« AnteriorContinuar »
Mr. Bentham gives an account of the manner in which he arrived at the discovery of the "greatest happiness principle." He then proceeds to describe the effects which, as he conceives, that discovery is producing, in language so rhetorical and ardent, that, if it had been written by any other person, a genuine Utilitarian would certainly have thrown down the book in disgust.
censemus eam esse demonstrandi formam, quæ | holding this doctrine that we blamed them. In sensum, tuetur, et naturam premit, et operibus attacking them we no more meant to attack imminet, ac fere immiscetur. Itaque ordo the "greatest happiness principle,” than when quoque demonstrandi plane invertitur. Adhuc we say that Mohammedanism is a false religion, enim res ita geri consuevit, ut a sensu et par- we mean to deny the unity of God, which is the ticularibus primo loco ad maxime generalia first article of the Mohammedan creed;-no advoletur, tanquam ad polos fixos, circa quos more than Mr. Bentham, when he sneers at the disputationes vertantur; ab illis cætera, per whigs, means to blame them for denying the media, deriventur; viâ certe compendiariâ, sed divine right of kings. We reasoned throughout præcepiti, et ad naturam imperviâ, ad disputa- our article on the supposition that the end of tiones proclivi et accommodatâ. At, secundum government was to produce the greatest happinos, axiomata continenter et gradatim excitan-ness to mankind. tur, ut non, nisi postremo loco, ad maxime generalia veniatur." Can any words more exactly describe the political reasonings of Mr. Mill than those in which Lord Bacon thus describes the logomachies of the schoolmen? Mr. Mill springs at once to a general principle of the widest extent, and from that general principle deduces syllogistically every thing which is included in it. We say with Bacon"non, nisi postremo loco, ad maxime generalia veniatur." In the present inquiry, the science of human nature is the "maxime generale." To this the Utilitarian rushes at once, and from this he deduces a hundred sciences. But the true philosopher, the inductive reasoner, travels up to it slowly, through those hundred sciences, of which the science of government is one. As we have lying before us that incomparable volume, the noblest and most useful of all the works of the human reason, the Novum Organum, we will transcribe a few lines, in which the Utilitarian philosophy is portrayed to the life.
"The only rivals of any note to the new principles which were brought forward, were those known by the names of the 'moral sense,' and the original contract.' The new principle superseded the first of these, by presenting it with a guide for its decisions; and the other, by making it unnecessary to resort to a remote and imaginary contract, for what was clearly the business of every man and every hour. Throughout the whole horizon of morals and of politics, the consequences were glorious and vast. It might be said, without danger of exaggeration, that they who sat in darkness had seen a great light. The mists in which "Syllogismus ad principia scientiarum non mankind had jousted against each other were adhibetur, ad media axiomata frustra adhibetur, swept away, as when the sun of astronomical cum sit subtilitati naturæ longe impar. As- science arose in the full development of the sensum itaque constringit, non res. Syllogis- principle of gravitation. If the object of legismus ex propositionibus constat, propositiones lation was the greatest happiness, morality was ex verbis, verba notionum tesseræ sunt. Itaque the promotion of the same end by the conduct si notiones ipsæ, id quod basis rei est, confuse of the individual; and by analogy, the happisint, et temere a rebus abstractæ, nihil in iis ness of the world was the morality of nations. quæ superstruuntur est firmitudinis. Itaque All the sublime obscurities, which had spes est una in Inductione vera. In notionibus haunted the mind of man from the first formanil sani est, nec in Logicis nec in physicis. tion of society,-the phantoms whose steps had Non substantia, non qualitas, agere, pati, ipsum been on earth, and their heads among the esse, bonæ notiones sunt: multo minus grave, clouds,-marshalled themselves at the sound leve, densum, tenue, humidum, siccum, gene- of this new principle of connection and of ratio, corruptio, attrahere, fugare, elementum, | union, and stood a regulated band, where all materia, forma, et id genus, sed omnes phan-was order, symmetry, and force. What men tasticæ et male terminatæ."
Substitute for the "substantia," the "generatio," the "corruptio," the "elementum," the "materia" of the old schoolmen, Mr. Mill's pain, pleasure, interest, power, objects of desire, and the words of Bacon will seem to suit the current year as well as the beginning of the seventeenth century.
We have now gone through the objections that Mr. Bentham makes to our article; and we submit ourselves on all the charges to the Judgment of the public.
The rest of Mr. Bentham's article consists of an exposition of the Utilitarian principle, or, as he decrees that it shall be called, the "greatest happiness principle." He seems to think that we have been assailing it. We never said a syllable against it. We spoke slightingly of the Utilitarian sect, as we thought of them, and think of them; but it was not for
had struggled for and bled, while they saw it bu as through a glass darkly, was made the object of substantial knowledge and lively apprehension. The bones of sages and of patriots stirred within their tombs, that what they dimly saw and followed had become the world's common heritage. And the great result was wrought by no supernatural means, nor produced by any unparallelable concatenation of events. It was foretold by no oracles, and ushered by no portents; but was brought about by the quiet and reiterated exercise of God's first gift of common sense."
Mr. Bentham's discovery does not, as we think we shall be able to show, approach in importance to that of gravitation, to which he compares it. At all events, Mr. Bentham seems to us to act much as Sir Isaac Newton would have done, if he had gone about boasting that he was the first person who taught brick
layers not to jump off scaffolds and break | do it. Will the principle run thus-pursue the their legs.
Does Mr. Bentham profess to hold out any new motive which may induce men to promote the happiness of the species to which they belong? Not at all. He distinctly admits that, if he is asked why governments should attempt to produce the greatest possible happiness, he can give no answer.
greatest happiness of mankind, whether it be your own greatest happiness or not? This is absurd and impossible, and Mr. Bentham himself allows it to be so. But if the principle be not stated in one of these two ways, we cannot imagine how it is to be stated at all. Stated in one of these ways, it is an identical proposition, true, but utterly barren of consequences. Stated in the other way, it is a contradiction in terms. Mr. Bentham has distinctly declined the absurdity. Are we then to suppose that he adopts the truism?
"The real answer," says he, "appeared to be, that men at large ought not to allow a government to afflict them with more evil or less good than they can help. What a government ought to do, is a mysterious and searching There are thus, it seems, two great truths question, which those may answer who know which the Utilitarian philosophy is to comniuwhat it means; but what other men ought to nicate to mankind-two truths which are to do, is a question of no mystery at all. The produce a revolution in morals, in laws, in word ought, if it means any thing, must have governments, in literature, in the whole system reference to some kind of interest or motives: of life. The first of these is speculative; the and what interest a government has in doing second is practical. The speculative truth is, right, when it happens to be interested in doing that the greatest happiness is the greatest hapwrong, is a question for the schoolmen. The piness. The practical rule is very simple, for fact appears to be, that ought is not predicable it imports merely that men should never omit, of governments. The question is not why when they wish for any thing, to wish for it, or governments are bound not to do this or that, when they do any thing, to do it! It is a great but why other men should let them if they can comfort for us to think, that we readily assenthelp it. The point is not to determine why ed to the former of these great doctrines as the lion should not eat sheep, but why men soon as it was stated to us; and that we have should eat their own mutton if they can." long endeavoured, as far as human frailty would The principle of Mr. Bentham, if we under-permit, to conform to the latter in our practice. stand it, is this, that mankind ought to act so as to produce their greatest happiness. The word ought, he tells us, has no meaning, unless it be used with reference to some interest. But the interest of a man is synonymous with his greatest happiness :-and therefore to say that a man ought to do a thing, is to say that it is for his greatest happiness to do it. And to say that mankind ought to act so as to produce their greatest happiness, is to say that the greatest happiness is the greatest happiness-and this is all!
We are, however, inclined to suspect, that the calamities of the human race have been owing less to their not knowing that happiness was happiness, than to their not knowing how to obtain it-less to their neglecting to do what they did, than to their not being able to do what they wished, or not wishing to do what they ought.
Thus frivolous, thus useless is this philosophy,-"controversiarum ferax, operum effeta, ad garriendum prompta, ad generandum invalida." The humble mechanic who discovers some slight improvement in the construction of safety lamps or steam vessels, does more for the happiness of mankind than the "magnificent principle," as Mr. Bentham calls it, will do in ten thousand years. The mechanic teaches us how we may, in a small degree, be better off than we were. The Utilitarian advises us, with great pomp, to be as well off as we can.
Does Mr. Bentham's principle tend to make any man wish for any thing for which he would not have wished, or do any thing which he would not have done, if the principle had never been heard of? If not, it is an utterly useless principle. Now, every man pursues his own happiness or interest-call it which you will. If his happiness coincides with the happiness of the species, then, whether he ever heard of the "greatest happiness principle" or The doctrine of a moral sense may be very not, he will, to the best of his knowledge and unphilosophical, but we do not think that it can ability, attempt to produce the greatest happi- be proved to be pernicious. Men did not enterness of the species. But, if what he thinks tain certain desires and aversions because they his happiness be inconsistent with the greatest believed in a moral sense, but they gave the happiness of mankind, will this new principle name of moral sense to a feeling which they convert him to another frame of mind? Mr. found in their minds, however it came there. Bentham himself allows, as we have seen, that If they had given it no name at all, it would he can give no reason why a man should pro- still have influenced their actions: and it will mote the greatest happiness of others, if their not be very easy to demonstrate that it has ingreatest happiness be inconsistent with what fluenced their actions the more, because they he thinks his own. We should very much like have called it the moral sense. The theory of to know how the Utilitarian principle would the original contract is a fiction, and a very run, when reduced to one plain imperative absurd fiction; but in practice it meant, what proposition. Will it run thus-pursue your the "greatest happiness principle," if ever own happiness? This is superfluous. Every it becomes a watchword of political warfare man pursues it, according to his light, and will mean-that is to say, whatever served the always has pursued it, and always must pursue turn of those who used it. Both the one exit. To say that a man has done any thing, is to say that he thought it for his happiness to
Bacon, Novum Organum.
pression and the other sound very well in debating clubs; but in the real conflicts of life, our passions and interests bid them stand aside and know their place. The "greatest happiness principle" has always been latent under the words, social contract, justice, benevolence, patriotism, liberty, and so forth, just as far as it was for the happiness, real or imagined, of those who used these words to promote the greatest happiness of mankind. And of this we may be sure, that the words "the greatest happiness" will never, in any man's mouth, mean more than the greatest happiness of others which is consistent with what he thinks his own. The project of mending a bad world, by teaching people to give new names to old things, reminds us of Walter Shandy's scheme, for compensating the loss of his son's nose by christening him Trismegistus. What society wants is a new motive-not a new cant. If Mr. Bentham can find out any argument yet undiscovered which may induce men to pursue the general happiness, he will indeed be a great benefactor to our species. But those whose happiness is identical with the general happiness, are even now promoting the general happiness to the very best of their power and knowledge; and Mr. Bentham himself confesses that he has no means of persuading those whose happiness is not identical with the general happiness, to act upon his principle. Is not this, then, darkening counsel by words without knowledge? If the only fruit of the "magnificent principle" is to be, that the oppressors and pilferers of the next generation are to talk of seeking the greatest happiness of the greatest number, just as the same class of men have talked in our time of seeking to uphold the Protestant Constitution-just as they talked under Anne of seeking the good of the Church, and under Cromwell, of seeking the Lord-where is the gain? Is not every great question already enveloped in a safficiently dark cloud of unmeaning words? Is it so difficult for a man to cant some one or more of the good old English cants which his father and grandfather canted before him, that he must learn, in the school of the Utilitarians, a new sleight of tongue, to make fools clap and wise men sneer? Let our countrymen keep their eyes on the neophytes of this sect, and see whether we turn out to be mistaken in the prediction which we now hazard. It will before long be found, we prophesy, that, as the corruption of a dunce is the generation of an Utilitarian, so is the corruption of an Utilitarian the generation of a jobber.
The most elevated station that the "greatest happiness principle" is ever likely to attain is this, that it may be a fashionable phrase among newspaper writers and members of Parliament --that it may succeed to the dignity which has been enjoyed by the "original contract," by the "constitution of 1688," and other expressions of the same kind. We do not apprehend that it is a less flexible cant than those which have preceded it, or that it will less easily furnish a pretext for any design for which a pretext may he required. Tue original contract" meant, in the Convention Parliament, the co-ordinate authority of the Three Estates. If there
were to be a radical insurrection to-morrow, the " original contract" would stand just as well for annual parliaments and universal suffrage. The "Glorious Constitution" again, has meant every thing in turn: the Habeas Corpus Act the Suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, the Test Act, the Repeal of the Test Act There has not been for many years a single important measure which has not been unconstitutional with its opponents, and which its supporters have not maintained to be agreeable to the true spirit of the constitution. Is it easier to ascer tain what is for the greatest happiness of the human race than what is the constitution of England? If not, the "greatest happiness principle" will be what the "principles of the constitution" are, a thing to be appealed to by everybody, and understood by everybody in the sense which suits him best. It wil! mean cheap bread, dear bread, free trade, protecting duties, annual parliaments, septennial parlia ments, universal suffrage, Old Sarum, trial by jury, martial law, every thing, in short, good, bad, or indifferent, of which any person, from ra pacity or from benevolence, chooses to undertake the defence. It will mean six and eightpence with the attorney, tithes at the rectory, and game-laws at the manor-house. The statute of uses, in appearance the most sweeping legislative reform in our history, was said to have produced no other effect than that of adding three words to a conveyance. The universal admission of Mr. Bentham's great principle would, as far as we can see, produce no other effect than that those orators who, while waiting for a meaning, gain time (like bankers paying in sixpences during a run) by uttering words that mean nothing, would substitute "the greatest happiness," or rather, as the longer phrase, "the greatest happiness of the greatest number," for, "under existing circumstances,"-"now that I am on my legs,"-and, "Mr. Speaker, I, for one, am free to say." In fact, principles of this sort resemble those forms which are sold by law-stationers, with blanks for the names of parties, and for the specia! circumstances of every case-mere customary headings and conclusions, which are equally at the command of the most honest and of the most unrighteous claimant. It is on the filling up that every thing depends.
The "greatest happiness principle" of Mr. Bentham is included in the Christian morality; and, to our thinking, it is there exhibited in an infinitely more sound and philosophical form than in the Utilitarian speculations. For in
the New Testament it is neither an identical proposition, nor a contradiction in terms; and, as laid down by Mr. Bentham, it must be either the one or the other. "Do as you would be done by: Love your neighbour as yourself;" these are the precepts of Jesus Christ. Under stood in an enlarged sense, these precepts are, in fact, a direction to every man to promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number. But this direction would be utterly unmeaning, as it actually is in Mr. Bentham's philosophy, unless it were accompanied by a sanction. In the Christian scheme, accordingly, it is accompanied by a sanction of immense force. To à man whose greatest happiness in this
world is inconsistent with the greatest happiness of the greatest number, is held out the prospect of an infinite happiness hereafter, from which he excludes himself by wronging his fellow-creatures here.
sect. He discovered truths; all that they have done has been to make those truths unpopular. He investigated the philosophy of law; he could teach them only to snarl at lawyers.
mind between Reform an Utilitarianism.
We entertain no apprehensions of danger to This is practical philosophy, as practical as the institutions of this country from the Utilithat on which penal legislation is founded. A tarians. Our fears are of a different kind. We man is told to do something which otherwise dread the odium and discredit of their alliance. he would not do, and is furnished with a new We wish to see a broad and clear line drawn be motive for doing it. Mr. Bentham has no new tween the judicious friends of practical reform motive to furnish his disciples with. He has and a sect which, having derived all its influence talents sufficient to effect any thing that can be from the countenance which they have imprueffected. But to induce men to act without an dently bestowed upon it, hates them with the inducement is too much even for him. He deadly hatred of ingratitude. There is not, should reflect that the whole vast world of and we firmly believe that there never was, in morals cannot be moved, unless the mover this country, a party so unpopular. They can obtain some stand for his engines beyond have already made the science of political it. He acts as Archimedes would have done, economy-a science of vast importance to the if he had attempted to move the earth by a welfare of nations—an object cf disgust to the ever fixed on the earth. The action and rẻ- majority of the community. The question of action neutralize each other. The artist la- parliamentary reform will share the same fate, bours, and the world remains at rest. Mr.if once an association be formed in the public Bentham can only tell us to do something which we have always been doing, and should "still have continued to do, if we had never heard of the "greatest happiness principle," or else to do something which we have no conceivable motive for doing, and therefore shall not do. Mr. Bentham's principle is at best no more than the golden rule of the Gospel without its sanction. Whatever evils, therefore, have existed in societies in which the authority of the Gospel is recognised, may, à fortiori, as it appears to us, exist in societies in which the Utilitarian principle is recognised. We do not apprehend that it is more difficult for a tyrant or a persecutor to persuade himself and others that, in putting to death those who oppose his power or differ from his opinions, he is pursuing "the greatest happiness," than that he is doing as he would be done by. But religion gives him a motive for doing as he would be done by: and Mr. Bentham furnishes him with no motive to induce him to promote the general happiness. If, on the other hand, Mr. Bentham's principle mean only that every man should pursue his own greatest happiness, he merely asserts what every-which, for his sake, we have treated with far body knows, and recommends what everybody does.
It is not upon this "greatest happiness principle" that the fame of Mr. Bentham will rest. He has not taught people to pursue their own happiness; for that they always did. He has not taught them to promote the happiness of others at the expense of their own; for that they will not and cannot do. But he has taught them how, in some most important points, to promote their own happiness; and if his school had emulated him as successfully in this respect as in the trick of passing off truisms for discoveries, the name of Benthamite would have been no word for the scoffer. But few of those who consider themselves as in a more especial manner his followers, have any thing in common with him but his faults. The whole science of jurisprudence is his. He has done much for political economy; but we are not aware that in either department any improvement has been made by members of his
We bear no enmity to any member of the sect: and for Mr. Bentham we entertain very. high admiration. We know that among his followers there are some well-intentioned men, and some men of talents: but we cannot say that we think the logic on which they pride themselves likely to improve their heads, or the scheme of morality which they have adopted likely to improve their hearts. Their theory of morals, however, well deserves an article to itself; and perhaps, on some future occasion, we may discuss it more fully than time and space at present allow.
The preceding article was written, and was actually in types, when a letter from Mr. Bentham appeared in the newspapers, importing, that "though he had furnished the Westminster Review with some memoranda respecting the greatest happiness principle,' he had nothing to do with the remarks on our former article. We are truly happy to find that this illustrious man had so small a share in a performance
greater lenity than it deserved. The mistake, however, does not in the least affect any part of our arguments; and we have therefore thought it unnecessary to cancel or cast anew any of the foregoing pages. Indeed, we are not sorry that the world should see how respectfully we were disposed to treat a great man, even when we considered him as the author of a very weak and very unfair attack on ourselves. We wish, however, to intimate to the actual writer of that attack, that our civilities were intended for the author of the "Preuves Judiciaires," and the "Defence of Usury,"-and not for him. We cannot conclude, indeed, without expressing a wish,though we fear it has but little chance of reaching Mr. Bentham,-that he would endeavour to find better editors for his compositions If M. Dumont had not been a rédacteur of a dif ferent description from some of his successors, Mr. Bentham would never have attained the distinction of even giving his name to a sect
UTILITARIAN THEORY OF GOVERNMENT.*
[EDINBURGH REVIEW, OCTOBER, 1829.]
be afraid;-that this logic will impose on no
ant part of Mr. Mill's argument.
We have long been of opinion that the Utilitarians have owed all their influence to a mere delusion-that, while professing to have submitted their minds to an intellectual disci-ing us with having misrepresented an importpline of peculiar severity, to have discarded all sentimentality, and to have acquired consummate skill in the art of reasoning, they are decidedly inferior to the mass of educated men in the very qualities in which they conceive themselves to excel. They have undoubtedly freed themselves from the dominion of some absurd notions. But their struggle for intellectual emancipation has ended, as injudicious and violent struggles for political emancipation too often end, in a mere change of tyrants. Indeed, we are not sure that we do not prefer the venerable nonsense which holds prescriptive sway over the ultra-tory, to the upstart dynasty of prejudices and sophisms, by which the revolutionists of the moral world have suffered themselves to be enslaved.
The Utilitarians have sometimes been abused | as intolerant, arrogant, irreligious, as enemies of literature, of the fine arts, and of the domestic charities. They have been reviled for some things of which they were guilty, and for some of which they were innocent. But scarcely anybody seems to have perceived, that almost all their peculiar faults arise from the utter want both of comprehensiveness and of precision in their mode of reasoning. We have, for some time past, been convinced that this was really the case; and that, whenever their philosophy should be boldly and unsparingly scrutinized, the world would see that it had been under a mistake respecting them.
We have made the experiment, and it has succeeded far beyond our most sanguine expectations. A chosen champion of the school has come forth against us. A specimen of his logical abilities now lies before us; and we pledge ourselves to show, that no prebendary at an Anti-Catholic meeting, no true-blue baronet after the third bottle at a Pitt Club, ever displayed such utter incapacity of comprehending or answering an argument, as appears in the speculations of this Utilitarian apostle; that he does not understand our meaning, or Mr. Mill's meaning, or Mr. Bentham's meaning, or his own meaning; and that the various parts of his system-if the name of system can be so misapplied-directly contradict each other. Having shown this, we intend to leave him in undisputed possession of whatever advantage he may derive from the last word. We propose only to convince the public that there is nothing in the far-famed logic of the Utilitarians, of which any plain man has reason to
Westminster Review, (XXII. Art. 16,) on the Strictures of the Edinburgh Review (XCVIII. Art. 1,) on the
U.ilitarian Theory of Government, and the "Greatest
"The first extract given by the Edinburgh Reviewers from the essay was an insulated passage, purposely despoiled of what had preceded and what followed. The author had been observing, that some profound and benevolent investigators of human affairs had adopted the conclusion, that of all the possible forms of government, absolute monarchy is the best. This is what the reviewers have omitted at the beginning. He then adds, as in the extract, that Experience, if we look only at the outside of the facts, appears to be divided on this subject; there are Caligulas in one place, and kings of Denmark in another. As the surface of history affords, therefore, no certain principle of decision, we must go beyond the surface, and penetrate to the springs within.' This is what the reviewers have omitted at the end."
It is perfectly true, that our quotation from Mr.Mill's Essay was, like most other quotations, preceded and followed by something which we did not quote. But if the Westminster Re viewer means to say, that either what preceded, or what followed, would, if quoted, have shown that we put a wrong interpretation on the pas sage which was extracted, he does not understand Mr. Mill rightly.
Mr. Mill undoubtedly says that, " as the surface of history affords no certain principle of decision, we must go beyond the surface, and penetrate to the springs within." But these expressions will admit of several interpretations. In what sense, then, does Mr. Mill use them? If he means that we ought to inspect the facts with close attention, he means what is rational. But if he means that we ought to leave the facts, with all their apparent incon sistencies, unexplained-to lay down a general principle of the widest extent, and to deduce doctrines from that principle by syllogistic ar gument, without pausing to consider whether those doctrines be, or be not, consistent with the facts,-then he means what is irrational; and this is clearly what he does mean: for he immediately begins, without offering the least explanation of the contradictory appearances.. which he has himself described, to go beyond the surface in the following manner:-"That one human being will desire to render the per son and property of another subservient to his pleasures, notwithstanding the pain or loss of pleasure which it may occasion, to that other individual, is the foundation of government. The desire of the object implies the desire of the power necessary to accomplish the object." And thus he proceeds to deduce consequences