Front Page Titles (by Subject) APPENDIX E.: Replies to Criticisms - The Principles of Ethics, vol. 2
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APPENDIX E.: Replies to Criticisms - 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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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
To find the authority for any statement in the text, the reader is to proceed as follows: Observing the number of the section of which the statement occurs, he will first look out, in the following pages, the corresponding number, which is printed in conspicuous type. Among the references succeeding this number, he will then look for the name of the tribe, people, or nation concerning which the statement is made (the names in the references standing in the same order as that which they have in the text); and that it may more readily catch the eye, each such name is printed in italics. In the parenthesis following the name, will be found the volume and page of the work referred to, preceded by the first three or four letters of the author's name; and where more than one of his works has been used, the first three or four letters of the title of the one containing the particular statement. The meanings of these abbreviations, employed to save the space that would be occupied by frequent repetitions of full titles, is shown at the end of the references: where will be found arranged in alphabetical order, these initial syllables of authors' names, etc., and opposite to them the full titles of the works referred to.
References to Volume II
253. Cimmarróns (Osw. 61)—Wolves (Rom. 436).
254. Beavers (Dal. in C.N.H. iii, 99)—Crows and Rooks (Rom. 323–25).
255.Bisons (Rom. 334–35)—Elephants (Rom. 400–1)—Monkeys (Gill. 170).
259.Abors (Dalt. in J.A.S.B. xiv, 426).
268.Dogribs (Lub. 509)—Fuegians (Wed. 175)—Greeks (Pla. Jow. 229).
269.Communists (Lav. in ContemporaryReview, Feb. 1890; Bel. 101).
271.Germany (Daily Papers, Feb. 1890).
276.Lepchas (Camp. in J.E.S.L. July 1869)—Hos (Dalt. 206)—Wood-Veddah (Tenn. ii, 444)—Kant (Ka. 54-55).
277.Austin (Aust. 30).
279.Benthamism (Mill, 93; Bel. in Cont. Rev., July 1890).
285.Fijians (Will. i, 112)—Wends (Grimm, 488)—Herulians (Grimm, 487)—Greeks (Gro. ii, 33)—Europeans (Grimm, 289; Green, 13)—English (Steph. ii, 204, 209).
286.Early Germans, &c. (Mai. 370)—Anc. Russia (Holtz. i, 225-26).
290.Abors. (Dalt. in J.A.S.B. xiv, 426)—Nagas (Stew. in J.A.S.B. xxiv, 608)—Lepchas (Camp. in J.E.S.L. July, 1869)—Jakuns (Fav. in J.I.A. ii).
291.Fijians (Ersk. 492)—Hebrews (Ex. xxi; Deut. xv; Lev. xxv. 45, 46) Christians (1 Cor. vii. 21)—Greeks (Gro. ii, 37, 468–69)—Spartans (Gro. ii. 309)—English (Green, 56, 91, 90, 247)—Artizans (Mart. i, 343).
297.Suanctians (Fresh. in P.R.G.S. June, 1888, p. 335)—Dahomans (Burt. i, 260).
299.Locke (Sec. Treat. on Gov. sec. 27)—Comanches (Scho. i, 232)—Chippewayans (Scho. v. 177)—Irish (Green, 431)—China (Wil. i, 1–2)—India (Lav. 310, etc.).
300.Maine (Mai. 184).
305.Romans (cop. 2)—English (Rob. in Ency. Brit., art. “Copyright”).
306.Monopolies (Hayd. 489).
307.Roman Law (Pat. 154–55) —Buddhists (Pat. 181, note)—English (Pat. 53).
308.English (13 Eliz. c. 5;29 Eliz. c. 5).
309.Polynesians (Ell. P.R. ii, 346; Tho. i, 96)—Sumatra (Mars. 244)—Hottentots (Kolb. i, 300)—Damaras (And. 228)—Gold Coast (J.E.S. (1856) IV 20)—Congo (Proy. in Pink, xvi, 571)—Eghas (Burt. Abeokuta, i, 208)—Timbuctoo (Shab. 18)—Ashantis (Bee. 117)—Arabs (Burck. i, 131)—Todas (Mar. 206)—Gonds (His. 12)—Bodo and Dhimals (Hodg. in J.A.S.B. xviii, 718)—Kasias (Hook, ii, 275)—Karens (Mas. in J.A.S.B. xxxvii, pt. ii, 142)—Mishmis (Grif. 35)—Primitive Germans (Tac. Germ. xx)—Celts (Bello. iii, 398)—Saxons and Frisians (König. 152–3)—Merovingians (König. 158–60)—France (Civil Code, sec. 967, etc.).
314.Polynesians (U.S. Ex. Ex. iii, 22; Ang. ii, 50; Ell. Hawaii, 390; St. John, ii, 260)—Bechuanas (Burch. ii, 395)—InlandNegroes (Land. i, 250)—Ashantis (Bee. 148) Shoa (Harr. ii, 26)—Congo (Proy in Pink. xvi, 578)—Dahomans (Burt. Miss. i, 52)—Fulahs (Wint. i, 170)—Hebrews (Deut. xxii, 8, etc.)—Phoenicians (Möv ii, 108–110)—Mexicians (Zur. 223)—Cent. Americans (Xim. 203; Pala. 84; Sqi. ii, 341)—Patagonians (Fitz. ii, 150)—Mundrucus (Bates, 274)—Diocletian (Lév. i, 82-3).
315.Hebrews (Deut. xxiii, 19–20)—Cicero (Arn. 50)—England (Ree. iii, 292; Steph. Com. ii, 90)—France (Lec. Rationalism, 293–4).
317.England (Cunn. 200; Thor. i, 118; Craik, i, 108–9, Rog. i, 575; Ree. iii, 262, 590, Pict. Hist. ii, 809,812, viii, 635)—France (Tocque. 427; Lév iii, 286).
319.Guinea (Bast. iii, 225)—Fijians (Lub. 357; Ersk. 450; Will. i, 121)—Greeks (Plato: Laws, bk. x; Smith, Class. Dict. 714, Ency Brit. ii, 1).
323.Henry IV (Green, 258)—Nonconformists (Green, 609–13)—Athenians (Pat. 76)—Romans (Pat. 77)—English (Pat. 79, 94)—Plato (Pat. 50)—English (Pat. 50–1).
335. Fijians (Will. i, 210)—Fuegians (Fitz. Voyage, ii, Australians (Trans. Eth. Sec. N.S. iii, 248, 288)—Egyptians (Ebers, i, 307–8)Aryans (Tac. Germ. xviii)—Prim.Germans (Gri. 450)—EarlyTeutons (Mai. 153)—OldEnglish (Lapp. ii, 338–9)––Romans (Hunt. 32–3)—Fulc the Black (Green, 95).
340.Greeks and Romans (Lec. ü, 26)—Teutons and Celts (, Gri. 455, etc.). Fuegians (Fitz. ii, 171)—NewGuinea (Kolff, 301)—NewZealanders (Cook's Last Voy. 54)—Dyaks (Broo. i, 75)—Ma1agasy (Wai. ii, 437)—Hebrews (Ex. xxi, 7; 2 Kings iv, l; Job xxiv 9)—Romans (Lec. ii, 31)—Celts (König. 86–7)—Germans (Gri. 461)—Romans (Hunt. 29; König. 87)—France (Bern. 189–193; Gonc. 10–12; Bern. 161)
347.Esquimaux (Hear. 161)—Greeks (Gro. ii, 468)—Bodo,DhimalandKocch (Hodg.157; Hodg. in J.A.S.B. xviii, 741).
356.Esquimaux (Cran. i, 164–5)—Fuegians (Wed. 168)—Veddahs (Tenn. ii, 440)—Tasmanians (Bon. 81)—Mountain Snakes (Ross, i, 250)—Fish-eaters (Scho. i, 207)—Shirrydikas (Lew. & Clarke, 306)—Comanches (Scho. ii, 127).
357.Snakes (Lew. & Clark, 306)—Creeks (Scho. v, 277)—Dacotahs (Scho. n, ii, 183–5)—Comanches (Scho. i, 231)—Uaupés (Wal. 499)—Patagonians (Falk. 123)—Araucanians (Thomp. i, 405)—Bechuanas (Licht. ii, 329)—East Africans (Burt. C.A. ii, 365)—Coast Negroes (J.E.S. 1848, i, 215; Wint. i, 127)—Abyssinia (Park, ii, 236–8)—Arabs (Palg. 53; Burck. i, 284)—Bhils (Mal. i, 576)—Khonds (Macph. 44)—Karens (Mas. in J.A.S.B. xxxvii, Pt. II, 142)—Early Teutons (Kemb. i, 268, 272; Thor. i, 447)—English (Green, 197)—French (Gué. ccviii).
362.Paternal Government (Mai. 133).
363.Plato (Laws, bks. vi, vii; Rep. bk. v)—Aristotle (Rep. bk. vii, 14–16)—Plato (Rep. iv, 19)—Aristotle (Rep. bk. vii, 9–10).
366.Feudalism (Bonne, i, 269)—Fiji (Will. i, 30)— Church-and-KingMob (Hux. 103).
376.Thieves (Daily Papers: date lost).
377.Shrewsbury (Jev. 37).
378.Penny Post (Ency Brit. xix, 565)—Boy Messengers Co. (Daily Papers, March, 1891).
421.Ptah-hotep (see Records of the Past, 2nd Series, iii, 20).
455.Mansion House Fund, &c. (Annual Report of Charity Organization Society 1885–6, pp. 14, 20; Charity Organization Review, May 1892).
464.Gold Coast (Bee. 229).
468.American on Party-Government (R.W. Tayler, in Brooklyn Ethical Association Lectures, 1892, p. 503).
Titles of Works Referred ToLake Ngami.Savage Life and Scenes in Australia and New Zealand.Politics and Economics.Roman Provincial Administration.The Province of Jurisprudence Determined.Der Mensch in der Geschichte.The Naturalist on the River Amazon.Ashanti and the Gold CoastLooking BackwardContemporary ReviewEthnogénie Gauloise.Histoire de l’Autorité paternelle en France.Histoire des Paysans.Daily Life and Origin of the Tasmanians.Ten Years in Saráwak.Travels into the Interior of Southern Africa.Notes on Bedouins and Wahábys.Abeokuta and the Cameroon Mountains.The Lake Regions of Central Africa.Mission to Gelele, King of Dahomey.Cassell's Natural History,Journal of the Ethnological SocietyJournal of Captain Cook's Last Voyage,The Law of Copyright.History of English Commerce.History of Greenland.The Growth of English Industry and Commerce,Cassell'sDescriptive Ethnology of Bengal.Journal of the Asiatic society, Bengal.Aegypten und die Bücher Moses.Narrative of a Tour through Hawaii.Polynesian ResearchesEncyclopedia Britannica.Journal of a Cruise Among the Islands of the Western Pacific.Description of Patagonia.Journal of the Indian Archipelago.Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of the ‘Adventure’ and ‘Beagle,’ etc.Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society.The Hunter's Arcadia.La Femme au XVIIIe Siècle.A Short History of the English People.Deutsche Rechtsalterthümer.Journal of Travels in Assam, etc.A History of Greece.Cartulaire de l’abbaye de St. Père de Chartres.Highlands of Æthiopia.Haydn's Dictionary of Dates.Journey from Prince of Wales's Fort, etc.Aboriginal Tribes of the Central Provinces.Kocch, Bodo and Dhimál Tribes.Journal of the Asiatic Society,Handbuch des deutschen Strafrechts.Himalayan Journals.Introduction to Roman Law.Science and Culture, and Other Essays.Journal of the Asiatic Society, Bengal.Journal of the Ethnological Society,Jevons (W. Stanley) The State in Relation to Labour.Theory of Ethics.The Saxons in England.Present State of the Cape of Good Hope.Voyages of the Dutch Brig the ‘Dourga’ Through the Molucca Archipelago, etc.Histoire de l’organisation de la Famille en France.Journal of an Expedition to the Course and Termination of the Niger.England under the Saxon Kings.The Contemporary Review.Primitive Property.History of European Morals.On Rationalism in Europe.Histoire des classes ouvrières.Travels to the Source of the Missouri, etc.Travels in Southern Africa in the Years 1803–1806.Two Treatises of Government.Pre-Historic Times.Report upon the Khonds of Ganjam and Cuttack.Ancient Law.Memoir of Central Asia.A Phrenologist amongst the Todas.History of England during the Thirty Years' Peace.Journal of the Asiatic Society,Bengal.MillMill (John Stuart)Utilitarianism.Die Phönizier.Zoological Sketches.San Salvador and HondurasJourney through Central and Eastern Arabia.Life in Abyssinia, etcThe Liberty of the Press, etc.Pictorial History of England.RepublicHistory of Loango.Collection,History of the English Law.Encyclopedia Britannica.History of Agriculture and Prices in England.Animal Intelligence.Fur Hunters of Far West.Life in the Forests of the Far East.Information Respecting the Indian Tribes of the United States.Account of Timbuctoo, etc.Nicaragua.New Commentaries on the Laws of England.A History of the Criminal Law of England.Journal of the Asiatic Society, Bengal.Germania.CeylonAn Account of the Island, etc.Alcedo's Geographical and Historical Dictionary of America, etc.The Story of New Zealand, etc.Ancient Laws and InstitutionsThe State of Society in France Before the Revolution.Narrative of the United States' Exploring Expedition,Anthropologie.Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro, etc.Voyage Towards the South Pole.The Middle Kingdom.Fiji and the Fijians.Account of the Native Africans in the Neighbourhood of Sierra Leone.Las Historias del Origen de los Indios de GuatemalaRapport sur les différentes classes de chefs de la Nouvelle-Espagne.
[]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.”