Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER 19.: A Retrospect with an Addition - The Principles of Ethics, vol. 2
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CHAPTER 19.: A Retrospect with an Addition - 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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A Retrospect with an Addition
325. Where men's natures and their institutions are incongruous, there exists a force tending to produce change. Either the institutions will remold the nature or the nature will remold the institutions, or partly the one and partly the other; and eventually a more stable state will establish itself.
In our own case the action and reaction between our social arrangements and our characters, has produced a curious result. Compromise being an essential trait of the one has become agreeable to the other; so that it is not only tolerated but preferred. There has grown up a distrust of definite conclusions, and a positive aversion to system. Naturally. statesmen and citizens who, on the one hand, unite in declaring the sovereignty of the people, and who, on the other hand, dutifully write and complacently read royal speeches which address Lords and Commons as servants, and speak of the people as “my subjects,” must be impatient of any demand for consistency in their political ideas. If, while they assert the right of private judgment in religious matters, they tacitly authorize Parliament to maintain a creed for them, they must be restive when asked how they reconcile their theory with their practice. Hence, in presence of the many instances in which they have to accept contradictory doctrines, they become averse to exact thinking, resent all attempts to tie them down to precise propositions, and shrink from an abstract principle with as much alarm as a servant girl shrinks from something she takes for a ghost.
An ingrained way of thinking and feeling thus generated by social conditions, is not to be changed by any amount of reasoning. Beliefs at variance with it cannot gain much acceptance. Readers in whom the separate arguments contained in foregoing chapters have failed to produce changes of opinions, will not have their opinions changed by bringing together these arguments and showing that they converge to the same conclusion. Still, before proceeding, it will be as well to show how strong are the united proofs of the propositions from which inferences are presently to be drawn.
326. We have no ethics of nebular condensation, or, of side real movement, or of planetary evolution; the conception is not relevant to inorganic actions. Nor, when we turn to organized things, do we find that it has any relation to the phenomena of plant life: though we ascribe to plants superiorities and inferiorities, leading to successes and failures in the struggle for existence, we do not associate with them praise and blame. It is only with the rise of sentiency in the animal world, that the subject matter of ethics originates. Hence ethics, presupposing animal life, and gaining an appreciable meaning as animal life assumes complex forms, must, in its ultimate nature, be expressible in terms of animal life. It is concerned with certain traits in the conduct of life, considered as good or bad respectively; and it cannot pass judgments on these traits in the conduct of life while ignoring the essential phenomena of life.
In the chapter “Animal Ethics” this connection was shown under its concrete form. We saw that, limiting our attention to any one species, the continuance of which is held to be desirable, then, relatively to that species, the acts which subserve the maintenance of the individual and the preservation of the race, are classed by us as right and regarded with a certain approbation; while we have reprobation for acts having contrary tendencies. In the next chapter, “Subhuman Justice,” we saw that, for achievement of the assumed desirable end, a condition precedent is that each individual shall receive or suffer the good or evil results of its own nature and consequent actions. We saw, also, that throughout the lower animal world, where there exists no power by which this condition precedent can be traversed, it eventuates in survival of the fittest. And we further saw that, since this connection between conduct and consequence is held to be just, it follows that throughout the animal kingdom what we call justice, is the ethical aspect of this biological law in virtue of which life in general has been maintained and has evolved into higher forms; and which therefore possesses the highest possible authority.
Along with the establishment of gregarious habits there arises a secondary law. When a number of individuals live in such proximity that they are severally apt to impede one another's actions, and so to prevent one another from achieving desired results; then, to avoid antagonism and consequent dispersion, their actions have to be mutually restrained: each must carry on its actions subject to the limitation that it shall not interfere with the like actions of others more than its own actions are interfered with. And we saw that among various gregarious creatures considerable observance of such restraints is displayed.
Finally, in the chapter “Human Justice” it was shown that among men, the highest gregarious creatures, this secondary law, prefigured in a vague way among lower gregarious creatures, comes to have more pronounced, more definite, and more complex applications. Under the conditions imposed by social life, the primary principle of justice, when asserted for each individual, itself originates the secondary or limiting principle by asserting it for all other individuals; and thus the mutual restrictions which simultaneous carrying on of their actions necessitates form a necessary element of justice in the associated state.
327. Adaptation, either by the direct or by the indirect process, or by both, holds of cerebral structures as of the structures composing the rest of the body; and mental functions, like bodily functions, tend ever to become adjusted to the requirements. A feeling which prompts the maintenance of freedom of action is shown by all creatures, and is marked in creatures of high organization; and these last also show some amount of the feeling which responds to the requirement that each shall act within the limits imposed by the actions of others.
Along with greater power of “looking before and after,” there exist in mankind higher manifestations of both of these traits–clear where the society has long been peaceful and obscured where it has been habitually warlike. Where the habits of life have not entailed a chronic conflict between the ethics of amity and the ethics of enmity. a distinct consciousness of justice is shown; alike in respect of personal claims and the correlative claims of others. But where men's rights to life, liberty. and property. are constantly subordinated by forcibly organizing them into armies for more effectual fighting, and where by implication they are accustomed to trample on the rights of men who do not inhabit the same territory, the emotions and ideas corresponding to the principles of justice, egoistic and altruistic, are habitually repressed.
But subject to this qualification, associated life, which in a predominant degree fosters the sympathies, and while it gives play to the sentiment of egoistic justice exercises also the sentiment of altruistic justice, generates correlative ideas; so that in course of time, along with a moral consciousness of the claims of self and others, there comes an intellectual perception of them. There finally arise intuitions corresponding to those requirements which must be fulfilled before social activities can be harmoniously carried on; and these intuitions receive their most abstract expression in the assertion that the liberty of each is limited only by the like liberties of all.
Hence we get a double deductive origin for this fundamental principle. It is primarily deducible from the conditions precedent to complete life in the associated state; and it is secondarily deducible from those forms of consciousness created by the molding of human nature into conformity with these conditions.
328. The conclusions thus reached by deduction agree with the conclusions which induction has led us to. Accumulated experiences have prompted men to establish laws harmonizing with the various corollaries which follow from the principle of equal freedom.
Though disregarded during war, life during peace has acquired sacredness; and all interferences with physical integrity, however trivial, have come to be regarded as offenses. The slavery which in early stages almost everywhere existed, has, with the advance of civilization, been gradually mitigated; and, in the most advanced societies, restraints on motion and locomotion have disappeared. Men's equal claims to unimpeded use of light and air, originally ignored, are now legally enforced; and, though during great predominance of militant activity the ownership of land by the community lapsed into ownership by chiefs and kings, yet now, with the development of industrialism, the truth that the private ownership of land is subject to the supreme ownership of the community, and that therefore each citizen has a latent claim to participate in the use of the earth, has come to be recognized. The right of property, invaded with small scruple in early times, when the rights to life and liberty were little regarded, has been better and better maintained as societies have advanced; and while law has with increasing efficiency maintained the right to material property, it has more and more in modern times recognized and maintained the rights to incorporeal property: patent laws, copyright laws, libel laws, have been progressively made more effectual.
Thus while, in uncivilized societies and in early stages of civilized societies, the individual is left to defend his own life, liberty, and property as best he may. in later stages the community, through its government, more and more undertakes to defend them for him. Consequently. unless it be asserted that primitive disorder was better than is the comparative order now maintained, it must be admitted that experience of results justifies the assertion of these chief rights, and endorses the arguments by which they are deduced.
329. Of kindred nature and significance is an accompanying endorsement. While the community in its corporate capacity has gradually assumed the duty of guarding the rights of each man from aggressions by other men, it has gradually ceased from invading his rights itself as it once did.
Among uncivilized peoples, and among the civilized in early times, the right of bequest has been either denied (here by custom and there by law) or else greatly restricted; but with the growth of industrialism and its appropriate social forms, restrictions on the right of bequest have diminished, and in the most industrially organized nations have almost disappeared. In rude societies the ruler habitually interferes with the right of free exchange-monopolizing, restraining, interdicting; but in advanced societies internal exchanges are much less interfered with, and in our own society very little interference even with external exchanges remains. During many centuries throughout Europe, the state superintended industry, and men were told what processes they must adopt and what things they must produce; but now, save by regulations for the protection of employees, their rights to manufacture what they please and how they please are uninterfered with. Originally, creeds and observances were settled by authority; but the dictations have slowly diminished, and at present, in the most advanced societies, every one may believe or not believe, worship or not worship, as he likes. And so, too, is it with the rights of free speech and publication: originally denied and the assumption of them punished, they have gradually acquired legal recognition.
Simultaneously, governments have also ceased to interfere with other classes of private actions. Once upon a time they prescribed kinds and qualities of food and numbers of meals. To those below specified ranks they forbade certain colors for dresses, the wearing of furs, the use of embroideries and of lace; while the weapons they might wear or use were named. Those who might, and those who might not, have silver plate were specified; as also those who might wear long hair. Nor were amusements left uncontrolled. Games of sundry kinds were in some cases prohibited, and in other cases exercises were prescribed. But in modern times these interferences with individual freedom have ceased: men's rights to choose their own usages have come to be tacitly admitted.
Here again, then, unless it be maintained that sumptuary laws and the like should be reenacted, and that freedom of bequest, freedom of exchange, freedom of industry, freedom of belief, and freedom of speech, might with advantage be suppressed; it must be admitted that the inferences drawn from the formula of justice have been progressively justified by the discovery that disregard of them is mischievous.
330. Yet another series of inductive verifications, not hitherto named, has to be set down–the verifications furnished by political economy.
This teaches that meddlings with commerce by prohibitions and bounties are detrimental; and the law of equal freedom excludes them as wrong. That speculators should be allowed to operate on the food markets as they see well is an inference drawn by political economy; and by the fundamental principle of equity they are justified in doing this. Penalties upon usury are proved by political economists to be injurious; and by the law of equal freedom they are negatived as involving infringements of rights. The reasonings of political economists show that machinery is beneficial to the people at large, instead of hurtful to them; and in union with their conclusions the law of equal freedom forbids attempts to restrict its use. While one of the settled conclusions of political economy is that wages and prices cannot be artificially regulated with advantage, it is also an obvious inference from the law of equal freedom that regulation of them is not morally permissible. On other questions, such as the hurtfulness of tamperings with banking, the futility of endeavors to benefit one occupation at the expense of others, political economy reaches conclusions which ethics independently deduces. What do these various instances unite in showing? Briefly, that not only harmony of cooperation in the social state, but also efficiency of cooperation, is best achieved by conformity to the law of equal freedom.
331. Two deductive arguments and three inductive arguments thus converge to the same conclusion. By inference from the laws of life as carried on under social conditions, and by inference from the dicta of that moral consciousness generated by the continuous discipline of social life, we are led directly to recognize the law of equal freedom as the supreme moral law. And we are indirectly led to such recognition of it by generalizing the experiences of mankind as registered in progressive legislation; since by it we are shown that during civilization there has been a gradual increase in the governmental maintenance of the rights of individuals, and that simultaneously there has been a gradual decrease in the governmental trespasses on such rights. And then this agreement is reinforced by the proofs that what is theoretically equitable is economically expedient.
I am by no means certain that acceptance of this quintuply rooted truth will be rendered any the more likely by thus showing that the a posteriori supports of it furnished by history are joined with the a priori supports furnished by biology and psychology. If there are a priori thinkers who obstinately disregard experiences at variance with their judgments; there are also a posteriori thinkers who obstinately deny all value to intuitive beliefs. They have faith in the cognitions resulting from the accumulated experiences of the individual, but no faith in the cognitions resulting from the accumulated experiences of the race. Here, however, we avoid both kinds of bigotry. The agreement of deduction with induction yields the strongest proof; and where, as in this case, we have plurality of both deductions and inductions, there is reached as great a certainty as can be imagined.