Front Page Titles (by Subject) PART III.: THE ETHICS OF INDIVIDUAL LIFE - The Principles of Ethics, vol. 1
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PART III.: THE ETHICS OF INDIVIDUAL LIFE - 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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THE ETHICS OF INDIVIDUAL LIFE
193. The foregoing fourteen chapters have shown that ethical sentiments and ideas are, in each place and time, determined by the local form of human nature, the social antecedents, and the surrounding circumstances. Hence the question arises–How from all which is special and temporary shall we separate that which is general and permanent?
We have been shown, if not overtly yet tacitly, that the very language used in speaking of moral questions, so involves the current beliefs that men are scarcely able to think away from them: the words used are question-begging words. “Duty” and “obligation,” for example, carry with them the thought of obedience, subordination, subjection to authority; and thus, imply that right and wrong conduct are not such by their intrinsic natures, but are such by their extrinsic enactments. How, then, shall we free ourselves from the influence of the particular code we have been brought up under, and the misleading connotations of our terms?
Evidently we must for a time ignore established doctrines and expressions. We must go direct to the facts and study them afresh, apart from all preconceptions. I do not mean that the old ideas and the old words are to be rejected. Far from it. We shall find that the greater part of them are well warranted and have to be reinstated: in some cases with added authority and in other cases with more or less of qualification.
Ethical ideas and sentiments have to be considered as parts of the phenomena of life at large. We have to deal with man as a product of evolution, with society as a product of evolution, and with moral phenomena as products of evolution. Let no one anticipate any loss of authority. Instead of finding that evolutionary ethics gives countenance to lower forms of conduct than those at present enjoined, we shall find that, contrariwise, evolutionary ethics is intolerant of much which those who profess to have the highest guidance think harmless or justifiable.
194. Integration being the primary process of evolution, we may expect that the aggregate of conceptions constituting ethics enlarges, at the same time that its components acquire heterogeneity. definiteness, and that kind of cohesion which system gives to them. As fulfilling this expectation, we may first note that while drawing within its range of judgment numerous actions of men towards one another which at first were not recognized as right or wrong, it finally takes into its sphere the various divisions of private conduct–those actions of each individual which directly concern himself only, and in but remote ways concern his fellows.
Nearly all these actions are usually supposed to lie beyond ethical rule: not only those multitudinous ones which are indifferent, and, like our movements from minute to minute, may be as well one way as another, but those numerous ones which bring some good or evil to self. But a theory of right and wrong which takes no cognizance of nine-tenths of the conduct by which life is carried on, is a folly. Life in general is a desideratum or it is not. If it is a desideratum, then all those modes of conduct which are conductive to a complete form of it are to be morally approved. If, contrariwise, life is not a desideratum, the subject lapses: life should, not be maintained, and all questions concerning maintenance of it, including the ethical, disappear. As commonly conceived, ethics consists solely of interdicts on certain kinds of acts which men would like to do and of injunctions to perform certain acts which they would like not to do. It says nothing about the great mass of acts constituting normal life; just as though these are neither warranted nor unwarranted. So influential are traditional sentiments and expressions, that the mass of readers will even now be unable to conceive that there can be an ethical justification for the pursuit of positive gratifications.
Such private conduct as errs in the direction of sensual excess, like drunkenness, they do indeed include as subject to ethical judgment and resulting condemnation: a perceived injury. primarily to self and secondarily to others, being the ground for the condemnation. But they ignore the truth that if injury to self is, in this case, a reason for moral reprobation, then benefit to self (so long as there is no contingent injury to others or remote injury to self) is a reason for moral approbation.
195. Far above other creatures though he is, man remains, in common with them, subject to the laws of life; and the requirement for him, as for them, is conformity to these laws. By him, as by every living thing, self-preservation is the first requisite; since without self-preservation, the discharge of all other obligations, altruistic as well as egoistic, becomes impossible.
But self-preservation is effected only by the performance of actions which are prompted by desires. Therefore the satisfaction of these desires is to be enjoined if life should be maintained. That this is so with the sensations which prompt breathing, eating, drinking, and avoidance of extremes of temperature, needs no proof: pain and death result from disobedience and pleasure from obedience. And as taking each of our primary pleasures directly furthers the vital activities, so, taking each of our secondary pleasures furthers them indirectly:
Unquestionably, then, there is a division of ethics which yields sanctions to all the normal actions of individual life, while it forbids the abnormal ones. This most general view at once evolutionary and hedonistic, harmonizes with several more special views.
196. As was pointed out in the preface, a disastrous effect is produced on the majority of minds by presenting ethics as a stern monitor, denouncing certain kinds of pleasures while giving no countenance to pleasures of other kinds. If it does not openly assert that all gratifications are improper, yet, by forbidding a number of them and saying nothing about the rest, it leaves the impression that the rest, if not to be condemned, are not to be approved. By this one-sided treatment of conduct it alienates multitudes who would otherwise accept its teachings.
Assuming that general happiness is to be the aim (for if indifference or misery were to be the aim, nonexistence would be preferable), then the implication is that the happiness of each unit is a fit aim; and a sequent implication is that for each individual, as a unit, his own happiness is a fit aim. Happiness as experienced by him, as much adds to the total amount as does happiness experienced by another; and if happiness may not be pursued for self, why may it be pursued for anyone else? If the totality of happiness could be made greater by each pursuing another’s happiness, while his own was pursued for him by others, something might be said for the theory of absolute altruism. But, in the first place, the greater part of the grateful consciousness possible for each is achievable only by himself–is a consciousness accompanying certain activities, and cannot exist without them. In the second place, even were it otherwise, loss would arise if each pursued only the happiness of others; since as each of the others would have to do the like, there would be required the same amount of effort joined with a further amount of effort consequent on misunderstandings from cross-purposes. Imagine A feeding B while B fed A, and so on with C, D, &c., and instead of increase of satisfactions there would be decrease. The like would happen with the majority of other wants to be satisfied. As shown at the outset (secs. 82, 91), a system of ethics which insists on altruism and ignores egoism, is suicidal.
Such a system is, if the expression may be admitted, doubly suicidal; since, while its immediate operation must be detrimental, its remote operation must be still more detrimental. A loss of capacity for happiness must be the effect produced on all. For many of our pleasures are organically bound up with performance of functions needful for bodily welfare; and nonacceptance of them involves a lower degree of life, a decreased strength, and a diminished ability to fulfill all duties.
197. A further implication, almost universally ignored, must be here again emphasized. Already, in section 71, I have drawn attention to the obvious truth that the individual is not alone concerned in the matter, but that all his descendants are concerned.
In the utter disregard of this truth we see more clearly than usual how low is the average human intelligence. Sometimes, when observing on the Continent how the women, with faces unshaded, are, to keep out the bright sunlight, obliged to half-close their eyes and wrinkle up the corners of them, so producing, by daily repetition, crows’ feet some ten or twenty years earlier than need be; I have thought it astonishing that, anxious though these women are to preserve beauty, they should have failed to perceive so simple a relation between cause and effect. But it may be held that an instance of stupidity even more extreme (if the expression may pass), is furnished by the inability of people to see that disregard of self involves disregard of offspring. There are two ways in which it does this.
Inability to provide for them adequately is one evil consequence. Without bodily welfare in parents there cannot be effectual sustentation of children; and if the race should be maintained, then care of self with a view to care of progeny becomes an obligation. This normal egoism must be such as results not merely in continued life, but in that vigorous life which gives efficiency. Nor is due care of self demanded only because the duties of the breadwinner cannot otherwise be fulfilled; but it is demanded also by regard for educational duties. Ill-health brings irritability and depression; incapacities for right behavior to children; and, by souring their tempers and deadening their sympathies, injures them for life.
Still more closely, however, is the welfare of descendants bound up with self-welfare. Good or ill treatment of his or her body or mind by each person, influences for good or ill the constitutions of his or her progeny. Unless it be held that stalwart and robust men may be expected to come from stunted and unhealthy parents, or that high intelligences and noble characters are likely to be inherited from stupid and criminal fathers and mothers, it must be admitted that any treatment of self which furthers bodily or mental development tends towards the benefit of the next generation (I say “tends” because there are complicating influences due to atavism), and that any treatment of self which undermines bodily health or injures the mind intellectually or emotionally, tends towards a lowering of the nature in the next generation. Yet while people daily make remarks about the likenesses of children to parents, and note the inheritance of this or that defect of mind or body, their criticisms on conduct entirely disregard the implication. They fail to draw the inference that if constitutions are transmitted, the actions which damage constitutions or improve them influence for good or ill the physical and mental characters of children and of children’s children.
In certain extreme cases there is, indeed, a distinct recognition of the mischiefs entailed by the transgressions of parents. Though reprobation of those who have transmitted acquired diseases to their children is not often heard, yet there can be no doubt that it is strongly felt. Probably most will agree that, if the amount of suffering inflicted be used as a measure, murder is a smaller crime than is the giving of offspring infected constitutions and consequent lifelong miseries. But even in its grossest form this transgression is thought little of by the transgressors. There are, indeed, kindred cases in which the sense of responsibility sometimes serves as a deterrent–cases, for example, where knowledge of the existence of insanity in the family causes abstention from marriage. Very generally, however, where the weaknesses, or disorders, or taints they are likely to communicate, are of less conspicuous kinds, people, in a lighthearted way, are ready to inflict uncounted evils on descendants.
Still less is an allied consciousness of responsibility There is no recognition of the truth that such persistent misuse of body or mind as injures it, involves the injury of descendants; and there is consequently no recognition of the truth that it is a duty so to carry on life as to preserve all parts of the system in their normal states.
These further reasons for due care of self have to be insisted upon. Each man’s constitution should be regarded by him as an entailed estate, which he is bound to pass on in as good a condition as he received it, if not better.
198. Beyond this special altruism which makes imperative a normal egoism, there is a general altruism which also makes it in a measure obligatory. The obligation has both a negative and a positive aspect.
Such care of self as is needful to exclude the risk of burdening others, is implied in a proper regard for others. As, from those rude groups in which men lead lives so independent that they severally take the entire results of their own conduct, we advance to developed nations, fellow men become more and more implicated in our actions. Under a social system carried on by exchange of services, those on whom undue self-sacrifice has brought incapacity are commoniy obliged to break contracts partially or wholly, and so to inflict evil; and then any such incapacity as negatives breadwinning, ordinarily imposes, first on relatives and then on friends, or else on the public, a tax implying extra labor. Everyone, therefore, is bound to avoid that thoughtless unselfishness which is apt to bring evils on others–evils that are often greater than those which entire selfishness produces.
The altruistic justification of egoism referred to as of a positive kind, results, firstly, from the obligation to expend some effort for the benefit of particular persons or for the benefit of society–an obligation which cannot be properly discharged if health has been undermined. And it results, secondly, from the obligation to become, so far as inherited nature permits, a source of social pleasure to those around; to fulfill this requirement there must ordinarily be a flow of mental energy such as the invalid cannot maintain.
199. In a systematic treatise the express statement of certain commonplaces is inevitable. A coherent body of geometrical theorems, for instance, has to be preceded by self-evident axioms. This must be the excuse for here setting down certain familiar truths.
The infant at first feebly moves about its little limbs; by and by it crawls on the floor; presently it walks, and after a time runs. As it develops, its activities display themselves in games, in races, in long walks: the range of its excursions being gradually extended, as it approaches adult existence. Manhood brings the ability to make tours and exploring expeditions; including passages from continent to continent, and occasionally round the world. When middle life is passed and vigor begins to decline, these extreme manifestations of activities become fewer. Journeys are shortened; and presently they do not go beyond visits to the country or to the seaside. As old age advances, the movements become limited to the village and the surrounding fields; afterwards to the garden; later still to the house; presently to the room; finally to the bed; and at last, when the power to move, gradually decreasing, has ceased, the motions of the lungs and heart come to an end. Taken in its ensemble, life presents itself in the shape of movements which begin feebly, gradually increase up to maturity, and then culminating, decrease until they end as feebly as they began.
Thus life is activity; and the complete cessation of activity is death. Hence arises the general implication that since the most highly evolved conduct is that which achieves the most complete life, activity obtains an ethical sanction, and inactivity an ethical condemnation.
This is a conclusion universally accepted and needing no enforcement. Even from those who habitually evade useful activities, there comes reprobation for such of their class as are too inert even to amuse themselves; absolute sloth is frowned on by all.
200. The kind of activity with which we are here chiefly concerned, is the activity directed primarily to self-sustentation, and secondarily to sustentation of family
In the order of nature the imperativeness of such activity effectually asserts itself. Among all subhuman creatures (excepting most parasites) individuals which lack it die, and after them their offspring, if they have any. Those only survive which are adequately active; and, among such, a certain advantage in self-sustentation and sustentation of offspring is gained by those in which activity is greater than usual: the general effect being to raise the activity to that limit beyond which disadvantage to the species is greater than advantage. Up to the time when men passed into the associated state, this law held of them as of the lower animals; and it held of them also throughout early social stages. Before the making of slaves began, no family could escape from the relation between labor and the necessaries of life. And the ethical sanction for this relation in primitive societies is implied in the fact that extreme inequality in the distribution of efforts and benefits between the sexes, must always have resulted in deterioration and eventual extinction.
Though, in the course of social evolution, there have arisen multiplied possibilities of evading the normal relation between efforts and benefits, so as to get the benefits without the efforts; yet, bearing in mind the foregoing general law of life, we must infer that the evasions call for reprobation more or less decided, according to circumstances.
Being here directly concerned only with the ethics of individual life, we need not take account of the implied relation between the idle individual and the society in which he exists. Ignoring all other cases, we may limit ourselves to those cases in which property equitably acquired by a parent, without undue tax on his energies, serves, when bequeathed, to support a son in idleness: cases in which there is no implied trespass on fellow citizens. On each of such cases the verdict is that though it is possible for the individual to fulfill the law of life, insofar as physical activities are concerned, by devoting himself to sports and games, and insofar as certain kinds of mental activities are concerned, by useless occupations; yet there lack those mental activities, emotional and intellectual, which should form part of his life as a social being; and insofar his life becomes an abnormal one.
201. The chief question for us, however, is–What are the ethical aspects of labor considered in its immediate relations to pleasure and pain? From this point of view of absolute ethics, actions are right only when, besides being conducive to the future happiness of self, or others, or both, they are also immediately pleasurable. What then are we to say of necessary labor; most of which is accompanied by disagreeable feelings?
Such labor is warranted, or rather demanded, by the requirements of that relative ethics which is concerned not with the absolute right but with the least wrong. During the present transitional state of humanity, submission to such displeasurable feeling as labor involves, is warranted as a means of escaping from feelings which are still more displeasurable–a smaller pain to avoid a greater pain, or to achieve a pleasure, or both.
The state necessitating this compromise is the state of imperfect adaptation to social life. The change from the irregular activities of the savage man to the regular activities of the civilized man, implies a remolding–a repression of some powers which crave for action, and a taxing of other powers beyond the pleasurable limit: the capacity for persistent effort and persistent attention, being one especially called for, and one at present deficient. This adaptation has to be undergone, and the accompanying sufferings have to be borne.
And here seems a fit place for commenting on the varying amounts of displeasurable feeling, often rising to positive pain, necessitated by fulfillment of the obligation to work. The majority of people speak of effort, bodily or mental, as if the cost of it were the same to all. Though personal experience proves to them that when well and fresh, they put forth with ease a muscular force which, when prostrate with illness or exhausted by toil, it is painful to put forth–though they find, too, that when the mental energies are high they think nothing of a continuous attention which, when enfeebled, they are quite unequal to; yet they do not see that these temporary contrasts between their own states, are paralleled by permanent contrasts between states of different persons.
Ethical judgments must take account of the fact that the effort, bodily or mental, which is easy to one is laborious to another.
202. We come now to a question of special interest to us–Can the human constitution be so adapted to its present conditions, that the needful amount of labor to be gone through will be agreeable?
An affirmative answer will, to most people, seem absurd. Limiting their observations to facts around, or at most extending them to such further facts as the records of civilized people furnish, they cannot believe in the required change of nature. Such evidence as that which, in the first part of this work (secs. 63—67), was assigned to prove that pleasures and pains are relative to the constitution of the organism, and that in virtue of the unlimited modifiability of constitution, actions originally painful may become pleasurable, does not weigh with them. Though they probably know some who so love work that it is difficult to restrain them–though here and there they meet one who complains that a holiday is a weariness; yet it does not seem to them reasonable to suppose that the due tendency to continuous labor, which is now an exceptional trait, may become a universal trait.
It is undeniable that there are various expenditures of energy bodily and mental–often extreme expenditures–which are willingly entered upon and continued eagerly: witness field sports, games, and the intellectual efforts made during social intercourse. In these cases the energy expended is often far greater than that expended in daily avocations. What constitutes the difference? In the one class of actions emulation makes possible the pleasurable consciousness which accompanies proved efficiency and the pleasurable consciousness of the admiration given to efficiency; while, in the other class, the absence of emulation, or at any rate of direct visible emulation, implies the absence of a large proportion of this pleasurable consciousness. Nevertheless, what remains may become a powerful stimulus, making continuous application agreeable. Hobbies exemplify this truth. I can name two cases in which occupations of this kind are, without need, pursued so eagerly as scarcely to leave time for meals. Though in these cases the pleasurable exercise of skill is a large factor, and though in many occupations there seems but small scope for this, yet, nearly everywhere, the satisfaction attendant on the doing of work in the most perfect manner, may be sufficient to render the work agreeable, when joined with that overflowing energy which is to be anticipated as the concomitant of a normally developed nature.
203. It remains to consider whether, concluding that labor up to a certain limit is obligatory, there is any reason for concluding that beyond that limit it is the reverse of obligatory. The present phase of human progress fosters the belief that the more work the more virtue; but this is an unwarranted belief.
Absolute ethics does not dictate more work than is requisite for efficient self-sustentation, efficient nurture of dependents, and discharge of a due share of social duties. As in the lowest creatures, so in the highest, survival is the primary end to be achieved by actions; and though, in an increasing degree as we ascend, actions themselves with their associated feelings become secondary ends, yet pursued to the detriment of the primary end in all its fulness–the leading of a life complete, not in length only but in breadth and depth. The hedonistic view, which is involved in the evolutionary view, implies an ethical sanction for that form of conduct which conduces in the highest degree to self-happiness and the happiness of others; and it follows that labor which taxes the energies beyond the normal limit, or diminishes more than is needful the time available for other ends, or both, receives no ethical sanction.
If adaptation to the social state must in time produce a nature such that the needful labor will be pleasurable, a concomitant conclusion is that it will not produce a capacity for labor beyond this limit. Hence labor in excess of this limit will be abnormal and improper. For as labor inevitably entails physical cost–as the waste involved by it has to be made good out of the total supply which the organic actions furnish; then superfluous labor, deducting from this supply more than is necessary, diminishes the amount available for life at large–diminishes the extent or the intensity of that life.
Obviously, however, this reasoning refers to that fully evolved form of life which absolute ethics contemplates, rather than to the present form, which has to be guided by relative ethics. In our transitional state, with its undeveloped capacity for work, frequent overstepping of the limit is requisite, and must be regarded as incident to the further development of the capacity. All we may fairly say is that, at present, the limit should not be so transgressed as to cause physical deterioration, and that it should be respected where there exists no weighty reason for going beyond it.
204. Connected as each man’s actions are with the actions of others in multitudinous ways, it follows that the ethics of individual life cannot be completely separated from the ethics of social life. Conduct of which the primary results are purely personal, has often secondary results which are social. Hence we must in each case consider the ways in which acts that directly concern self indirectly concern others.
In the present case it scarcely needs saying that beyond that obligation to labor which is deducible from the laws of individual life, there is a social obligation reinforcing it. Though, in a primitive community it is possible for an individual to take upon himself all the results of his inactivity; yet, in an advanced community consisting of citizens not devoid of sympathy it becomes difficult to let the idle individual suffer in full the results of his idleness, and still more difficult to let his offspring do this. Even should it be decided by fellow citizens that the extreme consequences of idleness shall be borne, yet this decision must be at the cost of sympathetic pain. In any case, therefore, evil is inflicted on others as well as on self, and the conduct inflicting it is, for this further reason, to be ethically reprobated.
Reprobation, though quite of another quality. is also deserved by conduct of the opposite kind–by the carrying of labor to such extreme as to cause illness, prostration, and incapacity For by this conduct, too, burdens and pains are entailed on others.
Hence altruistic motives join egoistic motives in prompting labor up to a certain limit, but not beyond that limit.
205. Though the ethically enjoined limitation of life-sustaining activities, specified towards the close of the last chapter, apparently implies that rest is ethically enjoined, and in a large measure does so, yet this corollary must be definitely stated and enlarged on for severnl reasons.
The first is that there are various activities, not of a life-sustaining kind, which may be entered on when the activities devoted to sustentation of life are ended; and hence the conclusion drawn in the last chapter does not involve insistence upon absolute rest.
Further, we have to observe the several kinds of rest, which, if not complete, are approximately so; and the need for each of these kinds must be pointed out.
Something has to be said under each of the several heads–rest at intervals during work; nightly rest; rest of a day after a series of days; and occasional long rest at long intervals.
206. Rhythm, shown throughout the organic functions as elsewhere, has for its concomitant the alternation of waste and repair. Every contraction of the heart, every inflation of the lungs, is followed by a momentary relaxation of the muscles employed. In the process of alimentation, we have the short rhythms constituting the peristaltic motion, compounded with the longer rhythms implied by the periodicity of meals. Far deeper, indeed, than at first appears, is the conformity to this law; for some organic actions which appear continuous are in truth discontinuous. A muscle which maintains for a time a persistent contraction, and seems in a uniform state, is made up of multitudinous units which are severally alternating between action and rest–these relaxing while those are contracting; and so keeping up a constant strain of the whole muscle by the inconstant strains of its competent fibres.
The law thus displayed in each organ and part of an organ, from moment to moment, is displayed throughout the longer and larger cooperations of parts. Combined muscular strains which tax the powers of the system in any considerable degree, cannot with impunity be continually repeated without cessation, even during the period devoted to activity. Waste in such cases overruns repair to a considerable extent, and makes needful a cessation during which arrears may be in some measure made up–an interval for “taking breath,” as the expression is. Long unbroken persistence, even in moderate efforts, is injurious; and though such unresting action when occasional does no permanent harm, if it recurs daily loss of power is the final result. Scriveners’ palsy illustrates a local form of this evil; as do also various atrophies of overused muscles.
Nor is this true of bodily actions only. It is true of mental actions also. A concentrated attention which is too continuous produces, after a time, nervous disturbance and inability. Daily occupation for many hours in even so simple a thing as removing the small defects in machine made lace, not unfrequently brings on chronic brain disorder. Some single-line railways in the United States, the movements of trains on which are regulated by telegraph from a central office, furnish a striking instance in the fact that the men who have thus to conduct the traffic, and cannot for a moment relax under penalty of causing accidents, never last for more than a few years; they become permanently incapable.
These unduly persistent strains, bodily and mental, are always indicated more or less clearly by the painful feelings accompanying them. The sensations protest, and their protests cannot with impunity be ignored.
207. Insistence on the need for that complete rest which we call sleep, is not called for; but something may fitly be said concerning its duration–now too small, now too great.
Current criticisms on the habits of those around, imply the erroneous belief that for persons of the same sex and age, the same amount of sleep is required–a professed belief which is, nevertheless, continually traversed by remarks on the unlike numbers of hours of repose which different persons can do with. The truth is that the required amount of sleep depends on the constitution. According as the vigor is small or great, there may be taken many hours to little purpose or few hours to great purpose. To understand what are the vital requirements, and, by implication, the habits which, from our present standpoint, we regard as having ethical sanction, we must pause a moment to look at the physiology of the matter.
The difference between waking and sleeping is that in the one waste gets ahead of repair, while in the other repair gets ahead of waste. Proof that repair is always going on, but that it varies in rate, is furnished by what are known as photogenes. During early life, while the blood is rich and the circulation good, the destruction of nerve tissue produced by each impression the eye receives, is made up for instantaneously so that the eye is at once ready to appreciate perfectly a new impression; but in later life diminished vigor is shown by the greater time required for restoring the sensitiveness of the retinal elements; and connected nerves, after each visual impression–a time which is quite appreciable when the impression has been strong. The result is that a new image received is to some extent confused by the persistence of the preceding image, presented in its complementary colors.
Now these differences in the rates of repair at different stages in the life of the same individual, are paralleled by differences in the rates of repair in different individuals; and hence the unlike amounts of sleep required. There is a double cause for the unlikeness. In the vigorous person repair during the waking state is relatively so rapid as not to fall very far in arrear of the waste caused by action; the consequence being that at the end of the day less repair is required. And then, from the same cause, it results that during sleep such repair as has to be made is more rapidly made. Conversely in the individual with low nutrition and slow circulation, action is sooner followed by exhaustion, and the parts wasted by action take a longer rest to make them fit for action.
But while the implication is that not unfrequently one who is condemned as a sluggard is taking no more absolute rest than is required by him, and is rightly prompted to take it by his sensations, we must not infer that there is no such thing as sleep in excess. There is a very general tendency to take not only more than is needful but more than is beneficial. Passing a certain limit, the state of entire quiescence does not invigorate but prostrates. Lacking their stimuli the vital organs flag, and when the quiescence is continued after repairs have been effected, a further fall in their activities disables them from carrying on the repairs needed during working life at the ordinary rate: a sense of weariness being the consequence. Probably for those whose systems are so far in a normal state that they sleep soundly, the first complete waking marks the proper limit to the night’s rest. Some times a day after sleep thus limited is a day of unusual vivacity.
Here we have to recognize a seeming exception to the general law that for maintenance of bodily welfare the sensations are adequate guides. This lack of adjustment is most likely associated with our transitional state, during which the average life is so uninteresting, and often so wearisome, that the prospective renewal of it on waking does not serve as a stimulus to get up, but rather the contrary; for everyone has found that when the forthcoming day promises an enjoyment, say an excursion, there is no difficulty in rising early. It may be, therefore, that greater adaptation to the social state and its needful occupations, will render easy that normal abridgment of sleep which is now difficult. But for a long time to come, it will be an implication of relative ethics that guidance by the sensations must here be supplemented by judgments based on experience.
208. Civilized mankind have fallen into the habit of taking a further periodical rest–a weekly rest; and without accepting their reasons given for taking it, we may admit the propriety of taking it for other reasons.
Monotony, no matter of what kind, is unfavorable to life. Not only does there need some discontinuity in the activities carried on during the waking state, and not only must the activities be made discontinuous by intervals of sleep, but that continuity of activities which consists in repetition of days similarly occupied, also seems to require breaking by days of rest. There is a cumulative weariness which is not met by the periodical cessations which nights bring: there require larger periodical cessations at longer intervals. The persistent strain of daily occupations is in all cases a strain falling on some parts of the system more than on others; and that daily repair which suffices to bring the system at large into working order again, appears not to suffice for bringing into working order again parts that have been specially taxed. So that a recurring day of rest has, if not a religious sanction, still an ethical sanction.
We may too, agree with the Sabbatarians so far as to admit that a periodical cessation of daily business is requisite as a means to mental health. Even as it is, most people largely fail to emancipate themselves from those prosaic conceptions of the world and life which mechanical routine tends to produce; and they would fail utterly were all their days passed in work. There require intervals of passivity during which the vast process of things amid which we live may be contemplated, and receptivity of the appropriate thoughts and feelings fostered.
209. I need not insist on the physical and mental benefits gained from those longer intermissions of labor which now commonly recur annually. Not to dwell on the positive pleasures obtained by them (which, however, must be counted as effects to be deliberately sought), it suffices to recall the reinvigoration and increased fitness for work which they usually produce, to show that they are ethically sanctioned, or rather, where circumstances permit, ethically enjoined.
Without further elaboration I pass to the altruistic reasons which justify rest, and show the taking of it in due amount to be obligatory. The claims of dependents and the claims of fellow citizens with whom engagements have been made, alike forbid excess of work: energy must not be so wastefully expended as to jeopardize fulfillment of them. A sane judgment has to balance between the demand for such efforts as are required to make these claims, and the demand for such rest as will prevent exhaustion and incapacity. Duty to others forbids overtax of self.
But strong as is the interdict hence arising, there is a still stronger interdict–peremptory, if not for all, yet for those who are likely to have offspring. As pointed out emphatically in the preliminary chapter, preservation of a sound body as well as of a sound mind, is a duty to posterity. Deterioration of physique must result from persistence in undue activity. To suppose that whether a life which is physically normal has been led by a parent, or one which is physically abnormal, matters not to children, is absurd. If there has been habitual deficiency of rest and consequent deficiency of repair, the abnormality produced must, like every other, leave its trace in descendants–not always conspicuously since each child, besides inheriting from two parents, inherits from many lines of ancestors; but, nevertheless, in due degree somewhere.
210. Except perhaps in agreeing that gluttony is to be reprobated and that the gourmet, as well as the gourmand, is a man to be regarded with scant respect, most people will think it is absurd to imply as the above title does, that ethics has anything to say about the taking of food. Though, by condemning excesses of the kinds just indicated, they imply that men ought not to be guilty of them, and by the use of this word class them as wrong; yet they ignore the obvious fact that if there is a wrong in respect of the taking of food there must also be a right.
The truth appears to be that daily actions performed in ways which do not obviously deviate from the normal, cease to be thought of as either right or wrong. As the most familiar mathematical truths, such as twice two are four, are not ordinarily thought of as parts of mathematics–as the knowledge which a child gains of surrounding objects is not commonly included under education, though it forms a highly important part of it; so this all-essential ministration to life by food, carried on as a matter of course, is dropped out of the theory of conduct. And yet, as being a part of conduct which fundamentally affects welfare, it cannot properly be thus dropped.
How improper is the ignoring of it as a subject matter for ethical judgments, we shall see on observing the ways in which current opinion respecting it goes wrong.
211. Already, in section 174, the extreme instances furnished by the Esquimaux, the Yakuts, and the Australians, have shown us that enormous quantities of food are proper under certain conditions, and that satisfaction of the seemingly inordinate desires for them is not only warranted but imperative: death being the consequence of inability to take a sufficient quantity to meet the expenditure entailed by severe climate or by long fasts. To which here let me add the experiences of Arctic voyagers, who, like the natives of the Arctic regions, acquire great appetites for blubber.
Mention of these facts is a fit preliminary to the question whether, in respect of food, desires ought or ought not to be obeyed. As already said, treatment of this inquiry as ethical will be demurred to by most and by many ridiculed. Though, when not food but drink is in question, their judgments, very strongly expressed, are of the kind they class as moral; yet they do not see that since the question concerns the effect of things swallowed, it is absurd to regard the conduct which causes these effects as moral or immoral when the things are liquid but not when they are solid.
Adaptation goes on everywhere and always, in the human race as in inferior races, and, among other results, is the adjustment of the desire for food to the need for food. Even were this not shown us by the extreme instances above given, it would be an inevitable corollary from the law of the survival of the fittest. Every maladjustment of the two must have been injurious, and, other things equal, the tendency must ever have been for maladjustment to cause the dying-out of individuals in which it existed. On the average, then, there must be a fair balance: what there is of deviation from the normal, bearing but a small ratio to what there is of normal.
Some deviation doubtless occurs. We still see inheritance of traits appropriate to the primitive wild life and inappropriate to settled civilized life; and among such traits is that tendency to take food in excess of immediate need, which was good in the irregularly living savage but which is not good in the regularly living European. Further, it may be admitted that men who lead monotonous lives, as most do, presenting much to bear and little to enjoy are apt to prolong unduly the few actions which are pleasurable; and of these eating is one. When the occupation to be entered upon at the end of a meal is pleasurable, there is comparatively little wish to eke out the meal.
But the more or less of excess apt to result from these causes, is consequent not upon obedience to the sensations naturally arising, but rather from solicitation of the sensations: a perverting factor made possible by that imagination which has evil effects as well as good effects. It is not that an immediate desire prompts the action, but that the action is prompted by the hope of experiencing the agreeable feeling which accompanies fulfillment of a desire. There are kindred evils arising from sitting down to table when appetite does not suggest–partaking of periodically recurring meals whether hungry or otherwise. Very often people eat as a matter of course, not in conformity with their sensations but notwithstanding the protests of their sensations. And then, oddly enough, there comes from these transgressors the assertion that sensations are not fit guides! Having suffered from constantly disobeying them, they infer that they are not to be obeyed!
It is doubtless true that those who are out of health occasionally entail on themselves mischiefs by eating as much as they desire; and some who are not in obvious ways unwell, now and then do the like. But a demurrer drawn from these experiences is not sustainable. In such cases the adjustments between all the various needs of the organism, and the various sensations which prompt fulfillment of them, have been chronically deranged by disobedience. When by persistent indoor life, or by overwork, or by ceaseless mental worry or by inadequate clothing, or by breathing bad air, the bodily functions have been perverted, guidance by the sensations ceases to be reliable. It then becomes needful either, as in some cases, to restrain appetite, or, as in other cases, to take food without appetite: an abnormal state having been brought about by physiological sins, artificial regulation is called for to supplement natural regulation. But this proves nothing. After prolonged starvation, satisfaction of ravenous hunger by a good meal is said to be fatal. The prostration is so great that any considerable quantity of food cannot be digested, and administration in small quantities is needful. But it is not thence inferred that satisfaction of appetite by a good meal will ordinarily be fatal. Similarly is it throughout. The evils which occasionally arise from taking as much as appetite prompts, must be ascribed to the multitudinous preceding disobediences to sensations, and not to this particular obedience to them.
While there is recognition of the evils resulting from excesses in eating, there is little recognition of the evils consequent on eating too little. The ascetic bias given by their religion and by their education, leads most people to think themselves meritorious if they do with as little food as possible and tempts them to restrict the food of others. Disastrous effects follow. Inadequate nutrition, especially while growth is going on, is an unquestionable cause of imperfect development, either in size, or in quality of tissue, or in both; and parents who are responsible for it are responsible for invalid lives. No cattle breeder or horse breeder dreams of obtaining a fine animal on a stinted diet. No possessor of a fine animal expects him to do good service on the road or in the field unless he is well fed. Science and common sense unite in recognizing the truth that growth and vigor are alike dependent on a good supply of the materials from which body and brain are built up when young and repaired when adult. The taking of an adequate quantity of food is insured if appetite is obeyed, while if the supply is restricted spite of the demands of appetite, there will inevitably be more or less of defect in size or in strength.
Speaking generally then, we may say that there is an ethical sanction for yielding in full to the desire for food: both because satisfaction of the desire is itself one element to be counted among the normal gratifications life offers, and because satisfaction of it indirectly conduces to subsequent fullness of life and the power of discharging all the obligations of life.
212. One who complains of the monotony of his meals and is thereupon reproached for seeking the enjoyments which change of diet gives (I name a fact), is, by the reproach, tacitly condemned from a moral point of view. Whence the implication is that a doctrine of right and wrong has something to say respecting the propriety or impropriety of yielding to the wish for variety. Everyone, therefore, who does not agree in the opinion of the pious Scotchwoman just referred to, must hold the opposite opinion: the desire for variety of food should be gratified–has a sanction like that of the desire for due quantity of food.
This is of course not a fit place for entering on the topics of variety, quality, and preparation of food–topic the mere mention of which will seem out of place to those who have not accepted the doctrines implied in the first chapter of this work, that every part of conduct which directly or indirectly affects welfare has an ethical aspect. Here, what has to be said or hinted under the three head-named, may come under the one general head of satisfaction of the palate, as distinguished from the satisfaction of the appetite–distinguished in a measure but not wholly since the one serves as a normal stimulus to the other. Partly as a further sequence of asceticism, and partly as a reaction against the gross sensualism which history occasionally records from Roman days down to recent days, it has come to be thought that the pleasures of the table are to be reprobated; or, if not positively reprobated, yet passed over as not proper to be regarded. Those who take this view are, indeed, like others, discontent with insipid food; and are no less ready than others to dismiss cooks who cannot prepare enjoyable dinners. But while practically they pursue gastronomic satisfactions, they refuse to recognize their theoretical legitimacy
Here, I cannot imitate this uncandid mode of dealing with the matter; and find myself obliged to assert that due regard for the needs of the palate is not only proper but disregard of them is wrong. The contrary view involves the belief that it matters not to the body whether it is the seat of pleasurable feelings, or indifferent feelings, or painful feelings. But it matters very much. As asserted in an early chapter (sec. 36), pleasures raise the tide of life while pains lower it; and among the pleasures which do this are gustatory pleasures. There are two reasons why, when food is liked, digestion of it is furthered, and when disliked is hindered. In common with every agreeable sensation an agreeable taste raises the action of the heart, and, by implication, the vital functions at large; while simultaneously it excites in a more direct way the structures which secrete the digestive fluids. It needs but to remember the common observation that an appetizing odor makes the mouth water, to understand that the alimentary canal as a whole is made active by a pleasurable stimulation of the palate, and that digestion is thus aided. And since on good digestion depends good nutrition, and on good nutrition depends the energy needed for daily work, it follows that due regard to gratification of the palate is demanded.
Those who have had any experience of invalid life, know well how small a quantity can be eaten of food which is indifferent or distasteful, and how trying is the digestion of such food, while the converse holds of food which is grateful: the resulting adequate meals of such food better digested, being a condition to recovery and the resumption of responsibilities. And if the benefit of such ministrations to the palate is made thus manifest where the vitality is low it unquestionably exists, though less manifestly where the vitality is high.
Of course, as in respect of quantity so in respect of quality and variety, there may be, and often is, excess: the last kind of excess being conducive to the first. But no more in this case than in any other case is abuse an argument against use.
213. Before ending this chapter, which I must now do lest it should become a chapter on dietetics, I must say something on the altruistic bearings of the conclusions drawn; only making, in further repudiation of the ordinary ascetic view, the remark that the Hebrew myth which represents the eating of the apple by Eve as prompted by the serpent, seems in many minds to have been expanded into a general theory of our relations to food: their asceticism tacitly implying that gustatory promptings are suggestions of the devil.
Of the altruistic bearings to be noted, the first concerns the indirect effects of excess, suffered by those around, from the occasional illness and more frequent ill-temper which it produces: injuries to others the prospect of which should serve as a deterrent, no less than prospective injury to self. And then a more remote altruistic bearing is seen in the effect wrought on the community if excess is general. Remembering that the stock of food which a community obtains is a limited quantity, it results that if its members consume more than is needful for complete self-sustentation, they diminish the amount of human life proper to the inhabited area. Clearly, if people at large eat, let us say, one-sixth more than is required for full life and vigor–if ten millions of people eat as much as would satisfactorily support twelve millions; then, assuming human life to be a desideratum, a wrong is done by thus preventing its increase. The share of each individual in the wrong may be inappreciable; but the aggregate wrong–preventing the existence of two millions of people–is appreciable enough.
The remaining altruistic bearing is that which concerns offspring. Chronic innutrition of parents injures children. In the case of mothers the inevitableness of this result is clear. Building up of the fetus has to go on simultaneously with the carrying on of material life, and nutritive materials are used up for both processes. Though, in the competition between the two, the first has a certain priority, and is effected at great cost to the second; yet, where the supply of nutritive materials is inadequate, fetal growth is checked, as well as maternal enfeeblement caused. A stinted development of the infant and a subsequent falling short of full life are the consequences. Regard for posterity thus peremptorily demands good feeding.
214. To write sundry chapters on the ethics of individual life and to say nothing about the taking of stimulants is out of the question. While, on large parts of private conduct, most men pass no moral judgments, and assume that they are subject to none; over that part of private conduct which concerns the drinking of fermented liquors, most men, passing strong moral judgments, unhesitatingly assume that ethics exercises peremptory rule; and the inclusion within the domain of ethics of questions concerning alcoholic stimulants, is followed by inclusion of questions concerning opium-eating.
We may observe here, as we have observed before, that the reprobation of practices which, in excess, are certainly injurious, and are held by many to be injurious altogether, is practically limited to practices which are primarily pleasurable. A man may bring on himself chronic rheumatism by daily careless exposure, or an incurable nervous disorder by overapplication; and though he may thus vitiate his life and diminish his usefulness in a far greater degree than by occasionally taking too much wine, yet his physical transgression meets with only mild disapproval, if even that. But in these cases the transgression is displeasurable, whereas excess in wine is pleasurable; and the damnable thing in the misconduct is the production of pleasure by it.
If it be said that this contrast of moral estimates is due to the perception that there is danger of falling into injurious habits which are primarily pleasurable, while there is no danger of falling into injurious habits which are primarily painful; the reply is that though we naturally suppose this to be true, yet it is not true. The obligations men are under, or suppose themselves to be under, lead them in multitudinous cases to persist in sedentary lives, to work too many hours, to breathe impure air, and so forth, spite of the feelings which protest–spite of continual proofs that they are injuring themselves. Clearly it is the vague notion that gratification is vicious, which causes the condemnation of gratifying transgressions while ungratifying transgressions are condemned but slightly or not at all.
Here we have to consider the matter, as far as we can, apart from popular judgments, and guided only by physiological considerations.
215. It cannot, I think, be doubted that from the point of view of absolute ethics, stimulants of every kind must be reprobated; or, at any rate, that daily use of them must be reprobated. Few, if any, will contend that they play a needful part in complete life.
All normal ingesta subserve the vital processes either by furnishing materials which aid in the formation and repair of tissues, or materials which, during their transformations, yield heat and force, or the material–water–which serves as a vehicle. A stimulant, alcoholic or other, is neither tissue food, nor heat food, nor force food. It simply affects the rate of molecular change-exalting it and then, under ordinary circumstances, if taken in considerable quantity, depressing it. Now matters which can be used neither for building up the body nor as stores of force, do not increase the sum of vital manifestations, but only alter the distribution of them. And since, in a being fully fitted for the life it has to lead, the functions are already adjusted to the requirements, it does not seem that any advantage can be obtained by changing the established balance.
This inference is far reaching-carries us beyond the point to which the total abstainers from fermented liquors wish to go. Tea and coffee also must be excluded from dietaries. The vegeto-alkalies, to which they owe their effects, are just as little akin to food properly so called, as is alcohol; and, like alcohol, simply modify for a time the rate of molecular change, causing greater genesis of energy during one interval with the effect of diminishing it during another. From the physiological point of view, therefore, the use of these must be condemned if the use of alcohol is condemned.
Should it be said that the condemnation of the last is evoked by the liability to abuse, it may be replied that the liability to abuse holds of the others also; though the mischiefs wrought are neither so frequent nor so conspicuous. In France there are occasional deaths from coffee dririking, and in England undue drinking of tea not infrequently causes nervousness.
216. But while, from the point of view of absolute ethics, the use of stimulants seems indefensible, we may still ask whether relative ethics affords any justification for it–whether, under existing conditions, imperfectly adapted as we are to the social state, and obliged to diverge from natural requirements, we may not use stimulants to countervail the consequent mischiefs.
It is a fact of some significance that throughout the world, among unallied races and in all stages of progress, we find in use one or other agent which agreeably affects the nervous system–opium in China, tobacco among the American Indians, bang in India, hashish in sundry Eastern places, a narcotic fungus in Northern Asia, kava among the Polynesians, chica and coca in Ancient Peru, and various fermented liquors besides the wine of Europeans, and the beer of various African tribes–the soma of the primitive Aryans and the pulque of the Mexicans. Not that this universality of habits of stimulation justifies them in face of the evidence that diseases often result; but it suggests the question whether there is not a connection between the use of some exciting or sedative agent, and the kind of life circumstances entail–a life here monotonous, there laborious, and in other places full of privations. Possibly these drugs and liquors may sometimes make tolerable an existence which would be otherwise intolerable; or, at any rate, so far mitigate the bodily or mental pains caused, as to diminish the mischiefs done by them.
Various testimonies are to the effect that where the daily life is one entailing much wear and tear of brain, the sedative influence of tobacco is useful–serves to check that nervous waste which otherwise the continuance of thought and anxiety would produce. In a normal state, those parts of the system which have been taxed cease to act when the strain is over: the supply of blood is shut off, and they become quiescent. But in the abnormal states established in many by over-work, it is otherwise. The parts which have been active become congested, and remain active when action is no longer demanded. Thinking and feeling cannot be stopped, and there occurs an expenditure which is not only useless but injurious. Hence a justification for using an agent which prevents waste of tissue and economizes the energies.
Again, where the constitutional powers are flagging, and a day’s work proves so exhausting that the ability to digest partially fails, it may be held that vascular action and nervous discharge may advantageously be raised by alcohol to the extent needful for effectually dealing with food; since a good meal well digested serves to render the system fit for another day’s work, which otherwise it would not be.
There are those, too, in whom undue application establishes a state of nervous irritation which is mitigated or ended by a dose of opium; and the life may sometimes be such that the state thus dealt with frequently recurs. If this happens the use of the remedy appears justified.
217. Even total abstainers admit that alcoholic beverages may rightly be used for medicinal purposes; and their admission, consistently interpreted, implies that, as above contended, stimulants in general may properly be employed, not only where positive illness exists, but where there is inability to cope with the requirements of life. For if a very conspicuous departure from the normal state may often be best treated by brandy or wine, it cannot well be denied that a less conspicuous departure, occurring perhaps daily may similarly be treated. Constitutional debility, or the debility which comes with advancing years, may like the debility of an invalid, be advantageously met by temporarily raising the power of the system at times when it has to do work conducive to restoration–that is, when food has to be digested, and sometimes when sleep has to be obtained. But there hence results a defense only for such uses of stimulants as aid the system in repairing itself. When, as by taking alcoholic liquors between meals, or by the hypodermic injection of morphia, there is achieved a temporary exaltation of power or feeling, which conduces to no restorative end, reprobation rightly takes the place of approbation. In the order of nature, normal pleasures are the concomitants of normal activities, and pleasures which are achieved by gratuitous deviations from the normal have no ethical sanctions.
One exception only should be made. Stimulants may be taken with advantage when the monotony of ordinary life is now and then broken by festive entertainments. As implied in a preceding chapter, daily repetition of the same activities, which in our state are inevitably specialized, necessitates undue taxing of certain parts of the system. Breaches in the uniformity therefore yield benefits by furthering restoration of equilibrium. The functions, chronically kept out of balance, are aided in returning to a balance. Hence it happens that social meetings at which, along with mental exhilaration, there goes the taking of abundant and varied food, and wine even in large quantity, often prove highly salutary–are not followed by injurious reactions but leave behind invigoration. Such means used for such ends, however, must be used but occasionally: if often repeated they defeat themselves.
218. To sum up what has been said in a tentative way on this difficult question: we may, in the first place, conclude that absolute ethics, insofar as it concerns individual life, can give no countenance to the daily use of stimulants. They can have no place in a perfectly normal order.
In such approximately normal life as that enjoyed during their early days by vigorous persons, there is also no place for them. So long as there is nothing to prevent the full discharge of all the organic functions, there can be no need for agents which temporarily exalt them. What ethics has to say in the matter must take the form of an interdict.
Only when the excessive obligations which life often entails produce more or less of daily prostration, or when from constitutional feebleness or the diminished strength of old age, the ordinary tax on the energies is somewhat greater than can be effectually met, does there seem a valid reason for using exciting agents, alcoholic or other; and then only when they are taken in such wise as to aid reparative processes.
Beyond this there is a defense for such occasional uses of these agents as serves, when joined with raised nutrition and enlivening circumstances, to take the system out of its routine, which in all cases diverges somewhat, if not much, from a perfect balance.
219. Taken in its widest sense, culture means preparation for complete living. It includes, in the first place, all such discipline and all such knowledge as are needful for, or conducive to, efficient self-sustentation and sustentation of family. And it includes, in the second place, all such development of the faculties at large, as fits them for utilizing those various sources of pleasure which nature and humanity supply to responsive minds.
The first of these two divisions of culture has more than an ethical sanction: it is ethically enjoined. Acquisition of fitness for carrying on the business of life is primarily a duty to self and secondarily a duty to others. If under the head of this fitness we comprise, as we must, such skill as is needful for those who are to be manually occupied, as well as skill of every higher kind, it becomes manifest that (save with those who have sustentation gratis) lack of it makes a healthy physical life impracticable, and makes impracticable the nurture of dependents. Further, the neglect to acquire a power of adequately maintaining self and offspring necessitates either the burdening of others in furnishing aid, or else, if they refuse to do this, necessitates that infliction of pain upon them which the contemplation of misery causes.
Concerning the second division of culture, peremptory obligation is not to be alleged. Those who take an ascetic view of life have no reason for that discipline of faculties which aims to increase one or other refined pleasure; and, as among the Quakers, we see that there does in fact result a disregard of, and often a reprobation of, such discipline, or of parts of it. Only those who accept hedonism can consistently advocate this exercise of intellect and feeling which prepares the way for various gratifications filling leisure hours. They only can regard it as needful for attaining complete life, and as therefore having an ethical sanction.
From these general ideas of culture, essential and nonessential, let us go on to consider the several divisions of it.
220. There is a part of culture, usually neglected, which should be recognized alike by those to whom it brings means of living and by those who do not seek material profit from it, which may fitly stand first. I mean the acquirement of manual dexterity.
That this is a proper preparation for life among those occupied in productive industry, will not be disputed; though at present, even the boys who may need it are but little encouraged to acquire manipulative skill: only those kinds of skill which games give are cultivated. But manipulative skill and keenness of perception ought to be acquired by those also who are to have careers of higher kinds. Awkwardness of limb and inability to use the fingers deftly, continually entail small disasters and occasionally great ones; while expertness frequently comes in aid of welfare, either of self or others. One who has been well practiced in the uses of his senses and his muscles, is less likely than the unpracticed to meet with accidents; and, when accidents occur, is sure to be more efficient in rectifying mischiefs. Were it not that this obvious truth is ignored, it would be absurd to point out that, since limbs and senses exist to the end of adjusting the actions to surrounding objects and movements, it is the business of every one to gain skill in the performance of such actions.
Let it not be supposed that I am here advocating the extension of formal culture in this direction: very much to the contrary. The shaping of all education into lessons is one of the vices of the time. Cultivation of manipulative skill, in common with expertness in general, should be acquired in the process of achieving ends otherwise desired. In any rationally conducted education there must be countless occasions for the exercise of those faculties which the artisan and the experimenter bring perpetually into play.
221. Intellectual culture under its primary aspect links on to the culture just described; for as discipline of the limbs and senses is a fitting of them for direct dealings with things around, so intelligence, in its successive grades, is an agent for guiding dealings of indirect kinds, greater and greater in their complexity. The higher acquisitions and achievements of intellect have now become so remote from practical life, that their relations to it are usually lost sight of. But if we remember that in the stick employed to heave up a stone, or the paddle to propel a boat, we have illustrations of the uses of levers; while in the pointing of an arrow so as to allow for its fall during flight, certain dynamical principles are tacitly recognized; and that from these vague early cognitions the progress may be traced step by step to the generalizations of mathematicians and astronomers; we see that science has gradually emerged from the crude knowledge of the savage. And if we remember that as this crude knowledge of the savage served for simple guidance of his life-sustaining actions, so the developed sciences of mathematics and astronomy serve for guidance in the workshop and the countinghouse and for steering of vessels, while developed physics and chemistry preside over all manufacturing processes; we see that at the one extreme as at the other, furtherance of men’s ability to deal effectually with the surrounding world, and so to satisfy their wants, is that purpose of intellectual culture which precedes all others.
Even for these purposes we distinguish as practical, that intellectual culture which makes us acquainted with the natures of things, should be wider than is commonly thought needful. Preparation for this or that kind of business is far too special. There cannot be adequate knowledge of a particular class of natural facts without some knowledge of other classes. Every object and every action simultaneously presents various orders of phenomena–mathematical, physical, chemical–with, in many cases, others which are vital; and these phenomena are so interwoven that full comprehension of any group involves partial comprehension of the rest. Though at first sight the extent of intellectual culture thus suggested as requisite may seem impracticable, it is not so. When education is rightly carried on, the cardinal truths of each science may be clearly communicated and firmly grasped, apart from the many corollaries commonly taught along with them. And after there has been gained such familiarity with these cardinal truths of the several sciences as renders their chief implications comprehensible, it becomes possible to reach rational conceptions of any one group of phenomena, and to be fully prepared for a special occupation.
That division of intellectual culture which comprises knowledge of the sciences, while having an indirect ethical sanction as conducing to self-sustentation and sustentation of others, has also a direct sanction irrespective of practical ends. To the servant girl, the ploughboy, the grocer, nay even to the average classical scholar or man of letters, the world, living and dead, with the universe around it, present no such grand panorama as they do to those who have gained some conception of the actions, infinite and infinitesimal, everywhere going on, and can contemplate them under other aspects than the technical. If we imagine that into a gorgeously decorated hall a rush light is brought, and, being held near to some part of the wall, makes visible the pattern over a small area of it, while everything else remains in darkness; and if, instead of this, we imagine that electric lights turned on reveal simultaneously the whole room with its varied contents; we may form some idea of the different appearance under which nature is contemplated by the utterly uncultured mind and by the highly cultured mind. Whoever duly appreciates this immense contrast will see that, rightly assimilated, science brings exaltation of mental life.
One further result must be recognized. That study of all orders of phenomena which, while it gives adequate general conceptions of them, leads, now in this direction and now in that, to limits which no exploration can transcend, is needful to make us aware of our relation to the ultimate mystery of things; and so to awaken a consciousness which we may properly consider germane to the ethical consciousness.
222. In its full acceptation, knowledge of science includes knowledge of social science; and this includes a certain kind of historical knowledge. Such of it as is needful for political guidance, each citizen should endeavor to obtain. Though the greater parts of the facts from which true sociological generalizations may be drawn, are presented only by those savage and semicivilized societies ignored in our educational courses, there are also required some of the facts furnished by the histories of developed nations.
But beyond the impersonal elements of history which chiefly demand attention, a certain attention may rightly be given to its personal elements. Commonly these occupy the entire attention. The great-man theory of history, tacitly held by the ignorant in all ages and in recent times definitely enunciated by Mr. Carlyle, implies that knowledge of history is constituted by knowledge of rulers and their doings; and by this theory there is fostered in the mass of minds a love of gossip about dead individuals, not much more respectable than the love of gossip about individuals now living. But while no information concerning kings and popes, and ministers and generals, even when joined to exhaustive acquaintance with intrigues and treaties, battles and sieges, gives any insight into the laws of social evolution–while the single fact that division of labor has been progressing in all advancing nations regardless of the wills of lawmakers, and unobserved by them, suffices to show that the forces which mold societies work out their results apart from, and often in spite of, the aims of leading men; yet a certain moderate number of leading men and their actions may properly be contemplated. The past stages in human progress, which every one should know something about, would be conceived in too shadowy a form if wholly divested of ideas of the persons and events associated with them. Moreover, some amount of such knowledge is requisite to enlarge adequately the conception of human nature in general–to show the extremes, occasionally good but mostly bad, which it is capable of reaching.
With culture of this kind there naturally goes purely literary culture. That a fair amount of this should be included in the preparation for complete living, needs no saying. Rather does it need saying that in a duly proportioned education, as well as in adult life, literature should be assigned less space than it now has. Nearly all are prone to mental occupations of easy kinds, or kinds which yield pleasurable excitements with small efforts; and history, biography, fiction, poetry, are, in this respect, more attractive to the majority than science–more attractive than that knowledge of the order of things at large which serves for guidance.
Still, we must not here forget that from the hedonistic point of view, taking account of this pleasure directly obtained, literary culture has a high claim; and we may also admit that, as conducing to wealth and force of expression by furnishing materials for metaphor and allusion, it increases mental power and social effectiveness. In the absence of it conversation is bald.
223. In culture, as in other things, men tend towards one or other extreme. Either, as with the great majority, culture is scarcely pursued at all, or, as with the few, it is pursued almost exclusively and often with disastrous results.
Emerson says of the gentleman that the first requisite is to be a good animal, and this is the first requisite for every one. A course of life which sacrifices the animal, though it may be defensible under special conditions is not defensible as a general policy. Within the sphere of our positive knowledge we nowhere see mind without life; we nowhere see life without a body; we nowhere see a full life–a life which is high alike in respect of intensity. breadth, and length–without a healthy body. Every breach of the laws of bodily health produces a physical damage, which eventually damages in some way though often in an invisible way the mental health.
Culture has therefore to be carried on subject to other needs. Its amount must be such as consists with, and is conducive to, physical welfare; and it must be also such as consists with, and is conducive to, normal activity not only of the mental powers exercised, but of all others. When carried to an extent which diminishes vivacity, and produces indifference to the various natural enjoyments, it is an abuse; and still more is it an abuse when, as often happens, it is pushed so far as to produce disgust with the subjects over which attention has been unduly strained.
Especially in the case of women is condemnation of overculture called for, since immense mischief is done by it. We are told that the higher education, as now carried on at Girton and Newnham, is not inconsistent with maintenance of good health; and if we omit those who are obliged to desist, this appears to be true. I say advisedly “appears to be true.” There are various degrees of what is called good health. Commonly it is alleged and admitted where no physical disturbance is manifest; but there is a wide space between this and that full health which shows itself in high spirits and overflowing energy In women, especially, there may be maintained a health which seems good, and yet falls short of the requirements of the race. For in women, much more than in men, there is constitutionally provided a surplus vitality devoted to continuance of the species. When the system is overtaxed the portion thus set aside is considerably diminished before the portion which goes to carry on individual life is manifestly trenched upon. The cost of activity, and especially of cerebral activity, which is very costly, has to be met; and if expenditure is excessive it cannot be met without deduction from that reserve power which should go to race maintenance. The reproductive capacity is diminished in various degrees–sometimes to the extent of inability to bear children, more frequently to the extent of inability to yield milk, and in numerous cases to a smaller extent which I must leave unspecified. I have good authority for saying that one of the remoter results of overculture, very frequently becomes a cause of domestic alienation.
Let me add that an adequately high culture, alike of men and women, might be compassed without mischief were our curriculum more rational. If the worthless knowledge included in what is now supposed to be a good education were omitted, all that which is needful for guidance, most of that which is desirable for general enlightenment, and a good deal of that which is distinguished as decorative, might be acquired without injurious reactions.
224. To the egoistic motives for culture have to be added the altruistic motives. A human being devoid of knowledge, and with none of that intellectual life which discipline of the faculties gives, is utterly uninteresting. To become a pleasure-yielding person is a social duty. Hence culture, and especially the culture which conduces to enlivenment, has an ethical sanction and something more.
Especially is this true of aesthetic culture, of which no note has thus far been taken. While it is to be enjoined as aiding that highest development of self required for the fullest life and happiness, it is also to be enjoined as increasing the ability to gratify those around. Though practices in the plastic arts, in music, and in poetry, are usually to be encouraged chiefly as producing susceptibility to pleasures, which the aesthetically uncultured cannot have; yet those who are endowed with something more than average ability, should be led to develop it by motives of benevolence also. In the highest degree this is so with music; and concerted music, subordinating as it does the personal element, is above all other kinds to be cultivated on altruistic grounds. It should be added, however, that excess of aesthetic culture, in common with excess of intellectual culture, is to be reprobated: Not in this case because of the overtax entailed, but because of the undue expenditure of time–the occupation of too large a space in life. With multitudes of people, especially women, the pursuit of beauty in one or other form is the predominant pursuit. To the achievement of prettiness much more important ends are sacrificed. Though aesthetic culture has to be recognized as ethically sanctioned, yet instead of emphasizing the demand for it, there is far greater occasion for condemning the excess of it. There needs a trenchant essay on aesthetic vices, which are everywhere shown in the subordination of use to appearance.
225. I have closed the last chapter with a division, the sub-matter of which links it on to the subject matter of this chapter. We pass insensibly from the activities and passivities implied by aesthetic culture, to sundry of those which come under the head of relaxations and amusements. These we have now to consider from the ethical point of view.
To the great majority who have imbibed more or less of that asceticism which, though appropriate to times of chronic militancy and also useful as a curb to ungoverned sensualism, has swayed too much men’s theory of life, it will seem an absurd supposition that amusements are ethically warranted. Yet unless, in common with the Quakers and some extreme evangelicals, they hold them to be positively wrong, they must either say that amusements are neither right nor wrong, or, they must say that they are positively right–are to be morally approved.
That they are sanctioned by hedonistic ethics goes without saying. They are pleasure-giving activities; and that is their sufficient justification, so long as they do not unduly interfere with activities which are obligatory. Though most of our pleasures are to be accepted as concomitants of those various expenditures of energy conducive to self-sustentation and sustentation of family; yet the pursuit of pleasure for pleasure’s sake is to be sanctioned, and even enjoined, when primary duties have been fulfilled.
So, too, are they to be approved from the physiological point of view. Not only do the emotional satisfactions which accompany normal life-sustaining labors exalt the vital functions, but the vital functions are exalted by those satisfactions which accompany the superfluous expenditures of energy implied by amusements: much more exalted in fact. Such satisfactions serve to raise the tide of life, and taken in due proportion conduce to every kind of efficiency.
Yet once more there is the evolutionary justification. In section 534 of The Principles of Psychology, it was shown that whereas, in the lowest creatures, the small energies which exist are wholly used up in those actions which serve to maintain the individual and propagate the species; in creatures of successively higher grades, there arises an increasing amount of unused energy: every improvement of organization achieving some economy and so augmenting the surplus power. This surplus expends itself in the activities we call play. Among the superior vertebrata the tendency to these superfluous activities becomes conspicuous; and it is especially conspicuous in man, when so conditioned that stress of competition does not make the sustentation of self and family too laborious. The implication is that in a fully developed form of human life, a considerable space will be filled by the pleasurable exercise of faculties which have not been exhausted by daily activities.
226. In that division of The Principles of Psychology above referred to (secs. 533—40), in which I have drawn this distinction between life-sustaining activities and activities not of a life-sustaining kind, which are pursued for pleasure’s sake, I have not drawn the further distinction between those of the sensory structures and those of the motor structures. There is a distinction between gratifications which aesthetic perceptions yield and those yielded by games and sports. This distinction it was left for Mr. Grant Allen to point out in his Physiological Aesthetics. It cannot be made an absolute distinction, however; since gratifications derived from certain excitements of the senses are often associated with, and dependent upon, muscular actions; and since the gratifications of muscular actions, whatever their kind, are achieved under guidance of the senses. Moreover, with each of them there usually exists a large emotional accompaniment more important than either. Still the division is a natural one, and Mr. Grant Allen has established it beyond question.
Even ascetically minded people do not repudiate those enjoyments, intellectual and emotional, which traveling yields. Pursuit of the aesthetic delights derived from beautiful scenery, the mountains, the sea–primarily those due to the visual impressions which forms and colors give, but secondarily and mainly those due to the poetical sentiments aroused by association–is approved by all. So, too, in a measure, is pursuit of the gratifications yielded by exploration of the unknown forms of human life and its products–foreign peoples, their towns, their ways. One is sometimes saddened to think what a vast majority of men come into the world and go out of it again knowing scarcely at all what kind of world it is. And this thought suggests that while it is to be sanctioned for gratification’s sake, traveling is to be further sanctioned for the sake of culture; since the accompanying enlargement of the experiences profoundly affects the general conceptions and rationalizes them. Modern social changes and changes of belief, are in considerable measure due to facilitation of intercourse with unlike forms of life, and character, and habit, which railways have brought about.
After the pleasures given by actual presentations of new scenes, may fitly be named the pleasures yielded by pictorial representations of them. While in many cases these fall short of those which the realities give, in many other cases they exceed them. By its reproduction on canvas there is given to a rural view or a domestic interior an artificial interest; so that something intrinsically commonplace is transfigured into something beautiful: possibly because the mind in presence of the object itself was so much occupied with its other aspects as to give no attention to its aesthetic aspects. Be the cause what it may, however, works of art open new fields of delight, and by hedonism acceptance of this delight is sanctioned, or rather enjoined. Few pleasures are more entirely to be approved, and less open to abuse, than those yielded by paintmgs, and of course also by sculptures.
It seems undesirable to insist that there is an ethical sanction for the pleasures given by light literature, seeing that there is so general a tendency to excess in the pursuit of them. Perhaps such exaltation of feeling as the reading of good poetry produces, is not sought in an undue degree; but, unquestionably, there is far too much reading of fiction; often excluding, as it does, all instructive reading, and causing neglect of useful occupations. While ethical approval must be given to occasional indulgence in that extreme gratification produced by following out the good and ill fortunes of imaginary persons made real by vivid character drawing; yet there much more needs ethical reprobation of the too frequent indulgence in it which is so common: this emotional debauchery undermines mental health. Nor let us omit to note that while sanction may rightly be claimed for fiction of a humanizing tendency, there should be nothing but condemnation for brutalizing fiction–for that culture of bloodthirst to which so many stories are devoted.
Of course much that has just been said concerning fiction may be said concerning the drama. Higher even than the gratification yielded by a good novel, is that yielded by a good play; and the demoralization caused by excess of it would be still greater were there the same opportunity for continuous absorption. Pleasures which are intense must be sparingly partaken of. The general law of waste and repair implies that in proportion to the excitement of a faculty must be its subsequent prostration and unfitness for action–an unfitness which continues until repair has been made. Hence, overwhelming sympathy felt for personages in a fiction or drama, is felt at the cost of some subsequent callousness. As the eye by exposure to a vivid light is momentarily incapacitated for appreciating those feeble lights through which objects around are distinguished; so, after a tearful fellow feeling with the sufferers of imaginary woes, there is for a time a lack of fellow feeling with persons around. Much theatergoing, like much novel reading, is therefore to be ethically reprobated.
Perhaps among gratifications of the aesthetic class, that which music yields is that which may be indulged in most largely without evil consequences. Though after a concert, as after a fiction or a play, life in general seems tame; yet there is a less marked reaction, because the feelings excited are more remotely akin to those associated with daily intercourse. Still, the pleasures of music are frequently enjoyed to an excess which, if not otherwise injurious, is injurious by the implied occupation of time–by the filling of too large a space in life.
227. Throughout the foregoing class of pleasures, resulting from the superfluous excitements of faculties, the individual is mainly passive. We turn now to the class in which he is mainly active; which again is subdivisible into two classes–sports and games. With sports, ethics has little concern beyond graduating its degrees of reprobation. Such of them as involve the direct infliction of pain, especially on fellow beings, are nothing but means to the gratification of feelings inherited from savages of the baser sort. That after these thousands of years of social discipline, there should still be so many who like to see the encounters of the prize ring or witness the goring of horses and riders in the arena, shows how slowly the instincts of the barbarian are being subdued. No condemnation can be too strong for these sanguinary amusements which keep alive in men the worst parts of their natures and thus profoundly vitiate social life. Of course in a measure, though in a smaller measure, condemnation must be passed on field sports–in smaller measure because the obtainment of food affords a partial motive, because the inffiction of pain is less conspicuous, and because the chief pleasure is that derived from successful exercise of skill. But it cannot be denied that all activities with which there is joined the consciousness that other sentient beings, far inferior though they may be, are made to suffer, are to some extent demoralizing. The sympathies do, indeed, admit of being so far specialized that the same person who is unsympathetic toward wild animals may be in large measure sympathetic toward fellow men; but a full amount of sympathy cannot well be present in the one relation and absent in the other. It may be added that the specializing of the sympathies has the effect that they become smaller as the remoteness from human nature becomes greater; and that hence the killing of a deer sins against them more than does the killing of a fish.
Those expenditures of energy which take the form of games, yield pleasures from which there are but small, if any, drawbacks in the entailed pains. Certain of them, indeed, as football, are as much to be reprobated as sports, than some of which they are more brutalizing; and there cannot be much ethical approbation of those games, so-called, such as boat races, in which a painful and often injurious overtax of the system is gone through to achieve a victory, pleasurable to one side and entailing pain on the other. But there is ethical sanction for those games in which, with a moderate amount of muscular effort, there is joined the excitement of a competition not too intense, kept alive from moment to moment by the changing incidents of the contest. Under these conditions the muscular actions are beneficial, the culture of the perceptions is useful, while the emotional pleasure has but small drawbacks. And here I am prompted to denounce the practice, now so general, of substituting gymnastics for games–violent muscular actions, joined with small concomitant pleasures, for moderate muscular actions joined with great pleasures. This usurpation is a sequence of that pestilent asceticism which thinks that pleasure is of no consequence, and that if the same amount of exercise be taken, the same benefit is gained: the truth being that to the exaltation of the vital functions which the pleasure produces, half the benefit is due.
Of indoor games which chiefly demand quickness of perception, quickness of reasoning, and quickness of judgment, general approval may be expressed with qualifications of no great importance. For young people they are especially desirable as giving to various of the intellectual faculties a valuable training, not to be given by other means. Under the stress of competition, the abilities to observe rapidly perceive accurately and infer rightly are increased; and in addition to the immediate pleasures gained, there are gained powers of dealing more effectually with many of the incidents of life. It should be added that such drawbacks as there are, from the emotions accompanying victory and defeat, are but small in games which involve chance as a considerable factor, but are very noticeable where there is no chance. Chess, for example, which pits together two intelligences in such a way as to show unmistakably the superiority of one to the other in respect of certain powers, produces, much more than whist, a feeling of humiliation in the defeated, and if the sympathies are keen this gives some annoyance to the victor as well as to the vanquished.
Of course, such ethical sanction as is given to games, cannot be given where gambling or betting is an accompaniment. Involving, as both do, in a very definite way and often to an extreme degree, the obtainment of pleasure at the cost of another’s pain, they are to be condemned both for this immediate effect and for their remote effect–the repression of fellow feeling.
228. Before passing to the altruistic aspect of amusements, there should be noted a less familiar egoistic aspect. Unless they have kept up during life an interest in pastimes, those who have broken down from overwork (perhaps an overwork entailed on them by imperative duties) usually find themselves incapable of relaxing in any satisfactory way: they are no longer amusable. Capacities for all other pleasures are atrophied, and the only pleasure is that which business gives. In such cases recovery is, if not prevented, greatly retarded by the lack of exhilarating occupations. Frequently dependents suffer.
This last consideration shows that these, like other classes of actions which primarily concern the individual, concern, to some extent, other individuals. But they concern other individuals in more direct and constant ways also. On each person there is imposed not only the peremptory obligation so to carry on his life as to avoid inequitably interfering with the carrying on of others’ lives, and not only the less peremptory obligation to aid under various circumstances the carrying on of their lives, but there is imposed some obligation to increase the pleasures of their lives by sociality and by the cultivation of those powers which conduce to sociality A man may be a good economical unit of society. while remaining otherwise an almost worthless unit. If he has no knowledge of the arts, no aesthetic feelings, no interest in fiction, the drama, poetry, or music–if he cannot join in any of those amusements which daily and at longer intervals fill leisure spaces in life–if he is thus one to whom others cannot readily give pleasure, at the same time that he can give no pleasure to others; he becomes in great measure a dead unit, and unless he has some special value might better be out of the way.
Thus, that he may add his share to the general happiness, each should cultivate in due measure those superfluous activities which primarily yield self-happiness.
229. Up to the present point there has been maintained, if not absolutely yet with tolerable clearness, the division between the ethics of individual life and the ethics of social life; but we come, in this chapter and the chapter which follows it, to a part of ethics which is in a sense intermediate. For in the relations of marriage and parenthood, others are concerned, not contingently and indirectly, but in ways that are necessary and direct. The implied divisions of conduct, while their primary ethical sanctions refer to the proper fulfillment of individual life, are yet inseparable from those divisions which treat of conduct that is to be ethically approved or disapproved because of its effects on those around.
Let us glance first at the general obligation under which the individual lies to aid in maintaining the species, while fulfilling the needs of his own nature.
230. In The Principles of Biology (secs. 334—51) was explained the necessary antagonism between individuation and reproduction–between the appropriation of nutriment and energy for the purposes of individual life, and the appropriation of them for the initiation, development, and nurture of other lives. Extreme cases in which, after an existence of a few hours or a day, the body of a parent divides, or else breaks up into numerous germs of new individuals, and less extreme cases in which a brief parental existence ends by the transformation of the skin into a protective case, while the interior is wholly transformed into young ones, illustrate in an unmistakable way the sacrifice of individual life for the maintenance of species life. It was shown that as we ascend to creatures of more complex structure and greater activity and especially as we ascend to creatures of which the young have to be fostered, the expenditure of parental life in producing and rearing other lives becomes gradually less. And then, in The Principles of Sociology (secs. 275—77), when considering the “diverse interests of the species, of the parents, and of the offspring,” we saw that in mankind there is reached such conciliation of these interests that along with preservation of the race there go moderated individual sacrifices; and further, that with the ascent from lower to higher types of men, we tend toward an ideal family in which “the mortality between birth and the reproductive age falls to a minimum, while the lives of adults have their subordination to the rearing of children reduced to the smallest possible.”
To the last, however, the antagonism between individuation and reproduction holds–holds in a direct way, because of the physical tax which reproduction necessitates, and holds in an indirect way because of the tax, physical and mental, necessitated by rearing children: a tax which, though it is pleasurably paid in fulfillment of the appropriate instincts and emotions, and is in so far a fulfillment of individual life, is nevertheless a tax which restricts individual development in various directions.
But here the truth which it chiefly concerns us to note is that, assuming the preservation of the race to be a desideratum, there results a certain kind of obligation to pay this tax and to submit to this sacrifice. Moreover, something like natural equity requires that as each individual is indebted to past individuals for the cost of producing and rearing him, he shall be at some equivalent cost for the benefit of future individuals.
In tribes and small societies, where maintenance of numbers is important, this obligation becomes appreciable; and, as we see in the reproach of barrenness, failure to fulfill it brings disapproval. But of course in large nations where multiplication is rather an evil than a benefit, this obligation lapses; and the individual may, in many cases, fitly discharge his or her indebtedness in some other way than by adding to the population.
231. Leaving here these considerations which pertain, perhaps, more to the ethics of social life than to the ethics of individual life, and returning to the consideration of marriage as a part of individual life, we have first to note its ethical sanctions as so considered. All activities fall into two great groups–those which constitute and sustain the life of the individual, and those which further the life of the race; and it seems inferable that if for full health the structures conducive to the one must severally perform their functions, so must the structures conducive to the other. Such part of the organization as is devoted to the production of offspring, can scarcely be left inert and leave the rest of the organization unaffected. The not infrequent occurrence of hysteria and chlorosis shows that women, in whom the reproductive function bears a larger ratio to the totality of the functions than it does in men, are apt to suffer grave constitutional evils from that incompleteness of life which celibacy implies: grave evils to which there probably correspond smaller and unperceived evils in numerous cases. As before remarked, there are wide limits of deviation in what we call good health; and there are everywhere, in men and women, many shortcomings of full health which are not perceived to be such shortcomings, however, which may be recognized on remembering the contrast between the ordinary state of body and mind, and that which is shown after an invigorating holiday. That the physiological effects of a completely celibate life on either sex are to some extent injurious, seems an almost necessary implication of the natural conditions.
But whether or not there be disagreement on this point, there can be none respecting the effects of a celibate life as mentally injurious. A large part of the nature–partly intellectual but chiefly emotional–finds its sphere of action in the marital relation, and afterwards in the parental relation; and if this sphere be closed, some of the higher feelings must remain inactive and others but feebly active. Directly, to special elements of the mind, the relation established by marriage is the normal and needful stimulus, and indirectly to all its elements.
There is in the first place to be recognized an exaltation of the energies. Continuous and strenuous efforts to succeed in life are often excited by an engagement to marry–efforts which had previously not been thought of. Then, subsequently, the consciousness of family responsibilities when these have arisen, serves as a sharper spur to exertion: often, indeed, a spur so sharp that in the absence of prudential restraints it leads to overwork. But the most noteworthy fact is that under these conditions, an amount of activity becomes relatively easy and even pleasurable, which before was difficult and repugnant.
The immediate cause of this greater energy is the increased quantity of emotion which the marital relation, and after it the parental relation, excite; and there is to be recognized both a greater body of emotion, and a higher form of emotion. To the lower egoistic feelings which previously formed the chief, if not only stimuli, are now added those higher egoistic feelings which find their satisfaction in the affections, together with those altruistic feelings which find their satisfaction in the happiness of others. What potent influences on character thus come into play is shown in the moral transformation which marriage frequently effects. Often the vain and thoughtless girl, caring only for amusements, becomes changed into the devoted wife and mother; and often the man who is ill-tempered and unsympathetic, becomes changed into the self-sacrificing husband and careful father. To which add that there is usually exercised, more than before, the discipline of self-restraint.
Some effect, too, is wrought on the thinking faculties; not, perhaps, in their power, but in their balance. In women the intellectual activity is frequently diminished; for the antagonism between individuation and reproduction, which is in them most pronounced, tells more especially on the brain. But to both husband and wife there daily come many occasions for exercises of judgment, alike in their relations to domestic affairs, to one another, and to children–exercises of judgment which in the celibate state were not called for; and hence an increase of intellectual stability and sense of proportion.
It must, however, be remarked that the beneficial effects to be expected from marriage, as giving a sphere to a large part of the nature otherwise relatively inert, presuppose a normal marriage–a marriage of affection. If, instead, it is one of the kind to be ethically reprobated–a mercantile marriage–there may follow debasement rather than elevation.
232. But now comes a difficult question. If, on the one hand, as being a condition to fulfillment of individual life, marriage is ethically sanctioned and, indeed, ethically enjoined; and if, on the other hand, there is ethical reprobation for all acts which will certainly or probably entail evil–reprobation if the evil is likely to come on self, and still more if it is likely to come on others; then what are we to say of improvident marriage?
There needs no insistence on the truth that if domestic responsibilities are entered upon without a fair prospect of efficiently discharging them, a wrong is done: especially to children and, by implication, to the race. To take a step from which will result a poverty-stricken household, containing a half-starved and half-clothed family, is, if estimated by entailed miseries, something like a crime. When, after long years of pain, anxiety, cold and hunger, to adults and young, some out of the many born have been reared to maturity, ill-grown, unhealthy, and incapable of the efforts needed for self-support; it becomes manifest that there have been produced beings who are at once curses to themselves and to the community. Severe condemnation must be passed on the conduct which has such consequences.
And yet, on the other hand, what would happen if no marriages took place without a satisfactory prospect of maintaining a family? Suppose that an average delay of ten years were submitted to, so that there might be no such risks of evil as are now commonly run. The usual supposition is that such persistent self-restraint would be purely beneficial. This is far from being true, however.
I do not refer to the fact that ten years of partially abnormal life is a serious evil; although this should be taken account of in estimating the total results. Nor am I thinking of the increased liability to domestic dissension which arises when added years have given to each of the married pair greater fixity of beliefs and diminished modifiability of feelings. But I am thinking chiefly of the effects on progeny. The tacit assumption made by those who advocate the Malthusian remedy for overpopulation, is, that it matters not to children whether they are born to young parents or to old parents. This is a mistake.
Because many factors cooperate, the evidence is so obscured that attention is not commonly drawn to the effects indicated; but they certainly arise. The antagonism between individuation and reproduction implies, among other things, that the surplus vitality available for the maintenance of species life is that which remains after the maintenance of individual life. Hence the effects on offspring of early, medium, and late marriages, are not constant; because the surplus, though it has a general relation to age, is not constant at any age. But from this general relation it results, in the first place, that children born of very early marriages are injuriously affected; since where the development of parents, or more especially the mother, is not complete, the available surplus is less than that which exists after it is complete. It results also that where maternal vigor is great and the surplus vitality consequently large, a long series of children may be borne before any deterioration in their quality becomes marked; while, on the other hand, a mother with but a small surplus may soon cease altogether to reproduce. Further, it results that variations in the states of health of parents, involving variations in the surplus vitality, have their effects on the constitutions of offspring, to the extent that offspring borne during greatly deranged maternal health are decidedly feebler. And then, lastly and chiefly, it results that after the constitutional vigor has culminated, and there has commenced that gradual decline which in some twenty years or so brings absolute infertility, there goes on a gradual decrease in that surplus vitality on which the production of offspring depends, and a consequent deterioration in the quality of such offspring. This, which is an a priori conclusion, is verified a posteriori. Mr. J. Matthews Duncan, in his work on Fecundity, Fertility, Sterility, and Allied Topics, has given results of statistics which show that mothers of five-and-twenty bear the finest infants, and that from mothers whose age at marriage ranges from twenty to five-and-twenty there come infants which have a lower rate of mortality than those resulting from marriages commenced when the mother’s age is either smaller or greater: the apparent slight incongruity between these two statements, being due to the fact that whereas marriages commenced between twenty and five-and-twenty cover the whole of the period of highest vigor, marriages commenced at five-and-twenty cover a period which lacks the years during which vigor is rising to its climax, and includes only the years of decline from the climax.
Now this fact that infants born of mothers married between twenty and five-and-twenty have a lower rate of mortality than infants born of mothers married earlier or later, shows that the age of marriage is not a matter of indifference to the race, and that the question of early or late marriages is less simple than appears. While the children of a relatively early marriage improvidently entered upon, may suffer from inadequate sustentation; the children of a later marriage are likely to suffer from initial imperfection–imperfection which may be consistent with good health and fair efficiency but yet may negative that high efficiency requisite for the best and most successful life. For especially nowadays, under our regime of keen competition, a small falling-short of constitutional vigor may entail failure.
Thus, except in the positive reprobation of marriages at an earlier age than twenty (among the higher races of mankind) ethical considerations furnish but indefinite guidance. Usually there has to be a compromise of probabilities. While recklessly improvident marriages must be strongly condemned, yet it seems that in many cases some risk may rightly be run, lest there should be entailed the evils flowing from too long a delay.
233. But what has ethics to say concerning choice in marriage–the selection of wife by husband and husband by wife? It has very decisive things to say.
Current conversation proves how low is current thought and sentiment about these questions. “It will be a very good match for her,” is the remark you hear respecting some young lady engaged to a wealthy man. Or concerning the choice of some young gentleman it is said, “She is an accomplished girl and well connected; and her friends will help to advance him in his profession.” Another engaged pair are described as well suited: he is a domestic man, and she does not care much for society. Or, perhaps, the impending marriage is applauded on the ground that the lady will be a good housekeeper, and make the best of a small income; or that the proposed husband is good-tempered and not too fastidious. But about the fitness of the connection as considered not extrinsically but intrinsically little or nothing is said.
The first ground of ethical judgment is the reciprocal state of feeling prompting the union. Where there exists none of that mutual attraction which should be the incentive, evolutionary ethics and hedonistic ethics alike protest; whatever ethics otherwise derived may do. Marriages of this class are reversions to marriage of earlier types, such as those found among the rudest savages. The marriage de convénance has been called, with some show of reason, legalized prostitution.
But passing over the interdict which ethics utters on marriages which are mercantile, or which arise from other motives than affection, we have to notice its further interdicts physiologically originating. Here we see, as was pointed out in the preliminary chapter, how prevalent is the blindness to all effects save proximate ones; unquestionable as may be the genesis of remoter effects. Only in extrerne cases do either those directly concerned or their friends, think of the probable quality of the offspring when discussing the propriety of a marriage. Disapproval, perhaps rising to reprobation, may be expressed when the proposed union is between cousins, or is a union with one who probably inherits insanity; but consideration of the effects to be borne by descendants goes scarcely beyond this. A feeble mind or a bad physique is but rarely thought a sufficient reason for rejecting a suitor. Thin, flat-chested girls, debilitated men perpetually ailing, some who are constitutionally wanting in bodily energy, others who have no activity either of intellect or feeling, and many who are from this or that defect so inferior as to be unfit to carry on the battle of life, are ordinarily considered good enough for marriage and parenthood. In a manner that seems almost deliberate there are thus entailed households in which illness and dullness and bad-temper prevail, and out of which there come unhealthy and incapable children and grandchildren.
Ethical considerations should here serve as rigid restraints. Though guidance by the feelings is to be so far respected that marriages not prompted by them must be condemned, yet guidance by the feelings must not therefore be regarded as so authoritative that all marriages prompted by them should be approved. A certain perversion of sentiment has to be guarded against. Relative weakness, appealing for protection, is one of the traits in women which excites in men the sentiment of affection–"the tender emotion,” as Bain styles it; and sometimes a degree of relative weakness which exceeds the natural, strongly excites this feeling: the pity which is akin to love ends in love. There are converse cases in which a woman of unusual power of nature becomes attached to a man who is feeble in body or mind. But these deviations from normal inclinations have to be resisted. Ethics demands that judgment shall here come in aid of instinct and control it.
234. There remains a question uniformly passed over because difficult to discuss, but the ignoring of which is fraught with untold disasters–a question concerning which ethics, in its comprehensive form, has a verdict to give, and cannot without falling short of its functions decline to give it.
The saying “the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life” not only is exemplified by the way in which observance of religious ceremonies replaces observance of the essential injunctions of religion, but is exemplified everywhere. As in the primitive legal system of the Romans, before it was qualified by infusion of the Jus Centium, the essential thing was fulfillment of formalities rather than maintenance of right–as, among ourselves, the sacrifice of justice to the technicalities of law led to the supplementary system of equity, intended to rectify the entailed injustices–as, again, in the system of equity the observance of rules and conforming to orders, ever complicating, became in course of time so burdensome that equity, lost sight of, was replaced by inequity, or iniquity; so is it throughout. Wherever requirements which have their roots in the order of nature, come to be enforced by an extrinsic authority, obedience to that extrinsic authority takes the place of obedience to the natural requirements.
It is thus in a considerable degree with marriage. I do not mean merely that unions of an essentially illegitimate kind are supposed to be legitimized by a church service or a registration; but I mean more. I mean that when the civil requirements have been fulfilled, and the ecclesiastical sanction has been obtained, it is supposed that no further control has to be recognized–that when the religious restraints and the social restraints on the relations of the sexes have been duly respected, there remain no other restraints. The physiological restraints, not having received official recognition, are not supposed to exist, or are disregarded. Hence a vast amount of evil.
The antagonism between individuation and reproduction comes into play throughout the entire process of race maintenance. It is true that the fulfillment of individual life largely consists in furthering species life; but it is nonetheless true that from beginning to end, the last puts a limit to the first. We have but to consider that, delighted as the mother is in yielding food to her infant, she yet suffers a serious physical tax in addition to the physical tax entailed by production of it, to see that great though the maternal gratification may be, it entails loss of gratifications which a more developed individual life might have brought; and that when many children are produced and reared, the sacrifices of individual life and of the pleasures which a higher development would bring, become very great. This law inevitably holds throughout the entire reproductive function from beginning to end–with the initial part as with the terminal part; and ignorance of, or indifference to, it entails profound injuries, physical and mental. If the physiological restraints are not respected the life is undermined in all ways.
When, out of the total resources which the sustaining organs furnish in materials and forces, the part required for the carrying on of individual life is trenched upon beyond the normal ratio, by the part constitutionally appropriated to species life, there comes a diminution of energy which affects the vital processes and all dependent processes. Chronic derangements of health supervene, diminished bodily activity. decline of mental power, and sometimes even insanity. Succeeding the mischiefs thus caused, even when they are not so extreme, there come the mischiefs entailed on family and others; for inability to discharge obligations, depression of spirits, and perturbed mental state, inevitably injure those around. Several specialists, who have good means of judging, agree in the opinion that the aggregate evils arising from excesses of this kind are greater than those arising from excesses of all other kinds put together.
If, then, ethics as rightly conceived has to pass judgment on all conduct which affects the well-being, immediate or remote, of self or others, or both; then the lack of self-restraint which it condemns in other cases, it must condemn in this case also.
235. The subject matter of this chapter is of course only in part separable from the subject matter of the last chapter. But though in discussing the ethics of marriage, as primarily concerning the relations of parents to each other, it has been needful to take account of the relations of parents to offspring, it has seemed best to reserve the full consideration of these last relations for a distinct chapter.
Already it has been pointed out that in the order of nature–"so careful of the type . . . so careless of the single life"–the welfare of progeny takes precedence of the welfare of those who produce them. Though the happiness or misery of the married pair is ordinarily the result chiefly contemplated, this result must be held of secondary importance in comparison with the results reached in offspring–the superiority or inferiority of the children born and reared to maturity. For in proportion as race maintenance is well- or ill-achieved in each case, must be the tendency of the species or variety to prosper or decline.
Hence all requirements touching the proximate end, marriage, are to be considered in subordination to requirements touching the ultimate end–the raising up members of a new generation. Evolutionary ethics demands that this last end shall be regarded as the supreme end.
236. Obviously the parental instincts in large measure secure fulfillment of this supreme end; since any species or variety in which they are not strong enough to do this, must presently become extinct. Here, then, we are introduced to the truth that achievement of those pleasures which parenthood brings, has a double sanction–that which the ethics of individual life directly yields, and that which is yielded indirectly by the ethics of social life.
But satisfaction of the parental affections, while not to be ignored as an end in itself, is, as above implied, chiefly to be regarded as a spur to the discharge of parental responsibilities. The arrangements of things are dislocated if the two are not kept in relation–if the responsibilities, instead of being discharged by parents, are shouldered upon others. It might have been thought that this truth is too obvious to need enunciation; but, unhappily it is far otherwise. We have fallen upon evil times, in which it has come to be an accepted doctrine that part of the responsibilities are to be discharged not by parents but by the public–a part which is gradually becoming a larger part and threatens to become the whole. Agitators and legislators have united in spreading a theory which, logically followed out, ends in the monstrous conclusion that it is for parents to beget children and for society to take care of them. The political ethics now in fashion, makes the unhesitating assumption that while each man, as parent, is not responsible for the mental culture of his own offspring, he is, as citizen, along with other citizens, responsible for the mental culture of all other men’s offspring! And this absurd doctrine has now become so well established that people raise their eyebrows in astonishment if you deny it. A self-evident falsehood has been transformed into a self-evident truth! Along with the almost universal superstition that society is a manufacture and not a growth, there goes the unwavering belief that legislators, prompted by electors, can with advantage set aside one of the fundamental arrangements under which organic nature at large, and human nature in particular, has evolved thus far! Men who have proved cunning in business speculation, men who ride well to hounds and are popular in their counties, men who in courts of justice are skilled in making the worse cause appear the better, men who once wrote good Latin verses or proved themselves learned about the misbehavior of the Greek gods, unite in trying to undo organized dependencies resulting from millions of years of discipline. Men whose culture is so little relevant to the functions they have assumed, that they do not even see that everything in social life originates from certain traits of individual life, that individual human life is but a specialized part of life at large, and that therefore until the leading truths presented by life at large are comprehended, there can be no right comprehension of society–men who are thus ignorant of the great facts which it chiefly concerns them to know, have promised to do the behests of men who are ignorant not only of such facts but of most other things. The half-blind elected by the wholly blind take upon themselves the office of creation menders! Daily accustomed to discover that established laws are bad and must be repealed by act of Parliament, they have unawares extended their thought to laws not of human origin, and calmly undertake to repeal by act of Parliament a law of nature!
But this ignoring of the truth that only by due discharge of parental responsibilities has all life on the earth arisen, and that only through the better discharge of them have there gradually been made possible better types of life, is in the long run fatal. Breach of natural law will in this case, as in all cases, be followed in due time by nature’s revenge–a revenge which will be terrible in proportion as the breach has been great. A system under which parental duties are performed wholesale by those who are not the parents, under the plea that many parents cannot or will not perform their duties–a system which thus fosters the inferior children of inferior parents at the necessary cost of superior parents and consequent injury of superior children–a system which thus helps incapables to multiply and hinders the multiplications of capables, or diminishes their capability, must bring decay and eventual extinction. A society which persists in such a system must, other things equal, go to the wall in the competition with a society which does not commit the folly of nurturing its worst at the expense of its best.
The ethical code of nature, then, allows of no escape of parents from their obligations. While under its hedonistic aspect it sanctions in an emphatic way the gratification of parental affections, under its evolutionary aspect it peremptorily requires fulfillment of all those actions by which the young are prepared for the battle of life. And if the circumstances are such that part of these actions must be performed by deputy, it still requires that the implied cost and care shall be borne, and not transferred to others’ shoulders.
237. The time will come when, along with full recognition of parental duties, there will go an unyielding resistance to the usurpation of those duties. While the parent, as he ought to be, will conscientiously satisfy all the demands which his parenthood entails, he will sternly deny the right of any assemblage of men to take his children from him and mold them as they please. We have outgrown the stage during which the despot, with an army at his back, could impose his will on all citizens; but we have not yet outgrown the stage during which a majority of citizens, with police at their back, can impose their will, concerning all matters whatever, upon citizens not of their number. But when there has passed away this contemptible superstition that, having the power, the majority have the right, to do as they please with the persons and property and actions of those who happen to be in the minority–when it is understood that governmental orders are limited by ethical injunctions; every parent will hold his sphere as one into which the state may not intrude. And if under such conditions there occasionally, though rarely, happens a nonperformance of parental duties, the entailed evil brings, in nature’s stern way, its own cure. For with mankind as with lower kinds, the ill-nurtured offspring of the inferior fail in the struggle for existence with the well-nurtured offspring of the superior; and in a generation or two die out, to the benefit of the species. A harsh discipline this, most will say. True; but nature has much discipline which is harsh, and which must, in the long run, be submitted to. The necessities which she imposes on us are not to be evaded, even by the joint efforts of university graduates and workingmen delegates; and the endeavor to escape her harsh discipline results in a discipline still harsher. Measures which prevent the dwindling away of inferior individuals and families, must, in the course of generations, cause the nation at large to dwindle away.
At the same time that intrusion into the parental sphere must, in a normal social state, be resented as a trespass, it will be further resented as a deprivation of those daily pleasures yielded by furthering the development of the young in body and mind. For when there have died out the stupidities of an education which may be briefly described as denying the mind that which it wants and forcing upon it that which it does not want, there will have come a time when the superintendence of education, at any rate in all its simpler parts, will be at once easy and enjoyable. The general law that through successive stages of organic evolution, there is an elongation of the period during which parental care is given, shown finally in the contrast between the human race and inferior races, as well as in the contrast between uncivilized and civilized, is a law which, involving as now a long and careful physical nurturing of the young by their parents, will hereafter involve a long and careful psychical nurturing by them; and though the higher and more special educational functions will have to be discharged by proxy, yet the proxy discharge will be under parental superintendence.
People feel no adequate pride in bringing to maturity fine human beings. It is true that the mother, exhibiting each infant with triumph, and during the childhood of each pleasing herself by presenting it to visitors prettily clothed and with hair on which much time has been spent morning and evening, is not wholly neglectful of diet, and takes care that the day’s lessons are attended to. It is true, also, that the father, commonly leaving fashion to determine the places of education for his boys, sometimes makes inquiries and exercises independent judgment; and, more-over, looks with satisfaction on a well-grown youth and one who has brought home prizes. But it is nevertheless true that scarcely anywhere do we see proper solicitude. Grave mischiefs are daily done in almost every family by ignorance of physiological requirements; and in the absence of guiding knowledge in parents, innumerable children grow up with constitutions damaged for life. At the same time there is no such thoughtful ministration to the mind of each child as is called for–no search for a course of intellectual culture which is rational in matter and method, and nothing beyond a rough and ready moral discipline. On observing what energies are expended by father and mother to achieve worldly success and fulfill social ambitions, we are reminded how relatively small is the space occupied by the ambition to make their descendants physically, morally, and intellectually superior. Yet this is the ambition which will replace those they now so eagerly pursue; and which, instead of perpetual disappointments, will bring permanent satisfactions.
And then, following on the discharge of these high parental functions, will come that reward in old age consisting of an affectionate care by children, much greater than is now known.
238. Anything like due fulfillment of parental functions as thus conceived, is possible only under conditions commonly disregarded–conditions the disregard of which is supposed not to fall within the range of ethical judgments.
“Providence has sent me a large family,” is a remark which may occasionally be heard from one who has more children than he can provide for. Though, in other directions, he does not profess an oriental fatalism, in this direction he does. “God has willed it so,” appears to be his thought; and thinking this, he holds himself absolved from blame in bringing about the distresses of a poverty-stricken household.
If, however, improvident marriages are to be reprobated–if to bring children into the world when there will probably be no means of maintaining any is a course calling for condemnation; then there must be condemnation for those who bring many children into the world when they have means of properly rearing only a few. Improvidence after marriage cannot be considered right, if improvidence before marriage is considered wrong.
The stunted and ill-formed bodies of dwellers in the East end of London, tell of the meager diet and deficient clothing from which the many children of parents with narrow means, have suffered during their early days; and even in country villages, where the sanitary conditions are relatively good, one may see in feeble and sickiy people, the results of attempting to rear large families on small wages. This reckless multiplication, while it infficts the daily-recurring pains of unsatisfied appetites and the miseries of insufficient warmth–while it is to be debited with that lack of bodily strength which makes efficient work impracticable, commonly involves also a stupidity which negatives all but the most mechanical functions; for mental power cannot be got from ill-fed brains. Unhappy and wearisome lives are thus entailed by parents who beget more children than they can properly bring up.
Matters are made worse, too, by the undue tax brought on the parents themselves–on the father, if he is conscientious by an injurious amount of labor; and still more on the mother, whose system, exhausted by the bearing of many children, is still further exhausted by the cares which all day long the many children need. Manifestly hedonistic ethics if we regard it as contemplating, more especially, immediate effects on happiness, severely denounces conduct which thus creates miseries all round; while evolutionary ethics, if we consider it as more especially contemplating future results, severely denounces conduct which thus bequeaths lower natures instead of higher to subsequent generations.
Even where parents have means sufficient to provide abundantly for the bodily welfare of many children, there must still be an insufficient provision for their mental welfare. Though, in a family of several, the children amuse and teach one another, and thus mutually aid mental growth; yet, when the number is large, the parental attention they severally need becomes too much subdivided; and the daily display of parental affection, which is a large factor in the moral development of children, cannot be given in adequate amount to each.
239. With the ethical censure of this improvident multiplication, must be joined a like censure of an improvidence habitually associated with it, and in large measure the cause of it. The nature of this will best be shown by citing some facts furnished by races which, being uncivilized, are regarded as therefore in all respects our inferiors.
The first of them comes from a society utterly brutal in most of its usages–Uganda: “The women rarely have more than two or three children, and the law is that when a woman has borne a child she must live apart from her husband for two years, at which age the children are weaned.”
In a still more brutal society–that of the Fijians–we meet with a kindred fact. Says Seemann:
After childbirth, husband and wife keep apart for three, even four years, so that no other baby may interfere with the time considered necessary for suckling children. . . . I heard of a white man, who being asked how many brothers and sisters he had, frankly replied, “Ten!” “But that could not be,” was the rejoinder of the natives, “one mother could scarcely have so many children.” When told that these children were born at annual intervals, and that such occurrences were common in Europe, they were very much shocked, and thought it explained sufficiently why so many white people were “mere shrimps.”
In these cases, however, polygamy prevails: in Uganda, for instance, the enormous preponderance of women, due partly to the destruction of men in war and partly to the capture of women by war, rendering it almost universal. Here, therefore, the usage, insofar as it affects men, is not so remarkable. But in two leading districts of New Guinea, there are monogamous peoples among whom a like rule holds. The Rev. J. Chalmers tells us that in Motu-Motu, the parents, after the birth of a child, “do not live together again until the child is strong, walking, and weaned, and all that time he [the husband] sleeps in dubu. His friends cook food for him.” Similarly of the Motu tribe, he tells us that the parents keep apart “until the child walks and is weaned.” To ascertain the current opinion on the matter he asked the question, “If another child is born before the first is big and able to walk, are they ashamed?” To which he got the answer, “Yes, terribly; and all the village will be talking about it."
Even these warlike and sanguinary peoples then, and still more these trading, peaceful, and monogamous tribes of New Guinea, show us a deep consciousness of the truth that too frequent childbearing is injurious to the race–tells against the fullest development of both the already born child and the child to be presently born. Beyond that constant surplus vitality which, in the female economy, remains after meeting the expenditure of individual life, there is also what we may call a reserve of vital capital, accumulated during intervals in which the surplus is not being demanded. This reserve, used up during the interval in which an infant is being developed, takes some time to replace–a time shorter or longer according as the constitutional vigor is great or small. And if, much before the end of that time, the reproductive system is again called into action, the double result is an overtax of the maternal system, and an infant which falls short of the fullest development; at the same time that its predecessor is too early deprived of its natural supply of food. These are necessary consequences. They are collateral results of that general cause which makes reproduction impossible before and after certain ages.
Here then, as in sundry preceding cases, evolutionary ethics utters an interdict which current ethics, from whatever source derived, shows no signs of uttering.
240. How then are there to be reconciled the interests of the individual and the interests of the race? This question, which here unavoidably presents itself, is one difficult, if not impossible to answer–perhaps they cannot be reconciled.
As already many times said, men have been long in course of acquiring fitness for that social state into which increase of numbers has forced them, and have still but partially acquired fitness for it. In multitudinous ways the survival of instincts appropriate to the presocial stage, has been a chronic cause of miseries; and in multitudinous ways the lack of sentiments appropriate to the social stage, has been a chronic cause of other miseries.
While it has continually increased that pressure of population which has been a cause of progress, excess of fertility has been among the chief factors in the production of these miseries, and must long continue to be such; but, as is shown in The Principles of Biology, sections 373—74, the implication of the general law traceable throughout the whole animal kingdom, is that still a higher development of mind, brought about by still increasing pressure of population, and still greater cerebral activity entailed by it, will gradually diminish the fertility. until the excess practically disappears: the highest degree of individuation entailing the lowest degree of reproduction. And the further implication, there pointed out, is that this degree of individuation, especially shown in a more exalted mental life–wider intelligence and more intense feelings–will not involve conscious stress, but will be the natural outcome of an organization adjusted to the requirements of a more costly self-sustentation. Hence, if there are deprivations which ethics dictates, they must step by step be accompanied by compensations, probably greater in amount.
Only in the slow course of ages, however, can any such change of balance be wrought. Whether, in the meantime, there may arise any qualifications of the process, it is impossible to say. One thing, however, is certain. No conclusion can be sustained which does not conform to the ultimate truth that the interests of the race must predominate over the interests of the individual.
241. The title of this division–"The Ethics of Individual Life"–has excited a publicly expressed curiosity respecting the possible nature of its contents. Nothing beyond prudential admonitions could, it was thought, be meant; and there was evident surprise that ethical sanction should be claimed for these.
The state of mind thus implied is not, I believe, exceptional. Ordinary individual life, when it is such as not directly to affect others for good or evil, is supposed to lie outside the sphere of ethics; or rather, there is commonly entertained no thought about the matter. Ethics, as usually conceived, having made no formal claim to regulate this part of conduct is assumed to be unconcerned with it. It is true that now and then come expressions implying a half-conscious belief to the contrary. “You ought not to have overtaxed your strength by so great an exertion”; “you ought not to have gone so long without food”; are not unfrequent utterances. “You were quite right to throw up the situation if your health was giving way,” is said to one; while on another is passed the criticism, “He is wrong in idling away his time, wealthy though he may be.” And we occasionally hear insistence on the duty of taking a holiday to avoid an illness: especially in view of responsibilities to be discharged. That is to say the words ought, right, wrong, duty are used in connection with various parts of private conduct; and such uses of these words, which in other cases have ethical significance, imply that they have ethical significance in these cases also.
Moreover, as pointed out in the opening chapter, there are some modes of individual life concerning which ethical convictions of the most pronounced kinds prevail–excess in drinking, for example. Recognition of the immense evils entailed by this prompts strong reprobation. But there is no consciousness of the obvious truth that if, because of its mischievous consequences, this deviation from normal life is to be condemned; so, too, are all deviations which have mischievous consequences, however relatively small. It must be admitted that, conceived in its fully developed form, ethics has judgments to give upon all actions which affect individual welfare.
Throughout the foregoing series of chapters, it has, I think, been made sufficiently manifest that there is great need for ethical rule over this wider territory.
242. Doubtless this rule must be of an indefinite kind–may be compared rather with that of a suzerain than with that of an acting governor. For throughout the greater part of this territory, there have to be effected compromises among various requirements; and in the majority of cases ethical considerations can do little more than guide us toward rational compromises.
This will probably be regarded as a reversion to the ancient doctrine of the mean–a doctrine expressed in a manner generally vague, but occasionally distinct, by Confucius, and definitely elaborated by Aristotle. And it must be admitted that throughout most classes of actions which do not directly affect other persons, paths lying between extremes have to be sought and followed. The doctrine of the mean is not, as Aristotle admitted, universally applicable; and its inapplicability is conspicuous in respect of that part of conduct which stands above all others in importance–justice; not, indeed, justice as legally formulated, nor justice as it is conceived by communists and others such, but justice as deducible from the conditions which must be maintained for the carrying on of harmonious social cooperation. Ethics does not suggest partial fulfillment of a contract, as being the mean between non-fulfillment and complete fulfillment. It does not countenance moderate robbery of your neighbor, rather than the taking from him everything or the taking nothing. Nor does it dictate the assault of a fellow man as intermediate between murdering him and not touching him. Contrariwise, in respect of justice ethics insists on the extreme-enjoins complete fulfillment of a contract, absolute respect for property, entire desistance from personal injury. So likewise is it with veracity. The right does not lie between the two extremes of falsehood and truth: complete adherence to fact is required. And there are sundry kinds of conduct classed as vices, which are also not contemplated by the doctrine; since they are to be interdicted not partially but wholly. In respect of ordinary private life, however, the doctrine of the mean may be considered to hold in the majority of cases.
But admitting this, there still presents itself the question–How to find the mean? Until the positions of the extremes have been ascertained, the position of the mean cannot be known. As has rightly been remarked, “It is impracticable to define the position of that, which is excessive on the one hand, and defective on the other, till excess and defect have been themselves defined.” And here it is that the ethics of individual life finds its subject matter. The guidance of uncultured sense, ordinarily followed throughout private conduct, it replaces by a guidance which, though still mainly empirical, is relatively trustworthy; since it results from a deliberate and methodic study of the requirements–a study which dissipates misapprehensions and reduces vague ideas to definite ones. In respect of nutrition, for instance, it is doubtless true that abstinence on the one hand, and gluttony on the other, are to be avoided–that food is to be taken in moderation. But it may rightly be contended that eating is not to be guided by observation of the mean between these two extremes; but is to be guided by reaching that which may in a sense, be called an extreme–the complete satisfaction of appetite. And here we are shown the need for critical inquiry, For the conception of a mean between abstinence and gluttony is confounded with the conception of a mean between no satisfaction of appetite and complete satisfaction of appetite; and in consequence of the confusion this last mean is by some prescribed. But the notion, not infrequently expressed, that it is best to leave off eating while still hungry would never have been enunciated were there not so many people who lead abnormal lives, and so many people who eat before appetite prompts. In that state of health which exists where there has not been, on the part of either self or ancestors, a chronic disregard of physiological needs, proper nutrition is achieved not by partial fulfillment of the desire for food but by entire fulfillment of it–by going up to the limit set by inclination.
Remembrance of the various conclusions drawn in preceding chapters, such as those which concern activity and rest, culture and amusement, will make it clear that it is everywhere the business of the ethics of individual life thus to dissipate erroneous beliefs, by systematic observation and analysis of private conduct and its results.
243. Remembrance of these conclusions suggests that beyond giving a definite conception of the mean, when the mean is to be adopted, the ethics of individual life gives definiteness to a kindred idea–the idea of proportion. I do not refer to that proportion which is implied by the doctrine of the mean, and connotes a just estimation of excess and defect; but I mean that proportion which obtains among different parts of conduct.
While, within each division of the activities, the middle place may be duly regarded, there may be no due regard for proportion among the several divisions of the activities. There are various kinds of bodily action, some needed for self-sustentation and some not; there are various kinds of mental action, aiding in different ways and degrees the maintenance of individual life, and various others which do not aid this maintenance, or do so in but remote ways. And then, beyond the preservation of a right proportion between the lifesubserving occupations and the occupations which do not directly subserve life, there is the preservation of right proportions among the subdivisions of these last–right proportions between culture and amusement and between different kinds of culture and different kinds of amusements. The conception of a mean does not touch the numerous problems thus presented; since it implies a compromise between two things, and not a number of compromises among many things.
Any one on glancing round may see that the great majority of lives are more or less distorted by failure to maintain balanced amounts of the activities, bodily and mental, required for complete health and happiness; and that there are here, therefore, many problems with which the ethics of individual life has to concern itself.
244. But while this division of ethics which has the control of private conduct for its function, may, by its ordered judgments, serve to prevent each kind of activity from diverging very far on either side of moderation; and while it may serve to prevent extreme disproportions among the different kinds of activities; it cannot be expected to produce by its injunctions a perfectly regulated conduct.
Only by the gradual remolding of human nature into fitness for the social state, can either the private life or the public life of each man, be made what it should be. In respect of private life, especially the problems presented are so complex and so variable, that nothing like definite solutions of them can be reached by any intellectual processes, however methodic and however careful. They can be completely solved only by the organic adjustment of constitution to conditions. All inferior creatures, incapable of elaborating reasoned codes of conduct, are guided entirely by the promptings of instincts and desires, severally adapted to the needs of their lives. In each species the feelings are kept duly adjusted in their strengths to the requirements, and duly proportioned to one another, by direct or indirect equilibration, or by both; since, inevitably, the individuals in which the balance of them is not good, disappear, or fail to rear progeny. There are many who, while they recognize this necessity as operative throughout subhuman life, tacitly deny that it is operative throughout human life, or, at any rate, ignore its operation; and they do this notwithstanding their knowledge of the immense divergences of habits and sentiments, which multiform human nature itself has acquired under the different circumstances it has been subject to. Any one, however, who contemplates the contrast between those who witness with pleasure the tortures of men and animals, and those who cannot be induced to witness such tortures because of the sympathetic pain they experience, may infer from this single contrast, a capacity for modification which makes possible an approximately complete adjustment of the nature to the life which has to be led–an adjustment towards which there will be appreciable progress, when there have died out the fatuous legislators who are continually impeding it.
Eventually, then, the degree of each of the activities constituting private conduct, and the proportions among the different activities, must be spontaneously regulated by the natural promptings. In the meantime, all which the ethics of individual life can do, is to keep clearly in view and continually to emphasize, the needs to which the nature has to be adjusted.
245. Finally, there must be uttered a caution against striving too strenuously to reach the ideal–against straining the nature too much out of its inherited form. For the normal remolding can go on but slowly.
As there must be moderation in other things, so there must be moderation in self-criticism. Perpetual contemplation of our own actions produces a morbid consciousness, quite unlike that normal consciousness accompanying right actions spontaneously done; and from a state of unstable equilibrium long maintained by effort, there is apt to be a fall towards stable equilibrium, in which the primitive nature reasserts itself. Retrogression rather than progression may hence result.