Front Page Titles (by Subject) PREFACE TO VOLUME II - The Principles of Ethics, vol. 2
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
PREFACE TO VOLUME II - Herbert Spencer, The Principles of Ethics, vol. 2 
The Principles of Ethics, introduction by Tibor R. Machan (Indianapolis: LibertyClassics, 1978). Vol. 2.
Part of: The Principles of Ethics, 2 vols.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
PREFACE TO VOLUME II
Now that, by this issue of Parts V and VI, along with Part IV previously published, I have succeeded in completing the second volume of The Principles of Ethics, which some years since I despaired of doing, my satisfaction is dashed by the thought that these new parts are less definite in their conclusions than I had hoped to make them. Complete definiteness was of course not to be expected. Right regulation of the actions of so complex a being as man, living under conditions so complex as those presented by a society evidently forms a subject matter unlikely to admit of specific statements throughout its entire range.
The primary division of it–private conduct–necessarily dependent in part on the nature of the individual and his circumstances, can be prescribed but approximately; and guidance must, in most cases, be partly determined by a judicial balancing of requirements and avoidance of extremes. Entrance on the first great division of public conduct–Justice–does, indeed, introduce us to conclusions which are in large degree definite. Happily into this most important portion of ethics, treating of certain right relations between individuals, irrespective of their natures or circumstances, there enters the ruling conception of equity or equalness–there is introduced the idea of measure; and the inferences reached acquire a certain quantitative character, which partially assimilates them to those of exact science. But when, leaving this all-important division, the injunctions of which are peremptory, and take no cognizance of personal elements, we pass into the remaining divisions–Negative and Positive Beneficence–we enter a region in which the complexities of private conduct are involved with the complexities of relations to the no less complex conduct of those around: presenting problems for the solution of which we have nothing in the nature of measure to guide us, and must commonly be led by empirical judgments.
In view of these admissions some will contend that no aid is here furnished by the general doctrine of evolution. The first reply is that in that chief division of ethics treating of justice, it furnishes aid both as verifying conclusions empirically drawn and as leading to certain unaccepted conclusions of importance. If it be said that throughout the final divisions of ethics, dealing with beneficence, negative and positive, the conclusions must, as above implied, be chiefly empirical; and that therefore here, at any rate, the doctrine of evolution does not help us; the reply is that it helps us in general ways though not in special ways. In the first place, for certain modes of conduct which at present are supposed to have no sanction if they have not a supernatural sanction, it yields us a natural sanction–shows us that such modes of conduct fall within the lines of an evolving humanity–are conducive to a higher life, and are for this reason obligatory. In the second place, where it leaves us to form empirical judgments, it brings into view those general truths by which our empirical judgments should be guided–indicates the limits within which they are to be found.
Beyond serving to reinforce the injunctions of beneficence, by adding to the empirical sanction a rational sanction, the contents of Parts V and VI have these claims to attention: First, that under each head there are definitely set down the various requirements and restraints which should be taken into account: so aiding the formation of balanced judgments. Second, that by this methodic treatment there is given a certain coherence to the confused and often inconsistent ideas on the subject of beneficence, which are at present lying all abroad. And third, that the coherent body of doctrine which results, is made to include regulation of sundry kinds of conduct which are not taken cognizance of by ethics as ordinarily conceived.