Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER 1.: Animal Ethics - The Principles of Ethics, vol. 2
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CHAPTER 1.: Animal Ethics - 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.
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246. Those who have not read the first division of this work will be surprised by the above title. But the chapters “Conduct in General” and “The Evolution of Conduct” will have made clear to those who have read them that something which may be regarded as animal ethics is implied.
It was there shown that the conduct which ethics treats of is not separable from conduct at large; that the highest conduct is that which conduces to the greatest length, breadth, and completeness of life; and that, by implication, there is a conduct proper to each species of animal, which is the relatively good conduct–a conduct which stands toward that species as the conduct we morally approve stands toward the human species.
Most people regard the subject matter of ethics as being conduct considered as calling forth approbation or reprobation. But the primary subject matter of ethics is conduct considered objectively as producing good or bad results to self or others or both.
Even those who think of ethics as concerned only with conduct which deserves praise or blame, tacitly recognize an animal ethics; for certain acts of animals excite in them antipathy or sympathy. A bird which feeds its mate while she is sitting is regarded with a sentiment of approval. For a hen which refuses to sit upon her eggs there is a feeling of aversion; while one which fights in defense of her chickens is admired.
Egoistic acts, as well as altruistic acts, in animals are classed as good or bad. A squirrel which lays up a store of food for the winter is thought of as doing that which a squirrel ought to do; and, contrariwise, one which idly makes no provision and dies of starvation, is thought of as properly paying the penalty of improvidence. A dog which surrenders its bone to another without a struggle, and runs away, we call a coward–a word of reprobation.
Thus, then, it is clear that acts which are conducive to preservation of offspring or of the individual we consider as good relatively to the species, and conversely.
247. The two classes of cases of altruistic acts and egoistic acts just exemplified, show us the two cardinal and opposed principles of animal ethics.
During immaturity benefits received must be inversely proportionate to capacities possessed. Within the family group most must be given where least is deserved, if desert is measured by worth. Contrariwise, after maturity is reached benefit must vary directly as worth: worth being measured by fitness to the conditions of existence. The ill fitted must suffer the evils of unfitness, and the well fitted profit by their fitness.
These are the two laws which a species must conform to if it is to be preserved. Limiting the proposition to the higher types (for in the lower types, parents give to offspring no other aid than that of laying up small amounts of nutriment with their germs: the result being that an enormous mortality has to be balanced by an enormous fertility)–thus limiting the proposition, I say, it is clear that if, among the young, benefit were proportioned to efficiency the species would disappear forthwith; and that if, among adults, benefit were proportioned to inefficiency, the species would disappear by decay in a few generations (see Principles of Sociology, sec. 322)
248. What is the ethical aspect of these principles? In the first place, animal life of all but the lowest kinds has been maintained by virtue of them. Excluding the protozoa, among which their operation is scarcely discernible, we see that without gratis benefits to offspring, and earned benefits to adults, life could not have continued.
In the second place, by virtue of them life has gradually evolved into higher forms. By care of offspring, which has become greater with advancing organization, and by survival of the fittest in the competition among adults, which has become more habitual with advancing organization, superiority has been perpetually fostered and further advances caused.
On the other hand, it is true that to this self-sacrificing care for the young and this struggle for existence among adults, has been due the carnage and the death by starvation which have characterized the evolution of life from the beginning. It is also true that the processes consequent on conformity to these principles are responsible for the production of torturing parasites, which outnumber in their kinds all other creatures.
To those who take a pessimist view of animal life in general, contemplation of these principles can of course yield only dissatisfaction. But to those who take an optimist view, or a meliorist view of life in general, and who accept the postulate of hedonism, contemplation of these principles must yield greater or less satisfaction, and fulfillment of them must be ethically approved.
Otherwise considered, these principles are, according to the current belief, expressions of the Divine will, or else, according to the agnostic belief, indicate the mode in which works the Unknowable Power throughout the universe; and in either case they have the warrant hence derived.
249. But here, leaving aside the ultimate controversy of pessimism versus optimism, it will suffice for present purposes to set out with a hypothetical postulate, and to limit it to a single species. If the preservation and prosperity of such species is to be desired, there inevitably emerge one most general conclusion and from it three less general conclusions.
The most general conclusion is that, in order of obligation, the preservation of the species takes precedence of the preservation of the individual. It is true that the species has no existence save as an aggregate of individuals; and it is true that, therefore, the welfare of the species is an end to be subserved only as subserving the welfares of individuals. But since disappearance of the species, implying disappearance of all individuals, involves absolute failure in achieving the end, whereas disappearance of individuals, though carried to a great extent, may leave outstanding such number as can, by the continuance of the species, make subsequent fulfillment of the end possible; the preservation of the individual must, in a variable degree according to circumstances, be subordinated to the preservation of the species, where the two conflict. The resulting corollaries are these:
First, that among adults there must be conformity to the law that benefits received shall be directly proportionate to merits possessed: merits being measured by power of selfsustentation. For, otherwise, the species must suffer in two ways. It must suffer immediately by sacrifice of superior to inferior, which entails a general diminution of welfare; and it must suffer remotely by further increase of the inferior which, by implication, hinders increase of the superior, and causes a general deterioration, ending in extinction if it is continued.
Second, that during early life, before self-sustentation has become possible, and also while it can be but partial, the aid given must be the greatest where the worth shown is the smallest–benefits received must be inversely proportionate to merits possessed: merits being measured by power of self-sustentation. Unless there are gratis benefits to offspring, unqualified at first and afterward qualified by decrease as maturity is approached, the species must disappear by extinction of its young. There is, of course, necessitated a proportionate self-subordination of adults.
Third, to this self-subordination entailed by parenthood has, in certain cases, to be added a further self-subordination. If the constitution of the species and its conditions of existence are such that sacrifices, partial or complete, of some of its individuals, so subserve the welfare of the species that its numbers are better maintained than they would otherwise be, then there results a justification for such sacrifices.
Such are the laws by conformity to which a species is maintained; and if we assume that the preservation of a particular species is a desideratum, there arises in it an obligation to conform to these laws, which we may call, according to the case in question, quasi-ethical or ethical.