Front Page Titles (by Subject) APPENDIX D.: Conscience in Animals - The Principles of Ethics, vol. 2
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APPENDIX D.: Conscience in Animals - 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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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.
[]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.