Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

constitutes the complete form of ethical sentiment.

As a complete explanation of the moral sentiments and judgments of men, this theory does not seem to be above criticism. It requires not only an association between every personal action and the feelings — sympathetically imagined by the agent—with which the action will be regarded by others, but it also implies that this association has become so inseparable that the feeling appears as an individual or personal one, distinguished by the subject from other sentiments which he has on consciously imagining himself in the position of others. But it is referred to here as illustrating what we find in Mill, and, in a different way, in Professor Bain, that the first real step towards the utilitarian standard is to make the individual pass somehow or other to a standpoint outside his own nature. In Mill this is done mainly by the assertion of the social nature of man, in Grote by showing how a moral sentiment may be arrived at by the combined action of sympathy and association. The further influence required in the transition (6) The idea

w of Equality to utilitarianism is the idea of equality. The best expression of utilitarian doctrine followed soon after the assertion of the equal rights of men which signalised the politics of the end of last century in the French and American revolutions. Bentham was permeated by the spirit of this movement,

however far he might be from accepting its abstractions about natural rights. In his hands, too, utilitarianism was a political rather than an ethical doctrine. “Everybody to count for one and nobody for more than one” follows naturally from the

phrase, “the greatest happiness of the greatest necessary to number.” Without this assertion of the necessity regulate ympathy; of an equal distribution, there is no safeguard

against sympathy being restricted and partial in its operation. Indeed the feeling of sympathy in itself is naturally strongest towards those with whom one is in most frequent relation, or connected by numerous associative ties; and if left to itself, it might therefore be expected to give rise to the extended selfishness of class or family interest, only relieved by a spasmodic humanitarianism. This tendency is corrected by the dogma of human equality, which had been formulated as a juridical maxim in the Roman Jus Gentium, but afterwards passed into a political creed, and found vent in the literature of the eighteenth century and in the public events which marked its close.

The change which this notion of human equality passed through has been traced by Sir Henry Maine. “Where the Roman jurisconsult had written ·æquales sunt,' meaning exactly what he said, the modern civilian wrote 'all men are equal' in the sense of all men ought to be equal.' The peculiar Roman idea that natural law co

the idea on

existed with civil law and gradually absorbed it,
had evidently been lost sight of, or had become
unintelligible, and the words that had at most
conveyed a theory concerning the origin, composi-
tion, and development of human institutions, were
beginning to express the sense of a great standing
wrong suffered by mankind.”1 Now Bentham, influence of
however far he may have been from trusting to Bentham.
the system of natural law,"? was certainly not
beyond the influence of the idea of human equality
which it carried in its train ; and, from his own
point of view, he laboured to defend it. In assimi-
lating this idea, utilitarianism has preserved one
of the best results of the old “law of nature,”
without the ambiguity with which it had formerly
been used, if in a sense which admits of a some-
what narrow and abstract interpretation.

1 Ancient Law, 8th ed., p. 93.
2 Principles of Morals and Legislation, chap. ii. § 14 n.

3 The ambiguity of the phrase is explained in an interesting way in Sir H. Maine's account of the change from its juridical to a political or ethical meaning. In some writers it seems to have a third and still different signification. We must thus distinguish (1) the juridical meaning, originating in the Roman “ law common to all nations," which had arisen through the “constant levelling or removal of irregularities which went on wherever the prætorian system was applied to the cases of foreign litigants,” modified subsequently by the Greek conception of lobans. (2) The political meaning, that all men ought to be equal, arose from the preceding. But its notion of “ought" seems often to depend on an idea of the constitution of nature according to which all men are actually born equal—not only in rights, soon to be obscured by human convention, but also in power or faculty,

It is true that this does not give exactly the result which is usually described as utilitarianism. I have spoken of the notion of equality as the regulator of sympathy—a canon in accordance with which the sympathetic impulse is to be guided. Sympathy impels us to relieve the pains and increase the pleasures of our fellow-men. The principle of equality dictates that this sympathetic activity is to be directed to the happiness of all men equally. Every one whom our conduct may be made to affect is to count as a unit, and a unit only. The distribution is not to be according to kinship of blood or social ties, though it is so much

afterwards unequally developed by education. Hence (3) the natural meaning. The doctrines of evolution and heredity have made this view seem as strange to us now as it would have done to the Romans from whom it was illegitimately derived. Yet at one time it seems to have been assumed, almost without question, that there is but little difference in the natural endowments of different men. This assumption lay at the basis of Hobbes's political theory-Leviathan, I. xiii. p. 60,—was stated in a more guarded form by Locke-On Education, § 1; Works, ed. of 1824, i. 6,—and adopted almost without qualification by Helvétius, who, carrying out Locke's metaphor of the soul as, at birth, a “tabula rasa,” afterwards written over with the pen of experience, says: “Quintilien, Locke, et moi, disons : L'inégalité des esprits est l'effet d'une cause connue, et cette cause est la différence de l'éducation”—the causes of the existing inequality being afterwards stated as twofold : first, the difference of environment, which may be called chance; and secondly, the difference of strength in the desire for instruction.-De l'homme, II. i., III. i., IV. xxii. ; (Euvres, ii. 71, 91, 280. (Quintilian's statement, however, is even more guarded than Locke's. Cf. Opera, ed. Spalding, i. 47.)

sides of

more in our power to promote the happiness of those closely connected with us, that it may fairly occupy a larger share of our thought and energy than the happiness of other people does. Utilitarianism carries the application of the principle of equality still farther, by looking upon self as a unit whose happiness is to be regarded as of exactly equal value with that of any one else. With every individual reduced to the same ethical worth, happiness is declared to be the end of moral action, and equality of distribution the rule for deciding between the claims of competing individuals.

It seems to me, therefore, that utilitarianism is 6. The two a theory compounded out of two quite different ele- utilitar ments. On the one side the basis of the theory has ,

uw logically been laid by Bentham and Mill in a naturalistic connected. psychology which looks upon pleasure as the only object of desire. To this there is superadded the idea of equality, which is the distinctively ethical element in the theory. But it is only by confusion that the idea of equality—which Bentham expresses by the proposition that the happiness of one man is to count for no more than the happiness of another—can be supposed to be derived from the same theory of human nature as that which identifies pleasure and desire. Utilitarianism only becomes a practicable end for individual conduct when psychological hedonism has been given up. It is futile to say that one ought to pursue the

theory not

« AnteriorContinuar »