« PrécédentContinuer »
In answering this question, we can do little else than revert to the primary ends already described, and to the axiomatic and selfevident character of those ends, in order to indicate the difference between what is right and what is not right in action. On the fact of man's existence is grounded the rightness and the duty of preserving that existence, and of employing all the means of selfpreservation. The impulses of human nature are not all in favour of this end; some of them, indeed, are in direct hostility to it. But the actions that favour preservation are right actions; those that run counter to preservation are wrong, supposing for a moment that is the only end. If strong impulses of appetite and passion, or an intense aversion to some necessary labour, be on one side, and a comparatively feeble impulse to maintain the future interests of the being against the present stimulus, be on the other side, we have a case of might against right, of the thunder of power against the still small voice of duty. If selfpreservation be a primary necessity of human nature, if it be admitted as a moral axiom, it becomes a fundamental test or canon for judging of the rightness of actions. To whatever extent we recognise individual self-preservation as right and obligatory, to that extent we recognise the rightness and obligation of industry, temperance, and all the other actions included under the care of the individual being. If we admit the existence of any limit to the axiom of preservation-suppose in the case of extreme and incurable misery-we admit also a limit to the duties and occupations bearing upon this primary end.
In order further to establish the difference between right and might, we must lay down as a second ethical axiom, that the order of human society is to be preserved; meaning that state of things wherein each man has secured to him all that is his own. Considering that human society is indispensable, in the first place, to individual preservation, and in the second place, to the gratification of a very large amount of human susceptibility, we claim for this axiom the rank of a first principle of human obligation. When this is granted, an obligatory character is given to all the actions coming under the principle. If the existence of society is admitted as an axiom, the rightness of social obedience is also established; and any one conceding the first principle, and yet refusing to act up to it, is a wrong-doer. All impulses of human nature chiming in with this principle are, so far, right impulses; all conduct at variance with the principle is, to the same extent, wrong conduct.
We do not here stop to inquire what are the limits of social obedience, or what is the point where passive resistance is allowable. The existence of any such limits does not affect the primary
axiom; for even when the right of passive existence is claimed, it is not because society ought no longer to be maintained, but because it is deemed expedient to substitute for the existing arrangements some others of a more perfect or less exceptionable kind.
To illustrate further the nature of right, we would remark, that obligation implies punishment. Where a penalty cannot be inflicted, there is no effective obligation; and in cases wherealthough rules have been violated-punishment is not considered proper, obligation is virtually denied. We find, for example, that there is no disposition to punish men for not being benevolent, and therefore we must presume that benevolence is not held to be a universal and indispensable duty. Actions that people are charged to perform, but not punished for neglecting, may be looked upon as having the form of obligation without the reality.
Punishment properly means, the infliction of positive pain or evil, in amount proportioned to the degree and the continuance of the offence. Society being determined that a certain action shall not take place, bars the way to its performance by positive pain and dread.
On the other hand, rewards prove the absence of obligation. Strictly speaking, we reward people not for doing their duty, but for doing what is not their duty. This marks out what we have called the secondary class of duties; duties which, for want of the sanction of punishment, are destitute of the obligatory character.
By this test we can now make a distinction between the personal and the social duties, and can thereby discriminate the kind of obligation attaching to the two classes. Social security means the protection of one man from another; self-preservation means the protection of a man from himself. This last, as a general rule, is each person's own business; the cases where society interferes to compel it are exceptions. Not being a subject either of punishment or of reward, it is in a totally different predicament from the end comprised by the general security.
The end of self-preservation is necessarily sacred to the individual. When defined so as to include the greatest amount of attainable happiness, it is the object of unceasing pursuit, the goal of existence. Without this end, life is a nullity, an absurdity. Nevertheless, it is not a matter where people are at full liberty to interfere with one another, or where society ought to control individuality. It is not a case for being supported by sanctions; and, therefore, although comprehended under morality, it fails to be a moral end in the same sense as the social end.
The bare refusal of esteem is not punishment; but this is our chief resource against any one grossly neglecting his own preservation. Children, and persons accounted unable to take care of themselves, are put under constraint, and punished for neglecting their own welfare, but this treatment is inapplicable to grown men and women of sound mind.
If, then, we are to run closely up to the strict region of moral obligation, the region of compulsory duty as between man and man, we must confine ourselves, in the first instance, to security, or the social end. After making this final distinction, we may now present the following as a summary of the views that we aim at establishing on the whole subject of Obligation :
I. (1.) That social security must be maintained as the highest necessity of men's existence in common fellowship; and whatever militates against it must be considered wrong. On this foundation we establish right, duty, or obligation, as attaching to obedience; to law, fulfilment of compacts, justice, and truth; and we employ the sanction of punishment in favour of those classes of actions.
(2.) That men desire not the lowest security compatible with civil order, but a high and increasing security; and for this end, they put an especial stress on the comprehensive virtue of integrity.
(3.) That when something more than social security is maintained as an end carrying rightness and compulsion along with it, that something must be a clear case of the promotion of the general happiness without any material sacrifice of individual happiness. A mere increase of the sum of enjoyment is not to be put on the same footing as the common safety.
II. (1.) That self-preservation is the end of our existence as individuals; to which we are urged by all the motives that life contains motives as strong to us as any that society can command, yet derived not from society, but from ourselves. Our faithfulness in the pursuit of this end has a high degree of our selfapprobation: our remissness leads to a species of remorse. may call it a case of duty and obligation, but it is different in kind from the obligation to respect the security and happiness of others. This last alone comes up to the strict definition of obligatory duty.
(2.) That there are cases where individuals are compelled to look to their own preservation, but this implies the want in them of the ordinary faculties of a mature human being.
(3.) That society at large, either through the civil government or through public opinion, has in some cases thought fit to make breaches of self-preservation criminal, by which society assumes a paternal charge of its individual members, or else
considers that a bad example is a social injury to be met by punishment. Under what circumstances one or other of these positions is admissible, has never yet been determined by any general principle. They are both of the nature of extraordinary assumptions of power and restraints upon liberty, and ought to be justified by some reference to the fundamental test of security.
The case of a person maiming or mutilating himself to escape a common obligation, such as military service, is obviously an offence against society.
III. That actions of pure benevolence do not come within the scope of obligatory duty, but are in a manner left open to the choice of the individual.
IV. That the same holds true of nobleness and the graces of character. The motives to these are rewards, not punishments.
Before quitting the subject, it will be expedient for us to allude more expressly than we have hitherto done to the theory of Utility, or the greatest happiness principle, considered as the ultimate canon or sole standard of appeal in moral questions. This principle, the one adopted by Paley, has been carried to much greater lengths by Jeremy Bentham, in whose hands it has been instrumental in clearing away a vast amount of incoherent cobwebs from the subjects of morals and legislation.
Many of the objections put forth from time to time against the doctrine of Utility, have been, as it seems to us, satisfactorily refuted. Indeed, it is hardly possible to maintain any opposite doctrine, or to say that the greatest possible amount of happiness ought not to be attained, or that any conduct calculated to produce this maximum is other than right.
Exceptions may be taken to the ordinary wording of the doctrine—such as, that an undue extension is given to the terms happiness and pleasure, which terms, in their common acceptation, do not include everything that is an object of desire-that the gratifications resulting from activity are not implied with sufficient prominence that the elevation of the human character seems not at all considered as an aim-that the greatest happiness of the greatest number might permit the undue sacrifice of minorities, &c.; but all these objections can be disposed of by a more careful expression of the principle, and by a proper method of expounding it.
The difficulties that we are now to remark upon as surrounding the principle, are somewhat different from any that its supporters have been in the habit of grappling with, so far as we yet have seen. They are the following:
1. The doctrine of the production of the greatest happiness as
the end and standard of duty, as usually put, errs on the side of overexaction or excessive requirement. It is an expression of supreme benevolence rather than of imperative duty. There does not seem to exist anywhere among human authorities, any right to impose upon each fellow-man the obligation of attending to the greatest possible happiness of all other men. We should not call a man immoral because he refused to comply with this extreme demand upon his disinterested benevolence. It would, no doubt, be a great and a noble thing, if every man could be got to act upon this principle; but in so acting there would be the merit of doing something more than bare duty. It is true that Christianity urges upon men deeds of positive benevolence as a part of its requirements, but we are at present speaking of morality as reposing upon strictly human foundations, such as universal humanity is expected to recognise whatever religious beliefs may be superadded; and under this limitation, we are not aware of any title for imposing the height of philanthropic benevolence as the minimum standard of moral duty. It may be said, that an axiom might be proposed for men's acceptance, implying the obligation of this heroic elevation of virtue, and that it might possibly be carried as readily as the axioms above propounded. But this we may be allowed to doubt. Society has practically and theoretically consented to the obligations of preservation and security; but there is no fact that proves a general consent to the necessity of each one's aiming at the greatest happiness of the race in order to pass without reproach among one's fellows. However much, therefore, we may approve of the doctrine as a guide to philanthropy, or a measure of benevolence, we consider that it exceeds what can be required as duty. It is not a maxim of universal morality.
2. The excess in the happiness principle as a statement of the end of action, has to be considered in another light. The sum total of human happiness is made up of the aggregate happiness of individual men. Now the happiness of each individual consists of two parts the one depending upon himself, and the other depending upon his fellows. But whatever portion depends upon the individual's own self, is of course not affected by the conduct of others; still less are any other persons responsible for it. The free action of individuals for themselves, and the happiness or misery resulting therefrom, is each person's own affair, and no other person can interfere to increase the sum of the one or diminish the sum of the other. Hence the region of human happiness resulting from individual action alone, perhaps the largest portion, ought not to be included in the happiness to be brought about by the actions of others. The utmost that any moralist can say to himself is this: