Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

he thinks his happiness coincides with the greatest happiness of society, he will attempt to promote the greatest happiness of society, whether he ever heard of the "greatest happiness principle" or not; and that, by the admission of the Westminster Reviewer, if his happiness is inconsistent with the greatest happiness of society, there is no reason why he should promote the greatest happiness of society. Now, that there are individuals who think that for their happiness which is not for the greatest happiness of society, is evident. The Westminster Reviewer allowed that some of these individuals were in the right, and did not pretend to give any reason which could induce any one of them to think himself in the wrong. So that the "magnificent principle" turned out to be either a truism or a contradiction in terms; either this maxim, "Do what you do;" or this maxim, "Do what you cannot do."

The Westminster Reviewer had the wit to see that he could not defend this palpable nonsense; but, instead of manfully owning that he had misunderstood the whole nature of the "greatest happiness principle" in the summer, and had obtained new light during the autumn, he attempts to withdraw the former principle unobserved, and to substitute another, directly opposed to it, in its place; clamoring all the time against our unfairness, like one who, while changing the cards, diverts the attention of the table from his sleight-of-hand by vociferating charges of foul play against other people.

The "greatest happiness principle" for the present quarter is, then, this-that every individual will best promote his own happiness in this world, religious considerations being left out of the question, by promoting the greatest happiness of the whole species. And this principle, we are told, holds good with respect to kings and aristocracies as well as with other people.

"It is certain that the individual operators in any government, if they were thoroughly intelligent and entered into a perfect calculation of all existing chances, would seek for their own happiness in the promotion of the general; which brings them, if they knew it, under Mr. Bentham's

rule. The mistake of supposing the contrary lies in confounding criminals who have had the luck to escape punishment with those who have the risk still before them. Suppose, for instance, a member of the House of Commons were at this moment to debate within himself whether it would be for his ultimate happiness to begin, according to his ability, to misgovern. If he could be sure of being as lucky as some that are dead and gone, there might be difficulty in finding him an answer. But he is not sure, and never can be till he is dead. He does not know that he is not close upon the moment when misgovernment such as he is tempted to contemplate will be made a terrible example of. It is not fair to pick out the instance of the thief that has died unhanged. The question is, whether thieving is at this moment an advisable trade to begin with all the possibilities of hanging not got over? This is the spirit of Mr. Bentham's principle, and if there is anything opposed to it in any former statement, it may be corrected by the present."

We hope that we have now at last got to the real "magnificent principle"-to the principle which is really to make "the bones of the sages and patriots stir." What effect it may produce on the bones of the dead we shall not pretend to decide, but we are sure that it will do very little for the happiness of the living.

In the first place, nothing is more certain than this, that the Utilitarian theory of government, as developed in Mr. Mill's essay and in all the other works on the subject which have been put forth by the sect, rests on these two principles-that men follow their interest, and that the interest of individuals may be, and in fact perpetually is, opposed to the interest of society. Unless these two principles be granted, Mr. Mill's essay does not contain one sound sentence. All his arguments against monarchy and aristocracy, all his arguments in favor of democracy, nay, the very argument by which he shows that there is any necessity for having gov ernment at all, must be rejected as utterly worthless.

This is so palpable that even the Westminster Reviewer, though not the most clear-sighted of men, could not help seeing it. Accordingly, he attempts to guard himself against the objection, after the manner of such reasoners, by committing two blunders instead of one. "All this," says he, "only shows that the members of a government would do

well if they were all-wise;" and he proceeds to tell us that, as rulers are not all-wise, they will invariably act against this principle wherever they can, so that the democratical checks will still be necessary to produce good government.

No form which human folly takes is so richly and exquisitely laughable as the spectacle of a Utilitarian in a dilemma. What earthly good can there be in a principle upon which no man will act until he is all-wise? A certain most important doctrine, we are told, has been demonstrated so clearly that it ought to be the foundation of the science of government. And yet the whole frame of government is to be constituted exactly as if this fundamental doctrine were false, and on the supposition that no human being will ever act as if he believed it to be true!

The whole argument of the Utilitarians in favor of univer sal suffrage proceeds on the supposition that even the rudest and most uneducated men cannot, for any length of time, be deluded into acting against their own true interest. Yet now they tell us that, in all aristocratical communities, the higher and more educated class will, not occasionally, but invariably, act against its own interest. Now, the only use of proving anything, as far as we can see, is that people may believe it. To say that a man does what he believes to be against his happiness is a contradiction in terms. If, therefore, government and laws are to be constituted on the supposition on which Mr. Mill's essay is founded, that all individuals will, whenever they have power over others put into their hands, act in opposition to the general happiness, then government and laws must be constituted on the supposition that no individual believes, or ever will believe, his own happiness to be identical with the happiness of society. That is to say, government and laws are to be constituted on the supposition that no human being will ever be satisfied by Mr. Bentham's proof of his "greatest happiness principle"-a supposition which may be true enough, but which says little, we think, for the principle in question.

But where has this principle been demonstrated? We are curious, we confess, to see this demonstration which is to

change the face of the world and yet is to convince nobody. The most amusing circumstance is that the Westminster Reviewer himself does not seem to know whether the principle has been demonstrated or not. "Mr. Bentham," he says, "has demonstrated it, or at all events has laid such foundations that there is no trouble in demonstrating it." Surely it is rather strange that such a matter should be left in doubt. The Reviewer proposed, in his former article, a slight verbal emendation in the statement of the principle; he then announced that the principle had received its last improvement, and gloried in the circumstance that the Westminster Review had been selected as the organ of that improvement. Did it never occur to him that one slight improvement to a doctrine is to prove it?

Mr. Bentham has not demonstrated the "greatest happiness principle," as now stated. He is far too wise a man to think of demonstrating any such thing. In those sections of his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, to which the Reviewer refers us in his note, there is not a word of the kind. Mr. Bentham says, most truly, that there are no occasions in which a man has not some motives for consulting the happiness of other men; and he proceeds to set forth what those motives are-sympathy on all occasions, and the love of reputation on most occasions. This is the very doctrine which we have been maintaining against Mr. Mill and the Westminster Reviewer. The principal charge which we brought against Mr. Mill was, that those motives to which Mr. Bentham ascribes so much influence were quite left out of consideration in his theory. The Westminster Reviewer, in the very article now before us, abuses us for saying, in the spirit, and almost in the words of Mr. Bentham, that "there is a certain check to the rapacity and cruelty of men in their desire of the good opinion of others." But does this principle, in which we fully agree with Mr. Bentham, go the length of the new "greatest happiness principle?" The question is, not whether men have some motives for promoting the greatest happiness, but whether the stronger motives be those which impel them to promote the greatest happiness. That

this would always be the case if men knew their own worldly interests is the assertion of the Reviewer. As he expresses some doubt whether Mr. Bentham has demonstrated this or not, we would advise him to set the point at rest by giving his own demonstration.

The Reviewer has not attempted to give a general confirmation of the "greatest happiness principle;" but he has tried to prove that it holds good in one or two particular cases. And even in those particular cases he has utterly failed. A man, says he, who calculated the chances fairly would perceive that it would be for his greatest happiness to abstain from stealing; for a thief runs a greater risk of being hanged than an honest man.

It would have been wise, we think, in the Westminster Reviewer, before he entered on a discussion of this sort, to settle in what human happiness consists. Each of the ancient sects of philosophy held some tenet on this subject which served for a distinguishing badge. The summum bonum of the Utilitarians, as far as we can judge from the passage which we are now considering, is the not being hanged.

That it is an unpleasant thing to be hanged we most willingly concede to our brother. But that the whole question of happiness or misery resolves itself into this single point we cannot so easily admit. We must look at the thing purchased as well as the price paid for it. A thief, assuredly, runs a greater risk of being hanged than a laborer; and so an officer in the army runs a greater risk of being shot than a banker's clerk; and a governor of India runs a greater risk of dying of cholera than a lord of the bedchamber. But does it therefore follow that every man, whatever his habits or feelings may be, would, if he knew his own happiness, become a clerk rather than a cornet, or goldstick-in-waiting rather than Governor of India?

Nothing can be more absurd than to suppose, like the Westminster Reviewer, that thieves steal only because they do not calculate the chances of being hanged as correctly as honest men. It never seems to have occurred to him as possible that a man may so greatly prefer the life of a thief to

« AnteriorContinuar »