An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Political Justice and Its Influence on General Virtue, Fourth Edition : Book 4, Chapter 11 : Of Good and Evil
Revolt Library >> Anarchism >> An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Political Justice and Its Influence on General Virtue, Fourth Edition >> Book 00004, Chapter 00011
(1756 - 1836) ~ Respected Anarchist Philosopher and Sociologist of the Enlightenment Era : His most famous work, An Inquiry concerning Political Justice, appeared in 1793, inspired to some extent by the political turbulence and fundamental restructuring of governmental institutions underway in France. Godwin's belief is that governments are fundamentally inimical to the integrity of the human beings living under their strictures... (From : University of Pennsylvania Bio.)
• "Fickleness and instability, your lordship will please to observe, are of the very essence of a real statesman." (From : "Instructions to a Statesman," by William Godwin.)
• "Courts are so encumbered and hedged in with ceremony, that the members of them are always prone to imagine that the form is more essential and indispensable, than the substance." (From : "Instructions to a Statesman," by William Godwin.)
• "Anarchy and darkness will be the original appearance. But light shall spring out of the noon of night; harmony and order shall succeed the chaos." (From : "Instructions to a Statesman," by William Godwin.)
Book 4, Chapter 11
Definitions. -- Principle of the Stoics examined. -- Pleasure delineated. -- Scale of happiness -- the peasant and artisan -- the man of wealth -- the man of taste -- the man of benevolence. -- Inference. -- System of optimism. -- Errors of this system. -- Mixture of truth. -- Limitations. -- Condition of the universe displayed. -- Ill effects of optimism. -- It is destructive of any consistent theory of virtue -- blunts the delicacy of moral discrimination -- reconciles us to the spectacle of perverseness in others. -- Of persecution.
There is no disquisition more essential either in morality or politics than that which shall tend to give us clear and distinct ideas of good and evil, what it is we should desire, and what we should deprecate. We will therefore close the present volume with a few considerations upon this head.
The nature of good and evil, which is one of the plainest subjects upon which the human mind can be engaged, has been obscured by two sets of men: those who, from an eagerness to refine and exalt beyond measure the nature of virtue, have elevated it into something impossible and unmeaning: and those who, spurning the narrow limits science and human understanding, have turned system-builders, and fabricated a universe after their own peculiar fancy. We shall see, as we proceed, what has been the operation of these two errors. In the mean time it may be most safe, to examine the subject in its genuine simplicity, uninfluenced by the preconceptions of party.
Good is a general name, including pleasure, and the means by which pleasure is procured. Evil is a general name, including pain, and the means by which pain is produced. Of the two things included in these general names, the first is cardinal and substantive, the second has no intrinsic recommendations but depends for its value on the other. Pleasure therefore is to be termed an absolute good; the means of pleasure are only relatively good. The same observation may be stated of pain1.
We inhabit a world where sensations do not come detached, but where everything is linked and connected together. Of consequence, among things absolutely good there may be two classes. There are some things that are good and only good, pleasures that do not draw after them mischief, anguish and remorse. There may be other pleasures that are attended in the sequel with an overbalance of pain, and which, though absolutely good, are relatively evil. There may also be pains which, taken together with their consequences, are salutary. But this does not alter the original proposition: where there is a mixture of evil, all is not good; just as, where there is a mixture of pain, all is not pleasure.
Let us see how this statement affects the theory and practice of virtue. First, we are hereby enabled to detect their mistake, who denied that "pleasure was the supreme good." The error of the Epicurean philosophers seems to have been, not in affirming that "pleasure was the supreme good," for this cannot be refuted; but in confining that pleasure which is the proper scope of human actions, to the pleasure of the individual who acts, and not admitting that the pleasures of others was an object which, of its own sake, could, and ought to be pursued2.
That "pleasure is the supreme good," cannot be denied by him who is sufficiently attentive to the meaning of words. That which will give pleasure neither to ourselves nor others, and from which the fruits of joy can be reaped, in no stage, and at no period, is necessarily good for nothing.
The opposers of the Epicurean maxim, were terrified by a consequence which they hastily conclued might be built upon it. If pleasure were the only thing that is worthy to be desired, they thought that every man might reasonably be justified in "walking in the fight of his own eyes," and there would be no longer any rule of human conduct. Each man might say, "Pleasure is the proper object of my pursuit; I best know what pleases me; and therefore, however opposite is the plan of my conduct to your conceptions, it is unreasonable and unjust for you to interfere with me."
An inference the oppsoite of this, might, with more propriety, have been drawn from the maxim upon which we are descanting. Is "pleasure the only good?" Then have we the most cogent reason for studying pleasure, and reducing it to a science, and not for leaving every man to pursue his own particular taste, which is nothing more than the result of his education, and of the circumstances in which he happens to have been placed, and which by other lessons and circumstances may be corrected.
No man is entitled to complain of my sober and dispassionate expostulations respecting the species of pleasure he thinks proper to pursue, because no man stands alone, and can pursue his private conceptions of pleasure, without affecting, beneficially or injuriously, the persons immediately connected with him, and, through them, the rest of the world. Even if he have persuaded himself that it is his business to pursue his own pleasure, and that he is not bound to attend ultimately to the pleasure of others, yet it may easily be shown that it is, generally speaking, the interest of each individual, that all should form their plan of personal pleausre with a spirit of deference and accomodation to the pleasure of each other.
But putting the circumstance of the action and re-action of men in society out of the question, still there will be a science of pleasure, and it will be idle and erroneous to consider each man separately, and leave each to find his source of pleasure suitable to his particular humor. We have a common nature, and that common nature out to be consulted. There is one thing, or series of things, that constitutes the true perfection of man3.
In the discussions that took place a few years ago, in the English parliament and nation, respecting the slave-trade, the sentiment we are here combating, was used as a topic of argument, by some of those persons who, from certain deplorable prejudices, were able to prevail upon themselves to appear as advocates for this trade. "The slaves in the West Indies," they said, "are contented with their situtation, they are not conscious of the evils against which you excliam; why then should you endeavor to alter their condition?"
The true answer to this question, even granting them their fact, would be: "It is not very material to a man of a liberal and enlarged mind, whether they are contented or no. Are they contented? I am not contented for them. I see in them beings of certain capacities, equal to certain pursuits and enjoyments. It is of no consequence in the question, that they do not see this, that they do not know their own interests and happiness. They do not repine? Netiher does a stone repine. That which you mention as an alleviation, finishes in my conception the portrait of their calamity. Abridged as they are of independence and enjoyment, they have neither the apprehension nor spirit of men. I cannot bear to see human nature thus degraded. It is my duty, if I can, to make them a thousand times happier, than they are, or have any conception of being."
The first class shall be such as we may perhaps sometimes find, among the laboring inhabitants of the civilized states of Europe. We will conceive a man, working with his hands every day to obtain his subsistence. He rises early to his labor, and leaves off every night weary and exhausted. He takes a tranquil or a boisterous refreshment, and spends the hours of darkness in uninterrupted slumber. He does not quarrel with his wife oftener than persons of his class regularly do; and his cares are few, as he has scarcely known the pressure of absolute want. He never repines but when he witnesses luxuries he cannot partake, and that sensation is transient; and he knows no diseases but those which rise from perpetual labor. The range of his ideas is scanty; and the general train of his sensations, comes as near, as the nature of human existence will admit, to the region of indifference. This man is in a certain sense happy. He is happier than a stone.
Our next instance shall be taken from among the men of rank, fortune and dissipation. We will suppose the individual in question to have an advantageous person and a sound constitution. He enjoys all the luxuries of the palate, the choicest viands, and the best-flavored wines. He takes his pleasures discreetly, so as not, in the pursuit of pleasure, to lose the power of feeling it. He shoots, he hunts. He frequents all public places. He sits up late in scenes of gay resort. He rises late. He has just time to ride and dress before he goes into company again. With a happy flow of spirits and a perpetual variety of amusements, he is almost a stranger to ennui. But he is a model of ignorance. He never reads, and knows nothing beyond the topic of the day. He can scarcely conceive the meaning of the sublime or pathetic; and he rarely thinks of any thing beyond himself. This man is happier than the peasant. He is happier, by all the pleasures of the palate, and all the gratifications, of neatness, elegance and splendor, in himnself, and the objects around him. Every day he is alive, inventing some new amusement, or enjoying it. He tastes the pleasures of liberty; he is familiar with the gratifications of pride: while the peasant slides through life, with something of the contemptible insensibility of an oyster.
The man of taste and liberal accomplishments, is more advantageously circumstanced than he whom we have last described. We will suppose him to possess as many of the gratifications of expence as he desires. But, in addition to these, like the mere man of fortune in comparison with the peasant, he acquires new senses, and a new range of enjoyment. The beauties of nature are all his own. He admires the overhanging cliff, tthe wide-extended prospect, the vast expanse of the ocean, the foliage of the woods, the sloping lawn and the waving grass. He knows the pleasures of solitude, when man holds commerce alone with the tranquil solemnity of nature. He has traced the structure of the universe; the substances which compose the globe we inhabit, and are the mateirals of human industry; and the laws which hold the planets in their course amid the trackless fields of space. He studies; and has experienced the pleasures which result from conscious perspicacity and discovered truth. He enters, with a true relish, into the sublime and pathetic. He partakes in all the grandeur and enthusiam of poetry. He is perhaps himself a poet. He is conscious that he has not lived in vain, and that he shall be recollected with pleasure, and extolled with ardor, by generations yet unborn. In this person, compared with the two preceding classes, we acknowledge something of the features of man. They were only a better sort of brutes; but he has sensations and transports of which they have no conception.
But there is a rank of man more fitted to excite our emulation than this, the man of benevolence. Study is cold, if it be not enlivened with the idea of the happiness to arise to mankind from the cultivation and improvement of sciences4. The sublime and pathetic are barren, unless it be the sublime of true virtue, and the pathos of true sympathy. The pleasures of the mere man of taste and refinement, "play round the head, but come not to the heart." There is no true joy but in the spectacle and contemplation of happiness. There is no delightful melancholy but in pitying distress. The man who has once performed an act of exalted generosity, knows that there is no sensation of corporeal or intellectual taste to be compared with this. The man who has sought to benefit nations, rises above the mechanical ideas of barter and exchange. He asks no gratitude. To see that they are benefited, or to believe that they will be so, is its own reward. He ascends to the highest of human pleasures, the pleasures of disinterestedness. He enjoys all the good that mankind possess, and all the good that he perceives to be in reserve for them. No man so truly promotes his own interest as he that forgets it. No man reaps so copious a harvest of pleasure as he who thinks only of the pleasures of other men.
The inference from this survey of human life, is, that he who is fully persuaded that pleasure is the only good, ought by no means to leave every man to enjoy his peculiar pleasure according to his own peculiar humor. Seeing the great disparity there is between different conditions of human life, he ought constantly to endeavor to raise each class, and every individual of each class, to a class above it. This is the true equalization of mankind. Not to pull down those who are exalted, and reduce all to a naked and savage equality. But to raise those who are abased; to communicate to every man all genuine pleasures, to elevate every man to all true wisdom and to make all men participators of a liberal and comprehensive benevolence. This is the path in which the reformers of mankind ought to travel. This is the prize they should pursue. Do you tell me, "that human society can never arrive at this improvement?" I do not stay to dispute that point with you. We can come nearer it than we are. We can come nearer and nearer yet. This will not be the first time that persons, engaged in the indefatigable pursuit of some accomplishment, have arrived at an excellence that surpassed their most sanguine expectations.
The result of this part of the subject is, that those persons have been grossly mistaken who taught that virtue was to be pursued for its own sake, and represented pleasure and pain as trivial matters and unworthy consideration. Virtue is upon no other account valuable, than as it is the instrument of the most exquisite pleasure. -- Be it observed, that it is one thing to say that pain is not an evil, which is absurd, and another thing to say that temporary pains and pleasures are to be despised, when the enduring of the one is necessary, and the declining the other unavoidable in the pursuit of excellent and permanent pleasure, which is a most fundamental precept of wisdom and morality.
Let us proceed to a second point announced by us in the outset, the consideration of how the subject of good and evil has been darkened by certain fabulists and system-builders. The system alluded to under this head, is that of the optimists, who teach "that everything in the universe, is for the best; and that, if anything had happened otherwise than it has happened, the result would have been, a diminution of the degree of happiness and good." That we may escape the error into which these persons have been led, by the daringness of their genius, and their mode of estimating things in the gross, and not in detail, we must be contented to follow experience, and not to outrun it.
It has already appeared that there is in the universe absolute evil: and, if pain be evil (and it has been proved to be the only absolute evil), it cannot be denied that, in the part of the universe with which we are acquianted, it exists in considerable profusion. It has also appeared, that there is a portion of absolute evil, which is relatively good, and which therefore, the preceding circumstances being assumed, was desirable. Such, for example, is the amputation of a gangrened limb.
Whether or no those preceding circumstances were, universally, and in a comprehensive sense, good, which rendered the introduction of the absolute evil in question necessary, is, to say the least, a very doubtful point. But, if there be some presumption in the negative even in the smallest instance, this presuption against universal good is incalculably increased, when we recollect all the vise, disorder and misery, that exist in the world.
Let us consider what portion there is of truth, that has been mixed with the doctrine of optimism. This is the same thing as to inquire by means of what plausibilities it gained footing in the world. The answer to the sequestions ies in two circumstances.
First, there is a degree of improvement real and visible in the world. This is particularly manifest, in the history of the civilized part of mankind, during the three last centuries. The taking of Constantinople by the Turks (1453) dispersed among European nations, the small fragment of learning, which was, at that time, shut up within the walls of this metropolis. The discovery of printing was nearly contemporary with that event. These two circumstances greatly favored the reformation of religion, whcih gave an irrecoverable shock to the empire of superstition and implicit obedience. From that time, the most superficial observation can trace the improvements of art and science, which may, without glaring impropriety, be styled incessant. Not to mention essential improvements which were wholly unknown to the ancients, the most important characteristics of modern literature, are the extent of surface over which it is diffused, and the number of persons that participate in it. It has struck its roots deep, and there is no probability that it will ever be subverted. It was once the practice of moralists, to extoll past times, and declaim without bound on the degeneracy of mankind. But this fashion is nearly exploded. The true state of the fact is too gross to be mistaken. And, as improvements have long continued to be incessant, so there is no chance but they will go on. The most penetrating philosophy cannot prescribe limits to them, nor the most ardent imagination adequately fill up the prospect.
Secondly, the doctrine of necessity teaches us that all things in the universe are connected together. Nothing could have happened otherwise than it has happened. Do we congratulate ourselves upon the rising genius of freedom? Do we view with pride the improvements of mankind, and contrast, with wonder, man in the state in which he once was, naked, ignorant and brutal, with man as we now sometimes behold him, enriched with boundless stores of science, and penetrated with sentiments of the purest philanthropy? These things could not have existed in their present form, without having been prepared by all the preceding events. Everything the most seemingly insignificant, the most loathsome, or the most retrograde, was indissolubly bound to all that we most admire in the prospect before us. We may perhaps go a step further than this. The human mind is a principle of the simplest nature, a mere faculty of sensation or perception. It must have begun from absolute ignorance; it must obtain its improvement by slow degrees; it must pass through various stages of folly and mistake. Such is, and could not but be, the history of mankind.
First, it applies only to that part of the universe with which we are acquainted. That deduction, whatever it is, which is authorized by the above circumstances, depends upon their junction. The general tendency to improvement, would be an insufficient apology for untoward events, if every thing were not connected; and the connection of all events, would have no just tendency to reconcile us to the scene, were it not for the visible improvement. But has improvement been the constant characteristic of the universe? The human speices seems to be but, as it were, of yesterday. Will it continue for ever? The globe we inhabit bears strong marks of convulsion, such as the teachers of religion, and the professors of natural philosophy, agree to predict, will one day destroy the inhabitants of the earth. Vicissitude therefore, rather than unbounded progress, appears to be the chartacteristic of nature.
Secondly, the quantity of good deducible from these circumstances, instead of meriting the name of optimism, is, on one respect, directly constasted with it. Nothing is positively best. So far from it, that the considerations here alleged, are calculated to prove, that every thing is valuable, for this reason among others, that it leads to something better than itself.
Lastly, the points here affirmed, are by no means calculated to bear out the conclusion, that, if something else had happened, in the place of what did actually happen in any given instance, it might not have been a fortnate event. We are taught, by the doctrine of necessity, that nothing else could possibly happen under the cicumstances; not that, if something else had been possible, it owuld not have been attended with more desireable consequences. Cæsar enslaved his country; the event was unavoidable; and the general progress of human improvement upon the whole went on, notwithstanding this disastrous occurrence. But, if it had been possible that Cæsar should have been diverted from this detestable enterprise, if the republic could have been restored by the battle of Mutina, or made victorious in the plains of Philippi, it might have been a most fortunate event for the whole race of mankind. There is a difficulty in conceiving that things should have been, in any respect, otherwise than they are. It may be conjectured, with much plausibility, that this is in all cases impossible. But the consideration of this, affords no ground of rejoicing in untoward events. More auspicious harbingers, would have led to more extended improvements. As to what was stated of the simplicity of the human mind, it may be observed that the history of the species exhibits the united effects, of this internal principle, and the structure of the human body, as well as of the material universe. Brutes appear to have the same internal principle of perception that we have, but they have never made our progress. There may be other conscious beings in existence who possess the most essential advantages over us.
It may be worthy of remark, that the support the system of optimism derives from the doctrine of necessity, is of a very equivoval nature. The doctrine of necessity teaches, that each event is the only thing, under the circumstances, that could happen; it would, of consequence, be as proper, upon this system, to say that every thing that happens, is the worst, as that is is the best, that could possibly happen. It was observed in the commencement of this discussion upon the subject of optimism, that, though there is some pain, or absolute evil, which, relatively taken, must be admitted to be attended with an overbalance of good, yet it is a matter of great delicacy and difficulty, in most instances, to decide in favor of pain, which, whatever be its relative value, is certainly a negative quantity to be deducted in the sum total of happiness. There is perhaps some impropriety in the phrase, thus applied, of relative good. Pain, under the most favorable circumstances, must be admitted to be absolutely, though not relatively, an evil, In every instance of this kind we are reduced to a choice of evils: consequently, whichver way we determine our election, it is still evil that we choose.
Taking these considerations along with us, the rashness of the optimist will appear particularly glaring, while we recollect the vast portion of the pain and calamity that is to be found in the world. Let us not amuse ourselves with a pompous and delusive survey of the whole, but let us examine parts severally and individually. All nature swarms with life. This may, in one view, afford an idea of an extensive theater of pleasure. But unfortunately every animal preys upoin his fellow. Every animal, however minute, has a curious and subtle structure, rendering him susceptible, as it should seem, of piercing anguish. We cannot move our foot, without becoming the means of destruction. The wounds inflicted are of a hundred kinds. These petty animals are capable of palpitating for days in the agonies of death. It may be said, with little license of phraseology, that all nature suffers. There is no day nor hour, in which, in some regions of the many-peopled globe, thousands of men, and millions of animals, are not tortured, to the utmost extent that organized life will afford. Let us turn our attention to our own species. Let us survey the poor; oppressed, hungry, naked, denied all the gratifications of life, and all that nourishes the mind. They are either tormented with the injustice, or chilled into lethargy. Let us view man, writing under the pangs of disease, or the fiercer tortures that are stored up for him by his brethren. Who is there that will look on and say, "All this is well; there is no evil in the world?" Let us recollect the pains of the mind; the loss of friends, the rankling tooth of ingratitude, the unrelenting rage of tyranny, the slow progress of justice, the brave and honest consigned to the fate of guilt. Let us plunge into the depth of dungeons. Let us observe youth languishing in hopeless depsair, and talents and virtue shrouded in eternal oblivion. The evil does not consist merely in the pain endured. It is the injustice that inflicts it, that gives it its sharpest sting. Malignity, an unfeeling disposition, vengeance and cruelty, are inmates of every climate. As these are felt by the sufferer with peculiar acuteness, so they propagate themselves. Severity begets severity, and hatred engenders hate5. The whole history of the human species, taken in one point of view, appears a vast abortion. Man seems adapted for wisdom and fortitude and benevolence. But he has always, through a vast majority of countries, been the victim of ignorance and superstition. Contemplate the physiognomy of the species. Observe the traces of stupidity, of low cunning, of rooted insolence, of withered hope, and narrow selfishness, where the characters of wisdom, independence and disinterestedness, might have been inscribed. Recollect the horrors of war, that last invention of deliberate profligacy for the misery of man. Think of the variety of wounds, the multiplication of anguish, the desolation of countries, towns destrtoyed, harvests flaming, inhabitants perishing by thousands of hunger and cold.
A sound philosophy will teach us to contemplate this scene without madness. Instructed in its lessons, we shall remember that, though there is much of evil, there is also much of good in the world, much pleasure, as well as much pain. We shall not even pronouce that some small portion of this evil is not relatively not an evil. Above all, we shall be cheared with tht thought of brighter prospects and happier times. But the optimist must be particularly rash, who takes upon him to affirm of all this mass of evil without exception, that it is relatively not evil, and that nothing could have happened otherwise than it has happened, without the total being worse than it is.
It is calculated to overturn all distinction between virtue and vise. The essential part of these ideas, as has been already observed, consists in the tendency of the actions so denominated with respect to the general good6. But, according to the doctrine of optimism, if I do a virtuous action, I contribute to the general good; and, if I do a vicious action, it is still the same. Every man, according to this system, is privileged, as the elect are privileged according to the system of certain religionists: "he may live as he list, for he cannot commit sin." Whether I murder my benefactor, or preserve him from being murdered by another, I still do the very best thing that could have been done or thought of.
It will be admitted on all hands that the conduct of a man may be such as to produce evil and pain to himself, to involve him in perpetual obloquy and remorse. It may be such as to inflict intolerable pain, and the most horrible mischief, upon another, or upon many others. A man therefore, upon this scheme, may reasonably study his own interest; he may study the benefit and advantage of his friends or his neighbors. But, if he affect to study the good of the whole, he is only deceiving himself. It is impossible for him to have the slightest notion what acts of an individual, under any given circumstances, will or will not contribute to the general good. Nero, when he pronounced sentence upon Lucan or Seneca, when he castrated Sporus, set fire to the city of Rome, or, enclosing the Christians in cloth of pitch, burned them by night after the manner of torches, adopted the conduct, though perhaps he was not aware of it, most aptly conducing to the happiness of the whole. It is not indeed, absolutely speaking, indifferent what I shall do; but, practically speaking, it is, since I am wholly unable to conjecture what will be beneficial or what injurious. We saw, upon the system of self-love, public utility resulting from each man's determining to postpone that utility to his private advantage7: but it is much more absurd and repulsive to suppose universal happiness to be essentially promoted by the profligacy, malevolence and misery of innumerable multitudes.
But, though optimism, pursued into its consequences, is destructive of the distinction between virtue and vise, or rather teaches that there neither is nor can be such a thing as vise, yet it is the fate of this, like many other errors, that the truths which lie undeveloped in the mind, and cannot be deracinated, serve to check its influence and counteract its evil tendency.
It may however be suspected that, while its pernicious effects are thus counteracted, they are not destroyed. It is unavoidable that men should, in some respects, imitate what they persuade themselves is right. Thus in religion, those persons who believe that a large portion of mankind are objects of God's wrath, and reserved for eternal perdition, can never be prevailed on to regard, with a true and genuine sympathy, those whom God has cursed. In the same manner it will probably happen in the present case: those who believe that all the unfortunate events and sufferings that exist in the world will be found, in some mysterious way, to have been the fittest instruments of universal good, are in danger of being less scrupulous than they ought to be, in the means they shall themselves select for the accomplishment of their purposes. If pain, horrors and devastation be frequently found means of kindness in the system of the universe, it is impossible to assign a good reason why they should not be such under the direction of man.
There is another crude notion diffused in the world, which the principle of optimism is calculated to encourage, and which the views here explained have a tendency to correct. It is not uncommon to congratulate ourselves upon the perverseness and misconduct of those whose views we oppose, under the imagination that such misconduct conduces to the more speedy subversion of error and establishment of justice. But the maxim is safer and better founded than this, which should instruct us that we "rejoice not in evil, but rejoice in the truth." It has already appeared that it is a matter of great delicacy and difficulty, to decide in favor of pain and calamity, as the probable means of a preponderance of good. It was sufficiently seen, when we treated of resistance and revolutions, that the angry passions are not the most promising instruments of human happiness. A perverse conduct tends to the production of confusion and violence. A government that employed every species of persecution against those who should desire its reform, and that involved the country over which it presided in war, for the purpose of checking or exterminating sentiments of reason and equality, would do harm, and not good. It might indeed defeat its own purposes; but it would produce resentment and contention. It might excite a revulsion in the public mind against its designs; but this revulsion would be the offspring of irritation, and not of the understanding. Diminish the irritation, and the progress of real knowledge would be more substantial and salutary. Real knowledge is benevolent, not cruel and retaliating. The change that grows up among any people from a calm conviction of the absurdity of their former errors, is of the most admirable sort; but the change that grows from distress, distemper and crisis, is an explosion pregnant with fate to thousands. From all these considerations it appears, that every departure from enormous vise, should be accounted as so much gained to the cause of general happiness.
Let any person who entertains the contrary opinion ask himself whether, if he had a part in the government we have supposed, he would think himself obliged to act, in the manner in which he professes to desire the government should act? If, as he imagines, that action be most conducive to the public good, most undoubtedly, were it his own case, he ought to adopt it. Again, would he advise or incite the government, in any way, to this perverse conduct? There cannot be a clearer principle in morals, than "that the action it would be vise in us to adopt, it is vise in us to desire to see adopted by another."
A further consequence that flows from these speculations, is relative to the persecution and sufferings to be endured by the advocates of justice. The same reasoning that has persuaded men to rejoice in beholding acts of oppression has led them to court oppression and martyrdom. A sound philosophy, it should seem, would never instigate us to provoke the passions of others, or to regard injustice as the suitable means of public happiness. It is reason, and not anger, that will benefit mankind. Dispassionate inquiry, not bitterness and resentment, is the parent of reform. The wise man will avoid persecution, because a protracted life, and an unfettered liberty, are likely to enable him to produce a greater sum of good. He will avoid persecution, because he will be unwilling to add fuel to the flames of contention. He will regret it when it arrives, because he believes it to be both wicked and mischievous. But he will not avoid it by the sacrific of a virtuous, but tempered, activity. He will not regret it with a mean and pusillanimous spirit, but will meet it, when it can no longer be prevented, with that dignity of soul and tranquility of temper that are characteristic of true wisdom. He will not imagine that the cause of truth will perish, though he should be destroyed. He will make the best of the situation to which he is reduced, and endeavor that his death, like his life, may be of use to mankind.1 Book III, Chap. III, p. 221
From : Anarchy Archives
No comments so far. You can be the first!
<< Last Work in An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Political Justice and Its Influence on General Virtue, Fourth Edition
Current Work in An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Political Justice and Its Influence on General Virtue, Fourth Edition
Book 4, Chapter 11
Next Work in An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Political Justice and Its Influence on General Virtue, Fourth Edition >>
All Nearby Works in An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Political Justice and Its Influence on General Virtue, Fourth Edition