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APPENDICES - 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 Kantian Idea of Rights
Among the tracks of thought pursued by multitudinous minds in the course of ages, nearly all must have been entered upon if not explored. Hence the probability is greatly against the assumption of entire novelty in any doctrine. The remark is suggested by an instance of such an assumption erroneously made.
The fundamental principle enunciated in the chapter entitled “The Formula of Justice,” is one which I set forth in Social Statics: The Conditions Essential to Human Happiness Specified and the First of Them Developed, originally published at the close of 1850. I then supposed that I was the first to recognize the law of equal freedom as being that in which justice, as variously exemplified in the concrete, is summed up in the abstract. I was wrong, however. In the second of two articles entitled “Mr. Herbert Spencer's Theory of Society,” published by Mr. F. W. Maitland (now Downing Professor of Law at Cambridge) in Mind, vol. viii. (1883), pp. 508—9, it was pointed out that Kant had already enunciated, in other words, a similar doctrine. Not being able to read the German quotations given by Mr. Maitland, I was unable to test his statement. When, however, I again took up the subject, and reached the chapter on “The Formula of Justice,” it became needful to ascertain definitely what were Kant's views. I found them in a recent translation (1887) by Mr. W. Hastie, entitled The Philosophy of Law, An Exposition of the Fundamental Principles of Jurisprudence as the Science of Right. In this, at p. 45, occurs the sentence: “Right, therefore, comprehends the whole of the conditions under which the voluntary actions of any one person can be harmonized in reality with the voluntary actions of every other person, according to a universal law of freedom.” And then there follows this section:
Universal Principle of Right
Every action isrightwhich in itself, or in the maxim on which it proceeds, is such that it can coexist along with the Freedom of the Will of each and all in action, according to a universal law.
If, then, my action or my condition generally can coexist with the freedom of every other, according to a universal law, anyone does me a wrong who hinders me in the performance of this action, or in the maintenance of this condition. For such a hindrance or obstruction cannot coexist with Freedom according to universal laws.
It follows also that it cannot be demanded as a matter of Right, that this universal Principle of all maxims shall itself be adopted as my maxim, that is, that l shall make it themaximof my actions. For anyone may be free, although his Freedom is entirely indifferent to me, or even if I wished in my heart to infringe it, so long as I do not actually violate that freedom bymy external action. Ethics, however, as distinguished from Jurisprudence, imposes upon me the obligation to make the fulfillment of Right amaximof my conduct.
The universal Law of Right may then be expressed, thus: “Act externally in such a manner that the free exercise of thy Will may be able to coexist with the Freedom of all others, according to a universal Law.” This is undoubtedly a Law which imposes obligation upon me; but it does not at all imply and still less command that Iought, merely on account of This obligation, to limit my freedom to these very conditions. Reason in this connection says only that itisrestricted thus far by its Idea, and may be likewise thus limited in fact by others; and it lays this down as a Postulate which is not capable of further proof. As the object in view is not to teach Virtue, but to explain what rightis, thus far the Law of Right, as thus laid down, may not and should not be represented as a motive-principle of action.
These passages make it clear that Kant had arrived at a conclusion which, if not the same as my own, is closely allied to it. It is, however, worth remarking that Kant's conception, similar though it is in nature, differs both in its origin and in its form.
As shown on a preceding page, his conclusion is reached by a “search in the pure reason for the sources of such judgments”–forms a part of the “metaphysic of morals”; whereas, as shown on pp. 67—68 of the original edition of Social Statics, the law of equal freedom, there shadowed forth and subsequently stated, is regarded as expressing the primary condition which must be fulfilled before the greatest happiness can be achieved by similar beings living in proximity. Kant enunciates an a priori requirement, contemplated as irrespective of beneficial ends; whereas I have enunciated this a priori requirement as one which, under the circumstances necessitated by the social state, must be conformed to for achievement of beneficial ends.
The noteworthy distinction between the forms in which the conception is presented is this. Though (on p. 56) Kant, by saying that “there is only one innate right, the birthright of freedom,” clearly recognizes the positive element in the conception of justice; yet, in the passages quoted above, the right of the individual to freedom is represented as emerging by implication from the wrongfulness of acts which aggress upon this freedom. The negative element, or obligation to respect limits, is the dominant idea; whereas in my own case the positive element–the right to freedom of action–is represented as primary; while the negative element, resulting from the limitations imposed by the presence of others, is represented as secondary. This distinction may not be without its significance; for the putting of obligation in the foreground seems natural to a social state in which political restraints are strong, while the putting of claims in the foreground seems natural to a social state in which there is a greater assertion of individuality.
The Land Question
The course of nature, “red in tooth and claw,” has been, on a higher plane, the course of civilization. Through “blood and iron” small clusters of men have been consolidated into larger ones, and these again into still larger ones, until nations have been formed. This process, carried on everywhere and always by brute force, has resulted in a history of wrongs upon wrongs: savage tribes have been slowly welded together by savage means. We could not, if we tried, trace back the acts of unscrupulous violence committed during these thousands of years; and could we trace them back we could not rectify their evil results.
Landownership was established during this process; and if the genesis of landownership was full of iniquities, they were iniquities committed not by the ancestors of any one class of existing men but by the ancestors of all existing men. The remote forefathers of living Englishmen were robbers, who stole the lands of men who were themselves robbers, who behaved in like manner to the robbers who preceded them. The usurpation by the Normans, here complete and there partial, was of lands which, centuries before, had been seized, some by piratical Danes and Norsemen, and some at an earlier time by hordes of invading Frisians or old English. And then the Celtic owners, expelled or enslaved by these, had in bygone ages themselves expropriated the peoples who lived in the underground houses here and there still traceable. What would happen if we tried to restore lands inequitably taken–if Normans had to give them back to Danes and Norse and Frisians, and these again to Celts, and these again to the men who lived in caves and used flint implements? The only imaginable form of the transaction would be a restoration of Great Britain bodily to the Welsh and the Highlanders; and if the Welsh and the Highlanders did not make a kindred restoration, it could only be on the ground that, having not only taken the land of the aborigines but killed them, they had thus justified their ownership!
The wish now expressed by many that landownership should be conformed to the requirements of pure equity, is in itself commendable; and is in some men prompted by conscientious feeling. One would, however, like to hear from such the demand that not only here but in the various regions we are peopling, the requirements of pure equity should be conformed to. As it is, the indignation against wrongful appropriations of land, made in the past at home, is not accompanied by any indignation against the more wrongful appropriations made at present abroad. Alike as holders of the predominant political power and as furnishing the rank and file of our armies, the masses of the people are responsible for those nefarious doings all over the world which end in the seizing of new territories and expropriation of their inhabitants. The filibustering expeditions of the old English are repeated, on a vastly larger scale, in the filibustering expeditions of the new English. Yet those who execrate ancient usurpations utter no word of protest against these far greater modern usurpations–nay, are aiders and abettors in them. Remaining as they do passive and silent while there is going on this universal land-grabbing which their votes could stop; and supplying as they do the soldiers who effect it; they are responsible for it. By deputy they are committing in this matter grosser and more numerous injustices than were committed against their forefathers.
That the masses of landless men should regard private landownership as having been wrongfully established, is natural; and, as we have seen, they are not without warrant. But if we entertain the thought of rectification, there arises in the first place the question–which are the wronged and which are the wrongers? Passing over the primary fact that the ancestors of existing Englishmen, landed and landless, were, as a body, men who took the land by violence from previous owners; and thinking only of the force and fraud by which certain of these ancestors obtained possession of the land while others of them lost possession; the preliminary question is–Which are the descendants of the one and of the other? It is tacitly assumed that those who now own lands are the posterity of the usurpers, and that those who now have no lands are the posterity of those whose lands were usurped. But this is far from being the case. The fact that among the nobility there are very few whose titles go back to the days when the last usurpations took place, and none to the days when there took place the original usurpations; joined with the fact that among existing landowners there are many whose names imply artisan-ancestors; show that we have not now to deal with descendants of those who unjustly appropriated the land. While, conversely, the numbers of the landless whose names prove that their forefathers belonged to the higher ranks (numbers which must be doubled to take account of intermarriages with female descendants) show that among those who are now without land, many inherit the blood of the land-usurpers. Hence, that bitter feeling towards the landed which contemplation of the past generates in many of the landless, is in great measure misplaced. They are themselves to a considerable extent descendants of the sinners; while those they scowl at are to a considerable extent descendants of the sinned-against.
But granting all that is said about past inequities, and leav ing aside all other obstacles in the way of an equitable rearrangement, there is an obstacle which seems to have been overlooked. Even supposing that the English as a race gained possession of the land equitably, which they did not; and even supposing that existing landowners are the posterity of those who spoiled their fellows, which in large part they are not; and even supposing that the existing landless are the posterity of the despoiled, which in large part they are not; there would still have to be recognized a transaction that goes far to prevent rectification of injustices. If we are to go back upon the past at all, we must go back upon the past wholly, and take account not only of that which the people at large have lost by private appropriation of land, but also that which they have received in the form of a share of the returns-we must take account, that is, of Poor Law relief. Mr. T. Mackay, author of The English Poor, has kindly furnished me with the following memoranda, showing something like the total amount of this since the 43rd Elizabeth (1601) in England and Wales.
Sir G. Nicholls [History of Poor Law, appendix to Vol. II] ventures no estimate till 1688. At that date he puts the poor rate at nearly £700,000 a year. Till the beginning of this century the amounts are based more or less on estimate.
The above represents the amount expended in relief of the poor. Under the general term “poor rate,” moneys have always been collected for other purposes–county, borough, police rates, &c. The following table shows the annual amounts of these in connection with the annual amounts expended on the poor.
In addition, therefore, to sums set out in the first table, there is a further sum, rising during the century from 1 1/4 to 7 1/2 millions per annum “for other purposes.”
Mulhall on whom I relied for figures between 1853 and 1875 does not give “other expenditure.”
Of course of the £734,000,000 given to the poorer members of the landless class during three centuries, a part has arisen from rates on houses; only such portion of which as is chargeable against ground rents, being rightly included in the sum the land has contributed. From a landowner, who is at the same time a Queen's Counsel, frequently employed professionally to arbitrate in questions of local taxation, I have received the opinion that if, out of the total sum received by the poor, £500,000,000 is credited to the land, this will be an underestimate. Thus even if we ignore the fact that this amount, gradually contributed, would, if otherwise gradually invested, have yielded in returns of one or other kind a far larger sum, it is manifest that against the claim of the landless may be set off a large claim of the landed–perhaps a larger claim.
For now observe that the landless have not an equitable claim to the land in its present state–cleared, drained, fenced, fertilized, and furnished with farmbuildings, &c.–but only to the land in its primitive state, here stony and there marshy, covered with forest, gorse, heather, &c.: this only, it is, which belongs to the community. Hence, therefore, the question arises–What is the relation between the original “prairie value” of the land, and the amount which the poorer among the landless have received during these three centuries. Probably the landowners would contend that for the land in its primitive, unsubdued state, furnishing nothing but wild animals and wild fruits, £500,000,000 would be a high price.
When, in Social Statics, published in 1850, I drew from the law of equal freedom the corollary that the land could not equitably be alienated from the community, and argued that, after compensating its existing holders, it should be reappropriated by the community. I overlooked the foregoing considerations. Moreover, I did not clearly see what would be implied by the giving of compensation for all that value which the labor of ages has given to the land. While, as shown in chap. 11, I adhere to the inference originally drawn, that the aggregate of men forming the community are the supreme owners of the land–an inference harmonizing with legal doctrine and daily acted upon in legislation–a fuller consideration of the matter has led me to the conclusion that individual ownership, subject to state suzerainty, should be maintained.
Even were it possible to rectify the inequitable doings which have gone on during past thousands of years, and by some balancing of claims and counterclaims, past and present, to make a rearrangement equitable in the abstract, the resulting state of things would be a less desirable one than the present. Setting aside all financial objections to nationalization (which of themselves negative the transaction, since, if equitably effected, it would be a losing one), it suffices to remember the inferiority of public administration to private administration, to see that ownership by the state would work ill. Under the existing system of ownership, those who manage the land, experience a direct connection between effort and benefit; while, were it under state ownership, those who managed it would experience no such direct connection. The vices of officialism would inevitably entail immense evils.
The Moral Motive
Some months after the first five chapters of this volume appeared in The Nineteenth Century, the Rev J. Llewelyn Davies published in The Guardian for July 16, 1890, some criticisms upon them. Such of these criticisms as concern other questions I pass over, and here limit myself to one which concerns the sentiment of duty, and the authority of that sentiment. Mr. Davies says:
To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Spencer, though often challenged, has never fully explained how, with his philosophy, he can take advantage of the ordinary language and sentiment of mankind about . . . . I have to repeat a criticism which I offered in my former paper. Mr. Spencer seems to me to imply what he professes not to recognize. To construct the idea and sentiment of justice, he implies a law having authority over the human mind and its conduct–viz., that the well-being of the species is to be desired, and an acknowledgment by the human mind of that law, a self-justifying response to it. Whilst he confines himself to tracing natural evolution, he has no right to use the terms of duty. What can be added to the dictum of Kant, and how can it be confuted?
If we fix our eyes simply upon the course of nature, the ought has no meaning whatever. It is as absurd to ask what nature ought to be as to ask what sort of properties a circle ought to have. The only question we can properly ask is, What comes to pass in nature? just as we can only ask, What actually are the properties of a circle?
When Mr. Spencer inveighs with genuine moral vehemence against aggression and other forms of illdoing, when he protests, for example, against “that miserable laisse-faire which calmly looks on while men ruin themselves in trying to enforce by law their equitable claims”–he is borrowing our thunder, he is stealing fire from heaven.
And then, after further argument, Mr. Davies ends his letter by asking for “some justification of the use of ethical terms by one who professes only to describe natural and necessary processes.
As Mr. Davies forwarded to me a copy of The Guardian containing his letter, my reply took the form of a letter addressed to him, which appeared in The Guardian for August 6. With the exception of an omitted part, relating to another matter, it ran as follows:
Fairfield, Pewsey, Wilts, July 24, 1890
Dear Mr. Davies–The copy of the Guardian has just reached me, and I have read your criticism with much interest. Would that criticisms in general were written in the same spirit!
In asserting the illegitimacy of my use of the words “duty,” “ought,” “obligation,” &c., you remind me of the criticisms of Mr. Lilly. By such community as exists between you, amid your differences, you are both led to the assumption that the idea of “duty” can have no other than a supernatural origin.
This assumption implies that men's actions are determined only by recognition of ultimate consequences, and that if recognition of ultimate consequences does not lead them to do right, they can have no motive to do right. But the great mass of men's actions are directly prompted by their likings, without thought of remote results; and among actions thus prompted are, in many cases, those which conduce to other men's welfare. Though, on reflection, such actions are seen to be congruous with the ends ranked as the highest, yet they are not prompted by thought of such ends.
The relation of direct to indirect motives is best seen in a familiar case. Any normally constituted parent spends much labor and thought in furthering the welfare of his children, and daily, for many years, is impelled to do this by immediate liking–cannot bear to do otherwise. Nevertheless, while he is not impelled to do what he does by the consciousness that he ought to do it, if you ask the reasons for his self-sacrificing conduct he will say that he is under obligation; and if you push your inquiries to the end, you will compel him to assign the fact that if men in general did not do the like the race would disappear. Though the consciousness of obligation may serve to justify, and perhaps in a small degree to strengthen, the promptings of his natural affections, yet these are quite sufficient of themselves.
Similarly is it with the idea of obligation in respect of conduct to our fellow men. As you must know from your personal experiences, such conduct may be effectually prompted by immediate desire, without thought of other consequence than the benefits given. And though these benefits are given from simple desire to give them, if the question be raised whether they should be given, there comes the answer that it is a duty to minister to human welfare.
You contend that my theory of moral guidance gives me no warrant for anger against aggression, or other ill doing: saying of me that, in such case, “he is borrowing our thunder.” This implies the assertion that only those who accept the current creed have any right to feel indignant when they see other men wronged. But I cannot allow you thus to monopolize righteous indignation. If you ask what prompts me to denounce our unjust treatment of inferior races, I reply that I am prompted by a feeling which is aroused in me quite apart from any sense of duty quite apart from any thought of Divine command, quite apart from any thought of reward or punishment here or hereafter. In part the feeling results from consciousness of the suffering inflicted, which is a painful consciousness, and in part from irritation at the breach of a law of conduct on behalf of which my sentiments are enlisted, and obedience to which I regard as needful for the welfare of humanity in general. If you say that my theory gives me no reason for feeling this pain, the answer is that I cannot help feeling it; and if you say that my theory gives me no reason for my interest in asserting this principle, the answer is that I cannot help being interested. And when analysis shows me that the feeling and the principle are such as, if cherished and acted upon, must conduce to the progress of humanity towards a higher form, capable of greater happiness, I find that though my action is not immediately prompted by the sense of obligation, yet it conforms to my idea of obligation.
That motives hence resulting may be adequately operative, you will find proof on recalling certain transactions, dating back some eight years, in which we were both concerned. You can scarcely fail to remember that those who were moved by feelings and ideas such as I have described, and not by any motives which the current creed furnishes, displayed more anxiety that our dealings with alien peoples should be guided by what are called Christian principles than is displayed by Christians in general.1 I am, sincerely yours,
P.S.–Should you wish to publish this letter as my response to your appeal, I am quite willing that you should do so. Other claims on my time will, however, prevent me from carrying the discussion further.
Along with this letter, when published in The Guardian, there appeared a rejoinder from Mr. Davies, which, omitting, as before, a part concerning a different question, ran thus:
Kirkby Lonsdale, July 28, 1890
Dear Mr. Spencer–I am much obliged to you for responding so kindly to the challenge which I ventured to address to you. You will not think it ungracious, I hope, if, notwithstanding the purpose which you intimate in your postscript, I make public some of the reflections which your letter suggests to me.
Most amply do I acknowledge the generous zeal for human welfare, the indignation against oppression, shown by yourself and others who recognize no supernatural sanction of morality. The Christianity of today owes much to–has, I hope, really gained much from–your own humane ardor and the bold protestations of the followers of Comte. A Christian's allegiance is not to the Christian world, not even to Christianity but to the law of Christ and the will of the Heavenly Father; and he may as easily admit that Christians have been surpassed in Christian feeling and action by agnostics as that the priest and the Levite were put to shame by the Samaritan.
I have also no difficulty in acknowledging that the performance of good offices may arise out of sympathy and pleasure in doing them. l do not understand why “the assumption that the idea of ‘duty’ has a supernatural origin” should be supposed to imply “that men's actions are determined only by recognition of ultimate consequences, and that if recognition of ultimate consequences does not lead them to do right, they can have no motive to do right.” I never thought of questioning that men act, in a great part of their conduct, from the motives you describe. What I wish to know is why, when the thought of duty comes in, a man should think himself bound to do, whether he likes it or not, what will tend to the preservation of the species. It is quite intelligible to me that you “cannot help” trying to protect other men from wrong: what I still fail to see clearly is how your philosophy justifies you in reproaching those who can help being good. It is nature, you say, that makes the thoughtful parent good, that makes the generous man sacrifice himself for the benefit of his fellow men. But nature also makes many parents selfishly regardless of the interests of their children; nature makes some men hardened freebooters. If they also cannot help being what they are, is there any sense, from your point of view, in saying that they act as they ought not to act? Would they feel that you were appealing to their sense of duty if you explained to them as a fact of nature that, should other men do as they are doing, the race would tend to disappear? To Mr. Huxley, as a philosopher, a taste for good behavior belongs to the same category as an ear for music–some persons have it and others are without it; the question which I cannot help asking is whether that is the ultimate word of your ethics. I cannot see how a man who is made aware that he acts only from natural impulse can reasonably consider whether he ought or ought not to do a certain thing, nor how a man who knows that he acts only for the gratification of his own desires can reasonably throw himself away for the sake of any advantage to be won for others.
As I do not quite know what “the current creed” may be on the questions at issue, I beg leave to sum up my own belief as follows: The Unseen Power is gradually creating mankind by processes of development, and the human consciousness is so made as to be responsive to the authority of this Power; justice is the progressive order which the Maker is establishing amongst human beings, and it is binding upon each man as he becomes aware of it, and is felt to be binding, because he is the Maker's creature. Believe me, very truly yours,
J. Llewelyn Davies
Before proceeding to discuss further the special question at issue, I may remark, respecting the more general question involved in Mr. Davies' closing paragraph, that there is a curiously close kinship between his view and that which I have myself more than once expressed. In section 34 of First Principles I have said, in reference to the hesitating inquirer:
It is not for nothing that he has in him these sympathies with some principles and repugnance to others. He, with all his capacities, and aspirations, and beliefs, is not an accident, but a product of the time. He must remember that while he is a descendant of the past, he is a parent of the future; and that his thoughts are as children born to him, which he may not carelessly let die. He, like every other man, may properly consider himself as one of the myriad agencies through whom works the Unknown Cause; and when the Unknown Cause produces in him a certain belief, he is thereby authorized to profess and act out that belief.
And then in the Data of Ethics, section 62, speaking of the different types of ethical doctrine as severally presenting one or other aspect of the truth, I have said:
The theological theory contains a part. If for the divine will, supposed to be supernaturally revealed, we substitute the naturally revealed end towards which the Power manifested throughout Evolution works; then, since Evolution has been, and is still, working towards the highest life, it follows that conforming to those principles by which the highest life is achieved, is furthering that end.
Returning now to the special question, I have first to remark that Mr. Davies, and those who take kindred views, tacitly assume that the conception of “ought” is a universal and a fixed conception; whereas it is a variable conception, and is in large measure relevant to the social needs of the time being. In an article on “The Ethics of Kant,” published in The Fortnightly Review for July 1888 and now contained in the third volume of my Essays, I have given seven authorities in support of the conclusion that “the lower races of men may be said to be deficient in the idea of right”: they have no such feeling of “ought” as is general with us, and where it exists it is often quite otherwise directed. Among various savage peoples the duty of blood revenge is of all duties the most sacred. A Fijian slave tribe “said it was their duty to become food and sacrifices for the chiefs”; and Jackson tells of a Fijian chief who was thrown into religious frenzy from a belief that the god was angry with him for not killing more of the enemy. Nor is it among the inferior races that we meet with conceptions of “ought” utterly different from those which Mr. Davies assumes are recognized by men as of supreme authority. Among the Riff pirates of the Morocco coast, the greatest insult a man can receive is to be told that his father died in his bed–that he did not die fighting while engaged in robbery: the implication being that he ought to have so died. Similarly is it with European peoples in respect of duels. The aggrieved man is forced by a strong sense of obligation to challenge one who has injured him; and the injurer entertains no doubt that he ought to accept the challenge–feels, in common with all his associates, that it is his duty to do this thing which is condemned by the creed he professes. And in the German Emperor's recent applause of dueling clubs as giving to the youth “the true direction of his life,” we see a deliberate advocacy of usages utterly at variance with the nominally accepted principles of right conduct.
These cases show, I think, that the conception of “ought” is relevant, partly to sentiments predominant in the individual, partly to the feelings and ideas instilled during education, and partly to the public opinion which prevails: all of them variable factors. The truth is that every desire, seeking as it does gratification, carries along with it the idea that its gratification is proper or right; and when it is a powerful desire it generates, when it is denied, the idea that the denial is wrong. So true is this that a feeling which prompted a wrong action, but was effectually resisted, will, in some cases, afterward generate regret that the act prompted was not committed; while, conversely, a good action at variance with the habitual bad actions may be followed by repentance: instance the miser who feels sorry that he was betrayed into a piece of generosity. Similarly the consciousness of “ought,” as existing among men of superior types, is simply the voice of certain governing sentiments developed by the higher forms of social life, which are in each individual endorsed by transmitted beliefs and current opinion–a sanction much stronger than that which any of the inferior feelings have.
A full answer to the question put by Mr. Davies, presented in a different and much more elaborate form, has been already given in The Data of Ethics. In the chapter entitled “The Psychological View,” and more especially in sections 42—46, the genesis of the feeling of obligation is explained at considerable length.
Perhaps he will still ask–Why, having the feeling of obligation, should a man yield to it? If so, the answer is of the same general nature as that which may be given to the question–Why, having an appetite for food, should a man eat? Though, in the normal order, a man eats to satisfy hunger, and without definite consciousness of remoter ends, yet, if you demand his justification, he replies that, as conducive to health, strength, and ability to carry on life and do his work, the yielding to his appetite is needful. And similarly one who performs an act which his sense of duty prompts, if asked for his reason, may fitly reply that though he yielded to the feeling without thought of distant consequences, yet he sees that the distant consequences of such conformity are, on the average of cases, beneficial not only to others but in the long run to himself. And here let me repeat a truth which I have elsewhere insisted upon, that just as food is rightly taken only when taken to appease hunger, while the having to take it when there is no inclination implies deranged physical state; so, a good act or act of duty is rightly done only if done in satisfaction of immediate feeling, and if done with a view of ultimate results, in this world or another world, implies an imperfect moral state.
[After the publication of the first edition of this work, I received from Mr. Davies a letter containing, among others, the following paragraph:
“Allow me to demur to one statement you make in the Appendix on the moral motive. I think I, for one, do not tacitly assume that the conception of ‘ought’ is ‘a fixed conception.’ I hold that the notions of what is right vary with the variations, and advance with the progress, of the social order.”
Hence it appears that in a further respect Mr. Davies' views and my own diverge in a smaller degree than at first appeared.]
Conscience in Animals
Shortly after the publication in The Guardian of the correspondence reproduced in the preceding Appendix, I received from a gentleman residing in Devonshire the letter which I here quote:
Dear Sir–The following careful observations on animals other than man may be of interest to you as supporting your idea that the idea of “duty” or “ought” (owe it) may be of non-“supernatural” origin. [“Supernatural” is used in usual sense without committing the writer to any opinion.]
My dog has an aversion to injure living flesh or anything that is “shaped.” He will not bite any animal except under thegreatestprovocation. If l press a sharp-pointed pen-knife against the skin of the back, he seizes my wrist between his hind teeth. The mechanical advantage is such, that if he closed his jaw he could crush flesh and bone. But no matter how I increase or prolong the pressure hewillnot close his jaw sufficiently to mark the flesh. l have repeated this and similarexperimentsmay times. I can't find how the “ought” was established. It is not hereditary. The father was a good-tempered “fighting” dog–the mothermost vicious; but I never allowed her to come into contact with the pup but in the dusk, in order to avoid imitation or unconscious education.
Until “Punch” was three yrs. old I never knew him give an angry growl. I sat down on his tail, doubling it under me accidentally one day, when I heard a growl of a totally differenttimberto what I had ever before. The odd thing was–when I rose the dog begged pardon for the unusual tone and temper in a way that could not be mistaken.
Evidently he recognized his own violation of an “ought” existing in his mind (conscience).
Further, if I tease him with a rough stick he seizes it and crushes it, but if with my crutch (l am lame) or my mahl stick, he seizes it; but will not leave the mark of his teeth in anything that has had “work” done on it to any extent.
The “ought” may be established as an obligation to a higher mind, in opposition to the promptings of the strongest feelings of the animal, e.g.
A bitch I had many years ago showed great pleasure at the attentions of male dogs, when in season. I checked her repeatedly, byvoice only. This set up the “ought” so thoroughly, that tho' never tied up at such times, she died a virgin at 13 1/2 yrs. old.2 By the time she was 4 she resented strongly any attention from the male, and by seven she was a spiteful old maid, resenting even the presence of the males.
Dogs can form a standard of “ought” as to skill or powers of doing.This bitch was a powerful swimmer. Ayoungsmooth Scotch terrier was introduced into the house. They became playfellows, chasing and running all over the grounds. One day they were crossing the Prince's Street Ferry, Bristol. The bitch sprang from the ferry boat as usual into the water and the young dog followed; but began to drown. She saw his efforts, seized him by the back of neck and swam ashore with him. A few seconds after, she seized him and shook him violently for some time. Ever after, she bit or shook him if he attempted to play. [Contempt on discovery of want of power she apparently regarded before as normal?]
Further, “indignation” is not confined to human beings.I used to pretend to beat a younger sister and she feigned crying. The bitch flew at me. Reversing the conditions, the bitch growled and finally flew at my sister. We tried the experiment many times with other actors and same results. Her sympathies were always on the sideof the persons attacked, unless she had a previous dislike to them.
Further observation showing her the attacks were feigned, she often joined in them with uproarious hilarity, but this state of mind did not arise till after repeated observation.
Pardon these records of observation if they appear trivial. Unfortunately I have only been able to make myself acquainted very partially with your works, and such facts may have come under your observation to a greater extent than under mine.
I am yours obdtly.,
My response, thanking Mr. Jones and recognizing the value of the facts set forth in his letter, drew from him a second letter, in which he says:
Pray make what use you like of the letter, but it is only right to say that some of the facts are in the possession of Prof. Romanes. You can depend upon the accuracy of the observations–I learned to observe from the Belfast naturalists, Pattison, the Thompsons and others and I trained my wife, before marriage, to help me, and not run away with mere impressions.
The idea of “ought” is abnormally strong in Punch, the dog I spoke of–his tastes too are unusual. He cares more for sweets than meat. When he was about 6 months old I found out some way he had gained the meaning of Yes and No. I have hundreds of times offered him a knob of sugar–when he was on the point of taking it said No! He draws back. If he has taken it in his mouth awhisperedNo! causes him to drop it. If he is lying down and I place sugar all round whispering No! the lumps remain untouched till a “Yes” is said. But–but–but–the dog differs from the human being! He will rarely accept afirstYes, tho' he does a first No! Experience has taught him the Yesmaybe followed by a No! and he waits expectantly. There is no eagerness to set aside the “ought” when an excuse offers.(Special probably, not general in dogs.)The minds of dogs discriminate between great and smalldepartures from their standard of “ought.” If I dropped a fair-sized piece of sugar, neither Fan (the bitch) nor Punch, considered they had the slightest right to touch it. If the piece were very small both hesitated–and if No! were not said, finally ate it. I have tried graduating the lumps to find out where the “ought” came in. The male has a finer conscience than the female. I need hardly say I carefully avoided loud tones and gesticulation.
No! Oh! So! Go! are equivalents to a dog's ear, but the sibilant must be very soft. So also “Yes,” “bess,” “press,” but they recognize various forms of expression as equivalent. “Yes,” or “You may have it,” are same value to Punch. My pony is nervously anxious to obey the “ought.” Woh! Halt! Stop! &c., are of equal value. The dog appears to me to study thetoneless than the pony and to pay more attention to sound and itsquantity. Many of the acts of both strike me as possibly acts of “worship” in its simplest form, e.g., the fact I think I mentioned in my letter, of the dog's anxiety to “propitiate” on the occasion of his first angry growl, when three years old; though l had not recognized the “ought” in the dog's mind nor had l ever punished him.
Along with this letter Mr. Mann Jones inclosed a series of memoranda which, while they are highly interesting and instructive, also serve to show how carefully and critically his inquiries have been conducted, and how trustworthy, therefore, are his conclusions. With the omission of some paragraphs, they are as follows:
Recognition of duty or ought in a bitch–deliberate violation of the principle recognized–simulation of indignation at the ought being set at nought by a cat
Prior to ’85 I had satisfied myself that domestic animals recognized duty. I was anxious, however, to procure as thoroughly degraded an animal as I could to test-1st, whether the “ought” might not proceed from two very different classes of motives, which I had been accustomed to distinguish as (A) theRectal-moraland (B) the selfish orconventional-moral. 2ndly, I wanted to test whether the idea set forth by some theologians that the “most noxious animal wasinnocent,” and that moral responsibility only attached to man, was true.
I observed a very handsome bitch at Mardock station repeatedly drive a large number of fowls belonging to the stationmaster off the line and platform so soon as she heard the distance signal.
I asked her history and found she had been accidentally left by a lady traveling in a first-class carriage some months before. I inferred she was likely to have been “spoiled” and as she was evidently aged, she would not easily lose any bad habits. Further, I ascertained she was gluttonous, passionate, yet sulky, lascivious, a coward, not fond of children, without any strong attachments, and dirty in her habits. She seemed so much like the worst specimen of “fallen humanity” theputaine, that I asked but one more question ‘she is very intelligent, you have taught her to clear the station at proper time?’ ‘She is very sharp, but I did not teach her; she watched the boy a few times doing the work and then took it as her duty. Now, though she is very greedy, if we are late in the morning, she comes without her breakfast and has nothing till late in the day rather than not clear the line.’ This trait decided me. I thought if I removed her from the stationmaster's house, she would drop the last “duty” that was at all unselfish, and be thoroughly “bad-all-round.”
I took her home. She went willingly, shewing no fright and making herself at home on reaching my house. I kept her in a house and an outhouse 24 hours, feeding her well, then took her to the station when she showed little pleasure at seeing her master and little inclination for the old duty. By end of a fortnight she took no notice of either.
The third morning the stableboy, Ben, came to me. ‘Sir, Judy is mad. I was sweeping near her over 2 hours ago and stooped to pat her. She first bit my hand and then my leg’ (both wounds bled) ‘and she has sat in the corner, with her back crushed into it, ever since.’ I went to the stable, spoke kindly to her and then stooped to pat her. She snapt viciously, Letting the muscles of the hand balance so that the finger bones and metacarpals played loose on each other and the wrist, I struck her heavily over the eyes. She snapt again and I struck as she snapt. The contest continued 5 minutes, when I left her, nearly blind eyed and tired. 1 asked Ben two hours after how she was. ‘Oh! I think she is mad. She is as sulky as ever and sits as she was in the corner.’ When I went in, she came forward and fawned upon me. From that day I never struck her. She was most obedient, good tempered, gentle and anxious to please me. To a certain extent she showed the same character to my wife and to a servant, the cook, who was very decided, but to the boy and a younger servant she showed the old character and also to others. In fact henceforth she lived a double life, altering her apparent character the moment she heard my footstep. I saw here that her sense of duty and her obedience had no ethical value: they were simply effects of fear, or, in some degree, hope of gain. They formed no part of her real character.
I took care she was frequently and well fed, purposely with a largevarietyof food. I therefore left no motive for theft. About a fortnight after 1 bought her, the cook came to my wife–Ma’m, I am constantly missing things off the kitchen table. Either one of the cats has turned thief or Judy takes the things, yet I can't tell how she gets at them. 1 don't leave a chair near enough the table for her to use–besides she is so stiff and long-backed that if she tries to get on the chair she slips over the other side.’
I give a diagram of kitchen and surroundings to make clear what follows. I caused a number of articles of food brought out of dining room, to be placed on the table: the chair being put too far off for use. Sending some of the family in the dining room with injunctions to keep still till I called I left the two cats and Judy at their plate, f. I then went into the garden but returned quietly to windowb, which had a colored muslin half-blind that hid me from observation. As soon as all was quiet Judy left her dinner, went to doord, apparently listened intently and looked repeatedly up and down passage. She then went to x and reared herself on her hind legs, walking along so as to see the whole surface of table and going backward so as to get better view. She then went to one of the cats and hustled her to the chair. The cat at length understood Judy, jumped on chair, thence on to table and dragged a meat bone down tof. Judy shook her–took the bone and began to pick it. I gave the signal and a light-footed girl ran into the kitchen. As soon asJudy heard the footsteps, which was not till the girl got to the door, she flew at the cat with a growl and worried her and finally chased her through a hedge 200 feet off.
I saw the whole of this drama enacted on two occasion–parts on several; others saw parts many times. The same caution to ascertain the “coast was clear,” the same employment of one or other of the cats and the same feigned indignation and attempt by gesture to fix the theft on the cat, occurred every time.
I don't think I am wrong in concluding that Judy recognized that the cat had no right to get on the table after the food; that she was instigating breach of duty, and that she simulated anger in order to shift responsibility which her mind acknowledged.
Space and time prevent my giving many more illustrations of her character. She was an extreme type, but I have had other animals like her, who recognized duty and “moral obligation” to a greater or less extent as something expected of them by a superior, but which they performed entirely from hopes of reward or fear of punishment generally, occasionally from liking (which wasnot sympathy) but that form arising from the object giving pleasure or profit to the subject so “liking.” The idea of duty, justice, “ought,” in all such cases arose from selfishness. I class them as “selfish-moral,” conventional-moral, fashion-moral acts of duty, or shortly as “Judyism.”
I now proceed briefly to consider the “sense of duty” or “ought” in another of my teachers–the dog Punch. I have given details before but briefly. He wills not to injure any living thing, nor anything that shows by its shape that work has been expended upon it. The most striking instance is that l have repeatedly purposely caused him severe and long continued pain by pressing upon and even cutting the subcutaneous loops of the nerves without ever being able to induce him to bite me or even snap at me. In the same way, when bitten by dogs, often severely, he will not bite them. There appears to me to be here a “sense of duty,” or of “ought,” which is specifically different from all those varieties I have styled Judyism.
I ask why does he not bite?
It may be said he is afraid of you. I think that if anyone saw the relations between us they would soon dismiss this as the motive. I appreciate him too much as a valuable “subject” to make the blunder of inspiring fear. I would as soon think of doing so as the electrician would think of using his most sensitive electroscope roughly. The dog and his pupil are soen rapportthat if the former wants a door opened, or a thorn or insect removed, he comes to me, say I am at my desk, stands up, puts his right paw on my arm and taps my shoulder with the left repeatedly till l attend to him, when he clearly indicates what he wants, and if the want is to have thorn or insect removed he clearly indicates the surface, often to a square inch or nearer.
It may be urged that he will not hurt me because he has such trust or faith in me–he thinks I would not willingly hurt him. There appears something in this at first sight, and it gains color from the fact that when he was less than 12 months old, a gamekeeper shot at him when near, and deposited about 30 pellets of shot in his head and body, which I extracted. The memory of these operations might lead him to class my pressure of the knife point as something curative.
But then, where does such an explanation come in, in his behavior to mymahlstick, which he will not break under the same circumstances that cause him to crush an unshaped stick to splinters? It may be said that when bitten by another dog, he does not retaliate because he is a coward. The explanation won't do. He barks remonstratively, as he does when I hurt him when we are romping, but hewon't run away. I can't get him away often, and he is frequently bitten more severely in consequence. An incident that occurred a few days back threw some more light on the idea of “right” in Punch's (or Monkey’s) mind–he answers indifferently to both names. I was coming through the very narrow street of West Appledore when a much larger dog seized him, and bit Punch so severely about the face as to make him bleed. Punch then resisted for the first time, to my knowledge, not by biting, but by a Quaker-like defense that was most scientific. He seized the other dog firmly by the hind leg above the heel, and raised the leg so high off the ground as to throw the dog's body into unstable equilibrium. The dog stood still for some time, evidently afraid to move for fear of falling on his back and being at the mercy of his opponent. He was in no pain, for Punch was not biting but simply holding firmly. At length the attacking dog tried to get his head round to bite Punch again, but the latter frustrated this by lifting the leg higher and carrying it gradually round in the opposite direction to the dog's head, so as to preserve the original distance. At the end of about 2 minutes I was compelled to interfere, as a horse and cart were coming close. The dog slank off whilst Punch jumped vertically, bounding many times off the ground in a manner that I can only compare with the bounding of a football, barking merrily at the same time.
Hundreds of similar instances to the few I have given, convince me that this dog has in his mind a sense of duty totallydifferentinkindfrom that which l have illustrated and characterized asJudyism. It is in fact “Do-as-you-would-be-done-by-ism.” I have observed this species of sense of duty, of the “ought” (or morality) in a number of animals, and l have become accustomed to call thiskind“Rectal sense of duty” and hence to divide “morality” intoselfish, emotional, clique, “fashion” morality, or Judyism, and Rectal morality.
I never met with two such extreme types of the dominance of the two kinds of motive before. Most animals are actuated by the two species of sense of duty in varying ratio, many only by selfish or Fashion-morality; but some individuals appear affected little by either. These form the utterly “immoral.” So far as my inductions from observations of animals go, the division into Rectal and conventional “sense of duty” is exhaustive and inclusive. All acts that recognize an “ought” appear to me to come under one or the other.
There is a remarkable difference in the animal according to which sense of duty is predominant–which species of morality rules its life. IfRectal, the animal is trustworthy, and reliable. Ifconventional, untrustworthy, changeable and shifty. So much for results in outward conduct. I apprehend that the results on the mind or ethical sense, of conventional morality is on the whole disintegrating. In fact I have observed this in animals, though l have not been able to pursue my observations so far as I could wish.3
On the other hand, the Rectal sense of duty in animals is, in the phraseology of the philosopher, a developing force. The Rectal morality of the animal increases with time. In the phraseology of some theologians it may perhaps be termed a regenerating or “saving” force. (Those who believe that a profession of a creed is the only saving force, would scarcely admit it had more value than the conventional “ought,” or perhaps not as much in some cases.)
As to the origin of the Rectal sense of duty or rectal morality, so far as my observations go, the chief thing I can predicate is that it is unselfish. It seems to be closely connected with “sympathy,” as distinguished from “feeling” of the kind before defined. The individuals among the higher animals who act from the rectal sense of duty appear to be remarkable, so far as my observations go, for ability to “put-yourself-in-his-place-edness” which is at the root of true “sympathy.” The tendency is always “to do as they would be done by.” In most cases that I have observed it appeared to be inborn, but developed as the animal got older.
The division 1 have been led to, by hundreds of observations on individuals of different species, of the “Idea of duty,” and consequently all morality, into Rectal and conventional (mores) l have never seen formulated.Probably other observers have made the distinction.It is tacitly recognized, however, in most of the oldest writings I know anything of. The recognition of the value of the Rectal appears to me to run through many of the books collected as the Bible, and the O.T. and N.T. Apocrypha, like a vein of gold in quartz, and to be the veryprotagonor “nerve-center stuff” of most of Christ's teaching. I have seen the distinction tacitly admitted in many theological works, tho' I think I am right in asserting (1 say it as the oratorians speak–under correction) there is a want of recognition of the fact that the chief (if not only) value of the conventional “sense of duty,” or selfish “ought,” is to prevent friction.
Not only do animals (other than man) act upon the “ought” in their minds, but some of the more intelligent act as if they expected or believed that it existed in the minds of some men
In August ‘86 l was driving Prince (my pony) and at the same time discussing an interesting point in science with my wife. I generally guided him entirely by the voice, but in the heat of the argument unthinkingly emphasized my points with the whip (which had had a new knotted lash on that day) on the pony's flanks. He stopped about the third blow and looked round. This attracted my wife's attention–“Prince is remonstrating: You struck heavily.” Later on I must have struck him repeatedly. When he was loosed from the harness, I was standingout of his direct line to the stable door. Instead of going to the stable, as was usual, he walked up to me, and after repeated attempts to draw my attention, touched me with his nose and then approached his nose as closely as he could to the wales. This he repeated until I had the places bathed.
About two months later, on a similar occasion, he repeated the same actions.
In autumn ’86 I was in Ware with my pony. Coming out of a shop, I was on the point of stepping into the carriage when I noticed the pony (Prince) watching me. (He was accustomed to my boy jumping up when the vehicle was in motion.) I told my wife to start him. She tried repeatedly, but he would not move till he saw I was seated, when he started at once. (The experiment was repeated many times subsequently.) The strange thing is the complicated train of thought that evolved an “ought” differing in the case of a lame man from the duty in other cases.
The same autumn, we were driving from Wearside to Hadham. On the road we met with a group of children with two perambulators. They were in awkward positions: several children being close to the lefthand hedge, a perambulator and children further to right, the second further still, as in diagram:
the distance between c.p1, p2 and right hedge being about equal. There was room to pass between p1 and p2 easily, but the children were confused and passed repeatedly between the two points. My wife said, “See if Prince will avoid the children.” I dropped the reins on his neck. He went on at a smart trot till 7 or 8 yards from the children at a, when he fell into a walk, turned to the right, and passed them with the right wheel near the hedge, turning his head more and more to see whether he was dearing the right or outer perambulator. He left it about 3 yards in the rear, and then returned sharply to the left side of road and resumed his trot without any intimation he was to do so.
In Nov. ’87, after the death of my wife, a relative came to live with me and she drove the same pony. She is so deaf, she cannot hear a vehicle overtaking her. Consequently I always went with her, and if she had the reins, signed with my left hand if a vehicle were coming up behind, for her to draw over to left.
As she was driving one day up a steep hill (therefore with slack reins) on road to Ware, I heard a brewer's cart coming behind. The man had been drinking and followed close in our wake, though there was plenty of room to pass if he had kept well to the right. I gave my relative no signal, as I wanted to observe the pony's actions. He appeared nervous and restless, turning his head as far as he could to the right to see what was wrong. The man drove the heavy cart very close behind but the pony could not see the horse or vehicle. After 3 or 4 minutes anxiety (I use the word advisedly: the working of the ears and the “twitching” of his muscles justifies me), receiving no sign, he deliberately drew as closely as possible into thelefthandhedge and waited. As soon as the waggon passed, he went off at a brisk trot.
After many experiments on different days I found that if I were driving and a vehicle overtook us, Prince waited for me to tighten the left rein, but if my relative were driving, he decided by the sound when to draw to the left. Even if she tightened the right rein–he disobeyed the sign. After many experiments l had full confidence he would always act, if she were driving, on the evidence of his own hearing; and she often subsequently drove without me, the pony evidently recognizing his new duties.
Examples of animals (other than men) initiating cooperation in duty. [simultaneous occurrence of the idea of duty, suggested by same circumstances]
In the autumn of 1886, l started after 10 o'clock p.m. from my cottage at Baker's End to drive some friends homeward. On descending from the high ground, I passed into a dense fog, which the carriage lights failed to penetrate 6 feet–the fog reflected the light like a wall. Some distance past the Mardock Station road, my road turned almost at right angles. Here we so thoroughly failed to find the turning that the horse was driven against the bank, up which he reared a ashing into the hedge at the top. We all alighted and my friends went on. I turned pony and carriage and got in, to drive back: the pony moved slowly, but almost dragging the reins out of my hands. I got out thinking the reins were caught on the shaft as the pony had always shown a liking for a very tight rein down hill and our road here was a descent. I could find nothing wrong with the reins. Taking out a lamp I went to the pony's head, which he was still holding as low as he could. Then I saw his nose was nearly on the back of my black dog Jack (the father of Punch) who was standing in front with his nose near the ground, but pointing homeward. I got in; said “Go on”; did not use the reins, but as we went at a walking pace, tried frequently to measure with the whip handle the distances they kept from each hedge. They took me safely into the yard behind my house, and my measurements showed they kept the middle of the road the whole way; except at one place, where there is a deep gully on the right, separated from the road by a very slight fence. Here they kept within 18 inches of the left (or further side from the gully). Altho' the night was cold and the pace that of the Dead March, the horse was wet with perspiration and the dog panting with tongue out when we got into the yard, probably from the anxiety to do the duty they had undertaken. There are 6 turns in the road and three of them are right angles, narrow in all cases, but not more than the full length of horse and carriage, in two cases I think, and my memory is pretty clear.
There was a little episode when we got into the yard, illustrating the close analogy between the feelings of these animals and human feelings under similar circumstances. The horse rubbed his head repeatedly against Jack, whilst Jack “nosed” or rubbed his face against the pony’s. No expression of mutual gratulation on the completion of a self-imposed duty could have been more significant.
There is an interesting parallelism between the conclusions drawn by Mr. Jones from his observations on the motives of animals and the conclusions concerning human motives contained in chapter 4, “The Sentiment of Justice.” The distinction between “rectal-moral” and “conventional-moral” made by him, obviously corresponds with the distinction made in that chapter between the altruistic sentiment and the proaltruistic sentiment. This correspondence is the more noteworthy because it tends to justify the belief in a natural genesis of a developed moral sentiment in the one case as in the other. If in inferior animals the consciousness of duty may be produced by the discipline of life, then, a fortiori, it may be so produced in mankind.
Probably many readers will remark that the anecdotes Mr. Jones gives, recall the common saying–“Man is the god of the dog”; and prove that the sentiment of duty developed in the dog arises out of his personal relation to his master, just as the sentiment of duty in man arises out of his relation to his maker. There is good ground for this interpretation in respect of those actions of dogs which Mr. Jones distinguishes as “conventional-moral”; but it does not hold of those which he distinguishes as “rectal-moral.” Especially in the case of the dog which would not bite when bitten, but contented himself with preventing his antagonist from biting again (showing a literally Christian feeling not shown by one Christian in a thousand) the act was not prompted by dutifulness to a superior. And this extreme case verifies the inference otherwise drawn, that the sentiment of duty was independent of the sentiment of subordination.
But even were it true that such sentiment of duty as may exist in the relatively undeveloped minds of the higher animals, is exclusively generated by personal relation to a superior, it would not follow that in the much more developed minds of men, there cannot be generated a sentiment of duty which is independent of personal relation to a superior. For experience shows that, in the wider intelligence of the human being, apart from the pleasing of God as a motive, there may arise the benefiting of fellow men as a motive; and that the sentiment of duty may come to be associated with the last as with the first. Beyond question there are many who are constrained by their natures to devote their energies to philanthropic ends, and do this without any regard for personal benefit. Indeed there are here and there men who would consider themselves insulted if told that what they did was done with the view of obtaining divine favor.
Replies to Criticisms
[The following replies to criticisms originally appeared inMindfor January 1881. I have thought it well to give them here a permanent place, because, in making them, I have had occasion further to elucidate certain of the doctrines set forth in the preceding pages.]
An ethical writer who was required to treat of right and wrong conduct, while saying nothing about any purpose to be effected by conduct, would be greatly perplexed. Were he forbidden to bring in the thoughts of good, better and best in relation to results, moral distinctions among actions would not be easily expressed. I make this remark because Mr. Sidgwick, in his article in Mind, XVIII, entitled “Mr. Spencer's Ethical System,” quoting from me the phrase, “conduct falling short of its ideal,” remarks: “The frankly teleological point of view from which, in this book, Mr. Spencer contemplates the phenomena of life generally, seems worthy of notice, since in his Principles of Biology he seems to have taken some pains to avoid ‘teleological implications.’”
That a science which has for its subject matter the characters of the ends pursued by men, and the characters of the means used for achieving such ends, can restrict itself to statements in which ends are not implied, is a strange assumption. Teleology of a kind is necessarily involved; and the only question is whether it is of the legitimate or the illegitimate kind. The contrast between the two may readily be shown by a biological illustration. If I speculate concerning the stony shell of a gromwell seed, so hard that it is uninjured by the beak of a bird which swallows the seed, and effectually resists the grinding actions of the bird's gizzard, and if I argue that this hard shell was provided for the purpose of protecting the seed and thus securing its eventual germination, I am arguing teleologically in the vicious way. If, on the other hand, my interpretation is that among the seeds of some remote ancestral plant one with an unusually thick shell passed away uninjured by a bird's beak and stomach, while the rest with thinner shells were broken up and digested; and if I infer that among the seeds of the plant originating from the undigested seed, generally inheriting this greater thickness, those most frequently lived and propagated which had the thickest or hardest shells, until, by survival of the fittest, shells of this extreme density. completely protective, were produced; and if I argue that maintenance of the species was throughout this process the end more effectually subserved; I am also arguing teleologically, but in the legitimate way. There enters the conception of a cause for the genesis of the hard shell, which is, in a sense, a final cause–not that proximate cause constituted by the physiological processes going on in the plant, but a cause remote from these, which, nevertheless, so far determines them that in its absence they would not exist. And it is thus with biological interpretations of structures and functions in general. The welfare of the organism, or of the species, is in every case the end to further which a structure exists; and the difference between a legitimate and an illegitimate teleology is that, while the one explains its existence as having gradually arisen by furthering the end, the other gives no explanation of its existence other than that it was put there to further the end–a final cause of the “barren virgin” sort.
Throughout the Data of Ethics, as throughout every ethical treatise, ends are constantly in view, and the interpretations have unceasing reference to them. I have, indeed, in a chapter on “The Physical View” of ethics, treated of conduct as low or high, according as it subserves in a less or greater degree, maintenance of a moving equilibrium; which is, I think, a more unteleological way of regarding it than has been followed by any ethical writer. In this chapter, the evolution of that which we ordinarily conceive as higher conduct, is presented as a process expressible in terms of matter and motion. For the implication of the argument (in harmony with an argument contained in two chapters in the Principles of Biology on direct and indirect equilibration) is that, inevitably, those aggregates in which the moving equilibrium is the best, are those which remain outstanding when others disappear; and that so, by inheritance, the tendency is to the establishment of an ever-better moving equilibrium: higher conduct is defined apart even from consciousness–apart from alleged human ends or assumed divine ends. When, in the next chapter, it is shown that what we call, in physical language, a better moving equilibrium, is, in biological language, a better fulfillment of functions, and, consequently, a life which is at once wider and longer; the implication is that a wider and longer life being the end, conduct is to be judged by its conduciveness to this end; and throughout two subsequent chapters this point of view is maintained. But these chapters are nowhere illegitimately teleological. Had I accepted the moral-sense doctrine as ordinarily understood–had I alleged in mankind a supernaturally-given consciousness of obligation–had I asserted that men are endowed with sympathy to enable them the better to cooperate in the social state; I should have been chargeable with teleological interpretation of the vicious kind. But since my interpretation is avowedly opposed to this–since I regard those faculties, which produce a conduct favorable to welfare under the conditions imposed by the social state, as themselves the products of social life, and contend that they have step by step established themselves by furthering social life, the charge seems to me peculiarly inapplicable.
Another criticism made by Mr. Sidgwick is that I have not given that disproof of pessimism which, for the substantiation of my doctrine, I am bound to give. He writes: “Now, after all that has been said of the importance of considering human conduct in connection with the ‘universal conduct’ of which it is a part, I think that this transition from ‘quantity of life’ which was stated to be the end of the latter to ‘quantity of pleasure’ is too rapidly and lightly made. Pessimism, as Mr. Spencer himself says, stands in the way, declaring that life does not bring with it a surplus of agreeable feeling. We expect therefore a scientific confutation of Pessimism; and I am unable to perceive that this expectation is ever adequately realized. Indeed I am unable to find any passage in which Mr. Spencer expressly undertakes such a confutation. And yet he can hardly think that Pessimism is sufficiently confuted by demonstrating that the common moral judgments of mankind imply the assumption that life, on the average, yields a surplus of pleasure over pain. This is not establishing morality on a scientific basis.”
I am surprised that one so acute in making distinctions as Mr. Sidgwick, should have so greatly misapprehended my position. It is perfectly true that I nowhere expressly undertake a confutation of Pessimism; but it is also true that it nowhere devolves upon me to do this. If Mr. Sidgwick will re-read the chapter in which is referred to the controversy of Pessimism versus Optimism, he will perceive that I have uttered no judgment concerning the issue, and that, for the purpose of my argument, no such judgment is called for. My motive for comparing their views, was to show that “there is one postulate in which pessimists and optimists agree. Both their arguments assume it to be self-evident that life is good or bad, according as it does, Or does not, bring a surplus of agreeable feeling.” By proving that the two schools have this postulate in common, I am not committed to any judgment concerning the truth of either of their conclusions. I have said that if the pessimist is right, “actions furthering its [life’s] continuance, either in self or others, must be reprobated”; while, conversely, they must be approved if the optimist is right: the implication being that opposite systems of ethics emerge according as one or other of their estimates of life is accepted, but that both systems proceed upon the assumption that happiness is the end of conduct. The sole object of the chapter is to show “that no school can avoid taking for the ultimate moral aim, a desirable state of feeling, called by whatever name–gratification, enjoyment, happiness.” Surely it is one thing to contend that optimists and pessimists agree in the belief that life is of value only if it has, on the average, an accompaniment of desirable consciousness, and another thing to contend that it has such an accompaniment. Had Mr. Sidgwick said that by the general argument of the work I have tacitly committed myself to the optimistic view, he would have said rightly. But, as shown, my reference to the controversy was made without any such purpose as that of justifying optimism; and my position was clearly enough implied to be that the arguments of the work are valid only for optimists.
But now, having pointed out that the conclusions contained in the Data of Ethics, in common with the conclusions contained in ethical treatises at large, can reasonably be accepted only by those who hold that life in the aggregate brings more pleasure than pain, or, at any rate, is capable of bringing more pleasure than pain, I go on to show that the tacit optimism which pervades the work, has a wider basis than Mr. Sidgwick recognizes. He says that “in Mr. Spencer's view, pessimism is indirectly confuted by the argument–given as an ‘inevitable deduction from the hypothesis of evolution-which shows that ‘necessarily throughout the animate world at large, pains are the correlatives of actions injurious to the organism, while pleasures are the correlatives of actions conducive to its welfare.’” This is true as far as it goes; but, ignoring as he does all passages concerning the universal process of adaptation, Mr. Sidgwick omits a large part of the evidence favoring optimism. The chapter on the “Relativity of Pains and Pleasures,” sets forth and illustrates the biological truth that everywhere faculties adjust themselves to the conditions of existence, in such wise that the activities those conditions require become pleasurable. The pains accompanying the inactions of faculties for which changed conditions have left no spheres, diminish as the faculties decrease; while the pains accompanying the actions of faculties overtaxed under the new conditions, diminish as the faculties grow, and become pleasures when those faculties have acquired the strengths which fulfillment of the conditions requires. This law is alike inferable a priori and proved a posteriori, and yields a qualified optimism as its corollary–an optimism qualified by the conclusion that the life of every species of creature is happy or miserable according to the degree of congruity or incongruity between its nature and its environment; but that everywhere, decrease of the misery or increase of the happiness, accompanies the inevitable progress towards congruity. Whence it follows that in the case of mankind, pessimism may be locally true under certain conditions (as those which have fostered the creed which makes annihilation a blessing), while optimism may be locally true under conditions of a more favorable kind; but that with the increasing adaptation of humanity to social life, the excess of pleasures over pains which warrants optimism, must become ever greater. And here let me point out in passing, how, in so far as judgment of an ethical system depends on the tacit acceptance of optimistic or pessimistic views, it can be rightly guided only by a knowledge of biological laws. Mr. Sidgwick is at one with moralists in general in thinking that the truth or falsehood or moral doctrines may be determined without study of the laws of life. He asks, “In what way then does science–that is, biology, psychology, and sociology–provide a basis for this ‘truer ethics’”; and in a large measure the purpose of his criticism is to show that such science does this in no appreciable way. Above, however, we see that the ac ceptability of a system of ethics, depending as it does on the preacceptance of optimism or pessimism, depends on the preacceptance or prerejection of certain ultimate biological generalizations. It is, indeed, looked at broadly, a remarkable belief that while ethical science is concerned with certain phenomena of life, it is a matter of indifference in judging about these phenomena, whether the laws of life are known or not.
The way in which Mr. Sidgwick ignores biological generalizations, is curiously shown in a subsequent passage, in which, respecting the ethical method I contend
For instance, its scientific claims are plainly declared in chapter v., on “Ways of Judging Conduct”; from which we learn that Mr. Spencer's way of judging it is to be a high priori road. He will not rely on mere generalization from observation of the actual consequences of different kinds of conduct; it is the defect of current utilitarianism that it does not get beyond these merely empirical generalizations; Mr. Spencer, on the other hand, proposes to “ascertain necessary relations” between actions and their consequences, and so to “deduce from fundamental principles what conductmustbe detrimental and whatmustbe beneficial.” Those are brave words, &c.
If, concerning an artillery officer who, instead of ascertaining experimentally the ranges given by certain elevations of his gun, calculated these ranges from the laws of motion and atmospheric resistance, Mr. Sidgwick were to say that he pursued the “high priori road,” he would apply this expression with much the same propriety; since the method I contend for is that of deducing from the laws of life under given conditions, results which follow from them in the same necessary way as does the trajectory of a cannon shot from the laws of motion and atmospheric resistance. All developed science may be characterized as “high priori,” if the drawing of deductions from premises positively ascertained by induction, is to be so called. Had I given no explanation of my meaning, I should have been less surprised at the passage above quoted. But by a series of examples, beginning with the innutrition of a limb which follows tying of its main artery and ending with the social mischiefs caused by calumny, I have, in section 22, shown what I mean by the derivation of ethical principles from the laws of life; and I have, in subsequent chapters, exhibited this derivation systematically. Nevertheless, because, during our transitional state, in which humanity is changing and social conditions are changing, this method does not suffice for development of a code of conduct in full detail, Mr. Sidgwick, ignoring the derivations of the leading moral restraints in the section I have named, and in the subsequent chapters, thinks the reader will be “disappointed.” With equal reason might he represent the biological student as disappointed because, from physiological laws as at present ascertained, the details of pathology and therapeutics cannot be inferred.
All this, however, is introductory to Mr. Sidgwick's criticism on the view I take of the relation between absolute ethics and relative ethics. My position is that, as all ethical theory is concerned with ideas of worse and better in conduct, and that as the conception of better involves the conception of best, there is, in all cases, an ideal conduct tacitly assumed; that before valid conclusions can be drawn, this ideal conduct must be conceived not in a vague and shifting way, but definitely and consistently; and that no definite and consistent conception of ideal conduct can be framed without assuming ideal social conditions. Mr. Sidgwick does not, I think, show that this position is untenable, but contents himself with raising difficulties. Into the details of his criticism I cannot follow him without occupying too much space. I may, however, deal generally with the view he finally implies, that such an ideal is useless, and that the theory of human and social evolution has no practical bearing on the guidance of conduct. He says:
Even if we could construct scientifically Mr. Spencer's ideal code, I do not think such a code would be of much avail in solving the practical problems of actual humanity . . . Even supposing that this ideal society is ultimately to be realized, it must at any rate be separated from us by a considerable interval of evolution; hence it is not unlikely that the best way of progressing towards it is some other than the apparently directest way, and that we shall reach it more easily if we begin by moving away from it.
And Mr. Sidgwick concludes that “the humble and imperfect empirical method” can be our only guide.
Here, then, we have a distinct statement of the opinion that for practical purposes it comes to the same thing whether we do or do not entertain an ideal of conduct and of society. In our estimate of a proximately best, it will make no difference whether we have or have not any conception of an ultimately best. So long as the immediate effects of a measure promise to be good, it is needless to consider whether, while achieving them, we cause changes in men and society, and whether, if we cause changes, these will carry men and society toward, or away from, their highest forms. This position may be dealt with first generally and then more specially.
The empirical method, as upheld by Mr. Sidgwick, estimating, as well as may be, good and evil results, that is, totals of pleasures and pains, postulates as a necessary basis for its conclusions, constancy of relation between pleasures and their causes and between pains and their causes. If, from experience of men as we now know them, it is inferred that a certain policy will be conducive to a surplus of pleasures over pains; and if the establishment of that policy, say by public institutions, is considered as therefore ethically justifiable, or rather, imperative; then the implied assumption is that the surplus of pleasures over pains producible by this course in existing men, will also be producible in their descendants. This, however, cannot be inferred unless it is assumed that men will remain the same. Hence the question whether men are or are not changing, becomes an essential question. If they are not changing, the empirical estimates may be valid. If they are changing, these estimates must be doubtful, and may be entirely false. It needs but to contrast the pleasures of combat, which a Norseman conceived as those of his heaven, with the pleasures pursued by a modern man of letters, or to contrast the repugnance which a savage shows to continued industry, with the eager pursuit of business by a citizen, to see that this change in the relations between actions and the accompanying feelings, is no nominal difficulty in the way of the empirical method. It becomes manifest that if humanity is undergoing modifications, then, guidance of conduct by valuations of pleasures and pains, assuming as it does that what is true now will continue to be true, is a guidance likely to be erroneous. Be it a policy advocated, a law passed, an agency set up, a discipline used, an injunction urged, if its sole warrant is that of furthering the happiness of men as they are, then, if men are becoming other than they are, furtherance of their happiness in future cannot be inferred; and there may result hindrance to their happiness.
Mark, now, another implication. If it is admitted, as it must be, that guidance by estimated surplus of pleasures over pains, as now observable, is vitiated if the relations between actions and feelings change; then it must also be admitted that guidance by such estimated surplus can be made trustworthy, only by knowledge of the ways in which these relations change. If we simply know that these relations between actions and feelings will change, without knowing how they will change, then we simply know that our empirical guidance will go wrong, without knowing the way in which it will go wrong. Hence the question, whether there is at work that adaptation of constitution to conditions which the doctrine of evolution implies, becomes the cardinal question. If, recognizing the relativity of pleasures and pains, we conclude that those activities which social life necessitates in men, tend to become more pleasurable, while the pains caused by the restraints on unfit activities diminish, then the question of first importance becomes–What general form of activities is it to which humanity is being adjusted?–what are the ideal social conditions to which men's natures are being so molded that they will have no desires out of harmony with those conditions? If we can frame a conception of the ideal social state, and of human conduct as carried on in it, then we have a means of correcting whatever empirical guidance may be obtained by valuation of pleasures and pains as now experienced; since, beyond the immediate effects of any course, we are enabled to see whether the ultimate effects are such as further or hinder the required remolding of human nature.
The contrast between Mr. Sidgwick's belief and mine, respecting the relation between ethical doctrine and the theory of human and social evolution, will best be shown by an analogy. In the moral education of a child, proximately good results may be obtained in various ways. Its crying may be stopped by a bon-bon; or its mother may alarm it by a threat; it may be led to learn a lesson by fear, or by the promise of a treat, or by the desire to please; and in later childhood there may come, on the part of the father, a control which maintains order by regulating every action, or one which allows a considerable amount of freedom and concomitant experience of good and evil results. Is it, or is it not, desirable to keep in view the fact that presently the child will be a man, and to frame a conception of what the man ought to be? Very frequently the mother, pursuing the empirical method and achieving proximately good results, ignores the question of this ideal and the conduciveness of her discipline to achievement of it; and not uncommonly the father, especially if of the clerical sort, making numerous peremptory rules, considers scarcely at all whether his much-regulated boy is acquiring the qualities which will make him a self-regulating man. Shall we say that such proximately beneficial methods are the best which can be devised; or shall we not rather say that there can be no good education which does not bear the ideal constantly in view, and consider methods partly in reference to their immediate results, but still more in reference to their ultimate results? And if so, must we not say the same with respect to adult humanity, which undergoes an education by social discipline? Of course if Mr. Sidgwick agrees with those who hold that human nature is unchangeable, his position is tenable. But if he admits that man is adaptable, it becomes of some importance to consider of every proposed course, whether, by the entailed modification of conditions, it furthers or hinders progress towards the highest conditions and the highest human nature accompanying them. Though our steering must doubtless be proximately guided by recognition of rocks and sandbanks, yet, if we believe in a haven to be eventually reached, it is needful from time to time to consult the compass, and see whether, while avoiding the rocks and sandbanks, we are also moving toward our haven.
Had this reply to Mr. Sidgwick been published immediately after his criticism, I should probably have said no more in defense of my views. But there have since appeared in Mind two other criticisms, respecting which it now seems needful to say something. The first in order of date is that of Professor Means (No. XIX.). Space will not allow me to deal with it more than briefly.
Professor Means considers that I am unjustified in saying of current utilitarianism that it is purely empirical, and in contrasting it with what I distinguish as rational utilitarianism. Considering that, as we have just seen, Mr. Sidgwick, who is now the foremost representative of utilitarianism as hitherto conceived, argues against me that it must continue to be purely empirical, the injustice of my allegation is not apparent. By way of showing that Mr. Mill, in his Logic, takes the same view that I do, Professor Means says:
The very illustration used by Mr. Spencer in regard to “the course of one who studies pathology without previous study of physiology” as resembling the usual course of moralists, is one used by Mill for precisely the same purpose: “Students in politics thus attempted to study the pathology and therapeutics of the social body, before they had laid the necessary foundation in its physiology.”
And there follows what seems to be an insinuation that I was cognizant of this passage. Some thirty years ago I probably was. I read Mr. Mill's Logic in 1851 or 1852, and save those parts which, in successive editions, have concerned the amicable controversy carried on between us respecting the test of truth, I have not read it since. I go on to remark that, as the passage itself shows, and as appears more fully on turning to the volume, the analogy as used by Mr. Mill refers to social science; while the analogy is used by me in elucidation of ethical science. Professor Means says it is “used by Mill for precisely the same purpose.” Now though it is true that politics and morals are intimately related, the belief that they are identical is, I think, peculiar to Professor Means, and is likely to remain so.
Let us, however, turn to the main issue–whether the utilitarianism of Mr. Mill and previous writers of the same school, did or did not recognize that dependence of ethical laws upon the laws of life, which I have insisted upon, and did or did not propose to establish them deductively from such laws. To whatever extent it may be true that utilitarians have been conscious of a relation between rules or right conduct and the furtherance, direct or indirect, of vital activities, there could not come the full conception of a resulting method, until biological generalizations of the widest kind had been reached and accepted as data for ethical reasoning. Now up to recent times, biological generalizations of this widest kind had either not been reached at all, or were known only by naturalists, and accepted by very few of these. In Bentham's day, the consequences deducible from the universal law of adaptation, could not take their place in ethical speculation; for the reason that, in the sense involved by the doctrine of evolution, this law had not been heard of by ninety-nine cultivated people out of a hundred, and was pooh-poohed by nearly all those who had heard of it. Again, whatever occasional observations had been made respecting the relations of pleasures and pains to bodily welfare, could not lead to any such ethical conclusions as those involved by acceptance of the doctrine of evolution, which implies that life of the sentient kind has continued and developed only in virtue of these relations. Nor, without the doctrine of the relativity of pains and pleasures, established by a wide biological induction, could there be completed the necessary basis for a scientific ethics. Similarly, into that division of ethics which is concerned with its psychology, the theory of mental evolution enters as an indispensable factor. Though Mr. Mill did not combat the hypothesis of inherited mental modifications, yet he never adopted it in such a way as to qualify his experiential interpretation of ideas and feelings; and, consequently, he was debarred from entertaining that view of the moral sentiments and moral intuitions, which yields an explanation of their varying functions under varying social conditions, and affords a warrant for inferring their ultimate adjustment to an ultimate social state. In brief, then, the laws of life and of mind, referred to by me as those from which a scientific ethics is to be deduced, are laws which were either not known, or not admitted, by utilitarians of the empirical school; and it was therefore not possible for them to entertain that conception of rational ethics which I have put in antithesis to empirical ethics.
Professor Means comments on the contrast I have drawn between justice as an end and happiness as an end. He quotes me as saying that
Justice “is concerned exclusively withquantityunderstated conditions, whereas happiness is concerned with bothquantityandqualityunderconditions not stated.” It refers to “the relative amounts of actions, or products, or benefits, the natures of which are recognized only as far as is needful for saying whetheras muchhas been given, or done, or allowed, by each concerned, as was implied by tacit or overt understanding, to be an equivalent.”
To which he objects that
“Differences of age, of growth, of constitutional need, differences of activity and consequent expenditure, differences of desires and tastes,” which Mr. Spencer thinks impossible to be estimated by a utilitarian, must all be estimated before any course of action can be said to beequivalentto any other course. And if a comparison of pleasures is impossible, this estimate is impossible.
The reply is that justice as I have defined it, justice as formulated in law, and justice as commonly understood, is satisfied when those concerned have so acted that no one has been trespassed against by another, and, in case of contract, each has done all that was agreed to be done by him. If there has been direct aggression, greater liberty of action has been taken by the aggressor than by the one aggressed upon. If there has been indirect aggression by breach of contract, such greater liberty of action has again been taken: one has broken the understanding while the other has not–one has seized some advantage beyond that given as an equivalent, while the other has not. Justice is not concerned with the relative values of benefits or happinesses, as Professor Means implies, but only with the relative degrees of freedom used in pursuing benefits or happinesses; and if neither by direct or indirect trespass have these degrees been made unequal, there is no injustice. If it be said, as by Professor Means concerning wages given for labor, that very often men are practically coerced by social arrangements into making agreements they would not otherwise have made; then, the injustice exists not in the agreements unwillingly made, but in the social arrangements which have interfered with free volition. If, as appears from his argument, Professor Means holds that justice comprises, not simply a regulation of actions such that each man shall leave others as much freedom to pursue their ends as he himself takes, but that justice involves the establishment of equivalence between advantages gained by cooperation, then the reply is that I am not concerned with justice as so conceived. There are socialists who hold that there should be an equal division of benefits among men, irrespective of the values of their several labors. To many it seems unjust that the hard work of a ploughman should bring in a week, not so much as a physician easily gains in a quarter of an hour. Some persons contend that it is unjust that children born to the poor should not have educational advantages like those of children born to the rich. But such deficiencies in the shares of happi ness some men get by cooperation, as arise from the inferior natures they inherit, or from the inferior circumstances into which their inferior ancestors have fallen, are deficiencies with which justice, as I understand it, has nothing to do. The injustice which entails on posterity diseases and deformities–the injustice which inflicts on offspring the painful results of stupidity and misconduct in parents–the injustice which compels those who inherit incapacities to struggle with resulting difficulties–the injustice which leaves in comparative poverty the great majority, whose powers, of low order, bring them small returns, is an injustice of a kind lying outside of my argument. We have to accept, as we may, the established constitution of things, though under it an inferiority for which the individual is not blamable, brings its evils, and a superiority for which he can claim no merit, brings its benefits; and we have to accept, as we may all those resulting inequalities of advantages which citizens gain by their respective activities. But while it does not devolve upon me to defend the order of Nature, I may say again, as I have said at greater length already (sec. 69), that only in virtue of the law under which every creature takes the good and bad results entailed by its inherited organization, has life advanced to its present height and can continue to advance. A so-called justice which should equalize advantages apart from capacities, would be fatal; while the justice, rightly so-called, which insists that each shall be as free as others to make the best of his powers, and that nothing shall intervene between his efforts and the returns they naturally bring (as decided by agreement) is beneficent immediately and remotely. This is the justice which, as an end, I have contended is more intelligible than happiness as an end; and I decline to be entangled by Professor Means in the difficulties which arise when there is substituted a justice which contemplates equivalence of results.
The remainder of Professor Means' criticisms I must pass over with the remark that, throughout, they similarly display an unusual facility in identifying things which are different. I turn, now, to the article of Mr. Alfred W. Benn, “Another view of Mr. Spencer's Ethics,” contained in the last number of Mind. Here, too, I must limit myself to the earlier criticisms.
Mr. Benn blames me for expressing a positive opinion respecting the inevitableness of the hedonistic view of morals. He says: “To declare pleasure a necessary form of moral intuition must in the present state of the controversy be pronounced a piece of unwarrantable dogmatism.” As commonly understood, dogmatism implies authoritative assertion without the giving of reasons. Considering that the passage to which Mr. Benn refers, closes a chapter devoted to an examination of all the various standards of goodness in conduct; and considering that the analysis aims to show, and does, I think, show, that happiness as an ultimate end is in every case involved; it seems to me an unusual application of the word to characterize as dogmatic, a proposition which sums up the results of the inquiry. A dogmatism which appeals step by step to the judgment of the reader, is of a species not before known.
I remark this by way of introduction to Mr. Benn's first criticism. Respecting my statement that optimists and pessimists by their arguments both imply acceptance of the hedonistic view, Mr. Benn says:
Here with all deference I must observe that Mr. Spencer is doubly if not trebly mistaken. In the first place, although Schopenhauer and his school are hedonists, it is perfectly possible to be a pessimist without thinking that pleasure is the end of life and that we do not get enough of it. Some persons if they were convinced that certain knowledge was unattainable, even if they expected it to yield them no pleasure, might regard that as a reason for preferring nonexistence to existence. In the second place, as it is generally better if possible to meet your adversary on his own ground, an optimist who believes that life affords a surplus of pleasurable feeling may very well advance that argument without conceding that such a surplus alone makes life worth having. And, thirdly as a matter of fact the optimists do not make this concession. M. Caro, an eminent representative of the spiritualistic school in France, has distinctly declared that granting the excess of pain over pleasure to be possible and even probable, he still remains an optimist, that even an unhappy life is worth living, and that suffering is preferable to nonentity.
The first of the three proofs that I am mistaken is curiously hypothetical. “Some persons” “might regard” nonexistence as preferable to existence, if they thought “certain knowledge was unattainable,” even if they expected no pleasure from attaining it. Disproof of my statement concerning the beings we know, by the help of supposable beings, is not, I think, very satisfactory. But passing over this, let me point out that if the attainment of “certain knowledge” were an adequate motive for existence, and inability to attain it a motive for preferring nonexistence, it is difficult to conceive otherwise than that the attainment of it would be a satisfaction; and a satisfaction of whatever nature is a kind of pleasure. To say that the attainment of the knowledge was not expected to yield them any pleasure, is to say that they would regard the attainment of the knowledge with indifference; and if they were indifferent to the attainment of it, how could attainment of it be regarded as a sufficient reason for preferring existence to nonexistence?
Mr. Benn's second disproof, somewhat hypothetical also, does not, I think, much strengthen his case. He says: “An optimist who believes that life affords a surplus of pleasurable feeling may very well advance that argument without conceding that such a surplus alone makes life worth having.” Is this really another disproof, or only the same restated? Without naming any end, other than pleasurable feeling, which “makes life worth having,” it alleges that even an optimist may believe in such an end. I do not see that by leaving this end unspecified, and supposing an optimist who thinks it a sufficient end, the argument is made different from the last, and the same reply serves. The end, of whatever nature, being one which it is desirable to attain rather than not attain, implies satisfaction of desire, or pleasure. The third argument states in the concrete that which is stated in the abstract in the preceding two, and is the sole argument. This argument is that M. Caro thinks “even an unhappy life is worth living.” Now I suspect that were M. Caro cross-examined, it would turn out that the unhappy life which he thinks worth living, is one which, though it brings misery to the possessor, does not bring misery to others, but conduces to their happiness.4 If M. Caro means that life is worth living even on condition that its possessor, suffering misery himself in common with all individuals, shall aid them in living that they may continue to suffer misery, and shall beget and rear children that they. too, may pass lives of misery; and if M. Caro means that misery is to be the fate of all, not only here but during the hereafter he believes in: then, indeed, and only then, does he exclude happiness as an end. But if M. Caro says he believes that even under such conditions life would be worth living, then I venture to class him with those who have not practiced introspection. I once heard a person assert that a cat thrown across a room could drop in the middle if it pleased; and, presumably, this person thought he could himself do the same. The defective consciousness of his mechanical powers which this person displayed, is, I think, paralleled by M. Caro's defective consciousness of his mental powers, if he thinks he can believe that existence would be preferable to nonexistence did it bring pain to all men throughout all time.
Mr. Benn, however, regards this testimony of M. Caro as conclusive. If there is anyone who says he thinks that universal and eternal human misery is better than nonexistence, we must accept his self-interpretation as settling the question; for men never misconceive their own thoughts or fail to understand their own feelings. And then Mr. Benn continues: “A fortiori would such persons maintain that a perfectly neutral state of consciousness, a life totally devoid both of pleasure and pain, is worth having. Thus the appeal to authority completely breaks down, a single recusant being enough to invalidate it.” Passing over the question whether any such recusant exists, it may be as well, before admitting the alleged breakdown, to ask what is the meaning of the word “worth,” as used in the above relation. There presents itself the problem to define “worth” in terms which exclude all reference, direct or indirect, to satisfaction, or pleasure, or gratification. It is required to find a case in which men, or things, or acts, are contrasted as having worth and as being worthless, without there entering the conception of preference; or if the conception of preference enters, then it is required to state what kind of preference it is which takes place between things of which one is not liked more than the other; or if difference of liking is admitted, then the question to be answered is what kind of liking is it which does not connote pleasure. Similarly with the words used in a sentence which shortly follows: “For the question is not whether pleasure is a good and pain an evil, but whether pleasure is the only good and pain the only evil.” Which question at once raises the inquiry for the kind of evil which, neither proximately nor remotely, to the actor or to any other being, now or hereafter, produces any pain. Until some such kind of evil has been pointed out, I do not see any proposition against which I have to contend. There is merely the alleged possibility of a proposition.
As already hinted, I cannot follow further the course of Mr. Benn's argument, but must leave its validity to be judged by that of this first portion. The only remark I will add, concerns, not a matter of argument but a matter of evidence. Referring to my account of the origin of the religious sanction, Mr. Benn says: “It seems a pity to disturb such an ingenious and symmetrical theory, but I am not aware that it is supported by any external evidence, while there are strong reasons for dissenting from it.” Does Mr. Benn mean that no such external evidence is contained in the Data of Ethics? If he does, then the reply is that such evidence, occupying more space than that afforded by the entire volume, would have rather too much interrupted the thread of the argument. Does he mean that I have not given such external evidence elsewhere? Then the reply is that in the first division of the Principles of Sociology, evidence so great in quantity is set forth, that I have been blamed for overburdening my argument with it; and a further reply is that if Mr. Benn wishes for still more such evidence, he will find abundance of it in Nos. II, III, IV, V and VI of the Descriptive Sociology, where the religious ideas of some eighty uncivilized and semicivilized peoples are described in detail. In disproof of my view concerning the genesis of the political and religious controls, Mr. Benn goes on to say: “Modern inquiries into the history of jural conceptions show that among primitive men kings were not legislators but judges,” and by way of showing what happens among “primitive men” he instances “the original judgments or Themistes” of the Greeks. On this my comment is that Mr. Benn seems unacquainted with inquiries, more “modern” than those he refers to, which show that theories about primitive ideas and institutions, based on facts furnished by historic peoples, are utterly misleading. The origins of religious and jural conceptions and usages, Mr. Benn thinks may fitly be sought in the traditions of the early Greek world; though, as Curtius remarks (Bk. I. 136—37), this “is not. . . a world of beginnings; it is no world still engaged in an uncertain development, but one thoroughly complete, matured and defined by fixed rules and orders of life.” For myself, in seeking for origins, I prefer to look for them among peoples who have not yet arrived at a stage in which there are metal weapons and metal armor, two-horse war chariots, walled towns, temples, palaces, and seagoing ships.
I had originally intended to notice briefly, certain other criticisms–one by Professor Calderwood, which formed the inaugural lecture to his class at Edinburgh in the session of 1879, and was afterward published in the Contemporary Review; and the other by Professor Wace of King's College, which was first addressed to the Victoria Institute, and also afterward published in the Contemporary Review. But I have already occupied as many pages of Mind as I can reasonably ask for; and, further, I cannot longer suspend more important work for which my time and energies are already insufficient. Replying to criticisms is, indeed, a bootless undertaking, save in those cases where the positions defended are further elucidated, and so rendered more acceptable to those who are not committed to antagonist views. On such as are committed to antagonist views, replies, however conclusive, produce no appreciable effects; and especially is this so when such antagonist views are involved in theological problems.
Endnotes to the Appendices
[]In my letter as originally written, there followed two sentences which l omitted for fear of provoking a controversy. They ran thus: “Even one of the religious papers recognized the startling contrast between the energy of those who do not profess Christianity and the indifference of those who do. I may add that on going back some years further you will find that a kindred contrast was implied by the constitution of the Jamaica Committee.”
[]At Least I have no cause to think otherwise.–T.M.J.
[]Query? I take it the “rectal” sense of duty is at the base of all reality of character, the conventional has more the character of an acquired mental habit.
[]Since this was written 1 have referred to M. Caro's essay, and find he says that if there is really an excess of suffering in the average of human life, “il ne faut pas s'empresser d'en conclure que le pessimisme a raison, que le mal de la vie est absolu, qu’il est incurable. “Which makes it clear that M. Caro had in the background of his consciousness the conception of misery to be diminished, that is, happiness to be increased, as a reason for tolerating present misery; and probably this conception was not wholly absent when he wrote– “la souffrance vaut mieux que le néant.”