Liberty, Equality, Fraternity
Chapter VI. Fraternity
I now come to examine the last of the three doctrines of the Democratic creed--Fraternity. That upon some terms and to some extent it is desirable that men should wish well to and should help each other is common ground to everyone. At the same time I cannot but think that many persons must share the feeling of disgust with which I for one have often read and listened to expressions of general philanthropy. Such love is frequently an insulting intrusion. Lord Macaulay congratulated England on having been hated by Barere. To hate England was, he observed, the one small service which Barere could do to the country. I know hardly anything in literature so nauseous as Rousseau's expressions of love for mankind when read in the light of his confessions. "Keep your love to yourself, and do not daub me or mine with it," is the criticism which his books always suggest to me. So far from joining in Mr. Swinburne's odd address to France, "Therefore thy sins which are many are forgiven thee because thou hast loved much," it appears to me that the French way of loving the human race is the one of their many sins which it is most difficult to forgive. It is not love that one wants from the great mass of mankind, but respect and justice. It would be pedantic to attempt anything like a definition of love, but it may be said to include two elements at least--first, pleasure in the kind of friendly intercourse, whatever it may be, which is appropriate to the position of the persons who love each other; and next, a mutual wish for each other's happiness. If two people are so constituted that such intercourse between them as is possible is not agreeable to either party, or if their views of what constitutes happiness are conflicting, I do not see how they can love each other. Take, on the one side, a Roman Catholic priest passionately eager for the conversion of heretics, and deeply convinced that the greatest happiness of a heretic is that of being converted to the Roman Catholic religion. Take, on the other hand, a person who has long since made up his mind against the Roman Catholic religion and wishes for no further discussion upon the subject. The priest's love to the heretic if he happened to love him would be a positive nuisance to the heretic. The priest's society would be no pleasure to the heretic, and that which the priest would regard as the heretic's happiness, the heretic would regard as misery.
Love between the sexes is an evil if it is not mutual. No honourable man or woman would desire to be loved by a woman or man unless they intended to return that love. Of course no one doubts that the greater part of the happiness of mankind arises from the various forms of friendly feeling which they entertain towards each other, and the various services which in consequence of it they do each other; but it is one thing to feel this, and quite another to believe that a general love for all the human race is destined to become a universal religion which will supply the place of all the old ones.
This worship and service of humanity in the abstract are taught in many shapes. The one which I propose to examine is to be found in Mr. Mill's essay on Utilitarianism. It shares the merit which is characteristic of all his writings of being the gravest, the clearest, and the most measured statement with which I, at all events, am acquainted of the dogmatic form of the popular sentiment. The following are the passages in which Mr. Mill states his theory. They occur in the second, the third, and the fifth chapters of his essay on Utilitarianism:--The utilitarian standard ... is not the agent's own happiness, but the greatest amount of happiness altogether; and if it may possibly be doubted whether a noble character is always the happier for its nobleness, there can be no doubt that it makes other people happier, and that the world in general is immensely a gainer by it. ... As between his own happiness and that of others, utilitarianism requires him (the agent) to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator. In the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth we read the complete spirit of the ethics of utility. To do as one would be done by, and to love one's neighbour as oneself, constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality. ... The greatest-happiness principle ... is a mere form of words without rational signification unless one person's happiness supposed equal in degree (with the proper allowance for kind) is counted for exactly as much as another's. Those conditions being supplied, Bentham's dictum, "Everybody to count for one, nobody for more than one," might be written under the principle of utility as an explanatory commentary. The equal claim of everybody to happiness in the estimation of the moralist and the legislator involves an equal claim to all the means of happiness, except in so far as the inevitable conditions of human life and the general interest in which that of every individual is included set limits to the maxim; and those limits ought to be strictly construed.
Such is Mr. Mill's answer to the question, What is the object of morals? What do you mean by right and wrong? Let us see how he answers the question, Why should we do right? In the chapter which he devotes to this subject he points out with truth that the external sanctions of morals apply as well to the utilitarian as to any other system, and that the same may be said of the conscientious sanction, but he finds the final sanction in an allied though somewhat different order of ideas, which he describes as "a natural basis of sentiment for utilitarian morality."This it is which, when once the general happiness is recognized as the ethical standard, will constitute the strength of the utilitarian morality. This firm foundation is that of the social feelings of mankind--the desire to be in unity with our fellow creatures, which is already a powerful principle in human nature, and. happily, one of those which tend to become stronger without express inculcation from the influences of advancing civilization. The social state is at once so natural, so necessary, and so habitual to man, that, except in some unusual circumstances, or by an effort of voluntary abstraction, he never conceives himself otherwise than as a member of a social body and this association is riveted more and more as mankind are further removed from the state of savage independence. Any condition, therefore, which is essential to a state of society becomes more and more an inseparable part of every person's conception of the state of things which he is born into, and which is the destiny of a human being. Now, society between human beings, except in the relation of master ana slave, is manifestly impossible on any other footing than the interests of all are to be consulted. Society between equals can only exist on the understanding that the interests of all are to be regarded equally. And since, in all states of civilization every person except an absolute monarch has equals, every one is obliged to live on these terms with somebody and, in every age, some advance is made towards a state in which it will be impossible to live permanently on other terms with anybody. In this way people grow up unable to conceive as possible to them a total disregard of other people's interests. They are under a necessity of conceiving themselves as at least abstaining from all the grosser injuries, and (if only for their own protection) living in a state of constant protest against them. ... Not only does all strengthening of social ties and all healthy growth of society give to each individual a stronger personal interest in practically consulting the welfare of others. It also leads him to identify his feelings more and more with their good, or at least with an ever greater degree of practical consideration for it. He comes as though instinctively to be conscious of himself as a being who of course pays a regard to others. The good of others becomes to him a thing naturally and necessarily to be attended to like any of the physical conditions of our existence.
Everyone is interested in promoting this feeling in others even if he has it not himself. "This mode of conceiving ourselves and human life as civilization goes on is felt to be more and more natural." Ultimately it may assume the character of a religion. "If we now suppose this feeling of unity to be taught as a religion, and the whole force of education, of institutions, and of opinion directed, as it once was in the case of religion, to make every person grow up from infancy surrounded on all sides both by the profession and by the practice of it, I think that no one who can realize this conception will feel any misgiving about the sufficiency of the ultimate sanction for the happiness morality." Referring to Comte's Systeme de Politique Positive, Mr. Mill adds:--I entertain the strong~st objections to the system of politics and morals set forth in that treatise; but I think it has superabundantly shown the possibility of giving to the service of humanity, even without the aid of belief in Providence, both the physical power and the social efficacy of a religion; making it take. hold of human life and colour all thought, feeling, and action In a manner of which the greatest ascendency ever exercised by any religion may be but a type and foretaste; and of which the danger is not that it should be insufficient, but that it should be so excessive as to interfere unduly with human freedom and individuality. Neither is it necessary to the feeling which constitutes the binding force of the utilitarian morality on those who recognize it to wait for the social influences which would make its obligation felt by mankind at large. In the comparatively early stage of human advancement in which we now live a person cannot, indeed, feel that entireness of sympathy with all others which would make any real discordance in the general direction of their conduct in life impossible; but already a person in whom the social feeling is at all developed cannot bring himself to think of the rest of his fellow-creatures as struggling rivals with him for the means of happiness, whom he must desire to see defeated in their object in order that he may succeed in his. The deeply rooted conception which every individual even now has of himself as a social being tends to make him feel it one of his natural wants that there should be harmony between his feelings and aims and those of his fellow-creatures. If differences of opinion and of mental culture make it impossible for him to share many of their actual feelings, perhaps make him denounce and defy those feelings, he still needs to be conscious that his real aim and theirs do not conflict; that he is not opposing himself to what they really wish for, namely, their own good, but is, on the contrary, promoting it. This feeling in most individuals is much inferior in strength to their selfish feelings, and is often wanting altogether. But to those who have it, it possesses all the characters of a natural feeling. It does not present itself to their minds as a superstition of education, or a law despotically imposed by the power of society, but as an attribute which it would not be well for them to be without. This conviction is the ultimate sanction of the greatest happiness morality. This it is which makes any mind of well-developed feelings work with and not against the outward motives to care for others, afforded by what I have called the external sanctions; and when those sanctions are wanting or act in an opposite direction constitutes in itself a powerful internal binding force in proportion to the sensitiveness and thoughtfulness of the character. Since few but those whose mind is a moral blank could bear to layout their course of life on the plan of paying no regard to others except so far as their own private interest compels.
I have quoted these passages at a length which would have been tedious but for their great intrinsic merits. To one who for many years has studied Mr. Mill's writings, and who has observed his public career, it must be obvious that they express his deepest and most abiding convictions. Those who have done me the honour of following my speculations thus far will not, I hope, accuse me of egotism for observing that they also mark the point at which I differ from Mr. Mill most deeply. The difference, indeed, is one which lies altogether beyond the reach of argument, and which no doubt colours the whole of my opposition to his later teaching. He thinks otherwise than I of men and of human life in general. He appears to believe that if men are all freed from restraints and put, as far as possible, on an equal footing, they will naturally treat each other as brothers, and work together harmoniously for their common good. I believe that many men are bad, a vast majority of men indifferent, and many good, and that the great mass of indifferent people sway this way or that according to circumstances, one of the most important of which circumstances is the predominance for the time being of the bad or good. I further believe that between all classes of men there are and always will be real occasions of enmity and strife, and that even good men may be and often are compelled to treat each other as enemies either by the existence of conflicting interests which bring them into collision, or by their different ways of copceiving goodness.
Mr. Mill's theory of life, which seems to be acquiring a sort of secondary orthodoxy, appears to me, when reduced to its simplest elements, to be something of this sort. On the one hand, we have the external world, which in its relation to men may be regarded as a mass of the materials of happiness. On the other, an enormous number of human creatures substantially equal, substantially alike, substantially animated by the same desires and impulses. Divide the materials of happiness equally between them, and let them do as they like. They will live at peace, and collectively increase each other's happiness to an indefinite or indefinitely increasing extent; inasmuch as each human creature possesses faculties which, if fully developed to their utmost extent, as they will be upon this supposition, will be an equal blessing to his neighbours and to himself. Men are, or rather men if let alone will after a time be found to be, disposed to work together for their common good. Let them alone. The great instrument for bringing about this result is a social sentiment already powerful in some minds, and which will hereafter become a dominant religion. I shall conclude this work by an attempt to give the outline of. what I myself think upon this subject, but before doing so I will say why this view appears to me untenable.
In the first place I do not agree with Mr. Mill's statement of the standard of utilitarianism as being "not the agent's own happiness, but the greatest amount of happiness altogether," or with Bentham's doctrine, "everybody to count for one, nobody for more than one," even when Mr. Mill's qualifications are added to it. In a certain sense I am myself a utilitarian.  That is to say, I think that from the nature of the case some external standard must always be supplied by which moral rules may be tested; and happiness is the most significant and least misleading word that can be employed for that purpose. It is, too, the only object to which it is possible to appeal in order to obtain support. A moral system which avowedly had no relation to happiness in any sense of the word would be a mere exercise of ingenuity for which no one would care. I know not on what other footing than that of expediency, general in a wider or narrower sense, it would be possible to discuss the value of a moral rule or the provisions of a law. It is also perfectly true that it is impossible either in legislation or in ethical speculation, which has much in common with legislation, to recognize individual distinctions. "Thou shalt do no murder" must of necessity mean, No one shall do any act which the law defines to be murder, and everyone, without exception, who does any such act shall be punished. In the same way, "It is wrong to lie" means that certain kinds of untruths defined as lying by the person who utters the maxim are morally wrong, whoever makes use of them. Every law and every moral rule must thus, of necessity, be a general proposition, and as such must affect indiscriminately rather than equally the interests of as many persons as are subject to its influence. To say, however, that moral speculation or legislation presupposes on the part of the moralist or 1egislator a desire to promote equally the happiness of every person affected by his system or his law is, I think, incorrect. Laws and moral systems are conditions of life imposed upon men either by political power or by the force of argument. The legislator says to his subjects, You shall--the moralist says to his hearers or readers, I advise you to--live thus or thus; but each addresses himself to a body of men whom he regards as a whole, upon whom he is to impose, or to whom he is to suggest, the way of life which he wishes them to adopt, not the way which he supposes them to wish to adopt. The character of a code of laws or of morals is determined by the ideal of human life which it assumes, and this is the ideal of its author, not the ideal of those to whose conduct it applies.
In a word, the happiness which the lawgiver regards as the test of his laws is that which he, after attaching to their wishes whatever weight he thinks proper, wishes his subjects to have, not that which his subjects wish to have; and this is still more true of the moralist. The legislator is always obliged to pay the utmost attention to the wishes of his subjects, though in particular cases he may be able to oppose, counteract, and sometimes even to change them. As the moralist has to rely entirely on persuasion, he is under no such restriction. If he has sufficient confidence in his own views, or if he is indifferent about their adoption by others, he can erect his system upon a conception of happiness as different from the common one of his own time and country as he pleases, and such moral systems are often by no means the least influential. As individual weakness is one of the conditions which make law possible, so conscious ignorance is one great source of the authority of moral systems. Men feel conscious of their own weakness and ignorance, and, at the same time, they feel that to live without any sort of principle or rule of conduct, to be guided as we suppose animals to be, merely by the impulse of the moment, is morally impossible, and this feeling predisposes them to accept what is prescribed to them by persons who claim authority. If everyone knew his own mind with perfect distinctness, there would be little or no room for moral teaching.
For these reasons I should amend Mr. Mill's doctrine thus:-- The utilitarian standard is not the greatest amount of happiness altogether (as might be the case if happiness was as distinct an idea as bodily health), but the widest possible extension of the ideal of life formed by the person who sets up the standard. I am not quite sure whether or to what extent Mr. Mill would dissent from this view. He insists on the difference between kinds of happiness in several passages, in one of which he remarks: "Of two pleasures, if there be one to which all or almost all who have experience of both give a decided preference irrespective of any feeling of moral obligation to prefer it, that is the more desirable pleasure." This looks as if his opinion was that the legislator and the moralist respectively are to decide what constitutes the happiness which they are to promote. If so, we are agreed, but in that case I think Mr. Mill's way of expressing himself unfortunate. A legislator may regard a meat diet as an element of the happiness which he seeks to promote, but sheep, oxen, and pigs can hardly look on the butcher as a friend. The legislator may think it right that criminals should be punished for their crimes. The criminal classes would probably think otherwise. The legislator may include energy of character in his ideal of happiness, and may seek to develope it by establishing freedom of contract and compelling men to keep their contracts. The weak, the languid, and in some instances the enthusiastic and the affectionate may feel that they would prefer a system of law leaving less to individual taste and interfering to a greater extent with the relations of life. In all these and in numberless other cases there is a conflict between man and man, both as to the nature of happiness and as to the terms on which it is to be enjoyed. To base a universal moral system on the assumption that there is anyone definite thing, or anyone definite set of things, which can be denoted by the word happiness is to build on the sand.
It is quite true that in every time and country all existing communities have views upon the subject sufficiently distinct for ordinary practical purposes, and this circumstance gives to such speculations as Bentham's the immense practical importance which belongs to them. Assume England, France, the United States, and other nations to be established living communities in each of which a certain view as to the nature and general objects of human existence has come to prevail, and Bentham's rules are of the utmost value. Go a step farther and convert those rules into a theory which is to explain and account for the power of these societies and the nature and comparative values of their views of human life, and the rules not only break down, but become contradictory; for they begin by telling us that every one's happiness is to count for one, and then proceed to lay down rules based on a conception of general happiness which makes and must make all those who do not accept it unhappy. To try to get out of this by telling those who disagree with you that their notion of happiness is wrong and yours right is a mere evasion. It is the shoemaker telling the wearer of the shoe that it does not pinch. It may be quite right that it should pinch, but on the question whether it pinches or not, the feelings of the wearer are the only possible test. A friend of mine was once remonstrating with an Afghan chief on the vicious habits which he shared with many of his countrymen, and was pointing out to him their enormity according to European notions. "My friend," said the Afghan, "why will you talk about what youdo not understand? Give our way of life a fair trial, and then you will know something about it." To say to a man who is grossly sensual, false all through, coldly cruel and ungrateful, and absolutely incapable of caring for anyone but himself, We, for reasons which satisfy us, will in various ways discourage and stigmatize your way of life, and in some cases punish you for living according to your nature, is to speak in an intelligible, straightforward way. To say to him, We act thus because we love you, and with a view to your own happiness, appears to me to be a double untruth. In the first place, I for one do not love such people, but hate them. In the second place, if I wanted to make them happy, which I do not, I should do so by pampering their vices, which I will not.
It is perhaps a minor point that the application of Mr. Mill's test about the different kinds of happiness is impossible. Where are we to find people who are qualified by experience to say which is the happier, a man like Lord Eldon or a man like Shelley; a man like Dr. Arnold or a man like the late Marquis of Hertford; a very stupid prosperous farmer who dies of old age after a life of perfect health, or an accomplished delicate woman of passionate sensibility and brilliant genius, who dies worn out before her youth is passed, after an alternation of rapturous happiness with agonies of distress. Who can call up Mdme. de la Valliere and ask her whether she was happier as the mistress of Louis XIV. or as a penitent in her convent? and how are we to discover what difference a conviction of the truth of atheism would have made in her views on the subject? To ask these questions is to show that they can never be answered. They are like asking the distance from one o'clock to London Bridge. The legislator and the moralist no doubt may and m~st form their own opinions on the subject of the life. which is suitable for that section of mankind with which they are concerned, and must do what they can to compel or persuade them to adopt it; but they ought to know what they are about. Their object is to get people to accept their view of happiness, not to make people happy in their own way. Love is far from being the only motive which leads them to undertake this task. Their motives are innumerable and are like the motives which prompt men to other undertakings--love of power, love of the exercise of power, the gratification of curiosity, zeal for the doctrines in which they believe, and a thousand other things. No doubt interest in the human race and its welfare, or in the welfare of certain parts of it on certain terms, has its place among the rest, but it does not stand alone.
This last remark introduces the second great qualification to Mr. Mill's view which occurs to my mind. It applies to his doctrine that, according to the utilitarian system of morals, each person's happiness ought to count for exactly as much as another's, a "proper allowance" being made for kind. What allowance would be proper or how it could be calculated I do not stop to enquire, but the principle asserted appears to me to be purely gratuitous; and, indeed, Mr. Mill makes, so far as I know, no attempt to prove it, and yet the objections to it are strong and obvious. I repeat that laws and moral rules must from the nature of the case be indiscriminate, and must in that sense treat those who are subject to them as equals, but in no other sense than this is it the case that every one's happiness either is or ought to be regarded either by moralists or legislators or by any one else asc of equal importance. As I have already shown, both the legislator and the moralist desire to promote, not the happiness of men simply, but their own conception of happiness, upon certain conditions. They wish, for instance, men who will be truthful and energetic to have those satisfactions which truthfulness and energy procure so long as they continue to be truthful and energetic.
Apart, howeyer, from this, both legislators and moralists, as well as all other human creatures, care for their own happiness and the happiness of their friends and connections very much more than for the happiness of others. Mr. Mill asserts as if it was an obvious first truth that "as between his own happiness and that of others justice requires" (every one) "to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator." If this be so, I can only say that nearly the whole life of nearly every human creature is one continued course of injustice, for nearly every one passes his life in providing the means of happiness for himself and those who are closely connected with him, leaving others all but entirely out of account. Nay, men are so constituted that personal and social motives cannot be distinguished and do not exist apart. When and in so far as we seek to please others, it is because it pleases us to give them pleasure. A man who takes pleasure in pleasing others is benevolent; a man who takes no pleasure in pleasing others is unkind or devoid of benevolence. A man who takes pleasure in hurting others is malignant; but whenever it is necessary to determine a person's character in regard to benevolence, it is necessary to determine the manner in which the pleasures or the sufferings of others affect him. So completely is every man his own centre that the nature of his relations to those, who stand closest to him have to be expressed in terms of his own personal pleasure or pain. "She was the very joy of his heart," "He did not care a straw for her," would be natural ways of describing a most affectionate and a most indifferent husband's feelings towards their respective wives.
That this is in fact the case, that self-love is the fountain from which the wider forms of human affection flow and on which philanthropy itself is ultimately based, is, I think, admitted by the whole turn of the passage on the ultimate sanction of utilitarian morality which I quoted above. The point at which Mr. Mill and I should part company is his belief that this natural feeling for oneself and one's friends, gradually changing its character, is sublimated into a general love for the human race; and in that shape is capable of forming a new religion, of which we need only fear that it may be too strong for human liberty and individuality.
Probably the best way of showing how and why I differ from his view will be by, stating my own view positively, and noticing incidentally the view to which I am opposed.
In general terms I think that morality depends upon religion--that is to say, upon the opinions which men entertain as to matters of fact, and particularly, as to God and a future state of existence--and that it is incapable of being in itself a religion binding on mankind at large. I think that if we entirely dismiss from our minds not only the belief that there are, but a doubt whether there may not be, a God and a future state, the morality of people in general, and in particular the view which people in general will take of their relation to others, will have to be changed. I admit that in the case of a few peculiarly constituted persons it may be otherwise, but I think that minds so constituted as to be capable of converting morality pure and simple into a religion by no means deserve unqualified admiration. I think that the disposition and power to do so is in many instances a case not of strength but of weakness, and that it almost always involves a considerable amount of self-deception.
Up to a certain point, I agree that the question whether the fundamental doctrines of religion are true is indifferent to morality. If we assume that this life is all, and that there is no God about whom we need think or care, the moral system, which I may call common, as opposed to Mr. Mill's transcendental, utilitarianism will stand on its own foundations. To give a specific illustration, Hume's doctrine "that personal merit consists entirely in the usefulness or agreeableness of qualities to the person himself possessed of them, or to others who have any intercourse with him," and that "every man who has any regard to his own happiness and welfare will best find his account in the practice of every moral duty," is quite independent of religion in my sense of the word. That up to a certain point "true self-love and social are the same" does not admit of serious dispute. So far, therefore, I am on common ground with Mr. Mill and with others who are even more enthusiastic in what he calls the service of humanity. The point at which the common utilitarian doctrine, as I understand it, stops is that which is marked by the word "self-sacrifice" and this is a word with which so many false associations are connected that I must shortly examine it before I proceed.
It is to me, and I should think from the general tone of his speculations it would be to Mr. Mill, impossible to use the word "self-sacrifice" as it sometimes is used, as if it were the name of some mysterious virtue. By self-sacrifice I understand simply an instance in which, though the contrary is usually the case, the motives which have reference to others immediately and to self only mediately happen to be stronger than the motives which have immediate relation to self and only a mediate relation to others. The pleasure of pleasing others by common acts of courtesy is in most cases stronger than the trifling pain of self-denial which it implies. I should not therefore say that it was an act of self-sacrifice to be polite. On the other hand, the pleasure of providing for destitute and disagreeable relations who are dependent on you is usually,a weaker motive than the pain of foregoing a marriage into which a man wishes to enter. Therefore if a man abstained from such a marriage for such a purpose I should call his act one of self-sacrifice. This, however, seems to me to mark the limit of self-sacrifice. I do not believe that anyone ever did or ever will, as long as men are men, intentionally perform an act of absolute self-sacrifice--that is to say, hurt himself without any reason whatever for doing so.
That any human creature ever, under any conceivable circumstances, acted otherwise than in obedience to that which for the time being was his strongest wish, is to me an assertion as incredible and as unmeaning as the assertion that on a particular occasion two straight lines enclosed a space. If a mother were cruelly to murder a child whom she idolised and whom she had a thousand special reasons for cherishing with peculiar tenderness and no motive whatever for injuring, if she firmly believed all the while that in doing so she was acting most wickedly and in a manner which would assuredly be punished by her own eternal damnation, and which would ensure the eternal damnation of the child as well, and lastly if she had absolutely no reason whatever for so acting, she would perform an act of absolute self-sacrifice. I say that the occurrence of such an act is an impossibility. If circumstances occurred to which the description appeared to apply, the inference would be either that the murderess had had some unknown motive of immense power, such as vengeance, sudden anger, jealousy, or the like, or that the act was an act of madness, which, properly speaking, is not an act at all, but a mere event. If this is admitted, the general proposition that absolute self-sacrifice is impossible is proved, and it follows that when we speak of self-sacrifice we mean only that the person who is said to have sacrificed himself was affected to an unusual degree by some common wish or motive, or was affected by some unusual wish or motive.
To return, then, to the assertion that common utilitarianism stops short at self-sacrifice. The meaning of it will be that that system affords no reason why, if the system were generally adopted, the common proportion between wishes and motives which immediately regard oneself; and wishes and motives which immediately regard others, should be disturbed either in particular cases or in the race at large. Common utilitarianism is simply a description in general terms of the ordinary current morality which prevails amongst men of the world. It is a morality which I do not in the least degree disparage. I cordially approve it, and think it good as far as it goes. The question is whether it ought to go farther than it does. To this I say Yes, if there is a God and a future state; no, if there is no God and no future state. The positive half of this assertion and its limitations I shall develope hereafter. For the present I confine myself to the negative half, and upon this I am at issue with Mr. Mill and many other persons, who think that, irrespectively of what I understand by religion, the common current utilitarianism may, and probably will, be rendered very much stricter than it is at present, and that the existing balance between social and personal wishes and motives may and probably will be considerably altered so as to increase the relative power of the former.
In examining the subject, it will be necessary in the first place to take a short general view of the extent to which common utilitarianism would go. It seems to me that it fully accounts for and justifies all the common instances of benevolence with which we are familiar in everyday life; for, like every other moral system, it must, if rationally worked, take account of the two great factors of human conduct, habit and passion. I do not think that in the common relations of life it makes much difference whether one moral system or another is adopted. The feelings towards each other of husbands and wives, parents and children, relations, friends, neighbours, members of the same profession, business connections, members of the same nation, and so forth, grow up by themselves. Moral systems have to account for and more or less to regulate them, but human life forms the starting point of all systems worth having. Now universal experience shows that some of the wishes and motives which regard others more obviously than self are in almost all men stronger than some of the wishes and motives which regard self more obviously than others, and that if we were to take an average indicating the comparative power of the two classes of wishes and motives in ordinary men, a very large number of individual exceptions would always have to be made. In every army, for instance, there is all average amount of courage on which you may reckon with confidence in nearly every soldier. But there are also in every army a certain number of soldiers with whom the wishes and motives which go to make up the habit of courage rise to what we should call the pitch of heroism, and there are also a certain number in which they sink to the pitch of cowardice. Whether you choose to say. that a soldier who mounts a breach at the imminent risk of his life does or does not perform an act of self-sacrifice is a question of taste and of propriety in the use of language. If that expression is used, it will be consistent to say that common utilitarianism will provide for I an average amount of self-sacrifice. If that expression is not used, we may say that common utilitarianism stops short of self-sacrifice; but whichever phrase be employed, the same general meaning is conveyed. It is that though the ordinary motives of human society as we know it carry social benevolence--or fraternity, if the word is preferred--up to a point, they also stop at a point.
The point cannot be specifically fixed, and it varies considerably according to the dispositions of particular persons, but it may be negatively described thus. Common utilitarianism does not in ordinary cases give people any reason for loving their neighbours as themselves, or for loving large numbers of people at all, especially those whose interests are in any way opposed to their own. Common utilitarianism, in a word, comes to this: "Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy." Love your neighbour in proportion to the degree in which he approaches yourself and appeals to your passions and sympathies. In hating your enemy, bear in mind the fact that under immediate excitement you are very likely to hate him more than you would wish to do upon a deliberate consideration of all his relations to yourself and your friends, and of your permanent and remote as compared with your immediate interest. How religion affects this I shall consider hereafter. At present I limit myself to the point that, however this may be, Mr. Mill's theory supplies no ground for thinking that common utilitarianism will in fact be screwed up into transcendental utilitarianism, except in a few particular cases, which deserve no special admiration or sympathy.
Mr. Mill's theory is, shortly, that the progress of civilization will lead people to feel a general love for mankind so strong that it will in process of time assume the character of a religion, and have an influence greater than that of all existing religions. Mr. Mill admits that the feeling is at present an exceptional one. He says, "this feeling in most individuals is much inferior in strength to their selfish feelings, and is often wanting altogether." He adds, "to those who have it, it possesses all the characters of a natural feeling," which implies that he knows what he feels like. I admit that there is a real feeling which more or less answers the description given by Mr. Mill, but I think that those who feel it deceive themselves as to its nature, as to its importance, and as to the probability of its increase.
First, as to its nature and importance. Mr. Mill appears to assume that an earnest desire for the good of other men is likely to produce their good. How far this is consistent with his doctrine about liberty I will not stop to enquire. He has misgivings on the point, as he says that the danger is lest the influence arising out of it should "interfere unduly with human freedom and individuality." Be this as it may, it is surely clear that you cannot promote a man's happiness unless you know, to begin with, wherein it consists. But apart from some few commonplace matters, upon which men substantially agree, and which society no doubt settles as it goes on, men's notions of happiness differ widely. As to all that part of our happiness which depends upon the general organization of society, upon the sentiments with which we are to regard each other, upon political institutions of different kinds and the like, there are many and conflicting theories. Self in respect to all things, but above all in respect to these things, is each man's centre from which he can no more displace himself than he can leap off his own shadow. Milton's line about Presbyter and Priest thus applies precisely to Humanity and Self. Humanity is only I writ large, and love for Humanity generally means zeal for MY notions as to what men should be and how they should live. It frequently means distaste for the present. He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen is peculiarly apt to suppose that he loves his distant cousin whom he hath not seen and never will see. Mr. Mill, for instance, never loses an opportunity of speaking with contempt of our present "wretched social arrangements," the low state of society, and the general pettiness of his contemporaries, but he looks forward to an age in which an all-embracing love of Humanity will regenerate the human race.
On one who does not think thus the anticipations of those who do produce a singular effect. They look like so many. ideal versions of what the world would be if it adopted universally the theorist's views of human life. Love for Humanity, devotion to the All or Universum, and the like are thus little, if anything, more than a fanatical attachment to some favourite theory about the means by which an indefinite number of unknown persons (whose existence it pleases the theorist's fancy to assume) may be brought into a state which the theorist calls happiness. A man to whom this ideal becomes so far a reality as to colour his thoughts, his feelings, his estimate of the present and his action towards it, is usually, as repeated experience has shown perfectly ready to sacrifice that which living people do actually regard as constituting their happiness to his own notions of what will constitute the happiness of other generations. It is, no doubt, true that in a certain sense he does thus rise, or, at any rate, get out of himself. Sympathy for others, interest in the affairs of others, impatience of what he regards as the wrongs of others do become far stronger motives to him than they are to most men, and do affect his conduct more powerfully, but this in itself is no merit. It certainly gives no man a right to any other man's confidence. Nothing, as I have already pointed out, is a greater nuisance, or In many cases a greater injury, than the love of a person by whom you do not want to be loved. Every man's greatest. happiness is that which makes him individually most happy, and of that he and he only can Judge. If A places his greatest happiness in promoting that which he regards as B's greatest happiness, B never having asked him to do so, and A having no other interest in the matter than general feelings of sympathy, it is a hundred to one that B will tell A to mind his own business. If A represents a small class of men of quick feelings and lively talents, and B a much larger class of ignorant people, who, if they were let alone, would never have thought of the topics which their advisers din into their ears, the probability is that the few will by degrees work up the many into a state of violence, excitement, discontent, and clamorous desire for they know not what--which is neither a pleasant state in itself nor one fruitful of much real good to anyone whatever.
The man who works from himself outwards, whose conduct is governed by ordinary motives, and who acts with a view to his own advantage and the advantage of those who are connected with himself in definite, assignable ways, produces in the ordinary course of things much more happiness to others (if that is the great object of life) than a moral Don Quixote who is always liable to sacrifice himself and his neighbours. When you have to deal with a man who expects pay and allowances, and is willing to give a fair day's work for it as long as the arrangement suits him, you know where you are. Deal with such a man fairly and in particular cases, if he is a man of spirit and courage, he will deal with you not only fairly but generously. Earn his gratitude by kindness and justice, and he will in many cases give you what no money could buy or pay for. On the other hand, a man who has a disinterested love for the human race--that is to say, who has got a fixed idea about some way of providing for the management of the concerns of mankind--is an unaccountable person with whom it is difficult to deal upon any well known and recognized principles, and who is capable of making his love for men in general the ground of all sorts of violence against men in particular.
Besides this, the great mass of mankind are and always will be to a greater, or less extent the avowed enemies of considerable sections of theIr fellow-creatures; at all events, for certain purposes and up to a certain point. Those who love the human race as a whole must take sides in these enmities, probably against both parties, and this will increase the original trouble. This introduces one vitally important question, at which I can only glance, but which believers in the service of humanity and in the religion of fraternity ought to solve before they can find standing-room for their religion. The question is this: Are the interests of all mankind identical? are we all brothers? are we even fiftieth cousins? and, in any event, have we not a considerable number of family quarrels which require to be settled before the fact of our relationship (if any) can be regarded in any other light than as a bone of contention?
These questions do not trouble a man who starts from himself and his definite relations to other people. Such a person can be content to let sleeping dogs lie. He can say, "I wish for my own good; I wish for the good of my family and friends; I am interested in my nation; I will do acts of good nature to miscellaneous people who come in my way; but if in the course of my life I come across any man or body of men who treats me or mine or the people I care about as an enemy, I shall treat him as an enemy with the most absolute indifference to the question whether we can or cannot trace out a relationship either through Adam or through some primeval ape. Show me a definite person doing a definite thing and I will tell you whether he is my friend or my enemy; but as to calling all human creatures indiscriminately my brothers and sisters, I will do no such thing. I have far too much respect for real relations to give these endearing names to all sorts of people of whom I know and for whom, practically speaking, I care nothing at all. The believer in the religion of fraternity cannot speak thus. He is bound to love all mankind. If he wants me to do so too, he must show me a reason why. Not only does he show me none, as a rule, but he generally denies either the truth or the relevancy of that which, if true, is a reason--the doctrine that God made all men and ordered them to love each other. Whether this is true is one question; how it is proposed to get people to love each other without such a belief I do not understand. It would want the clearest of all imaginable revelations to make me to try to love a considerable number of people whom it is unnecessary to mention, or affect to care about masses of men with whom I have nothing to do.
These are the grounds on which it appears to me that there is a great deal of self-deception as to the nature of fraternity, and that the mere feeling of eager indefinite sympathy with mankind in those cases in which it happens to exist is not deserving of the admiration which is so often claimed for it.
I will say in concluding this topic a very few words on the opinion that the progress of civilization, the growth of wealth and of physical science, and the general diffusion of comfort will tend to excite or deepen such sympathy. I think it more probable that it will have exactly the opposite effect. The whole tendency of modern civilization is to enable each man to stand alone and take care of his own interests, and the growth of liberty and equality will, as I have already shown, intensify these feelings. They will minimize all restraints and reduce everyone to a dead level, offering no attractions to the imagination or to the affections. In this state of society you will have plenty of public meetings, Exeter Halls, and philanthropic associations, but there will be no occasion for patriotism or public spirit. France in 1870, with its ambulances and its representatives of the Geneva Convention, did not show to advantage in comparison with Holland three centuries before. There are many commonplaces about the connection between the decay of patriotism and the growth of luxury. No doubt they have their weak side, but to me they appear far more like the truth than the commonplaces which are now so common about the connection between civilization and the love of mankind. Civilization no doubt makes people hate the very thought of pain or discomfort either in their own persons or in the case of others. It also disposes them to talk and to potter about each other's affairs in the way of mutual sympathy and compliment, and now and then to get into states of fierce excitement about them; but all this is not love nor anything like it. The real truth is that the human race is so big, so various, so little known, that no one can really love it. You can at most fancy that you love some imaginary representation of bits of it which when examined are only your own fancies personified. A progress which leads people to attach increased importance to phantoms is not a glorious thing, in my eyes at all events. It is a progress towards a huge Social Science Association embracing in itself all the Exeter Halls that ever were born or thought of.
The general result of all this is, that fraternity, mere love for the human race, is not fitted in itself to be a religion. That is to say, it is not fitted to take command of the human faculties, to give them their direction, and to assign to one faculty a rank in comparison with others which but for such interference it would not have.
I might have arrived at this result by a shorter road, for I might have pointed out that the most elementary notions of religion imply that no one human faculty or passion can ever in itself be a religion. It can but be one among many competitors. If human beings are left to themselves, their faculties, their wishes, and their passions will find a level of some sort or other. They will produce some common course of life and some social arrangement. Alter the relative strength of particular passions, and you will alter the social result, but religion means a great deal more than this. It means the establishment and general recognition of some theory about human life in general, about the relation of men to each other and to the world, by which their conduct may be determined. Every religion must contain an element of fact, real or supposed, as well as an element of feeling, and the element of fact is the one which in the long run will determine the nature and importance of the element of feeling. The following are specimens of religions, stated as generally as possible, but still with sufficient exactness to show my meaning.
I. The statements made in the Apostles' Creed are true. Believe them, and govern yourselves accordingly.
2. There is one God, and Mahomet is the prophet of God. Do as Mahomet tells you.
3. All existence is an evil, from which, if you knew your own mind, you would wish to be delivered. Such and such a course of life will deliver you most speedily from the misery of existence.
4. An infinitely powerful supreme God arranged all of you whom I address in castes, each with its own rule of life. You will be fearfully punished in all sorts of ways if you do not live according to your caste rules. Also all nature is full of invisible powers more or 1ess connected with natural objects, which must be worshipped and propitiated.
All these are religions in the proper sense of the word. Each of the four theories expressed in these few words is complete in itself. It states propositions which are either true or false, but which, if true, furnish a complete practical guide for life. No such statement of what Mr. Mill calls the ultimate sanction of the morals of utility is possible. You cannot get more than this out of it: "Love all mankind." "Influences are at work which at some remote time will make men love each other." These are respectively a piece pf advice and a prophecy, but they are not religions. If a man does not take the advice or believe in the prophecy, they pass by him idly. They have no power at all in invitos, and the great mass of men have always been inviti, or at the very least indifferent, with respect to all religions whatever. In order to make such maxims as these into religions, they must be coupled with some statement of fact about mankind and human life, which those who accept them as religions must be prepared to affirm to be true.
What statement of the sort is it possible to make? "The human race is an enormous agglomeration of bubbles which are continually bursting and ceasing to be. No one made it or knows anything worth knowlhg about it. Love it dearly, oh ye bubbles." This is a sort of religion, no doubt, but it seems to me a very silly one. "Eat and drink, for to-morrow ye die;" "Be not righteous overmuch, why shouldest thou destroy thyself?"
Huc vina et unguenta et nimiurn brevisThese are also religions, and, if true, they are, I think, infinitely more rational than the bubble theory. As a fact they always have been, and in all probability they always will be, believed and acted upon by a very large proportion of the human race. I have never seen any serious answer whatever to them, except the answer that the theory which they presuppose is false In fact, that the two great fundamental doctrines of the existence of God, and a future state are either true or at all events reasonably probable. To see these doctrines denied can surprise no rational man. Everyone must be aware of the difficulties connected with them. What does surprise me is to see able men put them aside with a smile as being unimportant, as mere metaphysical puzzles of an insoluble kind which we may cease to think about without producing any particular effect upon morality. I have referred so often to Mr. Mill that I must do him the justice to say that I do not here refer to him. Though he does find the ultimate sanction of morals in considet:ations which are independent of religion, he nowhere, so far as I am aware, underrates the importance Qf religious belief. To do so is the characteristic of minds of a different order from his.
Flores amoenos ferre jube rosae,
Dum res et aetas et Sororum
Fila trium patiuntur atra.
Omnes eodem cogimur.
It is not very easy to insist upon the connection between morals and religion without running the risk of falling into very obvious commonplace; but the extent to which the habit prevails of maintaining that morals are independent of religion makes it necessary to point out that it is impossible to solve anyone of the great questions which the word "fraternity" suggests without distinct reference to the fundamental questions of religion.
First, fraternity implies love for some one--a desire to promote some one's happiness. But what is happiness? In particular, is anything which can properly be called virtue essential to it?--if so, what is virtue--the way of life which becomes a man? Every answer which can be given to these questions depends upon the further question, What are men? Is this life all, or is it only a stage in something wider and larger? The great disproportion which exists between the stronger and more abiding human feelings and the objects to which they relate has often been used as an argument in favour of immortality. Whether it is entitled to weight in that capacity I need not enquire, but the fact on which the inference is based is, I think, certain. We do care far more about all sorts of things and people than is at all rational if this life is all; and I think that if we dismiss from our minds every thought of life after death, if we determine to regard the grave as the end of all things, it will be not merely natural and proper to contract our sympathies and interests, and to revise the popular estimate of the comparative value of many things--health, for instance, and honesty--but not to do so will be simply impossible.
Our present conception of a virtuous man is founded entirely on the opinion that virtue is higher in kind than other objects which come into competition with it. Every phrase which we use upon such subjects, and, above all, the word "I," implies permanence and continuity in indivjduals. Conscience and self-respect imply that I am the same person as I was twenty years ago and as I shall be twenty years hence, if I am then in existence at all. The immense importance which men attach to their character, to their honour, to the consciousness of having led an honourable, upright life, is based upon the belief that questions of right and wrong, good and evil, go down to the very man himself and concern him in all that is most intimately, most essentially himself; whereas other things, however distressing--bodily disease, for instance, or poverty--are, in a sense, external to him. The most memorable and striking passage ever written by Mr. Mill refers to this matter. It is as follows:--The theory, therefore, which resolves Mind into a series of feelings, with a background of possibilities of feeling, can effectually withstand the most invidious of the arguments directed against it. But, groundless as are the extrinsic objections, the theory has intrinsic difficulties which we have not yet set forth, and which it seems to me beyond the power of metaphysical analysis to remove. The thread of consciousness which compbses the mind's phenomenal life consists not only of present sensations, but likewise in part [rather all but entirely] of memories and expectations. Now what are these? ... Nor can the phenomena involved in these two states of consciousness be adequately expressed without saying that the belief they include is that I myself formerly had, or that I myself and no other shall hereafter have, the sensations remembered or expected. The fact believed is that the sensations did actually form, or will hereafter form, part of the self-same series of states or thread of consciousness of which the remembrance or expectations of those sensations is the part now present. If, therefore, we speak of the Mind as a series of feelil1gs, we are obliged to complete the statement by calling it a series of feelings which is aware of itself as past and future, and we are reduced to the alternative of believing that the Mind or Ego is something different from any series of feeling or possibilities of them, or of accepting the paradox [I should have said of making the unmeaning and. even contradictory assertion] that something which ex htypothesi is but a series of feelings can be aware of itself as a series. The truth is, that we are here face to face with that final inexplicability at which, as Sir W. Hamilton observes, we inevitably arrive when we reach ultimate facts, and in general one mode of stating it only appears more incomprehensible than another because the whole of human language is accommodated to the one and is so incongruous with the other that it cannot be expressed in any terms which do not deny its truth. The real stumbling-block is, perhaps, not in any theory of the fact, but,in the fact itself. The true incomprehensibility, perhaps, is that something which has ceased, or is not yet in existence, can still be, in a manner present; that a series of feelings, the infinitely greater part of which is past or future, can be gathered up as it were into a single present conception, accompanied by a belief of reality. I think by far the wisest thing we can do is to accept the inexplicable fact without any theory or how it takes place, and when we are obliged to speak of it in terms which assume a theory, to use them with a reservation as to their meaning.
With the greater part of this I cordially agree, but it appears to me that Mr. Mill avoids, with needless caution, the inference which his language suggests. His theory is this. All human language, all human observation implies that the mind, the I, is a thing in itself, a fixed. point in the midst of a world of change, of which world of change its own organs form a part. It is the same yesterday, to-day, and to-morrow. It was what it is when its organs were of a different shape and consisted of different matter from their present shape and matter. It will be what it is when they have gone through other changes. I do not say that this proves, but surely it suggests, it renders probable, the belief that this ultimate fact, this starting-point of all knowledge, thought, feeling, and language, this "final inexplicability" (an emphatic though a clumsy phrase), is independent of its organs, that it may have existed before they were collected out of the elements, and may continue to exist after they are dissolved into the elements.
The belief thus suggested by the most intimate, the most abiding, the most widespread of all experiences, not to say by universal experience, as recorded by nearly every word of every language in the world, is what I mean by a belief in a future state, if indeed it should not rather be called a past, present, and future state, all in one--a state which rises above, and transcends time and change. I do not say that this is proved, but I do say that it is strongly suggested by the one item of knowledge which rises above logic, argument, language, sensation, and even distinct thought--that one clear instance of direct consciousness in virtue of which we say "I am." This belief is That there is in man, or rather that man is, that which rises above words and above thoughts, which are but unuttered words; that to each one of us "I" is the ultimate central fact which renders thought and language possible. Some, indeed, have even gone so far as to say--and their saying, though very dark, is not, I think, unmeaning--that the "I" is even in a certain sense the cause of the external world itself. Be this how it may, it is surely clear that our words, the sounds which we make with our lips, are but very imperfect symbols, that they all presuppose matter and sensation, and are thus unequal to the task of expressing that which, to use poor but necessary metaphors, lies behind and above matter and sensation. Most words are metaphors from sensible objects. "Spirit" means breathing, but I think no one will ever use words to much purpose unless he can feel and see that eloquence is eloquence and logic logic only if and in so far as the skin of language covers firm bone and hard muscle. It seems to me that we are spirits in prison, able only to make signals to each othe, but with a world of things to think and to say which our signals cannot describe at all.
It is this necessity for working with tools which break in your hand when any really powerful strain is put upon them which so often gives an advantage in argument to the inferior over the superior, to the man who can answer to the purpose easy things to understand over the man whose thoughts split the seams of the dress in which he has to clothe them. It also supplies the key to the saying "Silence is golden." The things which cannot be adequately represented by words are more important than those which can. Nay, the attempt, even the successful attempt, to put into words thoughts not too deep for them has its inconveniences. It is like selling out stock which might have risen in value if it had been left alone. This also is the reason why our language on the deepest of all deep things is so poor and unsatisfactory, and why poetry sometimes seems to say more than logic. The essence of poetry is that it is an appeal to the hearer's or reader's good faith and power of perception. Logic drives its thoughts into your head with a hammer. Poetry is like light. You can shut your eyes to it if you will, but if having eyes to open, you open them, it will show you a world of wonders. I have quoted the passage which forms, so to speak, the last word on this subject of the great logician of our age. I will quote, in order to give form to what I have been trying to say, a passage which is perhaps the most memorable utterance of its greatest poet. The poetry seems to me to go far deeper into the heart of the matter than the logic:--It is mysterious, it is awful to consider that we not only carry each a future ghost within him, but are in very deed ghosts. These limbs, whence had we them? this stormy force, this life-blood with its burning passion? They are dust and shadow; a shadow-system gathered around our ME wherein through some moments or years the Divine Essence is to be revealed in the flesh. That warrior on his strong. war-horse, fire flashes through his eyes, force dwells in his arms and heart; but warrior and war-horse are a vision, a revealed force, nothing more. Stately they tread the earth, as if it were a firm substance. Fools! the earth is but a film; it cracks in twain, and warrior and war-horse sink beyond plummet's sounding. Plummet's? Fantasy herself will not follow them. A little while ago they were not; a little while and they are not, their very ashes are not.
So has it been from the beginning, so will it be to the end. Generation after generation takes to itself the form of a body, and forth-issuing from Cimmerian night on heaven's mission APPEARS. What force and fire is in each he expends. One grinding in the mill of industry, one hunter-like climbing the giddy Alpine heights of science, one madly dashed in pieces on the rocks of strife in war with his fellow, and then the heaven-sent is recalled, his earthly vesture falls away and soon even to sense becomes a vanished shadow. Thus, like some wild-flaming, wild-thundering train of Heaven's artillery does this mysterious MANKIND thunder and flame in long-drawn, quick succeeding grandeur through the unknown deep. Thus, like a God-created, fire-breathing-spirithost, we emerge from the inane, haste stormfully across the astonished earth, then plunge again into the inane. Earth's mountains are levelled, and her seas filled up in our passage. Can the earth, which is but dead and a vision, resist spirits which have reality and are alive? On the hardest adamant some footprint of us is stamped in. The last rear of the host will read traces of the earliest van. But whence? Oh, Heaven! whither? Sense knows not, faith knows not, only that it is through mystery to mystery, from God and to God.We are such stuff
As dreams are made of, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
I quote this, of course, as poetry ought to be quoted--that is to say, for the sake not of definite propositions, but of vivid impressions. To canvass its precise logical value would be to misunderstand it, but I know of no statement which puts in so intense and impressive a form the belief which appears to me to lie at the very root of all morals whatever--the belief, that is, that I am one; that my organs are not I; that my happiness and their well-being are different and may be inconsistent with each other; that pains and pleasures differ in kind as well as in degree; that the class of pleasures and pains which arise from virtue and vice respectively cannot be measured against those say of health and disease, inasmuch as they affect different subjects or affect the same subjects in a totally different manner. The solution of all moral and social problems lies in the answer we give to the questions, What am I? How am 1 related to others? If my body and I are one and the same thing--if, to use a phrase in which an eminent man of letters once summed up the opinions which he believed to be held by an eminent scientific man--we are all "sarcoldous peripatetic funguses!" and nothing more, good health and moderate wealth are blessings infinitely and out of all comparison greater than any others. I think that a reasonable fungus would systematically repress many other so-called virtues which often interfere with health and the acquisition of a reasonable amount of wealth. If, however, I am something more than a fungus--if, properly speaking, the fungus is not I at all, but only my instrument, and if I am a mysterious1y permanent being who may be entering on all sorts of unknown destinies---a scale is at once established among my faculties and desires, and it becomes natural to subordinate, and if necessary to sacrifice, some of them to others.
To take a single instance. By means which may easily be suggested, every man can accustom himself to practise a variety of what are commonly called vices, and, still more, to neglect a variety of what are generally regarded as duties, without compunction. Would a wise man do this or not? If he regards himself as a spiritual creature, certainly not, because conscience is that which lies deepest in a man. It is the most important, or one of the most important, connst1tuent elements of his permanence. Indeed, if there is any permanent element in him, his conscience in all probability cannot be destroyed, although it can be covered up and disregarded. To tamper with it, therefore, to try to destroy it, is of all conceivable courses of conduct the most dangerous, and may prepare the way to a wakening, a self-assertion, of conscience fearful to think of. But suppose that the fungus theory is the true one. Suppose that man is a mere passing shadow, and nothing else. What is he to say of his conscience? Surely a rational man holding such a theory of his own nature will be bound in consistency to try and to determine the question whether he ought not to prune his conscience just as he cuts his hair and nails. A man who regarded a cold heart and a good digestion as the best possible provision for life would have a great deal to say for his view. Each of these blessings is capable of being acquired, and those who do not regard them as the summum bonum can only on the fungus theory say to those who do, "Our tastes differ."
From all this I conclude that the question, How would fraternity induce us to act? depends upon the view which may be taken of the doctrine of a future state as I have explained and stated it.
The question, Who is my brother? depends perhaps more obviously and directly upon the question, Is there a God who cares for human society--a Providence? If not, morality is simply a matter of fact. Certain rules of conduct do as a fact tend to promote human happiness. The ultimate sanction of these rules is individual taste. Those who have a taste (which is admitted to be rare) for the good of the race as a whole can say to those who have it not, "In our opinIon you are brutes." Those who care only for themselves and their friends, and for others in relation to them, may reply to this, "In our opinion you are fools," and neither party can get any farther.
If, on the other hand, there is a Providence, then morality ceases to be a mere fact and becomes a law. The very meaning of a belief in a Providence is that the physical and the moral world alike are the sphere of conscious arrangement and design; that men, the members of the moral world, transcend the material world in which they are placed, and that the law imposed on them is this--Virtue, that is to say, the habit of acting upon principles fitted to promote the happiness of men in general, and especially those forms of happiness which have reference to the permanent element in men, is connected with, and will, in the long run, contribute to the individual happiness of those who practise it, and especially to that part of their happiness which is connected with the permanent elements of their nature. The converse is true of vice.
This law is unwritten and unspoken, and its sanctions (except for those who believe in a definite literal heaven and hell) are indefinite. These circumstances constitute the moral trial of life, and no doubt immensely diminish the force of the law in question, and enable anyone who is disposed to do so to deny its very existence. If, however, a man is led to accept this interpretation of life, it affords a real sanction for morals. I cannot understand how a person who believed that a being capable of arranging the physical and moral world, as we know it had by so arranging it tacitly commanded him thus to act, could hesitate about the wisdom of obeying that command.
Utilitarianism appears to me to rest on its own foundations. It is a consequence from the ultimate fact that men have powers and wishes. Add a future state, and you give to happiness a special meaning, and establish a scale among different kinds of happiness. Add a belief in God, and virtue ceases to be a mere fact, and becomes the law of a society, the members of which may by a strong metaphor be called brothers if and in so far as they obey that law. Virtue as a law implies social relations, and the law "Be virtuous" can hardly be obeyed except by a person who wishes good men to be happy, and who also wishes to some extent to make men good. Take away the belief in a future state, and belief in God ceases to be of any practical importance. Happiness means whatever each man likes. Morality becomes a mere statement as to facts--this is what you can get if you want it, and this is the way to get it. Love for mankind becomes a matter of taste, sanctioned by the fear of being called a fool or a brute, as the case may be, by people who do not agree with you.
These two ways of looking at the world and at morais are both complete, consistent, intelligible, and based upon facts. The practical distinction between them is that the first does and the second does not give a rational account of the feeling that it is a duty to be virtuous. If virtue is God's law, to be virtuous is man's duty. Where there is no lawgiver there can be no law; where there is no law there can be no duty, though of course there may be a taste for doing what, if there were a law, would be a duty. This taste may, for what I know, be inherited. I think it a mere question of curiosity whether it is or not, for when a man learns that his sense of duty is a mere fact which, however convenient to others, is apt to be very inconvenient to him, and rests upon nothing, he will easily get rid of it. The fact that our ancestors wore sword-belts may be a very good explanation of the fact that tailors usually put buttons in the small of the back of the coats of their descendants. So long as they look well and are not inconvenient they let them stay, but if they were found inconvenient they would be snipped off without mercy. Duty is so very often inconvenient that it requires a present justification as well as an historical explanation, and no such justification can be given to a man who wants one except that God is a legislator and virtue a law in the proper sense of the word.
It would be a matter of equal difficulty and interest to trace out systematically the relation of religious belief to a sense of duty. The relation, of course, depends upon the nature of the religion. Some forms of religion are distinctly unfavourable to a sense of social duty. Others have simply no relation to it whatever, and of those which favour it (as is the case in various degrees with every form of Christianity) some promote it far more powerfully than others. I should say that those which promote it most powerfully are those of which the central figure is an infinitely wise and powerful Legislator whose own nature is confessedly inscrutable to man, but who has made the world as it is for a prudent, steady, hardy, enduring race of people who are neither fools nor cowards, who have no particular love for those who are, who distinctly know what they want, and are determined to use all lawful means to get it. Some such religion as this is the unspoken deeply rooted conviction of the solid, established part of the English nation. They form an anvil which has worn out a good many hammers, and will wear out a good many more, enthusiasts and humanitarians notwithstanding.
Though the sense of duty which is justified by this form of religion has become instinctive with many of those who feel it, I think that if the belief should ever fail, the sense of duty which grows out of it would die by degrees. I do not believe that any instinct will long retain its hold upon the conduct of a rational and enterprising man when he has discovered that it is a mere instinct which he need not yield to unless he chooses. People who think otherwise would do well to remember that, though custom makes some duties so easy to some people that they are discharged as a matter of course, there are others which it is extremely difficult to discharge at all; and that obvious immediate self-interest, in its narrowest shape, is constantly eating away the edges of morality, and would destroy it if it had not something deeper for its support than an historical or physiological explanation. We cannot judge of the effects of Atheism from the conduct of persons who have been educated as believers in God and in the midst of a nation which believes in God. If we should ever see a generation of men, especially a generation of Englishmen, to whom the word God had ho meaning at all, we should get a light upon the subject which might be lurid enough. Great force of character, restrained and directed by a deep sense of duty, is the noblest of noble things. Take off the restraint which a sense of duty imposes, and the strong man is apt to become a mere tyrant and oppressor. Bishop Berkeley remarked on his countrymen in the early part of the last century, "Whatever may be the effect of pure theory upon certain select spirits of a peculiar make or in other parts of the world, I do verily think that in this country of ours reason, religion, law are all together little enough to subdue the outward to the inner man; and that it must argue a wrong head and weak understanding to suppose that without them men will be enamoured of the golden mean, to which my countrymen are perhaps less inclined than others, there being in the make of an English mind a certain gloom and eagerness which carries to the sad extreme." The remark is as true now as it was then.
A very important objection may be made to these views, to which I shall be glad to do full justice. I cannot quote any distinct expression of it, but I have frequently observed, and the same observation, I think, must have been made by others, that there are in these days a certain number of persons who regard a belief in God not merely as untrue, but as unfavourable to morality; and in a matter which does not admit of demonstration this of course inclines them to take the negative side. A being in any way responsible for such a world as ours would, they think, be a bad being, and a morality based upon the belief in such a being would be a vicious morality. Put in the plainest words, this is the upshot of much modern writing. It supplies a curious illustration of the persistency with which great moral and religious problems reproduce themselves in all sorts of shapes. The doctrine is Manicheeism without the two gods. We must have both a bad and a good god (said the Manichees), because there are in the world both good and evil. A certain class of persons in these days draw. from the same premiss the conclusion that no God is possible except a God who would be worse than none.
This is not a view to be passed over lightly, nor does it admit of being superficially answered. It raises the question not of the origin of evil, but of the attitude towards good and evil which is to be ascribed to God. It is idle to ask the question, How did evil originate? because it is impossible to answer it; but the question, What do you think of it now that it is here? is perfectly fair. Anyone who holds the views just stated is bound to say whether a God who is responsible for this world must not be a bad God; whether a belief in such a God will not have the effect of justifying many of the wrongs of life; whether the brotherhood which consists in a common allegiance to the laws of such a God will not be an association of enemies of the human race?
Such questions imply a belief which, though obscure, is not on that account the less influential, in some sort of transcendental system of human rights. God, himself, some people seem to feel, must recognize human equality, the equal right of human creatures to happiness, and if men are not equal in fact, it is because they are the product not of will, but of blind chance. Rather than acknowledge a God who does not acknowledge the equality of men, let us, they say, acknowledge no God at all, and establish human equality as far as we can, in despite of the blind fate to which we owe our origin, and which we do not and will not reverence. Man in the future, Man as we would have him, is the object of our reverence and love; not any thing or anyone who is outside I of Man, least of all anyone who is in any way responsible for what we see around us.
This is the deepest root of the revolutionary form of modern humanitarianism. Those who think it, as I do, a baseless and presumptuous dream must not shrink from the questions founded upon it. As to loving man as man, the bad as well as the good, others as well as myself, dreams about future generations as well as actual generations past or present, I have said what I had to say. "Humanity" is as thin a shadow to me as any God can be to others. Moreover, it is a shadow of which I know the source and can measure the importance. I admit, however, that any one who cares for it is entitled to an answer to the questions stated.
The answer goes to the very root of things, yet I think the moral difficulty of giving it is greater than the intellectual one. If the order which we observe in the physical universe and in the moral world suggests to us the existence of God, we must not shrink from the inference that the character of God, in so far as we have anything to do with it, is to be inferred from that order. To say that the Author of such a world is a purely benevolent being is, to my mind, to say something which is not true, or, at the very least, something which is highly improbable in itself, impossible to be proved, and inconsistent with many notorious facts, except upon hypotheses which it is hardly possible to state or to understand, and of which there is absolutely no evidence whatever. Therefore, to the question, "Admitting the existence of God, do you believe him to be good?" I should reply, If by "good" you mean "disposed to promote the happiness of mankind absolutely," I answer No. If by "good" you mean virtuous, I reply, The question has no meaning. A virtuous man is a being of whom we can form an idea more or less distinct, but the ideas of virtue and vice can hardly be attached to a Being who transcends all or most of the conditions out of which virtue and vice arise. If the further question is asked, Then what moral attributes do you ascribe to this Being, if you ascribe to him any at all? I should reply, I think of him as conscious and having will, as infinitely powerful, and as one who, whatever he may be in his own nature, has so arranged the world or worlds in which r live as to let me know that virtue is the law which he has prescribed to me and to others. If still further asked, Can you love such a Being? I should answer, Love is not the word which I should choose, but awe. The law under which we live is stern, and, as far as we can judge, inflexible, but it is noble and excites a feeling of awful respect for its Author and for the constitution established in the world which it governs, and a sincere wish to act up to and carry it out as far as possible. If we believe in God at all, this, I think, is the rational and manly way of thinking Of him.
This leads to the further question how belief in such a Being would affect a man's view of this present life. Would not such a belief, it may be said, justify and sanctify much of the injustice and many of the wrongs of life? To this I answer thus. The general constitution of things, by which some people are better off than others, and some very badly off in all respects, is neither just nor unjust, right nor wrong. It simply is. It affects the question of the benevolence, not the question of the justice, of its author. The idea of justice and right is subsequent to the idea of law. It is, in the etymological sense of the word, preposterous to apply those ideas to the state of things in which we live. It is simply unmeaning to assert that A is wronged because he is born with a predisposition to cancer, or that B ought to have had wings, or that C had a rzght to a certain power of self-control. As against God or fate, whichever you please, men have no rights at all, not even the right of existence. Right, wrong, and obligation begin after laws, properly so called, have been established, and the first laws, properly so called, which we have any reason to believe to exist are moral laws imposed upon beings, of whom some are far more favourably situated for keeping them than others. All moral codes and customs are so many different versions, more or less correct and more or less fully expressed, of these laws. Accounts of their administration are to be read in all human history, from Cain and Abel to to-day's newspapers.
The answer, then, to the question How does a belief in God thus explained affect our view of human life? is this: Every man born into the world finds himself placed in a position in which he has a variety of wants, passions, faculties, and powers of various kinds, and in which some objects better or worse are attainable by him. The religious theory of life may be thrown into the shape of the following command or advice:-- Do the best you can for yourselves, but do it in a definitely prescribed manner and not otherwise, or it will be the worse for you. Some of you are happy; it is the better for them. Some are miserable; by all means let them help themselves in the appointed manner; let others help them on the appointed terms, but when all is done much will remain to bear. Bear it as you can, and whether in happiness or in misery, take with you the thought that the strange world in which you live seems not to be all, and that you yourselves who are in it are not altogether of it.
The facts are the same upon any hypothesis, and Atheism only makes the case utterly hopeless, whereas the belief in a God and a future state does throw some rays of light over the dark sea on which we are sailing.
This does not show or tend to show that there is a God, but only that the belief in God is not immoral. That belief is immoral only if the unreserved acceptance of the terms on which life is offered to JlS and an honest endeavour to live upon those terms are immoral. If some theory about human happiness and equality and fraternity makes it our duty to kick against the pricks, to live as rebels against that, whatever it is, in which we find ourselves, a belief in God is immoral but not otherwise. To my mind the immoral and unmanly thing is revolt, impatience of inevitable evils, gratuitous indiscriminate affection for all sorts of people, whether they deserve it or not, and in particular, a weak, ill-regulated sympathy for those whose sufferings are their own fault. These are sufferings which I, for one, should not wish either to relieve or to avert. I would leave the law to take its course. Why there should be wicked people in the world is like the question, Why there should be poisonous snakes in the world? Though no men are absolutely good or absolutely bad, yet if and in so far as men are good and bad they are not brothers but enemies, or, if the expression is preferred, they are brothers at enmity whose enmity must continue till its cause is removed.
It may again be asked--and this is the last question of the kind which I shall attempt to consider--What is the relation of all this to Christianity? Has not the humanitarianism of which you think so ill a close connection, both historically and theoretically, with the Sermon on the Mount and the Parables?
To this I reply: The truth of Christianity, considered as a divine revelation, depends upon questions of fact which I certainly shall not at present discuss. Who can add much to what has been said by Grotius, Jeremy Taylor, Lardner, Paley, and their successors, on the one side, or by a variety of writers from Celsus to Strauss on the other? "Securus judicabit orbis." The witnesses have been examined, the counsel have made their speeches, and the jury are considering their verdict. Whatever that verdict may be, one thing is quite clear. Almost any theological system and almost any moral system is consistent with the Sermon on the Mount and the Parables. They, as has been observed a thousand times, are obviously not philosophical discourses. They are essentially popular, and no one, with a few unimportant exceptions, has ever attempted to treat them as a system of moral philosophy would be treated. No doubt they express the charitable sentiment in its most earnest and passionate form, but both the theory and the practice of mankind show clearly that this has been, as no doubt it will continue to be, understood by those who believe in the supernatural authority of Christ as a pathetic overstatement of duties which everyone would acknowledge to be duties, and to be peculiarly likely to be neglected. Everyone would admit that goodmen ought to love many at least of their neighbours considerably more than most men actually do, and that they are not likely to be led into the error of loving them too much by the Sermon on the Mount, or by any other sermon.
It must also be borne in mind that, though Christianity express~ the tender and charitable sentiments with passionate ardour, it has also a terrible side. Christian love is only for a time and on condition. It stops short at the gates of hell, and hell is an essential part of the whole Christian scheme. Whether we look at the formal doctrines or at the substance of that scheme, the tenderness and the terrors mutually imply each other. There would be something excessive in such an outpouring of sympathy and sorrow about mere transitory sufferings, which do not appear after all to have been specially acute or specially unrelieved with happiness in Judea in the first century. The horrors of the doctrine of hell would have been too great for human endurance if the immediate manifestations of the religion had not been tender and compassionate.
Christianity must thus be considered rather as supplying varied and powerful sanctions (love, hope, and fear in various proportions and degrees) for that view of morality which particular people may be led to on other grounds than as imposing upon them any particular moral system. There have been Christian Stoics; there have been Christian Epicureans; and immense numbers of people are, or imagine themselves to be, in love with Christian charity, although they never heard of and could not understand any ethical system whatever. Christianity, in a word, in relation to morals, is a means whereby morality may be made transcendental--that is to say, by which an infinitely greater importance may be and is attached to the distinction between right and wrong (understand it as you will) than reasonable men would attach to it if they simply calculated the specific ascertainable effects of right and wrong actions, on the supposition that this present world is the whole of life. The weakest part of modern philanthropy is that, while calling itself specially Christian; it has completely set aside and practically denied the existence of that part of Christianity which it does not like. If of a system which is essentially an appeal to a variety of emotions you adopt that part only which appeals to the tender emotions, you misrepresent the whole.
As a matter of historical fact, no really considerable body of men either is, ever has been, or ever has professed to be Christian in the sense of taking the philanthropic passages of the four Gospels as the sole, exclusive, and complete guide of their lives. If they did, they would in sober earnest turn the world upside down. They would be a set of passionate Communists, breaking down every approved maxim of conduct and every human institution. In one word, if Christianity really is what much of the language which we often hear used implies, it is false and mischievous. Nothing can be more monstrous than a sweeping condemnation of mankind for not conforming their conduct to an ideal which they do not really acknowledge. When, for instance, we are told that it is dreadful to think that a nation pretending to believe the Sermon on the Mount should employ so many millions sterling per annum on military expenditure, the answer is that no sane nation ever did or ever will pretend to believe the Sermon on the Mount in any sense which is inconsistent with the maintenance to the very utmost by force of arms of the national independence, honour, and interest. If the Sermon on the Mount really means to forbid this, it ought to be disregarded.
I have now tried to perform the task which I originally undertook, which was to examine the doctrines hinted at rather than expressed by the phrase "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity," and to assert with respect to them these two propositions: First, that in the present day even those who use those words most rationally--that is to say, as the names of elements of social life which, like others, have their advantages and disadvantages according to time, place, and circumstance--have a great disposition to exaggerate their advantages and to deny the existence, or at any rate to underrate the importance, of their disadvantages. Next, that whatever signification be attached to them, these words are. ill-adapted to be the creed of a rehglon, that the things which they denote are not ends in themselves, and that when used collectively the words do not typify, however vaguely, any state of society which a reasonable man ought to regard with enthusiasm or self-devotion.
1. See note at the end of the volume.
> Chapter VII
Revised June 25, 2004.