Ethics: Origin and Development : Chapter 12 : Development of Moral Teachings -- XIX Era (Continued)
(1842 - 1921) ~ Russian Father of Anarcho-Communism : As anarchism's most important philosophers he was in great demand as a writer and contributed to the journals edited by Benjamin Tucker (Liberty), Albert Parsons (Alarm) and Johann Most (Freiheit). Tucker praised Kropotkin's publication as "the most scholarly anarchist journal in existence." (From : Spartacus Educational Bio.)
• "...let us remember that if exasperation often drives men to revolt, it is always hope, the hope of victory, which makes revolutions." (From : "The Spirit of Revolution," by Peter Kropotkin, fi....)
• "...all that is necessary for production-- the land, the mines, the highways, machinery, food, shelter, education, knowledge--all have been seized by the few in the course of that long story of robbery, enforced migration and wars, of ignorance and oppression..." (From : "The Conquest of Bread," by Peter Kropotkin, 1906.)
• "...outside of anarchism there is no such thing as revolution." (From : "Revolutionary Government," by Peter Kropotkin, 18....)
The nineteenth century approached the problem of morality from a new viewpoint-that of its gradual development in mankind, beginning with the primitive period. Regarding all nature as the result of the activity of physical forces and of evolution, the new philosophy had to interpret morality from the same point of view.
The ground for such an interpretation of morality had been already prepared at the end of the eighteenth century. The study of the life of the primitive savages, Laplace's hypothesis as to the origin of our solar system, and especially the theory of evolution in the plant and the animal world,-which was already indicated by Buffon and Lamarck, and then, in the twenties of the last century promulgated by Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire,-the historical works in the same direction written by the Saint-Simonians, especially Augustin Thierry, and finally the positivist philosophy of Auguste Comte-all these taken together prepared the way for the assimilation of the theory of evolution in the entire plant and animal worlds, and, consequently, as affecting the human race as well. In 1859 appeared Charles Darwin's famous work in which the theory of evolution found a complete and systematic elaboration.
Before Darwin, in 1850, the theory of evolution, though by no means completely developed, was put forth by Herbert Spencer in his "Social Statics." But the thoughts that he expressed in this book were so sharply at variance with the conceptions then current in England, that Spencer's new ideas were disregarded. Spencer was accorded appreciation as a thinker, only when he began to publish under the collective name of "Synthetic Philosophy" a series of remarkable philosophical researches in which he expounded the development of our solar system, the development of life on the earth, and finally the development of mankind, its thought and its societies.
Ethics, as Spencer very justly held, was to constitute one of the divisions of the general philosophy of nature. He first analyzed the basic principles of the cosmos and the origin of our solar system, which came into existence as the result of the activity of mechanical forces; then the principles of biology, i.e., of the science of life in the form it assumed on the earth; then the principles of psychology, i.e., the science of the psychic life of animals and of man; next, the principles of sociology, i. e., the science of sociality; and finally, the principles of ethics, i. e., the science of those mutual relations of living beings which have the nature of obligation and which therefore were for a long time confused with religon. 1
Only toward the end of his life, in the Spring of 1890, when the greater part of his "Ethics" was already written, Spencer published two magazine articles in which for the first time he spoke of sociality and morality in animals,2 whereas up to that time he had concentrated his attention on the "struggle for existence" and interpreted it in its application to animals as well as to men, as the struggle of each against all for the means of subsistence.
Then, although these ideas were already expressed by him in his "Social Statics," Spencer published in the 'nineties a little book, "The Individual versus the State," in which he expounded his views against the inevitable State centralization and oppression. On this point he closely approached the first theorist of anarchism, William Godwin, whose book, "Inquiry Concerning Political justice," was so much more remarkable in that it appeared at the moment of the triumph in France of revolutionary Jacobinism, i.e., of the un-limited power of the revolutionary government. Godwin was in complete agreement with the Jacobin ideals of political and economic equality,3 but he took a negative attitude toward their endeavor to create the all-absorbing State, which would destroy the rights of the individual. Spencer stood, similarly, against the despotism of the State, and he expressed his views on this subject in 1842 .4
Both in his "Social Statics" and "The Principles of Ethics," Spencer expounded the fundamental idea that Man, in common with the lower creatures, is capable of indefinite change by adaptation to conditions. Therefore, through a series of gradual changes, man is undergoing transformation from a nature appropriate to his aboriginal wild life, to a nature appropriate to a settled, civilized life. This process is effected by the repression of certain primitive traits of the human organism, such, for example, as the warlike traits of character that are no longer needed in view of the changed conditions and owing to the development of more peaceful relations.
Gradually, under the influence of the external conditions of life and of the development of the internal, individual faculties, and with the increasing complexity of social life, mankind evolves more cultural forms of life and more peaceful habits and usages, which lead to a closer co-operation. The greatest factor in this progress Spencer saw in the feeling of sympathy (or commiseration ).
More or less harmonious coöperation implies, of course, a certain limitation on individual freedom, which results from sympathetic regard for the freedom of others. Gradually there evolves in society an equitable individual conduct, and an equitable social order, in which each individual acts in conformity with the law of equal freedom for all the members of society. In proportion as men become accustomed to social life they develop mutual sympathy, which later constitutes what is called "the moral sense." Parallel with the development of this metal sense there arise in man intel-lectual perceptions of right human relations, which become clearer as the form of social life becomes better. Thus is attained the reconciliation of individual natures with social requirements. Spencer hopes that social life will progress in such a manner as eventually to achieve the greatest development of personality ("individuation," i.e., the development of individuality, and not of "individualism"), together with the greatest development of sociality. Spencer is convinced that evolution and progress will lead to a social equilibrium so balanced that each, in fulfilling the wants of his own life, will spontaneously and voluntarily aid in fulfilling the wants of all other lives.5
The aim of ethics, as Spencer understood it, is the establishment of rules of moral conduct on a scientific basis. The placing of moral science on such a foundation is particularly necessary now, when the authority of religion is dwindling and moral teachings are being deprived of this support. At the same time, moral reaching must be freed from prejudices and from monastic asceticism, which have been very detrimental to the proper understanding of morality. On the other hand, ethics should not be weakened by the hesitation to reject completely a narrow egoism. Morality, resting on a scientific basis, satisfies this requirement, for scientifically derived ethical principles coincide in all ways with the ethical principles otherwise derived,--a fact which, unfortunately, the religious people categorically refuse to recognize, and are even offended when this coincidence is pointed out to them.
Having thus indicated the aim of ethics, Spencer approached the moral problem, taking as his starting point the simplest observations. In order to understand human conduct and mode of life,--they must be regarded, in a sense, as an organic whole, beginning with the animals. As we pass from the simplest forms of life to the higher and more complicated, we find that their conduct and their mode of existence become better and better adapted to the environment. These adaptations, moreover, always aim either at the strengthening of individual vitality, or the strengthening of the vitality of the species, the latter becoming more and more closely connected with the preservation of the individual in proportion as we approach the higher forms in the animal world. And indeed, the parents' care of their offspring is already a case of close connection between individual self-preservation and the preservation of the species; and this care increases and assumes the character of personal attachment as we approach the higher forms of animal life.
Unfortunately, it must be remarked that, carried away by the theory of struggle for existence, Spencer did not at this time devote sufficient attention to the fact that in every class of animals some species show a development of mutual aid, and in proportion as this factor acquires greater importance in the life of the species, the individual span of life is lengthened and at the same time experience is accumulated, which aids the species in its struggle with its enemies.
But mere adaptation to external conditions is insufficient, continued Spencer: the course of evolution is paralleled by the general improvement in the forms of life. The struggle for existence among the individuals diminishes among men, in proportion as the militant and predatory stage is replaced by what may be called industrial co-operation. And in the course of this process the rudiments of moral judgments appear.
What do we call good or bad? We call good that which fulfills its purpose; and we call bad that which does Dot answer its purpose, does not fit it. Thus, the good house is one which properly shelters us from cold and storm. We apply the same criterion to our actions: "You did well to change your wet clothes," or "You were wrong in trusting that person," whereby we mean that our actions were or were not suited to their end. But this is just what constitutes the gradual development of our conduct.
There are also different kinds of aims. They may be purely personal, as in the two cases mentioned, or they may be broadly social. They may involve the fate not only of an individual, but also of the species. (§ 8)
All aims, moreover, are concerned not only with the preservation of life, but also with the intensification of vitality, so that the problem becomes broader and broader and the good of society more and more tends to include the good of the individual. Consequently, we call conduct good when it contributes to the fullness and variety of our life and of the life of others-that which makes life full of pleasurable experiences, i. e., richer in Content, More beautiful, More intense.6 This is the way in which Spencer explains the origin and the gradual development of the moral conceptions in man; he does not seek them in abstract metaphysical conceptions or in the dictates of religion, or finally, in the comparative evaluation of personal pleasures and advantages, as is proposed by the utilitarian thinkers. Like Comte, Spencer considers the moral conceptions just as much a necessary product of social development, as is the progress of reason, art, knowledge, musical taste, or the esthetic sense. One might add to this that the further development of the herd instinct, which evolves into the feeling of a "reciprocal bond," of the solidarity or the mutual dependence of all upon every one, and of each upon all, is as much an inevitable result of social life, as the development of reason, the power of observation, sensibility to impressions, and other human faculties.
Thus it is unquestionable that the moral conceptions of man have been accumulating in the human race from the remotest time. Their rudiments manifested themselves among animals by virtue of their social life. But why did the course of evolution follow this direction and not the opposite? Why not the direction of struggle of each against all? To this question the evolutionist ethics should, in our opinion, reply:--because such a development led to the preservation of the species, to its survival, whereas the inability to develop these faculties of sociality, in the case of animals as well as of human tribes, fatally led to the inability to survive in the general struggle against nature for existence, and consequently, led to extinction. Or, as Spencer answers together with all the eudemonists:-because man found pleasure in these acts that lead to the good of society; and he pointed out to those who take the religious stand, that the very words of the Gospel, "Blessed are the merciful"; "Blessed are the peace-makers"; "Blessed is he that considereth the poor,"-already imply the state of blessedness, i.e., the pleasure from performing such acts. (*sect; 14) This answer does not, of course, preclude an objection on the part of intuitional ethics, which can and does say that "it was the will of the gods or of the Creator that man should feel particularly gratified when his acts lead to the good of others, or when men when they obey the commands of the deity."
No matter what criterion is assumed for the judging of actions--be it high perfection of character or rectitude of motive,--we will see, continues Spencer, "that definition of the perfection, the virtue, the rectitude, inevitably brings us down to happiness experienced in some form, at some time, by some person, as the fundamental idea."..."So that no school can avoid taking for the ultimate moral aim a desirable state of feeling called by whatever name--gratification, enjoyment, happiness." (§ 15.) The evolutionist ethics, however, cannot fully agree with this explanation, for it cannot admit that the moral element constitutes nothing but the accidental accumulation of habits that were helpful to the species in its struggle for existence. Why is it, asks the evolutionist philosopher, that not the egoistic but the altruistic habits give man greatest gratification? Do not the sociality which we observe everywhere in nature, and the mutual aid which is developed through social life,-do not they constitute a means so general in the struggle for existence that egoistic self-assertion and violence prove weak and impotent before them? Therefore, do not the feelings of sociality and of mutual aid, from which gradually and inevitably our moral conceptions had to develop,--do not they constitute just as fundamental a property of human or even of animal nature, as the need of nourishment?
I shall discuss these two questions in detail in the theoretical part of this book, for I consider them fundamental in ethics. I will only note for the present that Spencer left these basic questions unanswered. It was only later that he took them up for consideration, so that the controversy between the naturalist, evolutionist ethics, and the intuitional, (i. e., inspired from above), he left unsettled. But he fully proved the necessity of placing the principles of morality on a scientific basis, as well as the lack of such a basis in the ethical systems previously advanced. (§§ 18-23.)
Spencer pointed out that in studying the various systems of moral science, one is astounded at the absence in them of the conception of causality in the realm of the moral. The ancient thinkers held that moral consciousness is implanted in man by God or by the gods, but they forgot that if the acts which we call bad, because they are contrary to the will of the Deity, had not per se entailed harmful consequences, we should never have discovered that disobedience to the divine will has a harmful effect upon society, and that the fulfillment of the divine will leads to good.
But equally wrong are the thinkers who, like Plato, Aristotle, and Hobbes, see the source of good and evil in the laws established through compulsion by the ruling power, or through the social covenant. If this were really the case, we would have to acknowledge that there is no intrinsic distinction between the consequences of actions, both good and evil, because the classification of all actions into good and evil is made by the ruling power, or by men themselves, when concluding the covenant. (§ 19.)
Similarly, says Spencer, when philosophers explain the moral element in man through a revelation from above, they tacitly admit thereby that human acts and their results are not connected by inevitable and natural casual relations which we can know and which can take the place of divine revelation. (§ 20.)
Even the Utilitarians, continues Spencer, are not completely free from this error, for they only partially recognize the origin of moral conceptions in natural causes. lie then proceeds to make clear his thought by the following example:--every science begins by accumulating observations. The ancient Greeks and the Egyptians were able to predict the position of various planets on a certain day long before the discovery of the law of universal gravitation. This knowledge was obtained through observation, without any idea as to the causes. And only after the discovery of the law of gravitation, after we learned the causes and the laws of planetary motion, only then did our determinations of their movements cease to be empirical, and become scientific, rational. The same applies to the utilitarian ethics. The utilitarians, of course, recognize the existence of some causal connection, by virtue of which we consider certain acts good and some others bad; but they fail to explain wherein this connection lies. It is not, however, sufficient to say that certain acts are useful to society and that others are harmful; this is a mere statement of fact, whereas we want to know the general cause of morality-the general criterion whereby we may distinguish between the good and the bad. We seek a rational generalization in order to derive the general rules of conduct from a clearly defined general cause. Such is the aim of the science of morality-Ethics. (§ 21.)
Of course, the ground was prepared for Ethics through the development of the other sciences. We have now come to consider moral phenomena as phenomena of evolution, which are in accord with the physical, biological, and social laws. (§§ 22-23.)
In general, Spencer definitely took the viewpoint of the utilitarian morality, and he asserted that since the good in life is that which increases happiness, and the bad that which decreases it, it follows that morality in mankind is unquestionably that which increases the element of happiness in life. No matter how religious or political prejudices may tend to obscure this idea, says Spencer, all the various systems of morality have been built always upon this fundamental principle. (§ 11.)
The chapters devoted by Spencer to the consideration of conduct from the physical and from the biological point of view, are very instructive, for they clearly show, by means of examples taken from life, what attitude a science based on the theory of evolution should take with respect to the interpretations of morality.7
In these two chapters, Spencer gives the explanation of the natural origin of those fundamental facts that enter into every moral teaching. We know, for example, that a certain logical sequence of actions, a coherence, constitutes one of the distinguishing features of human morality, together with a definiteness (we can never predict the actions of men of weak, vacillating will); then comes balance in actions, equilibrium (we do not expect from a morally developed man a fitful, unbalanced conduct, irreconcilable with his past life), coupled with the adaptability to the varied environment. Finally, there is also a need of variety and fullness of life. This is what we expect from a developed individual. The existence of these faculties serves us as the criterion for the moral evaluation of men. These qualities attain greater development in animals, as we pass from the most primitive organisms to more complex ones, and finally to man.
Thus, distinctly moral qualities evolve in the course of the gradual development of animals. Similarly, in mankind, as we pass from the primitive, savage state to the more complex forms of social life, we observe the gradual evolving of a higher type of man. But the higher type of man can develop only in a society of highly developed men. A full, richly varied individual life can manifest itself only in a society that lives a full and varied life.
Such are the conclusions reached by Spencer considering the qualities which we call moral, from the viewpoint of the greatest fullness of life, i.e., from the biological point of view. And the facts lead him to conclude that there undoubtedly exists a natural inner connection between that which affords us pleasure and that which brings increased vitality, and consequently, between the in-tensity of emotional experiences and the duration of life. And this conclusion is, of course, a direct contradiction to the current con-ceptions of the supernatural origin of morality.
Spencer further points out that there are certain types of pleasures that were evolved during the time when the predatory system pre-vailed in human societies; but gradually, with the transition from the militant system to the peaceful, industrial system, the evaluation of the pleasant and the unpleasant undergoes a change. We no longer find the same pleasure in fighting and in military cunning and murder, as does a savage.
In general, it was easy for Spencer to show to what an extent pleasure and joy in life increase vitality, creativeness, and productivity, adding, therefore, to the happiness of life; whereas sorrow and suffering decrease vitality. Needless to say, excess of pleasure may temporarily or even permanently lower vitality, working capacity, and creativeness.
The failure to recognize this latter truth,-a failure for which theology (and also the warlike spirit of primitive societies) is to blame,-not only gives a wrong direction to all reasoning about morality, but is detrimental to life itself. Life does not inquire as to the motives that lead a man to live a physically debilitating life; it punishes the over-devoted scientist as much as the habitual drunkard.
It is clear, then, that Spencer distinctly ranged himself on the side of the "eudemonists" or "hedonists," i.e., of those who see in the development of morality a striving after the greatest happiness, the greatest fullness of life. But it is still not clear why man finds his greatest pleasure in the kind of life which we call moral. The question arises: is there not in the very nature of man some-thing that gives the preference to pleasure derived from the "moral" attitude toward others? Spencer leaves this question unanswered.
The very essence of Spencer's ethical teaching is, however, contained in his chapter on psychology, on the psychic experience which, in the course of the slow development of mankind, led to the elaboration of certain conceptions which are called "moral."
As always, Spencer begins with the simplest case. An aquatic creature senses the approach of something. This excitation pro-duces in the creature a simple sensation, and this sensation calls forth a movement. The creature either hides, or rushes at the object, depending on whether it takes it for an enemy or sees in it a prey.
We have here the simplest form of that which fills our whole life. Something external produces in us a certain sensation, and we respond with action, an act. For example, we read in the news-paper an advertisement of an apartment to let. The advertisement describes the conveniences of the apartment and we form a certain mental picture of it, which produces a certain sensation, followed by action: we either make further inquiries about the apartment, or give up the idea of taking it.
But the case may be much more complicated. And indeed, "our mind consists of feelings and the relations among feelings. By composition of the relations and ideas of relations, intelligence arises. By composition of the feelings and ideas of feelings, emo-tion arises." (§ 41.) While a lower animal, or an undeveloped savage, rashly attacks the supposed prey, a more developed man or a more experienced animal weighs the consequences of the act. We find the same course in all moral acts. A thief does not weigh all the possibilities and the consequences of his act, but a conscientious man considers them not only in application to himself but also to the other man, and not infrequently even to all others, to society. And finally, in the case of intellectually developed man, the acts which we call judicial are frequently determined by very complex considerations of remote aims, and in such cases they be-come more and more ideal.
Of course, exaggeration is possible in all things. Reasoning may be carried to extreme conclusions. This happens to those who, in rejecting the present joys for the sake of the future, reach the point of asceticism and lose the very ability to live an active life. But we are not concerned with exaggerations. The important point in our discussion is that it gives us an idea of the origin of moral judgments and of their development simultaneously with the de-velopment of social life. It shows us how more complex, and consequently broader judgments attain preponderance over the simpler and the primitive ones.
In the life of human societies a very long period of time must, of necessity, elapse before the majority of the members learn to subordinate their first spontaneous impulses to the considerations of more or less remote consequences. The habit of subordinating one's unconscious tendencies to social considerations on the bases of personal experience, develops first in separate individuals, and then the great multitude of such individual inductions combines into tribal morality, supported by tradition and transmitted from genera-tion to generation.
At first primitive men develop fear of the anger of their fellow savages; then fear of the leader (usually the military leader), who is to be obeyed if war against the neighboring tribe is to be waged; and finally, fear of ghosts, i. e., the spirits of the dead, who are believed to be constantly influencing the affairs of the living. These three kinds of fear restrain the striving of the savage for the immediate satisfaction of his desires, and they finally evolve into those phenomena of social life which we now call public opinion, political power, and church authority. However, a distinction should be made between these restraining factors, and the moral sentiments and habits proper which developed from them, for moral sentiment and conscience have in view not the external consequences of the act upon others, but the internal--upon the man himself.
In other words, as Spencer wrote to Mill, the fundamental moral intuition of the human race is the result of the accumulated ex-perience of the utility of certain kinds of mutual relations. It is only gradually that this intuition came to be independent of experience. Thus, at the time when Spencer was writing this part of his "Principles of Ethics," (in 1879), he saw no inner cause of the moral element in man. He made the first step in this direction only in 1890, when he wrote for the magazine, "Nineteenth Cen-tury," two articles on Mutual Aid, citing some data on the moral feelings in certain animals. 8
Further, in considering the development of the moral conceptions from the sociological point of view, i.e., from the viewpoint of the development of social institutions, Spencer first of all pointed out that, since men live in societies, they inevitably become convinced that it is in the interests of each member of society to support the life of society, even if at times such action is contrary to one's personal impulses and desires. But, unfortunately, he still based his reasoning on that false idea, which had become established from the time of Hobbes, that primitive men lived not in societies, but singly or in small groups. With respect to the later evolution of mankind, he adhered to the simplified view established by Comte,-the gradual transition of modern societies from the warlike, militant state, to the peaceful, industrial community.
Due to this circumstance, he wrote, we find among modem mankind two codes of morality: "Hate and destroy your enemy," and "Love and aid your fellow-man." "Be obedient to the militant State," and, "Be an independent citizen and strive for limitation of the power of the State."
Even among modern civilized peoples subjection of women and children is permitted, although protests are heard and demands made for equality of rights of both sexes before the law. All this taken together leads to antinomy, to halfway morality, which consists of a series of compromises and bargains with one's conscience.
Contrariwise, the morality of the peaceful social system, if we are to express its essence, is extremely simple; it may even be said to consist of truisms. Obviously, that which constitutes evil in society includes all acts of aggression of one member of society against the other, for if we are to tolerate such acts, the stability of the social bond is weakened. It is also obvious that the maintenance of society requires the mutual cooperation of men. And, what is more, if coöperation is not practiced for the defense of the group, it will not be forthcoming for the gratification of the most pressing needs: food, dwelling, hunting, etc. All consideration of the usefulness of society will be lost. (§ 51.)
No matter how few the needs of society, and no matter how primitive the means of their satisfaction, coöperation is necessary: it manifests itself among the primitive peoples in hunting, in the cultivation of land in common, etc. And then, with the higher development of social life, there appears a form of co-operation in which the tasks of the different members of society are not alike, though they all pursue a common aim. And finally, another form of co-operation develops under which both the nature of the work and its aims are different, but under which this work contributes, nevertheless, to the general welfare. Here we already meet with the subdivision of labor, and the question arises:-"How are the products of labor to be divided?" There can be but one answer to this question: under voluntary agreement, so that the compensation for work will make possible the replenishing of the energy expended, just as occurs in nature. To this we must add:-"and in order to make it possible to expend energy upon work which may not be as yet recognized as necessary, and which gives pleasure to individual members of society, but which may in time prove useful to society as a whole."
This, however, is not enough, continues Spencer, An industrial society is conceivable in which men lead a peaceful life and fulfill all their contracts, but which lacks cooperation for the common good, and in which no one is concerned about the public interests. In such a society the limit of the evolution of conduct is not attained, for it may be shown that the form of development which supplements justice with beneficence, is a form adapted to an imperfect social system. (§ 54.)
"Thus the sociological view of Ethics supplements the physical, biological, and psychological views." (§ 55.) Having thus established the fundamental principles of ethics from the standpoint of evolution, Spencer wrote an additional chapter in which he answers the attacks upon utilitarianism, and, among other things, discusses the part played by justice in the elaboration of the moral conceptions. 9
In arguing against the acceptance of justice as the basis of the moral, the utilitarian Bentham wrote: "But justice, what is it that we are to understand by justice?-and why not happiness, but justice? What happiness is, every man knows. . . . But what justice is,-this is what on every occasion is the subject matter of dispute. Be the meaning of the word justice what it will, what regard is it entitled to, otherwise than as a means of happiness?" ("Constitutional Code," ch. xvi, Section 6).
Spencer answered this question by pointing out that all human societies-nomadic, permanently settled, and industrial, strive after happiness, although each uses different means to attain that aim. But there are certain necessary conditions that are common to them all-harmonious cooperation, absence of direct aggression, and absence of indirect aggression in the form of breach of contract. And these three conditions together reduce themselves to one: maintenance of fair, equitable relations. (§61) This assertion on the part of Spencer is very significant, for it stresses the fact that widely different moral systems, religious as well as nonreligious, including the evolution theory, agree in recognizing equity as the basic principle of morality. They all agree that the aim of sociality is the wellbeing of each and of all, and that equity constitutes the necessary means for attaining this well-being. And, I will add, no matter how often the principle of equity was violated in the history of mankind, no matter how assiduously legislators up to the present day have made every effort to circumvent it, and moral philosophers to pass it over in silence-nevertheless, the recognition of equity lies at the basis of all moral conceptions and even of all moral teachings.
Thus, in replying to the utilitarian, Bentham, Spencer reached the essence of our interpretation of justice, i. e., the recognition of equity. This was the conclusion already come to by Aristotle, when he wrote: "the just will therefore, be the lawful and the equal; and the unjust the unlawful and the unequal." The Romans similarly identified justice with equity, "which is a derivative of aequus, the word aequus itself having for one of its meanings, just or impartial.10 (§ 60) This meaning of the word justice has been completely preserved in modern legislation, which forbids direct aggression, as well as indirect, in the form of breach of contract, both of which would constitute inequality. All these considerations, concludes Spencer, "show the identification of justice with equalness." (§ 60.)
Particularly instructive are the chapters devoted by Spencer to the discussion of egoism and altruism. In these chapters the very foundations of his ethics are expounded."11
To begin with, different races of men at different times were not in agreement in their interpretations of pleasure and pain. That which was held to be a pleasure ceased to be considered as such; and inversely, that which was considered a burdensome procedure becomes a pleasure under new conditions of life. Thus, for example, we now find pleasure in sowing, but not in reaping. But the conditions of work are being changed and we begin to find pleasure in things which were formerly considered wearisome. It may be said in -general that any work necessitated by the conditions of life can, and in time will, be accompanied by pleasure.
What, then, is altruism, i. e., if not defined as love for others, then, at least, concern about their needs; and what is egoism, i.e., self-love?
"A creature must live before it can act." Therefore the maintenance of its life is the primary concern of every living being. "Egoism comes before altruism," wrote Spencer. "The acts required for continued self-preservation, including the enjoyment of benefits achieved by such acts, are the first requisites to universal welfare. This permanent supremacy of egoism over altruism, is further made manifest by contemplating life in course of evolution." (§ 68.) Thus the idea that every individual shall gain or lose in accordance with the properties of his own nature, whether inherited or acquired, becomes more and more sound. This is equivalent to recognizing that "egoistic claims must take precedence of altruistic claims." (§§ 68-69.) This conclusion, however, is incorrect, even if for the sole reason that the modern development of society tends toward enabling each one of us to enjoy not only personal benefits, but to a much greater extent, social benefits.
Our clothes, our dwellings and their modern conveniences, are the products of the world's industry. Our cities, with their streets, their schools, art galleries, and theaters are the products of the world's development during many centuries. We all enjoy the advantages of the railroads:-note how they are appreciated by a peasant who, for the first time, sits down in a rail-coach after a long journey afoot in the rain. But it was not he who created them.
But all this is the product of collective, and not of individual creation, so that the law of life directly contradicts Spencer's conclusion. This law states that with the development of civilization man becomes more and more accustomed to take advantage of the benefits acquired not by him, but by humanity as a whole. And he experienced this at the earliest period of the tribal system. Study a village of the most primitive islanders of the Pacific, with its large balai (common house), with its rows of trees, its boats, its rules of hunting, rules of proper relations with the neighbors, etc. Even the surviving remnants of men of the Glacial Period, the Esquimaux, have a civilization of their own and their own store of knowledge elaborated by all, and not by an individual. So that even Spencer had to formulate the fundamental rule of life to admit the following restriction": the pursuit of individual happiness within the limits prescribed by social conditions." (§ 70, p. 190.) And indeed, in the period of the tribal mode of life,-and there never was a period of living in solitude,-the savage was taught from early childhood that isolated life and isolated enjoyment of it are impossible. It is on this basis, and not on the basis of egoism, that his life shapes itself, just as in a colony of rooks or in an ant-hill.
Speaking generally, the part of Spencer's book devoted to the defense of egotism (§§ 71-73.) is very weak. A defense of egotism was undoubtedly needed, all the more since, as Spencer showed at the beginning of his treatise, the religious moralists made many on reasonable demands upon the individual. But Spencer's arguments reduced themselves to a vindication of the Nietzschean "blond beast," rather than to a justification of a "sound mind in a sound body." This is why he arrives at the following conclusion: "That egoism precedes altruism in order of imperativeness, is thus clearly shown", (§ 74)-- a statement so indefinite as either to convey no information or leading to false conclusions.
It is true that in the next chapter, "Altruism vs. Egoism," Spencer, following the court-of-law system of accusation and defense, endeavored to emphasize the great importance of altruism in the life of nature. Among birds, in their efforts to protect their young from danger at the risk of their own lives, we at once have evidence of true altruism, even if still semi-conscious. But the risk would be the same whether the feeling is conscious or unconscious. Thus Spencer was compelled to acknowledge that "self-sacrifice is no less primordial than self-preservation." (§ 75.)
In the later stages of evolution of animals and men, there is more and more complete transition from the unconscious parental altruism to the conscious kind, and there appear new forms of the identification of personal interests with the interests of a comrade, and then of society.
Even the altruistic activities contain the element of egoistic pleasure, as is exemplified in art, which tends to unite all in a common enjoyment. "From the dawn of life, then, egoism has been dependent upon altruism as altruism has been dependent upon egoism." (§ 81.)
This remark of Spencer's is perfectly true. But if we are to accept the word altruism, introduced by Comte, as the opposite of egoism, what, then, is ethics? What was it that morality, evolving in animal and human societies, was striving for, if not for the opposition to the promptings of narrow egoism, and for bringing up humanity in the spirit of the development of altruism? The very expressions "egoism" and "altruism" are incorrect, because there can be no pure altruism without an admixture of personal pleasure and, consequently, without egoism. It would therefore be more nearly correct to say that ethics aims at the development of social habits and the weakening of the narrowly personal habits. These last make the individual lose sight of society through his regard for his own person, and therefore they even fail to attain their object, i.e., the welfare of the individual, whereas the development of habits of work in common, and of mutual aid in general, leads to a series of beneficial consequences in the family as well as in society.
Having considered in the first part of his book ("The Data of Ethics") the origin of the moral element in man from the physical, biological, psychological, and sociological viewpoint, Spencer then proceeded to analyze the essence of morality. In man and in society, he wrote, there is a continual struggle between egoism and altruism, and the aim of morality is the reconciliation of these two opposing tendencies. Men come to this reconciliation, or even to the triumph of social tendencies over the egoistic tendencies, through the gradual modification of the very bases of their societies.
With reference to the origin of this reconciliation Spencer, unfortunately, continued to adhere to the view expressed by Hobbes. He thought that once upon a time men lived like certain wild animals, such as tigers, (very few animals, it must be said, lead this type of life now), always ready to attack and to kill one another. Then, one fine day, men decided to unite into a society, and since then their sociality has been developing.
Originally the social organization was military, or militant. Everything was subjected to the demands of war and struggle. Military prowess was regarded as the highest virtue, the ability to take away from one's neighbors their wines, their cattle, or any other property, was extolled as the highest merit, and, as a consequence, morality shaped itself in accordance with this ideal. Only gradually did the new social system begin to develop, the industrial system in which we are now living, although the distinguishing features of the militant system have by no means completely disappeared. But at present the characteristic features of the industrial system are already being evolved, and with them a new morality in which such features of peaceful sociality as sympathy obtain the ascendancy; at the same time there appeared many new virtues, unknown to the earlier mode of life.
The reader can ascertain from many works of contemporary and earlier writers, mentioned in my book, "Mutual Aid," to what an extent Spencer's conception of primitive peoples is wrong or even fantastic. But this is not the question. It is particularly important for us to know the later course of development of the moral conceptions in man.
At first, the establishment of rules of conduct was the domain of religion. It extolled war and the military virtues: courage, obedience to superiors, ruthlessness, etc. But side by side with religious ethics the utilitarian ethics began to develop. Traces of it are to be noticed in Ancient Egypt. Later, in Socrates and Aristotle, morality is separated from religion and the element of social utility, i. e., of utilitarianism, is introduced into the evaluation of human conduct. This element struggles against the religious element throughout the Middle Ages, and then, as we have seen, from the time of the Renaissance, the utilitarian bias again comes to the foreground, and gains special strength in the second half of the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century, from the time of Bentham and Mill, says Spencer, "we have utility established as the sole standard of conduct," (§ 116.),-- which is, by the way, quite incorrect, for Spencer himself deviates somewhat in his ethics from so narrow an interpretation of morality. The habit of following definite rules of conduct, as well as religion and the evaluation of the utility of various customs, gave rise to feelings and conceptions adapted to certain moral rules, and in this manner was developed the preference for the mode of conduct which leads to social welfare; then came nonsympathy or even disapproval of the conduct that leads to the opposite results. In confirmation of this opinion, Spencer cites (§ 117) examples from the books of Ancient India and from Confucius, which show how morality evolved, irrespective of the promise of reward from above. This development, according to Spencer, was due to the survival of those who were better adapted than others to the peaceful social system.
However, Spencer saw nothing but utility in the entire progress of the moral sentiments. He noted no guiding principle originating in reason or in feeling. In a certain system men found it useful to wage wars and to plunder, and they accordingly developed rules of conduct that elevated violence and plunder to the level of moral principles. The development of the industrial-commercial system brought with it a change in feelings and conceptions, as also in the rules of conduct,--and a new religion and a new ethics followed. Together with these there came also that which Spencer calls the aid to ethics ("proethics," i. e., in lieu of ethics), a series of laws and of rules of conduct, at times preposterous, like the duel, and at times of a very indefinite origin.
It is interesting to note that Spencer, with a conscientiousness characteristic of him, pointed out certain facts which could not be explained from his point of view exclusively by the utilitarian course of morality.
As is well known, throughout the whole of the nineteen centuries that elapsed after the first appearance of the Christian teaching, military predatoriness never ceased to be extolled as the highest virtue. To our own time Alexander the Great, Karl, Peter I., Frederick 11., Napoleon, are regarded as heroes. And yet, in the Indian "Mahabharata," especially in the second part, a very different course of conduct was advocated:
"Treat others as thou would'st thyself be treated.
Do nothing to thy neighbor, which hereafter
Thou would'st not have thy neighbor do to thee,
A man obtains a rule of action by looking on his neighbor as himself."
The Chinese thinker, Lao-Tsze, also taught that "peace is the highest aim." Persian thinkers and the Hebrew book of Leviticus taught these things long before the appearance of Buddhism and Christianity. But the greatest contradiction to Spencer's theory is found in that which he himself conscientiously noted in connection with the peaceful mode of life of such "savage" tribes as, for example, the primitive inhabitants of Sumatra, or the Tharus of the Himalayas, the league of the Iroquois, described by Morgan, etc. (§ 128.)12 These facts, as well as the numerous instances that I pointed out in my "Mutual Aid" in connection with the savages and mankind during the so-called "barbarian," i.e., during the "tribal" period, and the multitude of facts that are contained in the existing works on anthropology,-all these are fully established. They show that while, during the founding of new states or in states already existing, the ethics of plunder, violence, and slavery was in high esteem among the ruling classes, there existed among the popular masses from the time of the most primitive savages, another ethics: the ethics of equity, and, consequently, of mutual benevolence. This ethics was already advocated and exemplified in the most primitive animal epos, as was pointed out in the second chapter of this book.
In the second part of his "Principles of Ethics, in the division, "The Inductions of Ethics," Spencer came to the conclusion that moral phenomena are extremely complex and that it is difficult to make any generalization concerning them. And, indeed, his conclusions are vague, and there is but one thing he definitely attempts to prove,-namely, that the transition from the militant system to the peaceful, industrial life leads to the development of a series of peaceful social virtues, as had been already pointed out by Comte. From this follows, wrote Spencer, "that the [innate] moral-sense doctrine in its original form is not true, but it adumbrates a truth, and a much higher truth,--namely, that the sentiments and ideas current in each society become adjusted to the kinds of activity predominating in it." (§ 191.)
The reader has probably noticed the unexpectedness of this almost platitudinous conclusion. It would be more nearly correct to summarize the data given by Spencer, and a mass of similar data obtained by the study of primitive peoples, in the following form: The basis of all morality lies in the feeling of sociality, inherent in the entire animal world, and in the conceptions of equity, which constitutes one of the fundamental Primary judgments of human reason. Unfortunately, the rapacious instincts that still survive in men from the time of the primitive stages of their development interfere with the recognition of the feeling of sociality and the consciousness of equity as the fundamental principle of the moral judgments. These instincts were not only preserved but even became strongly developed at various periods of history, in proportion as new methods of acquiring wealth were being created; in proportion as agriculture developed instead of hunting, followed by commerce, industry, banking, railroads, navigation, and finally military inventions, as the inevitable consequence of industrial inventions,-in short, all that which enabled certain societies, that forged ahead of others, to enrich themselves at the expense of their backward neighbors. We have witnessed the latest act of this process in the fearful war of 1914.
The second volume of Spencer's ethics is devoted to the two fundamental conceptions of morality to justice, and to that which goes beyond mere justice and which he called "Beneficence-negative and positive," i. e., what we would call magnanimity, though this term, like the other, is not quite satisfactory. Even in animal societies wrote Spencer in the chapters which he inserted in his "Ethics" in 1890-We can distinguish good and bad acts, and we call good, i. e., altruistic, those acts that benefit not so much the individual as the given society and which aid the preservation of other individuals, or of the species in general. From these evolves that which may be called "subhuman justice," which gradually attains an always higher degree of development. Egoistic impulses become restrained in society, the stronger begin to defend the weak, individual peculiarities attain greater importance, and, in general, types essential for social life are produced. Thus, various forms of sociality are developed among the animals. There are, of course, some exceptions, but these gradually die out.
Furthermore, in the two chapters on justice, Spencer shows that this feeling at first grew out of personal, egoistic motives (fear of the vengeance of the wronged or of his comrades, or of the dead tribes-men) and that, together with the intellectual development of men, there arose gradually the feeling of mutual sympathy. Then the rational conception of justice began to be evolved, although its development was, of course, impeded by wars,-at first among tribes, then among nations. With the Ancient Greeks, as may be seen in the writings of their thinkers, the conception of justice was very definite. The same applies to the Middle Ages, when murder or maiming was atoned for by compensation to the wronged, in unequal amounts depending on the class to which they belonged. And only at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century do we read in Bentham and Mill:-"everybody to count for one, nobody for more than one." This conception of equity is now adhered to by the socialists. Spencer, however, does not approve this new principle of equality, which, I will add, has been recognized only since the time of the first French Revolution;-he sees in it a possible extinction of the species. (§ 268.) Therefore, while not rejecting this principle, he seeks a compromise, as he had repeatedly done in various divisions of his synthetic philosophy.
In theory he completely recognizes the equality of rights, but, reasoning along the same lines as when he wrote about the association and the transcendental theories of intellect, he seeks in life a reconciliation between the desirable equity and the inequitable demands of men. From generation to generation, wrote Spencer, there took place the adaptation of our feelings to the requirements of our life, and as a result, a reconciliation of the intuitional and the utilitarian theories of morality was effected.
In general, Spencer's interpretation of justice is as follows: "Every man is free to do that which he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man. Liberty of each is limited only by the like liberties of all." (§ 272.)
"If we bear in mind," wrote Spencer, "that though not the immediate end, the greatest sum of happiness is the remote end, we see clearly that the sphere within which each may pursue happiness has a limit, on the other side of which lie the similarly limited spheres of actions of his neighbors." (§ 273.)This correction, says Spencer, is gradually introduced in the course of the mutual relations among human tribes and within each tribe; and in proportion as it becomes habitual in life there develops the desired conception of justice.
Some primitive tribes, in a very low stage of development, have, nevertheless, a far clearer perception of justice than the more developed peoples, who still preserve the habits of the earlier militant system in their life as well as in their thinking. It is unquestionable that,-if the Evolution-hypothesis is to be recognized, -this naturally formed conception of justice, acting upon the human mind for an enormously long period of time, produced directly or indirectly a definite organization of our nervous system and originated thereby a definite mode of thinking, so that the conclusions of our reason derived from the experiences of countless numbers of men are just as valid as the conclusions of an individual derived from his personal experiences. Even if they are not correct in the literal sense of the word, they may, nevertheless, serve to establish the truth. 13
With this Spencer terminates the discussion of the bases of ethics and passes to their application in the life of societies, from the view- point of absolute as well as of relative ethics, of that which evolves in actual life (chapters IX to XXII). After this he devotes seven chapters to the discussion of the State, its essence and its functions. Like his predecessor, Godwin, he subjects to severe criticism the modern theories of the State, and the subordination of all of social life to it.
Spencer was perfectly right in introducing into ethics the discussion of the form into which social life had shaped itself; before his time this subject was given very little consideration. Men's conceptions of morality are completely dependent upon the form that their social life assumed at a given time in a given locality. Whether it be based on the complete subjection to the central power--ecclesiastical or secular--on absolutism or on representative government, on centralization or on the covenants of the free cities and village communes; whether economic life be based on the rule of capital or on the principle of the co-operative commonwealth-all this is reflected in the moral conceptions of men and in the moral teachings of the given epoch.
In order to be convinced of the truth of this statement it is sufficient to scrutinize the ethical conceptions of our time. With the formation of large states and with the rapid development of manufacturing, industry, and banking, and through them of the new ways of acquiring wealth, there also developed the struggle for domination and the enrichment of some through the toil of others. For the serving of these ends, bloody wars have been continually waged for the last one hundred and thirty years. Hence the questions of State power, of the strengthening of diminishing of this power, of centralization and decentralization, of the right of the people to their land, of the power of capital, etc.,-all these problems became burning questions. And in their solution in one or the other direction depends inevitably the solution of the moral problems. The ethics of every society reflects the established forms of its social life. Spencer, therefore, was right in introducing into ethics his inquiry into the State.
First of all be established the premise that the forms of the State,i.e., the modes of political life, are changeable, like everything else in nature. And indeed, we know from history how the forms of human societies have varied: -the tribal system, the federations of communities, centralized states. Then, following Auguste Comte, Spencer pointed out that history displays two types of social organization: the warlike or militant form of the state, which, according to Spencer, predominated in primitive societies; and a peaceful, industrial form, the transition to which is now being gradually effected by the civilized part of humanity.
Having recognized the equal freedom of every member of society, men had also to acknowledge political equality of rights, i. e., the right of men to select their own government. But it happened, remarks Spencer, that even this is not sufficient, for such a system does not obliterate the antagonistic interests of different classes. Spencer comes to the conclusion that modern humanity, despite the advantages of what is known as political equality of rights, will fail to secure real equity in the near future. (§ 352.)
I shall not discus, here Spencer's ideas as to the rights of citizens in the State; he conceived them as they were understood by the average middle-class person in the 'forties of the last century; therefore, he was strongly opposed to the recognition of the political rights of women. We must consider, however, Spencer's general idea of the State. The State was created by war, he asserts. "Where there neither is, nor has been, any war there is no government." (§ 356.) All governments and all ruling power originated in war. Of course, an important role in the formation of the State power was played not only by the need of a chief in case of war, but also by the need of a judge for adjudication of interclass disputes. Spencer recognized this need, and yet he saw the principal cause for the rise and development of the State in the necessity of having a leader in time of war.14 It takes a long war to convert the government's ruling power into a military dictatorship.
It is true that Spencer's ideas are reactionary in many respects; even from the viewpoint of the authoritarians of our time. But in one respect he went even further than many radical authoritarians, including the communistic group of state apologists, when he protested against the unlimited right of the State to dispose of the person and liberty of the citizens. In his "Principles of Ethics" Spencer devoted to this subject a few pages marked by profound ideas about the rôle and the importance of the State; here Spencer is a continuator of Godwin, the first advocate of the anti-State teaching, now known under tire name of anarchism.
"While the nations of Europe," wrote Spencer, "are partitioning among themselves parts of the Earth inhabited by inferior peoples, with cynical indifference to the claims of these peoples, it is foolish to expect that in each of these nations the government can have so tender a regard for the claims of individuals as to be deterred by them from this or that apparently politic measure. So long as the power to make conquests abroad is supposed to give rights to the lands taken, there must of course persist at home the doctrine that an Act of Parliament can do anything that the aggregate will may rightly impose itself on individual wills without any limit." (§ 364.)
However, such an attitude toward human personality is nothing but a survival of former times. The present aim of civilized societies is to enable everyone "to fulfill the requirements of his own nature without interfering with the fulfillment of such requirements by others." (§365.) And in analyzing this situation Spencer came to the conclusion that the function of the State should be limited exclusively to maintaining justice. Any activity beyond that will constitute a transgression of justice.
But, concludes Spencer, it is not to be expected for a long time to come that party politicians, who promise the people all kinds of benefits in the name of their party, will pay attention to those who demand the limitation of government interference in the life of individuals. Nevertheless, Spencer devotes three chapters to the discussion of "The Limits of State-Duties "I and in the conclusion to these chapters he attempted to show how preposterous are the efforts of legislators to eradicate the variations in human nature by means of laws. With this end in view the criminal absurdities, like those perpetrated in former times for the purpose of converting all men to one faith, are being repeated to the present day, and the Christian peoples, with their countless churches and clergy, are just as vengeful and warlike as the savages. Meanwhile, life itself, irrespective of governments, leads toward the development of the better type of man.
Unfortunately, Spencer failed to point out in his Ethics what it is in modern society that chiefly supports the greed for enrichment at the expense of backward tribes and peoples. He passed over lightly the fundamental facts that modern civilized societies afford a broad opportunity, without quitting the homeland, to reap the benefits of the toil of propertyless men, compelled to sell their labor and themselves in order to maintain their children and household. On account of this possibility, which constitutes the very essence of modern society, human labor is so poorly organized and so uneconomically utilized that its productiveness, both in agriculture and in industry, remains to this day much smaller than it can and should be.
Labor, and even the life of the workers and peasants, are valued so low in our days that the workers had to conduct a long and weary struggle merely to obtain from their rulers factory inspection and the protection of the workers against injuries by machinery and against the poisoning of adults and children by noxious gases.
While coming forth as a fairly brave opponent of the political power of the State, Spencer, though he had the sufficient authority of a number of predecessors in the field of economics, remained, nevertheless, timid in this field, and like his friends of the liberal camp, he merely protested against the monopoly of land. Through fear of revolution he did not dare come out openly and bravely against the industrial exploitation of labor.
Spencer devotes the last two parts of his "Principles of Ethics" to "The Ethics of Social Life," subdividing it into two parts: "Negative Beneficence" and "Positive Beneficence."
At the very beginning of his work (§ 54), Spencer noted that justice alone will not suffice for the life of society, that justice must be supplemented by acts-for the good of others or of the whole of society for which man does not expect reward.
To this category of acts he gave the name of "beneficence," "generosity," and he pointed out the interesting fact that, in the course of the changes that are now taking place in social life, many cease to recognize "the line of demarcation between things which are to be claimed as rights and things which are to be accepted as benefactions." (§ 389.)
Spencer was particularly afraid of this "confusion" and he willingly wrote against the modern demands of the toiling masses. These demands, in his opinion, lead "to degeneracy," and, which is even more harmful, "to communism and anarchism." Equality in compensation for labor, he wrote, leads to communism, and then comes "the doctrine of Ravachol" advocating that "each man should seize what he likes and 'suppress,' as Ravachol said, everyone who stands in his way. There comes anarchism and a return to the unrestrained struggle for life, as among brutes." (§ 391.)
It is necessary to strive to mitigate the severity of the law of extermination of the least adapted, which, according to Spencer, exists in nature, but this "mitigation" should be left to private charity, and not to the State.
At this point Spencer ceases to be a thinker and reverts to the point of view of the most ordinary person. He completely forgets the inability of the great mass of men to procure the necessities of life,-an inability developed in our societies through the usurpation of power and through class legislation; although in another passage he himself very sagely speaks against the usurpation of land in England by its present owners. But he is worried by the thought that in modern Europe too much is demanded in the way of legislation for the benefit of the toiling masses. And in attempting to separate that which is rightfully due to the masses from that which may be given them only out of beneficence, he forgets that the causes of pauperism and of low productivity among the masses lie precisely in the rapacious system, established through conquests and legislation, so that we must at present destroy the evils accumulated by the State and its laws.
Spencer's teaching has undoubtedly suffered also from the mistaken interpretation of the "struggle for existence." He saw in it only the extermination of the non-adapted, whereas its principal feature should be seen in the survival of those who adapt themselves to the changing conditions of life. As I have already pointed out elsewhere,15 the difference between these two interpretations is enormous In one case the observer sees the struggle between the individuals of the same group-or, more accurately, he does not see, but mentally pictures to himself such a struggle. In the other case he sees the struggle with the hostile forces of nature or with other species of animals, and this struggle is conducted by animal groups in common, through mutual aid. And anyone who will attentively observe the actual life of animals (as was done, for example, by Brehm, whom Darwin rightly called a great naturalist) will see what a vast part is played by sociality in the struggle for existence. He will be compelled to acknowledge that among the countless species of animals, the species or those groups survive that are more sensitive to the demands of the changeable conditions of life, those that are physiologically more sensitive and more prone to variation, and those that show the greater development of the herd instinct and of sociality, which first of all leads, as was justly pointed out by Darwin,16 to the better development of the mental faculties.
Spencer, unfortunately, did not note this circumstance, and although in the two articles which he printed in the magazine, "Nineteenth Century," in 1890, he at last partially corrected this error by demonstrating sociality among animals, and its importance,"17 (these two articles are included in the second volume of his "Principles of Ethics"), nevertheless, the entire structure of his ethical theory, which was; elaborated at an earlier time, suffered from the faulty premise.
1 In accordance with such an
interpretation of philosophy, prior to beginning his Principles of
Etbics, Spencer published under the general title of Syntbetic
Philosophy the following series of works: First Principles, The
Principles of Biology, The Principles of Psycbology, The Principles
2 [See note 4, page 35.]--Trans. Note.
3 see the first edition of the
Inquiry concerning Political Justice. In the second edition (in
octavo) the communistic passages were omitted, probably on account
of the court prosecutions instituted against Godwin's friends.
[London, 1796; first ed., Lend., 1793.]--Trans. Note.
4 See, The Proper Sphere of
Government, London, 1842.
5 In this exposition I follow very
closely what Spencer himself wrote in the preface to the 1893
edition, in connection with the combined weight of his Social
Statics and his Principles of Ethics. It will be seen that his
"evolutionist ethics," which he expounded in the Social Statics,
shaped itself in his mind before the appearance of Darwin's Origin
of Species. But the influence of Auguste Comte's ideas upon Spencer
6 In short, says Spencer, "that
perfect adjustment of acts to ends in maintaining individual life
and rearing new individuals, which is effected by each without
hindering others from effecting like perfect adjustments, is, in its
very definition, shown to constitute a kind of conduct that can be
approached only as war decreases and dies out." (§6.)
7 There is a long-felt need for a
brief popular exposition of Spencer's ethics, with a good
introduction which would point out its defects.
8 [See note 4, page 35.]--Trans. Note.
9 In objecting to hedonism, i.e.,
to a teaching which explains the development of the moral
conceptions by rational striving after happiness, personal or
social, Sidgwick pointed out the impossibility of measuring the
pleasant and the unpleasant effect of a given act according to the
scheme devised by Mill. In answering Sidgwick, Spencer came to the
conclusion that the utilitarianism which considers in each
particular case what conduct will lead to the greatest sum of
pleasurable sensations, i.e., the individually empirical
utilitarianism, serves only as an introduction to rational
utilitarianism. That which served as the means for attaining
welfare, gradually becomes the aim of mankind. Certain ways of
reacting to the problems of life become habitual, and man no longer
has to ask himself in each particular case: "What will give me
greater pleasure, to rush to the aid of a man who is in danger, or
to refrain from so doing? To answer rudeness with rudeness, or not?"
A certain way of acting becomes habitual.
10 Spencer refers here also to the
seventeenth Psalm of David, first and second verses:
"Hear the right, 0 Lord. . . . Let thine eyes behold the things that are equal." [The Russian text, as quoted by Kropotkin from the Synod version, differs from the English given here.]-Trans. Note.
11 These are the titles of the
chapters: The Relativity of Pains and Pleasures. Egoism versus
Altruism. Altruism versus Egoism. Trial and Compromise.
12 [L. H. Morgan, League of the . . . Iroquois, Rochester, 1851.1-Trans. Note.
13 If this paragraph (§ 278) were not so
long it would be well worth citing in full. The next two paragraphs
are also important for the understanding of Spencer's ethics in
connection with the question of justice. He wrote on the same
subject in the ninth chapter, "Criticisms and Explanations," while
answering Sidgwick's objections to Hedonism, i.e., to the theory of
morality based on the pursuit of happiness. He agreed with Sidgwick
that the measurements of pleasures and pains made by the
utilitarians need confirmation or checking by some other means, and
he called attention to the following:-as man develops the means for
gratifying his desires, the latter become increasingly complex.
Very often man pursues not even the aim itself (certain pleasures,
for example, or wealth), but the means leading to it. Thus a
reasonable, rational utilitarianism is being gradually developed
from the spontaneous striving for pleasure. And this rational
utilitarianism urges us toward a life which is in accordance with
certain fundamental principles of morality. It is incorrect to
assert, as Bentham did, that justice, as the aim of life, is
incomprehensible to us, whereas happiness is quite comprehensible.
The primitive peoples have no word expressing the conception of
happiness, whereas they have a quite definite conception of justice,
which was defined by Aristotle as follows: "The unjust man is also
one who takes more than his stiare." To this I will add that the
rule here stated is in reality very strictly observed by savages in
the most primitive stage known to us. In general, Spenrer was right
in asserting that justice is more corn. prehensible than happiness
as the rule of conduct.
14 In general, Spencer, like many others, applied the word "State" in-discriminately to various forms of sociality, whereas it should be reserved for those societies with the hierarchic system and centralization, which evolved in Ancient Greece from the time of the empire of Philip II., and Alexander the Great, in Rome, toward the end of the Republic and the period of the Empire,-and in Europe from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
On the other hand, the federations of tribes and the free medieval cities, with their leagues, which originated in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and survived up to the formation of the States proper with their centralized power, should rather be called "free cities," "leagues of cities," "federations of tribes," etc. And indeed, to apply the term "State" to Gaul of the time of the Merovingians, or to the Mongolian federations of the time of Jenghis-Khan, or to the medieval free cities and their free leagues, leads to an utterly false idea of the life of those times. (See my Mutual Aid, chaptersv, vi, and vii.)
15 See Mutual Aid among animals and men, as a factor of Evolution.
16 In his Descent of Man. where he materially revised his former views on the struggle for existence, expressed in The Origin of Species.
17 [Both articles have a common title, On Justice, and are divided into five sections, as follows: March number: 1) Animal Ethics; 2) Sub-Human justice; April number: 3) Human justice; 4) The Sentiment of Justice, 5) The Idea of justice.]-Trans. Note.
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