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PART V.: THE ETHICS OF SOCIAL LIFE: NEGATIVE BENEFICENCE - 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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THE ETHICS OF SOCIAL LIFE: NEGATIVE BENEFICENCE
Kinds of Altruism
387. One division of an earlier work in this series of works–The Principles of Psychology–was devoted to showing that all intellectual operations are ultimately decomposable into recognitions of likeness and unlikeness, with mental grouping of the like and separation of the unlike. The process of intelligence as there analyzed, was shown to be a differentiation in perception and thought, of the impressions produced on us by surrounding things and actions, and the integration of each series of similar impressions into a general conception: the result being the formation of as many different general conceptions as there are objects and acts and combined groups of them, which the particular type of intelligence is able to distinguish. In its lower stages, the process is one which we may call unconscious classification; and through many gradations, it rises to conscious classification, such as we see carried on by men of science.
The mental action by which from moment to moment we thus, in ways commonly too rapid to observe, class the objects and acts around, and regulate our conduct accordingly, has been otherwise named by some, and especially by Professor Bain, “discrimination.” Intelligence is, in its every act, carried on by discrimination; and has advanced from its lowest stages to its highest by increasing powers of discrimination. It has done this for the sufficient reason that during the evolution of life under all its forms, increase of it has been furthered by practice or habit as well as by survival of the fittest; since good discrimination has been a means of saving life, and lack of it a cause of losing life. Let us note a few marked stages of its increase.
Look out towards the sky; shut your eyes; and pass your hand before them. You can discriminate between the presence and absence of an opaque object in front. If, being passive, an object is moved before your closed eyes by some one else, you cannot say whether it is a hand, or a book, or a lump of earth; and cannot say whether it is a small object close to, or a larger object farther off. This experience exemplifies to us the smallest degree of visual discrimination, such as that which is achieved by low creatures possessing nothing more than eye specks–minute portions of sensitive pigment in which light produces some kind of change. Evidently a creature having only this nascent vision is at great disadvantage–cannot distinguish between the obscuration caused by the moving frond of a weed in the water it inhabits, and the obscuration caused by a passing creature; cannot tell whether it results from a small creature near at hand or a larger one at a distance; cannot tell whether this creature is harmless and may serve for prey or is predacious and must be avoided. Thus one of the appliances for maintaining life is deficient, and early loss of life is apt to occur.
Passing over all intermediate grades, observe next the results of presence or absence among herbivorous creatures of the power to discriminate between plants of different kinds and qualities. By appearance, or odor, or taste, one animal is warned off from a poisonous herb, which another animal, less keenly perceptive, eats and dies. As intelligence develops, complex groups of attributes are separated in consciousness from other complex groups to which they are in many respects similar, and survival results from the discrimination; as when the fatal Monkshood is distinguished from the harmless Larkspur.
As we rise to creatures of relatively great intelligence, increasingly complicated clusters of attributes, relations and actions have to be distinguished from one another, under heavy penalties. Instance the ordinary case in which the shape and color and movements of a distant animal are mentally united into a perception of an enemy, or else are discriminated as forming some not unlike perception of a harmless animal: the result being now a successful flight and now a successful chase.
388. A much higher degree of discrimination is reached in creatures capable of appreciating the differences not only between objects perceived or presented, but also between objects conceived or represented–between the imaginations of them. The degree of mental power required for this is occasionally shown in small measure by the higher animals; as when a dog recognizes in idea the difference in length between a road that goes round the angle of a field and a short cut across the field, and takes the last. But generally it is only among men that the ability to discriminate between imagined clusters of things and properties and relations becomes appreciable. Even among men the discriminations often fail in consequence either of inaccuracy of such observations as have been made, or of imperfect ability to reproduce in thought the things observed. The contrast between Monkshood and Larkspur may serve again. Able as they are, when these two plants are before them, to see that though the two are similar in their sizes, modes of growth, deeply cut leaves, colors of flowers, &c., yet the structures of their flowers are unlike, the majority of people, even those having gardens, cannot so compare their ideas of these plants as to be able to say what the points of difference are.
If, then, between their imaginations of objects of but moderate degrees of complexity, most ordinarily disciplined minds fail to discriminate, still more will they fail to discriminate where the clusters of related attributes and properties and actions are immeasurably involved. Especially will they fail if, while many of the components are coexistent, many of them are sequent; and if, too, the groups of ideas which have to be distinguished from one another, include not only forms, colors, motions, sounds, and the feelings implied in those who make them; but include both the immediate effects wrought by a particular kind of action and the effects to be hereafter wrought by it. When the combinations of thoughts which must be simultaneously kept in mind reach these degrees of involution, the ability to discriminate either from the other, which is like it in many respects but differs in some essential respect, fails even in many highly cultured minds. Let us take instances.
Here is a geometrical problem–say, how to erect a perpendicular at the end of a straight line. Following the established routine, an ordinary teacher either shows his pupil how to solve this problem or tells him what he must do to solve it: the result being that the perpendicular is drawn as directed, and the pupil, not much interested in the proceeding, thenceforth knows how to draw it. Here is another teacher who, disapproving of this mechanical culture, adopts a different method. His pupil having been initiated through simpler problems, severally solved by his persevering efforts, takes to the new problem with zest; and, trying various experiments, in no very long time succeeds. In doing this he receives a relatively strong impression, due partly to the strained attention required, and partly to the pleasurable excitement of success. At the same time he acquires increased aptitude and increased courage; enabling him to deal by and by with more complex problems. Here, then, are two clusters of actions and acquisitions and feelings, which are in sundry respects alike. The problem is the same, the method of solution is the same, the knowledge acquired is the same; and the mechanical teacher, recognizing nothing more, does not discriminate between the two clusters of mental actions, and thinks it just as well to teach by instruction as by discovery.
Of more complex cases, one is furnished by a recent incident–the case of the Eastbourne salvationists. Most of the townspeople object to their processions headed by noisy bands; while these boisterous Christians say that they are simply maintaining that religious liberty which all now admit. But here comes the lack of discrimination. It is forgotten that while, in the interests of religious liberty, each citizen or group of citizens may rightly perform ceremonies ancillary to his belief; in the interests of general liberty, individual citizens or groups of them, may rightly resist intrusions upon that peaceful course of life they are pursuing. There is inability to separate in thought those assertions of religious freedom which do not involve aggressions on others, from those which do involve aggressions on others, in the form of nuisances. And not only do these fanatics fail to distinguish between religious liberty and religious license, but even our legislators (if we suppose them to be acting sincerely instead of seeking votes) also fail.
One more instance furnished by the politics of the day may be added–the failure, alike by legislators and people, to discriminate between the effects of moral injunctions on those having natures with which they are congruous, and their effects on those having natures with which they are incongruous. Here is a set of precepts, printed, read, explained, emphasized; and here are children's minds with their clusters of ideas, powers of understanding, and groups of feelings. The prevalent assumption is that since certain effects result where there is intellectual apprehension of these precepts plus responsive sentiments, like effects will result where there is the same intellectual apprehension minus the responsive sentiments. People think it needs only to teach children what is right and they will do what is right! They expect that by education–nay, even by mere acquisition of a knowledge which is not related to conduct–they will diminish crime!
Discrimination, then, characterizing intelligence from its lowest to its highest forms, is certain to be still very incomplete where the things to be discriminated are not visible objects and actions, but are mental representations of complex aggregates of things and actions and feelings, and causes and effects; part of them belonging to the passing time, and part of them to the time coming. After observing the stretch of imagination required for proper recognition of differences in this wide and obscure field, we may feel certain that alike in sociology and in ethics, failures to discriminate must be many and disastrous.
389. But why this long psychological disquisition? The answer is foreshadowed in the title of the chapter–“Kinds of Altruism.” That altruistic conduct has divisions which must be distinguished is obviously implied. That the conceptions of these respective divisions, made up of represented things, acts, relations, and results, present and future, are among those complex things which are difficult to part from one another, has been above shown by analogy. That only those who are at once observant, critical, and have great powers of mental representation, can adequately make the discriminations, is a further implication. And that grave evils result from the prevalent inability is a corollary.
As distinguished from egoistic actions, altruistic actions include all those which either negatively by self-restraint, or positively by efforts for their benefit, conduce to the welfare of fellow men: they include both justice and beneficence. As we have seen in the last part, the first of these great divisions of altruism implies a sympathetic recognition of others' claims to free activity and the products of free activity; while the other great division implies a sympathetic recognition of others' claims to receive aid in the obtainment of these products, and in the more effectual carrying on of their lives. In section 54 I pointed out that the highest form of life, individual and social, is not achievable under a reign of justice only; but that there must be joined with a reign of beneficence. Here is a part of the argument:
A society is conceivable formed of men leading perfectly inoffensive lives, scrupulously fulfilling their contracts, and efficiently rearing their offspring, who yet, yielding to one another no advantages beyond those agreed upon, fall short of that highest degree of life which the gratuitous rendering of services makes possible. Daily experiences prove that every one would suffer many evils and lose many goods, did none give him unpaid assistance. The life of each would be more or less damaged had he to meet all contingencies single-handed. Further if no one did for his fellows anything more than was required by strict performance of contract, private interests would suffer from the absence of attention to public interests. The limit of evolution of conduct is consequently not reached, until, beyond avoidance of direct and indirect injuries to others, there are spontaneous efforts to further the welfare of others.
Throughout the past there has been slowly growing into clearness the distinction between these two primary divisions of altruism. But though justice and generosity have in recent days come to be fairly well discriminated, the changes now going on are confusing them again. The universal dissolution by which the old order of things is being abolished while a new order is being established, is bringing with it a dissolution of old conceptions: many of them wrong but some of them right. Among the last is this distinction between justice and beneficence. On the one side the many, eagerly expecting good, and on the other side the few, anxious to do good to them, agree in practically disregarding the line of demarcation between things which are to be claimed as rights and things which are to be accepted as benefactions; and while the division between the two is being obliterated, there is ceasing to be any separation made between means appropriate to the one and means appropriate to the other. Hotheaded philanthropy, impatient of criticism, is, by helter-skelter legislation, destroying normal connections between conduct and consequence; so that presently, when the replacing of justice by generosity has led to a redistribution of benefits irrespective of deserts, there will be reached a state having for its motto the words: It shall be as well for you to be inferior as to be superior.
390. The two great divisions of altruism, justice and beneficence, are to be discriminated as the one needful for social equilibrium, and therefore of public concern, and the other as not needful for social equilibrium, and therefore only of private concern. Observe why the two must be kept separate.
We have seen that justice in its primordial form, as seen throughout the animal kingdom at large, requires that each creature shall take the consequences of its own conduct; and among all ungregarious creatures this law operates without any qualification.
Along with gregariousness, especially when it reaches the degree which the human race exhibits, there arises a further requirement. While, as before, the relation between conduct and consequence has to be so maintained that actions shall be restrained by experience of results, actions have to be further restrained by the necessity of so limiting them that the interference of each citizen with others shall not be greater than is implied by the associated state.
But, as shown in the above quotation, before life, individual and social, can reach their highest forms, there must be fulfilled the secondary law, that besides exchange of services under agreement there shall be a rendering of services beyond agreement. The requirements of equity must be supplemented by the promptings of kindness.
And here we come upon the truth above hinted, and now to be emphasized, that the primary law of a harmonious social cooperation may not be broken for the fulfillment of the secondary law; and that therefore, while enforcement of justice must be a public function, the exercise of beneficence must be a private function. A moment's thought will make this implication manifest.
Beneficence exercised by a society in its corporate capacity, must consist in taking away from some persons parts of the products of their activities, to give to other persons, whose activities have not brought them a sufficiency. If it does this by force it interferes with the normal relation between conduct and consequence, alike in those from whom property is taken and in those to whom property is given. Justice, as defined in the foregoing pages, is infringed upon. The principle of harmonious social cooperation is disregarded; and the disregard and infringement, if carried far, must bring disasters. There are three, which we may contemplate separately.
391. If, that the inferior may have benefits which they have not earned, there are taken from the superior benefits which they have earned, it is manifest that when this process is carried to the extent of equalizing the positions of the two, there ceases to be any motive to be superior. Long before any such extreme is reached, there must result an increasing discouragement of the industrious, who see the surplus products of their industry carried away; and there must result among these better citizens an intensifying dissatisfaction, tending ever towards revolution. There must be a decline towards an unprosperous state and an unstable state.
A further result must be a slow degeneracy. bodily and mental. If, by an indiscriminate philanthropy, means of subsistence are forcibly taken from the better for the improved maintenance of the worse, the better, most of whom have means already insufficient for the good nurture of offspring, must have those means made still further deficient; while the offspring of the worse must, to a like extent, be artificially fostered. An average deterioration must be caused.
An equally disastrous, or still more disastrous, effect remains to be named. The policy. if persistently pursued, leads on to communism and anarchism. If society in its corporate capacity undertakes beneficence as a function–if, now in this direction and now in that, the inferior learn by precept enforced by example, that it is a state duty not simply to secure them the unhindered pursuit of happiness but to furnish them with the means to happiness; there is eventually formed among the poorer, and especially among the least deserving, a fixed belief that if they are not comfortable the government is to blame. Not to their own idleness and misdeeds is their misery ascribed, but to the badness of society in not doing its duty to them. What follows? First there grows up among numbers, the theory that social arrangements must be fundamentally changed in such ways that all shall have equal shares of the products of labor–that differences of reward due to differences of merit shall be abolished: there comes communism. And then among the very worst, angered that their vile lives have not brought them all the good things they want, there grows up the doctrine that society should be destroyed, and that each man should seize what he likes and “suppress,” as Ravachol said, everyone who stands in his way. There comes anarchism and a return to the unrestrained struggle for life, as among brutes.
Such then are the ultimate results of not discriminating between justice and beneficence, and between the instrumentalities proper for carrying on the two.
392. But now we come to a question, no doubt existing unshaped in the minds of many, the right answer to which clears up, in another way, the prevailing confusion. Let me put this question in the form most favorable to those whose illusions I am seeking to dissipate.
“You say that justice in its primordial form requires that each creature shall receive the results of its own nature and consequent conduct. Of human justice, however, you say that while, as before, it demands that actions shall bring their natural consequences, the actions which do this must be limited to such as do not interfere with the similarly limited actions of others. Obviously the result is that while, under the reign of brute justice, each individual takes advantage of his powers, to the extent of injuring or destroying not only prey but also competitors, under the reign of human justice he may not do this–he is forbidden to injure competitors. What happens? Being protected by the incorporated society, the inferior members are enabled to carry on their activities and reap all the benefits; which they could not have done had the superior used their superiorities without control. May it not be, then, that under the reign of human justice raised to a higher form, the inferior, thus partially saved from the results of their inferiority, shall be still further saved from them–shall not only be equalized with the superior by preserving for them their spheres of activity, but shall also be equalized with them in respect of the benefits they obtain within their spheres of activity?”
Doubtless, as I have elsewhere admitted, it seems, from one point of view, unjust that the inferior should be left to suffer the evils of their inferiority, for which they are not responsible. Nature, which everywhere carries on the struggle for life with unqualified severity, so as even to prompt the generalization–“the law of murder is the law of growth,” cares not for the claims of the weaker, even to the extent of securing them fair play; and if it be admitted that this severity of nature may, among associated men, rightly be mitigated by artificially securing fair play to the inferior, why ought it not to be further mitigated by saving them from all those evils of inferiority which may be artificially removed?
Here we reach the place of divergence. Here we see the need for discrimination among complex conceptions. Here we see how important is recognition of the difference between justice and beneficence, and consequent difference between the instrumentalities appropriate to the two. For with the admission that that ferocious discipline of brute justice which issues in survival of the fittest, has, in societies of men, to be much qualified, not only by what we distinguish as human justice, but also by what we distinguish as beneficence, there must go the assertion that while the first may rightly be enforced, the second must be left to voluntary action. Denial that the second as well as the first should be attended to by the state, by no means involves denial that the second should be attended to; but merely implies that it should be otherwise attended to. It is admitted that the evils caused by inferiority should be mitigated in both ways; but it is asserted that while mitigations of the one kind should be public and general, those of the other kind should be private and special. For, as we have seen, the primary law of harmonious cooperation may not be broken for the purpose of fulfilling the secondary law; since, if it is so broken to any great extent, profound mischiefs result.
393. For the discrimination thus demanded by a due regard for social stability. social prosperity, and social health, yet a further reason must here be urged. Only by maintaining this discrimination can the reciprocal benefits of beneficence, “blessing him that gives and him that takes,” be preserved. When any of the evils which their inefficiencies or other defects bring on the inferior, are diminished by aid which some of the superior voluntarily furnish, these are made better by the exercise of their fellow feeling; but if, to mitigate them, funds are taken by force from the superior, none of this moralization results: often a demoralization–an excitement of ill feeling. Not only. as the poet says, “the quality of mercy is not strained,” but also the quality of beneficence in general. If it is strained it ceases to be beneficence.
At the same time there is a corresponding difference between the effects produced on the beneficiaries. Kindly acts spontaneously done, usually excite in them emotions of gratitude and attachment; and a community containing beneficiaries thus related to benefactors, is one in which not only are the feelings of the lower favorably exercised as well as those of the higher, but one in which there is thereby produced an increased coherence and stability.
394. Having, too elaborately perhaps, discriminated between the primary altruism we call justice and the secondary altruism we call beneficence, and emphasized the need for the discrimination, we may now deal with the different kinds of beneficence. Let us first group these under certain subdivisions.
There comes first the species of beneficent conduct which is characterized by passivity in deed or word, at times when egoistic advantage or pleasure might be gained by action. Many forms of self-restraint, not commonly regarded as ethically enjoined, ought nevertheless to be so regarded; and have here to be pointed out and emphasized. These, which we have first to consider, fall under the general title–negative beneficence.
After them there come to be dealt with those kinds of actions alone recognized in the ordinary conception of beneficence, but which are here distinguished as positive beneficence. Under this head are comprised all actions which imply sacrifice of something actually or potentially possessed, that another or others may be benefited–sacrifice, it may be, of strength which would otherwise be economized, sacrifice of the product of efforts actually obtained, or of the forthcoming product of efforts made in the past. In all these there is a proximate loss of pleasure or means to pleasure; though there may be an immediate or remote compensation in sympathetic pleasure.
To complete preliminaries it needs to add that there is a cross-classification by which both of these groups have to be divided. The most conspicuous, though not the most familiar, kinds of beneficent actions, positive and negative, are those shown towards individuals who are inferior, or unfortunate, or both. But there are also beneficent actions, usually small but very numerous, which benefit those who are neither inferior nor unfortunate–actions which further the gratifications of persons around, and raise the tide of happiness in all.
In treating these divisions and subdivisions of beneficence in the order here indicated, we shall have to consider three sets of effects produced: 1, the reactive effects upon the benefactor, upon his dependents, and upon all who have claims on him; 2, the immediate effects on the beneficiary, as conducive to increase of his pleasure or diminution of his pain, and the remote effects as conducive to one or other change of character; and 3, the effects upon society at large, as influencing its stability, its immediate prosperity, and its remote prosperity.
Restraints on Free Competition
395. Beyond those limits to the actions of individuals which it is the business of the state to maintain, individuals have to impose on themselves further limits, prompted by sympathetic consideration for their struggling fellow citizens. For the battle of life as carried on by competition, even within the bounds set by law, may have a mercilessness akin to the battle of life as carried on by violence. And each citizen, while in respect of this competition not to be restrained externally, ought to be restrained internally.
Among those who compete with one another in the same occupation, there must in all cases be some who are the more capable and a larger number who are the less capable. In strict equity the more capable are justified in taking full advantage of their greater capabilities; and where, beyond their own sustentation, they have to provide for the sustentation of their families, and the meeting of further claims, the sanction of strict equity suffices them. Usually, society immediately benefits by the putting out of their highest powers, and it also receives a future benefit by the efficient fostering of its best members and their offspring.
In such cases then–and they are the cases which the mass of society, constituted chiefly of manual workers, presents us with–justice needs to be but little qualified by beneficence.
396. This proposition is indeed denied, and the opposite proposition affirmed, by hosts of workers in our own day. Among the trade unionists, and among leading socialists, as also among those of the rank and file, there is now the conviction, expressed in a way implying indignant repudiation of any other conviction, that the individual worker has no right to inconvenience his brother worker by subjecting him to any stress of competition. A man who undertakes to do work by the piece at lower rates than would else be paid, and is enabled by diligence long continued to earn a sum nearly double that which he would have received as wages, is condemned as “unprincipled”! It is actually held that he has no right thus to take advantage of his superior powers and his greater energy; even though he is prompted to do this by the responsibilities a large family entails, and by a desire to bring up his children well: so completely have the “advanced” among us inverted the old ideas of duty and merit.
Of course their argument is that the man who thus “out-does” his fellow workers, and gets more money than they do, displaces by so much the demand for the labor of those who would else have been employed; and they further argue that, by executing the work at a smaller cost to the employer, he tends to lower the rate of wages: both of them regarded by these neo-economists, now so vociferous, as unmixed evils.
With them, as with nearly all thinkers about social and political affairs, the proximate result is the sole thing considered. Work and wages are alone thought of, and there is no thought given to the quantity of products, the concomitant prices of products, and the welfare of the consumers. Laborers and artisans conceived only as interested in getting high wages, are never conceived as interested in having cheap commodities; and there appears to be no conception that gain in the first end may involve loss in the second. When enlarging on the hardships entailed on those who, by cheaper piecework, are deprived of dearer day work, they ignore as irrelevant the fact that the article produced at less cost can be sold at less price; and that all artisans and laborers, in their capacity of consumers, benefit to that extent. Further they forget that the workers displaced become, after a time, available for other kinds of production: so benefiting the community as a whole, including all other workers.
We have here, in fact, but a new form of the old protest against machinery always complained of by those immediately affected, as robbing them of their livelihoods. Whether through human machinery or the machinery made of wood and iron, every improvement achieves an economy and dispenses with labor previously necessary; and if that change in the human machinery constituted by adoption of piecework, and the gaining of larger earnings by greater application, is to be reprobated because of the displacement of labor implied, so also must be reprobated every mechanical appliance which from the beginning has facilitated production. He was an “unprincipled” man who substituted ploughs for spades, who replaced the distaff by the spinning jenny, who brought into use steam pumping engines in place of hand pumps, or who outran horses on roads by locomotives on railways. It matters not whether we contemplate the living agents of production or the dead implements they use; every more economical arrangement eventually lowers prices and benefits people at large. The so-called unprincipled man does good to humanity, though he inflicts temporary evils on a small number; which in fact, every improvement inevitably must.
But there remains to note the marvelous inversion of thought and sentiment implied by this socialistic trade-union idea. The man who is superior in ability or energy is thought “unprincipled” in taking advantage of his superiority; while it is not apparently thought “unprincipled” on the part of the inferior to obtain benefit by preventing the superior from benefiting himself. If in any occupation the majority. who are less able, insist that the minority, who are more able, shall not be paid higher wages than they are, and shall not discredit them by doing more or better work, it is undeniable that the majority, or less able, do this for their own advantage. Either by requiring that the more skilled and the less skilled shall be paid at equal rates, they ensure for themselves higher average wages than they would have were there discriminating payments, or else, by excluding the keener competition of the more skilled, they escape the pressure or strain which would otherwise be brought to bear on them; and in one or both of these ways the majority advantage themselves at the cost of the minority. Now if the word “unprincipled” is to be rationally applied, it is to be applied to the man who does this; for no high-principled man wishes to obtain a benefit by tying another's hands. If they are conscientious in the proper sense of the word, those who form the majority, or inferior, will never dream of requiring that the minority, or superior, shall diminish their earnings by not using their powers; and still less will they dream of trying to gain by such a course. Contrariwise, each among them, regretting though he may his relative inferiority. and wishing though he may that he had the powers of those few more favored by nature, will resolve to make the best of his smaller powers; and so far from asking to have given to him the benefits which the greater powers of others yield, he will insist that he shall have none of such benefits–will refuse point-blank to have any benefits beyond those which his nature brings him: content if the better endowed yield not material but moral benefits to the less happily constituted. This is the truly principled man, and the unprincipled man is the one who does the reverse.
And then the high-principled man, prompted to this course by a sense of equity, will be further thus prompted by a beneficent regard for the race. If he is adequately endowed with the human ability to “look before and after,” he will see that a society which takes for its maxim, “It shall be as well for you to be inferior as to be superior,” will inevitably degenerate and die away in long-drawn miseries.
397. But on passing from the working part of the industrial organization to the regulating part, we pass into a sphere in which a beneficent limitation of activity is sometimes called for. While the advantage which superiority gives to an artisan over his fellow artisans is relatively small, and may properly be appropriated without limit, the advantage which superiority gives to the director of many artisans over other such directors, may become very great; and it may, in the absence of a sympathetic self-restraint, be used by him to the ruin of his competitors. Such an one, so long as he does not break the law directly or indirectly, is commonly thought warranted in pushing his advantage to the extreme; but an undeveloped ethical consciousness is thus shown.
Not many years since there lived in New York a man named Stewart, who, carrying on a wholesale and retail business on a vast scale, acquired a colossal fortune. A common practice of his was suddenly to lower his prices for a certain class of goods to an unremunerative rate, seriously damaging, if nothing more, numerous small traders, and greatly hampering, if he did not ruin, sundry large ones. Another practice was to encourage and aid some manufacturer in apparently a friendly spirit, and then, when he was largely indebted, come down upon him for immediate payment; selling him up and often buying his stock when he could not at once pay.
Competitive warfare carried on in this style, might not unfitly be called commercial murder; and were its flagitiousness to be measured by the pain inflicted, it might be held worse than murder, originally so called: the amount of suffering eventually caused among the ruined men and their families, being greater than that which many an assassin visits on his victims and others.
Such utter lack of negative beneficence is to be condemned not only because of the intense evils thus directly inflicted, but is also to be condemned in the interests of society. as defrauding it of those advantages which competition, normally carried on, yields. For though, while competitors are being forced to sell at unremunerative prices, the public benefits; yet, after competitors have been thrust to the wall and a practical monopoly achieved, there comes a more than compensating rise of prices, by which the public suffers. In brief, the forms of competition are employed to destroy competition.
And then, as we shall see hereafter under another head, the transgressing trader himself, and his belongings, do in the long run suffer indirectly. They are led into a type of life lower than they might otherwise have led.
In its application to cases of this kind, the popular maxim “Live and let live” may, then, be accepted as embodying a truth. Anyone who, by command of great capital or superior business capacity, is enabled to beat others who carry on the same business, is enjoined by the principle of negative beneficence to restrain his business activities, when his own wants and those of his belongings have been abundantly fulfilled; so that others, occupied as he is, may fulfill their wants also, though in smaller measure.
398. What is to be said in this connection concerning competition among professional men–especially among doctors and lawyers?
An eminent physician who gives advice to all patients asking it, including patients who have left the physicians they previously consulted, cannot be blamed for doing this; even though he has already an amply sufficient income. For, supposing his reputation to be deserved, the implication is that, by giving the advice asked, he diminishes suffering and perhaps saves life; and this he cannot well refuse to do out of regard for competing physicians. It may rightly be held, too, that he is justified in raising his fees. Did he not by doing this diminish the number of his patients, two evils would happen. The swarm would become so great that no one would get proper attention; and his own health would speedily so greatly suffer that he would become incapacitated. But negative beneficence may properly require that he shall send to some of his brother physicians patients suffering from trivial maladies, or maladies concerning the treatment of which there can be no doubt.
On turning from the consulting room to the law court, we meet with cases in which professional competition needs restraining, not by negative beneficence only. but by justice. A system under which a barrister is prepaid for services he may or may not render, as it chances–a system under which another barrister in less repute is also retained, and feed to do the work for him should he fail to appear–a system which proceeds by quasi-contract which is closed on the side of the one who pays but not closed on the side of the one who works, is clearly a vicious system. But such restraints on the taking of cases by counsel, as would result either from regard for the equitable claims of clients or from consideration for competitors, is said to be impracticable. We are told that at the bar a man must either take all the business which comes to him or lose his business. Now this plea, though perpetually repeated, may reasonably be doubted until the assertion that such would be the result had been verified by the proof that such has been the result. It requires a large faith to believe that one whose conscientiousness determines him to take no more work than he can efficiently perform, or else, from regard for his fellows, refuses cases that they may have them, cannot do this without losing all his cases. For since one who thus limited the number of his clients would, as a matter of course, deny himself to those whose causes he thought bad, the mere fact of his appearance in any cause would become a preliminary assurance that it was a good cause–an assurance weighing much with a jury; and how, under such circumstances, implying increased anxieties to obtain his services, the demand for them should decrease beyond the degree he desired, it is difficult to see.
Clearly in this case, such negative beneficence as is implied by relinquishment of business that competitors may benefit, is a concomitant of that justice which demands that pay shall not be received unless services are rendered, and is a concomitant of that social benefit which results if good causes have good advocates. Moreover, it is a concomitant of that normal regard for self which forbids excess of work.
399. Yet another form of competition must be dealt with, though it is difficult to deal with it satisfactorily. I refer to the competition between one who has, by discovery or invention, facilitated some kind of production, and those who carry on such production in the old way.
Here, if he undersells competitors, he does so not, as in the cases instanced, to drive them out of the business; but he does so as a collateral result of giving a benefit to society. As already said (sec. 306), he has made a new conquest over nature, and giving, as he inevitably does, the greater part of the advantage to the community, he may rightly retain for himself something more than is obtained by carrying on production as before. Still there comes the question–How far shall he push his advantage? Should not negative beneficence restrain him from ruining his competitors by underselling them too much? But to this the answer is that if he does not undersell them in a decided manner, he does not give to the public the advantage which he might give. Out of regard for the few he disregards the many.
One way only does there seem to be in which, while consulting the welfare of the community, and while justly maintaining his own claim to a well-earned reward, he may also show due consideration for those whose businesses he of necessity diminished or destroyed. He may either offer them the use of his improved appliance at a moderate royalty, or may make them his agents for the sale of his products: giving them, in either case, a great advantage over any others who may wish to stand in the like positions, and may thus at any rate diminish the injury to them if he does not even cancel it.
400. It is needless in this place to illustrate further the operation of negative beneficence in putting restraints on competition, in addition to those which justice maintains. With a population ever pressing on the means of subsistence, and amid struggles to attain higher positions and so be able, among other things, to rear offspring better, there must arise multitudinous cases in which natural capacities, or circumstances, or accidents, give to some great advantages over others similarly occupied. To what extent such advantages may be pushed, individual judgments, duly influenced by sympathy. must decide.
By refraining from certain activities which are at once legitimate and profitable, competitors may be benefited; and the question whether they should be so benefited must be answered by considering whether the wants of self and belongings have not been sufficiently regarded, and whether the welfare of competitors, as well as the welfare of society as a whole, do not enjoin desistance.
Restraints on Free Contract
401. Society in its corporate capacity cannot be blamed for enforcing contracts to the letter–is often, indeed, to be blamed because it does not enforce them, but deliberately countenances the breaking of them, or itself breaks them; as when, after the houses forming a street have been taken on lease at high rents, because few vehicles pass, it authorizes the turning of this quiet street into a noisy thoroughfare; or as when, having given parliamentary titles to buyers of encumbered estates on certain terms, it, by subsequent laws, alters those terms; or as when it allows a proprietary agreement, entered into for one purpose, to be extended by a two-thirds majority so as to cover another purpose.
Contracts, then, must be strictly adhered to and legally enforced; save, as before pointed out, in cases where a man contracts himself away. And this necessity for severity in the enforcement of contracts, will be manifest on observing that if there grew up the system of judicially qualifying them, out of beneficent regard for defaulters, this beneficent regard would promptly be counted upon; and reckless contracts would be made in the expectation that, in cases of failure, the worst consequences would be staved off.
But while it is not for the state to relax contracts or mitigate their mischievous results, it remains open for those between whom they are made, voluntarily to modify the operation of them. Negative beneficence may still enjoin an entire or partial relinquishment of such undue advantage as a contract, literally interpreted, has given. Of merciless enforcement of contracts, and unscrupulous disregard of claims which have arisen under contracts, the treatment of tenants by landlords, especially in Ireland, furnish numerous instances. Where a barren tract–stony or boggy–taken on a short lease at a small rent, has by persistent labor been reclaimed, and the resulting fertility has given it some value, it not uncommonly happens that the landlord offers to this industrious tenant the option of either surrendering his occupancy at the end of his lease, or else of paying a greatly raised rent, proportionate to this raised value which his own toil has given to it. The contract not having been of a kind to exclude this disastrous result, the law can say nothing; but the landlord, if duly swayed by the sentiment of negative beneficence, will refrain from taking advantage of his tenant's position–will, indeed, feel that in this case what is here distinguished as negative beneficence does but enjoin a regard for natural justice, as distinguished from legal justice.
Kindred cases there are, as those of the Skye-crofters, in which the making of contracts, though nominally free, is not actually free-cases in which the absence of competing landlords gives to a local landlord an unchecked power of making his own terms, and in which the people, having little or no choice of other occupations and being too poor to emigrate, are compelled to accept the terms or starve. Here, where the conditions under which equitable exchange can be carried on are suspended, it remains for the promptings of negative beneficence to supplement those of equity, which are rendered inoperative. The landlord is called on to refrain from actions which the restraints of technically formulated justice fail to prevent.
There are cases of a more familiar kind in which sympathy demands, and often with success, that contracts shall be but partially enforced. During recent years of agricultural depression, the requirements of leases have been in multitudinous instances voluntarily relaxed, in ways which negative beneficence suggested. Landlords have returned parts of the rents agreed upon, when tenants have been impoverished by bad harvests to an extent which could not reasonably have been expected when the lease was made.
402. In the transactions of businessmen, there occur sundry allied classes of cases in which compromises between self-regard and regard for others, imply desistance from actions which justice does not interdict. Let us take three such.
Here is a grazier who, with numerous cattle at the end of a long drought, has scarcely anything for them to eat, and who, because other graziers are similarly circumstanced, cannot sell his cattle without great loss; and here is his neighbor who happens to have reserved large stacks of hay. What shall this neighbor do? If he pushes his advantage to the uttermost, he will either entail on the unfortunate grazier immense loss by the sale of his cattle, or impoverish him for years by an enormous expenditure in fodder. Clearly negative beneficence requires him to moderate his terms.
Another instance is that of a contractor who has undertaken an extensive work on terms which, to all appearance, will leave him only a fair remuneration, making due allowance for ordinary contingencies–say a heavy railway cutting, or a tunnel a mile or two long. No one suspected when the contract was made, that in the hill to be tunneled there existed a vast intrusion of trap. But now where the contractor expected to meet with earth to be excavated he finds rock to be blasted. What shall be done? Unless he is a man of large capital, strict enforcement of the contract will ruin him; and even if wealthy he will do the work at a great loss instead of at a profit. It may be said that even justice, considered not as legally formulated but as reasonably interpreted, implies that there should be a mitigation of the terms; since the intention of the contract was to make an exchange of benefits; and still more is mitigation of the terms required by negative beneficence–by abstention from that course which the law would allow. But clearly it is only where a disastrous contingency is of a kind greatly exceeding reasonable anticipation, that negative beneficence may properly come into play.
Under pressure entailed by a commercial crisis, a trader, while unable to get further credit from his bank, is obliged to meet a bill immediately falling due. One who has capital in reserve is asked for a loan on the security of the trader's stock. He may make either a merciful or a merciless bargain. He may be content with a moderate gain by the transaction, or, taking advantage of the other's necessities, may refuse except on conditions which will involve immense loss, or perhaps eventual bankruptcy. Here, again, there is occasion for the self-restraint which sympathy prompts.
Since, in cases such as these three, there is voluntary action on both sides, insistence, on ruinously hard terms cannot be classed under the head of injustice; but we are led to recognize the truth that in such cases the injunctions of negative beneficence are scarcely less stern than those which justice utters. Though in the first and the last instances, the taking of a pound of flesh is not under a contract previously made, it is under a contract to which there is practically no alternative; and in the last case as in the first, if the contract is fulfilled the patient may be left to bleed to death.
Let it be added that not only does the sympathetic regard for others' welfare which we here class as negative beneficence, forbid the unscrupulous carrying out of certain transactions which strict justice does not forbid, but regard for public welfare does the same thing. Any course which needlessly ruins those who are on the whole carrying on well their occupations, entails an injury to the social organization.
403. A still larger sphere throughout which the requirements of justice have to be qualified by the requirements of negative beneficence, is presented by the relations between employers and employed–the contracts between those who yield services and those who pay for them.
How far ought an employer to take advantage of the competition among workers, who often greatly exceed in number the number wanted, and are some of them willing to accept low payments rather than starve? This question is much less easy to answer than at first appears; since it is complicated by other questions than those which concern the qualification of justice by negative beneficence. People who blame, often in the strongest language, masters who do not give higher wages than the market rate obliges them to give, think only of the fates of those who are employed, and forget the fates of those who remain unemployed. Yet obviously a master who, in an overfull market of wage earners, gives more than he is obliged, rejects the offers of those who would have taken less. Hence the most needy go without work, while the work is given to those whose needs are not so extreme–those who would not accept such low pay. Now while contemplating the benefits derived by these less necessitous, it will not do to leave out of consideration the exacerbated distress of the more necessitous. It seems a necessary implication that a seemingly generous employer, who looks only at direct results, may. by his generosity, intensify the miseries of the most miserable, that he may mitigate the miseries of the less miserable.
A further disastrous effect may be entailed. The competition in each business is keen, and the margin of profit on transactions is often thereby made so narrow, that much increase in the cost of production consequent on payment of higher wages, must cause inability to meet competitors in the market. Bankruptcy, by no means uncommon even among traders who economize in wages as much as they can, must therefore be the fate of those who do not economize. Only one whose capital is greatly in excess of his immediate wants, can behave thus generously for a time; and even on him bankruptcy must come if he persists. To the reply that he might distribute among his work-people his surplus returns when these were greater than usual, the rejoinder is that disaster would follow were he ordinarily to do this. Though, during a time of prosperity, an employer makes large profits, yet when there presently comes a time of depression, he is not unfrequently obliged to continue working without profit, or even at a loss, that he may keep his staff employed and his machinery in order; and had he not allowed himself to accumulate while prosperous, he could not do this.
Once more there is the fact, either overlooked or deliberately ignored by those who foster the antagonism between employers and employed, that a universal rise in wages is of no use if there occurs simultaneously a universal rise in the prices of commodities. The members of each trade union, thinking only of themselves as producers, and of the advantage to be gained by forcing masters to pay them more, forget that, other things equal, the price of the article they produce must presently rise in the market to a proportionate extent. They forget that if the members of each other trade union do the like, the things they severally produce will also rise in price; and that since, in respect of the more important commodities, the chief consumers are the masses of producers, or the people at large, these will have to pay more for all the things they buy. A broad view of the matter would show them that the factors are these: 1. A quantity of labor expended by all workers. 2. A quantity of capital required for the producing appliances, for stocks of raw materials, and for stocks of the articles produced. 3. A proportion of brainwork for regulating the labor and carrying on the financial operation-purchase and sale. 4. A resulting supply of products, which, in one way or other, has to be divided out among members of the community. As this supply is for the time being fixed, an increased share awarded to bodily labor implies a decreased share to capital, or mental labor, or both. Reduction of the interest on capital is restrained, since, if it is great, capital will go elsewhere; and if, by combination, the reduction is universally pushed below a certain limit, capital will cease to be accumulated. There is also a limit to the lowering of the payment for mental labor. Business capacity will go abroad if ill paid at home; and if everywhere the remuneration is inadequate, the stock of it will diminish. Men will not undergo the intellectual labor and the discipline needed to make them good managers, if they are not tempted by the prospect of considerable rewards. Thus the margin within which, under ordinary circumstances, negative beneficence may mitigate the usually hard terms of the labor market, is but narrow; and even within this margin, it may, as we have seen, involve unintentional cruelty with intentional kindness.
In so far as pecuniary contracts for services are concerned, the only cases in which negative beneficence operates, with undoubted advantage, are cases in which an employer whose returns are being so rapidly augmented as to give him more than the needful reserve, does not continue passively to take advantage of the change until he is forced to raise wages by the increased demand for labor–declines to use his power of monopolizing all the profit which circumstances give him. But here we verge upon the province of positive beneficence.
404. While, in the treatment of the employed by the employer, there is recognized scope for negative beneficence, in the treatment of an employer by the employed many suppose there is none. But this is untrue.
Every now and then the newspapers report some case in which a large contract for works, which have to be completed before a specified time under heavy penalty. is rendered unprofitable, or even ruinous, by workmen who seize the opportunity of demanding higher wages: believing that the contractor will have no alternative but to comply. If they give the required notices of termination of their engagements with the employer, they cannot be charged with injustice. They simply propose terms more favorable to themselves and decline continuing to work on the less favorable terms. How far the sentiment of negative beneficence ought to qualify their action, must depend on the circumstances of the particular case. Perhaps they have good reason to know that the contract has been taken at very profitable rates, and that payment of the higher wages demanded will still leave the contractor a sufficient return; and in this case the taking advantage of his necessity is consistent with a reasonable altruism. Perhaps, though not likely to gain largely by this particular contract, he has, during previous years, accumulated vast sums and has been a hard taskmaster; and in which case, too, sympathy with him does not indicate such regard for his interests as may prevent him from losing. But in other cases the treatment of an employer as one whose interests are to be entirely disregarded is indefensible. And not only does due consideration for him forbid this indirect coercion, but it is forbidden by regard for society. If, being frequently thus treated, a contractor is ruined, the society loses a useful functionary; and, at any rate for a time, the employed themselves find a diminished demand for their services.
But the endeavors of workers thus to better themselves by taking advantage of an employer's necessities, are in most cases not only unrestrained by the promptings of negative beneficence, but they are unrestrained by the promptings of justice. For while they refuse to work any longer on the terms previously agreed upon, the strikers commonly use their violence, or threats of violence, to prevent others from accepting those terms. They thus break the law of equal freedom. While they assert the right to enter into, or to refuse, contracts themselves, they deny to their fellows the same right. They may without ethical transgression try to persuade others to join them–may without doing wrong argue with those who propose to take their places, and frown on them if they persist; but any course which either forcibly hinders them from taking the places, or puts them in fear of evil consequences other than unpopularity, is morally forbidden: doubly forbidden, since negative beneficence joins with justice in reprobating their course. Those who would accept the terms they refuse (frequently good terms) are often impelled to do so by their responsibilities; and to prevent them is to entail distress not only on them but on their families.
If, as happens not only in the cases indicated but in cases of other kinds, both masters and nonunionist workers are coerced by some form of the system now called boycotting–if, as commonly happens, a united body of men refuse to work along with a man who is not a member of their union; or if, as in Ireland, a political combination enforces social outlawry against those who do not join them; we may see, as before, that the wrongs done are primarily injustices. Whatever the law may at present say about the matter, it is clear that men may, both individually and in combination, refuse to work with, or trade with, or hold any communication with, a certain person, so long as they do not in any way interfere with his activities. Their combination cannot properly be called a conspiracy, unless the thing which they conspire to do is wrong; and there is no breach of the law of equal freedom in declining to work along with one who is disapproved, or in declining to do business with him. The wrong done usually consists in the use of coercion to form and maintain the boycotting organization, and in inflicting penalties on those who do not obey it. No appreciable evil would result if each person remained not nominally but actually free to join or not to join the combination. Even without the checks which negative beneficence imposes the checks which justice imposes would suffice.
I may remark, in passing, that by their disregard of such checks, we are shown how far the mass of men are from fitness for free institutions. A society in which it has become a vice to maintain personal independence, and a virtue to submit to a coercive trade organization and to persecute those who do not, is a society which will rapidly lose again the liberties it has, in recent times, gained. Men who so little understand what freedom is will inevitably lose their freedom.
405. On contracts which justice does not restrain, the restraints put by negative beneficence which have been thus far considered, are those which forbid unduly pressing against another an advantage which circumstances give. A higher form of negative beneficence operating in business transactions has to be considered.
Here and there may be found one who not only declines to sacrifice another's interests for his own benefit, but who goes further, and will not let the other make a sacrifice–will not let the other injure himself by a bad bargain. While not disregarding his own claims, he will not let his client or friend make bad terms for himself; but volunteers to give more, or to do more, than is asked. In a fully developed industrial society, formed of units having natures moulded to its requirements, such a mode of action will be normal. Beyond observance of that justice which consists in fulfillment of contract, there will be observance of that negative beneficence which forbids making a contract unduly advantageous to self.
Conduct thus guided is at present necessarily rare. People whose newspapers record in detail the betting transactions by which one receives pleasure through another's pain, are not people likely to refrain from hard bargains. The qualifying of contracts by sympathetic anxiety for another's welfare, cannot be prevalent in a nation which is given over to gambling throughout all its grades, from princes down to potboys.
Restraints on Undeserved Payments
406. Still limiting ourselves to transactions in which money, or some equivalent, plays a part, we have here to consider a kind of negative beneficence which at first sight seems wholly unbeneficent. In daily occurring instances, immediate sympathy prompts certain actions which sympathy of a more abstract and higher form interdicts. I refer to refusals to do or to give things which are expected or asked.
This is a form of negative beneficence so unprepossessing, and so apt to be misinterpreted, that it is little practiced. The cases in which a selfish motive causes resistance to a claim made by another, enormously predominate in number; and hence most people find it nearly impossible to believe that such resistance may be instigated by an unselfish motive. Proximate effects exclusively occupy their thoughts; and they cannot see that recognition of remote pains may prevent actions which yield immediate pleasures. Usually there is scope for self-denial in doing a kind thing; but in some cases there is scope for self-denial in refusing to do what seems a kind thing, but is not so.
These are mostly cases in which regard for social interests, or the welfare of the many, ought to override regard for the welfare of individuals, or of the few. Let us contemplate instances.
407. “Poor fellows! I must give them something,” says a softhearted lady, as she opens the window to hand out sixpence to the leader of a worthless band, which, for some ten minutes, has been disturbing the neighborhood by discordant playing of miserable music; and so saying she thinks she has done a good act, and ascribes lack of feeling to one who disapproves the act.
In the discussion which follows it is of little avail to point out that money given in return for something done, is properly given only when this something done is in one or other way beneficial–that it is right to pay for the receipt of pleasure, but not right to pay for the receipt of pain; and that if the principle of equally paying for pleasure and pain were pursued generally, social relations would dissolve. This is too abstract a conclusion for her. Nor is it of much use to dwell on the obvious fact that every payment of incapable bandsmen, induces them to perambulate other streets, inflicting upon other people their intolerable noises. The evils do not end here. If money can be got by bad playing, good playing will not be to the same extent cultivated; and besides a diffused infliction of pain there results a deprivation of pleasure. Yet one more evil happens. The unmusical musicians, if they were not paid, would abandon the occupation for which they are unfit and take to occupations for which they are fit; and society would then profit by their efforts instead of being injured by them. But, as I have implied, these remoter results are commonly never thought of; and, if pointed out, are too faintly imagined to operate as restraints.
Here a superior negative beneficence is shown by bearing the several pains which refusal entails–The pain which denying the immediate promptings of sympathy implies, and the pain caused by misinterpretation of motives.
408. Among the daily incidents of town life, as carried on by those who have means, may be named another in respect of which an unthinking generosity should be kept in check, and sometimes a considerable annoyance borne. I refer to dealings with cabmen.
The question of regulated cab fares versus cab fares left, like omnibus fares, to open competition, checked only by due announcement of the rates charged, must here be left aside. The established system has adjusted itself in respect of the numbers of cabs and rates of profit of masters and men; and the question is what are the effects of not abiding by the prescribed rates. In the great majority of cases cabmen, a fairly well-behaved class, are content with their due. Here, however, is one who asks more. You know the distance well–have perhaps daily paid the same fare with the certain knowledge that it covers the claim and leaves a wide margin. But the man demands another sixpence; threatens a summons; and even when you have entered the house keeps his cab standing at the door, thinking to alarm you by his persistence. What will you do? It is a disagreeable business; and you feel inclined to pay the extra sixpence, about which you care next to nothing, and thus end the dispute. Moreover you perceive that some of those around think you mean in refusing; so that perhaps, after all, it will be better to do the generous thing as it seems. But if you are swayed by that higher negative beneficence which takes into account distant effects as well as near ones, and the benefit of the many as well as the benefit of the few you will continue your refusal. Observe the various justifications.
If it is proper for you to yield, then it is proper for all others similarly overcharged, and similarly threatened, to yield; and it is proper that, by this process, the daily profits of cabmen should be raised. What do we learn respecting the effects, from political economy–the “dismal science,” as Mr. Carlyle called it, much as a child might call its arithmetic dismal because of a like repugnance? The first effect would be a great increase in the number of cabdrivers: a pleasant occupation for idle fellows, of whom there is always no lack. The body of cabdrivers would be augmented partly by influx of these, and partly by recruits from other occupations which did not yield such good daily returns. Supposing the number of hirings of cabs remained the same (which it would not, since higher rates would lessen the demands of customers) what would be the subsequent effects on the enlarged body of cabdrivers? The same number of drives having to be divided among a larger number of drivers, it would result that, though each received more from every fare, he would have fewer fares. The reduction of his abnormally raised returns in this way, would go on until the profits of cabdriving no longer caused an influx into the occupation–until, that is, it had been brought down in its desirableness to the same level as before. A concomitant effect would be an increase in the number of cabs built; for an extra demand for them made by cabdrivers, would be met by an extra supply of cabs, and an extra rate charged for them: part of the total extra payments for cabs would go into the pockets of cab masters. Yet another evil sequence must be named. There would come a superfluous number of cabs and of horses drawing them–a wasteful investment of capital. A supply of cabs and horses in excess of the need implies a national loss. Nor have we even now got to the end of the mischief. To the wealthier of those who hire cabs, the payment of fares in excess of the authorized rates would be of no consequence, pecuniarily considered; but it would be of consequence to the less wealthy and more numerous, who are in some cases obliged to hire them, and who in other cases would be prevented from hiring them when fatigue or hurry prompted.
Of course it is not meant that through the mind of one who refuses the unwarranted demand, there suddenly pass thoughts of all these ultimate results. It is meant, rather, that if he has occasionally traced out the ramifying effects of men's actions, he is immediately conscious that breach of the understanding tacitly entered into when he took the cab, tends towards evil. He is aware, for instance, that the giving of considerable gratuities to the servants at hotels, had the effect of making their places so profitable that they had to buy them from the landlords; and he is aware that since the system of charging for servants in the bill has been established, the practice has been growing up afresh, and being presently taken account of by the landlords, will end in giving lower wages. That is, he recognizes the general truth that deviations from the normal relation of payments proportioned to services, are sure, after many mischievous perturbations, to end in reestablishment of the relation; and, being possessed by this general truth, he declines in the interests of all those who will in the long run be injuriously affected, to encourage a vicious system.
409. Other acts which appear to be beneficent but are essentially unbeneficent, are committed every hour at every railway station in the “tipping” of guards and porters. Organizations when first formed are healthy. and time is required for corruptions to gain entrance and spread. In early railway days, boards of directors were pure, and the administrations they presided over were pure. There were no share traffickings, no floatings of bad schemes for the sake of premiums, no cooking of accounts; and officials of all grades down to the lowest were paid due wages, for which they were expected to perform prescribed duties without further payments. At first, and for many years, the taking of fees by those who came in contact with passengers, was peremptorily forbidden: punishment being threatened, and occasionally inflicted, for breach of the regulation. But slowly and insidiously the feeing of porters and bribing of guards crept in, and has now become so general that even those who long resisted it as a mischievous abuse, have had to yield. To fee has become proper, and not to fee contemptible. Scarcely anyone recognizes the truth that the system arose not from generosity but from selfishness, and that it works out in various disastrous ways. Here are some of them.
Originally the contract between passenger and company was one under which the company for a certain sum agreed to carry the passenger to a specified place, giving him prescribed accommodation; and part of the accommodation was taking charge of his baggage, to do which it employed and paid certain attendants. Every passenger had a claim to the services of these attendants, and no one could take more than his share without diminishing the share equitably due to others. From the beginning, however, some passengers to whom small sums were of no moment, secretly gave these in return for extra promptness or nonessential aid: not remembering that the gaining of these attentions was at the cost of others who equally needed them–often needed them more. While the porter, expecting sixpence from some wealthy-looking man entering a first class, is fussing about in the compartment arranging his bundle of rugs, and parcels, and umbrella, in the rack, or is coming back from the van to tell him his portmanteau and gun case have been duly placed in it, two or three others are kept waiting–a shabby-looking person with bag in hand, from whom probably not a penny will come, or a widow with a cluster of children and miscellaneous belongings, who is agitated lest the train should start without her. So that the richer passenger's seeming generosity to the porter, involves ungenerosity to other passengers.
Much more serious results arise. These passengers from whom nothing is to be expected, have eventually to be accommodated. The train must wait until they, too, have been seated and their things taken charge of. What necessarily happens? The time spent in doing needless things for the paying passenger, and in telling him that his baggage is safe, and in waiting for a fee, is time in which other passengers could have been attended to. The postponed attention to these now keeps the train waiting. This effect, which I have myself repeatedly observed, and have led friends to observe, recurs at every large station, producing delay upon delay; and the general result is–chronic unpunctuality. That some passengers may have an undue share of the services for which every one paid when he took his ticket, all passengers must lose time. Fifty or a hundred people get to their journeys' ends long after the announced hours: occasionally to their great inconvenience. Nor is this all. The great majority of railway accidents are caused by unpunctuality. Collisions never occur between trains which are where they should be at the appointed times.
Collateral mischiefs have followed. From the feeing of porters has grown the bribing of guards; and to this are due sundry evils. That a gentleman–or one dressed as such–who has given or promised a shilling, may have partial or entire monopoly of a compartment, other compartments are inconveniently crowded. Worse happens. Here is one who, seeking a place, looks in where there are but two persons, with coats and rugs on the seats to represent others, and hurriedly seeks elsewhere in vain. At length he asks the guard whether these seats are occupied, and, forcing out the reply that they are not, only after stern demand has the locked door opened: a transaction which shows clearly how the system of gratuities initiates a selfish habit of getting extra advantage by taking from others the advantages they have paid for. Still worse is a concomitant evil–the bribing of guards to allow smoking in nonsmoking compartments. This abuse has now grown to the extent that guards carry in their pockets labels with the printed word “Smoking,” which they fasten on the window of this or that compartment, as their paying clients inside request. It has actually come to this, and the company condones practices by which all first-class compartments are being made to stink like the taproom of a pothouse.
Here, then, are illustrations of the mode in which an apparently innocent yielding to the tacit expectations of porters, leads the way to grave abuses: some of them occasionally entailing great loss of property and even loss of life. We are shown how that kind of negative beneficence which takes account of general and remote welfare, sometimes enjoins resistance to the instigations of immediate sympathy, and enjoins also the bearing of odium.
410. Generalizing these conclusions, we may say that exchange of benefits should always conform as nearly as possible to actual or tacit contract where there is one; or, where there is no contract, to such a conceived one as might have been reasonably made.
One of the traits of evolution is increasing definiteness, and, in the course of social progress, we find increasing definiteness in the transactions among citizens. Originally there were no wages or salaries, no specified agreements, no avowed prices for commodities. The regime was one of compulsory services, of presents, of bribes; and exchanges of benefits were vague and uncertain. Hence the implication is that deviations from cooperation under contract, are retrograde changes–tend towards a lower type of society, and should be resisted.
That social life may be carried on well without gratuities, we have clear proof. A generation ago, while there still continued much of the purity which at first characterized American institutions, employees, and among others the servants in hotels, looked for nothing beyond the wages they had contracted to have for services rendered. In England, too, at the present time, there are to be found, even among the more necessitous, those who will not accept more than they have bargained to receive. I can myself recall the case of a poor workwoman who, seeming to be underpaid by the sum she asked, declined to receive the extra amount I offered her. So that, evidently, it is quite possible to have on both sides resistance to a retrograde form of social cooperation.
In such a state the function of negative beneficence, in so far as it concerns the relations of employers and employed, is that of seeing that the employed do not, when the agreement is made, underestimate the values of their services. Clearly, under the rule of the implied sentiments, that which is lost by the cessation of irregular payments will, in the long run, be gained by the raising of regular payments.
Restraints on Displays of Ability
411. Beyond the material advantages which men give and receive under the system of social cooperation, they give and receive nonmaterial advantages. These are the benefits, or satisfactions, or pleasures, obtained during social intercourse; and which may or may not be apportioned in the most desirable ways. Here the office of negative beneficence is that of so restraining the actions which bring such gratifications to self, as to allow others to obtain their shares.
The superiorities, bodily or mental or both, which enable one citizen to exceed others in gaining wealth, but which, as we have seen, he ought not to utilize to the extreme, regardless of others' welfare, are superiorities which may also bring to him an unusually large share of approbation. Or an unusually large share of approbation may come to one who has superiorities of another order, conducive, say, not to material prosperity but to popularity. In such cases there arises the question–How far shall the superior push his advantages? To what extent shall he refrain from using his greater faculties; so that others may obtain applause, or may not experience the pain of defeat?
Difficult questions grow out of these. The battle of life through which all higher powers, subhuman and human, have arisen, may rightly be carried out of that activity which has sustentation for its end, into that activity which has for its end the pleasures given by superfluous play of the faculties. In the absence of this competition, partly bodily but mainly mental, social intercourse would lose its salt. And yet in this field, as in the other, sympathy ought to produce a self-restraint limiting the pleasures of success.
412. A form of selfishness occasionally displayed, and rightly condemned, is that of men who display without bounds their remarkable conversational powers. Of various brilliant talkers we read that on some occasions the presence of others who vied with them, raised obvious jealousies; and that on other occasions, in the absence of able competitors, they talked down everyone, and changed what should have been conversation into monologue. Contrariwise, we sometimes hear of those who, though capable of holding continuously the attention of all, showed solicitude that the undistinguished or the modest should find occasions for joining in the exchange of thoughts: even going to the extent of “drawing them out.” Men of these contrasted types exemplify the absence and presence of negative beneficence; and they exemplify. too, the truth, commonly forgotten, that undue efforts to obtain applause often defeat themselves. One who monopolizes conversation loses more by moral reprobation than he gains by intellectual approbation.
Over the dinner table, or in groups of persons otherwise held together, there frequently occur cases in which an erroneous statement is made or an invalid argument urged. One who recognizes the error may either display his superior knowledge or superior logic, or he may let the error pass in silence: not wishing to raise the estimate of himself at the cost of lowering the estimate of another. Which shall he do? A proper decision implies several considerations. Is the wrong statement or invalid argument one which will do appreciable mischief if it passes uncorrected? Is the person who utters it vain, or one whose self-esteem is excessive? Is he improperly regarded as an authority by those around? Does he trample down others in the pursuit of applause? If to some or all of these questions the answer is–Yes, the correction may fitly be made; alike for the benefit of the individual himself and for the benefit of hearers. But should the error be trivial, or should the credit of one who makes it, not higher than is proper, be unduly injured by the exposure, or should his general behavior in social intercourse be of a praiseworthy kind, then sympathy may fitly dictate silence–negative beneficence may rightly restrain the natural desire to show superiority.
Of course much of what is here said respecting the carrying on of conversation or discussion, applies to the carrying on of public controversy. In nearly all cases the intrusion of personal feeling makes controversy of small value for its ostensible purpose–the establishment of truth. Desire for the éclat which victory brings, often causes a mercilessness and a dishonesty which hinder or prevent the arrival at right conclusions. Negative beneficence here conduces to public benefit while it mitigates private injury. Usually the evidence may be marshaled and a valid argument set forth, without discrediting an opponent in too conspicuous a manner. Small slips of statement and reasoning, which do not affect the general issue, may be generously passed over; and generosity may fitly go to the extent of admitting the strength of the reasons relied on, while showing that they are inadequate. A due negative beneficence will respect an antagonist's amour propre; save, perhaps, in cases where his dishonesty, and his consequent endeavor to obscure the truth, demand exposure. Lack of right feeling in this sphere has disastrous public effects. It needs but to glance around at the courses of political controversy and of theological controversy, to see how extreme are the perversions of men's beliefs caused by absence of that sympathetic interpretation which negative beneficence enjoins.
413. A few words may be added respecting more special motives which should occasionally prevent the superior from manifesting his superiority.
A game of skill is being played with one whose little boy is a spectator. The father's play is such as makes his antagonist tolerably certain of victory, should he put out his strength. But if he is adequately swayed by the sentiment of negative beneficence, he will, not obtrusively but in a concealed way, play below his strength, so as to let the father beat him. He will feel that such small pleasure as triumph might bring, would be far more than counterbalanced by sympathy with the annoyance of the father at being defeated in presence of his son, and by sympathy with the son on finding his father not so superior as he supposed. Though in this course some insincerity is implied, yet that evil is trivial in comparison with the evils otherwise entailed.
In like manner none will doubt that one who, in a discussion or in a wit combat, might be easily overcome, may, even though at other times unworthy of consideration, be rightly let off under particular circumstances. Say, for instance, that his fiancée is present. To show that he is ignorant, or that he is illogical, or to utter a witticism at his expense, would be cruel. All but the unusually callous will see that to shame him before a witness with whom he stands in such a relation, would be an improper exercise of intellectual power. An interlocutor who is swayed by due fellow feeling, will, in such a case, consent to see himself ill-informed or stupid, rather than inflict the pain which would follow any other course.
414. Here, then, are ways in which negative beneficence should operate by voluntarily making a conscious superiority, and thus harmonizing social intercourse.
Perhaps in such cases we see more clearly than in others, the propriety of mitigating, so far as we can, the pains caused by inequalities of faculty. As admitted on a previous occasion, the harsh discipline of nature, which favors the well-endowed and leaves the ill-endowed to suffer, has, from the human point of view, an aspect of injustice; and though, as we have seen, it is not permissible so to traverse the normal relation between conduct and consequence, as to equalize the fates of the well-endowed and the ill-endowed, it is permissible to modify its results where this may be done without appreciably interfering with the further progress of evolution. Though many difficulties stand in the way of thus qualifying the material effects which severally come to the efficient and the inefficient in the battle of life, yet comparatively little difficulty stands in the way of qualifying the mental effects, as socially manifested.
There are doubtless cases in which display of mental power in conversation or controversy, conduces to pecuniary benefit, and may hence be regarded as rightly to be taken advantage of in the struggle for life; but in the cases above instanced, which typify the average cases, the more skilled player, or better talker, or keener logician, may hold his greater powers in check without endangering the prosperity of the superior, and may avoid discrediting a competitor without appreciably furthering the prosperity of the inferior. He may here diminish the evils caused by nature's unfairness, without entailing other evils.
And restraint of the desire for triumph, thus inculcated by negative beneficence, is the restraint of a barbarous desire appropriate to early stages of human evolution. For the pride taken in victory over an opponent, is of like kind whether the opponent fights with hand or with tongue–wields the sword or wields the pen. The militant nature which throughout social progress has gloried in successful bodily encounters, is essentially the same militant nature which glories in successful mental encounters. In the interests of a higher civilization, therefore, there should be practiced this self-restraint which prevents a needless discrediting of the mentally inferior.
Restraints on Blame
415. The subject matter of this chapter joins naturally on to that of the last chapter–is, in fact, scarcely to be parted from it: since criticisms passed in conversation and controversy necessarily imply a kind of blame. But blame, specially so called, is sufficiently distinguishable to be separately treated.
Neither sympathy alone, nor judgment alone, serves rightly to regulate the utterance of blame, either in respect of occasion or degree. Sometimes it is a duty to withhold censure, and sometimes censure cannot be withheld without breach of duty. For right guidance many things must be borne in mind. There are the relative positions of the two, as being in some cases parent and child, in some cases employer and employed, in some cases elder and younger; while in some cases they stand in relations of equality and independence. There are the characters of the person reproving and the person reproved, as being relatively superior or inferior, either to the other; and there are the effects as liable to be beneficial or injurious, immediately or remotely or both. The presence or absence of witnesses, too, must be taken into account; as also the degree and manner of the blame.
To adjust behavior in such ways as duly to regard all the facts and circumstances, there needs active fellow feeling and also quick perception and much foresight. Wherever possible, it is desirable that time should be taken for consideration.
416. Blame of the most familiar kind is that which the relation of parent and child leads to. In countries where the imperative need for having a son results from the belief that only by a son can proper sacrifices be made to a father's ghost, we see clearly implied the conception, which has prevailed down to comparatively modern times, that children exist mainly for the benefit of parents. Along with the prevalence of this conception and along with the enjoining of punishment, which accompanied it, the blaming of children could not well be checked by careful thought for their welfare. In modern times, however, characterized if not by entire inversion of this conception, yet by partial inversion of it, so that very often parents exist chiefly for the benefit of children, the blaming of them has come to be qualified by considerations touching the effects wrought. The better natured among parents in our days, find scope for negative beneficence in often restraining themselves from those faultfindings which irritation prompts.
Insight and sympathy will, at the cost of some self-sacrifice, cause tolerance of that restlessness, mental and bodily, characterizing early life; and will, within reasonable limits, prompt submission to that cross-questioning which children are prone to. The aim will be to find pleasure in giving the desired information; and when the questioning becomes too troublesome, to end it, not by words of blame but in some indirect way.
Constant recognition of the truth that from an undeveloped nature there must not be expected conduct which only a developed nature is capable of, will stop many scoldings. The higher regulative emotions, later than others in coming into play, must not be counted upon as though fully operative. Remembering this a parent of well-balanced feelings will not harshly condemn minor transgressions. Not that faults are to be passed over in silence, but that disapproval is to be expressed in a moderated way.
Negative beneficence will check a too-frequent blame because of remote effects as well as because of immediate effects. Perpetual infliction of moral pain produces callousness and eventually alienation. Both of these conflict with salutary discipline. A parent who passes over small faults without comment, or at most visits them with disapproving looks, and reserves open reprobation for serious transgressions, will, other things equal, obtain a control not to be obtained by a harsh parent; for the harsh parent fails to bring into play those motives from which good conduct should have proceeded, and substitutes for them those lower motives which dread of him generates.
Of course much that is here said of the family circle may be said also of the school. The measures used, punitive in a kindly way, should have in view not only the control of present conduct but the permanent moulding of character; and should form parts of a government which though mild is not lax.
417. Primarily. the relations of employer and employed, or of master and servant, must be such as are implied by conformity to contract. Justice takes precedence of beneficence; and here, therefore, considerations touching blame are subordinate to considerations touching duty. Fulfillment of the understanding made, may rightly be insisted on, and reproof for nonfulfillment may rightly be uttered-should, indeed, be uttered; for as healthy social cooperation depends on discharge of engagements, failure in the discharge (unless it is due to adequate unforeseen causes) should not be passed over in silence.
Ethical judgments on questions hence arising, are complicated by the consciousness that in the relation between employer and employed, and especially in that between master and servant, there is an element scarcely recognizable by absolute ethics. Though the agreement to render specified services for specified sums, is perfectly consistent with pure equity; yet, since fulfillment of one side of the contract, payment of money, occurs only at intervals while fulfillment of the other side by obedience to orders is continuous, there clings to it a feeling not wholly different from that which clings to the obedience of slave to owner (see sec. 169). Whether, under a reign of absolute ethics, social organization may become such as practically to eliminate this feeling, we cannot say; but under such social organizations as we now know, elimination is not possible, and a system of relative ethics has to make the best of forms of conduct which subordination gives rise to. One way of making the best of these forms is to restrain blame in amount and manner; so as to keep out of view, as much as may be, this undesirable relation.
Of the several nonfulfillments of duty, those which have their origin in the dishonest disregard of contracts entered into, are, as above implied, those on which blame may with least hesitation be visited. The withholding of blame in such cases, though it may be suggested by immediate sympathy, is not approved by that higher beneficence which recognizes distant results–the reform of the erring individual and the welfare of society. For the individual who, by lack of reproof, is encouraged in lax discharge of functions, is less likely to prosper than if his laxity is checked; and those with whom he may afterward be engaged will be advantaged by whatever improvement is made in him.
A mode of discipline to be used as much as possible in cases of the above class, may be used also with advantage in cases of another class–those in which the cause of failure in duty is forgetfulness. In the treatment of servants as in the treatment of children, the discipline of the natural reaction should be allowed to act where practicable. If they continually find that what has been left undone has eventually to be done, neglect, whether due to idleness or to carelessness, is not unlikely to be prevented. When one who in winter cannot remember to shut the door, is required to come back and shut it, there may be produced a certain amount of irritation; but the irritation will probably be less than that produced by perpetual scolding, and the desire to avoid trouble will often be effectual.
Faults which result from stupidity or awkwardness are those which, though frequently visited with the sharpest reproofs, deserve the mildest. Such faults more manifestly than most others arise from inherited defects of organization. A scarcely credible slowness of apprehension, even of simple things, is often found among children of the poor; and those in whom unintelligence is innate or superinduced by ill- nurture, are to be dealt with tenderly. If it is a function of beneficence to mitigate, so far as consists with other ends, the injustices of nature, then the lowly endowed should not have those injustices of nature from which they suffer, made harder to bear by the needlessly harsh treatment of men. Negative beneficence requires that such blame as their failures call for, shall be sparing in amount and gentle in kind.
Not for altruistic reasons only, but also for egoistic reasons, should the tendency to blame be kept under restraint. For beyond the direct self-injury caused by excess of it, there is the indirect self-injury arising from failure of its purpose. Those whose faultfinding is perpetual cease to be regarded; and those who, though in authority, but rarely blame, produce unusual effects.
418. What is to be said about the expression of blame when the persons concerned are independent of one another–either friends or strangers? The question is one to which there seems no general answer. Each case must be separately considered.
Misbehavior on the part of a stranger, if not great in degree, may often be best ignored, or at any rate be noticed only by look or manner; since more evil than good is likely to result from word–especially if the misbehavior is towards oneself. But if it is of a grave kind, both immediate and remote reasons call for notice of it. Everyone is bound to resist distinct aggression, alike in his own interests and in the interests of other men; for if no one resists an aggressor he is encouraged in his aggressiveness. If the misbehavior is towards others, the utterance of blame is not therefore uncalled for, but is in some respects more called for; since self-interest is no longer a factor. Interference, even by words, is in such cases often resented. Among the vulgar there is commonly vented the exclamation “What is it to you?” and the vulgar-minded in any class usually entertain the thought thus expressed. In such cases negative beneficence has no place. Any desire there may be not to give pain to the transgressor, is a desire which should be overridden by sympathy with the injured. Positive beneficence comes into play. For the transgressor who in such case makes the common rejoinder “Mind your own business” needs to be told that it is the business of everyone to aid in maintaining harmonious social life, and to defend those who are ill-treated by word or deed.
If it is a friend who has misbehaved, toward either self or others, the desire not to give pain by utterance of a reproach, is often so far enforced by the desire not to lose a friend, or not to decrease friendly feeling, that it operates unduly. The negative beneficence which in such case prompts passivity is not always to be obeyed. Blame may rightly be uttered in defense of personal claims, and still more may rightly be uttered in defense of the claims of third persons, when these have been disregarded. Contemplation of remote effects as well as immediate effects, will then show that the disagreeable thing must be said, even at the cost of giving serious offense.
But when those concerned are intimate, expression of blame may often fitly be limited to change of behavior. For while coldness of manner frequently conveys a reproof as distinctly as words, and sometimes even more forcibly, since it leaves play to the imagination of the person reproved, it has the advantage that it does not inflict pain in the same overt way, and gives much less specific reason for complaint and possible alienation.
419. Along with insufficient restraints on blame in some cases, there go, in other cases, restraints that are too great. The utterance of condemnation, or of statements which would lead to condemnation, is often withheld where it is not only deserved but demanded.
In countries where the moral tone is low, we see antagonism to the law and sympathy with the criminal. The law is regarded by citizens as the common enemy rather than as the common friend. A feeling of kindred nature is shown among ourselves at public schools, with the result that it is a point of honor to shield a transgressor from punishment and a disgrace to inform against him. This feeling goes even to the extent that a smaller boy who has been seriously ill treated by a bigger boy, dare not say anything about his grievance to those in authority. If he does, he is sent to Coventry: the result being that no blame comes on him who has deserved it, while blame comes on him who has not deserved it.
Influenced very much as they are by school ethics, many men betray in the afterlife sentiments like these of schoolboys; so that not unfrequently they take the side of one who has seriously misbehaved, while they frown on one who exposes his misbehavior. Often, indeed, it seems better to have done wrong than to have drawn attention to the wrongdoing. The strangest anomalies occasionally arise from this reluctance to express blame where it is called for. A chairman of directors was discovered in treasonable negotiations, injurious to the interests of the company he presided over. His colleagues forced him to resign; and then, by way of “letting him down easily,” as the phrase goes, gave him a testimonial–a testimonial which was subscribed to by the member of the board who informed me of the fact.
Now, as rightly understood, negative beneficence does not require such withholdings of blame: quite the contrary. There can be no ethical justification for practice which enables demerit to prosper, and makes it dangerous to bring on demerit its normal results.
420. Much that has been said in this chapter applies, with change of terms, to punishment–the blame which takes the form of hard deeds instead of hard words. Here, as elsewhere, the principle of the natural reaction should be acted upon whenever it is possible. For instance, though sympathy will rightly cause the occasional unpunctuality of an employee to be passed by in silence, yet if the unpunctuality is chronic, maintenance of contract, in which all citizens are concerned, requires that there shall be experienced the natural reaction, by losing, in some way, part of the sum agreed upon for services. If an employer has workmen who constantly come behind time, he is defrauded of a certain amount of the work which was to be given in return for the sum to be paid; and he may rightly deduct an equivalent amount–may impose fines. Unhappily there are in our present phase of progress, many natures on which neither sense of duty, nor mild expostulation, nor strong words, have any appreciable effects; and in dealing with them the normal punishment constituted by loss of benefit, is called for by justice, and must not be interdicted by negative beneficence.
Respecting punitive deeds as well as punitive words, we may say that where decisive blame is deserved, the function of negative beneficence is that of preventing the undue severity which anger–even a legitimate anger–is apt to prompt. The sympathy which in some cases checks a direct infliction of pain, and in others suggests mitigation of reproof, may in all cases rightly rein in the excited feelings.
Moderation not abstinence is the word. There is a general notion, taking for its formula “Never lose your temper,” which assumes that under all circumstances anger is improper. This is quite a mistake. Anger is a normal, and in some cases a needful, mode of displaying feeling. Were anger never shown by those who are aggressed upon, aggressions would be multitudinous. Mankind are at present not sufficiently civilized to dispense with the check which fear puts upon them. Negative beneficence can do no more than keep anger within due bounds.
Restraints on Praise
421. How that form of altruism which we here distinguish as negative beneficence, should put any check on praise, is not obvious: to most, indeed, will appear incomprehensible.
They see at once that regard for truth should in many cases suppress the wish to give pleasure by applause. They do not doubt that when, even if there is no thought of gaining favor, there is professed an admiration which is not felt, a fault has been committed. The ancient Egyptian Ptah-hotep declared that “he who departs from truth to be agreeable is detestable”; and in the intervening five thousand years there have continued to be reprobations of flattery. In our own day the untruthfulness of one who utters insincere eulogies, excites a little contempt, even in the person eulogized. All feel, if they do not say, that there is something wrong in a kindness which prompts undeserved compliments.
But the avoidance of falsehood is in such cases the implied requirement. From veracity, and not from negative beneficence, the interdict is supposed exclusively to come. The withholding of laudations when they are not merited, cannot, it is thought, be referred to that form of altruism which refrains from acts and words productive of pain. Surely it must be a mistake to include restraints on praise under the head of negative beneficence?
No, there are other restraints besides those which truthfulness imposes. Even supposing the applause uttered or displayed arises from genuine admiration, there are circumstances under which it should be kept back. The desire to give immediate pleasure has often to be suppressed by the desire to further ultimate welfare; now of the individual, now of society.
It is difficult to deal separately with these checks to laudation, shown sometimes in look and manner, sometimes in words, which are demanded sometimes by sincerity, and sometimes by consideration of remote effects instead of proximate effects. There will be no harm in massing together the variously required withholdings of praise, which often involve considerable self-sacrifice for others' benefit.
422. Admiration for the child is by implication reflected on to the mother; and, consciously or unconsciously desiring this admiration, the mother summons her little boy from the nursery to be seen by a visitor. Already vanity, dominant enough in existing humanity at large, has been made specially active in the little urchin by daily ministrations–by special attentions to pretty clothes, to carefully curled hair, and by flattering remarks of the nursemaid. Shall you please the child and gratify the mother by some complimentary remark–shall you encourage her still more to foster the child's self-consciousness and appetite for approbation? Not to do this will cause disappointment to both, and will perhaps diminish the mother's friendly feeling. Yet a far-seeing regard for both will arrest the expected eulogy.
Here again is a handsome young lady accustomed to tribute in words and looks. She is constantly thinking of the admiration she excites and is looking for signs of it. Unquestionably her beauty is great–so great that you can scarcely avoid showing that you recognize it. Shall you give her the pleasure she seeks by letting your glances be seen? If you think only of proximate results you may; but not if you think also of remote results. If you recognize the fact that already her nature is in large measure deformed by vanity–if you watch the manifestations of her purely egoistic desire, and see how it excludes from consciousness altruistic desires, which should predominate; you will endeavor to avoid showing that you are thinking any more about her than about other persons.
Such self-restraint, called for by negative beneficence, will probably be thought by many needless or even absurd. If, however, they will consider that the mental attitude described often proves a deplorable one, eventually entailing unhappiness on self and others–if they remember that it is liable in after years to vitiate domestic life in various ways, even to the extent of making mothers jealous of their daughters; and if they remember that it has been developed year after year by the open and tacit flatteries of those around; they will see that the reticence here insisted on is not unimportant.
423. Kindred restraints, imposed now by sincerity and now by the wish to avoid doing injury, are called for in multitudinous cases where the applause expected is of something achieved–a book, a poem, or a speech, a painting or other work of plastic art, a song or a musical performance. In private life the spectator or auditor finds it difficult to act conscientiously. The wish not to disappoint prompts the utterance of approval which is not felt, and shuts out from thought the evils that may arise from uncandid speeches. Where encouragement is needed, there should of course be no greater restraint on praise than is required by truthfulness; and something may commonly be found in the way of partial approval which, serving to give pleasure without fostering vanity may serve to excite further efforts. If the product is a sketch or a decorative work, there need to be no check caused by thought of remoter consequences; but if the product is of a literary kind–verses, an essay, or perhaps a volume–there should usually be a suppression of words which might encourage an unrealizable ambition. Silence, or adverse criticism gently expressed, is in such cases kind: not alone as perhaps preventing future disappointment of the aspirant, but also as tending to prevent public evil. Verses which have no true poetry in them, and books which contain neither facts nor thoughts of any value, do not simply entail loss to the community in paper and print thrown away, but help to smother things of true worth. The withholding of praise hence becomes in multitudinous cases a duty to the world at large. Negative beneficence commands silence.
Evils less widely diffused, but more conspicuous, arise from applauding those who have received the customary musical culture but have no considerable musical faculty, and who, on all available occasions, are invited to perform for the supposed pleasure of those around. The pestilent social system which aims to make every individual as like every other individual as possible, by passing all through the same educational mill, insists on giving to each young lady lessons in singing, and a course of instruction on the piano; even though she has not a tolerable ear, and is utterly averse to the practices she has to go through. Daily. for years, are caused weariness to the pupil and irritation to the teachers, annoyance to the household, nuisance to the neighbors; and all to achieve the result that when there comes an evening party, a song ill sung or an ill played piece on the piano, may be inflicted upon guests, who hypocritically say “Thank you.” Manifestly the giving of praise, which sincerity forbids, is also here forbidden by regard for the general welfare. Negative beneficence of the wider kind interdicts utterances which, individually trivial though they may be, serve by their aggregate effect to maintain a system that vitiates social intercourse.
It goes without saying that duty to society should still more imperatively forbid the public critic from giving currency to unmerited encomiums.
424. There is a form of praise allied to flattery which also needs to be restrained–the tacit flattery implied by constant agreement with another person's opinions. If, on the one hand, we must disapprove of that nature which always finds reason to dissent, we must, on the other hand, disapprove of that nature which (moved perhaps in some measure by sympathy but often in a greater measure by a kind of servility) always finds reason to assent.
Of course regard for truth represses this undue tendency to coincide with others' views. Save in those who have got no ideas at all, there cannot but frequently arise convictions at variance with those they hear; and to utter words inconsistent with these convictions, everyone condemns as dishonest. Not only does sincerity require that the tacit praise taking this form shall be restrained, but a far-seeing negative beneficence also requires it. It is not a matter of indifference whether another continues to believe that which you see reason to think is untrue. A double evil may result from an expressed acquiescence in his statement or opinion. The error itself may have injurious consequences to him; and, further, a groundless self-esteem may be fostered. Moreover, as an ultimate effect of this acquiescent habit, social intercourse is rendered uninteresting by absence of mental conflict. Emerson somewhere reprobates the man who is “a mush of concession”; and it is clear that among those who are thus characterized, conversation must lose its point. All pronounced opinions and all individualities of character must disappear in a tame uniformity, if everybody is anxious to please everybody else by agreeing with him.
The restraint which, in this sphere, negative beneficence may rightly enjoin, is the maintaining of silence in cases where no good will be effected by avowed dissidence. Often it requires some tact to preserve the right attitude–neither to express difference when it is useless nor to profess agreement when it is not felt; but there are cases in which such tact comes in aid of kindly feeling.
425. The request to join in giving public honor to an individual who has probably done no more than perform well the duties before him, calls for another restraining action of negative beneficence.
Passive resistance to the getting up of testimonials, is seen by many to be needful to prevent further growth of an abuse. A presentation-portrait in recognition of services is proposed. If the man to be thus distinguished is actively sympathetic, he will prefer rather to go without such a mark of esteem than to have his friends taxed all round that he may receive it: knowing, as he does, that in most cases their contributions would be given under a kind of moral coercion. But if the beneficiary, not thus unusually sympathetic, countenances the subscription, then one who, under the ordinary circumstances refuses to subscribe, may do this simply from a beneficent regard for the general welfare.
Even where the applause takes the form of a costless testimonial, he may still often find good reason for refraining from joining in it. He may be restrained by the thought that the distribution of testimonials is ill adjusted to the merits of individuals: many of the more worthy being passed over while the less worthy are honored: the result being a misdirection of public opinion. And, further, he may be restrained by the belief that for the beneficiary to have done well what we had to do, should not be regarded as a reason for special eulogy; since everyone should do this as a matter of duty and not with a view to approbation.
And here, indeed, we come upon a final reason for being reticent of praise. As was pointed out in The Principles of Psychology, sections 519—23, the ego-altruistic sentiments have been, from early days down to our own, among the chief regulators of social conduct; and have been needful in the absence of anything like adequate amounts of the altruistic sentiments. Desires for reputation, fame, glory, have been the prompters; and not desires to do the appointed work, discharge obligations, behave kindly. Love of praise has in large measure served in place of love of rectitude. The proethical sentiments have had to rule because the ethical sentiments were not strong enough to take their places. But if so, it follows that a higher state, individual and social, will be one in which “the last infirmity of noble minds” will have greatly diminished; and in which, by implication, applause will be less sought for and less given. Men will be ruled by higher motives than love of approbation; and approbation being less demanded will be less yielded. From which conclusion it is a corollary that the appetite for praise should be discharged. A far-seeing desire to further human development, may rightly become a motive for often withholding applause–especially where it is greedily claimed.
The Ultimate Sanctions
426. Though occasionally, in the foregoing chapters, I have briefly indicated the origin of the obligation to be beneficent, I have not under each head referred to this origin, but have thought it best here to emphasize it generally.
The admitted desideratum being maintenance and prosperity of the species, or that variety of the species constituting the society, the implication is that the modes of conduct here enjoined under the head of negative beneficence, have their remote justification in their conduciveness to such maintenance and prosperity. It was pointed out that certain restraints on free competition are demanded not only by regard for a competitor as likely to be needlessly ruined, but also by regard for society at large; injury of which would result from partial destruction of its producing and distributing organization. It was tacitly alleged that restraints on free contract are imposed by recognition of extreme damages to individuals, considerable damage to society, and consequent damage to the local variety of the species, which result if contracts are under all circumstances enforced to the letter. And kindred reasons were implied for reprobating various minor divergencies from the fundamental principle of social cooperation–that each individual shall, under ordinary circumstances, receive neither more nor less than a true equivalent for his services.
Here it should be added that the maintenance or prosperity of the race, or the variety, is the ultimate sanction also for those kinds of negative beneficence treated of as restraints on praise and blame. For the right restraints are in all cases such as have in view the eventual welfare of the individual blamed or praised–his eventual improvement. But improvement of the individual consists in the better fitting of him for social cooperation; and this, being conducive to social prosperity, is conducive to maintenance of the race.
427. The second sanction is a correlative of the first, or indeed, from one point of view, is the first; since, unless the race maintained is a recipient of happiness, maintenance of it ceases to be a desideratum. As was pointed out in section 16, “pessimists and optimists both start with the postulate that life is a blessing or a curse, according as the average consciousness accompanying it is pleasurable or painful. . . . The truth that conduct is considered by us as good or bad, according as its aggregate results, to self or others or both, are pleasurable or painful, we found on examination to be involved in all the current judgments of conduct: the proof being that reversing the applications of the words creates absurdities. And we found that every other proposed standard of conduct derives its authority from this standard”; for “perfection of nature,” or “virtuousness of action,” or “rectitude of motive,” cannot be conceived without including the conception of happiness as an ultimate result, to self, or others or both. Hence the conclusion that the ultimate sanction for the conduct we call beneficent is conduciveness to maintenance of the species, simultaneously implies that its ultimate sanction is conduciveness to happiness, special or general: the two being different aspects of the same truth.
Their fundamental correlation is, as we before saw, necessary–has been inevitably established during the evolution of life at large. For as in all types of creatures lower than the human, there have been no prompters to performance of some actions and desistance from others, except the pleasurable and painful feelings produced respectively, it follows that through myriads of generations of creatures preceding the human, there have been in course of establishment, organic relations between pleasures and beneficial actions, and between pains and detrimental actions–now to the individual, now to the species, now to both. Of these organic relations, the essential ones, referring to the needs of the physical life, are inherited by the human race, savage and civilized; and are on the average efficient guides to the welfare of the individual and of the species. Though change from the requirements of savage life to the requirements of civilized life, has put many of the more complex among these relations out of gear; and though readjustment, already to some extent effected, has to continue through long future periods, before harmony between the feelings and the needs is fully reestablished; yet there cannot be an abolition of this primordial method of guidance. The requisite reorganization of the human being, must make him like inferior beings in the sense that not the lower parts of his nature only but the higher parts, will be adjusted to the conditions imposed by his mode of life–so adjusted that in him, as in them, all the actions conducive to self-welfare and the welfare of the species will be pleasurable.
Hence the two correlative sanctions of beneficence are conduciveness to happiness, immediate or remote, or both, and consequent conduciveness to maintenance of the species or the variety, regarded as hereafter the recipient of increased happiness. And this is implied vaguely if not clearly in the current conception of beneficence; since a mode of conduct which tends to increase the total of unhappiness, immediate or remote or both, is universally recognized as not beneficent but maleficent.
Of course these considerations touching the nature of beneficence at large, here appended as a commentary on the actions classed under the head of negative beneficence, equally apply, and indeed apply still more manifestly, to the actions classed under the head of positive beneficence, to which we now pass.