life and liberty of a wife are not supposed to be bound up with those of her husband; and she now having obtained a right to exclusive possession of property contends for complete independence, domestic and political. But it is, or was, otherwise in Fiji. The wives of the Fijian chiefs consider it a sacred duty to suffer strangulation on the deaths of their husbands. A woman who had been rescued by Williams “escaped during the night, and, swimming across the river, and presenting herself to her own people, insisted on the completion of the sacrifice which she had in a moment of weakness reluctantly consented to forgo”; and Wilkes tells of another who loaded her rescuer “with abuse, and ever afterward manifested the most deadly hatred towards him.”
Here, and on the Continent, the religious prohibition of theft and the legal punishment of it, are joined with a strong social reprobation; so that the offense of a thief is never condoned. In Beloochistan, however, quite contrary ideas and feelings are current. There “a favorite couplet is to the effect that the Biloch who steals and murders, secures heaven to seven generations of ancestors.”
In this part of the world reprobation of untruthfulness is strongly expressed, alike by the gentleman and the laborer. But in many parts of the world it is not so. In Blantyre, for example, according to Macdonald, “to be called a liar is rather a compliment.”
English sentiment is such that the mere suspicion of incontinence on the part of a woman is enough to blight her life; but there are peoples whose sentiments entail no such effect, and in some cases a reverse effect is produced: “unchastity is with the Wotyaks a virtue.”
So that in respect of all the leading divisions of human conduct, different races of men, and the same races at different stages, entertain opposite beliefs and display opposite feelings.
191. I was about to say that the evidence set forth in foregoing chapters, brought to a focus in the above section, must dissipate once for all the belief in a moral sense as commonly entertained. But a long experience prevents me from expecting this. Among men at large, lifelong convictions are not to be destroyed either by conclusive arguments or by multitudinous facts.
Only to those who are not by creed or cherished theory committed to the hypothesis of a supernaturally created humanity will the evidence prove that the human mind has no originally implanted conscience. Though, as shown in my first work, Social Statics, I once espoused the doctrine of the intuitive moralists (at the outset in full, and in later chapters with some implied qualifications), yet it has gradually become clear to me that the qualifications required practically obliterate the doctrine as enunciated by them. It has become clear to me that if, among ourselves, the current belief is that a man who robs and does not repent will be eternally damned, while an accepted proverb among the Bilochs is that “God will not favor a man who does not steal and rob,” it is impossible to hold that men have in common an innate perception of right and wrong.
But now, while we are shown that the moral-sense doctrine in its original form is not true, we are also shown that it adumbrates a truth, and a much higher truth. For the facts cited, chapter after chapter, unite in proving that the sentiments and ideas current in each society become adjusted to the kinds of activity predominating in it. A life of constant external enmity generates a code in which aggression, conquest, revenge, are inculcated, while peaceful occupations are reprobated. Conversely a life of settled internal amity generates a code inculcating the virtues conducing to harmonious cooperation–justice, honesty, veracity, regard for other’s claims. And the implication is that if the life of internal amity continues unbroken from generation to generation, there must result not only the appropriate code, but the appropriate emotional nature–a moral sense adapted to the moral requirements. Men so conditioned will acquire to the degree needful for complete guidance, that innate conscience which the intuitive moralists erroneously suppose to be possessed by mankind at large. There needs but a continuance of absolute peace externally and a rigorous insistence on nonaggression internally to ensure the molding of men into a form naturally characterized by all the virtues.
This general induction is reinforced by a special induction. Now as displaying this high trait of nature, now as displaying that, I have instanced those various uncivilized peoples who, inferior to us in other respects, are morally superior to us; and have pointed out that they are one and all free from intertribal antagonisms. The peoples showing this connection are of various races. In the Indian hills, we find some who are by origin Mongolian, Kolarian, Dravidian; in the forests of Malacca, Burma, and in secluded parts of China, exist such tribes of yet other bloods; in the East Indian Archipelago, are some belonging to the Papuan stock; in Japan there are the amiable Ainos, who “have no traditions of internecine strife”; and in North Mexico exists yet another such people unrelated to the rest, the Pueblos. No more conclusive proof could be wished than that supplied by these isolated groups of men who, widely remote in locality and differing in race, are alike in the two respects, that circumstances have long exempted them from war and that they are now organically good.
The goodness which may be attained to under these conditions excites the wonder of those who know only such goodness as is attained by peoples who plume themselves on their superiority. Witness General Fytche’s comment on the report of Mr. O’Riley concerning the Let-htas: “The account given by him of their appreciation of moral goodness, and the purity of their lives, as compared with the semicivilized tribes amongst whom they dwell, almost savors of romance.”
May we not reasonably infer that the state reached by these small uncultured tribes may be reached by the great cultured nations, when the life of internal amity shall be unqualified by the life of external enmity?
192. That the contemplation of such an eventuality will be agreeable to all, I do not suppose. To the many who, in the East, tacitly assume that Indians exist for the benefit of Anglo-Indians, it will give no pleasure. Such a condition will probably seem undesirable to men who hire themselves out to shoot other men to order, asking nothing about the justice of their cause, and think themselves absolved by a command from Downing Street. As, among anthropophagi, the suppression of man-eating is not favorably regarded; so in sociophagous nations like ours, not much pleasure is caused by contemplating the cessation of conquests. No strong desire for such a state can be felt by our leading General, who says that the duties of a soldier “are the noblest that fall to man’s lot,” and whose motto is–"Man is as a wolf towards his fellow man.”
Nor, strange though it appears, will this prospect be rejoiced over even by those who preach “peace and goodwill to men”; for the prospect is not presented in association with their creed. The belief that humanity can be made righteous only by acceptance of the Christian scheme, is irreconcilable with the conclusion that humanity may be molded into an ideal form by the continued discipline of peaceful cooperation. Better far to our theologians seems the doctrine that man, intrinsically bad, can be made good only by promises of heaven and threats of hell, than does the doctrine that man, not intrinsically bad, will become good under conditions which exercise the higher feelings and give no scope for the lower. Facts which apparently show that unchristianized human nature is incurably vicious, give to them satisfaction as justifying their religion; and evidence tending to prove the contrary is repugnant as showing that their religion is untrue.
And it is by no means certain that their attitude is to be regretted; for there has to be maintained a congruity between the prevailing cult and the social state and the average nature. If any one says that the men who form the land-grabbing nations of Europe, cannot be ruled in their daily lives by an ethical sentiment, but must have it enforced by the fear of damnation, I am not prepared to contradict him. If a writer who, according to those who know represents truly the natures of the gentlemen we send abroad, sympathetically describes one of them as saying to soldiers shooting down tribes fighting for their independence–"Give ’em hell, men”; I think those are possibly right who contend that such natures are to be kept in check only by fear of a God who will “give ’em hell” if they misbehave. It is, I admit, a tenable supposition that belief in a deity who calmly looks on while myriads of his creatures suffer eternal torments, may fitly survive during a state of the world in which naked barbarians and barbarians in skins are being overrun by barbarians in broadcloth.
But to the few who, looking back on the changes which past thousands of years have witnessed, look forward to the kindred changes which future thousands of years may be expected to bring, it will be a satisfaction to contemplate a humanity so adapted to harmonious social life that all needs are spontaneously and pleasurably fulfilled by each without injury to others.
Endnotes to Part II
THE ETHICS OF INDIVIDUAL LIFE