John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume X - Essays on Ethics, Religion, and Society [1833]

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The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume X - Essays on Ethics, Religion, and Society, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by F.E.L. Priestley (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985).

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Vol. 10 of the 33 vol. Collected Works contains a number of Mill’s essays on religion and moral philosophy as well as his works on Utilitarianism and Auguste Comte.


the essays collected in this volume are the main documents for the illustration and exposition of John Stuart Mill’s thoughts on ethics and religion and their function in society. Since his system of ethics is avowedly Utilitarian, these documents, arranged chronologically, present the development of Mill’s Utilitarianism as given in published utterance. Questions about the precise nature of his doctrine are capable of being approached in various ways, of which we have, in this edition, chosen two. It is possible to take the essay Utilitarianism as Mill’s definitive statement of his doctrine and subject it to a rigorous analysis, seeking precise shades of meaning, testing the logical consistency and coherence of the argument, by means of the techniques and criteria of the modern philosopher. This task and this approach have been undertaken here by Professor D. P. Dryer, whose thorough and careful study follows this general introduction. It is also possible to follow the patterns of thought, and the patterns of exposition, in the successive works included here, and to treat them in terms of the history of ideas—in this case the development of Mill’s ideas—and in terms of rhetoric, or what might be called the strategy or tactics of presentation and argument. This is to remember that Mill is not purely a philosopher, but a man of letters and a controversialist. It is this second task, and this second approach, that I undertake in this general introduction.


It is natural for discussions of Mill’s variations from Benthamism to start with evidence of his discontent or restiveness under Bentham’s rule, and the main documents called in to supply that evidence are the Autobiography and the essays on Bentham and on Coleridge. As one reads Mill’s retrospective account of what he himself was like before the mental crisis of 1826, that is, during the period of complete committal to Benthamism, one is struck by how closely the portrait of the young Mill resembles the portrait the more mature Mill draws of Bentham. Bentham’s “principle of utility” was “the keystone” which “gave unity” to his conceptions of things, and formulated for him “a creed, a doctrine, a philosophy, . . . a religion.” The “description so often given of a Benthamite, as a mere reasoning machine,” he says, “was during two or three years of my life not altogether untrue of me.” Zeal “for what I thought the good of mankind was my strongest sentiment. . . . But my zeal was as yet little else, at that period of my life, than zeal for speculative opinions. It had not its root in genuine benevolence, or sympathy with mankind; though these qualities held their due place in my ethical standard. Nor was it connected with any high enthusiasm for ideal nobleness.” “[My] father’s teachings tended to the undervaluing of feeling”—as also did Bentham’s. (76-7.)

As he looks back on what he was, Mill recognizes of course in himself the suppressed potentialities that differentiate him from Bentham: “no youth of the age I then was, can be expected to be more than one thing, and this was the thing I happened to be,” but of the absent “high enthusiasm for ideal nobleness,” he comments: “Yet of this feeling I was imaginatively very susceptible; but there was at that time an intermission of its natural aliment, poetical culture, while there was a superabundance of the discipline antagonistic to it, that of mere logic and analysis” (76-7). He also recognizes from this later perspective the power of his father’s feelings, but the fact remains that the feelings are given little place in James Mill’s system. The whole Benthamite system of the regeneration of mankind, to which the young Mill fully subscribed, was to be the “effect of educated intellect, enlightening the selfish feelings” (78). The inevitable egoism of man was to be modified into an enlightened egoism.

The first movement of emancipation from the narrow mould of Benthamism was a very slight one: the rejection of Bentham’s contempt for poetry. This came first through “looking into” Pope’s Essay on Man, and realizing how powerfully it acted on his imagination, despite the repugnance to him of its opinions. It is significant that in retrospect Mill connects this momentary stirring of the imagination by poetry, quite apart from the appeal of its opinions, with the “inspiring effect,” “the best sort of enthusiasm,” roused by biographies of wise and noble men. These stirrings are, as he points out, of greater meaning from the vantage-point of maturity than they were at the time. They did not affect the “real inward sectarianism” of his youth; they were evidence merely of a suppressed potentiality (79-80). It is, nevertheless, this suppressed potentiality which distinguishes the young Mill from Bentham himself.

The actual process of cracking the shell of his “inward sectarianism” begins with his mental crisis in the autumn of 1826. The great end of Benthamism was the production of pleasure (or, to accept Bentham’s extension, happiness). Now Mill found his life devoid of happiness. To the vital question, “Suppose that all your objects in life were realized; that all the changes in institutions and opinions which you are looking forward to, could be completely effected at this very instant: would this be a great joy and happiness to you?” his “irrepressible self-consciousness distinctly answered, ‘No!’ ” And, as he puts it, “the whole foundation on which my life was constructed fell down.” (94.)

What is strongly suggested by Mill’s account, and by the criticism of the doctrine of association taught him by his father and Bentham which immediately follows in the Autobiography, is that the crisis of apathy, of loss of incentive, had brought home to him with full force the objection commonly made to Utilitarianism as a system of ethics, that it provided no source of obligation. “I was,” he says, “. . . left stranded . . . with a well-equipped ship and a rudder, but no sail; without any real desire for the ends which I had been so carefully fitted out to work for: no delight in virtue, or the general good. . . . [N]either selfish nor unselfish pleasures were pleasures to me.” To “know that a feeling would make me happy if I had it, did not give me the feeling.” “. . . I became persuaded, that my love of mankind, and of excellence for its own sake, had worn itself out. . . .” (97-8, 95.) The cause of his state he finds in the education to which he had been subjected, which was, as he recognizes, the kind of education through which Bentham and James Mill looked for the progressive improvement of mankind. His teachers, he says, “seemed to have trusted altogether to the old familiar instruments, praise and blame, reward and punishment,” linked to behaviour in the educational pattern of association derived from Helvetius (96). These associations Mill now saw as artificial and mechanical, not natural. They are, in fact, deliberately created or cultivated prejudices (or, to use a more modern terminology, states of conditioning). There is thus a conflict between this whole area of Bentham’s thought and that area which concerns itself with critical analysis. Bentham’s constructive thought, his plan for progress through enlightenment, reveals a fatal dichotomy. In so far as it is conceived in terms of rewards and punishments to induce the desired behaviour by mechanical association, that is, in so far as it derives from Helvetius and Beccaria, it is at odds with the kind of enlightenment represented by Bentham’s critical attacks on received notions and stereotyped habits of thought, conducted through rational analysis. As Mill points out, “we owe to analysis our clearest knowledge of the permanent sequences in nature; the real connexions between Things, not dependent on our will and feelings; natural laws. . . .” “The very excellence of analysis . . . is that it tends to weaken and undermine whatever is the result of prejudice. . . .” (97, 96.)

A consideration of these passages in the Autobiography indicates first of all that Mill is separating the two aspects of Bentham’s system, the constructive and the critical, and showing why he largely rejects the former, while still generally approving of the latter. This whole procedure suggests a detached and rational weighing of Benthamism difficult to reconcile with the obvious agitation of Mill’s mind at this time. But to a large extent the agitation is in fact connected with the detached rational estimate. There can be no doubt that the maturing Mill became intellectually dissatisfied with the narrow and rigorous schematization which both Bentham and his father delighted in. Nor is there much doubt that any wavering or back-sliding, any questioning of the orthodox doctrine of what was to James Mill, as to John Stuart, a “religion,” smacked to both of heresy and betrayal. It is significant that as late as 1833, Mill is still anxious to keep his heretical views from his father. Some of the anguish, then, is undoubtedly that of a pillar of the faith, beset by intellectual doubts, and in constant communion with the founder of the church.

But much in the Autobiography also suggests a less rational and perhaps even more powerful influence at work. This is an enormous sense of the impoverishment of his own nature, of the denial of a vital part of it, of a suppression of its full potentialities, through the narrowness of the system in which he had been educated. It would be hard to find in any autobiography a passage with more dreadful implications than the one in which Mill records that he read through the whole of Byron, “to try whether a poet, whose peculiar department was supposed to be that of the intenser feelings, could rouse any feeling in me” (103). The nightmarish sense of a paralyzed sensibility, to be tested by the most violent provocation at hand, as if one were applying a powerful current to a nerve one feared to be dead, conveys a profound sense of despair, more profound than that in Arnold’s “buried life.”

As is well known, it was from Wordsworth’s poems that Mill derived “a medicine for [his] state of mind,” “a source of inward joy, of sympathetic and imaginative pleasure, which could be shared in by all human beings. . . .” “From them,” he says, “I seemed to learn what would be the perennial sources of happiness, when all the greater evils of life shall have been removed. . . . I needed to be made to feel that there was real, permanent happiness in tranquil contemplation. . . . And the delight which these poems gave me, proved that with culture of this sort, there was nothing to dread from the most confirmed habit of analysis.” (104.) One is again reminded of Arnold, and his tribute to Wordsworth as the poet who, “when the age had bound Our souls in its benumbing round, . . . spoke, and loosed our heart in tears,” and who “shed On spirits that had long been dead, Spirits dried up and closely furl’d, The freshness of the early world.”

In his depression, Mill had been brought to the belief that “the habit of analysis has a tendency to wear away the feelings . . . ” (96). Since he had been taught by his education not only that the proper exercise of the mind was this habit of analysis, but also that “the pleasure of sympathy with human beings, and the feelings which made the good of others . . . the object of existence, were the greatest and surest source of happiness” (97), he had seemed to be faced with a dilemma. It is from this dilemma that Wordsworth delivered him, as the last sentence quoted above shows.

In his rebellion, emotional and intellectual, against Bentham, Mill sees himself, in retrospect, as if in violent reaction. He notes of a later stage that he had “now completely turned back from what there had been of excess in my reaction against Benthamism” (169). He describes himself, during the reaction, as influenced by the Coleridgeans, and moving towards their position. But he also speaks of the truths “which lay in my early opinions, and in no essential part of which I at any time wavered” (118).

The central question of the nature of Mill’s Utilitarianism clearly involves his attitude towards Bentham and Bentham’s system. But the implications of his reaction against Bentham are neither clear-cut nor simple. An analogy is suggested by his own description of his early enthusiasm for Benthamism as a religion. Heretics are not all of one sort: some reject the old religion totally and subscribe to another set of beliefs, some wish to abandon parts of the orthodox doctrine as excrescences or debasements or perversions, some question the definitions and doctrines and seek a re-definition. Mill had obviously been brought up to accept Benthamism as the full and orthodox doctrine of the utilitarian creed. As a heretic, he could either see himself as rejecting Utilitarianism or as rejecting Bentham’s definition of it. It is clear that he saw himself as doing the latter.


That Mill’s heresy is of the “revisionist” sort is made evident not only by the very obvious fact of his defence of Utilitarianism in the essay on that subject, but by an examination of the essays on Bentham and on Coleridge. The “Remarks on Bentham’s Philosophy” which Mill wrote anonymously in 1833 as an appendix to Lytton Bulwer’s England and the English is notable for its direct challenge of Bentham’s interpretation of the doctrine of Utility: “he has practically, to a very great extent, confounded the principle of Utility with the principle of specific consequences. . . . He has largely exemplified, and contributed very widely to diffuse, a tone of thinking, according to which any kind of action or any habit, which in its own specific consequences cannot be proved to be necessarily or probably productive of unhappiness . . . is supposed to be fully justified. . . .” This confusion has been the “source of the chief part of the temporary mischief” Bentham as a moral philosopher “must be allowed to have produced” (7-8). He has ignored the question whether acts or habits not in themselves necessarily pernicious, may not form part of a pernicious character. In ignoring states of mind as motive and cause of actions, Bentham is in fact ignoring some of the consequences, for “any act . . . has a tendency to fix and perpetuate the state or character of mind in which itself has originated” (8). And by thus limiting consideration of the morality of an act to “consequences” narrowly conceived, Bentham has, Mill implies, given some sanction to those who see Utilitarianism as merely a doctrine of expediency; “a more enlarged understanding of the ‘greatest-happiness principle,’ ” which took far more into account than Bentham’s “consequences,” would not be open to this interpretation (7).

Although Bentham entitles his work Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, it is perhaps fortunate, says Mill, that he concerns himself mainly with legislation rather than morals, “for the mode in which he understood and applied the principle of Utility” was more conducive to valuable results in relation to legislation (7). But even here, the narrowness of his definition of the principle leads him to fail in “the consideration of the greater social questions—the theory of organic institutions and general forms of polity; for those . . . must be viewed as the great instruments of forming the national character . . . ” (9). The deficiency in Bentham’s understanding of the principle of Utility is further aggravated, in his speculations on politics, by the deficiency of his method of “beginning at the beginning”: he starts with a view of man in society without a government, and then considers sorts of government as alternative constructions to be hypothetically applied and evaluated. This method, says Mill, “assumes that mankind are alike in all times and all places, that they have the same wants and are exposed to the same evils, and that if the same institutions do not suit them, it is only because in the more backward stages of improvement they have not wisdom to see what institutions are most for their good” (16). This is vastly to over-simplify the real problem of politics. It is to ignore the function of political institutions as “the principal means of the social education of a people,” to be fitted specifically to the particular needs of the circumstances and national character at a particular stage of civilization. Since different stages demand the production of different effects, no one social organization can be fitted to all circumstances and characters.

The reductive simplicity of this aspect of Bentham’s thought proceeds ultimately from the similar simplicity of his view of human nature. He “supposes mankind,” writes Mill, “to be swayed by only a part of the inducements which really actuate them; but of that part he imagines them to be much cooler and more thoughtful calculators than they really are” (17). He ignores the profound effect of habit and imagination in securing political acquiescence, and the effect upon habit and imagination of continuity of political structure and especially its outward forms. He ignores, in short, what Burke calls “prejudice,” and which Burke rightly recognizes as to some extent indicating an adaptation of institutions, “associated with all the historical recollections of a people,” to their national character (17). It is this historical continuity “which alone renders possible those innumerable compromises between adverse interests and expectation, without which no government could be carried on for a year, and with difficulty even for a week.”

If the narrowness of Bentham’s view of human nature introduces such serious deficiencies into his political thought, in the area of moral thought Mill sees its effect as positively vicious. In asserting that “men’s actions are always obedient to their interests,” Bentham by no means intended “to impute universal selfishness to mankind, for he reckoned the motive of sympathy as an interest. . . . He distinguished two kinds of interests, the self-regarding and the social. . . .” But the term interest in vulgar usage gets restricted to the self-regarding, and indeed the “tendency of Mr. Bentham’s own opinions” was to consider the self-regarding interest “as exercising, by the very constitution of human nature, a far more exclusive and paramount control over human actions than it really does exercise.” As soon as Bentham has shown the direction in which a man’s selfish interest would move him, he habitually “lays it down without further parley that the man’s interest lies that way” (14). This assertion Mill goes on to support with quotations from Bentham’s Book of Fallacies. “By the promulgation of such views of human nature, and by a general tone of thought and expression perfectly in harmony with them,” he flatly charges, “I conceive Mr. Bentham’s writings to have done and to be doing very serious evil. . . . It is difficult to form the conception of a tendency more inconsistent with all rational hope of good for the human species, than that which must be impressed by such doctrines, upon any mind in which they find acceptance.” “I regard any considerable increase of human happiness, through mere changes in outward circumstances, unaccompanied by changes in the state of the desires, as hopeless. . . . No man’s individual share of any public good which he can hope to realize by his efforts, is an equivalent for the sacrifice of his ease, and of the personal objects which he might attain by another course of conduct. The balance can be turned in favour of virtuous exertion, only by the interest of feeling or by that of conscience—those ‘social interests,’ the necessary subordination of which to ‘self-regarding’ is so lightly assumed.” (15.)

Mill reinforces his case by further criticism of Bentham’s psychology—the inadequacy of his list of motives, or “springs of action,” the inferiority of his doctrine to Hartley’s in omitting “the moral sense,” the falseness of his notion that “all our acts are determined by pains and pleasures in prospect,” as implied in the calculus of consequences (12). Mill also introduces something like Godwin’s distinction between the morality of an act and the virtue of the actor. The virtuous man is deterred, not by a view of consequences, or of future pain, but from the painful “thought of committing the act,” a pain which precedes the act. “Not only may this be so,” Mill adds, “but unless it be so, the man is not really virtuous.” Again, consequences depend on deliberation, but he who deliberates “is in imminent danger of being lost” (12). Mill might seem here to be arguing a doctrine of “moral sense,” an immediate, not deliberative apprehension of the moral quality of an act. He is certainly defining virtue in terms of moral disposition, or motive, like the intuitionists. But in view of his rejection in Utilitarianism of any cognitive element in “moral sense,” we must conclude that here the deterrent “painful thought” performs only a psychological, not an epistemic function. What Mill is doing, then, is substituting an account of moral sense in terms of his empirical psychology for that offered by the intuitionists. His reference to Hartley serves to remind us that Hartley also attempts to reconcile in this fashion, at least to some degree, the opposed empirical and intuitionist schools of moral philosophy.

Where Bentham is successful, Mill argues, is in those areas which do not involve moral philosophy. Penal law, for example, “enjoins or prohibits an action, with very little regard to the general moral excellence or turpitude which it implies. . . .” The legislator’s object “is not to render people incapable of desiring a crime, but to deter them from actually committing it” (9). Again, in his efforts to reduce law to a science, in his deductions of principles, and the separating of historical, technical, and rational elements, in his exploding of “fantastic and illogical maxims on which the various technical systems are founded” (10), in his concepts of codification of the law, Bentham, operating purely critically, is brilliantly successful, and Mill pays him full tribute.

How far Mill’s estimate of Bentham, in this essay of 1833, is accurate or just to Bentham need not concern us here. What we are solely concerned with is to determine the exact state of Mill’s own thought, and particularly of its relation at this point to Utilitarianism.

What we first note is the sharp separation of Bentham as moral philosopher from Bentham as analyst and proponent of the philosophy of law, the first being attacked as not only inadequate but positively pernicious, the second being praised almost without qualification. We note secondly that Bentham the moral philosopher is described almost totally in terms of what he derives from Helvetius and Beccaria: the egoistic psychology, the reduction of motive to simple, undifferentiated pleasure and pain, the defining of virtue and vice simply by means of consequences, the restriction of consideration to the action and not including the virtue of the actor or his motives, the mechanical theory of association which, by linking pain or pleasure to certain actions, will “educate” the egoistic individual into socially useful behaviour. The extent to which Bentham in fact modifies the rigorous pattern of Helvetius and Beccaria is minimized. Mill suggests, indeed, that the modifications weigh very lightly in Bentham’s own habits of thought.

What we have in this essay is, then, a point-by-point rejection of practically all the main elements in the structure of the system of Utilitarianism as conceived by Helvetius and Beccaria. It is clear that if their system is taken to be the pure and orthodox doctrine, Mill is at this moment an anti-Utilitarian. But it is also clear from the essay that this is not how the matter appeared to Mill. He insists rather that the structure he is attacking is not the true doctrine, but a false one raised entirely upon the foundations of a false psychology, a false view of human nature. He is, in short, not the type of heretic who rejects the whole religion, but the type who sees himself, not as a heretic, but as the exponent of the true faith, warped in its transmission by the narrowness of vision of the prophets before him.


The essay on Bentham, written in 1838 as a review of Bentham’s collected Works, and the essay on Coleridge, published in 1840, continue the pattern established by the essay of 1833. But in the meantime Mill had been provoked by Sedgwick’s Discourse into a defence of Utilitarianism. This, being a public and avowed performance, and not, like the earlier essay, anonymous, gave Mill a limited opportunity, as he says, to insert into his defence of “Hartleianism and Utilitarianism a number of the opinions which constituted my view of those subjects, as distinguished from that of my old associates.” “My relation to my father would have made it . . . impossible . . . to speak out my whole mind . . . at this time.” He was obliged “to omit two or three pages of comment on what I thought the mistakes of utilitarian moralists, which my father considered as an attack on Bentham and on him.”

The modern reader, with the less-guarded essay of 1833 to place beside the defence of 1835, can savour the ironies of the situation. As he reads Mill’s scornful rejection of Sedgwick’s argument that “waiting for the calculations of utility” is immoral, since “to hesitate is to rebel,” he is likely to recall the passage Mill wrote in 1833: “The fear of pain consequent upon the act, cannot arise, unless there be deliberation; and the man as well as ‘the woman who deliberates,’ is in imminent danger of being lost. And as he reads the attack on Sedgwick’s contention that the principle of utility has a “debasing” and “degrading” effect (66), he remembers, from the text of 1833, that “the effect of such writings as Mr. Bentham’s, if they be read and believed and their spirit imbibed, must either be hopeless despondency and gloom, or a reckless giving themselves up to a life of that miserable self-seeking, which they are there taught to regard as inherent in their original and unalterable nature” (16).

Mill’s relation to his father has not only made it impossible, as he says, to speak out his whole mind; it has undoubtedly forced him into a degree of disingenuousness. As he begins his defence of the theory of utility against Sedgwick’s attack, he lays down a caveat: “No one is entitled to found an argument against a principle, upon the faults or blunders of a particular writer who professed to build his system upon it, without taking notice that the principle may be understood differently, and has in fact been understood differently by other writers. What would be thought of an assailant of Christianity, who should judge of its truth or beneficial tendency from the view taken of it by the Jesuits, or by the Shakers?” (52.) In the context, the implication is that the wrong understanding of the principle of utility is Paley’s; in the context of the essay of 1833 the wrong view can also be Bentham’s. “A doctrine is not judged at all until it is judged in its best form” (52). This caveat is repeatedly, but often unobtrusively, inserted into the attack on Sedgwick. Mill speaks of the doctrine of utility “when properly understood.” He insists that “clear and comprehensive views of education and human culture” must form the basis of a philosophy of morals; that “all our affections . . . towards human beings . . . are held, by the best teachers of the theory of utility” to originate in the natural human constitution; he accuses Sedgwick of “lumping up” the theory of utility with “the theory, if there be such a theory, of the universal selfishness of mankind” (71; italics added).

It is clear to those who know the essay of 1833 that the caveat is directed against Bentham, that Bentham is the counterpart of the Jesuits and Shakers, but no explicit sign of this intention appears. The only mention of Bentham in the whole essay is indeed, when set against the context of 1833, highly misleading: Paley, says Mill, would doubtless admit that men are acted upon by other than selfish motives, “or, in the language of Bentham and Helvetius, that they have other interests, than merely self-regarding ones” (54). This remark does not, it will be noted, actually make any statement about the doctrines of Bentham and Helvetius, but only about their language—specifically the term “interest”—but it permits the reader to interpret it as a statement about doctrine.

Mill does, however, in spite of these ambiguities, insert some of those ideas that he sees as modifications or correctives of Benthamism. When, for example, he attributes the “lax morality taught by Paley” to Paley’s confusion of utilitarianism with expediency, and objects at length to the narrow definition of “consequences” (56), he directs nominally against Paley the same arguments he directed in 1833 against Bentham. His insistence on the importance of poetry, along with autobiographies and novels, in broadening views of human nature, in supplying knowledge of “true human feeling” (56), and in the formation of character, again parallels passages in the Autobiography and in the essay of 1833. So does his list of feelings—the chivalrous point of honour, envy and jealousy, ambition, covetousness; although his immediate point is to analyze them all into products of association, he is nevertheless suggesting an enlargement of Bentham’s “springs of action.” And his comment upon the effects of the “excessive cultivation” of “habits of analysis and abstraction upon the character” records precisely the same rebellion as that recorded in the Autobiography. The steady emphasis upon character and motive, the inclusion of effects on character among “consequences” of an act, and the tendency to turn attention away from Bentham’s sort of “consequences” to these, insert into the essay, at least by implication, many of the fundamental criticisms of Bentham made in 1833.


By 1838 James Mill, as well as Bentham, was dead, and John Stuart Mill was free to write without wounding his father by his heresy or disloyalty. The essay on Bentham is his first public exercise of this freedom. His emancipation is proclaimed in the opening paragraph, where he praises in perfectly equal terms Bentham and Coleridge, “the two great seminal minds of England in their age,” the proponents of the philosophy in which Mill had been reared, and of the philosophy which he in general thinks of as its antithesis. In the context of the relatively long essay on Bentham, this first paragraph and the one following it create a peculiar effect. We are told that both men effected a revolution in the “general modes of thought and investigation” of their time, that both were closet-students, never read by the multitude, that their influences have “but begun to diffuse themselves” over society at large, Bentham’s over the “Progressive class,” Coleridge’s over the “Conservative,” and that to Bentham it was given “to discern more particularly those truths with which existing doctrines and institutions were at variance; to Coleridge, the neglected truths which lay in them”—talents which suggest in broad and relatively conventional terms Progressive and Conservative attitudes. The reader of 1838 might well have wondered why this very general preamble and this laudatory but unspecific tribute to Coleridge should preface a long and detailed essay concerned exclusively with Bentham. As we are now able to recognize, and as probably the reader of 1840 could recognize with the essay on Coleridge before him, the introductory paragraphs are not an introduction to the essay on Bentham. They are an introduction to Mill’s thoughts about Bentham, which is a somewhat different and more complex subject. We can now see, with the Autobiography available to us, why Mill thinks of Coleridge as well as Bentham at this point. The reader of “Coleridge” would understand the force of the final introductory sentence about each philosopher’s approach to doctrines and institutions.

Any reader, however, is likely to feel that the treatment of Bentham in the essay contrasts in its severity with the praise in the introduction, and indeed Mill himself at a later date had misgivings. The contrast is perhaps more apparent than real. As in the essay of 1833, Mill does not underestimate what he takes to be Bentham’s real achievement: “to refuse an admiring recognition of what he was, on account of what he was not” is an error, he says, “no longer permitted to any cultivated and instructed mind” (82). The praise he now gives Bentham goes a good deal further than Mill was willing to go in 1833. At that time it was difficult for him to value any but the critical side of Bentham’s philosophy. Now he discriminates and elaborates. Bentham is still the great “subversive, or, in the language of continental philosophers, the great critical, thinker of his age and country” (79). But his importance is to be estimated fully neither by the quality of his critical analysis—which shows no subtlety or power of recondite analysis—nor by his achievement in the area in which he really excelled, the correction of practical abuses. His importance lies in his widespread and lasting influence. “It was not Bentham by his own writings; it was Bentham through the minds and pens which those writings fed—through the men . . . into whom his spirit passed” (79). And this spirit was not purely negative and critical; it included a positive and constructive element. He “made it a point of conscience” not to assail error “until he thought he could plant instead the corresponding truth” (82). But again, his real value lies not in those conclusions he took for truth, but in the method, combining critical analysis with positive synthesis. He reformed philosophy, but it “was not his doctrines which did this, it was his mode of arriving at them.” “It was not his opinions, in short, but his method, that constituted the novelty and the value of what he did; a value beyond all price, even though we should reject the whole, as we unquestionably must a large part, of the opinions themselves.” (83.)

Freed of the necessity of accepting and praising Bentham’s opinions, and free to make this radical disjunction of his method from its doctrinal product, Mill can praise whole-heartedly. It was the doctrines that had been the stumbling-block. As soon, however, as he begins to examine the method to which he has ascribed a revolutionary novelty, he is seized by fresh doubts. The novelty and originality are perhaps not in the method after all, but in “the subjects he applied it to, and in the rigidity with which he adhered to it” (83). The method, considered as a logical conception, has certain affinities “with the methods of physical science, or with the previous labours of Bacon, Hobbes, or Locke. . .” (83). The novelty now becomes “not an essential consideration” of the method, but of its application. And here the novelty appears in “interminable classifications,” “elaborate demonstrations of the most acknowledged truths.” “That murder, incendiarism, robbery, are mischievous actions, he will not take for granted without proof. . . .” (83.)

Up to this point, one gets a sense of deliberate anticlimax, starting with a great seminal mind, dismissing the doctrines and opinions produced by it, praising the method it developed, only to cast suspicion on the originality involved, and ending with a reduction to the phrases above, with the slighting “interminable,” “elaborate,” “most acknowledged.” Having thus invited the reader virtually to dismiss Bentham, doctrines, method, and all, Mill proceeds to a patient and detailed demonstration of the value, despite its and its begetter’s shortcomings, of Bentham’s method, the “method of detail.” In it Mill sees an “application of a real inductive philosophy to the problems of ethics.” And so, after an anticlimactic nadir, we come back to praise.

The peculiarity of this pattern is open to more than one explanation. It could be a purely rhetorical device, in which Bentham’s opponents are thrown off balance and disarmed by concession after concession, until, just as all seems conceded and their victory complete, Bentham’s greatness is re-asserted on grounds they had overlooked. But one gets the sense here rather of following the windings of Mill’s own mind, as he sorts out what he himself has acquired from Bentham: not doctrine, for much of that he had rejected in 1833; not method, for he himself had argued for an imitation of the inductive sciences rather than of geometry in moral and political philosophy. It could then only be the way in which Bentham had developed and applied the method, the precise nature of the “habit of analysis” he and James Mill had taught their pupil. From his father Mill had learned, he believed, subtlety of analysis; from Bentham the “exhaustive method.”

And this of course brings Mill back again, after giving Bentham due credit, to the limitations of the “habit of analysis” in general, and to Bentham’s limitations in particular. In what seems to be a general anxiety in this work to be fair to his subject, he first explains the sort of breadth Bentham’s mind possessed: “he sees every subject in connexion with all the other subjects with which in his view it is related. . .” (88-9). He thus preserves himself against one kind of narrow and partial views—but “Nobody’s synthesis can be more complete than his analysis” (89), and a system based upon an imperfect analysis will be exceedingly limited in its applicability. Bentham’s analysis is limited in various ways: first of all by his contemptuous dismissal of all other thinkers and schools of thought, whose speculations he dismissed as “vague generalities.” The “nature of his mind,” says Mill, “prevented it from occurring to him, that these generalities contained the whole unanalysed experience of the human race” (90). One catches here, particularly in the last phrase, a hint of Mill’s own discovery, recorded in the Autobiography, of the vast areas of human experience, and especially of the unanalyzed and unanalyzable experience embodied in imaginative writing, which Bentham so glibly dismissed.

Furthermore, in ignoring thinkers of the past, Bentham is ignoring “the collective mind of the human race.” “The collective mind does not penetrate below the surface, but it sees all the surface.” And by refusing to consider views opposed to his own, Bentham limits his own vision, for “none are more likely to have seen what he does not see, than those who do not see what he sees” (91).

It is at this point that Mill develops his theory of the half-truth, conceived generally in terms of polarity. “The hardiest assertor . . . of the freedom of private judgment—the keenest detector of the errors of his predecessors, and of the inaccuracies of current modes of thought—is the very person who most needs to fortify the weak side of his own intellect, by study of the opinions of mankind in all ages and nations, and of the speculations of philosophers of the modes of thought most opposite to his own.” “A man of clear ideas errs grievously if he imagines that whatever is seen confusedly does not exist. . . .” (91.)

Bentham’s most serious limitation, however, was “the incompleteness of his own mind as a representative of universal human nature. In many of the most natural and strongest feelings of human nature he had no sympathy; from many of its graver experiences he was altogether cut off; and the faculty by which one mind understands a mind different from itself, and throws itself into the feelings of that other mind, was denied him by his deficiency of Imagination.” (91.) Behind these sentences lie not only the explanation of the incompleteness of Bentham’s analysis of human nature, of the reductive simplicity of his “springs of action,” but also a strong suggestion of Mill’s own experience in the early years recorded in the Autobiography—of the sensitivities of an imaginative child and youth dismissed as nonsense. This suggestion is reinforced by the description Mill gives, immediately after this passage, of the sort of Imagination Bentham lacked—a description in words taken from Wordsworth’s Preface to the Lyrical Ballads of 1800. Without this imagination, Mill continues, “nobody knows even his own nature, further than circumstances have actually tried it and called it out” (92). There can be no doubt that at this point he is recalling his own emotional crisis, and the release of self-knowledge he owed to Wordsworth.

Bentham’s knowledge of human nature is “wholly empirical,” that is, based on his own experience, and “he had neither internal experience nor external. . . .” “He was a boy to the last. Self-consciousness . . . never was awakened in him.” “Knowing so little of human feelings, he knew still less of the influences by which those feelings are formed. . . .” (92, 93.) Mill’s sentences flow on, one after the other, evenly, balanced, poised, and almost totally damning.

From Bentham’s denial of “all truths but those which he recognizes” flows the bad influence he has had upon his age: “he has, not created a school of deniers, for this is an ignorant prejudice, but put himself at the head of the school which exists always. . . : thrown the mantle of intellect over the natural tendency of men in all ages to deny or disparage all feelings and mental states of which they have no consciousness in themselves” (93).

It will be noted that this is a very different accusation, in its description of the source and nature of Bentham’s bad influence, from that of 1833. Then the influence was ascribed to his positive doctrines; now it arises from his failure to recognize that his own truths are merely “fractional truths.” And after praise of “one-eyed men,” Mill sets out to assert the value of Bentham’s limited visions of these fractional truths. The assessment suggests why he has substituted “fractional” for “half”; as he details Bentham’s conception of human nature, and then the elements ignored by it, the fraction representing Bentham’s share of the whole truth becomes evidently small. “Man is never recognised by him as a being capable of pursuing spiritual perfection as an end; of desiring, for its own sake, the conformity of his own character to his standard of excellence, without hope of good or fear of evil from other source than his own inward consciousness.” This “great fact in human nature escapes him.” (95.) If he occasionally speaks of “love of justice” as inherent in almost all mankind, it is impossible to tell “what sense is to be put upon casual expressions so inconsistent with the general tenor of his philosophy” (95n). Neither the word “self-respect” nor the idea it indicates occurs even once in his writings. The sense of honour, of personal dignity, the love of beauty, of order, of congruity, the love of abstract power, of action,—none of these “powerful constituents of human nature” finds a place among his “Springs of Action.” Even his doctrine of sympathy does not include “the love of loving, the need of a sympathising support, or of objects of admiration and reverence.” These omissions arise, not from the absence of these elements in Bentham’s own nature, but from his having “confounded all disinterested feelings which he found in himself, with the desire of general happiness” (96)—that is, although Mill does not explicitly say so, from a deficiency of analysis.

In 1833, it was the reduction of motives in Bentham’s view of human nature that led to his bad influence; now the influence is minimized: “he has not been followed in this grand oversight by any of the able men who, from the extent of their intellectual obligations to him, have been regarded as his disciples.” “If any part of the influence of this cardinal error has extended itself to them, it is circuitously, and through the effect on their minds of other parts of Bentham’s doctrines.” (97.)

But having thus, after a fashion, absolved Bentham from the serious charges made in 1833, Mill now goes on to examine, “in a spirit neither of apology nor of censure, but of calm appreciation,” how much Bentham’s view of human nature will accomplish in morals, and how much in political and social philosophy. In morals, it will do nothing “beyond prescribing some of the more obvious dictates of worldly prudence, and outward probity and beneficence” (97-8). For Mill, full emphasis is on the word “outward.” In short, Benthamite ethics will be merely prudential and external. Self-education, “the training, by the human being himself, of his affections and will,” is “a blank” in his system, and without it, the regulation of outward actions “must be altogether halting and imperfect” (98). The system is not, then, valid even as a system of prudential and external ethics.

Moreover, the system is totally useless for regulating “the nicer shades of human behaviour, or for laying down even the greater moralities . . . which tend to influence the depths of the character quite independently of any influence on worldly circumstances” (98). In Bentham’s Deontology, one finds that the petite morale almost alone is treated, “and that with the most pedantic minuteness, and on the quid pro quo principles which regulate trade” (99). The fraction of truth in Bentham’s ethics has by now become an infinitesimal.

What of his social doctrine? Again, “it will do nothing . . . for the spiritual interests of society; nor does it suffice of itself even for the material interests” (99). It offers, in effect, an exact parallel with the ethics. It ignores national character as the ethics ignore individual character. “A philosophy of laws and institutions, not founded on a philosophy of national character, is an absurdity” (99). But Bentham’s opinions on national character would be even more worthless than his totally inadequate opinions on individual character. “All he can do is but to indicate means by which, in any given state of the national mind, the material interests of society can be protected,” leaving to others the important question whether the use of those means would injure the national character (99). His philosophy can, then, “teach the means of organizing and regulating the merely business part of the social arrangements”—and that is all (99). It cannot deal with anything involving reference to moral influences. Bentham mistakenly thought the business part of human affairs was the whole of them, or at least all that the legislator and moralist are concerned with. Since for Mill the “business part” cannot be dealt with without reference to moral influences, and a philosophy of morals not founded on a philosophy of character is as absurd as a philosophy of laws and institutions not founded on a philosophy of national character, Bentham’s social philosophy and moral philosophy are alike absurd.

Yet he goes on to speak of the “business part” as the field of Bentham’s greatness, “and there he is indeed great” (100). The greatness is entirely as a critical philosopher, except in the philosophy of law. As in 1833, here he can praise Bentham unreservedly. But as he turns, with obvious relief, to this area, he tries to temper his judgment on Bentham’s performance in moral and social philosophy, using a mathematical image more admirable for its neatness than for its cogency. He has, after all, reduced the “fractional truths” in Bentham virtually to vanishing point. Now he praises Bentham for having “originated more new truths” than the world “ever received, except in a few glorious instances, from any other individual. . . . Nor let that which he did be deemed of small account because its province was limited. . . . The field of Bentham’s labours was like the space between two parallel lines; narrow to excess in one direction, in another it reached to infinity.” (100.) As Mill well knows, in the mathematical juggling implied in his image, the area enclosed by his parallel lines will remain an infinite area however closely the distance between the lines approaches zero without reaching it. He has brought Bentham’s lines very close together indeed; the precise nature of their infinite extension would perhaps be hard for Mill to define.

Even his praise of Bentham’s philosophy of law is rather more tempered than in 1833 or, to put it perhaps more accurately, Bentham’s status as legal philosopher is more sharply separated from his status as political philosopher. The same accomplishments are praised, and the same large reservation is made about Bentham’s ignoring of national character in his thoughts on government. But new criticisms are introduced. “The Benthamic theory of government has made so much noise in the world of late years; it has held such a conspicuous place among Radical philosophies, . . . that many worthy persons imagine there is no other Radical philosophy extant” (105-106). Of the “three great questions in government,” the first two, “to what authority is it for the good of the people that they should be subject,” and “how are they to be induced to obey that authority,” must have varied answers according to the “degree and kind of civilization” already attained by a people, and their “peculiar aptitudes for receiving more” (106). These questions Bentham does not seriously concern himself with. The third question, “how are abuses of this authority to be checked,” has a less variable answer, and is Bentham’s main concern. His answer is, by responsibility of the authority to “the numerical majority,” whose interest he takes to coincide with the interest of the whole community. This assumption, the “fundamental doctrine of Bentham’s political philosophy,” Mill challenges. “Is it, at all times and places, good for mankind to be under the absolute authority of the majority of themselves?” Since this absolute authority will control, not only actions, but minds, opinions, and feelings, he goes on to demand, “Is it . . . the proper condition of man, in all ages and nations, to be under the despotism of Public Opinion?” (106-107.) Of the three great questions in government, then, Bentham virtually ignores two, and supplies a questionable answer for the third. The Radical philosophy which has become so dominant through his influence places all its faith in the rule of a numerical majority, a faith Mill was increasingly inclined to question.

Mill challenges, in fact, that whole concept of government which Halévy has described as “the artificial identification of interests,” and which he sees as the Benthamite doctrine. To achieve an identity of interests, Mill says, would be to achieve identity of “partialities, passions, and prejudices,” “to make one narrow, mean type of human nature universal and perpetual, and to crush every influence which tends to the further improvement of man’s intellectual and moral nature” (107). The doctrine, in short, by which Benthamism aims at producing a just yet stable society, will end by producing a static one, and the static society becomes an unjust society. There must be provision, then, for “a perpetual and standing Opposition to the will of the majority,” and not, as in Bentham’s scheme, for every ingenious means of “riveting the yoke of public opinion” round the necks of all public functionaries. “Wherever all the forces of society act in one single direction, the just claims of the individual human being are in extreme peril.” The exercise of the power of the majority must be “tempered by respect for the personality of the individual, and deference to superiority of cultivated intelligence” (108-109).

Having thus again, on the subject of government, reduced Bentham’s “fractional truth” to virtual insignificance, Mill again starts to redress the balance by asserting the value of Bentham’s “political speculations.” What he has just been suggesting as a misuse of Bentham’s “great powers,” the exhausting of “all the resources of ingenuity in devising means for riveting the yoke of public opinion closer and closer,” he now describes as pointing out “with admirable skill the best means of promoting, one of the ideal qualities of a perfect government—identity of interest between the trustees and the community for whom they hold their power in trust” (109). The shift from blame to praise of Bentham is accompanied, one notes, by a shift in interpretation of the doctrine of identity of interests: it is no longer the identity (and identification) of the interests of the individual and of the community, but of the interests of the rulers and of the community. Since Bentham relies on responsibility of the rulers to the numerical majority as the “best means of promoting” this end, a principle Mill has just attacked, it is difficult to see how the variation can salvage Bentham’s value. Mill also praises Bentham for his attention to “interest-begotten prejudice,” particularly as displayed in “class-interest, and the class morality founded thereon,” although noting at the same time that in the psychology of self-deception religious writers, with their superior knowledge of the “profundities and windings of the human heart,” had penetrated much deeper than he (109).

Then finally, Mill turns to the subject in which we are most interested, and which he gives every evidence of having deliberately avoided. “It may surprise the reader,” he says, and indeed it may, “that we have said so little about the first principle . . . with which his name is more identified than with anything else; the ‘principle of utility,’ or, as he afterwards named it, ‘the greatest-happiness principle.’ ” A great deal could be said on the subject, “on an occasion more suitable for a discussion of the metaphysics of morality, or on which the elucidations necessary to make an opinion on so abstract a subject intelligible could be conveniently given.” But a discussion of the principle of utility is not “in reality necessary for the just estimation of Bentham” (110). On the face of it, to say that the discussion of a philosopher’s “first principle,” the principle with which his name is identified, is not necessary for a just estimation of him is a surprising dictum. It is here also of very great importance. Obviously, if the principle of utility is irrelevant to an estimate of Bentham, Bentham is irrelevant to an estimate of the principle of utility. The process of separation of Bentham from the doctrine is complete.

But the fact of Bentham’s Utilitarianism remains to be explained, or even explained away. It is there in Bentham’s system, Mill says in effect, from a special kind of psychological compulsion. To Bentham, “systematic unity was an indispensable condition of his confidence in his own intellect,” and the principle of utility serves to create that systematic unity: “it was necessary to him to find a first principle which he could receive as self-evident, and to which he could attach all his other doctrines as logical consequences” (111). This was, then, a psychological necessity for Bentham; he had to have a system. But the value of his thought clearly does not lie in the system or in the achievement of its construction. The implication is strong that another principle might easily have given him another system, that this would have given him equal confidence, and produced equally valuable results. This is why, presumably, an estimate of his achievement does not depend on the validity of his principle or of his system.

Thus, by another route, Mill brings us back to the conclusion that Bentham’s greatness does not lie in his body of doctrines, but in his method. Yet the method itself, which for Bentham is clearly inseparable from system-building, has been opened further to criticism. As to the “greatest-happiness principle,” Mill records his entire agreement with the principle “under proper explanations”—a significant qualification. These explanations he obviously has no intention of going into in detail at this time, but he drops a few hints. “We think utility, or happiness, much too complex and indefinite an end to be sought except through the medium of various secondary ends. . . .” Mankind, being “much more nearly of one nature, than of one opinion about their own nature,” can agree more readily about these intermediate ends than about the first principles; and “the attempt to make the bearings of actions upon the ultimate end more evident than they can be made by referring them to the intermediate ends, and to estimate their value by a direct reference to human happiness, generally terminates in attaching most importance, not to those effects which are really the greatest, but to those which can most easily be pointed to and individually identified” (110-11). So much for the “felicific calculus.”

Then Mill repeats the charge of 1833: that Bentham ignores, among his “consequences,” the effect of actions upon the agent’s own mind and character. He further expands this theme. “The cold, mechanical, and ungenial air which characterizes the popular idea of a Benthamite” is a result of Bentham’s one-sided treatment of actions and characters solely in terms of the moral view. And again, this error belongs to him, “not as a utilitarian, but as a moralist by profession” (112). Mill’s correction is to distinguish three aspects of every human action: the moral (of its right and wrong), the aesthetic (of its beauty), the sympathetic (of its loveableness). “The first addresses itself to our reason and conscience; the second to our imagination; the third to our human fellow-feeling” (112). In effect, Mill is rejecting the tendency of strict Utilitarianism to ignore the morality of the agent, as he has done in insisting on effects on character as consequences. He does not here, like William Godwin, distinguish and separate the morality of an action (judged by consequences) and the morality of an agent (judged by motive or intention), since he clearly sees these as only artificially separable. His introduction of the aesthetic is also notable—it clearly reflects the response recorded in the Autobiography to narratives of great lives, and it brings Mill at this point curiously close to the school of Shaftesbury.

It seems certain that thoughts of his own childhood and youth are in Mill’s mind at this point, since he moves directly from these considerations of the qualities of an action to Bentham’s peculiar dislike of discussions of taste (“as if a person’s tastes did not show him to be wise or a fool, cultivated or ignorant, gentle or rough, sensitive or callous, generous or sordid, benevolent or selfish, conscientious or depraved,” Mill observes (113) in a tone of rebuke), and to his equally peculiar opinions on poetry. The famous “pushpin is as good as poetry” is shown to be less anti-cultural than its quoters usually suppose, but “All poetry is misrepresentation” is allowed to be Bentham’s characteristic view (114). This view proceeds, as does Bentham’s intricate and involved style, from a fallacious view of the nature and possibility of precision in language. The view carries with it the paradox that in trying to write with absolute precision, Bentham “could stop nowhere short of utter unreadableness, and after all attained no more accuracy than is compatible with opinions as imperfect and one-sided as those of any poet or sentimentalist breathing” (115).

So closes the “impartial estimate” of Bentham’s “character as a philosopher, and of the results of his labours to the world.” And again, the paradoxical statement, that after “every abatement . . . there remains to Bentham an indisputable place among the great intellectual benefactors of mankind” (115). What is one to make of the paradox? Is the praise merely the tribute of personal loyalty to an early guide, philosopher, and friend, all of whose ideas have been outgrown? This is perhaps the dominant impression given by the footnote Mill added to refute Brougham’s view of Bentham’s character, but here the concern is with defence of character. In the essay itself, there is no separation of Bentham the man from Bentham the philosopher, which would have been an obvious way of paying personal tribute. It is, on the contrary, clear that Mill, while undercutting and dismissing virtually all Bentham’s claims to serious consideration as a thinker, nevertheless retains in some peculiar way a great respect for him as an intellectual influence and force. And although his specific praise is directed almost entirely to the critical side of Bentham’s work, to his demolishing of legal fictions, and so on, it is apparent that Mill, as in 1833, sees him as more than a preparatory destroyer, more than a Voltaire, for example. He is not merely the wrecker clearing old houses from the site to prepare for new building; he is in some sense an architect of the new, even if his plans seem all wrong. I spoke earlier about different kinds of heretic, and perhaps Mill would not object to the suggestion of an analogy drawn from the history of Buddhism. The two great branches of Buddhist thought were named (by the later branch) the Hīnayāna, or Inferior Vehicle, and the Mahāyāna, or Great Vehicle. Ānanda, the first reciter of the Scriptures (Sūtra), was held by the Mahāyāna to have had an imperfect grasp of their meaning, and to have taught them to disciples with an equally imperfect grasp. He nevertheless made the Great Vehicle, the more enlightened interpretation, possible; and also, through his own teachings and those of his disciples, established the Buddhism which the Mahāyāna would re-interpret and reform. If one grants that Utilitarianism has no Buddha, and consequently no inspired Scriptures, it is still possible to see Bentham as the Ānanda of Utilitarianism, the Benthamites as Hīnayāna Utilitarians, and Mill as seeking to establish Mahāyāna Utilitarianism. This would make Bentham, like Ānanda, a “great seminal mind,” one who has opened up “rich veins of original and striking speculation,” one who has been “the teacher of the teachers,” whose modes of thought have “inoculated a considerable number of thinking men.” He has established a whole school of Utilitarians and Radicals, based on his Inferior Vehicle; this is the great preliminary accomplishment to prepare for the Great Vehicle. Consequently, although Bentham’s statement of the doctrines is now to Mill erroneous and therefore unimportant as a statement of the true religion, Bentham himself is to be honoured.


When we turn to the essay on Coleridge, first published in 1840, we have been led by the Bentham essay into certain expectations. We are now to see examined the other “seminal mind,” and perhaps to inspect other half or fractional truths. A reader with a clear memory of the earlier essay might also wonder whether Coleridge’s truths are to be subjected to the same rather devastating scrutiny as Bentham’s. The opening of the essay is so close in its pattern to the earlier one as to arouse this suspicion. For here again, Bentham and Coleridge are praised equally as “the great questioners of things established”; Bentham, “beyond all others,” has led men to ask of a received opinion, Is it true?; Coleridge, What is the meaning of it? Both have exerted influence far beyond their immediate followers. Coleridge is praised for his Burkean sense of the collective wisdom enshrined in long-established beliefs, whose duration is “at least proof of an adaptation in it to some portion or other of the human mind, . . . some natural want or requirement of human nature which the doctrine in question is fitted to satisfy. . . .” Each of them thus sees what the other does not.

In all this expansive tolerance and appreciation, the harsh comments on Bentham seem forgotten, and the reader who recalls phrases from the essay on Bentham is likely to read with some surprise the pronouncements, “If a book were to be compiled containing all the best things ever said on the rule-of-thumb school of political craftsmanship, and on the insufficiency for practical purposes of what the mere practical man calls experience, it is difficult to say whether the collection would be more indebted to the writings of Bentham or of Coleridge,” and “Of their methods of philosophizing, the same thing may be said: they were different, yet both were legitimate logical processes.” (121.) And those who remember the whittling away of Bentham’s claims to originality here discover that his originality is greater than Coleridge’s: “Bentham so improved and added to the system of philosophy he adopted, that for his successors he may almost be accounted its founder; while Coleridge . . . was anticipated in all the essentials of his doctrine by the great Germans of the latter half of the last century. . .”; “he is the creator rather of the shape in which it has appeared among us, than of the doctrine itself.” (121.)

After this opening, very close in its tone of relaxed generosity to the introduction in the companion essay, Mill turns to an elaboration of his theory of half-truths, which he now gives not merely a supplementary rôle, as in the first essay, but a function of active dialectic. He emphasizes the importance, “in the present imperfect state of mental and social science, of antagonist modes of thought,” illustrating by examples of the controversy between primitivists and progressivists, and between supporters and opponents of aristocracy (122). But just when his reference to “Continental philosophers” has led the reader to expect a further development of the dialectic pattern, he virtually rejects it for a theory of alternative extremes between which opinion oscillates. All that is positive in opposed opinions is often true, and it would be easy to choose a path “if either half of the truth were the whole of it,” but it is very difficult to frame, “as it is necessary to do, a set of practical maxims which combine both” (123).

He finds at this point, in other words, no evidence in the history of opinion to support a belief either in the dialectic process, by which thesis and antithesis produce a synthesis, or in half-truths which become supplementary and form a whole. Even if a just balance between extremes exists in the mind of the wiser teacher, “it will not exist in his disciples, still less in the general mind” (124). Improvement consists only in a lessening of the amplitude of swings of the pendulum. The image suggests a remote hope of an eventual dead centre, but the passage is, for Mill, curiously pessimistic. In this context he treats the “Germano-Coleridgian doctrine” in terms of reaction against eighteenth-century empiricism. What the change here in the exposition of half-truths as oscillations rather than as supplementary discoveries implies, is that Mill is prepared to grant only limited validity to the “Germano-Coleridgian doctrine,” viewing it as an excessive swing of the pendulum rather than as a valuable corrective and completion of its opposite half-truth.

And this indeed is what his treatment suggests. As he describes the opposed philosophies, the versions he offers indicate, if not a bias, at least a very uneven grasp of the two. When he ascribes to Kant, for example, a claim that the human mind has “a capacity, within certain limits, of perceiving the nature and properties of ‘Things in themselves,’ ” and when he describes what he takes to be Coleridge’s (and Kant’s) theory of perception and of a priori truths (125), one feels that his comprehension is so faulty as to suggest that he has not taken the metaphysical and epistemological parts of their philosophy very seriously. In similar fashion, he seems to accept unquestioningly the vulgar misinterpretation of the “common sense” of the Scottish school. There is no reason to suspect Mill in this of deliberate distortion or bias. As he says, “Disputants are rarely sufficient masters of each other’s doctrines, to be good judges what is fairly deducible from them,” or, he might have said, to be good judges of the doctrines. And, he continues, “To combine the different parts of a doctrine with one another, and with all admitted truths, is not indeed a small trouble, nor one which a person is often inclined to take for other people’s opinions. Enough if each does it for his own. . . .” (128.) Mill recognizes indeed that each philosophy, the empirical and the rational, “has been able to urge in its own favour numerous and striking facts” which have taxed the metaphysical resources of the other philosophy to explain. His own opinion, which he presents, he says, as a “bare statement,” is that the truth lies with empiricism, with “the school of Locke and of Bentham” (128).

Taken as a declaration of adherence, not to these two philosophers and their doctrines in detail, but to the general philosophy which they represent, this “bare statement” makes it clear that whatever half-truths he is going to find in Coleridge will not be found in his metaphysical positions, in his theory of knowledge, or of the imagination. The philosophical Coleridge who today attracts so much attention, particularly from literary critics, forms no part of Mill’s concern. And if the reader has been led by the openings of this and the companion essay on Bentham to expect the Coleridge half to be fitted neatly to the Bentham half, as indeed he might well be, he will be surprised by the relative scarcity of specific references to Bentham and his ideas. He will find, after a description of the state to which English institutions were brought in the eighteenth century, an expansion of the comparison made in the first essay: “This was . . . a state of things which . . . was sure in no great length of time to call forth two sorts of men—the one demanding the extinction of the institutions and creeds which had hitherto existed; the other that they be made a reality: the one pressing the new doctrines to their utmost consequences; the other reasserting the best meaning and purposes of the old. The first type attained its greatest height in Bentham; the last in Coleridge.” (145-6.)

The one extensive and important reference to Bentham is in relation to first principles of government. Coleridge’s theory of government, although “but a mere commencement, not amounting to the first lines of a political philosophy,” is still asserted to be superior to any other the age has produced, including the Benthamic (153). “The authors and propounders” of the Benthamic theory (presumably Bentham and James Mill) “were men of extraordinary intellectual powers, and the greater part of what they meant by it is true and important. But when considered as the foundations of a science, it would be difficult to find among theories proceeding from philosophers one less like a philosophical theory, or, in the works of analytical minds, anything more entirely unanalytical.” And Mill then proceeds to apply to the “complex notions” of “interest” and “general interest” the sort of critical analysis Bentham liked to apply to traditional phrases, “breaking them down into the elements of which they are composed” (153). The analysis reveals and challenges many of Bentham’s assumptions.

It first challenges Bentham’s assumption that the interests of the middle class are most likely to be identical with the general interest, interpreting “interest” in Benthamic terms: “If by men’s interest be meant what would appear such to a calculating bystander, judging what would be good for a man during his whole life, and making no account, or but little, of the gratification of his present passions, his pride, his envy, his vanity, his cupidity, his love of pleasure, his love of ease”—one notes how Mill here implies that Bentham unconsciously substitutes an “ideal spectator” for the actual man, and also how once again he calls attention to the limitations of Bentham’s “springs of action”—“it may be questioned whether, in this sense, the interest of an aristocracy, and still more that of a monarch, would not be as accordant with the general interest as that of either the middle or the poorer classes. . .” (154). The point here is that interests in this idealized form would in fact be identical. Every man, no matter what his class, would take the same detached, unimpassioned, and unbiased view of the consequences of each action. “And if men’s interest, in this understanding of it, usually governed their conduct,” Mill adds, “absolute monarchy would probably be the best form of government” (154). He thus suggests a complete hiatus between the psychological premisses on which Bentham’s political system is founded, and its conclusions, which favour a democracy with power in the hands of the middle class.

But men in fact, he goes on, “usually do what they like, often being perfectly aware that it is not for their ultimate interest, still more often that it is not for the interest of their posterity. . .” (154). Nor, when they do believe an object is permanently good for them, do they assess its value accurately. The problem of politics is not whose permanent interests are likely “to be most in accordance with the end we seek to obtain,” but “who are they whose immediate interests and habitual feelings” are. And the end itself, the “general good,” is “a very complex state of things, comprising . . . many requisites which are neither of one and the same nature, nor attainable by one and the same means.” “A government must be composed out of the elements already existing in society, and the distribution of power in the constitution cannot vary much or long from the distribution of it in society itself.” (154.)

Mill makes no explicit connection between these criticisms of Bentham and the ideas of Coleridge, but an implicit connection is established by the tenor of the whole essay, which constantly sets up the views of Coleridge, or of the “Germano-Coleridgian school,” against the esprit simpliste of the eighteenth-century thinkers. Where the Lockean school, for example, had in thinkers like Condillac “affected to resolve all the phenomena of the human mind into sensation, by a process which essentially consisted in merely calling all states of mind, however heterogeneous, by that name,” a philosophy consisting “solely of a set of verbal generalizations, explaining nothing, distinguishing nothing, leading to nothing” (129), Coleridge not only takes up the more complex analysis of Hartley, but tries to solve difficulties remaining in Hartley’s system. Again, the Continental philosophes, in their simple optimism, assume that the destruction of institutions will itself establish the ideal society. Coleridge, on the other hand, is aware of the problems of establishing and maintaining a society, of the difficulty of obtaining the habit of obedience and acquiescence on which a society depends. He defines the three requisites: a system of education in discipline, a feeling of allegiance or loyalty, and a principle of social cohesion (a national sense or sense of community). The recognition of these requisites by the Germano-Coleridgian school provides the first inquiry into the “inductive laws of the existence and growth of human society.” This school is the first to have produced a philosophy of society, “in the only form in which it is yet possible, that of a philosophy of history, . . . a contribution, the largest yet made by any class of thinkers, towards the philosophy of human culture” (139). Mill sees this contribution as springing particularly from their recognition of national character, and its formation by national education, which is at once the source of permanence and of progress in a society, the first as a system of discipline, the second as a stimulant to the faculties. The Germano-Coleridgian school, in their views on “the various elements of human culture and the causes influencing the formation of national character, . . . throw into the shade everything which had been effected before. . .” (141).

Coleridge’s views on the Established Church and on the English Constitution are also set against the context of the eighteenth-century thinkers, the simple views both of those who clung to them because they were there, and of those who hoped great things from their abolition. Coleridge’s clear separation of the function of the Church as the clerisy from the functions of a church as a religious body, his objection to identifying the Church with its clergy, constitute in Mill’s view a fruitful analysis of a complex relationship of an institution to its society. Similarly, his views on the opposite interests of the State in permanence and progression, and his relating of these interests to the five classes of citizens, strike Mill as a valid analysis of the English political scene.

Even in political economy, where he finds Coleridge generally “an arrant driveller” he praises his opposition to “the let alone doctrine,” and his insistence on “the idea of a trust inherent in landed property.” The first opposes the dominant eighteenth-century purely negative view of government, in favour of a view of the State as “a great benefit society, or mutual insurance company, for helping . . . that large proportion of its members who cannot help themselves,” and Mill quotes with approval Coleridge’s three “positive ends” for government to pursue. The second rejects the Lockean view of property, as absolute proprietorship, in respect to land, as distinguished from the produce of labour. Mill here develops his own argument, that “when the State allows any one to exercise ownership over more land than suffices to raise by his own labour his subsistence and that of his family, it confers on him power over other human beings” (156-8). This power the State ought to control.

There are clearly a number of leading ideas which Mill shares with Coleridge, and which no doubt he acquired from the Coleridgians. But any Coleridgian must be struck by the limitations, rather than the extent, of the influence. It is significant that the greatest bulk of quotation is from Church and State and Literary Remains. The emphasis throughout is on political and social thought, and particularly on modes of analysis, not unlike Bentham’s, but yielding very different results. One gets the impression that Mill has been most struck by seeing the “habit of analysis” at work in a mind operating from very different assumptions than Bentham, and capable of more subtle analysis. More important still, it is a mind alive to the complexity of human nature, of human society, of human institutions, and a healthy corrective to the arid and formalist reduction of eighteenth-century thought. Contact with this mind has brought Mill out of the eighteenth century—but it has not destroyed totally his allegiance to his upbringing.


If Mill’s residual allegiance is evident in the essay on Coleridge, it is vastly more so in that on Whewell. As we have seen in the review of Sedgwick, if an outsider attacked Bentham, Mill sprang to the defence, even if the attack made charges he himself had made. In part he responds, one senses, as to a family affair: it is one thing to criticize one’s relatives; for a stranger to make the same criticisms is a different matter. But there is more to it than this. At an earlier stage, it seems clear, Mill had hoped to establish a distinction between Benthamism and Utilitarianism. If, as seemed evident, Utilitarianism was becoming fixed in the popular mind as a system of egoistic hedonism, as what Carlyle called a “pig philosophy,” the fault was Bentham’s, and it was necessary, for the defence of Utilitarianism, to disavow a great part of his doctrines. The public must be taught that Benthamism is not true Utilitarianism. This is a conviction which Mill holds unwaveringly, however much his emotional attitude towards Bentham shifts and changes. The Benthamite doctrines he attacked in 1833 he continues to reject. But he does come to a questioning of his early tactics. If these failed to break the popular identification of Benthamism and Utilitarianism, then attacks on Bentham’s doctrines merely provided support for the opponents of Utilitarianism. The comparison with religious reformers again springs to mind. Worshippers who are firmly held within the general faith, but discontented with the formulation of its doctrines, can be led into a reformed church; but attacks on the established orthodoxy will not necessarily convert the pagan—they may simply provide aid and comfort to the enemies of religion.

So Mill felt by the 1850s. The reaction again Utilitarianism, powerfully voiced by Carlyle, had been gaining in strength. It was soon to be reinforced by the eloquence of Ruskin and the savage comedy of Dickens. Utilitarianism itself was in danger. As Mill later recorded in the Autobiography (153), he continued to think his criticism of Bentham’s doctrines in 1838 (and presumably also in 1833) was just, but he came to doubt “whether it was right to publish it at that time.” The doubt is clearly as to tactics: “Bentham’s philosophy, as an instrument of progress, has been to some extent discredited before it had done its work, and . . . to lend a hand towards lowering its reputation was doing more harm than service to improvement.” This doubt as to tactics is expressed more strongly in 1854-5 than in 1861, as Professor Robson has noted. Later, as Mill comments in the Autobiography, when he sensed a “counter-action . . . towards what is good in Benthamism,” he felt justified in reprinting the “Bentham” and “Coleridge” essays, especially as he had “balanced” his criticisms of Bentham by “vindications of the fundamental principles of Bentham’s philosophy” (153)—which earlier he would have called fundamental principles of Utilitarianism. Where he has toned down the explicit distinction between and separation of “Benthamism” and “Utilitarianism rightly understood,” this is a change, not of his own doctrine, but of tactics. The new tactics are to include defence of Bentham, supplemented by a restatement of the fundamental principles. The new testament of Utilitarianism is to enlarge and correct the old, but not explicitly reject it.

The way in which the new tactics operate is first illustrated in the essay on Whewell’s moral philosophy. The separation of Benthamism from the “principle of utility” is included, but not emphasized. “It would be quite open to a defender of the principle of utility, to refuse encumbering himself” with a defence of either Paley or Bentham. “The principle is not bound up with what they have said in its behalf, nor with the degree of felicity which they may have shown in applying it.” Whewell is wrong in imagining that Bentham either thought himself, or was thought by others, to be the discoverer of the principle. He was instead the first to erect on the principle, as a foundation, “secondary or middle principles, capable of serving as premises for a body of ethical doctrine not derived from existing opinions, but fitted to be their test.” This “great service,” which for the first time makes possible “a scientific doctrine of ethics on the foundation of utility,” Bentham performed “in a manner, as far as it goes, eminently meritorious, and so as to indicate clearly the way to complete the scheme” (173). His eye was focussed rather on the exigencies of legislation than on those of morals.

This judgment of Bentham is in substance the same as that of 1838, but the difference in tone, and the lessening of emphasis on the negative interpretation, and increase on the positive, reveal the new approach. Bentham’s deficiencies are not denied, nor left unmentioned—his practical conclusions in morals were “mostly right,” “as far as they went,” but “there were large deficiencies and hiatuses in his scheme of human nature and life, and a consequent want of breadth and comprehension in his secondary principles, which led him often to deduce just conclusions from premises so narrow as to provoke many minds to a rejection of what was nevertheless truth” (173-4). He is the Bacon of moral science, not only in having, like Bacon, established a method, but also, like Bacon, in having worked many problems on insufficient data. Again, these are the same judgments as in 1838, shorn of the condemnatory tone and the rhetorical expansion. No suggestion is now made that Bentham’s shortcomings have led him into dangerous error, or that he has rendered any real disservice to the cause of Utilitarianism. All the emphasis is on his positive, though limited, service to morals. There is a further important positive defence of Bentham in this essay. Mill charges Whewell with a “serious injustice” to Bentham, in citing the Deontology as “the authentic exposition of Bentham’s philosophy of morals,” for making that book representative of all Utilitarianism, and for creating an “imaginary sect, of which the Deontology is to be considered the gospel.” The work “was not, and does not profess to be written by Bentham” (174-5). Yet Mill himself had, in 1838, deplored the Deontology, without denying Bentham’s authorship.

In conformity with the new tactics, most of the essay is a defence of the principle of utility, in the broader sense Mill would accept. In this sense, Whewell himself becomes a Utilitarian, since he speaks of moral rules as means to an end, and “of the peace and comfort of society; of making man’s life tolerable; of the satisfaction and gratification of human beings; of preventing a disturbed and painful state of society.” “When real reasons are wanted, the repudiated happiness-principle is always the resource.” In asserting that “when general rules are established, the feelings which gather round these ‘are sources not of opposition, but of agreement;’ that they ‘tend to make men unanimous; and that such rules with regard to the affections and desires as tend to control the repulsive and confirm the attractive forces which operate in human society . . . agree with that which is the character of moral rules,’ ” Whewell is actually expressing Benthamism (192-3).

Much also of the essay is defence by attack on Whewell’s own intuitionist moral theory. Here Mill can apply the actual analytic method of Bentham to the concept of “right” and of “Rights.” With a debator’s ruthlessness, he pushes Whewell’s Voluntarism into a conclusion he can charge with Hobbism, and with a combination of logic and fierce wit he exposes Whewell’s three “vicious circles.” He reduces Whewell’s doctrine to farce by comparing Whewell and Bentham in “a parallel case,” the “principles of the art of navigation” (191).

But at two points he finds himself dealing with charges against Bentham very like charges he has himself made. The first is that Bentham does not sufficiently recognize “what Dr. Whewell calls the historical element of legislation.” Bentham imagines, says Whewell, “that to a certain extent his schemes of law might be made independent of local conditions,” although he recognizes “that different countries must to a certain extent have different laws” (195). Mill, too, had complained of Bentham’s ignoring “national character.” He had seemed, in fact, in the essay on Coleridge, to be in sympathy with the view that the “long duration of a belief . . . is at least proof of an adaptation in it to some portion or other of the human mind. . .” (120). Now he writes: “The fact that . . . a people prefer some particular mode of legislation, on historical grounds—that is, because they have been long used to it,—is no proof of any original adaptation in it to their nature or circumstances, and goes a very little way in recommendation of it as for their benefit now” (196). What Whewell calls “an historical element,” which looks very much like what Mill called “national character,” is now reduced to “the existing opinions and feelings of the people,” which are indeed “partly the product of their previous history” (196). These opinions and feelings, Mill now says, limit what the legislator can do, not what is desirable to be done. Bentham is to be defended, then, by separating in him the ideal legislator and the practical. This would seem to be a topic on which Mill has either modified or suppressed his earlier views. He appears here to be giving a sanction to a priori schemes of legislation, schemes which in Bentham’s case he has found to be based on too narrow a view of human nature to be tenable. He seems also to be lessening the importance of that inductive science of politics he had praised in the Coleridgians. But this is not the only possible conclusion. Given Mill’s doctrine of progress, and his tendency to see national character in terms of stages of progress in political maturity, changes in national character are clearly an essential process towards a conceivable ideal political society. His real quarrel with Bentham, which is suppressed here, is that his views on national character, like his views on human character, are so narrowly based as to be virtually worthless.

Similarly, when he defends Bentham against Whewell’s charge that he “does not fully recognise ‘the moral object of law’ ” (196), we recall Mill’s own complaint, that man is “never recognised by him as a being capable of pursuing spiritual perfection as an end; of desiring, for its own sake, the conformity of his own character to his standard of excellence, without hope of good or fear of evil from other source than his own inward consciousness” (“Bentham,” 95). We recall that for “self-education; the training, by the human being himself, of his affections and will,” Bentham’s system provides a complete blank (ibid., 98). This complaint is so identical in essence to Whewell’s charge that Mill’s reply here provides an extreme example of the new tactics. Since Whewell is primarily concerned with moral philosophy, Mill has to defend Bentham as a moral philosopher, and the charge he now has to deal with is a highly central and important one. He is obviously in a difficult position. “It is fortunate for the world,” he had written in 1838, “that Bentham’s taste lay rather in the direction of jurisprudential than of properly ethical inquiry” (ibid., 98). Now he is faced with defending incompetence. It is significant that he delays this vital issue until the end of his essay, that he gives it very brief treatment, and that he seizes gladly upon the particular issue of the laws of marriage to escape from further dealing with the general charge. His specific general defence of Bentham, that no one more than he “recognises that most important, but most neglected, function of the legislator, the office of an instructor, both moral and intellectual” (197), neatly side-steps the whole issue of what sort of moral instruction Bentham’s legislator conceived of giving, or was capable of giving.

Throughout the essay, one can sense that Mill is happiest in attacking Whewell, happy in defending Utilitarianism in his own terms, and not happy but skilful in defending Bentham at carefully chosen points and by carefully chosen stratagems. It must have been with a feeling of relief that he turned to the other half of the new tactics, the definition of Utilitarianism in terms of his own doctrine. Here he could be much more master of the field of battle, choosing his ground and the directions of attack to suit his own purposes. For Utilitarianism is rather a campaign than a philosophical treatise. The essay on Whewell had in several ways prepared for the main battle: in its devastating attack on the intuitionist school, in its rejection of the notion that Utilitarianism was incompatible with religious orthodoxy, and in its suggestion of a universal, if often unconscious, acceptance of the principle of utility. The reduction of possible moral theories to only two possibles, the breaking of the link between the attacked theory (the intuitionist) and orthodoxy, and the argument that even those who thought they were intuitionists (like Whewell) were really Utilitarians, prepared the way for asserting Utilitarianism as the only possible universal ethical doctrine.


In the “General Remarks” which constitute the opening chapter of Utilitarianism, Mill lays the foundation for the arguments to follow. As in the Whewell essay, he reduces the choice of schools of moral philosophy to two, the a priori and the a posteriori, rejecting the first, and asserting that whatever consistency any moral beliefs have attained is mainly due to the “tacit influence of a standard not recognized” by the a priori moralists, but indispensable to them. He points to the endless controversies and disagreements over the criterion of right and wrong, over the summum bonum, over the foundation of morality, to suggest that the whole a priori effort to derive a moral system from a first principle has been a mistaken one, and that the demand for proof of first principles is futile. He repeats, by implication, his old charge that those who attempt to create a system of moral or political science on the analogy of mathematics, instead of the inductive sciences, are doomed to failure. But now his argument is reinforced by the contention that the confusion about the status and function of first principles extends to the sciences, including mathematics: “the detailed doctrines of a science are not usually deduced from, nor depend for their evidence upon, what are called its first principles.” Algebra, for example, “derives none of its certainty from what are commonly taught to learners as its elements, since these . . . are as full of fictions as English law, and of mysteries as theology” (205). This attack on the a priori and deductive in its traditional home and birthplace is a powerful preparation for his argument for the a posteriori moral philosophy.

Again, questions of ultimate ends are not amenable to direct proof. There is a “larger meaning of the word proof,” a kind of proof which is “within the cognisance of the rational faculty,” and which that faculty deals with otherwise than “solely in the way of intuition.” This is the mode by which “considerations may be presented capable of determining the intellect either to give or withhold its assent to the doctrine; and this is equivalent to proof” (208). The description of the mode, and the explicit rejection of the purely intuitive, again suggest the method of the inductive sciences. Mill intends, he says, to give such “rational grounds” for accepting or rejecting “the utilitarian formula” (208).

But first it is necessary that the formula should be correctly understood, not dealt with in “the very imperfect notion ordinarily formed of its meaning,” but cleared of grosser misconceptions and mistaken interpretations (208). These may, of course, include, although Mill does not say so, the misconceptions and misinterpretations, not only of the enemies of Utilitarianism, but also of its advocates. Of all the tasks before him in the essay, the restatement of what the doctrine is, the freeing of it from the adverse limitations imposed on it by Bentham, is obviously of the utmost importance. And here he can at last present his own interpretation, free of the necessity of either attacking or defending Bentham, at least explicitly. The second chapter, “What Utilitarianism Is,” becomes a defence and exposition of the doctrine according to Mill.

Before offering the formal definition from which he intends to develop his exposition, Mill deals with what he calls the “ignorant blunder” of supposing that the Utilitarians, “those who stand up for utility as the test of right and wrong,” use the term utility in the colloquial sense of the useful as opposed to the pleasurable (209). Since the doctrine as developed by Helvetius, Beccaria, and Bentham defines utility in terms of pleasure and avoidance of pain, the modern reader might find this apparent reversion to the classical separation of utile and dulce surprising and irrelevant. But partly through Bentham’s own insensitivity to the aesthetic, and partly through the narrow concept of education characteristic of the founders of the doctrine and many of their followers, Utilitarianism had indeed come to be associated with an ignoring of the aesthetic, and with an arid and doctrinaire approach to education and life. This view of the philosophy is immortally enshrined in Dickens’ Gradgrind and M’Choakumchild in Hard Times, and in his address to “Utilitarian economists, . . . Commissioners of Fact,” urging them to cultivate in the poor “the utmost graces of the fancies and affections, to adorn their lives, so much in need of ornament,” and not to drive romance utterly out of their souls. Mill himself had experienced the sort of starvation of the imagination and feelings Dickens is talking of, and had, like Dickens, recognized it as an unfortunate aspect of Benthamism. The new tactics I have spoken of lead him here to no admission of the source of this view of Utilitarianism, but merely to a dismissal of it as an ignorant blunder.

In accordance with the same tactics, he defines “the creed” in strict Benthamite terms: “Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure.” Again, “pleasure, and freedom from pain, are the only things desirable as ends. . . .” (210.) The creed, as a confession of faith, is to be totally orthodox. He and Bentham are of the same faith. The difference is to lie in exegesis.

The first point to clarify concerns the nature of pleasure. To see in the pursuit of pleasure “a doctrine worthy only of swine” (here Mill undoubtedly recalls Carlyle’s phrase, “pig-philosophy”), to identify Utilitarianism with Epicureanism, and hold both in contempt, has been the practice of its “German, French, and English assailants.” But the Epicureans themselves recognize that “a beast’s pleasures do not satisfy a human being’s conceptions of happiness.” Every known Epicurean theory assigns “a much higher value as pleasures” to the pleasures of the intellect, of the feelings and imagination, and of moral sentiments (the hierarchy suggests that of Hartley) than to those of “mere sensation.” It is true that Utilitarian writers in general have “placed the superiority of mental over bodily pleasures chiefly in the greater permanency, safety, unconstliness, &c., of the former”—(an obvious allusion to Bentham’s use of the “felicific calculus” to give qualitative hierarchy a quantitative basis)—but it is “quite compatible with the principle of utility” to recognize that, as a matter of fact, “some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and valuable than others,” and it would be absurd, since quality enters into our estimation of all other things, that the “estimation of pleasures should be supposed to depend on quantity alone” (210-11).

The insistence on qualitative assessment means more than a mere rejection of Bentham’s famous remark about push-pin and poetry. It involves primarily a rejection of the reductionist Helvetian psychology, which tended to analyse all pleasure ultimately down to simple sensual pleasure, in favour of the Hartleian, which recognizes that the process of association actually gives rise to a qualitative hierarchy of pleasures, ending with those of theopathy and the moral sense. Hartley thus offers an escape from the genetic reductionism which says, in effect, since all feelings, including the loftiest, originate in simple pleasure-pain reactions of sensation, they are ultimately nothing but these simple reactions. It is the reductionist psychology implicit in the calculus which lays Utilitarianism open to the charge of being simple hedonism. Moreover, it is the Hartleian, rather than the Helvetian psychology, which allows the possibility of Mill’s doctrine of progress, which allows him to assert that “it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.”

Since the term “pleasure” is so strongly associated with simple hedonism, Mill not only follows Bentham in substituting for it the broader term “happiness,” but moves from it to the still broader one, “satisfaction.” He thus broadens the whole base of the theory. In escaping from the narrow circle of the reductionist psychology, he may seem to be building his own circular argument. When he says, for example, that it is an “unquestionable fact” that “those who are equally acquainted with, and equally capable of appreciating and enjoying, both, do give a most marked preference to the manner of existence which employs their higher faculties” (211), the “fact” is unquestionable because those who do not so choose are ipso facto judged not “equally acquainted” or “equally capable.” And when he asserts that “no person of feeling and conscience would be selfish and base” (211), it is clear that selfishness and baseness denote a person of no feeling and conscience. But what Mill is actually doing is calling attention to a range of motives qualitatively different from simple pleasure, and confirmed by observation as operative in human nature. The establishing of an ideal of higher conduct, of pursuits suitable to a “being of higher faculties,” and the refusal to sink into a low category, may be motivated by pride, by the love of liberty and personal independence, by the love of power, the love of excitement, but it is most properly described as proceeding from “a sense of dignity.” And this in fact, says Mill, leads to the greatest happiness. It is a necessary part of his doctrine of progress that men, unless rendered incapable “not only by hostile influences, but by mere want of sustenance,” will voluntarily choose the higher pleasures (213).

Beccaria and Bentham had avoided qualitative assessments in the belief that the quantitative is more certain and more readily determined. Mill rapidly dismisses the calculus of pleasure and pain. Quantity of pleasure and pain is no more readily measured than quality. In either case, the only test is in “the feelings and judgment of the experienced” (213).

And finally, the Utilitarian standard is not “the agent’s own greatest happiness, but the greatest amount of happiness altogether.” Utilitarianism could, therefore, only attain its end “by the general cultivation of nobleness of character” (213-14). By this line of argument, Mill has brought the doctrine round to an apparent total conformity with orthodoxy, to the view that virtue is the sole source of happiness. The doctrine of utility becomes “the rules and precepts for human conduct, by the observance of which an existence such as has been described might be, to the greatest extent possible, secured to all mankind; and . . . to the whole sentient creation.” The two great obstacles are selfishness and want of mental cultivation, which both make life “unsatisfactory.” The “highest virtue which can be found in man,” as long as the world is in its present imperfect state, is the readiness to make an absolute sacrifice of one’s own happiness. “The utilitarian morality does recognise in human beings the power of sacrificing their own greatest good for the good of others.” And, paradoxically, “the conscious ability to do without happiness gives the best prospect of realizing such happiness as is attainable” (214-18). By this point, the simple original statement of doctrine, “that pleasure, and freedom from pain, are the only things desirable as ends,” might seem to have been transformed out of existence. The transformation is no doubt partly tactical, at least in its mode of presentation, to show the compatibility of the doctrine with orthodox morality, but for the most part it is an elaboration of Mill’s genuine view of the doctrine, as more briefly suggested in his earlier attacks on Bentham. If there is a special tactical intention in his assertion that “in the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth, we read the complete spirit of the ethics of utility,” it is still a profound part of Mill’s interpretation of the doctrine, that “as between his own happiness and that of others, utilitarianism requires” the agent to be “as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator,” and that the doctrine of utility is as connected as any other ethical system with “beautiful or more exalted developments of human nature” and with varied “springs of action” (218-19).

This is the major re-statement of the essay. Mill easily disposes of some of the common charges against the doctrine, once he has established his own definition. Like William Godwin, he distinguishes between the morality of an action and the moral worth of an agent, and acknowledges that most actions will have a view to the good of a small circle of immediate family and friends, rather than the whole of society. Like Godwin, too, he dismisses the notion that every act must proceed from a detailed and deliberate calculation of consequences. Many of these points, like the defence against the charge that the doctrine is one of mere expediency, had been dealt with in the “Whewell” essay.

In the third chapter, on the ultimate sanction of the principle of utility, he turns to the accusation that Utilitarianism provides no basis for obligation. In what might be termed the prototype of the doctrine, as presented by Helvetius, this accusation is well grounded. The psychology of Helvetius is so firmly fixed in egoistic hedonism that the impartial and disinterested spectator Mill posits is an impossibility, as is any motive which could lead to a preference for the general pleasure over the personal. But as we have seen, Mill’s radically different view of human nature, including a relatively orthodox view of moral character, creates for him no such problem. The aim of the Utilitarian philosophy is, as he defines it, to create through the improvement of education a “feeling of unity with our fellow-creatures” and to root it deeply in our character (227). When he links this aim with Christ’s intention, he is again asserting the compatibility of his doctrine with Christian ethical orthodoxy, and at the same time intimating that the source of obligation, in Christian and Utilitarian alike, must lie in moral disposition. Both ethics must rely on the formation of moral character, on the sentiments of the “ordinarily well brought up young person” (227).

The external sanctions of reward and punishment, whether physical or moral, whether from God or from our fellow men, along with disinterested devotion to God or to one’s fellow men, can be just as operative for any ethical system. So too with the internal sanction of the sense of duty. The pain attendant on the violation of duty is the essence of Conscience. Granted, says Mill, that Conscience is a highly complex feeling, “encrusted over with collateral associations,” but its binding force is constituted by it qua feeling—“a mass of feeling which must be broken through in order to do what violates our standard of right.” The ultimate internal sanction of all morality, then, is “a subjective feeling in our own minds.” Where the feeling does not exist, nor does the sanction. The belief in God, as an internal sanction, apart from expectation of reward or punishment (the external sanction), “only operates on conduct through, and in proportion to, the subjective religious feeling.” It will be noted that Mill by-passes the hotly argued question of the nature of Conscience: “Whatever theory we have of the nature or origin of conscience,” he says, “this is what essentially constitutes it”—a feeling (228-9). He thus sweeps aside the whole tradition, represented by the Cambridge Platonists and their successors, of Conscience as rational and cognitive in essence. This is again a reflection of his own views and at the same time a tactical move. It is not unorthodox to define Conscience as a feeling, and he has already argued that Utilitarianism is directed towards, and is capable of, producing such a feeling. The true Utilitarian will develop a Christian Conscience.

If the Christian objects that the Utilitarian Conscience is “implanted,” whereas the Christian is innate, Mill has an answer. Those who prefer the innate may consider the “regard to the pleasures and pains of others” as the innate feeling which is the essence of Conscience. And this indeed would be orthodox Utilitarianism as well. But acquired moral feelings are just as natural as innate ones. Echoing Burke’s “Art is man’s nature” (and behind Burke, Aristotle) Mill asserts, “It is natural to man to speak, to reason, to build cities, to cultivate the ground, though these are acquired faculties”; the “moral faculty, if not a part of our nature, is a natural outgrowth from it. . .” (230). Indeed, the Utilitarian philosophy is based upon the naturalness of the social feelings of mankind. If social sentiments were artificial associations, they “might be analysed away” (231). Ultimately, then, the source of the feeling of the obligation is in the Conscience, which is itself a development and cultivation of the natural social feelings. And once again, apart from the elimination of the supernatural, Mill has suggested the compatibility of Utilitarianism and orthodox Christianity. He has also, of course, developed in detail an area of human behaviour and an area of Utilitarian theory neglected by Bentham.

The fourth chapter, “Of what sort of proof the principle of utility is susceptible,” has been prepared for in the first chapter. The logic of the argument of this chapter, like that of the previous chapters, is rigorously examined in Professor Dryer’s essay (lxxiiiff below). What is important in the context of my argument is the discussion of virtue, which again has the effect of radically modifying the original doctrine, despite Mill’s assertion to the contrary. The doctrine, says Mill, maintains “not only that virtue is to be desired, but that it is to be desired disinterestedly, for itself.” The Utilitarians “not only place virtue at the very head of the things which are good as means to the ultimate end, but they also recognise as a psychological fact the possibility of its being, to the individual, a good in itself. . . ; and hold, that the mind is not in a right state, . . . not in the state most conducive to the general happiness, unless it does love virtue in this manner...” (235).

This is a very clever, and very carefully composed statement. It gives the appearance of putting Utilitarianism even more on the side of orthodoxy, of recognizing virtue as an end in itself, along with happiness. It would be easy for the orthodox to miss the qualifications. “Actions and dispositions are only virtuous because they promote another end than virtue”—that is, happiness. Once Utilitarians have decided “what is virtuous,” they then “place virtue at the very head” (235). Would their decisions concerning what is virtuous coincide with the decisions of the orthodox? Is the “virtue” to be desired by the Utilitarians identical with the “virtue” to be pursued by the orthodox Christian? And is there not a difference between accepting virtue as an end in itself, and accepting “as a psychological fact” that it may become “to individuals” an end in itself? In fact, the modifications of Utilitarian doctrine are here more apparent than real. The associationist explanation of how minds come to think of what were originally means to an end as part of the end itself does not affect the real category of virtue. It does, however, by implication, perhaps remind the orthodox that in their own ethical system, virtue was originally a means to salvation, not an end in itself.

The psychological emphasis in this statement about utility and virtue might at first sight seem a digression from the subject of the chapter. It is instead a necessary preparation, for the only “proof” of which the principle of utility is susceptible is psychological. It can be determined only by “practised self-consciousness and self-observation, assisted by observation of others” (237). Examination of the psychological evidence leads Mill to an account, in terms of Hartleian associationism, of the relations of will, desire, and habit. The will to virtue must start by desire and become habitual through education. “Will is the child of desire, and passes out of the dominion of its parent only to come under that of habit” (239). Habit alone imparts certainty in establishing a stable state of the will. The state of the will is a means to good, not intrinsically a good. Hence nothing is a good that is not pleasurable or a means to pleasure or to avoiding pain, and “the principle of utility is proved.” Whether the proof induces assent or not, Mill leaves to “the consideration of the thoughtful reader” (239). The kind of thoughtful reader he hoped for is undoubtedly someone like Professor Dryer, whose patient and careful analysis below ought to be read with care. The ordinary reader, less patient and less expert, might well be brought up short by Mill’s last paragraphs. After so much movement away from the original pleasurepain formula, after pleasure had given way to happiness, then to satisfaction, then apparently to the pursuit of virtue, he has suddenly, in the space of one long paragraph, been whirled rapidly through a lecture on the psychology of volition to a Q.E.D. of the original premisses. The performance is a tour de force that must have had for many readers the baffling fascination of a magician’s trick. What is significant for the argument I have been conducting, however, is that in thus coming back full circle Mill is completing his tactical manoeuvre. He is not discarding Bentham and the original statement of the creed; he is giving the old creed its proper interpretation. He began with the formal (and narrow) statement, he elucidated, elaborated, corrected, and defended—now he brings the whole corpus of his exposition back to its starting point in the formal enunciation of the doctrine.

The fifth chapter of the essay is, in a sense, an appendix. In choosing “Justice and Utility” as its subject, Mill is able once again to argue that the principle of utility is not a principle of mere expediency. And since the concept of justice is associated with ideas of natural law, of absolute standards, and of the general ethical position implied in the title of Cudworth’s treatise, The Eternal and Immutable Morality, its discussion permits Mill to argue in detail, as he has argued generally elsewhere, that it is possible to derive from the principle of utility moral standards and rules as satisfactory as those of the intuitionist school. He consequently starts by attacking first the philosophy of innate ideas, and then that of moral sense. First he insists that “intellectual instincts” are no more infallible in judgment than animal instincts are in action (240). Then, turning to the second school, he inquires whether we have a sense of justice, peculiar and immediate like our senses of colour or taste. This inquiry he disposes of by an inductive appeal to the evidence, listing six varied notions of what is just or unjust.

He then proceeds to an analysis of the feeling which accompanies the idea of justice, examining on the way concepts of duty, rights, doctrines of punishment, doctrines of just wage, just taxation. The only sure criterion in all these matters is social utility. And justice is “a name for certain classes of moral rules, which concern the essentials of human well-being more nearly, and are therefore of more absolute obligation, than any other rules for the guidance of life. . .”; it is “a name for certain moral requirements, which, regarded collectively, stand higher in the scale of social utility, and are therefore of more paramount obligation, than any others. . .” (255, 259). Justice “is involved in the very meaning of Utility, or the Greatest-Happiness Principle.” “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.” (257.)

Two things are significant about the conclusion. One is that Mill repeats the definition of justice three times, with little substantial variation, as if to drive home again and again the two claims, that justice is not only not explained away and reduced to expediency by the principle of utility, but that it retains something like absolute status, and that the traditional concept of justice as fair play for all stands at the very heart of the doctrine. The other significant thing is the introduction of Bentham’s name and his dictum, so that the pattern of affirming the unity of old creed and new exegesis noted at the end of chapter four is repeated at the end of the whole essay. Bentham is gathered in by name into the fold of the new church.


It is perhaps not too fanciful to see an analogy between Mill’s attitude towards Comte and his later attitude towards Bentham, and to see this essay as a further practice of what I have called Mill’s new tactics. Indeed the parallel is suggested by his comment at the opening of the essay, that the time has come to express a judgment on Positivism, now that Comte has “displayed a quantity and quality of mental power, and achieved an amount of success, which have not only won but retained the high admiration of thinkers as radically and strenuously opposed as it is possible to be, to nearly the whole of his later tendencies, and to many of his earlier opinions.” That Mill himself is one of the thinkers so described the rest of the essay makes evident. “It would have been a mistake,” he continues, “had such thinkers busied themselves in the first instance with drawing attention to what they regarded as errors in his great work. Until it had taken the place in the world of thought which belonged to it, the important matter was not to criticise it, but to help in making it known.” (264.) These sentences parallel exactly the terms in which he had defined his reasons for adopting the new tactics in dealing with Bentham. And the parallel suggests further that Mill, in seeing the need for the same tactics, sees at least something of the same relationship between Comte and Positivism as he had seen between Bentham and Utilitarianism: namely, a valid and important doctrine harmed in its definition and interpretation by the limitations of its proponent. And since Mill is not likely to extend these protective tactics to doctrines opposed to Utilitarianism, it also appears that he sees in Utilitarianism and Positivism a common cause.

This he soon makes fully explicit. He defines the “fundamental doctrine” of Positivism in very broad terms: “We have no knowledge of anything but Phaenomena; and our knowledge of phaenomena is relative, not absolute. We know not the essence, nor the real mode of production, of any fact, but only its relations to other facts in the way of succession or of similitude. These relations are constant. . . . The constant resemblances . . . and the constant sequences . . . are termed their laws. The laws of phaenomena are all we know respecting them.” (265.) Only through these laws can we predict, and in some cases, control effects. This general statement of empiricism Mill easily identifies with the scientific mode of philosophy, imperfectly but partly grasped by Bacon and Descartes, fully by Newton, Hume, and Thomas Brown; and “the same great truth formed the groundwork of all the speculative philosophy of Bentham, and pre-eminently of James Mill. . . .” “The philosophy called Positive is not a recent invention of M. Comte, but a simple adherence to the traditions of all the great scientific minds whose discoveries have made the human race what it is.” (267.)

Comte thus joins Bentham (and James Mill) as an apostle of the true philosophy, and an opponent of the Theological and Metaphysical—or, as Mill prefers to put it, a supporter of the Phaenomenal and Experiential philosophy against the “Personal, or Volitional explanation of facts” and the “Abstractional or Ontological” (267). Comte “has taken his place in a fight long since engaged, and on the side already in the main victorious.” He is on the side of the Nominalists against the Realists, of the Rationalists against the Voluntarists, the latter conflict being here defined in secular terms. Like Montesquieu, “even Macchiavelli,” Adam Smith “and the political economists universally,” Bentham “and all thinkers initiated by him,” Comte believes that “social phaenomena conform to invariable laws,” as do the phaenomena of Nature. He rejects “the whole system of ideas connected with supernatural agency,” and like Mill, sees the doctrine of Voluntarism as stemming from ignorance. “No one, probably,” Mill scoffingly remarks, “ever believed that the will of a god kept parallel lines from meeting, or made two and two equal to four; or ever prayed to the gods to make the square of the hypothenuse equal to more or less than the sum of the squares of the sides.” “In the case of phaenomena which science has not yet taught us either to foresee or to control, the theological mode of thought [that is, the Voluntarist] has not ceased to operate: men still pray for rain, or for success in war, or to avert a shipwreck or a pestilence, but not to put back the stars in their courses, . . . or to arrest the tides.” (288.) Like Bentham, Comte rejects the whole philosophy of law based on “the imaginary law of the imaginary being Nature,” along with divine rights and Natural Rights (299). In brief, Comte is, insofar as he expresses the fundamental principle of Positivism, a good Utilitarian, and conversely, Utilitarians are good Positivists. “All theories in which the ultimate standard of institutions and rules of action was the happiness of mankind, and observation and experience the guides . . . are entitled to the name Positive, whatever, in other respects, their imperfections may be” (299). As we have seen, they are also entitled, with the same qualification, to the name Utilitarian.

Granted this move towards identifying the two doctrines in their fundamental principles, it is with no surprise that we discover that “M. Comte has got hold of half the truth. . .” (313). But by this time, the other half is not in the possession of Coleridgians or Kantians. Whatever weight Mill may have given in 1838 and 1840 to the notion of a synthesis of doctrinal thesis and antithesis, that notion has now been superseded by the progressive hierarchy of Comte. Theological thought yields to Metaphysical, Metaphysical to Positive. The whole tradition of Germano-Coleridgian thought is now relegated to the Metaphysical. The half of truth M. Comte has not got is to be found, not there, but in “the so-called liberal or revolutionary school.” As in the earlier case of Bentham and Coleridge, and of the two traditions they represent, “each sees what the other does not see, and seeing it exclusively, draws consequences from it which to the other appear mischievously absurd” (313). The near-identity of phrasing makes more emphatic the radical change of reference. The two halves of truth now belong both within the same fundamental philosophic tradition.

To the extent to which Comte is an enemy of “the whole a priori philosophy, in morals, jurisprudence, psychology, logic,” and on the side of “observation and experiment” (300), he is, if not thoroughly Utilitarian, at least a valuable ally. In some respects (but only some), he is a sounder ally than Herbert Spencer or G. H. Lewes, both of whom fall back on a priori logic for their “ultimate test of truth” in “the inconceivability of its negative” (301). It is the total and radical nature of Comte’s rejection of “the metaphysical mode of thought” that seems to constitute his main claim to Mill’s praise (301). When the rigorous principle is applied, for example, to Bentham’s conception of social science, it leads Comte to the same conclusions as Mill had been led to earlier: that to start from “universal laws of human nature” and draw deductions from them is fallacious, because “as society proceeds in its development, its phaenomena are determined, more and more, not by the simple tendencies of universal human nature, but by the accumulated influence of past generations over the present. The human beings themselves, on the laws of whose nature the facts of history depend, are not abstract or universal but historical human beings, already shaped, and made what they are, by human society. This being the case, no powers of deduction could enable any one, starting from the mere conception of the Being Man, placed in a world such as the earth may have been before the commencement of human agency, to predict and calculate the phaenomena of his development. . . .” Facts of history must be “empirically considered” (307).

Comte is, indeed, superior to Bentham in the greater rigour of his insistence on the empirical and inductive. “All political truth he deems strictly relative, implying as its correlative a given state or situation of society” (323). In thus emphasizing the importance of history as the body of social phaenomena from which the social scientist draws his conclusions by induction, Comte makes his greatest contribution. He is at his most striking in his long survey of universal history. This survey is concerned with “the main stream of human progress, looking only at the races and nations that led the van. . . . His object is to characterize truly, though generally, the successive states of society through which the advanced guard of our species has passed, and the filiation of these states on one another—how each grew out of the preceding and was the parent of the following state.” (318.) As Mill’s phrases, “led the van” and “advanced guard,” indicate, his approval of Comte as historian attaches to his philosophy of history as a doctrine of progress, his rôle as a new and more thorough Condorcet, more than to any really scientific quality in his historiography. Since Mill’s own Utilitarianism is strongly progressive, he welcomes the presentation of a mass of historical evidence, admittedly selective rather than truly “universal,” which offers inductive and empirical support for the “fact” of progress.

There is no doubt that Mill finds Comte’s analysis, in general terms, sound. He also praises the nice balance Comte observes between treating history (as Carlyle does) in terms of the influence of individuals, and treating it in terms solely of general causes. He is not unjust to the past, seeing (as Condorcet and Godwin had before him, though Mill does not note this) “in all past modes of thought and forms of society . . . a useful, in many a necessary, office, in carrying mankind through one stage of improvement into a higher.” He avoids the error of regarding the intellectual “as the only progressive element in man, and the moral as too much the same at all times to affect even the annual average of crime” (322-3). He links, in short, intellectual to moral progress. Nor does Comte think of moral progress as dependent solely on intellectual improvement. “He not only personally appreciates, but rates high in moral value, the creations of poets and artists in all departments, deeming them, by their mixed appeal to the sentiments and the understanding, admirably fitted to educate the feelings of abstract thinkers, and enlarge the intellectual horizon of people of the world” (324). Once again we hear unvoiced echoes of Mill’s view of Bentham and his limitations, from some of which at least Comte is free.

But at the same time, the balance must not be allowed to tip too far in reaction. Comte is not so far from Bentham as to hand over progress to the poets and artists. He does indeed, like Bentham, insist that “the main agent in the progress of mankind is their intellectual development,” and while it is true that the passions are “a more energetic power than a mere intellectual conviction,” the passions “tend to divide, not to unite, mankind.” “It is only by a common belief that passions are brought to work together, and become a collective force. . . .” The passions are the gale, but Reason must be the compass. “All human society,” as Godwin had argued, “is grounded on a system of fundamental opinions, which only the speculative faculty can provide,” and which only improvement of the speculative faculty can improve (316). Herbert Spencer is wrong in asserting that “ideas do not govern and overthrow the world; the world is governed or overthrown by feelings, to which ideas serve only as guides.” That is, he is wrong if he thinks this a refutation of Comte. The sentiments “are only a social force at all, through the definite direction given to them by . . . some . . . intellectual conviction,” and the sentiments do not of themselves “spontaneously throw up” convictions (317). “To say that men’s intellectual beliefs do not determine their conduct, is like saying that the ship is moved by the steam and not by the steersman” (317).

In many respects, then, Comte can be praised as another apostle of the true faith, a true Utilitarian in his fundamental principles, and free of some of the limitations of personality and of intellectual equipment which so narrowed Bentham. But his own limitations are more disastrous than Bentham’s. Even in the earlier work with which the first part of Mill’s essay deals, the Cours de Philosophie Positive, there is much that arouses Mill’s strong disapproval. In the first place, Comte’s psychology is inadequate. He gives psychology as a science no place in his classification, and “always speaks of it with contempt.” He reduces it, in fact, to a branch of physiology, totally rejecting introspection, or “psychological observation properly so called . . . internal consciousness.” As Mill dryly observes, “How we are to observe other people’s mental operations, or how interpret the signs of them without having learnt what the signs mean by knowledge of ourselves, he does not state” (296). Comte relies, as “Organon for the study of ‘the moral and intellectual functions’ ” on Phrenology, which, says Mill, is in process of becoming discredited as a science. Moreover, it tends to be entirely meaningless unless related to a psychology of association. Comte shows no knowledge, and makes no use, of the work of Hartley, Brown, and James Mill. The real scientific development of psychology has been made by Bain and Herbert Spencer. Comte’s failure to take psychology seriously as a mental science is not a “mere hiatus” in his system, but “the parent of serious errors in his attempt to create a Social Science” (298).

Probably even more culpable, from Mill’s point of view, are some of Comte’s political attitudes, his reliance on authority, his eagerness to commit power to single persons or small groups, his rejection, not only of popular sovereignty, but of any principle of responsibility. It is not only that Comte runs foul of most of Mill’s fundamental political principles, and those of the Utilitarians generally, but also of the ethical attitudes underlying them. “No one to count as more than one” is an axiom at the heart of the Utilitarian ethic. Further, Mill is clearly shocked to find that Comte relegates to the “metaphysical,” and hence to oblivion, “the first of all the articles of the liberal creed, ‘the absolute right of free examination, or the dogma of unlimited liberty of conscience.’ ” Comte accepts the legal right, but “resolutely denies” the moral right (301). On a strict Utilitarian basis, of course, Comte is quite correct, and Mill himself would found an absolute right not on natural rights but on permanent utility. But he is pushed here, as in On Liberty, away from Utilitarian relativism into something like “metaphysical” absolutism, for fear, as he says, of the use to be made of the contrary doctrine. And although Comte by no means wishes “intellectual dominion to be exercised over an ignorant people,” and is as strong an advocate of popular education as any Utilitarian, viewing the possibilities of such education with a “startling” optimism, his scheme to have a “salutary ascendency over opinion” exercised by an organized body of “the most eminent thinkers” makes Mill decidedly nervous (314). So does Comte’s dismissal of the whole revolutionary and liberal set of ideas as “metaphysical” and merely negative, and consequently as a serious impediment to the reorganization of society (301). Mill himself had insisted on the negative nature of eighteenth-century revolutionary thought, and the aberration of Rousseau in trying to found a positive philosophy of government on negation, but again he senses the presence of dangerous conclusions and applications. Though there is truth in what Comte says, Mill feels like the man “who being asked whether he admitted that six and five make eleven, refused to give an answer until he knew what use was to be made of it” (302).

Underlying his misgivings about the use Comte wishes to make of these ideas is his lively distrust of the whole programme for the future of society Comte seems to envisage. On the “statical” side of social phænomena, the laws of social existence “considered abstractedly from progress,” Comte is relatively satisfactory. On the “dynamical” side, that of social progress, the laws of the evolution of the social state, he is at his weakest, trite and often invalid (309). For Mill, of course, the “statical” is important as a preliminary to the “dynamical”; his real concern is with the means of ensuring the progress of society and of man in society. Comte’s means seem to him totally wrong.

Apart from the ideas we have been examining, there is much in the first part of the essay on Comte with which we need not concern ourselves here. The very interesting sections in which Mill discusses and criticizes Comte’s classification of the sciences, his philosophy of science, the Organon of Discovery and the Organon of Proof, the difference between Laws and Causes, and so on, are important in other contexts. Our concern has been with the ethical, and with the political insofar as it touches the ethical.

In part two of the essay, as Mill turns to Comte’s later writings, the balance of praise and blame shifts radically. None the less, the Religion of Humanity can be made to coincide in its essentials, as Mill sees them, with the essential ethical basis of Utilitarianism, and Comte can remain in some sense a high priest of the true creed. “The power which may be acquired over the mind by the idea of the general interest of the human race, both as a source of emotion and as a motive to conduct, many have perceived; but we know not if anyone, before M. Comte, realized so fully as he has done, all the majesty of which that idea is susceptible.” “We, therefore, not only hold that M. Comte was justified in the attempt to develop his philosophy into a religion, and had realized the essential conditions of one, but that all other religions are made better in proportion as, in their practical result, they are brought to coincide with that which he aimed at constructing.” (334-5.)

But if Comte is right in general principle, he is often wrong in interpretation and application. He falls into the error often charged against the Utilitarian moralists, in requiring “that the test of conduct should also be the exclusive motive to it” (335). And in his enthusiasm for loving one’s neighbour, he insists on conscious suppression of all self-regarding actions. If he merely meant “that egoism is bound, and should be taught, always to give way to the well-understood interests of enlarged altruism,” no one could object, least of all Mill. But his naïve phrenology, combined with a biological theory of organic growth or atrophy through use or disuse, leads him to something like the old ascetic mortification of the flesh (335).

Mill sees in this tendency a symptom of a general trend in Comte’s thought which underlies many of his errors, a tendency to accept as axiomatic “that all perfection consists in unity.” “Why is it necessary,” asks Mill, “that all human life should point but to one object, and be cultivated into a system of means to a single end? May it not be the fact that mankind, who after all are made up of single human beings, obtain a greater sum of happiness when each pursues his own, under the rules and conditions required by the good of the rest, than when each makes the good of the rest his only subject. . . ?” (337.) Comte’s passion for “unity” and “systematization” leads not only to a denial of the value Mill places upon variety, but to a system of compulsion towards uniformity. In Halévy’s terms, Comte plans the “artificial identification of interests,” while Mill believes in the “natural identification of interests,” as his words above indicate.

The “mania for regulation” by which Comte seems obsessed appears in full development in the cultus of the Religion of Humanity. The elaborate provision of ceremony, ritual, and doctrine strikes Mill, of course, as an unseemly imitation of Roman Catholicism. Earlier in the essay, in discussing Comte’s treatment of history, Mill had remarked that Comte had no understanding of Protestantism (321). It is equally evident that Mill has no understanding of Catholicism. It is interesting to recall how many writers, in the period from the French Revolution on into the nineteenth century, either from a conviction that Christianity ought to be destroyed, or from a belief that the Enlightenment had in fact virtually destroyed it, urge the creation of a new religion to supply the social need once filled by Christianity. And it is important to note how their conceptions differ as to what religion is, how it functions in society, and particularly how it serves as a social bond. The English Protestants define religion in terms of feeling, and of ethical attitudes. Arnold can thus express the hope that poetry can take over the task formerly performed by religion. Their emphasis is wholly on the individual, and the inner sentiments; they do not think at all in terms of any need of a corporate church, of corporate worship, of external ritual or sacraments. The Continental Catholics, on the contrary, think mainly in these terms, of religion as a corporate public act, of communal participation in ritual, of public symbols and festivals. The whole contrast is pointed up by Mill’s rather astonished comment that Comte proposes prayers and devotional practices, not because the individual’s “feelings require them, but for the premeditated purpose of getting his feelings up” (343). If Mill understands, as he undoubtedly does, some aspects of human psychology much better than Comte, it is also true that Comte understands others better than Mill.

The contrast is not simply that of Protestant and Catholic views of religion, however. There is also a contrast in their views of the primary need religion must fulfil for society. Just as Mill and Arnold differ in their diagnoses of English society, Mill fearing an excessive unity and uniformity, Arnold fearing an excess of individuality leading to moral and social anarchy, so Mill and Comte differ. Comte observes that in the pre-Positivist stage of society “the free development of our forces of all kinds was the important matter.” Now, “the principal need is to regulate them.” From this doctrine, Mill expresses his “entire dissent.” He sees in Comte’s scheme “an elaborate system for the total suppression of all independent thought.” It seems obvious that Comte is concerned about the instability of the French society, about what he sees as the continuing effects of the negative and destructive forces of the Revolution. He sees the intellectuals as “desiring only to prolong the existing scepticism and intellectual anarchy,” and as “rootedly hostile to the construction of the new” religious and social order (351-2). He has no faith in popular rule: “Election of superiors by inferiors, except as a revolutionary expedient, is an abomination in his sight.” He has only “detestation and contempt” for “parliamentary or representative institutions in any form,” and for a system in which the executive is responsible to an elected body (344). But Mill turns no attention to the national and historical context of Comte’s project. And for this he has a double justification. Comte himself is presenting his system not in historical and relativist, but in absolute terms, taking the French situation as universal for the Positive period of history. Moreover, for Mill there is no historical situation in any country in the mid-nineteenth century for which Comte’s system would be valid.

There is no need here, nor would it be appropriate, to discuss all the interesting ideas in the essay. Mill’s comments on the rôle of women, on Comte’s views of the family and of marriage, on proper wages for workmen, on the idle rich, on “useful” knowledge, on Comte’s system of education, on his limitation of books, provide links to a wide range of his writings. One curious note is that where Comte puts forward ideas which are “Positivist” in a twentieth-century sense, Mill sometimes disagrees. When Comte says, for example, that the scientist’s concern with “complete proof,” and a “perfect rationalization of scientific processes” is mere pedantry, and it “ought to be enough that the doctrines afford an explanation of phaenomena, consistent with itself and with known facts, and that the processes are justified by their fruits” (356). Mill disapproves, although he praises the comment “that the infinitesimal calculus is a conception analogous to the corpuscular hypothesis in physics; which last M. Comte has always considered as a logical artifice; not an opinion respecting matters of fact” (365).

The essay closes, in conformity with Mill’s tactics, after so much devastating criticism, with high praise. Comte, like Descartes and Leibniz, whom he most resembles, has an “extraordinary power of concatenation and co-ordination,” and has “enriched human knowledge with great truths and great conceptions of method.” He is, in fact, greater than his predecessors, “not intrinsically, yet by the exertion of equal intellectual power in a more advanced state of human preparation” (368). His absurdities appear more ridiculous than theirs because our age is less tolerant of palpable absurdities.

The “concatenation and co-ordination” clearly refer to the sweeping view of history as a record of human progress. The “great truths and great conceptions of method” must apply, not to the “systematization, systematization, systematization,” but to the fundamental Positivist principles, so closely identified with the Utilitarian, and to the scientific method, the use of history in search of generalizations and “laws” of human behaviour which Mill himself advocates. Comte emerges finally, then, as a high priest of Utilitarianism and of the Religion of Humanity, misled into becoming High Priest and Pontiff of his absurd cultus.


The essays which Helen Taylor published after Mill’s death as Three Essays on Religion, present, as she points out in her Introductory Notice, his “deliberate and exhaustive treatment of the topics under consideration.” She also notes that although the first two, on Nature and on the Utility of Religion, were written between 1850 and 1858, while the third, on Theism, was not written until between 1868 and 1870, Mill certainly “considered the opinions expressed in these different Essays, as fundamentally consistent,” and “his manner of thinking had undergone no substantial change.” Indeed, the various allusions to religious thought in his earliest ethical writings, the treatment of religious ideas in On Liberty, and in Auguste Comte and Positivism, all suggest that Mill’s opinions on what his orthodox contemporaries meant by religion, both revealed and natural, stayed virtually constant throughout his mature career. All that changed was the openness and explicitness of his attack.

The fundamentals of his position have already been made clear. His thinking is firmly rooted in empiricism; his whole concept of truth is strongly defined by the “canons of induction”—truth is what can be proved by induction from empirical experience. His concept of a true religion is consequently of a religion of naturalism, as opposed to one of supernaturalism, a religion of the this-worldly as opposed to one of the other-worldly. The sort of religion he can approve of he finds in Comte’s Religion of Humanity. The ethical system dependent on this religion is the Utilitarian. And finally, he sees this religion as an instrument of progress, of an emergent ethical evolution. These simple attitudes, which underlie all his comments on religion, provide the basic points of reference for the more elaborate treatment in the three essays.

The essay “The Utility of Religion” is directed towards persuading the reader that all the needs, both of society and of the individual, commonly thought of as satisfied by orthodox religion, can be fully satisfied without it, and that in fact the effects ascribed to religion have been due, not to religion itself, but to the force of opinion. Religious authority, by being in control of opinion and of education, has received credit for the support of the virtues, and for the instilling of them in the young, but Mill insists that the results of control by religious authority in no way differ from the results obtainable by essentially secular control: “early religious teaching has owed its power over mankind rather to its being early than to its being religious” (410). As to the sanctions religion lends to morality through its system of eternal rewards and punishments, morality needs no supernatural sanctions: moral truths are strong enough in their own evidence to retain the belief of mankind when once they have acquired it. Moreover, an application of Bentham’s calculus reinforces the impressions gained by observation that even infinite rewards and punishments postponed to the after life and never witnessed have little effect on ordinary minds. The real sanctions come from public opinion and the passions affected by it: “the love of glory; the love of praise; the love of admiration; the love of respect and deference; even the love of sympathy. . . .” “The fear of shame, the dread of ill repute or of being disliked or hated, are the direct and simple forms of its deterring power.” “Belief, then, in the supernatural . . . cannot be considered to be any longer required, either for enabling us to know what is right and wrong in social morality, or for supplying us with motives to do right and to abstain from wrong.” (417.) Cannot an ethical system for both society and the individual, then, be purely secular? Cannot the public and private morality be imposed merely by the power of education and public opinion, in the tradition of Utilitarianism? What need is there of a substitute Religion of Humanity to replace the old supernatural religion?

Once again, as Mill proceeds to answer these questions (which he does not explicitly ask) our thoughts revert to the Autobiography and the description of the crisis of his youth. “Religion and poetry,” he now writes, “address themselves, at least in one of their aspects, to the same part of the human constitution: they both supply the same want, that of ideal conceptions grander and more beautiful than we see realized in the prose of human life. Religion, as distinguished from poetry, is the product of the craving to know whether these imaginative conceptions have realities answering to them in some other world than ours.” Religion adds to “the poetry of the supernatural” a positive belief which unpoetical minds can share with the poetical. It satisfies the craving for “the better which is suggested” by the good partially seen and known on earth, the craving for “higher things.” The question for Mill is not whether this “poetry of the supernatural” is valuable: he readily acknowledges that it meets an important psychological need—but whether it has to be connected with the supernatural. Is it necessary, he asks, “to travel beyond the boundaries of the world which we inhabit” to obtain this good, or is “the idealization of our earthly life, the cultivation of a high conception of what it may be made . . . not capable of supplying a poetry, and, in the best sense of the word, a religion, equally fitted to exalt the feelings, and (with the same aid from education) still better calculated to ennoble the conduct, than any belief respecting the unseen powers” (420).

Such a religion can even offer, in terms of the human species, the aspirations appropriate to immortality and, in conjunction with a faith in progress, an earthly Paradise: “if individual life is short, the life of the human species is not short; its indefinite duration is practically equivalent to endlessness; and being combined with indefinite capability of improvement, it offers to the imagination and sympathies a large enough object to satisfy any reasonable demand for grandeur of aspiration” (420). Once man has abandoned the “baseless fancies” of supernatural immortality, his mind will expand into new dimensions at thoughts of the Grand Etre and its limitless future. When it has expanded from love of country to love of the world, as it can be made to expand by proper training, the universal morality will be the Utilitarian:

A morality grounded on large and wise views of the good of the whole, neither sacrificing the individual to the aggregate nor the aggregate to the individual, but giving to duty on the one hand and to freedom and spontaneity on the other their proper province, would derive its power in the superior natures from sympathy and benevolence and the passion for ideal excellence: in the inferior, from the same feelings cultivated up to the measure of their capacity, with the superadded force of shame. . . . A support in moments of weakness would not be a problematical future existence, but the approbation . . . of those whom we respect, and ideally of all those, dead or living, whom we admire or venerate. . . . To call these sentiments by the name morality . . . is claiming too little for them. They are a real religion. . . .


Here is undoubtedly Mill’s lasting confession of faith. The Religion of Humanity fulfils all the conditions he demands: “The essence of religion is the strong and earnest direction of the emotions and desires towards an ideal object, recognized as of the highest excellence, and as rightfully paramount over all selfish objects of desire” (422). It fulfils them for him much more satisfactorily than orthodox (or unorthodox) Christianity.

Given an understanding of Mill’s religious position, and of the principles on which it is based, the long essay on Theism offers the reader no surprises. There can in fact be few works of Mill’s which show so little originality. Any reader familiar with nineteenth-century writings on religion will find himself constantly recalling other expressions of the same views. Much of the essay could as readily have been written by Huxley. The elaborate attack on a priori and a posteriori “proofs” of the Being and Attributes of God, carrying one’s mind back to Samuel Clarke and the eighteenth century, seems quaintly old-fashioned, especially when the a priori is so easily dismissed as “unscientific” (434). The most entertaining passages are those which exhibit the full savagery of Mill’s combative style, such as the one in Part II on man’s God-given potentialities for development: “It is to suppose that God could not, in the first instance, create anything better than a Bosjeman or an Andaman islander, or something still lower; and yet was able to endow the Bosjeman or the Andaman islander with the power of raising himself into a Newton or a Fénelon. We certainly do not know the nature of the barriers which limit the divine omnipotence; but it is a very odd notion of them that they enable the Deity to confer on an almost bestial creature the power of producing by a succession of efforts what God himself had no other means of creating.” (459.) Or again, in Part III, on God’s being either unable or unwilling to grant our desires: “Many a man would like to be a Croesus or an Augustus Caesar, but has his wishes gratified only to the moderate extent of a pound a week or the Secretaryship of his Trades Union” (466). The writing is often as lively as Mill’s best, even where the ideas are commonplace.

The criticism of Hume’s essay on miracles in Part IV (471), the remarks on brain and mind and the warning against “giving à priori validity to the conclusions of an à posteriori philosophy” in Part III (461) are of interest as examples either of Mill’s wish to be fair, or of his insistence on precise argument. But perhaps the most interesting part for its content is the final one, in which, like Tennyson and Browning, Mill asserts the value of imaginative aspirations, of hope, and of “cleaving to the sunnier side of doubt,” as Tennyson puts it. One senses again here that other side of Mill, responding in something like poetic terms to the realities of the human situation and of human psychology. “To me it seems that human life, small and confined as it is, and as, considered merely in the present, it is likely to remain even when the progress of material and moral improvement may have freed it from the greater part of its present calamities, stands greatly in need of any wider range and greater height of aspiration for itself and its destination, which the exercise of imagination can yield to it without running counter to the evidence of fact . . .” (483). Or, as Arnold put it, “men have such need of joy! But joy whose grounds are true. . . .”

Again, when Mill praises “the tendency, either from constitution or habit, to dwell chiefly on the brighter side both of the present and of the future,” noting that “a hopeful disposition gives a spur to the faculties and keeps all the active energies in good working order,” or when he observes that it is not necessary “for keeping up our conviction that we must die, that we should be always brooding over death,” that we should not “think perpetually of death, but . . . of our duties, and of the rule of life” (484), we seem to be listening to Tennyson’s Ancient Sage. When “the reason is strongly cultivated, the imagination may safely follow its own end, and do its best to make life pleasant and lovely inside the castle, in reliance on the fortifications raised and maintained by Reason round the outward bounds.” The “indulgence of hope with regard to the government of the universe and the destiny of man after death . . . is legitimate and philosophically defensible.” Such a hope “makes life and human nature a far greater thing to the feelings, and gives greater strength as well as greater solemnity to all the sentiments which are awakened in us by our fellow-creatures and by mankind at large” (485). Throughout this last section, Mill emphasizes the importance of the imagination, not to supplant reason, but to supplement it. Ultimately it is this addition of imagination to reason, of poetry to fact, which constitutes religion, especially “that real, though purely human religion, which sometimes calls itself the Religion of Humanity and sometimes that of Duty” (488).

Although there are clear connections between the essay “Nature” and the other two essays on religion, it does not fit simply into the pattern I have been tracing, nor are the issues it discusses all related simply or exclusively to Mill’s religious thought. For some classes of reader, it will be by far the most interesting of the three essays. For students of literature concerned with the development of Romanticism, for example, it will be an important document.

It is easy to recognize in the essay a number of distinct, though related, themes. The words “nature” and “natural” have become a source, says Mill, of “false taste, false philosophy, false morality, and even bad law” (373). The last term, recalling Bentham’s attacks on the concept of Natural Law, points up the first theme: an attack on “the great à priori fallacies,” which are to be exposed here, as the list suggests, in aesthetic theory, in philosophy, and in moral philosophy (383). The attack involves the rejection of Nature as an aesthetic norm, and of Nature as an ethical norm, and the repudiation generally of the injunction to “follow Nature.” Since these “à priori fallacies,” including the establishing of Nature as a norm, are based upon what Mill sees as a false metaphysical view of Nature, the first step is to correct this view. The “Nature” of a thing is simply “its entire capacity of exhibiting phenomena.” “Nature in the abstract is the aggregate of the powers and properties of all things. Nature means the sum of all phenomena, together with the causes which produce them. . . .” (374.) There is no justification for opposing Nature and Art, “Art is as much Nature as anything else . . . ; Art is but the employment of the powers of Nature for an end” (375). In this purely empirical sense, everything is Nature, and everything must conform to Nature, Nature being simply what is.

But there is another sense in which Nature means phaenomena not caused by man, and in this sense a distinction can be made between Nature and Art. In this case, says Mill, the artificial is an improvement; man controls Nature to improve it. “If the artificial is not better than the natural, to what end are all the arts of life?” “All praise of Civilization, or Art, or Contrivance, is so much dispraise of Nature. . . .” (381.) So also in the ethical sphere. Cruelty is as natural as benevolence, and “the most criminal actions are to a being like man, not more unnatural than most of the virtues.” “There is hardly a bad action ever perpetrated which is not perfectly natural, and the motives to which are not perfectly natural feelings.” (401.) The moral man is, like the carefully tilled garden, a work of Art, not of Nature. “This artificially created or at least artificially perfected nature of the best and noblest human beings, is the only nature which it is ever commendable to follow” (396-7).

The setting up of Civilization in opposition to Nature, and the allusion to the “artificially perfected nature” of the best human beings point up the exact object of Mill’s attack. In the conflict between the competing Romantic doctrines of primitivism and progress, Mill is on the side of progress. He is particularly antagonistic towards the sentimental Romantic primitivism which exalts the natural instincts. “Savages are always liars,” he remarks (395). The sentiment of justice is wholly artificial in origin. No virtues are natural to man, merely a capacity for acquiring them (and also for acquiring vices). It is the duty of man to amend nature, including his own.

The notion of Nature as a norm is not, however, solely associated with or derived from primitivism. It is also part of Deist optimism, of the natural theology Mill attacks in the essay “Theism.” For the astro- and physicotheologians, Nature exhibited not merely a physical order, but an ethical one. But, asks Mill, “how stands the fact? That next to the greatness of these cosmic forces, the quality which most forcibly strikes every one who does not avert his eyes from it is their perfect and absolute recklessness.” Nature is totally amoral. “All which people are accustomed to deprecate as ‘disorder’ and its consequences, is precisely a counterpart of Nature’s ways.” “If imitation of the Creator’s will as revealed in nature, were applied as a rule of action . . . ; the most atrocious enormities of the worst men would be more than justified by the apparent intention of Providence that throughout all animated nature the strong should prey upon the weak.” Since Nature has no right or wrong, “Conformity to nature, has no connection whatever with right and wrong” (400).

The attack on the natural theologians links this essay with the essay on Theism, and the doctrine put forward in that essay, that the state of the natural world is compatible with a theory of a wise and benevolent, but not an omnipotent Creator, is put forward here, with an interesting reference to Leibniz. Much of the argument on the evidence offered by Nature for a posteriori discovery of the divine attributes parallels the more formal argument of the later essay on Theism. But there is much more looking backward to the eighteenth century and its controversies here; the essay on Theism, although it glances back occasionally, is solidly fixed in the world of Darwin and of the Higher Criticism.

Finally, it is possible to see in the essay on Nature a further significance. From the time of Helvetius and the early French Utilitarians, the taint of “naturalism” had clung to the doctrine. In its most narrowly rigorous form, it insisted that the sole absolute good was pleasure, the sole absolute evil, pain. It reduced motivation to the natural instinct to seek pleasure and avoid pain. In referring everything in ethics and in politics to these irreducible natural elements, and explaining everything in terms of primary natural instincts, it was not indeed setting up the natural as a norm, as the pattern of what ought to be. But it was setting up the natural as the pattern of what has to be, of what is and is inescapable. Moreover, in finding the origins of normative ideas, of ideals of value, in the purely natural, it attacked the validity usually ascribed to them. Those opponents who saw in the Helvetian doctrine a system of hedonist, egoist naturalism had some good reasons for their judgment. And it is a short step from proclaiming the inevitability of the natural to accepting it as the norm. If it is inevitably natural for dogs to bark and bite, then let them delight to do so. The natural becomes the right.

The “naturalistic” fallacy can then, and historically does, become part not only of the metaphysical views of Nature associated with Shaftesburian deists, neo-classical literary critics and pre-Romantic primitivism, but also of narrowly empirical Utilitarians. And since the Utilitarians tend to be “naturalistic” in the other sense of rejecting the supernatural and the “metaphysical,” the “naturalism” ascribed to them is seen as of the most opprobrious sort. As we have seen, Mill is constantly aware of the need to break the association of Utilitarianism with the tradition of Helvetius’ pattern. The essay on Nature, in defining precisely his attitude towards Nature and the natural, and the relation of the natural to the ethical norms of Utilitarianism, is Mill’s main reply to those who still think of Utilitarianism in the old terms of the “naturalistic” fallacy.

  • University of Toronto


Mill’s Utilitarianism

the majority of serious students of ethics today are utilitarians, and those who are not see utilitarianism as the chief position in need of amendment. John Stuart Mill’s writings on ethics, and especially on utilitarianism, are thus of vital contemporary interest and importance. More than any other thinker, Mill is responsible for laying down the principal directions ethics has taken since his day. He did not, however, embody his full views in any single volume or one set of writings, and the main lines in ethics which he sketched were worked out in detail only after his death by Henry Sidgwick. A generation later, G. E. Moore sought to refine upon Sidgwick’s results, and subsequent ethical theory has taken Moore’s work as its starting point.

The most complete guide to undertaking a detailed examination of Mill’s ethical views is his Utilitarianism, and so I have used it as the basis of this introductory essay. His other essays on ethics are valuable as supplements to the opinions he puts forward in this work, and they are referred to where appropriate. Five main topics have been selected for detailed treatment in the discussion that follows. The first section sorts out some of Mill’s more important principles. Section II examines his dictum that the sole evidence that anything is desirable is that people desire it. In the third, consideration is given to what Mill holds that this evidence discloses. Section IV deals with Mill’s analysis of moral concepts. The discussion concludes with an examination of his views on the use of the principle of utility.



Mill writes, “happiness is the sole end of human action, and the promotion of it the test by which to judge of all human conduct. . . .” He also makes it clear that the test is its promotion of happiness “to the greatest extent possible” (214). By such conduct Mill does not mean that which would promote happiness to the greatest extent conceivable, but that which would promote it to a greater extent than would any alternative. Mill also makes it clear that when he speaks of the promotion of happiness as “the test by which to judge of all human conduct,” the aspect of conduct of which he means that it is a test is whether it should be done. He thus holds that the test of whether something should be done is whether it would promote more happiness than would any alternative to it. Mill implies that if an action would satisfy this test, it should be done, and that if it would not, it is not one that should be done. Accordingly, the main principle which Mill maintains is that something should be done if and only if it would cause more happiness than would any alternative, and that something should not be done if and only if it would fail to cause as much happiness as would some alternative.

The chief support Mill offers for this principle is that “happiness is desirable, and the only thing desirable, as an end. . .” (234). He distinguishes things desirable as a means and things desirable for their own sake. What is desirable for its own sake he speaks of as desirable as an end. He argues that it is because happiness is the only thing desirable for its own sake that the test of conduct generally is its promotion of happiness. The principle he employs in taking this step is that if there is one sort of thing which is alone desirable for its own sake, then the promotion of it is the test of all human conduct. By test of human conduct he means test of what should be done. An action is then one that should be done if and only if it satisfies this test. Mill thus takes it for granted that something should be done if and only if its consequences would be more desirable than would those of any alternative to it.

From his main principle in turn Mill draws a conclusion about what it would be right to do and what it would be wrong to do. The question of whether it would be right or wrong to do a certain action is a question about its morality. Mill writes, “the morality of an individual action is . . . a question . . . of the application of a law to an individual case” (206). He thus holds that it would be wrong to do a certain action only if it would be at variance with a certain rule. If we ask what sort of rule he is referring to, Mill makes it clear that he means a rule that should generally be observed. By his main principle Mill has already given a general answer as to what should be done. In accordance with it he holds that a certain rule is one that should generally be observed if and only if its general observance would cause more happiness than would any alternative to its general observance. Mill thus maintains that it would be wrong to do a certain action only if it would be at variance with such a rule.

Some prolixity is required to clarify what Mill understands by an action that would cause more happiness than any alternative to it. The only respect in which an action is thereby compared to its alternatives is its consequences, and the only consequences by which it is compared are those consisting of happiness and unhappiness. Mill writes, “By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure” (210). He states: “Of . . . philosophers who have taught that happiness is the end of life . . . [the] happiness which they meant was not a life of rapture; but moments of such, in an existence made up of few and transitory pains, many and various pleasures. . .” (215). Hence the only consequences of an action that are relevant are pleasures and pains. All the pleasures and pains among the consequences of an action are relevant, whether remote or near, whether experienced by humans or by other sentient creatures.

If Mill held that the only relevant difference among pleasures and pains was whether one was greater than another, there would be only six possibilities for the total effects of an action. They would contain (1) an excess of pleasure over pain, (2) an excess of pain over pleasure, (3) an excess of neither, (4) pleasure and no pain, (5) pain and no pleasure, (6) neither pleasure nor pain. Mill argues, however, that pleasures and pains differ in a further respect which is relevant—some are more desirable than others. Accordingly, eight possibilities may be distinguished with regard to the total effects of an action:

(1) They contain some pleasures and no pains.

(2) They contain both pleasures and pains, and regardless of whether there is an excess of pleasure over pain, the pleasures are on the whole more desirable than the pains are undesirable.

(3) They contain both pleasures and pains; neither the pleasures nor pains are of sorts such that the pleasures on the whole are more desirable than the pains are undesirable or such that the pains on the whole are more undesirable than the pleasures are desirable; but there is an excess of pleasure over pain.

(4) They contain some pains and no pleasures.

(5) They contain both pleasures and pains, and regardless of whether there is an excess of pain over pleasure, the pains are on the whole more undesirable than the pleasures are desirable.

(6) They contain both pleasures and pains; neither the pleasures nor pains are of sorts such that the pleasures on the whole are more desirable than the pains are undesirable or such that the pains on the whole are more undesirable than the pleasures are desirable; but there is an excess of pain over pleasure.

(7) They contain no pleasures or pains.

(8) They contain both pleasures and pains, and regardless of whether there is an excess of pleasure over pain, of pain over pleasure, or an excess of neither, the pleasures and pains they contain are of sorts such that the pleasures on the whole are not more desirable than the pains are undesirable and such that the pains on the whole are not more undesirable than the pleasures are desirable.

If (1) or (2) or (3) holds of a certain action, Mill would classify it as one that would cause an excess of happiness over unhappiness. If (4) or (5) or (6) holds, he would classify it as one that would cause an excess of unhappiness over happiness. If one of the other alternatives holds, he would classify an action as one that would cause an excess of neither.

Having distinguished the possibilities for any action, taken by itself, we may notice how any two actions taken at random may stand to one another in these respects. Since there are three possibilities for each, there are nine possible combinations. Call one action A and the other B. (1) Both A and B would cause an excess of happiness. (2) A would cause an excess of happiness but B would cause an excess of neither. (3) A would cause an excess of happiness but B would cause an excess of unhappiness. (4) A would cause an excess of neither but B would cause an excess of happiness. (5) Both would cause an excess of neither. (6) A would cause an excess of neither but B would cause an excess of unhappiness. (7) A would cause an excess of unhappiness but B would cause an excess of happiness. (8) A would cause an excess of unhappiness but B would cause an excess of neither. (9) Both would cause an excess of unhappiness. Within (9) three possibilities are to be distinguished: (9.1) B would cause a greater excess of unhappiness. (9.2) Neither would cause a greater excess of unhappiness. (9.3) A would cause a greater excess of unhappiness. Also, within (1), that is, where both A and B would cause an excess of happiness, three possibilities are to be distinguished: (1.1) A would cause a greater excess of happiness. (1.2) Neither would cause a greater excess of happiness. (1.3) B would cause a greater excess of happiness. There are thus thirteen ways in which any two actions may stand to one another. These thirteen ways may be grouped into three. If (1.1), (2), (3), (6) or (9.1) obtains, Mill would say that A would cause more happiness than B or that B would cause less than A. If (1.3), (4), (7), (8) or (9.3) obtains, he would say that B would cause more happiness than A or that A would cause less than B. If any of the three remaining combinations obtains, he would say that either would cause as much happiness as the other.

We have noticed three ways in which Mill would hold that any two actions taken at random could stand to one another. If any set of two or more actions is considered, we may notice three ways in which one of the actions of the set might stand to the others: (1) it would cause more happiness than any of the others, (2) it would cause less happiness than some of the others, (3) it would cause as much happiness as any of the others. The only sort of set of two or more actions to which Mill directs attention is that made up of a certain action and of the alternatives to it. This set includes whatever an agent would succeed in doing upon a given occasion if he tried hard enough, and excludes whatever he would not succeed in doing no matter how hard he tried. Accordingly, Mill would distinguish three ways in which an action may stand to the alternatives to it: (1) it would cause more happiness than any alternative, (2) it would cause less happiness than some alternative, (3) it would cause as much happiness as any alternative.

So far attention has been paid to one set of features of which Mill’s main principle makes mention, apart from their role in it. There is a second set of features of actions which this principle mentions—whether it is one that should be done or one that should not. What Mill’s main principle asserts is a relation between features of the first set and features of the second. It asserts that something should be done if and only if it would cause more happiness than any alternative; that something should not be done if and only if it would cause less happiness than some alternative; and that a certain action is not one that should not be done if and only if it would cause as much happiness as any alternative.

By his main principle Mill thus declares that a certain feature is a universal and peculiar feature of actions that should be done, and that a certain other feature is a universal and peculiar feature of actions that should not be done. It implies that whenever anyone judges that a certain action should be done, this is a condition that must be fulfilled for the judgment to be true. This is the case whether the judgment is about a past or future action, an actual or possible action, something done by oneself or another, or something done by an individual, a nation, or any group. Mill’s principle does not, however, imply that the only way by which anyone can know whether a certain action should be done is by seeking to make out whether it would cause more happiness than any alternative. Although Mill speaks of it as the “sole criterion,” his principle is quite compatible with using many other tests. It is compatible with using now one test and now another. Nor does Mill’s principle imply that it affords the only universal test by which to judge what should be done. All that it does imply is that whatever other test be used, it must yield results compatible with this principle. Mill’s principle does not supply the only test; it only lays down a condition to which any test must comply.

Although Mill’s principle sets forth a universal and peculiar feature of actions that should be done, there is nothing about it which implies that this is the only universal and peculiar feature of such actions. It would be compatible with it to maintain, for instance, that something should be done if and only if it is commanded by God. Mill’s principle provides nothing that rules this out. Indeed, it is conceivable that there are ten thousand other universal and peculiar features of actions that should be done. One consequence which Mill draws from his principle is that it would be wrong to do a certain action only if it would violate a rule the general observance of which would cause more happiness. Many would agree with Mill in this. They would agree that whenever anyone does what is wrong, he is violating a rule the general observance of which would in fact cause more happiness. But they would not hold that this is the reason it would be wrong to do it. They would hold that the reason it is wrong to do any action is that it violates God’s law. They would urge that God wants his creatures to be happy and that because of this whoever disobeys God’s laws violates a law the general observance of which would cause more happiness. They would agree with Mill that by doing what is wrong someone violates a rule the general observance of which would cause more happiness. But they would say that it is not because of this that someone is doing wrong; it is rather because he breaks a rule laid down by God.

There is nothing in this view incompatible with what we have so far seen of Mill’s main principle. When we notice how Mill deals with such a view, we find that he takes a further step. He holds not merely that someone does what is wrong only if he breaks a rule the general observance of which would cause more happiness, but also that what he does is wrong because it violates such a rule. Mill maintains not merely that those rules which should generally be observed would in fact cause more happiness, but also that it is because their general observance would cause more happiness that they should be observed. He does not thereby deny that by violating rules that should generally be observed, someone is disobeying God’s will. But he holds that the reason why a rule should be generally observed is not because it is prescribed by God but because its observance would cause more happiness.

There is a further implication differentiating Mill from the view we have been considering. Those who maintain that the reason why a certain action is wrong is that it violates a rule laid down by God are committed to holding that if God should will something other than the happiness of his creatures, then an action would be wrong even though it would not violate a rule whose general observance would cause more happiness. Anyone who holds that an action is wrong because it violates a rule laid down by God is committed to holding that if there is no god or if he lays down no rules for men, then there is nothing which it would be wrong to do or wrong not to do. Mill not only holds that an action is wrong if it violates a rule the general observance of which would cause more happiness, he also contends that it is because it violates such a rule that an action is wrong. He thereby implies that even if God should will something other than the happiness of his creatures, or even if there is no god, an action would be wrong if it were to violate a rule the general observance of which would cause more happiness. In the first step, Mill asserts that a certain feature is a universal and peculiar feature of actions that should be done. In the second step, he states that it is because they have this feature that actions should be done.

There is nothing incompatible between Mill’s principle and the view that something should be done if and only if it would bring about a greater realization of men’s capacities than would any alternative. But his principle is incompatible with the view that something should be done because it would have this result. Similarly, Mill’s principle is not incompatible with the view that something should be done if and only if it would bring about a greater fulfilment of human wants than would any alternative. But it is incompatible with the view that something should be done because it would have this result. One alternative to Mill’s principle is the view that something should be done because it would maximize human happiness. Another alternative to it is that something should be done because it would maximize the agent’s happiness. The former is the humanistic variant to Mill’s principle; the latter the egoistic variant to it. In contrast to both, Mill’s principle is the universalistic variant. Many other alternatives to Mill’s principle are conceivable. One view already noted is that which maintains that something should be done because it would maximize fulfilment of human wants. The universalistic variant to this view is that something should be done because it would maximize fulfilment of wants generally. The egoistic variant is that something should be done because it would maximize fulfilment of the agent’s wants. The theistic variant to this is that something should be done because it would maximize fulfilment of God’s wants. Still another alternative is the view that something should be done because it would maximize the fulfilment of human capacities. Two further conceivable views are the egoistic and universalistic variants of this.

All such views differ from Mill’s principle in but one respect. They all agree that there is some feature which not only holds of every action that should be done and only of such, but which also constitutes the reason why it should be done. They all agree that this feature consists in a respect in which an action compares with its alternatives. They are also all agreed that this feature consists in how an action’s consequences would compare with those of its alternatives. These several views differ from each other and from Mill’s principle only in the sorts of consequences which they specify and the sorts of beings to whom they accrue.

The chief support that Mill offers for his main principle, to vindicate it against such other views, is that happiness is the only thing desirable for its own sake. From this contention it does indeed follow that an action would have more desirable consequences than any alternative if and only if it would cause more happiness. But this contention does not by itself support his main principle. It does so only if a further premise is added, namely, that something should be done if and only if it would have more desirable consequences than any alternative. Mill does not explicitly avow this further premise. Yet, since he holds that the contention which he offers in support of his main principle does in fact support it, he may be presumed to take this premise for granted as not requiring any attention or defence. It then looks as if Mill contends that something should be done because it would cause more happiness, but that it is not only because of this that it should be done; that the reason in turn why what would cause more happiness should be done is that happiness is the only thing desirable for its own sake.

One can at most speculate as to how Mill would meet this challenge. He might retort that the fact that an action would have more desirable consequences than any alternative could not be the ultimate reason why it should be done, since the ultimate reason why something should be done must consist in some other fact about it than the fact that it should be done, but in saying that an action would have more desirable consequences than any alternative, nothing more nor less is then said than that it should be done. Although it is not transparently evident that these are but two ways of saying the same thing, it is far from implausible to urge that by analysis they amount to the same. Two steps are involved in the analysis: (1) something should be done if and only if it would on the whole be more desirable for it to be done than any alternative; (2) it would on the whole be more desirable for something to be done than any alternative to it if and only if what would come of its being done would be more desirable than what would come of any alternative to it. If each of these is analytically true, nothing further is required.

In behalf of the first step, the following may be urged. Whenever it is said that something should be done it is implied that it is capable of being done. It is also implied that it is capable of not being done, that is, that some alternatives are capable of being done in its stead. When it is said that something should be done, it is not only implied that it is one of a number of alternatives; it is also implied that it stands in a certain relation to the others. When it is said that something should be done, it is not implied that it would be more desirable for some alternative to it to be done; nor is it implied that it would be as desirable for some alternative to be done in its stead. What is rather implied is the denial of both these implications. When it is said that something should be done, it is thus implied that it would on the whole be more desirable for it rather than any alternative to be done. In behalf of the second step the following may be urged. It cannot be denied that an action may have consequences, and that whether it would be desirable for it to be done is affected by what would come of its being done. Nor can it be denied that the desirability of some alternative being done is affected by the desirability of what would come of it. It is then more desirable on the whole that one alternative rather than another be done if and only if what would come of the first would be more desirable than what would come of the other. Hence it would on the whole be more desirable for something to be done rather than any alternative if and only if what would come of it would be more desirable than what would come of any alternative.

The chief premise that Mill offers in support of his main principle is that happiness is the only thing desirable for its own sake. This premise affords support only in conjunction with the added premise, that something should be done if and only if it would have more desirable consequences than any alternative. Consequently, Mill’s contention that happiness is the only thing desirable for its own sake cannot support his main principle against any sort of ethical theory which rejects the second premise. Against any such theory he seeks to vindicate his main principle by clearing up the relation of the conception of a wrong action and of an action which there is an obligation not to do to that of an action that should not be done. On the other hand, any sort of ethical theory that rejects Mill’s main principle but which holds that whether something should be done turns on how its consequences would compare with those of any alternative to it need not be incompatible with the second premise. To vindicate his main principle against any theory of that sort, it is sufficient for Mill to make good his contention that happiness is the only thing desirable for its own sake.

Before we go on to examine how Mill seeks to make good this contention, certain implications of it may be noted. It implies that if A are the consequences of one action, X, and B the consequences of another action, Y, A would be more desirable for their own sake than B if and only if they would contain more happiness. It implies that if A should be the consequences of some other action than X, they would still be more desirable for their own sake than B. It thus implies that whether the consequences of an action are more desirable for their own sake than those of another does not depend on what action they are the consequences of. Mill’s contention also implies that if A are the consequences of a natural occurrence and B the consequences of another natural occurrence, A would still be more desirable for their own sake than B. This thus means that whether one set of consequences is more desirable for its own sake than another does not depend on what caused them. It does not depend on A or B being a set of consequences. Mill’s contention that happiness is the only thing desirable for its own sake has therefore a wider scope than his main principle. It implies that any state of affairs is more desirable for its own sake than another if and only if it contains more happiness than the other.

When Mill is described as speaking of one state of affairs as “containing more happiness” than another, it must be borne in mind that this expression is used in the same sense as that in which he understands the consequences of one action as related to those of another when he regards one action as “causing more happiness” than the other. Accordingly, Mill’s contention that happiness is the only thing desirable for its own sake may be stated more fully as signifying that something is desirable for its own sake if and only if it is a state of affairs of one of three sorts: (1) a state containing some pleasure and no pain; (2) a state containing both pleasure and pain, but in which, whether or not there is an excess of pleasure over pain, the pleasures on the whole are more desirable than the pains are undesirable; (3) a state containing both pleasure and pain, and in which, although neither the pleasures nor pains are of sorts such that the pleasures on the whole are more desirable than the pains are undesirable or such that the pains on the whole are more undesirable than the pleasures are desirable, there is an excess of pleasure over pain. Mill likewise holds that something is undesirable for its own sake if and only if it is a state of affairs the opposite of one of these three.

Mill’s contention implies that no inanimate thing or state of affairs made up only of inanimate things is desirable or undesirable for its own sake. It implies that no human being or human disposition is desirable or undesirable for its own sake. According to it, the only sort of matter that is desirable or undesirable for its own sake is a state of affairs comprising sentient beings. It implies that neither justice nor liberty nor peace is desirable for its own sake. It implies, moreover, that there is nothing desirable for its own sake save where there is life; and that there is nothing undesirable for its own sake save where there is life. Although Mill’s contention affirms a certain universal and peculiar feature of whatever is desirable for its own sake, it does not also state any such feature of whatever is desirable. While it implies that an inanimate thing, a human being, or justice or liberty or peace or life is not desirable for its own sake, it does not imply that none of these can be desirable for what will come of it. Mill’s contention implies that although a certain state of affairs is desirable for its own sake, it may still be undesirable; and even though a certain state of affairs is undesirable for its own sake, it may still be desirable, for what comes of it. Mill’s main principle implies that even if it would be undesirable for a certain action to be done, it would not follow that it should not be done. It implies that even if a certain action would have desirable effects, it should not be done, if some alternative to it would have more desirable effects. Mill’s principle implies that even though the consequences of a certain action would on the whole be undesirable for their own sake, it may still be the case that it should be done. This would be the case if the consequences of any alternative to it would be more undesirable for their own sake.



mill’s argument to support his contention that happiness is the only thing desirable for its own sake contains two steps. In the first step he seeks to show that happiness is desirable; in the second, he seeks to show that it is the only thing desirable for its own sake. He writes, in the first step:

The only proof capable of being given that an object is visible, is that people actually see it. . . . In like manner . . . the sole evidence it is possible to produce that anything is desirable, is that people do actually desire it. . . . No reason can be given why the general happiness is desirable, except that each person, so far as he believes it to be attainable, desires his own happiness. This, however, being a fact, we have . . . all the proof . . . which it is possible to require, that happiness is a good: that each person’s happiness is a good to that person, and the general happiness, therefore, a good to the aggregate of all persons.


In the second step Mill acknowledges that men actually “do desire things which, in common language, are decidedly distinguished from happiness” (235). But he endeavours to show that “Whatever is desired otherwise than as a means to some end beyond itself, and ultimately to happiness, is desired as itself a part of happiness. . .” (237). Central to both steps in his argument is Mill’s contention that the sole evidence that anything is desirable is that it is desired.

G. E. Moore urges that by asserting that the fact that something is desired is evidence that it is desirable, Mill is holding that if anything is desired it is desirable; and that by affirming that this is the sole evidence, Mill is holding that nothing is desirable unless desired. Moore also interprets Mill as inferring from this that “desirable” means “desired.” He points out, moreover, that Mill uses the words “good” and “desirable” interchangeably. Hence Moore contends that Mill is claiming that “good” means “desired.” Moore urges two objections against Mill: first, that “desirable” does not mean “desired,” and secondly, that even if something is desirable if and only if it is desired, it is fallacious to infer that “desirable” means “desired.” Both objections fail to apply to Mill; Mill does not draw the inference Moore attributes to him, nor does he maintain that “desirable” means “desired.” Mill also does not hold that “visible” means “seen.” Instead he asserts that the proof that something is visible is that it is seen. Similarly, what he affirms is that the sole evidence that anything is desirable is that it is desired.

To this Moore urges two further objections, independent of the foregoing. The fact that something is desired would be evidence that it is desirable if and only if it is the case that from the mere fact that anything is desired it follows that it is also desirable. But from the mere fact that something is desired Moore objects that it does not follow that it is desirable. Moore does not question Mill’s contention that the fact that something is seen is proof that it is visible, for by “visible” is meant “capable of being seen.” He contends, however, that Mill is wholly unwarranted in arguing that “in like manner” the fact that a thing is desired is evidence that it is desirable, for he points out that by “desirable” is not meant “capable of being desired.” Just as “detestable” means not “capable of being detested” but “worthy of being detested,” so similarly, Moore urges, when something is said to be desirable, what is meant is that it ought to be desired, that it is worthy of being desired. From the fact that something is actually desired it does not follow that it ought to be desired.

Moore urges a second objection against anyone who would try to save Mill’s dictum by holding that Mill uses “desirable” in it to mean “capable of being desired.” He points out that Mill puts forth this dictum to establish the conclusion that the general happiness is the only thing desirable for its own sake. If Mill is construed as using “desirable” in the sense of “capable of being desired” in his premise, Moore contends that his argument then becomes fallacious, since Mill does not use “desirable” in this sense in the conclusion. If anyone should still try to save Mill’s argument against this objection by urging that in the conclusion as well Mill means by “desirable,” “capable of being desired,” Moore contends that this will not do. He points out that in saying that happiness alone is desirable for its own sake, Mill makes it clear that he means that it alone is good for its own sake. Moore also points out that in saying that the general happiness alone is desirable for its own sake, Mill does not mean that it alone is capable of being desired for its own sake. Since Mill himself mentions that each person desires his own happiness, he acknowledges that men are capable of desiring something other than the general happiness for its own sake. Moore calls attention to another connection in which Mill makes this point. Mill remarks that it is a mistake to “confound the rule of action with the motive of it,” and continues, “ninety-nine hundredths of all our actions are done from other motives. . .” (219). Here too Mill makes it clear that, in saying that the general happiness is the only thing desirable for its own sake, he in no way holds that the only desire from which men can act or the only desire of which they are capable is desire for the general happiness.

D. Raphael and E. W. Hall seek to defend Mill against these objections urged by Moore. They contend that Moore’s objections are beside the point, since they criticize Mill for doing something which he does not profess to do. They urge that Mill does not claim to prove that happiness is desirable because it is desired. They direct attention to what Mill has to say upon this matter. Mill writes, “The medical art is proved to be good, by its conducing to health. . . .” He generalizes, “Whatever can be proved to be good, must be so by being shown to be a means to something admitted to be good without proof” (207-208). Here Mill is saying two things: first, that whatever can be proved to be good can be so proved only by being shown conducive to something else that is good; second, that since something cannot be proved to be desirable for its own sake by being shown to be desirable as a means to something else, no proof can be given of what is desirable for its own sake. This conclusion Mill at once qualifies: “Questions of ultimate ends are not amenable to direct proof.” Mill still concedes that such questions are not amenable to what is “commonly understood by proof,” but he contends that they are amenable to a “larger meaning of the word proof. . . . Considerations may be presented capable of determining the intellect either to give or withhold assent.” Moore recognizes that Mill does not claim to give a proof of what things are desirable for their own sake in terms of what is commonly understood by proof. He agrees with Mill that no such proof can be given of what things are desirable for their own sake. Moore also agrees with Mill that considerations may be presented in favour of thinking that certain things and not others are desirable for their own sake. Raphael and Hall err in accusing Moore of taking Mill to be offering a proof in the “commonly understood” sense. Moore’s objection is rather that one consideration which Mill presents “to determine the intellect to give assent” to what is desirable is invalid. Because something is desired it does not follow that it is desirable. Hence the fact that something is desired does not constitute evidence that it is desirable.

To make good his defence of Mill, Raphael must show that this consideration which Mill presents is not open to Moore’s objection. Raphael points out that in his Logic Mill maintains that whoever says that something should be done is recommending that it be done. Such a person, Mill writes, “speaks in rules, or precepts.” Mill continues, such “propositions . . . enjoin or recommend that something should be. They are . . . expressed by the words ought or should be.” Second, Raphael contends that Mill holds that “all rules or precepts are aimed at the promotion of ends.” He is referring to Mill’s remark, “All action is for the sake of some end, and rules of action, it seems natural to suppose, must take their whole character and colour from the end to which they are subservient” (206). Third, Raphael takes Mill as holding that “an ultimate end is that by reference to which we prove the propriety of adopting subordinate ends or particular rules.” He thereby construes Mill as maintaining that whenever men recommend something as desirable, their recommendations must ultimately have reference to an ultimate end. Finally, Raphael ascribes to Mill the view that “the ultimate end or criterion of human action is what human beings desire.” Accordingly, Raphael maintains that what Mill means by his dictum that “the sole evidence . . . that anything is desirable, is that people do actually desire it” is that when “we recommend . . . as ‘desirable’ . . . our recommendations must ultimately have reference to actual desires.”

Raphael’s interpretation of Mill’s dictum fails to free it of the objection urged by Moore. For Moore urges that even if someone aims at a certain thing as an ultimate end, that is, as an end for its own sake, it still makes sense to ask whether that at which he aims is desirable for its own sake. From the fact that it is aimed at for its own sake, it does not follow that it is desirable for its own sake. Raphael also misrepresents Mill’s dictum, in construing it as maintaining that when anything is recommended as desirable, the recommendation must ultimately have reference to men’s desires. He construes it in this way by ascribing to Mill the view that when anything is recommended as desirable, it can be recommended only by reference to an ultimate end. Mill, however, does not hold that something can be shown to be desirable only by being shown to be a means to an ultimate end. He is instead concerned with how it is possible to make out what is desirable for its own sake. It is just in this connection that he puts forth his dictum.

Mill not only speaks of what is desired and what is desirable. Again and again he speaks of ends. In doing so, he makes many statements reminiscent of Aristotle. Aristotle writes, “Every action and pursuit is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim. . . . Will not the knowledge of it, then, have a great influence on life?” In a similar vein, as we have seen, Mill says, “All action is for the sake of some end, and rules of action, it seems natural to suppose, must take their whole character and colour from the end to which they are subservient. When we engage in a pursuit, a clear and precise conception of what we are pursuing would seem to be the first thing we need. . . .” (206.) Mill also asserts, “Questions about ends are . . . questions what things are desirable.” The “sole evidence it is possible to produce that anything is desirable, is that people do actually desire it” (234). Aristotle writes, “If, then, there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for its own sake (everything else being desired for the sake of this) . . . this must be the good and the chief good.” In virtue of such similarities, the objection Moore urges against Mill is equally applicable to Aristotle’s arguments. Moore would contend that because there is that which is desired for its own sake, and all else that is desired is desired for the sake of it, it does not follow that it is desirable for its own sake, or that it alone is desirable for its own sake.

Mill also writes, “happiness is desirable, and the only thing desirable, as end. . . .” Each of virtue, pleasure, money, power, and fame, “once desired as an instrument for the attainment of happiness, has come to be desired for its own sake. In being desired for its own sake it is, however, desired as part of happiness. The person is made, or thinks he would be made, happy by its mere possession. . . . Whatever is desired otherwise than as a means . . . to happiness, is desired as itself a part of happiness. . . .” (236-7.) Aristotle similarly writes,

Not all ends are final ends. . . . Now we call that which is in itself worthy of pursuit more final than that which is worthy of pursuit for the sake of something else, and that which is never desirable for the sake of something else more final than the things that are desirable both in themselves and for the sake of that other thing, and therefore we call final without qualification that which is always desirable in itself and never for the sake of something else. Now such a thing happiness, above all else, is held to be; for this we choose always for itself and never for the sake of something else, but honour, pleasure, reason, and every virtue we choose indeed for themselves. . . , but we choose them also for the sake of happiness, judging that by means of them we shall be happy. Happiness, on the other hand, no one chooses for the sake of these, nor, in general, for anything other than itself.

Here Aristotle distinguishes what is worthy of pursuit from what is pursued and what is desirable from what is desired. Yet in the third sentence he again exposes himself to Moore’s objection: because something is chosen for its own sake and never for the sake of something else, it does not follow that it is “worthy of pursuit,” “desirable in itself,” or “always desirable in itself.” In his Logic, Mill asserts: “Every art . . . enunciates the object aimed at, and affirms it to be a desirable object. The builder’s art assumes that it is desirable to have buildings. . . . The hygienic and medical arts assume, the one that the preservation of health, the other that the cure of disease, are fitting and desirable ends.” Aristotle similarly writes, “In different actions and arts . . . the good of each [is] that for whose sake everything else is done . . . the end.” To this Moore’s objection again applies. Undeniably that for the sake of which everything that is done in a certain sphere of activity is often something good, something desirable. But because there is that in a certain art or sphere of activity for the sake of which everything within it is done, it does not follow that it is desirable. Here it is to be noted that Mill is in complete accord with Moore’s objection. He follows up the last passage by writing, “To this art [the Art of Life] . . . all other arts are subordinate; since its principles are those which determine whether the special aim of any particular art is worthy and desirable.” Here Mill clearly recognizes that the fact that something is the aim of a certain pursuit in no way implies that that aim is desirable. Elsewhere Mill makes it quite clear that he holds that whether a certain pursuit should be engaged in depends not on what its aim is but on whether the consequences of engaging in it would be more desirable.

The core of Moore’s objection to Mill’s dictum, on the evidence for what is desirable, is that from the fact that something is aimed at, it does not follow that it ought to be aimed at; and that from the fact that something is desired, it does not follow that it ought to be desired. Mill is in complete accord with Moore on the general point of which these are instances. He devotes his entire essay, “Nature,” to refuting the notion that nature, that which is, determines that which ought to be. Mill is also in full agreement with the specific point Moore urges in objection to him. Neither nature generally nor man’s own nature can determine what ought to be. Many a propensity is to be extirpated. Because men have a propensity or desire for something, it in no way follows that it ought to be desired. A further look may then be taken at Mill’s argument to see if it is free of Moore’s objection.

In support of the conclusion that only happiness is desirable for its own sake, Mill urges that only happiness is desired for its own sake. Moore contends that in speaking of what is desirable for its own sake, Mill is speaking of what ought to be desired for its own sake. Moore objects that from the fact that something is desired it does not follow that it ought to be desired. We may then inquire what can be inferred from the premise that only happiness is desired for its sake. If something is incapable of being done, it cannot be the case that it ought to be done. Accordingly,

(a) Only that which is capable of being desired for its own sake ought to be desired for its own sake.

Moore does not question that whatever is desired for its own sake is capable of being desired for its own sake. Similarly, it seems that

(b) Only that which is desired for its own sake is capable of being desired for its own sake.

Completing the argument,

(c) Only that which is desired for its own sake ought to be desired for its own sake.

(d) Only happiness is desired for its own sake.

(e) Hence, only happiness is desirable for its own sake.

The question at issue is not whether (d) is correct, but whether (c) is. Statement (c) follows from (a) and (b), so what calls for scrutiny is (b). If something is desired for its own sake it follows that it is capable of being desired for its own sake. It does not in like manner hold, nor can it be inferred from this, that if something is alone desired for its own sake it alone is capable of being desired for its own sake. Mill, however, does not include (b) in his argument. He does not hold that whatever is visible is seen; he contends rather that only that which is seen is that for which there is evidence that it is capable of being seen. Mill is similarly concerned to determine whether there is evidence that anything other than happiness is capable of being desired for its own sake. He urges that the only evidence that is offered is that virtue, money, power, and fame are desired for their own sake. Mill does not reject this evidence. Instead, he seeks to show that when any of these is desired for its own sake, it is desired only as a part of happiness. Instead of (b), Mill would aver

(b′) Only that which is desired for its own sake is that for which there is evidence that it is capable of being desired for its own sake.

From (a) follows

(a′) Only that for which there is evidence that it is capable of being desired for its own sake is that for which there is evidence that it ought to be desired for its own sake.

From (b′) and (a′) follows

(c′) Only that which is desired for its own sake is that for which there is evidence that it ought to be desired for its own sake.

Moore objects to Mill’s dictum, on the evidence for what is desirable, by construing it as affirming that from the fact that something is desired it follows that it ought to be desired. Mill, however, does not hold that from the fact that something is desired, it follows that it ought to be desired. He does not maintain that whatever is desired ought to be desired; he speaks rather of the only evidence that something is desirable. Moore says that by “desirable” Mill means “ought to be desired,” and it is only on this interpretation that he raises his objection against Mill’s dictum. If Moore is correct in this, then what Mill’s dictum maintains is (c′). Moore’s objection against Mill’s dictum carries no weight against it; there is nothing incompatible in affirming (c′) and denying that whatever is desired ought to be desired.

Moore is correct in pointing out that when Mill argues that happiness is the only thing desirable for its own sake, he means by “desirable” not “capable of being desired” but “good,” and that by “desirable for its own sake” he means “good in itself,” “intrinsically good.” Moore also contends that by “desirable” Mill, or anyone else, means “ought to be desired” or that which it would be good to desire. There is a fatal objection to this contention, at least in regard to Mill. Since Mill holds by his main principle that something ought to be done only if it would cause more happiness, he holds that something ought to be desired only if desiring it would cause more happiness. Hence if Mill is construed as meaning by “desirable,” “ought to be desired,” he would then be maintaining that the consequences of an action would be desirable only if desiring them would cause more happiness. But this is clearly not what Mill contends; for him the consequences of an action would be more desirable only if that action would cause more happiness.

There is a further objection to contending that “desirable” means “ought to be desired,” which applies to Mill, or to anyone who agrees with him that something should be done only if its consequences would be more desirable. For he then holds that something ought to be desired only if the effects of desiring it would be more desirable. But if “desirable” is construed as “ought to be desired,” Mill would then have to say that the consequences of an action would be desirable only if desiring these consequences would have more desirable consequences. He would similarly have to say that the consequences of desiring the consequences of a certain action would be desirable only if desiring them in turn would have more desirable effects. And so on. But Mill clearly does not think that the desirability of the consequences of an action is affected by what would be the consequences of desiring these consequences, or by what would be the consequences of desiring the consequences of desiring the consequences of the action. He maintains that the consequences of an action would be more desirable only if it would cause more happiness.

Moore overlooks certain differences between the conception of that which ought to be desired and the conception of that which is desirable. When it is said that something ought to be done, it is implied that there is some respect in which it stands in contrast to anything capable of being done instead of it. “Ought” is a superlative, as is also the conception of that which ought to be desired, but the adjective, “desirable,” is a positive term, which takes the comparative “more desirable” and the superlative “most desirable.” In accord with Mill’s assumption that something ought to be done only if what would come of it would be more desirable for its own sake, something ought to be desired for its own sake only if what would come of so desiring it would be more desirable for its own sake. Hence if something ought to be desired for its own sake, it does not follow that it would be desirable for its own sake; and because something would be desirable for its own sake, it does not follow that it ought to be desired for its own sake. Since Mill’s dictum on the evidence for what is desirable cannot be taken as a dictum on the evidence for what ought to be desired, it must be given some other interpretation than that set forth in the preceding paragraph.

It is doubtful whether anyone sincerely believes that a certain thing should be done without feeling on the whole in favour of its being done. It is similarly extremely doubtful that anyone believes that something would be undesirable without feeling some displeasure at the thought of it, or that anyone is genuinely convinced that something would be desirable without to some measure feeling pleased at the thought of it. Someone may, indeed, believe that something would be desirable in a certain respect, and yet on the whole not be in favour of it, through thinking it undesirable in other respects. Nonetheless, Mill points out that no one feels pleased to some measure at the thought of a certain state of affairs, without feeling some desire for its occurrence (237). Someone does not therefore manage to convince another that something would be desirable unless he induces him to feel some desire for it. This suggests that what Mill may be maintaining by his dictum is that no one has evidence for believing something desirable unless he has some desire for it. If it is interpreted in this way, it may be objected that people often believe that others desire something, and desire it for its own sake, without thinking that it would be desirable for its own sake. It may also be objected that on occasion a man is well aware that he desires something for its own sake, but still does not think that it would be desirable. These objections merely show that someone may believe that something is desired without believing that it would be desirable. They do not show that anyone is ever convinced that something would be desirable without having some desire for it. There is a further objection to Mill’s dictum, if it is interpreted in this way. Someone has a desire for something whenever he believes it would be desirable. He has some desire for it, whether he is correct or mistaken in believing that it would be desirable. Consequently the fact that he has a desire for something cannot serve as evidence that what he believes would be desirable would really be such. What is rather the case is that the fact that someone believes that something would be desirable is evidence that he has some desire for it.

Although the fact of something’s being desired cannot serve as evidence for the correctness of all judgments of what is desirable, it may still be the case that there are some such judgments for which it alone can serve as evidence. It is important to note the limitations which Mill himself places on the dictum that the only evidence that something is desirable is that it is desired. He does not hold that this is the evidence for all sorts of judgments of what is desirable. Nor does he claim that all desires are qualified to serve as evidence. Mill does not state that the only evidence that something is desirable as a means is that it is desired. He maintains that something is good as a means, desirable as a means, if and only if it would bring about something else that is desirable (207-8). He would contend that there is no evidence that it is desirable as a means unless there is evidence that it would have a certain effect. If something is desired in the belief that something desirable would come of it, Mill does not hold that such a desire is evidence that something desirable would come of it. He maintains that whether something is desired or not, it is desirable as a means just so long as it would have some desirable effects. He thus does not claim that the fact something is desired is either the sole evidence or even a part of the evidence to support a judgment that it is desirable as a means.

Mill also does not hold that the fact that something is desired is the sole evidence to support a judgment that it is intrinsically desirable, that is, desirable for its own sake. On this point he writes, “No reason can be given why the general happiness is desirable, except that each person, so far as he believes it to be attainable, desires his own happiness. This, however, being a fact, we have . . . all the proof . . . that each person’s happiness is a good to that person, and the general happiness, therefore, a good to the aggregate of all persons.” (234). Countless critics have urged that it is fallacious for Mill to infer that since each desires his own happiness therefore everyone desires the general happiness. Mill, however, does not here infer that the general happiness is desired. What he argues, rather, is that it is desirable. In this passage he certainly claims that the fact that each desires his own happiness is evidence that the happiness of each is desirable. But he does not base his claim that the general happiness is desirable on the evidence that it is desired. In a letter he explains, “when I said that the general happiness is a good . . . I merely meant . . . to argue that since A’s happiness is a good, B’s a good, C’s a good, &c., the sum of all these goods must be a good.” Mill is holding that if the happiness of A is intrinsically desirable and the happiness of B is intrinsically desirable and the happiness of C is intrinsically desirable, then the “sum” of the happiness of A and the happiness of B and the happiness of C is intrinsically desirable. Put generally, what Mill is arguing is that a whole is intrinsically desirable if it is made up of components which are intrinsically desirable and which exceed intrinsically undesirable components. Mill does not hold that the fact that a whole is desired for its own sake is either necessary or sufficient evidence that it is made up of an excess of intrinsically desirable components. Thus a second sort of judgment to which Mill does not apply his dictum is a judgment that something is intrinsically desirable because it is a whole containing an excess of intrinsically desirable components.

Moore and C. I. Lewis distinguish two further sorts of judgments of what is desirable to which Mill, for similar reasons, would not regard his dictum as applicable. It does not apply to a judgment that something is desirable because it is a component of something intrinsically desirable. For example, when he considers it by itself, a mountain climber may well regard the toil he undergoes in reaching a mountain peak as undesirable in itself. Yet he would regard it as desirable because it enhances the desirability of the experience of reaching the mountain top, making the venture far more desirable than it would have been had he reached the peak by helicopter. In considering his toil as desirable for this reason, the climber is making a judgment which in one respect resembles judging that something is desirable as a means. He regards it as desirable because of its relation to something else. In another respect it differs. When something is judged desirable as a means, it is merely claimed that it would bring about something else desirable, whereas the climber regards one component of an experience as desirable because its experienced quality enhances the desirability of the whole experience of which it is a part. Although Mill also distinguishes that which is desirable because a part of happiness from that which is desirable because a means to happiness, he fails to mention that the fact that someone desires something because he “thinks he would be made” happy by its mere possession, supplies no evidence that it would actually enhance his happiness (236). A fourth sort of judgment is exemplified by the lover of mountain scenery who regards a certain mountain as desirable because of the delight to be had in beholding it. He is not regarding the mere existence of the mountain as desirable for its own sake. He regards the mountain as desirable because the experience of beholding it is desirable.

We have noticed four distinct ways in which something may be judged to be desirable: (1) as a means, (2) because it enhances the intrinsic desirability of something of which it is a part, (3) because it is an object of an intrinsically desirable experience, (4) intrinsically, because made up of an excess of intrinsically desirable components. By the fourth sort of judgment something is judged intrinsically desirable; by the other three, extrinsically desirable. All four sorts make the claim that something is desirable because it stands in a certain relation to something else. The evidence required for each is evidence that the relation obtains. Consequently no judgment of one of these sorts is one in which a desire for what is judged desirable is evidence of the correctness of the judgment. A fifth sort of judgment, fundamentally distinct from these four, is that something is intrinsically desirable independent of its relation to something else. For brevity, we may refer to such a judgment as a judgment of what is “desirable of itself.” Judgments of the other four sorts are logically dependent on judgments of this sort, for what they affirm to be desirable they imply is related in a certain way, directly or indirectly, to something desirable of itself. The fifth sort of judgment is logically independent of the other four.

For someone to be assured whether he is correct in judging that something is desirable of itself, one preliminary is that he avoid confusing this judgment with the other four. For a judgment of this sort, it would be out of place to adduce the kind of evidence distinctively relevant to one of the four other sorts of judgments. When Mill speaks of desires as evidence of what is desirable, he would regard this dictum as holding only for judgments of the fifth sort. The same is true when he speaks of a preference for one sort of matter over another as evidence that the one is more desirable than the other. Even for judgments of the fifth sort Mill does not claim that every sort of desire or preference can serve as evidence. He does not hold that a desire for something qualifies as evidence if it rests on the belief that it would have desirable effects, or upon the beliefs on which judgments of the other three sorts rest. He contends that someone’s preference for one sort of matter over another does not qualify as evidence unless he has had experiences of matters of both sorts and his preference is based on such experiences (211). He would not hold that his preference is based on such experiences unless they led him to it. Mill would hold that a preference by someone who has had such experiences would not qualify as evidence unless he was gladder at the one than the other. He therefore maintains that a preference for one sort of matter over another qualifies as evidence so long as it rests on nothing but having had experiences of matters of both sorts and having been gladder at the one than the other.

It may be presumed that Mill likewise holds that someone’s desire for something of a certain sort does not qualify as evidence unless it rests on experience of matters of that sort. When someone desires something, he prefers its existence to its non-existence. Since he argues that a preference for one matter over another does not qualify as evidence unless it rests on experience of matters of both sorts, Mill may be presumed to hold that someone’s desire for a certain thing does not qualify as evidence unless he has had experience of something of its sort, as well as some experience from which such a thing was absent. Mill would also hold that a desire by someone who had had such an experience would not qualify as evidence unless he was glad at what he experienced. He then holds that someone’s desire for something qualifies as evidence so long as it rests on nothing but having had experience of something of that sort and having been glad at it. It would serve as evidence for someone else, as well as for him who had the desire. Mill would certainly admit that if someone was glad at what he experienced because he expected that something desirable would come of it, or if his gladness was mediated by another of the four sorts of judgments distinguished above, such gladness would not count as evidence. For the same reason, if he was glad at it because of the kind of person he is, that is, because he desired things of that sort, his gladness would not count as evidence, if his desire in turn was mediated by any of the four other sorts of judgments. Someone’s gladness at what he experienced counts as evidence only if he was glad at it on its own account, only, that is, if his gladness was unaffected by any beliefs he has about its relation to other things. If this is a correct interpretation of Mill’s dictum, he then holds that someone’s preference or desire for something qualifies only secondarily as evidence, and that the primary evidence anyone has of what is desirable of itself is having experienced it and being glad at it.



having fixed on what Mill holds is the only ultimate evidence of what is desirable, we may now turn to what he maintains such evidence discloses. Mill urges that no one is ever glad on its own account at some state which his experience has disclosed to him unless some pleasure occurred in it, and therefore that no one is led by such experiences to desire like states to come about unless he expects that they will be pleasant. He also urges that no one is ever sorry on its own account about some state with which his experience has acquainted him unless there was something painful in it. Accordingly, the first thing which Mill argues that the relevant evidence discloses is that nothing is desirable of itself unless it is a state in which some pleasure is experienced and nothing is undesirable of itself unless it is a state in which some pain is felt.

Moore attacks Mill for maintaining that only pleasure is desired. He concedes that in instances of many desires, pleasure is one feature of that of which someone is desirous. But he urges that on such occasions, what someone looks forward to and is desirous of is a pleasant walk or a pleasant conversation with a certain person, a pleasant party with certain companions or a pleasant smoke. To this some retort that while sometimes a walk, sometimes a smoke, sometimes a party is desired, each is desired only for the sake of the pleasure it will afford, so that it is pleasure alone which is desired for its own sake. Against this others urge that while the pleasure is one element of what someone looks forward to when he desires a walk, a smoke, or a party, the walk or the smoke or the party is also a component of what he is desirous of. Aristotle points out that when someone desires a certain walk but is denied it and is provided something else that affords him pleasure, his desire for the walk remains unfulfilled. If pleasure alone were desired for its own sake, any pleasure would serve to fulfil a desire. Yet when someone desires a certain pleasant thing, his desire is fulfilled only by it, not by any pleasure at random. Secondly, Moore urges that on many occasions there is no expectation of pleasure characterizing that which someone is desirous of. Often someone desires to eat when hungry. While he feels pleasure at the prospect of eating, the prospect before his mind is simply that of eating certain things. A spectator watching a football game wants his team to score a goal. That of which he is thinking and of which he is desirous is its scoring. He has no thought of pleasure. When someone is struggling with a certain problem he desires a solution. No thought of pleasure is before his mind. Thirdly, Moore urges that although occasions are conceivable on which someone desires nothing but pleasure, if any occur, they are very rare; for what generally seems to be found is that someone is desirous of a pleasure of a certain sort, that is, a state characterized not only by pleasure but by other features as well.

There is nothing in these objections put by Moore which Mill does not agree with or which is incompatible with the evidence he adduces for what is desirable. Mill does not hold that only pleasure is desired. He agrees that there are many occasions on which that of which someone is desirous includes no thought of pleasure. Mill points out that many things are desired as a means to a certain end, and he notices that when something is desired as a means, there is very often no thought of it as pleasant. Mill also does not maintain that whenever something is desired without thought of what will come of it, it may be described as being desired for its own sake. He points out that men often desire something simply because they are in the habit of pursuing it, and have no thought of what it will lead to. He adds, “any . . . person whose purposes are fixed, carries out his purposes without any thought of the pleasure he has in contemplating them, or expects to derive from their fulfilment . . .” (238). He does indeed contend that nothing is desired for its own sake unless it is expected that it will be a state of affairs in which some pleasure will be experienced. But he does not claim that there are any occasions upon which pleasure alone characterizes what is desired. Although he contends that only what is desired for its own sake is evidence of what is desirable of itself, he does not think that whenever someone desires something for its own sake this counts as evidence; he holds that a man’s desire of this sort counts as evidence only if it is based on experience of similar matters and he was glad on its own account at what he experienced.

According to Mill, the evidence whether one matter is more desirable of itself than another is of the same kind. He urges that no one who has ever actually had experience of two occasions in which only pleasure of the same sort was felt is gladder on its own account about one than the other unless it was more pleasant. Nor, he argues, is anyone, who has had experience of two occasions in which only pain of the same sort was felt, sorrier on its own account about one than the other unless more pain was felt in it; and no one is led by such experiences to prefer one to another of that sort unless he expects it would be less painful. No one with experience of toothaches prefers of itself a more severe to a less severe toothache. Accordingly, Mill argues, the relevant evidence further shows that as between two states in which only pleasure of the same sort is felt, one is more desirable of itself than the other only if it is more pleasant; and as between two states in which only pain of the same sort is felt, one is more undesirable of itself than the other only if it is more painful.

What evidence has someone in judging between states in which different sorts of pleasure or pain are felt? The same kind of evidence, Mill maintains. Someone has ultimate evidence for thinking the one more desirable of itself than the other only if he experienced both and was gladder at one than the other. Even though a toothache was more painful than a grief, someone has evidence for concluding that the grief was more undesirable of itself than the toothache if he experienced both and was sorrier at the grief. As between two painful states of different sorts Mill holds that the ultimate evidence that one was more undesirable of itself than the other is that someone who experienced both is sorrier at the one than the other. As between two pleasant states of different sorts he holds that regardless of whether one was more pleasant than the other, the ultimate evidence that it was more desirable of itself is that someone who experienced both was gladder at the one and is led by this to prefer, in the future, experiences like the one to experiences like the other. From this Mill ventures also to generalize what sorts of experiences are more desirable of themselves, independent of whether they are more pleasant: “the pleasures of the intellect, of the feelings and imagination, and of the moral sentiments [have] a much higher value as pleasures than . . . those of mere sensation,” than “bodily pleasures” (211). For such a generalization that compares sorts of pleasures, the experiences of many are clearly relevant: “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” (211). In making the generalization that pleasant experiences of one sort are more desirable of themselves than those of another sort, Mill does not deny that a certain experience of a less desirable sort may be so much more pleasant than one of a more desirable sort as to be more desirable than it, or that certain painful experiences of a less undesirable sort may be so much more painful as to be more undesirable. He does not deny that a certain bodily agony may be more undesirable of itself than a certain grief. Here too Mill holds that the ultimate evidence someone has that the bodily agony was of such an intensity that it was more undesirable than the grief, is his having experienced both and being sorrier about the agony (213).

Moore charges that Mill’s contention that some experiences are more desirable of themselves than others, even though not more pleasant, is inconsistent with his contention that nothing is desirable of itself unless it is a state in which some pleasure is experienced. Raphael seeks to free Mill of this charge of inconsistency by urging that Mill does not hold that it is possible “that a pleasure of higher quality may contain a lesser or no greater quantity of pleasure than a pleasure of lower quality.” Raphael continues, “Mill’s criterion is preference, and I think he would say that to prefer one pleasure to another is to desire it the more strongly. And since he says later, in Chapter IV, that to desire a thing is the same as to think it pleasant, it follows, on this view, that to prefer a thing is to think it more pleasant.” Mill certainly holds that whoever prefers one thing to another desires it more. He also writes, “desiring a thing and finding it pleasant . . . are . . . inseparable” (237). But he does not claim that no one desires one thing more than another unless he expects that it will be more pleasant. Instead he writes,

If I am asked . . . what makes one pleasure more valuable than another, merely as a pleasure, except its being greater in amount, there is but one possible answer. . . . If one of the two is, by those who are competently acquainted with both, placed so far above the other that they prefer it, even though knowing it to be attended with a greater amount of discontent, . . . we are justified in ascribing to the preferred enjoyment a superiority in quality, so far outweighing quantity as to render it, in comparison, of small account.


In pursuing the point further, Raphael gives up his contention that “the distinction of quality is, at bottom, the same as the distinction of quantity.” He no longer interprets Mill as holding that it is impossible for one experience to be more desirable of itself unless it is more pleasant. Instead, he takes Mill to mean that one experience is never in fact more desirable of itself unless it is more pleasant. In support of this, Raphael points out that when Mill remarks that it is “better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied,” Mill also denies that “this preference takes place at a sacrifice of happiness” (212). Raphael urges that although Socrates is dissatisfied and the fool not, it is consistent for Mill to maintain that Socrates is happier than the fool and his happiness more desirable, in so far as Socrates “enjoys a greater balance of pleasure over pain, than the fool.” Raphael does indeed show that in maintaining that it is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied, it would be consistent for Mill to hold that no experience is more desirable of itself than another unless it is more pleasant. In making this point, however, Raphael fails to show that Mill does in fact maintain that one experience is more desirable of itself than another only if it is more pleasant. Mill speaks, instead, of “what makes one pleasure more valuable than another . . . except its being greater in amount”; he writes of being “justified in ascribing . . . a superiority in quality, so far outweighing quantity . . .” (211). In a journal of 1854, Mill remarks, “Quality as well as quantity of happiness is to be considered; less of a higher kind is preferable to more of a lower.” Raphael himself acknowledges that Mill would “say that a superior pleasure may be less intense than an inferior.”

Moore, however, charges that “Mill’s judgment of preference, so far from establishing the principle that pleasure alone is good, is obviously inconsistent with it. . . . If one pleasure can differ from another in quality, that means, that a pleasure is something complex, something composed, in fact, of pleasure in addition to that which produces pleasure.” Mill is involved in no difficulty here. When he holds that only a pleasure is desirable of itself he is not holding that only the pleasantness of a pleasant experience is desirable. By a pleasure he understands a pleasant experience. He maintains that only a complex, that is, an experience having pleasantness as one of its features, is desirable of itself. The inconsistency with which Moore charges Mill is this:

Mill, therefore, in admitting that a sensual indulgence can be directly judged to be lower than another pleasure, in which the degree of pleasure involved may be the same, is admitting that other things may be good, or bad, quite independently of the pleasure which accompanies them. . . . [I]f you say, as Mill does, that quality of pleasure is to be taken into account, then you are no longer holding that pleasure alone is good as an end, since you imply that something else, something which is not present in all pleasures, is also good as an end.

This charge is easily rebutted. In holding that some experiences are more desirable of themselves than others, although not more pleasant, Mill certainly admits that the intrinsic desirability of an experience may be enhanced by other components of it than the pleasure enjoyed in it. He would therefore agree with Moore that such components “may be good . . . independently of the pleasure which accompanies them.” But Mill would hold that such components are desirable as contributing to the intrinsic desirability of the experience. He does not maintain that any experience is desirable of itself if it has such other components but is not also pleasant. Consequently, when Mill argues that the relevant evidence shows that nothing is desirable in itself unless it is a state in which some pleasure is enjoyed, it is not inconsistent for him to argue that the relevant evidence also shows that some pleasant experiences are more desirable of themselves although not more pleasant.

One writer contends that Mill means by “ ‘pleasure,’ whatever is made the object of desire.” Mill, however, does not hold that whenever anyone desires something as a means—say, having a tooth extracted—it is to be described as a pleasure. Mill also mentions that men often desire something simply because they are in the habit of pursuing it and that “any . . . person whose purposes are fixed, carries out his purposes without any thought of . . . pleasure.” Another writer contends that Mill uses “pleasure” as “a technical term for whatever anyone desires for its own sake.” Mill, however, does not regard an enjoyable experience as any less a pleasure when it comes to a man without having been desired. He maintains that some experiences are desired for their own sake more than others although not more pleasant. Moreover, while he holds that there is no happiness without pleasure, he does not think that when someone desires happiness for its own sake, what he desires is to be described as a pleasure.

Mill does not hold that the only things that are desirable of themselves are transient experiences in which pleasure alone is felt or that the only things that are undesirable of themselves are transient experiences in which pain alone is felt. He does not question that even if it involves both pleasure and pain, the whole of a man’s life, or some prolonged portion of it, may be desirable or undesirable of itself. We might expect Mill to hold that one portion of a man’s life is more desirable than another if the pleasant experiences comprising it are more pleasant and more numerous and the painful less painful and less numerous, provided these component experiences are not of more desirable sorts than others; and that in so far as some of the component experiences are of more desirable sorts than others, one portion of a man’s life is more desirable if its components are more desirable and its more desirable components are more numerous. In one passage Mill speaks as if one portion of a man’s life is happier and more desirable so long as these conditions alone are fulfilled. He writes, “. . . Greatest Happiness . . . is an existence exempt as far as possible from pain, and as rich as possible in enjoyments, both in point of quantity and quality. . . .” He immediately adds, “the test of quality, and the rule for measuring it against quantity, being the preference felt by those who, in their opportunities of experience . . . are best furnished with the means of comparison” (214). In this passage Mill speaks as if he regards the intrinsic desirability of a portion of a man’s life, taken on the whole, as dependent only on the intensity and intrinsic desirability of each of the several component pleasant and painful experiences and upon the proportion among them.

Elsewhere, however, Mill does not maintain that there is immediate evidence for the intrinsic desirability only of momentary experiences. For he urges that evidence that a man’s happiness is desirable is furnished by the fact that he desires it (234). From what Mill says regarding preferences, it is clear that he would not hold that a man’s desire for happiness supplied evidence unless he had experience of the matters comprising happiness and was glad at them. Mill also urges that the evidence that one sort of life is more desirable of itself than another is preference (211). But he does not hold that a man’s preference is evidence that one “mode of existence” is on the whole more desirable of itself than another, unless his experience has acquainted him with both and he was gladder at one sort than the other. He then holds that the ultimate evidence that one portion of a man’s life was intrinsically more desirable than another is that he who had experience of both was gladder on the whole at it. Mill would not hold that someone’s being gladder at one portion of life is evidence that it was more desirable on the whole, unless he was acquainted with the many experiences comprising each. In what way would he take account of the component experiences? In looking back over a portion of his life, someone will look upon some experiences that were quite desirable of themselves as detracting from the desirability of the whole and will see others of little desirability in themselves as appreciably enhancing the desirability of the whole. In assessing the intrinsic desirability, on the whole, of a portion of a man’s life, the desirability of each component experience to be reckoned with is not the desirability it has of itself but its desirability as contributing to the intrinsic desirability of that portion of life on the whole. In desiring his own happiness henceforth, moreover, it is then reasonable for a man to rate any experience that may befall him not in terms of its intrinsic desirability but in terms of its desirability as enhancing the desirability of his life on the whole.

When Mill speaks of the most desirable life for a man as an “existence exempt as far as possible from pain, and as rich as possible in enjoyments, both in quantity and quality,” he holds that a man’s life is intrinsically more desirable the greater the preponderance of intrinsically desirable experiences comprising it. It is indeed logically possible that the greater the preponderance of intrinsically desirable experiences comprising a man’s life the more it would also be made up of component experiences which enhanced its desirability on the whole. Yet it seems doubtful that this often in fact would be the case. Mill hardly faces this issue. At all events, he would hold that the reason why any experience is desirable as a component of happiness is not that it is desirable of itself but that it enhances the desirability of the life of which it is a part. It is doubtless not because he regards active pleasures as more pleasant or as of an intrinsically more desirable sort, but because he regards them as enhancing the desirability of life, that Mill speaks of a man’s happiness as greater if it includes “many and various pleasures, with a decided predominance of the active over the passive . . .” (215).

Although Mill neglects to distinguish the desirability of a pleasant experience as a part of happiness from its desirability of itself, he uses this distinction with regard to other matters. Mill acknowledges that men desire for their own sake “things which, in common language, are decidedly distinguished from happiness” (235). He cites virtue, money, power, fame. In order to show that desires for these do not supply evidence that other things than happiness are intrinsically desirable, Mill seeks to argue that when any of these comes to be desired no longer as a means, it is desired only as a part of happiness. Moore urges three objections against this. He contends that “these admissions are . . . in . . . glaring contradiction with his argument that pleasure . . . is the only thing desired.” He reproaches Mill for holding that “ ‘money,’ these actual coins . . . are . . . a part of my pleasant feelings.” He condemns Mill for holding that “what is only a means to an end, is the same thing as a part of that end.” When Mill speaks of things desired as a part of happiness, he is not speaking of them as a part of pleasant feelings but as a part of “an existence made up of few and transitory pains, many and various pleasures. . .” (215). Mill’s contention that nothing is desired for its own sake save that which involves some pleasant experience is not contradicted by his contention that objects of desire are characterized by other features as well. Mill also does not claim that whatever is desired as a means to happiness is desired as a part of happiness. He claims rather that certain things desired as a means to happiness come through that association to be desired no longer as a means, and that when this has occurred, they are desired as a part of happiness. C. D. Broad attacks Mill for contending that originally human beings desire things because they expect them to be pleasant and later come to desire other things as well by association. He urges that “it is unlikely that” humans in early infancy “have the experience of desiring . . . for a reason at all.” But Mill does not hold that infants originally desire things only because they expect them to be pleasant. He points out that it is not the case that whatever even adults desire “they have the experience of desiring . . . for a reason.”

Mill seeks to show that only happiness is intrinsically desirable by arguing that when anything else—virtue, fame, power, money—once desired as a means to happiness, comes to be desired for its own sake, it is desired only as a part of happiness. Even if that which is desired is in fact a part of “an existence made up of few and transitory pains, many and various pleasures,” this does not show that it is desired only as a part of happiness. Mill argues: “What was once desired as an instrument for the attainment of happiness, has come to be desired for its own sake. In being desired for its own sake it is, however, desired as part of happiness. The person is made, or thinks he would be made, happy by its mere possession. . . .” (236.) This argument is open to more serious objections. If Mill can succeed in showing that virtue, or fame, or power, or money comes to be desired only as a part of happiness, he can no longer hold that it is desired for its own sake. He then removes his ground for arguing that the “ingredients of happiness are very various, and each of them is desirable in itself. . .” (235). And even if he is successful in showing that each comes to be desired only as a part of happiness, this in no way establishes that each is desirable as a part of happiness. The fact that a certain individual desires money because “it has come to be itself a principal ingredient of the individual’s conception of happiness” or because he “thinks he would be made happy by its mere possession” does not show that his happiness would in fact be enhanced thereby.

Mill is particularly concerned about virtue. He notices that a man is not virtuous unless he enjoys acting virtuously (239). Virtuous conduct is therefore not only desirable of itself; it is also a pleasant activity which is desirable because it enhances a man’s happiness. Mill also notices that men cannot be virtuous without acting disinterestedly (235). He urges that it is desirable that they be virtuous, for they then have dispositions leading them to do what is desirable (235). Mill hereby acknowledges that in this respect virtue is desirable as instrumental to happiness, not desirable as a component of happiness which enhances it. Although it is desirable that men be virtuous as a means to happiness, Mill notices that a man cannot be virtuous if he desires to be virtuous or to do what is virtuous as a means to happiness. A man cannot be virtuous unless he desires to do what is virtuous for its own sake. What appears to trouble Mill is how to acknowledge the disinterestedness of virtue without acknowledging that it is something other than happiness desired for its own sake, and therefore desirable for its own sake. The solution Mill adopts is that when a man desires virtue for its own sake, he desires it only as a part of happiness, that is, in the belief that it will enhance his happiness. This solution will not do. If a man desires to be virtuous because it will enhance his happiness, he falls short of being genuinely virtuous just as when he desires to be virtuous as a means to happiness. When a man desires to be virtuous he also hopes for happiness, but he does not desire to be virtuous out of the hope that it will yield him happiness. Mill overlooks another solution which his own line of reasoning affords. No one who considers the matter dispassionately regards it as desirable of itself that the virtuous suffer and the evil be meted out happiness.

Mill maintains that only happiness or what includes happiness is intrinsically desirable. He also commonly speaks of only a life or an extended portion of a life as happy or unhappy. This raises a further issue. If Mill thinks that only a period of life comprising several component experiences can be happy or unhappy, he must then deny that any momentary pleasant experience is intrinsically desirable and that any transient painful experience is intrinsically undesirable. On the other hand, Mill holds that if someone who has had first-hand acquaintance with an experience is glad on its own account that it occurred, this is conclusive evidence that it was intrinsically desirable. He would hold that this evidence would not be upset if later someone would be gladder if that particular pleasant experience had not occurred because it detracted from the happiness of a period of life of which it was a part. Mill also seems to maintain that if, among its many consequences, the only effect that an action has on a certain man is to cause him some brief pleasure, it then causes him happiness. Even if the brief pleasure it caused him was such that it detracted from his happiness, Mill would have to admit that it was intrinsically desirable. He can then not continue to adhere to the contention that the relevant evidence shows that only happiness is intrinsically desirable. Mill would not be troubled by this qualification, for he can still maintain that happiness or what includes happiness is invariably intrinsically more desirable than that which does not.

If Mill held that happiness is the only thing intrinsically desirable, he could not claim that the effects of one action are intrinsically more desirable than those of another if and only if it causes more happiness. But he can maintain this because he contends that the effects of one action are intrinsically more desirable than those of another if the one set of effects contains more happiness than does the other. Mill does not support this contention by direct appeal to the ultimate evidence for what is desirable but by inference from what it discloses. His inference is that since it is intrinsically desirable for A to be happy and intrinsically desirable for B to be happy and intrinsically desirable for C to be happy, it is intrinsically desirable for A and B and C each to be happy. While he would hold that the reason why any experience is desirable as a component of a certain man’s happiness is not that it is intrinsically desirable but that it enhances the desirability of his life on the whole, a like consideration does not apply regarding the “general happiness.” Mill contends that a state of affairs comprising the happiness and unhappiness of many beings is intrinsically more desirable the more happiness it comprises and the greater the preponderance of happiness over unhappiness within it. Some critics charge him with introducing an extraneous consideration when he adds Bentham’s dictum, “everybody to count for one, nobody for more than one.” Mill, however, points out that when this dictum is understood as asserting that “equal amounts of happiness are equally desirable, whether felt by the same or by different persons,” and that “one person’s happiness, supposed equal in degree (with the proper allowance made for kind), is counted for exactly as much as another’s,” all that is spelled out by it is that the preponderance of happiness over unhappiness be “both in point of quantity and quality” and in nothing else (257, 214).



we have now to consider a further set of objections urged against Mill’s utilitarianism. It is urged that if it is correct, whenever someone could more effectively promote the general happiness by taking another’s automobile and continuing to use it without his consent, it would be quite right for him to do so. Whenever someone could make better use of another’s house or clothing or other possession, there would be nothing wrong in his stealing it. The fact that it belonged to another would be irrelevant. It is contended that utilitarianism rides roughshod over all rights, not only rights of property. If a wife and children are burdened with a cantankerous husband and father, it would be right for her to drown him secretly and replace him with another husband, if everybody affected would be happier in consequence. Since utilitarianism reckons only with consequences, it is also urged that it can find no place for what is fair or just, or for men being rewarded as they deserve. Because it is unfair of a father to provide for some of his children while neglecting the others, or for some to cheat on their income tax while deriving the advantages from those who make full returns, or for many to toil long hours with little returns while the idle and lazy enjoy an abundance of good things, or for one to receive the credit for what another has accomplished—all this is irrelevant, so long as the resultant enjoyment is maximized. If the happiness of a country is best realized by slavery, it is claimed that any appeal to the injustice of slavery or to men’s right to freedom are considerations of which utilitarianism can take no account.

Utilitarianism is also criticized for holding that men have but one duty, to maximize enjoyment. This is not a duty to any specific persons. Humans and other animals are looked upon as only so many “dumping grounds” on which to bestow enjoyment. It is not denied that people have duties to promote the happiness of others, but what is urged is that they have duties to provide different sorts of happiness to different persons and other duties to certain persons than to promote their happiness. A man has a duty to afford his wife certain enjoyments which he does not have a duty to furnish other women. He has duties to his children which he does not owe to other children. The happiness which he owes his children is different from that which he owes his wife. When someone has hired a man to paint his house, he thinks that it is right to pay him because he has promised to. He does not reckon whether some alternative use of his money would more effectively promote the general happiness. It is urged that utilitarianism takes account only of consequences but that duties such as these arise from an antecedent relationship in which someone stands to certain persons. It is pointed out that besides these duties, men have duties which they owe to all men—to tell the truth, for instance. Granted that this duty may be outweighed on occasion by a more stringent obligation, it is argued that it does not cease whenever the general happiness would be more effectively promoted by neglecting it. It is not denied that by doing what is right a man very often does what will in fact promote the general happiness, but it is urged that utilitarianism is guilty of gross oversimplification, disregarding the diversity of considerations determining what is the right thing to do. In virtue of these it is contended that it is very often morally incumbent on a man to do a certain thing whether or not it would maximize the general happiness.

Most of these objections are not to Mill’s contention that happiness is the only thing intrinsically desirable; they rather criticize Mill for contending that questions of right and wrong are questions of what would have the most desirable consequences. Mill seeks to cope with objections such as these by elucidating what is implied when it is asserted that it would be right or wrong or unjust to do a certain thing, and by analyzing what is meant when someone is said to have a right to something or to have an obligation to do a certain thing.

Mill notices that very often when people say that a certain thing ought not to be done they would not also be prepared to say that it would be wrong to do it. He writes, “the morality of an individual action is not a question of direct perception, but of the application of a law to an individual case” (206). He maintains that whenever it is asserted that it would be wrong to do a certain action, it is claimed that there is some “rule of morality” against it. He also writes, “it would be unworthy of an intelligent agent not to be consciously aware that the action is of a class which, if practised generally, would be generally injurious. . .” (220). From this it might be thought that Mill holds that all that is contained in the claim that there is a rule of morality against a certain action is that it is an action of a kind which generally ought not to be done. If this is Mill’s view, there is a fatal objection to it. Glancing at his fuel gauge, a motorist thinks he ought to get more gasoline. He thinks that he ought to do so in the belief that a motorist in general ought to replenish his supply of fuel when it is almost exhausted. Yet he would not think that he would be doing something wrong if he were not to get more gasoline. Mill does not maintain that to claim that there is a rule of morality against a certain action is simply to claim that it is an action of a kind which generally ought not to be done.

In his essay, On Liberty, Mill distinguishes two sorts of rules of conduct. He holds that a rule of conduct is not part of the law of the land unless infractions of it incur punishment by the government. To laws he contrasts rules sanctioned by general condemnation. Since he also speaks of these as sanctioned by “moral coercion,” it might be thought that he holds that when anyone claims that there is a rule of morality against a certain action, all that he is claiming is that it is an action of a kind which incurs general condemnation. Mill, however, does not deny that men often believe that it would be wrong to do a certain action although welll aware that it is not of a sort that is generally condemned. He does not maintain that the fact that an action is of a kind that incurs general condemnation entails that there is some rule of morality against it. Instead, he writes, “We do not call anything wrong, unless we mean to imply that a person ought to be punished in some way or other for doing it; if not by law, by the opinion of his fellow creatures. . .” (246). Mill thus urges that when it is said that it would be wrong to do a certain action it is implied not that it is an action of a kind which is in fact generally condemned but rather that it is of a kind which ought in general to be condemned by others. In the same passage, he continues, “This seems the real turning point of the distinction between morality and simple expediency.” He contends that when it is said that it would be wrong to do a certain action, it is implied what others ought to do about it, by way of condemnation. For this, if for no other reason, the distinction between the notion of “wrong” and the notion of “ought not” cannot be erased.

Mill distinguishes something further implied in the claim that there is a rule of morality. He urges that no one claims that there is a rule of morality against a certain action without implying that it is a rule which ought in general to be observed. The claim that a certain action is contrary to a rule which ought in general to be observed implies that it is an action of a kind which in general ought not to be done. The former is a stronger claim than the latter. When someone has in mind actions of a certain description and believes that such actions in general ought not to be done, his belief implies that actions of that description are in general capable of being avoided. But his belief does not also imply that men in general are capable of understanding the description of action which he has in mind or that they are capable of avoiding such actions through having such a description in mind. On the other hand, whoever claims that a certain rule ought in general to be observed implies that men in general are capable of observing it. He therefore implies that actions of the kind covered by the rule are of a description which is intelligible to men generally, and that it is a description simple enough and precise enough so that men generally are capable of making out whether some action they are considering would accord with the rule. Consequently someone may be correct in claiming that actions of a certain sort ought not to be done, but not correct in claiming that a rule against them ought in general to be observed.

Mill maintains that two claims are made when it is asserted that it would be wrong to do a certain action: it is not only implied that it is an action of a kind which ought in general to be condemned; it is also implied that it would be contrary to a rule which ought in general to be observed. If such an assertion carried only these two implications, it would not be inconsistent for someone to hold that it would be wrong for him to do a certain thing but deny that he ought not to do it. Although Mill does not speak clearly on this matter, something he says in discussing the concept of justice is applicable. He points out that even though a man believed that a certain action was of a sort which in general would be unjust, he would not regard that particular action as unjust if he believed that it would not be wrong to do it (259). It may be presumed that Mill similarly holds that even if someone believed that a certain action was of a kind which in general would be wrong, he would still not think that it would be wrong to do it if he did not think that it ought not to be done. He then acknowledges that when it is asserted that it would be wrong to do a certain action it is implied that it ought not to be done.

Some thinkers hold that “ought” is ambiguous. They contend that when it is said that someone ought to do something, sometimes all that is asserted is that he has an obligation to do it, while at other times this is not implied. Mill notices that an action is spoken of as one that ought to be done both in contexts in which it is said that there is an obligation to do it and in contexts in which this would not also be said. But he does not accept the view that “ought” is ambiguous on this account. He maintains that what differentiates a context in which it is said that someone has an obligation is that something more is then asserted. Mill holds that when it is asserted that someone has an obligation to do a certain thing it is implied that this is so in virtue of the sort of action it is. He contends that this assertion also carries an implication as to adverse responses by others for failure to act: “We do not call anything wrong, unless we mean to imply that a person ought to be punished in some way or other for doing it. . . . It is a part of the notion of Duty in every one of its forms. . . .” (246.) From this passage it might seem that Mill regards the claim that there is an obligation to do a certain thing as equivalent to the claim that it would be wrong not to do it. Mill, however, mentions two respects in which these claims differ. He notices that one obligation may be overruled by another. When it is, it would not be wrong to fulfil it (259). Consequently the claim that someone has an obligation to do a certain thing implies rather that there is a presumption that it would be wrong for him not to do it. For the same reason, it implies not that he ought to do it but that there is a presumption that he ought to.

In the passage cited Mill continues: “It is a part of the notion of Duty in every one of its forms, that a person may rightfully be compelled to fulfil it. Duty is a thing which may be exacted from a person. . .” (246.) Exacted by whom? Mill distinguishes a perfect from an imperfect obligation according to whether there is some assignable person to whom a man is under an obligation (247). H. L. A. Hart contends that when it is asserted that one person, A, has an obligation to some assignable person, B, to do X, it is implied that it would be morally legitimate for B to compel A to do X, but not that it would be morally legitimate for others to compel A to do X. Mill does not agree that when it is asserted, for example, that a wife has certain obligations to her husband, it is implied that it would not be wrong for him to force her to fulfil them. He holds rather that when it is asserted that A has an obligation to some assignable person, B, to do X, it is implied that it would in general not be wrong for others to compel A to do X, but he does not hold that it is implied that there are certain assignable persons for whom it would not be wrong to exercise such compulsion. As an example of an imperfect obligation Mill mentions the obligation to be generous. Although Mill writes, “It is a part of the notion of Duty in every one of its forms, that a person may rightfully be compelled to fulfil it,” he later abandons this contention, and takes it rather as a distinguishing mark of a perfect obligation. For when it is said that someone has an obligation to be generous, Mill points out that it is not implied that it would not be wrong for others to force him to be generous. All that is implied is that there is a presumption that it would be wrong for him not to be generous.

Hand in hand with the question of what is claimed when someone is said to have an obligation is the question of what is claimed when someone is said to have a certain right. Some urge that sometimes when it is asserted that a man has a right to do something, all that is meant is that it would be right, that is, not wrong, for him to do it. Mill does not acknowledge that this assertion ever bears this sense, for when it is asserted that a man has a certain right, it is implied that his right is capable of being violated by others. What more is implied? One suggestion is that to assert that a man has a right to something is equivalent to saying that others ought not to deprive him of it. Mill does not accept this view. Someone may hold that motorists who are running out of gasoline ought to stop at the nearest service station and yet deny that the operators of service stations have a right to their patronage. Mill would hold that by denying that they have a right to such patronage, one is denying that such motorists ought to be compelled to give the nearest service station their patronage. He maintains that when it is claimed that a man has a right to a certain thing, it is implied that in general others ought to prevent anyone from depriving him of it (250). Mill also contends that it is not claimed that a man has a right to a certain thing unless it is implied that others have an obligation not to deprive him of it. But he does not hold that this claim implies that it would invariably be wrong for anyone to deprive him of it, for the obligation not to deprive him of it may be overruled by another obligation. Mill therefore holds that the claim that a man has a right to a certain thing implies rather that there is a presumption, that is, that in general, it would be wrong for anyone to deprive him of it.

Mill rejects the view that no one can have an obligation without another person having a right. He points out that when it is said that someone has an obligation to be generous, it is not implied that others have a right to his generosity. Mill certainly holds that the claim that a man has a right to a certain thing implies that others have an obligation not to deprive him of it. This he classifies as a perfect obligation: “duties of perfect obligation are those duties in virtue of which a correlative right resides in some person or persons. . .” (247). From this it may be thought that Mill holds that no one can have an obligation to an assignable person without the latter having a right. The ascription to Mill of such a view is not borne out by his own analysis, for he holds that the assertion that someone has an obligation not to deprive A of X implies that it would in general not be wrong for others to prevent him from depriving A of X. But Mill contends that the assertion that A has a right to X carries a stronger implication, namely, that others in general ought to prevent anyone from depriving A of X. If it would in general not be wrong for others to prevent anyone from depriving A of X, it does not follow that they also ought to.

Mill’s analysis of the concept of justice can readily be shown in relation to his analyses of the concepts that have just been considered. Here as hitherto the question is not what actions or sorts of actions Mill maintains are unjust, but what he holds is being said about an action when it is asserted that it would be unjust to do it. Mill makes five main points. First, he writes, “Justice implies something which it is . . . wrong not to do. . .” (247). Here Mill is maintaining that when it is asserted that it would be unjust for someone to do a certain thing, it is implied that it would be wrong for him to do it. It therefore implies whatever the latter implies. Accordingly, he states, “the idea of penal sanction . . . enters not only into the conception of injustice, but into that of any kind of wrong. We do not call anything wrong, unless we mean to imply that a person ought to be punished in some way or other for doing it; if not by law, by the opinion of his fellow creatures. . . .” (246.) Mill’s second point is that “Justice implies something which it is not only . . . wrong not to do, but which some individual person can claim from us as his moral right” (247). He here notices that not all actions regarded as wrong are also classified as unjust. Mill’s third point is that when it is asserted that it would be unjust for someone to do a certain thing, it is implied that if he were to do it he would be violating an obligation that he has to some other assignable person (247). Mill’s fourth point is that when it is asserted that it would be unjust for someone to do a certain thing, it is implied that he would thereby be depriving another person of something to which he has a right. Speaking of “this distinction . . . which exists between justice and the other obligations,” he writes, “justice, the term, . . . involve[s] the idea of a personal right . . . injustice . . . implies two things—a wrong done, and some assignable person who is wronged” (247). Here Mill urges that someone is not described as having done anything unjust if the wrong that he did was to other animals or to himself. He is not described as having done something unjust unless he is regarded as having done something wrong to another human being. When we think that it would be unjust for someone to do a certain thing, we imply that it would not in general be wrong for others to compel him not to do it. This implication is contained in Mill’s third point. He brings out a further implication of his fourth point when he writes: “When we think that a person is bound in justice to do a thing, it is an ordinary form of language to say, that he ought to be compelled to do it” (245).

Mill’s fifth and last point is contained in the statement, “Wherever there is a right, the case is one of justice. . .” (247). If Mill means by this that whenever someone is said to have a right to something it is implied that it would be unjust to deprive him of it, then this fifth point is not compatible with what he says elsewhere. Mill holds that when it is claimed that a man has a right to a certain thing, it is implied that in general it would be wrong for anyone to deprive him of it. But he acknowledges that the obligation not to deprive him of it may be overruled by other considerations: “to save a life, it may not only be allowable, but a duty, to steal, or to take by force, the necessary food or medicine, or to kidnap, and compel to officiate, the only qualified medical practitioner. In such cases . . . we usually say, not that justice must give way to some other moral principle, but that what is just in ordinary cases is, by reason of that other principle, not just in the particular case.” (259.) Mill hereby points out that the claim that a man has a right to a certain thing does not imply that it would invariably be wrong for anyone to deprive him of it. In this passage he also writes, “justice is a name for certain moral requirements . . . of more paramount obligation, than any others.” Mill would certainly agree that the obligation to do what is just is absolutely paramount over all other considerations. But he also points out in this passage that the respect in which it is paramount is that when someone believes that a certain particular action would be of a sort which in general is unjust, but also believes that it would not be wrong to do it, he would not say that it would be unjust but not wrong to do it. He would instead say that since it would not be wrong to do it, it would not be unjust to do it. Mill points out that no one regards a certain action as unjust unless he also regards it as wrong.

Having focussed on Mill’s analyses of four chief concepts—right and wrong, obligation, a right, justice—we have now to notice certain bearings of these analyses. Mill holds that when it is asserted that it would be wrong for a man to do a certain action, it is not only implied that he ought not to do it, it is also implied that it is contrary to a rule which ought in general to be observed and that it is an action of a kind which ought in general to be condemned. He contends that this is all that is implied. Asserting that it would be wrong to do a certain action is then a short-hand way of making three distinct ought statements in regard to it. The adjectives “right” and “wrong” could then be eliminated from language. It is useful to retain them as a short-hand way of making these three distinct ought statements at once. A similar point applies to the other three concepts. Mill maintains that when it is asserted that a man has an obligation to do a certain action, all that is implied is that it is an action of a kind which in general it would be wrong not to do; and that when it is also understood that he is under an obligation to some assignable person to do it, all that is implied in addition is that it would in general not be wrong for others to compel him to do it. Since these implications in turn are equivalent to a number of ought statements, the assertion that someone has an obligation to do a certain action is also a short-hand way of making several ought statements in regard to it. Mill also holds that when it is asserted that a man has a right to a certain thing, it is not only implied that others in general ought to prevent anyone from depriving him of it; it is also implied that it would in general be wrong for anyone to deprive him of it. The noun, “a right,” could then be eliminated from language by replacing it with the several ought statements to which it is equivalent. Finally, Mill maintains that when it is asserted that it would be unjust for a certain man to do a certain action, it is not only implied that it would be wrong for him to do it; all that is implied in addition is that if he were to do it he would be violating someone’s right. Since each of these implications in turn is equivalent to a number of ought statements, the adjectives “just” and “unjust” could be eliminated from language, but are useful to retain as short-hand devices for asserting a cluster of ought statements.

Mill errs in two respects in his analysis of the concept of justice. When it is claimed that a man has a right to worship in accord with the dictates of his own conscience, it is not implied that if someone were to prevent him from worshipping in this manner, he would be doing something unjust. Similarly, a man who tortures or murders another is not described as doing something unjust, even though it is held that he is doing another wrong and is doing something that others in general ought to prevent anyone from doing. Consequently, Mill is not correct in maintaining that a man is described as doing something unjust whenever he is regarded as doing something wrong and as violating another’s right. Sidgwick points out that Mill is also not correct in maintaining that whenever it is asserted that it would be unjust for someone to do a certain thing it is implied that others ought to compel him not to do it. When it is claimed that a father is unjust to one of his children, it is not implied that others ought to use compulsion to prevent him. Mill can hardly be blamed for falling short in analysis of the concept of justice where others generally have failed. Although he is mistaken as to the specific set of ought statements which he holds is implied by the claim that it would be unjust to do a certain thing, his mistake in this does not show that there is not some set of ought statements to which this claim is equivalent.

What emerges from Mill’s analyses is that there is a common element to assertions using the terms right and wrong, obligation, a right, just and unjust. He does not maintain that all these are but different ways of saying that a certain action ought or ought not to be done, or that they are not different from each other. He holds that each implies nothing but a number of ought statements. The correctness of each cannot be made out without making out whether what it implies is correct. Hence each can be made out to be correct if there is some answer in general as to what ought to be done and what ought not. To make out whether it would be wrong for a certain person to do a certain thing, it is not sufficient to make out that he ought not to do it. Mill holds that it also has to be made out that it would be contrary to a moral principle for him to do it. Mill contends that it would be contrary to a moral principle only if it would be contrary to a rule which ought in general to be observed. If there is a general answer as to what ought to be done, it can then be made out what rules ought generally to be observed and what sorts of actions ought in general to be condemned. Since the question whether it would be wrong for a certain action to be done is a question in part whether it would be contrary to a moral principle, the question whether it would be right or wrong for a certain action to be done is a question about the morality of it. Mill holds that since questions of whether it would be unjust for a man to do a certain thing, or of whether he has a certain obligation or a certain right, also carry implications about what it would be wrong to do, they also are moral questions. If there is a general answer as to what ought to be done, the answers to moral questions can be made out. Mill holds that if there is such a general answer, it will apply not only to moral questions, but also wherever the question of what ought to be done arises and where moral considerations do not.

Mill seeks to bring out how it can be determined whether it would be wrong to do a certain action by analyzing what is implied when it is asserted that it would be wrong to do it. We might similarly expect him to grapple with the question of how the correctness of any ought statement can be determined by inquiring what is implied by any such statement. Instead of taking this course, he inquires if there is a test in general for what ought to be done. We have seen that Mill maintains that something ought to be done if and only if it would maximize happiness. In putting forth this principle, Mill does not claim that when it is asserted that something ought to be done, it is implied that it would maximize happiness; he claims rather that it provides a test. Mill’s analyses of assertions employing the concepts of wrong, obligation, a right and justice are logically independent of his claim as to what is the supreme test of what ought to be done. He holds that it is the supreme test of the correctness of such assertions because they are equivalent to sets of ought statements and it is the supreme test of ought statements generally: “if . . . happiness is the sole end of human action, and the promotion of it the test by which to judge of all human conduct . . . it necessarily follows that it must be the criterion of morality, since a part is included in the whole.”

Two parts may be distinguished in Mill’s contention as to what provides a supreme test. Although he does not say it, it may be presumed that he holds, in the first place, that when it is asserted that something ought to be done, it is implied that its consequences would be intrinsically more desirable than those of any alternative. The second step is his contention that the test of whether the consequences of something would be intrinsically more desirable than those of any alternative is afforded by whether it would cause more happiness. This he derives from the more general contention that the supreme test of whether one state of affairs is intrinsically more desirable than another is whether it contains more happiness. We may notice the bearing of each step in turn on moral judgments. In accord with the first step, Mill holds not only that a man ought not to do a certain action if and only if some alternative would have more desirable consequences, but also that a certain rule ought in general to be observed if and only if the observance of it would in general have more desirable consequences than would failure to observe it. The first step implies also that actions of a certain sort ought in general to be condemned if and only if the condemnation of such actions would in general have more desirable consequences than the absence of such general condemnation. Accordingly, Mill maintains that it would in fact be wrong for a man to do a certain action if and only if three conditions are fulfilled: (1) some alternative would have more desirable consequences, (2) it would be contrary to a rule the observance of which would in general have more desirable consequences than would failure to observe it, and (3) it is an action of a kind the condemnation of which would in general have more desirable consequences than the absence of such general condemnation.

By virtue of the second step, Mill contends that the supreme test of whether some alternative to a certain action would have more desirable consequences is whether it would cause more happiness; and that the supreme test of whether the observance of a certain rule would have more desirable consequences is whether the observance of it would cause more happiness. He therefore maintains that it would be correct to claim that it would be wrong for a certain man to do a certain action if and only if three conditions are fulfilled: (1) some alternative to it would cause more happiness, (2) it would be contrary to a rule the observance of which would in general cause more happiness than would failure to observe it, and (3) it is an action of a kind the condemnation of which would in general cause more happiness than would the absence of such general condemnation. In like fashion the conditions can be spelled out which Mill implies must be fulfilled for anyone to be correct in claiming that a certain man has an obligation to do a certain thing, that he has a right to a certain thing, or that it would be unjust for him to do a certain thing.



in maintaining that the supreme test of whether something ought to be done is whether it would maximize happiness, Mill does not hold that this is the only test which is used, or can be used, or ought to be used. He recognizes that many other tests are used and holds that others are often more suitable. He suggests, for example, that as a test of conduct, it is often helpful for a man to ask himself whether a morally perfect being would approve of it. In speaking of other tests as often more suitable, Mill claims that other ways are available for making out whether something ought to be done than by considering directly all the happiness and unhappiness it would cause and comparing this with all the happiness and unhappiness that would be caused by each alternative to it. Mill speaks of a “subordinate,” “intermediate,” or “secondary” principle as being employed when it is determined that something ought to be done not by reckoning with these considerations but by reckoning with some other feature of it. He contends that it is not even possible to make out the morality of a certain action without taking account of whether it accords with a rule of morality. But even when moral considerations do not arise, Mill recognizes that men usually make out what ought to be done, and he urges that it is usually suitable for them to make out what ought to be done not by means of the supreme principle but by some intermediate principle. He holds that some intermediate principle is also often more suitable for making out whether a certain rule ought in general to be observed and is such that infractions of it ought in general to be condemned. In what he maintains is the supreme test, Mill is making three claims: (1) that something ought to be done if and only if it would maximize happiness, (2) that the ultimate reason why something ought to be done is because it would maximize happiness, and (3) that other tests are sound or suitable only if they would yield results compatible with it. In speaking of intermediate principles as “corollaries” of the supreme principle, he means that they are sound only if they yield results compatible with it.

There are many theories of morality which Mill rejects. He rejects the theory that what is meant by calling an action wrong or that the reason why an action is wrong is that it is the breaking of a divine commandment. He rejects such a theory even when it is united with a form of utilitarianism, as in Paley and Austin. He rejects the doctrine that any information about nature suffices to tell men what is right or wrong. He objects to Comte for contending that anything is wrong if done from some other motive than desire for the greatest happiness of humanity. He criticizes Bentham for not allowing that some experiences are more desirable than others independently of how pleasant they are. A further theory which Mill is particularly concerned to reject is what he calls the intuitive theory of morality. By it he understands the theory that it is intuitively self-evident what kinds of actions are wrong and what kinds are obligatory, and that all that is required to make out that some particular action would be wrong, or another obligatory, is to make out that it would be an action of some such kind. Mill does not deny that there is an intuitive character to the manner in which many moral judgments are made. Quite often someone thinks a particular action would be wrong because it is of a kind which he believes to be wrong. Not questioning the belief he is employing, a certain kind of action presents itself to his mind as wrong in itself (227). Mill would also agree with W. D. Ross’s remark, “When a plain man fulfils a promise . . . what makes him think it right to act in a certain way is the fact that he has promised to do so—that and, usually, nothing more. That his act will produce the best possible consequences is not his reason for calling it right.” But Mill would object that because the only thing that makes a man think that it would be wrong to do a certain action is the kind of action it is, it does not follow that the only reason why it would be wrong for him to do it is that it is an action of that kind. Because men often act upon a belief that actions of a certain kind are wrong, without reasoning further about it, he holds that it is not correct to infer that no reasons are to be given in behalf of such a belief and that certain kinds of actions are simply wrong in themselves.

Mill agrees with the intuitive theory that no one can make out by the principle of utility alone whether a certain action would be wrong or another obligatory. He would also point out that the principle of utility does not entail that men have but one obligation to others—to do what will cause most happiness. Because a certain action would cause most happiness it does not follow that it would not be wrong for others to compel it to be done. Moreover, the principle of utility does not entail that there is but one rule determining what is right or wrong. It does not imply that it would be wrong to do something if and only if it would cause less happiness than some alternative. If someone does something that will cause less happiness than would some alternative, it does not follow that he ought to be condemned by others for having done it. Far from maintaining that there is but one kind of action that is wrong, Mill holds that there are as many different kinds of wrong actions as there are rules which ought to be observed and ought to be enforced by moral sanctions. For determining in particular what is right or wrong, Mill contends that such rules are indispensable as subordinate principles. He also holds that such rules are often sufficient, no appeal to the principle of utility being called for.

When does Mill think that it is in place to appeal to the principle of utility to determine what it is right or wrong to do? He urges that someone is not warranted in believing that it would not be wrong to do a certain action simply because he is warranted in thinking that, considered by itself, it would cause more happiness. He writes, “though the consequences in the particular case might be beneficial—it would be unworthy of an intelligent agent not to be consciously aware that the action is of a class which, if practised generally, would be generally injurious. . . .” Here Mill speaks of appeal to the principle of utility to determine whether it would be wrong to do a particular action. Yet the appeal that is made is not to determine whether the particular action would have undesirable consequences but whether performance of actions of its kind would in general have undesirable consequences. Mill also holds that to be assured that it would be wrong to do a particular action, it is often sufficient for someone to think that it would be contrary to some rule which he believes ought generally to be observed, without testing on each occasion the correctness of the rule on which he is relying.

A second sort of occasion on which Mill speaks of appeal to the principle of utility being called for is one in which someone is subject to conflicting rules. He writes, “only in . . . cases of conflict between secondary principles is it requisite that first principles should be appealed to” (226). Here appeal to utility is made to determine what particular action it would not be wrong to do. But Mill does not hold that when someone is faced with conflicting obligations, he can determine what it would not be wrong for him to do by disregarding his conflicting obligations and using the principle of utility to ascertain which action would have more desirable consequences. For whenever there is a question of whether it would be wrong to do a certain thing, the question of whether it would violate some rule remains. He holds rather that appeal to the principle of utility is called for to determine which obligation takes precedence. Yet Mill does not maintain that whenever there is a conflict of obligations such appeal is called for. He does not deny that such occasions recur and that men encounter them with their minds made up as to what kinds of obligation take precedence over others. They believe, for instance, that the obligation not to lie takes precedence in general over the obligation not to injure another, that the obligation not to injure another is more stringent than the obligation to help another, and that the obligation to help another who has helped one is greater than the obligation to benefit another who has not. Beliefs in rules of precedence such as these are second-order moral beliefs. Although he holds that it is often sufficient for men to resolve a conflict by means of such a belief, without appealing to the principle of utility, Mill urges that men cannot in the end be assured that they are correct in believing that one kind of obligation takes precedence in general over another without reckoning whether neglect of it would in general be more detrimental to human happiness than neglect of the other. Even where someone is correct in believing that one kind of obligation takes precedence in general over another, Mill urges that such a belief will not always suffice to enable him to resolve a conflict of obligations.

A third sort of occasion on which he speaks of appeal to the principle of utility being called for is one that presents an exception to a rule of precedence. He writes: “justice is a name for certain moral requirements . . . of more paramount obligation, than any others. . . . [P]articular cases may occur in which some other social duty is so important, as to overrule any one of the general maxims of justice. Thus, to save a life, it may not only be allowable, but a duty, to steal, or take by force, the necessary food or medicine, or to kidnap, and compel to officiate, the only qualified medical practitioner.” (259.)

Mill urges that all moralists recognize that every rule of morality admits of exceptions, and that there are occasions on which it would not be wrong to do a certain action even though it would violate a rule of morality. They thereby acknowledge that for it to be wrong to do a particular action, it is not sufficient that it be contrary to a rule of morality. Some further condition must be met. Mill points out that all moralists recognize that it would not be wrong for someone to do a certain action unless he also ought not to do it. Consequently if a certain action would violate a rule of morality, but it is not the case that it ought not to be done, it would then not be wrong to do it. Mill urges that where other moralists are at a loss is to state when this further condition is met. He not only affirms the principle that a certain action ought not to be done only if it would cause less happiness; he also speaks of appeal to this principle as called for to determine when to make an exception to a primary rule of morality, to determine when, for instance, it would not be wrong to steal, to lie, or to betray a solemn trust.

As an example of when it would not be wrong for someone to tell a certain lie, Mill cites an occasion in which “the withholding of some fact (as of information from a malefactor, or of bad news from a person dangerously ill) would preserve some one (especially a person other than oneself) from great and unmerited evil, and when the withholding can only be effected by denial” (223). Mill also points out that to be assured that it would not be wrong for a man to tell a certain lie, it is not sufficient to reckon with the “great evil” it would spare some person; against this must be weighed counter considerations. Account must be taken of the damage the lie may do in “weakening the trustworthiness of human assertion” and in undermining the benefits dependent upon it. Secondly, account must be taken of the damage the man’s lie may do in “weakening reliance” others will place on his veracity on future occasions. Third, account must be taken of the degree to which his readiness to lie upon one occasion may “enfeeble” his “sensitive feeling on the subject of veracity,” thereby making him less reluctant to lie on other occasions and further damaging his trustworthiness.

We have noticed four sorts of occasions which Mill speaks of as calling for appeal to the principle of utility on a moral question. In the first it is appealed to to determine whether a rule ought generally to be observed; in the second, to determine whether one kind of obligation takes precedence over another; in the third, to determine when to make an exception to such a rule of precedence; in the fourth, to determine when to make an exception to a primary rule of morality. The example Mill gives of the last is determining when it would not be wrong to tell a lie. Mill does not mention whether someone need ever reckon whether to violate a rule whose general observance and enforcement would cause more happiness, but which is not also generally observed and enforced by moral sanctions. Nor does he mention whether someone need reckon whether his action would conform to such a rule. Mill speaks of using the principle of utility to determine when to make an exception to a rule only if it is not merely a rule whose general observance and enforcement would cause more happiness, but is also a rule which is generally observed and enforced. The only considerations he mentions as to be taken into account against someone’s telling a certain lie are undermining reliance on his word, undermining his character, and impairing trust in men’s assertions generally. These considerations are relevant only in so far as the rule in question is one that is generally observed.

Of the four sorts of occasions for which Mill speaks of appeal to the principle of utility, he gives examples only of the third and fourth. These examples indicate how he expects such an appeal to be carried out. By the principle of utility, something ought to be done if and only if its consequences would be intrinsically more desirable than those of any alternative; and they would be intrinsically more desirable if and only if it would cause more happiness. A full use of this principle as a test therefore requires reckoning with all the alternatives, and with all the intrinsically desirable and undesirable consequences of each. An exclusive use of this principle as a test requires reckoning with nothing else. In the two examples Mill gives of appeal to the principle of utility, he mentions reckoning with but two alternatives—in one that of saving a certain person’s life or not saving it, in the other that of telling a certain lie or not telling it. A full use of the principle of utility requires reckoning with all intrinsically desirable and undesirable consequences to all sentient beings. In his two examples Mill does not speak of reckoning with consequences to other animals or to all human beings. Elsewhere he writes that in most cases in which someone appeals to the principle of utility “the interest or happiness of some few persons, is all he has to attend to” (220). Use of the principle of utility as a test requires reckoning only with intrinsically desirable and undesirable consequences—only happiness and unhappiness. Mill, however, mentions saving a person’s life as the only consequence to be reckoned with in the example he gives of breaking a rule of precedence. The only consequences he mentions to be reckoned with against someone’s telling a certain lie are undermining reliance on his word, undermining his character, and impairing trust in men’s assertions generally. He also reproaches Bentham for not including among consequences to be reckoned with effects of what a man does on his character. Yet Mill does not hold that the preservation of a man’s life is intrinsically desirable or that there is anything intrinsically undesirable about undermining character, about undermining reliance on a man’s word, or about impairing general trust in men’s assertions. He regards consequences such as these as undesirable only because they in turn would make for less happiness and he speaks of “weighing these conflicting utilities against one another” (223). Instead of a full use of the principle of utility, Mill would agree that reckoning with but a few alternatives and with but a few intrinsically desirable and undesirable consequences of each would be warranted if it would yield a result compatible with full use of the principle. It is not only this that Mill understands by appeal to utility. His examples show that he regards an appeal to utility as being made where what are reckoned with are other desirable and undesirable consequences than happiness and unhappiness.

Still greater latitude is to be observed in the argument which Mill holds is to be given for the desirability of men being compelled generally to observe certain rules. Among such rules he mentions those “which protect every individual from being harmed by others, either directly or by being hindered in his freedom of pursuing his own good,” which prevent anyone from “wrongfully withholding from” another “something which is his due,” or from depriving him “of some good which he had reasonable ground . . . for counting upon” (256). Although he speaks of such rules as grounded in “general utility” and as “more vital to human well-being than any” others, Mill does not feel called upon to show that use of compulsion to enforce them generally would make for more happiness than would absence of enforcement. He urges instead that men generally have such an intense interest in their enforcement that “if obedience to them were not the rule, and disobedience the exception, every one would see in every one else a probable enemy, against whom he must be perpetually guarding himself.” “It is their observance which alone preserves peace among human beings. . . .” He here argues that the enforcement of such rules is desirable because it is necessary to maintaining relationships among men which in turn are desirable because they are a necessary condition of men achieving to any degree anything desirable. Mill’s argument for the desirability of enforcing such rules is thus independent of any view as to what is intrinsically desirable, and therefore of his principle that happiness is the only thing intrinsically desirable.

Since he maintains that the principle of utility is the supreme test of conduct generally, Mill holds that it has application wherever anyone is pondering what to do, even though considerations of right and wrong are not or may not be involved. A man wonders, Should I change my job? Should I go to the mountains for my holiday? Should I invite the Jones for the evening? Should I put on a blue tie this morning? A business considers whether to reduce a certain line of investment. A plumber considers whether he should use copper piping. A municipality hesitates whether to resurface certain roads. Citizens discuss whether their country should reduce certain import tariffs, withdraw its troops from a troubled region, or increase its aid to another country. Mill holds that the answer to any such question is correct if and only if the course of action would maximize happiness. Although Mill is concerned to show that the principle of utility is the supreme test of conduct generally, in Utilitarianism he is largely occupied with its role in coping with moral problems. He has far less in general to say about its use in regard to other practical problems. Mill does not maintain that the only motive from which men act is interest in maximizing happiness or that the only principle by which they should test whether something should be done is by whether it would maximize happiness. A man may think that he should do something because he would enjoy doing it, because it is to his interest, because it would afford another enjoyment, because it would be impolite or unconventional not to. Mill does not deny the diversity of considerations employed in determining what an individual or a group should do. Sometimes a political policy is recommended to promote material prosperity, sometimes to promote progress, or freedom or enlightenment, or to relieve certain needs. Although the principle of utility is the supreme test, Mill urges that men cannot avoid using various subordinate principles for determining what should be done, even where questions of right and wrong are not involved. He writes, “all rational creatures go out upon the sea of life with their minds made up on the common questions of right and wrong, as well as on many of the far more difficult questions of wise and foolish. . . . Whatever . . . the fundamental principle . . . we require subordinate principles to apply it by. . . .” (225.)

Mill urges that the happiness of all is more effectively promoted by each pursuing his own happiness, subject to rules required by the good of others, than by each making the good of others his object. He also urges that each can more effectively promote his own happiness not by seeking it but by the active pursuit of ends beyond himself. Whether individuals or groups are engaged in farming, banking, teaching, medicine, or any other distinctive pursuit, Mill urges that it is usually sufficient for them to determine what they should do by reckoning only with what would most effectively promote the end of the pursuit. They are then called upon to consider only “that certain consequences follow from certain causes.” The conclusion that a certain thing should be done rests also, of course, on the assumption that the end is desirable. But “in various subordinate arts . . . there is seldom any visible necessity for justifying the end, since in general its desirableness is denied by nobody.” Mill mentions two errors to which the adoption of universal practical maxims in any pursuit is subject. One error is that of overlooking that the prescribed mode of action is effective only under certain circumstances. Quite another error is that of overlooking that though it is effective, its “success itself may conflict with some other end, which may possibly chance to be more desirable.” Where conflicting desirable ends are affected, Mill speaks of appeal to the principle of utility as called for. Yet for such appeal to be made, Mill does not require that only intrinsically desirable and undesirable consequences be reckoned with. Here too he regards an appeal to utility as being made where what are reckoned with are other desirable and undesirable consequences than happiness and unhappiness.

  • University of Toronto

D. P. D.

Textual Introduction

john stuart mill occupies an important place in the history of moral philosophy, and moral philosophy occupies a similarly important, indeed a central, part in Mill’s thought. He wrote, however, no ethical treatise comparable in range and depth to his Principles of Political Economy or his System of Logic; and while ethical works generally tend to be shorter than works on political economy and logic, one cannot treat Mill’s Utilitarianism, even apart from length, as commensurate with the Principles or the Logic. So, accepting Utilitarianism as his major ethical work, one must look to other essays if one wishes a comprehensive view of his ethics. In this volume, therefore, Utilitarianism is presented, for the first time, in the context of the other significant essays that establish the scope and development of Mill’s ethics, and indicate its social and religious affiliations.

A brief glance at the provenance of these essays will, in the light of Professor Priestley’s Introduction, help explain their importance and our grouping of them. Three were issued as separate publications—Utilitarianism, Auguste Comte and Positivism, and Three Essays on Religion—but of these just the last appeared only in book form; Utilitarianism was first published in three instalments in Fraser’s Magazine, and Auguste Comte in two instalments in the Westminster Review. Of the others, four—the major articles on Sedgwick, Bentham, Coleridge, and Whewell—appeared in the Westminster Review and were reprinted in Dissertations and Discussions. The two remaining items in the main text are an appendix to a book not by Mill, Bulwer’s England and the English, and a review of Blakey from the Monthly Repository. (The appended items are discussed below.) It will be seen, if comparison is made with other volumes of essays in this edition, that this one contains a very high percentage of material Mill thought worthy of republication. The significance and history of the items from a textual point of view emerges best when they are grouped in the following way: essays illustrating the development of Mill’s utilitarianism; essays begun by Mill with his wife’s help in the 1850s; and Auguste Comte and Positivism.


The relevant items here are the first six in the volume (the “Remarks on Bentham’s Philosophy,” and the reviews of Blakey, Sedgwick, Bentham, Coleridge, and Whewell) and the first two Appendices (the “Preface” to Dissertations and Discussions, and Mill’s obituary notice of Bentham). The basic unity here is provided by Mill’s reassessments of his Benthamite inheritance, as he moves back and forth between eulogy and disparagement, qualifying both, until his general approval is given in his comments on Whewell (and renewed in Utilitarianism).

The obituary of Bentham (1832), which appeared anonymously in a Radical weekly, The Examiner, is appropriately eulogistic, concentrating in the main on the legal and legislative aspects of Bentham’s thought, but hints of criticisms to come are found even here when Bentham’s stature as a moralist is in question. At this time Mill was entering his most marked period of assimilation of new ideas, having met the St. Simonians and Coleridge, and formed friendships with Mrs. Taylor (later his wife), Carlyle, and John Sterling.

When, in his Appendix to Bulwer’s England and the English (1833), he made his most severe attack on Bentham, he was at the height of his reaction against his intellectual heritage. As he says in his Autobiography:

To complete the tale of my writings at this period, I may add that in 1833, at the request of Bulwer, who was just then completing his ‘England and the English’ (a work, at that time, greatly in advance of the public mind), I wrote for him a critical account of Bentham’s philosophy, a small part of which he incorporated in his text, and printed the rest (with an honourable acknowledgment), as an appendix. In this, along with the favourable, a part also of the unfavourable side of my estimation of Bentham’s doctrines, considered as a complete philosophy, was for the first time put into print.

But he was not willing, in the early 1830s, to acknowledge these opinions as his. To Carlyle he writes (11-12/4/33): “I wish you could see something I have written lately about Bentham & Benthamism—but you can’t.” After the appearance of Bulwer’s book he writes again to Carlyle (2/8/33): “I told you in one of my letters that I had been writing something about Bentham & his philosophy; it was for Bulwer, at his request, for the purposes of this book: contrary to my expectation at that time, he has printed part of this paper ipsissimis verbis as an appendix to his book: so you will see it; but I do not acknowledge it, nor mean to do so.” And to J. P. Nichol he says (14/10/34): “It is not, and must not be, known to be mine.”

The review of Blakey is mainly an assault on the weaknesses of Blakey’s understanding and exposition, but it has wider significance, for the basic outline of the important parallel essays on Bentham and Coleridge can be seen in Mill’s reference to “the two systems between which, and which only, almost every metaphysician, deserving the name, in all Europe, is now beginning to be convinced that it is necessary to choose,” that is, “the association-philosophy as taught by Hartley, and the metaphysics of the German school” (23). And in the last paragraph (29) the importance of secondary moral principles, a theme to which Mill returned again and again, is stressed.

This review was again anonymous, and only in the next essay here reprinted, the review of Sedgwick’s Discourse, does Mill begin to appear under his own colours. The article was signed “A,” not in itself a clear identification, but the authorship was known to a wider group than that of the former items, and the review appeared in a periodical edited by Mill, the London Review (later amalgamated with the Westminster). In his Autobiography (140-1), Mill says that this article, coming as it did in the first number of the London Review, and so helping set the tone for his new venture, gave him the opportunity of putting into practice his “scheme of conciliation between the old and the new ‘philosophic radicalism.’ ” Sedgwick’s book, he comments, featuring “an intemperate assault on analytic psychology and utilitarian ethics, in the form of an attack on Locke and Paley,” had

excited great indignation in my father and others, which I thought it fully deserved. And here, I imagined, was an opportunity of at the same time repelling an unjust attack, and inserting into my defence of Hartleianism and Utilitarianism a number of the opinions which constituted my view of those subjects, as distinguished from that of my old associates. In this I partially succeeded, though my relation to my father would have made it painful to me in any case, and impossible in a review for which he wrote, to speak out my whole mind on the subject at this time.

In the Early Draft (158) the final sentence, after “succeeded,” reads: “though I could not speak out my whole mind at this time without coming into conflict with my father.” This passage replaced a cancelled reading that brings the matter into sharper focus: “though I was obliged to omit two or three pages of comment on what I thought the mistakes of utilitarian moralists, which my father considered as an attack on Bentham & on him. I certainly thought both of them open to it but far less so than some of their followers.”

The general judgment in these remarks, dating from 1854-55, is earlier found in a letter to J. P. Nichol (26/11/34), written on completion of the review (though probably before the revisions suggested by James Mill): “I have said a number of things in it which I have never put into print before, and have represented the ‘utilitarian theory of morals,’ as [Sedgwick] calls it, I think for the first time in its true colours. At all events, I have incidentally represented my own mode of looking at ethical questions; having never yet seen in print any statement of principles on the subject to which I could subscribe.”

That his opinion of the review was expressed differently in the Preface to Dissertations and Discussions, twenty-five years later, is probably partly because he had been obliged, by his father, “to omit two or three pages of comment” and partly because his own position was more genuinely secure in 1859. In that Preface (493-4 below) he says that his slight revisions have left the articles, in the main, as “memorials of the states of mind in which they were written”; and goes on to explain:

Where what I had written appears a fair statement of part of the truth, but defective inasmuch as there exists another part respecting which nothing, or too little, is said, I leave the deficiency to be supplied by the reader’s own thoughts; the rather, as he will, in many cases, find the balance restored in some other part of this collection. Thus, the review of Mr. Sedgwick’s Discourse, taken by itself, might give an impression of more complete adhesion to the philosophy of Locke, Bentham, and the eighteenth century, than is really the case, and of an inadequate sense of its deficiencies; but that notion will be rectified by the subsequent essays on Bentham and on Coleridge. These, again, if they stood alone, would give just as much too strong an impression of the writer’s sympathy with the reaction of the nineteenth century against the eighteenth: but this exaggeration will be corrected by the more recent defence of the ‘greatest happiness’ ethics against Dr. Whewell.

A glance at the variants in the essay on Sedgwick suggests that this is one of the two articles in Dissertations and Discussions in which Mill, aware of the “asperity of tone,” revised with a view to retaining “only as much of this strength of expression [resulting from the subject, not from “the smallest feeling of personal ill-will towards my antagonists”], as could not be foregone without weakening the force of the protest” (“Preface,” 494, below). This suggestion is supported by a letter to John Sterling of 22 April, 1840, at which time Mill was already beginning to collect articles for republication. “I have softened the asperity of the article on Sedgwick,” he says, “& cut out whatever seemed to take an unfair advantage against his opinions, of his deficiencies as an advocate of them.” (Earlier Letters, XIII, 429.)

We do not know just which revisions were made at what times between 1840 and the publication of Dissertations and Discussions in 1859, but the relative frequency of changes in the essays in Volume I (that is, up to and including the “Coleridge,” which was first published in March, 1840, just before the letter to Sterling quoted above), when compared with that in Volume II (made up of essays written between 1840 and 1859), suggests that the first revisions, about 1840, were much more thorough than the subsequent ones, which probably were made just before publication, after Harriet Taylor’s death.

In any case, many of the changes indicating a softer judgment of Sedgwick’s faults were undoubtedly made at the earlier date. An illustration is to be seen at 45g-g andh: whereas in the version published in 1859 Mill says that Sedgwick “has contented himself with repeating the trivialities he found current,” in 1835 he had said that Sedgwick “has repeated the trivialities he found current, not having depth or strength of mind to see beyond them.” Other examples of this common type of change may be seen at 39y-y, z-z, 45d-d, 69b-b, and 72f-f to 73l-l. The retraction of more serious charges of moral obliquity on Sedgwick’s part is illustrated by 70n-n, where Sedgwick’s “trick of words” becomes in 1859 his “confusion of ideas” (cf. 71w-w and 72z-z).

Similarly softened judgments on the merits of Cambridge and Oxford, seen at 34j, 73l-l, and 74r, should be compared with the footnote on 35, which explains that the article was first published “before the advent of the present comparatively enlightened body of University Reformers.” A few changes reflect Mill’s logical speculations in the years between the two versions (his Logic was first published in 1843): for example, 44v, w, a-a, and 71x-x (the first three also indicate his changed estimate of the validity of James Mill’s view of the uses of history). One should also note Mill’s willingness to accept the term “utilitarian”: in 1835 the term is said to be Sedgwick’s and is given in quotation marks; in 1859 it is accepted without significant qualification (see 36n-n, 52i-i, 65d-d, f-f, and cf. the letter to Nichol of 26/11/34 quoted above). An excision of what is probably provocative irony may be seen at 64a-a, where the reading in 1835 is “God has thought fit to furnish us,” while in 1859 it is “we have been provided” (cf. 64z-z, and 70m-m; and “Bentham,” 93u-u).

Three years after his essay on Sedgwick appeared, Mill published his famous essay on Bentham. His subsequent comment on it in the Preface to Dissertations and Discussions (quoted above) is supported by his judgment in his Autobiography, where he says that in the article,

while doing full justice to the merits of Bentham, I pointed out what I thought the errors and deficiencies of his philosophy. The substance of this criticism I still think perfectly just; but I have sometimes doubted whether it was right to publish it at that time. I have often felt that Bentham’s philosophy, as an instrument of progress, has been to some extent discredied before it had done its work, and that to lend a hand towards lowering its reputation was doing more harm than service to improvement. Now, however, when a counter-action appears to be setting in towards what is good in Benthamism, I can look with more satisfaction on this criticism of its defects, especially as I have myself balanced it by vindications of the fundamental principles of Bentham’s philosophy, which are reprinted along with it in the same collection [i.e., “Sedgwick” and “Whewell” in Dissertations and Discussions].

The most interesting variants in this essay, as the passage above would suggest, involve Mill’s more favourable appraisal of Bentham and Benthamism in the 1850s. Examples, some of them indicating attention to slight nuance, will be seen at 82b-b, 98s-s, 99w-w, 111y-y, and 112z-z, but the most significant is that at 86m-m, which is too long to be quoted here. This variant occurs in Mill’s comment on his favourite passage in Bentham, taken from the Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, and quoted or referred to in all Mill’s major discussions of Bentham. Related changes, illustrating in minor ways the development of his own ethical attitudes, will be seen at 109n-n, 110s-s, 111u-u, and especially 111v.

The roots of Mill’s comparison of Bentham and Coleridge in the opening pages of his essay on the latter, probably go back to arguments with Coleridgeans in the London Debating Society. The comparison became explicit in 1834, when, in a letter to Nichol, he says that Coleridge is “the most systematic thinker of our time, without excepting even Bentham.” Five years later, after the publication of “Bentham,” he tells Sterling that he intends to compose an article on Coleridge “as a counter-pole to the one on Bentham,” feeling that the “likeness” of Coleridge “should be taken from the same point of view as that of Bentham.” The linking of the two pieces, mentioned again in the Preface to Dissertations and Discussions, is also commented on in the Autobiography, where Mill says:

In the essay on Coleridge I attempted to characterize the European reaction against the negative philosophy of the eighteenth century: and here, if the effect only of this one paper were to be considered, I might be thought to have erred by giving undue prominence to the favourable side, as I had done in the case of Bentham to the unfavourable. In both cases, the impetus with which I had detached myself from what was untenable in the doctrines of Bentham and of the eighteenth century, may have carried me, though in appearance rather than in reality, too far on the contrary side. But as far as relates to the article on Coleridge, my defence is, that I was writing for Radicals and Liberals, and it was my business to dwell most on that in writers of a different school, from the knowledge of which they might derive most improvement.

Some of the variants in “Coleridge” are evidence of his awareness that in 1840 he had given “undue prominence to the favourable side” of what he calls “the European reaction against the negative philosophy of the eighteenth century”. Like most of the other variants, they should be studied in context: see, for example, 134n-n, o-o, x-x, 137m-m, and 160m-m (and cf. “Bentham,” 90e-e, and 109l-l). Lessened “asperity of tone” is seen in the variants to 140n, and Mill’s revised assessment of Gladstone (who had moved into the Liberal camp in 1859) is noticeable at 149b-b and 150g. Also worthy of mention are the variants at 157a, where Mill’s increased sympathy for socialist criticisms of society is evident; at 130f, where the deletion of the reference to James Mill’s Analysis as “the greatest accession to abstract psychology since Hartley” is more likely a response to the publication of Bain’s The Senses and the Intellect (1855) and The Emotions and the Will (1859) than a depreciation of the Analysis (cf. 246n); and at 127p-p, where the added reference to Kant may be the result of a reading (or rereading) of Kant between 1840 and 1859 or, as is more likely, of the reading of Cousin that Mill did for his Logic.

The review of Whewell is commented on significantly by Mill only in the Preface to Dissertations and Discussions where, as already noted, he remarks that it should correct any exaggerated impression of his “sympathy with the reaction of the nineteenth century against the eighteenth”. In fact, his reassessment of Bentham and utilitarianism was virtually complete in 1852, and the comments in “Whewell” are consonant with those in the Autobiography and Utilitarianism. As a result—and as a result of the shorter time between the versions—there are fewer variants, and none calling for detailed notice here; attention might be called, however, to the passage on marriage in which 199z-z occurs, where Harriet’s influence may well be inferred (as it may also in “Bentham,” 113j-j).

Considering together the four essays reprinted in Dissertations and Discussions, one finds a total of 638 variants (including those in footnotes), which occur with decreasing frequency as the time between the first publication and the republication lessens. Mill did very little revision for the 2nd ed. of Dissertations and Discussions (the one here used for copy-text), only forty-three substantive variants appearing, and these of a minor nature (see, for example, “Coleridge,” 134r-r). A rough classification of the variants isolates some 6 per cent as involving a change of opinion or correction of fact (including major expansions or deletions); 3 per cent reflect the difference in time and provenance between the separate publications; 44 per cent arise from qualifications; and the remaining 47 per cent are minor verbal alterations or slight tonal changes (including the removal of italics). The most interesting kinds have already been exemplified, but reference might be made to the change of time indicated at 45n and 85k, the change in provenance indicated at 74s-s, and, of the many minor qualifications, to those at 41l-l (“all” changed to “much of”), 123q-q (“perfect” to “correct”), and 143h-h (“no” to “scarcely any”).


The relevant items here are Utilitarianism and the Three Essays on Religion. Some time after their marriage in 1851, probably towards the end of 1853 when they were together in France, Mill and Harriet drew up a list of subjects on which they wanted to publish their views. Thinking that one or both of them would not live long, Mill forecast “one large or two small posthumous volumes of Essays, with the Life at their head,” which might be ready for publication by Christmas 1855, though, he adds, “not then to be published if we are still alive to improve & enlarge them.” They had already composed a draft of the “Life,” though it was to undergo further revision, and Mill on his return to England immediately set to work on the subjects on their list. Having begun with “Nature,” he writes to Harriet on 7 Feb., 1854, that that essay is finished, and he is puzzled “what to attempt next.” He goes on to say:

I will just copy the list of subjects we made out in the confused order in which we put them down. Differences of character (nation, race, age, sex, temperament). Love. Education of tastes. Religion de l’avenir. Plato. Slander. Foundation of morals. Utility of religion. Socialism. Liberty. Doctrine that causation is will. To these I have now added from your letter, Family, & Conventional.

His own inclination was to go on with the first mentioned, but Harriet preferred that he turn to the “Utility of religion,” as he did (see cxxvii-cxxviii below).

This programme adumbrates, at least through suggestion, most of Mill’s later writings, but of its detailed working out in the years before Harriet’s death not a great deal is known. In her “Introductory Notice” to the Three Essays on Religion, Helen Taylor remarks that in addition to “Nature” and “The Utility of Religion,” Mill wrote three essays between “1850 and 1858 . . . on Justice, on Utility, and on Liberty. . . . Those on Justice and Utility were afterwards incorporated, with some alterations and additions, into one, and published under the name of Utilitarianism.” (371 below.) The terminus a quo being only roughly given, one need not place full reliance on the terminus ad quem; otherwise the account seems reliable. Of the subjects mentioned in the list, it seems likely that “Foundation of morals” and to a lesser extent “Religion de l’avenir” and “Education of tastes” indicate the origins of the essay on Utility that, combined with the essay on Justice, resulted in Utilitarianism. Nothing more is known of the essay on Utility, but the origins of the essay on Justice (not mentioned in the list in February, 1854) may be seen in Mill’s correspondence with Harriet. On 14 June, 1854, he writes from St. Malo, where he had just arrived from the Isle of Jersey, to say: “I employed the five hours of steamboat partly in conning over the subject of justice for the essay . . . ,” and the next day consoled himself, in wet weather, by saying that it would at least allow him to write. On the 16th he explains that after posting his last letter, he was able to spend, because of the rain, “a long spell at the Essay on Justice. . . .” At Guingamp, he says on the 19th, he managed an hour’s writing, the last for some days. And on the 30th, in the last reference we have, he says: “I do not find the essay on Justice goes on well. I wrote a good long piece of it at Quimper [on the 26th], but it is too metaphysical, & not what is most wanted but I must finish it now in that vein & then strike into another [essay].”

The union of the two essays, and the consequent rewriting, took place not long after Harriet’s death, as Mill indicates in his Autobiography, saying: “. . . I took from their repository a portion of the unpublished papers which I had written during the last years of our married life, and shaped them, with some additional matter, into the little work entitled ‘Utilitarianism’; which was first published, in three parts, in successive numbers of Fraser’s Magazine, and afterwards reprinted in a volume.” In fact he indicated to Theodor Gomperz as early as August, 1858, before Harriet’s death, his intention to publish his papers on utility as “there are not many defences extant of the ethics of utility.” On 15 October, 1859, Mill wrote from Avignon to Alexander Bain: “I am employing myself in working up some papers which have been lying by me, with additional matter into a little treatise on Utilitarianism.” And again to Bain (14/11/59): “I do not think of publishing my Utilitarianism till next winter at the earliest, though it is now finished, subject to any correction or enlargement which may suggest itself in the interval. It will be but a small book, about a fifth less than the Liberty, if I make no addition to it.” He wrote similarly to W. G. Ward (28/11/59) to say that he proposed to publish his “little manuscript treatise” when he had kept it “for the length of time . . . desirable & given it such further improvement” as he could.

Bain, who knew Mill’s working habits better than anyone else but Harriet and Helen Taylor, comments that the essay was “thoroughly revised in 1860,” and Mill is undoubtedly referring to it in a letter to Henry Fawcett (24/12/60) when he says that since leaving London for Avignon in October, he has “two things finished, one of them a considerable volume [Considerations on Representative Government] and [has] made good progress with a third.” And Utilitarianism was finished in time, as he told Fawcett on 26 September, 1861, for it to appear “in the next three numbers of Fraser.” Mill always intended the parts to be united in book form, but there was an unexplained delay. He wrote to Charles Dupont-White on 10 January, 1862; “J’ai laissé mon éditeur le maître de décider le moment de le réimprimer en volume, mais n’ayant rien appris sur ses intentions, je présume que cette réimpression est ajournée.” Though the first edition in book form was being printed in February, 1863, as late as 21 January Mill wrote to Samuel Bailey in hesitant terms: “If I reprint them separately as I am thinking of doing I will beg your acceptance of a copy.” He selected a cover in March, and the volume was published by Parker in May.

Mill’s opinions were quite stable by the time Utilitarianism appeared, and though there is a decade between the periodical publication in 1861 and the appearance in 1871 of the 4th ed. (the last in Mill’s lifetime, and so used here as copy-text), there are only seventy-four substantive variants (1.35 per page of this edition). Of these, eight may be said to illustrate a change of opinion or fact, one reflects the passage of time (Bain becomes “Professor” in 246n), and twenty-two are qualifications; the rest are minor verbal changes. Of the total, twenty-one were made between the periodical version and the 1st ed. (1863), thirty-seven for the 2nd ed. (1864), eleven for the 3rd ed. (1867), and five for the 4th ed. In fact, almost one-third of the changes were made in the final chapter in the 2nd ed.; the most extensive of these occur in the passage on 244-5 concerning the etymology of the non-English terms corresponding to “Just.” Of the minor changes, one (224m-m) might be mentioned as probably illustrating the printer’s common misreading of Mill’s “&” for “or”.

Actually, one variant which does not occur is potentially more interesting than any that do, for had Mill changed the passage in question much of the subsequent criticism of Utilitarianism would have been modified. On 18 March, 1868, writing to Mill about the translations for the German edition he was preparing, Gomperz says:

Let me conclude by expressing my regret that you did not in the later editions of the Utilitarianism remove the stumbling block (to any reader and more especially to a translator) pp. 51-52 1st ed. [234 below] (audible, visible—desirable) which when pointed out to you by me [in 1863, just after the publication of the 1st ed.], you said you would remove. Your argument looks like a verbal quibble, far as it is from being one and has besides to me the serious disadvantage of being utterly untranslatable.

Mill’s reply (23 April, 1868) is unfortunately inconclusive:

With regard to the passage you mention in the Utilitarianism I have not had time regularly to rewrite the book & it had escaped my memory that you thought that argument apparently though not really fallacious which proves to me the necessity of, at least, further explanation & development. I beg that in the translation you will kindly reserve the passage to yourself, & please remove the stumbling block, by expressing the real argument in such terms as you think will express it best.

The connection in time between Utilitarianism and the first two of the Three Essays on Religion is established by Helen Taylor in her “Introductory Notice” to the Three Essays, cited above. There, in addition to dating “Nature” and “The Utility of Religion” between 1850 and 1858, she says “Theism” was written between 1868 and 1870. The third essay cannot now be dated more accurately, but one can be more precise about “Nature” and “The Utility of Religion.” On 30 August, 1853, during their first separation since marriage, Mill writes to Harriet: “I am very much inclined to take the Essay on Nature again in hand & rewrite it as thoroughly as I did the review of Grote [for the Edinburgh Review, 98 (Oct., 1853)]—that is what it wants—it is my old way of working & I do not think I have ever done anything well which was not done in that way.” Again separated from Harriet, he writes on 14 January, 1854, to say that as soon as he feels well enough to start writing again he will “finish the rewriting of the paper on Nature,” which he began before they left England for the South of France. On the 19th he says: “I have been reading the Essay on Nature as I rewrote the first part of it before we left & I think it very much improved & altogether very passable. I think I could soon finish it equally well.” On the 29th, commenting on their plans for a volume or two of essays, perhaps to be published posthumously (see cxxiii above), he writes to Harriet:

The first thing to be done & which I can do immediately towards it is to finish the paper on Nature, & this I mean to set about today, after finishing this letter—being the first Sunday that I have not thought it best to employ in I.H. work [his professional labours at the India House having fallen in arrears during his leave at the end of 1853]. That paper, I mean the part of it rewritten, seems to me on reading it to contain a great deal which we want said, said quite well enough for the volume though not so well as we shall make it when we have time. I hope to be able in two or three weeks to finish it equally well & then to begin something else—but all the other subjects in our list will be much more difficult for me even to begin upon without you to prompt me.

On the 30th, before posting the comments just quoted, Mill received Harriet’s letter of the 26th (not extant), on which he remarks: “It is a pleasant coincidence that I should receive her nice say about the ‘Nature’ just after I have resumed it. I shall put those three beautiful sentences about ‘disorder’ verbatim into the essay. I wrote a large piece yesterday at intervals . . . & am well pleased with it. I don’t think we should make these essays very long, though the subjects are inexhaustible. We want a compact argument first, & if we live to expand it & add a larger dissertation, tant mieux: there is need of both.” On 2 February he says: “I have written at the Nature every evening since Sunday & am getting on pretty well with it. I shall not know what to attempt when that is done.” Two days later he comments: “By working an hour or two every evening at the Nature I have very nearly finished it: tonight or tomorrow will I believe do everything to it that I am at present capable of doing. There is a pleasure in seeing any fresh thing finished at least so far as to be presentable.” And on 7 February he says: “I finished the ‘Nature’ on Sunday [the 5th] as I expected.”

Being puzzled as to what to attempt next, he sent the list of subjects they had agreed on (see cxxiii above). Harriet suggested that he move on to the “Utility of religion” rather than to an essay on “Differences of character,” saying:

About the Essays dear, would not Religion, the Utility of Religion, be one of the subjects you would have most to say on—there is to account for the existence nearly universal of some religion (superstition) by the instincts of fear hope and mystery etc., and throwing over all doctrines and theories, called religion, as devices for power, to show how religion & poetry fill the same want, the craving after higher objects, the consolation of suffering, by hopes of heaven for the selfish, love of God for the tender & grateful—how all this must be superseded by morality deriving its power from sympathies and benevolence and its reward from the approbation of those we respect.

There what a long winded sentence which you would say ten times as well in words half the length.

On 20 February Mill replied: “Your programme of an essay on the utility of religion is beautiful, but it requires you to fill it up—I can try, but a few paragraphs will bring me to the end of all I have got to say on the subject. What would be the use of my outliving you! I could write nothing worth keeping alive for except with your prompting.” On 6 March, perhaps having received Harriet’s comments, he says: “I have fairly set to at another essay, on the subject you suggested. I wrote several hours at it yesterday, after turning it over mentally many days before—but I cannot work at it here [the India House] yet, as there is another mail in today—luckily a light one.” On Sunday, 12 March, he worked on the essay “till near one,” and on 20 March he says:

I wrote a good spell at the new Essay yesterday, & hope to get a good deal done to it this week. But I have not yet got to the part of the subject which you so beautifully sketched, having begun with examining the more commonplace view of the subject, the supposed necessity of religion for social purposes as a sanction for morality. I regard the whole of what I am writing or shall write as mere raw material, in what manner & into what to be worked up to be decided between us—& I am much bent upon getting as much of this sort written as possible—but above all I am anxious about the Life, which must be the first thing we go over when we are together.

On 3 April he reports to Harriet (referring to her, as was his custom, in the third person): “I have completed an essay on the usefulness of religion—such a one as I can write though very far inferior to what she could.” And again on the 5th, in the last known reference to the essay, he says: “I have done all I can for the subject she last gave me.”

It would appear from this evidence that the final form of the essay follows the original plan, for the first part of which Mill was himself responsible (the introductory section is also almost certainly his), while Harriet’s “long winded” and somewhat incoherent sentence served as the basis for the second part, which deals with the effects of religion on the individual. (See 418ff. below, especially 418-20, 421-2.) On such meagre evidence alone can we rely in estimating Harriet’s contributions to these “joint productions”; again she appears as the inspirer, suggesting avenues of approach, probably adding words and phrases, but not conceiving the work as a developed whole, or writing any substantial part of it.

There seems now to be no further external evidence concerning dating and the degree of collaboration, or for assessing Helen Taylor’s role as editor of the Three Essays, which appeared only posthumously, in 1874. At Sothebys’ sale on 29 March, 1922, the manuscripts were sold to Atkinson for £1, under the following description: “723. Mill (John Stuart) Utility of Religion, Theism, and Nature. Three Auto. MSS of Essays (3).” Nothing further is known of these, the only recorded manuscripts for any of the essays in the present volume.

The copy-text for the Three Essays, since they were published after Mill’s death, is that of the 1st ed. (1874); the 2nd (also 1874) and 3rd (1885) eds. being simply reprints. There are, consequently, no variants. The main point to be made about the quotations and references is that the former are infrequent and the latter vague. In this respect they resemble the other essays planned and in part written at the same time, such as Utilitarianism or On Liberty. It seems likely that Mill, influenced by Harriet, was aiming at a broader audience than in his more technical works and so, except for general reliance on inartistic or extrinsic evidence (to use the rhetorical terms) that would be easily accepted by his audience, put his main argumentative weight on artistic or intrinsic evidence, and consequently cultivated the appeals to ethos and pathos as well as logos.


In his Autobiography, having earlier dealt with Comte’s influence on his logical speculations and with their correspondence, Mill devotes a full paragraph to explaining his attitude to Comte at the time he composed the two articles that make up Auguste Comte and Positivism:

After the completion of the book on Hamilton, I applied myself to a task which a variety of reasons seemed to render specially incumbent upon me; that of giving an account, and forming an estimate, of the doctrines of Auguste Comte. I had contributed more than any one else to make his speculations known in England. In consequence chiefly of what I had said of him in my Logic, he had readers and admirers among thoughtful men on this side of the Channel at a time when his name had not yet in France emerged from obscurity. So unknown and unappreciated was he at the time when my Logic was written and published, that to criticize his weak points might well appear superfluous, while it was a duty to give as much publicity as one could to the important contributions he had made to philosophic thought. At the time, however, at which I have now arrived, this state of affairs had entirely changed. His name, at least, was known almost universally, and the general character of his doctrines very widely. He had taken his place in the estimation both of friends and opponents, as one of the conspicuous figures in the thought of the age. The better parts of his speculations had made great progress in working their way into those minds, which, by their previous culture and tendencies, were fitted to receive them: under cover of those better parts those of a worse character, greatly developed and added to in his later writings, had also made some way, having obtained active and enthusiastic adherents, some of them of no inconsiderable personal merit, in England, France, and other countries. These causes not only made it desirable that some one should undertake the task of sifting what is good from what is bad in M. Comte’s speculations, but seemed to impose on myself in particular a special obligation to make the attempt. This I accordingly did in two Essays, published in successive numbers of the Westminster Review, and reprinted in a small volume under the title ‘Auguste Comte and Positivism.’

As Mill indicates, he wrote the articles on Comte after completing his Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy, but his plans go back to the early 1850s. In 1851 John Chapman, who had just taken over the Westminster Review, suggested (evidently prompted by Francis Place) an article on Comte; Mill replied tartly (29/9/51): “I have never had any intention of writing on Comte’s book [the Cours], nor do I think that a translation or an abridgement of it is likely to be either useful or successful.” Three years later, however, after the appearance of Harriet Martineau’s English redaction of the Cours, Mill took more seriously a renewed suggestion by Chapman. He wrote to Harriet (9/1/54) for her opinion:

Now about reviewing Comte: the reasons pro are evident. Those con are 1st I don’t like to have anything to do with the name or with any publication of H. Martineau. 2dly. The Westr though it will allow I dare say anything else, could not allow me to speak freely about Comte’s atheism & I do not see how it is possible to be just to him, when there is so much to attack, without giving him praise on that point of the subject. 3dly. As Chapman is the publisher he doubtless wishes, & expects, an article more laudatory on the whole, than I shd be willing to write. You dearest one will tell me what your perfect judgment & your feeling decide.

Her strong feeling (and judgment) against Harriet Martineau and Comte led her in a letter (not preserved, but written before Mill’s letter reached her) to advise against his proceeding with the review, and he replied (17/1/54):

As for Chapman’s request, the pro was the great desire I feel to atone for the overpraise I have given Comte & to let it be generally known to those who know me what I think on the unfavourable side about him. The reason that the objection which you feel so strongly & which my next letter afterwards [that quoted above] will have shewn that I feel too, did not completely decide the matter with me, was that Chapman did not want a review of this particular book, but of Comte, & I could have got rid of H.M.’s part in a sentence, perhaps without even naming her—I shd certainly have put Comte’s own book at the head along with hers & made all the references to it. But malgré cela I disliked the connexion & now I dislike it still more, & shall at once write to C. to refuse—putting the delay of an answer upon my long absence so that he may not think I hesitated.

And by 23 January he had written to Chapman refusing.

Not until 1863 did he take up the question again, this time himself opening the matter with Chapman (16/3/63): “M. Littré has nearly ready for publication a life of M. Comte, which would afford a very good occasion for a general estimate of M. Comte and of his philosophy. If you would like to have such an article from me, I would undertake it. I cannot say exactly how soon it could be ready, as I have more than one thing in hand which I should like to finish before commencing it. But I would promise it as early as is possible without a very inconvenient interruption of other things.” On 1 August, replying to Chapman’s request for an early submission, Mill is even less sanguine about a deadline, pointing out that Littré’s volume will perhaps not be published by October. Its earlier appearance, while increasing Mill’s desire to write on the subject, led him to another postponement, explained in a letter to Chapman on 6 September:

What I wish to write is an estimate of Comte’s philosophy. But the book suggests much to be said about the man himself, his character and career, the conduct of others in relation to him, and various points in the character of his country and of the age, which some of the incidents of his life illustrate. It, therefore, is worth reviewing merely as a biography, independent of the great philosophical questions raised in it; and as the attempt to combine both points of view in one article would not only run to too great a length, but would almost necessarily spoil both, two articles seem to be required, one of which, though I should not be unwilling, I have no particular wish to write, while I could not possible set about either before next year.

He suggested, therefore, that if Chapman had someone in mind who could write the biographical article sooner, he would willingly forego the task. Mill was reluctant, he explained (18/9/63), after Chapman asked him to do the biographical article, because Littré placed both Comte and the French national character in an unfavourable light, and he did not wish to add his voice to the general discrediting of them in England. At this time he intended to treat Robinet’s book with Littré’s in the first article, and to add Littré’s Paroles de philosophie positive and de Blignières’s volume to Littré’s biography for the second; both articles to be finished early in 1864, though not in time for the April number of the Westminster, he told Chapman. A week later, however, having read Robinet’s book, he felt that he must give up the biographical article:

There is so bitter a feud between those who followed Comte in the last developments of his opinions and those who only went a certain way with him, among whom was Littré; and the two parties differ so widely in their statements of fact, that there is no chance of getting at the truth: and any remarks founded on mere conjecture would be of course utterly valueless, besides the possibility that they might be unjust to one side or the other. I therefore propose to limit myself to one article, which I will set about as soon as I am free from my present occupations and in which I shall pass slightly over Comte’s personal history and character, and confine myself in the main to an estimate of his doctrines and method.

In December he was working on Spencer’s criticism of Comte’s classification of the sciences, so presumably he was preparing the article at that time. He entered into correspondence with Spencer on the question in the spring of 1864, remarking inter alia: “I myself owe much more to Comte than you do, though, in my case also, all my principal conclusions had been reached before I saw his book. But in speculative matters (not in practical) I often agree with him where you do not, and, among other subjects, on this particular one, the Classification of the Sciences.” By that time, however, he had put the article aside to work on his Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy, which was, as Bain remarks, his main occupation during 1863 and 1864. Picking up the article again in the autumn of 1864 (the Hamilton being virtually completed by the end of August), he finished the first draft, but then had to put it aside almost immediately when, early in November, he turned to revisions of his Principles of Political Economy for the 5th and People’s editions. Only in December was he able to give final form to his plan for treating Comte; on the 12th he wrote to Chapman to say that two articles would after all be needed, one on Comte’s Cours, and the other on his later speculations.

The first of these [he says] is all written; except two or three references which remain to be put in when I return to England [from Avignon] at the end of January. I can therefore promise it for the April number. But it is very long; sixty pages of the Westminster, if not more [sixty-six, actually]; and I see no possibility of either dividing or shortening it, consistently with its being what I meant it to be. It is for you to judge whether, under these conditions, it will suit the Review. If accepted, as I wish it to be known as mine, I should be glad, if you have no objection, to put my initials.

The second article, he feels “tolerably certain,” will be ready for the following number, if Chapman wishes it then. On 4 February, 1865, having finished the first article, he was “well advanced” with the second, and asked Chapman to have twenty copies of the first made up for him to send to friends. He added the reference to Bridges’ General View of Positivism (a translation of Comte’s “Discours préliminaire” to the Système) to the second article at this time, remarking to Chapman (9/2/65) that it “gives the pith of Comte’s later speculations free from some of their grosser absurdities, and in a form better adapted than any other of his later works for the information and edification of English readers.” By 28 February the second article was finished (though not delivered to the printers until after 10 March), and proof of the first returned to the printer with a request for a revise. The revise being returned by 6 March, Mill asked for prepublication copies of the first article so that Littré could have it translated; they were delivered on 25 March. On 11 April he had read proof of the second article, and again asked for a revise (to be sent to Avignon where he was going that evening) and twenty copies.

His interest in the reception of the articles is shown in a request that Chapman let him know of any responses, and in his immediate acceptance of the suggestion that the articles be republished in book form. “I have always contemplated reprinting the articles on Comte as soon as is consistent with the interest of the Review,” he writes to Chapman on 20 April, “and if Mr. Trübner—then publisher of the Westminster—“wishes to be the publisher, no one has so good a claim. We will therefore consider that as settled.” Having returned to England on 30 June at the insistence of the committee seeking his election to parliament for Westminster, Mill outlined to Chapman (28/7/65) his “usual conditions with [his] publishers,” half profit for a single edition, with the number of copies being left to the publisher’s discretion, and the copyright remaining with the author; he also expressed his wish to revise the articles before they were sent to the printers. The revision, “a very slight business,” was completed by 22 August, as he told Grote, adding: “The parallel which struck you between Comte in his old age and Plato in his, had impressed itself forcibly on my own mind.”

The sale of all Mill’s works being greatly promoted by his candidacy and election for Westminster, the Comte sold very quickly; by November Trübner was asking about French and German translations, and by the end of the year was considering stereotyping a new edition (as Longmans was doing with the People’s editions of his Principles, On Liberty, and Representative Government). The arrangements for the 2nd ed. were completed in January, 1866 (while he was again in Avignon), Mill having asked for £70 (“the half profit on the first ed. to be paid when it is all sold & the £70 on the publication of the second”), with the price to be reduced after the sale of the second thousand. When in April Longmans suggested a collected edition of his works, Mill mentioned Trübner’s interest in the Comte as a reason for delaying the project, which was eventually dropped.

Of the variants, fifty-one result from changes between the periodical version and the 1st ed., and thirty-six from changes between the 1st and 2nd eds., the majority of the more significant ones coming in the first revision of the first article. A higher percentage than usual results from the change in provenance, mainly because the two essays were combined in book form (see, for example, 265b-b, c-c, and d). The most complicated changes result from the incorporation in the text of the 1st ed. of a passage that had appeared as a long footnote in the periodical version (see 319l-l322). This passage is followed by one introducing a qualification (322n-n), contains another typical qualification (320m-m), and is expanded by a footnote containing further information (320n). An interesting example of variants resulting from printer’s errors may be seen at 352m-m, where the copy in Mill’s library (Somerville College, Oxford) shows a tentative revision not carried out. The relative infrequency of revisions (.82 per page of this edition) reflects the very short time between the separate publications.


As throughout this edition, the copy-text for each item is that of the final version supervised by Mill. Details concerning these texts are given in their headnotes.

Method of Indicating Variants. All the substantive variants are governed by the principles enunciated below, except for a few special cases, in which self-explanatory notes are given in square brackets and italics. “Substantive” here means all changes of text except spelling, capitalization, hyphenation, punctuation, demonstrable typographical errors, and such printing-house concerns as type size, etc. With the exception of substitutions of “on” for “upon” (nineteen instances), “though” for “although” (four instances), “an” for “a” before “universal” (four instances; all the foregoing in the 1st ed. of Dissertations and Discussions), and “until” for “till” (two instances in the 2nd ed. of Dissertations), all substantive variants are recorded. These are of three kinds: addition of a word or words, substitution of a word or words, deletion of a word or words. The following illustrative examples are drawn from “Sedgwick.”

Addition of a word or words: see 39x-x. In the text, the passage “a true philosopher” appears as “a xtruex philosopher”; the variant note reads “x-x+59,67”. Here the plus sign indicates that the word “true” was added; the numbers following (“59,67”) indicate the editions of this particular text in which the addition appears. The editions are always indicated by the last two numbers of the year of publication: here 59=1859 (the 1st ed. of Volumes I and II of Dissertations and Discussions); 67=1867 (the 2nd ed. of these volumes). Information explaining the use of these abbreviations is given in each headnote, as required. Any added editorial information is enclosed in square brackets and italicized.

Placing this example in context, the interpretation is that when first published (1835) the reading was “a philosopher”; in 1859 this was altered to “a true philosopher”, and the altered reading was retained in 1867.

Substitution of a word or words: see 39y-y. In the text the passage “truths of that small calibre” appears as “truths of ythat small calibrey”; the variant note reads “y-y35 the calibre of the Penny Magazine”. Here the words following the edition indicator are those for which “that small calibre” was substituted; applying the same rules and putting the variant in context, the interpretation is that when first published (1835) the reading was “truths of the calibre of the Penny Magazine”; in 1859 this was altered to “truths of that small calibre”, and the reading of 1859 was retained in 1867.

In this volume there are very few examples of passages that were altered more than once: an illustrative instance is found in “Bentham” at 98q-q. The text reads “qwhich tend toq influence”; the variant note reads “q-q38 which] 59 which are liable to”. Here the different readings, in chronological order, are separated by a square bracket. The interpretation is that the original reading in 1838, “which influence”, was altered in 1859 to “which are liable to influence”, and in 1867 to “which tend to influence”.

Deletion of a word or words: see 39v. In the text, a single superscript v appears centred between “the” and “instruments”; the variant note reads “v35 mere”. Here the word following the edition indicator is the one deleted; applying the same rules and putting the variant in context, the interpretation is that when first published (1835) the reading was “the mere instruments”; in 1859 “mere” was deleted, and the reading of 1859 (as is clear in the text) was retained in 1867.

Variants in Mill’s footnotes: see 48n. To avoid four levels of text on the page, a different method has been used to indicate the few changes in the notes supplied by Mill. In the example cited, the final sentence begins “Apparently [35 Evidently] not; he. . . .” Here the interpretation is that in 1835 the sentence began “Evidently not; he. . .”; in 1859 “Apparently” was substituted for “Evidently”, and the altered reading was retained in 1867. When necessary, to prevent confusion in reading, the words before and/or after the altered passage are given (see the other variants in the same note).

Dates of footnotes: see 37n. Here the practice is to place immediately after the footnote indicator, in square brackets, the figure indicating the edition in which the footnote first appeared. In the example cited, “[59]” indicates that the note was added in 1859 (and retained in 1867). If no such figure appears, the note is in all versions.

Punctuation and spelling. In general, changes between versions in punctuation and spelling are ignored. Those changes which occur as part of a substantive variant are included in that variant, and the superscript letters in the text are placed exactly with reference to punctuation. Changes between italic and roman type are indicated, except in foreign phrases and titles of works. (In general, italics were removed in Dissertations and Discussions; there are forty-four examples in the 1st ed. and ten in the 2nd, in the articles reprinted in this volume.)

Other textual liberties. Some of the titles of Mill’s essays have been altered for easier and shorter identification; the full titles in their various forms will be found in the headnotes. The dates added to the titles are those of first publication. The original footnotes to the titles, giving bibliographic information, have—except in the case of the second part of Auguste Comte and Positivism—been deleted, and the information given in the headnotes.

Typographical errors have been silently corrected in the text; the note below lists them. Because the original is retained, occasional oddities, not identifiable as typographical errors, such as “resultée” (283.1), “avénement” (287.n8), “lettrès” (352.32), and “depend” (419.8) appear in the text; to avoid annoyance, “[sic]” is silently understood in these cases. In the headnotes the quotations from Mill’s bibliography, the manuscript of which is a scribal copy, are also silently corrected twice; again, the note below gives the corrections. While the punctuation and spelling of each item are retained, the style has been made uniform: for example, periods are added, when necessary, after such abbreviations as Mr., Dr., and St.; square brackets have been made round; and italic punctuation after italic passages has been made roman.

Also, in accordance with modern practice, all long quotations have been reduced in size, and the quotation marks removed. In consequence, it has been necessary occasionally to add square brackets; there is little opportunity here for confusion, as my editorial insertions (except page references) are in italics. The passage from Locke on 49, although set down, as in the copy-text, includes Mill’s quotation marks to facilitate reading. Double quotation marks replace single, and titles have been italicized for works originally published separately, again in accordance with modern practice. Mill’s references to sources, and additional editorial references (in square brackets) have been normalized. Where necessary, his references have been silently corrected; a list of the corrections and alterations is given below.

Appendices. These items are taken out of the normal chronological order and appended for special reasons. Appendix A, the “Preface” to Dissertations and Discussions, is placed here because its comment, while relevant to all the essays in those volumes, has particular reference to four of those here reprinted (the essays on Sedgwick, Bentham, Coleridge, and Whewell). Appendix B, the selection from Mill’s obituary of Bentham, although published in a newspaper, has such intimate relevance to his other writings on Bentham that it should appear in the same volume (it will be reprinted in full in the volume of newspaper writings). Appendix C, the account of Bentham in the text of Bulwer’s England and the English, is included because, as its headnote explains, it is based on material given by Mill to Bulwer. Appendix D, a long passage from “Coleridge” quoted by Mill in Book VI of his Logic, gives interesting cross-references in time and subject between the two works.

Appendix E, the Bibliographic Appendix, provides a guide to Mill’s quotations, with notes concerning the separate entries, and a list of substantive variants between his quotations and their sources. Excluding citations of statutes, there are references to over 140 publications in the essays in this volume, with quotations from sixty-eight of them. Works by six authors—Blakey, Sedgwick, Coleridge, Bentham, Whewell, and Comte—are reviewed in considerable detail. While there are many references to other moral philosophers, the non-historical nature of these essays is indicated by the infrequency of direct references to works of moral philosophy, and the rarity of quotation from any but those reviewed. As indicated above, there are hardly any direct quotations in Utilitarianism and the Three Essays onReligion; it should be added that in the latter, as would be expected from the subject, but not from this author, there are many indirect quotations from the Bible.

This Appendix serves as an index to persons, books, and statutes, so references to them are omitted from the Index proper, which has been prepared by R. I. K. Davidson.


as always, I am deeply indebted to the librarians and staff of Somerville College, Oxford, the British Museum, the University of London Library, the Yale University Library, and the British Library of Political and Economic Science. Of those who have helped in various ways in the preparation of the text, I should specially like to thank Mrs. Carolyn Allen, Professor Kathleen Coburn, Professor Sydney Eisen, Dennis Lee, Anne McWhir, Professor Francis E. Mineka, Professor James Moore, James Peddie, Professor Elizabeth Vida, and Dr. Adelaide Weinberg. My thanks also to the staff of the University of Toronto Press, in particular R. M. Schoeffel, the copy-editor, and Francess G. Halpenny, the Managing Editor; and to the Mill Editorial Committee, in particular F. E. L. Priestley and R. F. McRae. Of the manifold ways in which my good wife aided me, I shall mention only the long hours she spent with Auguste Comte, hours from which I profited more than she.

  • Victoria College






Appendix B in Edward Lytton Bulwer, England and the English (London: Bentley, 1833), II, 321-44. Unsigned; not republished. Identified in JSM’s bibliography as “The ‘Remarks on Bentham’s Philosophy’ forming one of the Appendices to Bulwer’s ‘England and the English’ ” (MacMinn, 33). In the “Advertisement” (dated 9 July, 1833) to his work, Bulwer comments: “to another gentleman, qualified, perhaps before all men living, to judge profoundly of the philosophy of Bentham, I am . . . indebted for considerable aid in the sketch of that remarkable writer’s moral and legislative codes which will be found in the Appendix to the second volume . . .” (I, iii). For JSM’s attitude toward the Appendix, see the Textual Introduction, cxvi-cxvii above.

In the Somerville College copy of England and the English there are pencilled lines opposite passages on 339, 340, 341, and 344; against the passage on “interest” on 14 (in the text below) is written “very good”—these may be Harriet Taylor’s markings; they can hardly be JSM’s.

Remarks on Bentham’s Philosophy

it is no light task to give an abridged view of the philosophical opinions of one, who attempted to place the vast subjects of morals and legislation upon a scientific basis: a mere outline is all that can be attempted.

The first principles of Mr. Bentham’s philosophy are these;—that happiness, meaning by that term pleasure and exemption from pain, is the only thing desirable in itself; that all other things are desirable solely as means to that end: that the production, therefore, of the greatest possible happiness, is the only fit purpose of all human thought and action, and consequently of all morality and government; and moreover, that pleasure and pain are the sole agencies by which the conduct of mankind is in fact governed, whatever circumstances the individual may be placed in, and whether he is aware of it or not.

Mr. Bentham does not appear to have entered very deeply into the metaphysical grounds of these doctrines; he seems to have taken those grounds very much upon the showing of the metaphysicians who preceded him. The principle of utility, or as he afterwards called it “the greatest-happiness principle,” stands no otherwise demonstrated in his writings, than by an enumeration of the phrases of a different description which have been commonly employed to denote the rule of life, and the rejection of them all, as having no intelligible meaning, further than as they may involve a tacit reference to considerations of utility. Such are the phrases “law of nature,” “right reason,” “natural rights,” “moral sense.” All these Mr. Bentham regarded as mere covers for dogmatism; excuses for setting up one’s own ipse dixit as a rule to bind other people. “They consist, all of them,” says he, “in so many contrivances for avoiding the obligation of appealing to any external standard, and for prevailing upon the reader to accept the author’s sentiment or opinion as a reason for itself.”

This, however, is not fair treatment of the believers in other moral principles than that of utility. All modes of speech are employed in an ignorant manner, by ignorant people; but no one who had thought deeply and systematically enough to be entitled to the name of a philosopher, ever supposed that his own private sentiments of approbation and disapprobation must necessarily be well-founded, and needed not to be compared with any external standard. The answer of such persons to Mr. Bentham would be, that by an inductive and analytical examination of the human mind, they had satisfied themselves, that what we call our moral sentiments, (that is, the feelings of complacency and aversion we experience when we compare actions of our own or of other people with our standard of right and wrong,) are as much part of the original constitution of man’s nature as the desire of happiness and the fear of suffering: That those sentiments do not indeed attach themselves to the same actions under all circumstances, but neither do they, in attaching themselves to actions, follow the law of utility, but certain other general laws, which are the same in all mankind naturally; though education or external circumstances may counteract them, by creating artificial associations stronger than they. No proof indeed can be given that we ought to abide by these laws; but neither can any proof be given, that we ought to regulate our conduct by utility. All that can be said is, that the pursuit of happiness is natural to us; and so, it is contended, is the reverence for, and the inclination to square our actions by, certain general laws of morality.

Any one who is acquainted with the ethical doctrines either of the Reid and Stewart school, or of the German metaphysicians (not to go further back), knows that such would be the answer of those philosophers to Mr. Bentham; and it is an answer of which Mr. Bentham’s writings furnish no sufficient refutation. For it is evident, that these views of the origin of moral distinctions are not, what he says all such views are, destitute of any precise and tangible meaning; nor chargeable with setting up as a standard the feelings of the particular person. They set up as a standard what are assumed (on grounds which are considered sufficient) to be the instincts of the species, or principles of our common nature as universal and inexplicable as instincts.

To pass judgment on these doctrines, belongs to a profounder and subtler metaphysics than Mr. Bentham possessed. I apprehend it will be the judgment of posterity, that in his views of what, in the felicitous expression of Hobbes, may be called the philosophia prima, it has for the most part, even when he was most completely in the right, been reserved for others to prove him so. The greatest of Mr. Bentham’s defects, his insufficient knowledge and appreciation of the thoughts of other men, shows itself constantly in his grappling with some delusive shadow of an adversary’s opinion, and leaving the actual substance unharmed.

After laying down the principle of Utility, Mr. Bentham is occupied through the most voluminous and the most permanently valuable part of his works, in constructing the outlines of practical ethics and legislation, and filling up some portions of the latter science (or rather art) in great detail; by the uniform and unflinching application of his own greatest-happiness principle, from which the eminently consistent and systematic character of his intellect prevented him from ever swerving. In the writings of no philosopher, probably, are to be detected so few contradictions—so few instances of even momentary deviation from the principles he himself has laid down.

It is perhaps fortunate that Mr. Bentham devoted a much larger share of his time and labour to the subject of legislation, than to that of morals; for the mode in which he understood and applied the principle of Utility, appears to me far more conducive to the attainment of true and valuable results in the former, than in the latter of these two branches of inquiry. The recognition of happiness as the only thing desirable in itself, and of the production of the state of things most favourable to happiness as the only rational end both of morals and policy, by no means necessarily leads to the doctrine of expediency as professed by Paley; the ethical canon which judges of the morality of an act or a class of actions, solely by the probable consequences of that particular kind of act, supposing it to be generally practised. This is a very small part indeed of what a more enlarged understanding of the “greatest-happiness principle” would require us to take into the account. A certain kind of action, as for example, theft, or lying, would, if commonly practised, occasion certain evil consequences to society: but those evil consequences are far from constituting the entire moral bearings of the vices of theft or lying. We shall have a very imperfect view of the relation of those practices to the general happiness, if we suppose them to exist singly, and insulated. All acts suppose certain dispositions, and habits of mind and heart, which may be in themselves states of enjoyment or of wretchedness, and which must be fruitful in other consequences, besides those particular acts. No person can be a thief or a liar without being much else: and if our moral judgments and feelings with respect to a person convicted of either vice, were grounded solely upon the pernicious tendency of thieving and of lying, they would be partial and incomplete; many considerations would be omitted, which are at least equally “germane to the matter;” many which, by leaving them out of our general views, we may indeed teach ourselves a habit of overlooking, but which it is impossible for any of us not to be influenced by, in particular cases, in proportion as they are forced upon our attention.

Now, the great fault I have to find with Mr. Bentham as a moral philosopher, and the source of the chief part of the temporary mischief which in that character, along with a vastly greater amount of permanent good, he must be allowed to have produced, is this: that he has practically, to a very great extent, confounded the principle of Utility with the principle of specific consequences, and has habitually made up his estimate of the approbation or blame due to a particular kind of action, from a calculation solely of the consequences to which that very action, if practised generally, would itself lead. He has largely exemplified, and contributed very widely to diffuse, a tone of thinking, according to which any kind of action or any habit, which in its own specific consequences cannot be proved to be necessarily or probably productive of unhappiness to the agent himself or to others, is supposed to be fully justified; and any disapprobation or aversion entertained towards the individual by reason of it, is set down from that time forward as prejudice and superstition. It is not considered (at least, not habitually considered,) whether the act or habit in question, though not in itself necessarily pernicious, may not form part of a character essentially pernicious, or at least essentially deficient in some quality eminently conducive to the “greatest happiness.” To apply such a standard as this, would indeed often require a much deeper insight into the formation of character, and knowledge of the internal workings of human nature, than Mr. Bentham possessed. But, in a greater or less degree, he, and every one else, judges by this standard: even those who are warped, by some partial view, into the omission of all such elements from their general speculations.

When the moralist thus overlooks the relation of an act to a certain state of mind as its cause, and its connexion through that common cause with large classes and groups of actions apparently very little resembling itself, his estimation even of the consequences of the very act itself, is rendered imperfect. For it may be affirmed with few exceptions, that any act whatever has a tendency to fix and perpetuate the state or character of mind in which itself has originated. And if that important element in the moral relations of the action be not taken into account by the moralist as a cause, neither probably will it be taken into account as a consequence.

Mr. Bentham is far from having altogether overlooked this side of the subject. Indeed, those most original and instructive, though, as I conceive, in their spirit, partially erroneous chapters, on motives and on dispositions, in his first great work, the Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, open up a direct and broad path to these most important topics. It is not the less true that Mr. Bentham, and many others, following his example, when they came to discuss particular questions of ethics, have commonly, in the superior stress which they laid upon the specific consequences of a class of acts, rejected all contemplation of the action in its general bearings upon the entire moral being of the agent; or have, to say the least, thrown those considerations so far into the background, as to be almost out of sight. And by so doing they have not only marred the value of many of their speculations, considered as mere philosophical enquiries, but have always run the risk of incurring, and in many cases have in my opinion actually incurred, serious practical errors.

This incompleteness, however, in Mr. Bentham’s general views, was not of a nature materially to diminish the value of his speculations through the greater part of the field of legislation. Those of the bearings of an action, upon which Mr. Bentham bestowed almost exclusive attention, were also those with which almost alone legislation is conversant. The legislator enjoins or prohibits an action, with very little regard to the general moral excellence or turpitude which it implies; he looks to the consequences to society of the particular kind of action; his object is not to render people incapable of desiring a crime, but to deter them from actually committing it. Taking human beings as he finds them, he endeavours to supply such inducements as will constrain even persons of the dispositions the most at variance with the general happiness, to practise as great a degree of regard to it in their actual conduct, as can be obtained from them by such means without preponderant inconvenience. A theory, therefore, which considers little in an action besides that action’s own consequences, will generally be sufficient to serve the purposes of a philosophy of legislation. Such a philosophy will be most apt to fail in the consideration of the greater social questions—the theory of organic institutions and general forms of polity; for those (unlike the details of legislation) to be duly estimated, must be viewed as the great instruments of forming the national character; of carrying forward the members of the community towards perfection, or preserving them from degeneracy. This, as might in some measure be expected, is a point of view in which, except for some partial or limited purpose, Mr. Bentham seldom contemplates these questions. And this signal omission is one of the greatest of the deficiencies by which his speculations on the theory of government, though full of valuable ideas, are rendered, in my judgment, altogether inconclusive in their general results.

To these we shall advert more fully hereafter. As yet I have not acquitted myself of the more agreeable task of setting forth some part of the services which the philosophy of legislation owes to Mr. Bentham.

The greatest service of all, that for which posterity will award most honour to his name, is one that is his exclusively, and can be shared by no one present or to come; it is the service which can be performed only once for any science, that of pointing out by what method of investigation it may be made a science. What Bacon did for physical knowledge, Mr. Bentham has done for philosophical legislation. Before Bacon’s time, many physical facts had been ascertained; and previously to Mr. Bentham, mankind were in possession of many just and valuable detached observations on the making of laws. But he was the first who attempted regularly to deduce all the secondary and intermediate principles of law, by direct and systematic inference from the one great axiom or principle of general utility. In all existing systems of law, those secondary principles or dicta in which the essence of the systems resided, had grown up in detail, and even when founded in views of utility, were not the result of any scientific and comprehensive course of enquiry; but more frequently were purely technical; that is, they had grown out of circumstances purely historical, and, not having been altered when those circumstances changed, had nothing left to rest upon but fictions, and unmeaning forms. Take for instance the law of real property; the whole of which continues to this very day to be founded on the doctrine of feudal tenures, when those tenures have long ceased to exist except in the phraseology of West-minster Hall. Nor was the theory of law in a better state than the practical systems; speculative jurists having dared little more than to refine somewhat upon the technical maxims of the particular body of jurisprudence which they happened to have studied. Mr. Bentham was the first who had the genius and courage to conceive the idea of bringing back the science to first principles. This could not be done, could scarcely even be attempted, without, as a necessary consequence, making obvious the utter worthlessness of many, and the crudity and want of precision of almost all, the maxims which had previously passed everywhere for principles of law.

Mr. Bentham, moreover, has warred against the errors of existing systems of jurisprudence, in a more direct manner than by merely presenting the contrary truths. The force of argument with which he rent asunder the fantastic and illogical maxims on which the various technical systems are founded, and exposed the flagrant evils which they practically produce, is only equalled by the pungent sarcasm and exquisite humour with which he has derided their absurdities, and the eloquent declamation which he continually pours forth against them, sometimes in the form of lamentation, and sometimes of invective.

This then was the first, and perhaps the grandest achievement of Mr. Bentham; the entire discrediting of all technical systems; and the example which he set of treating law as no peculiar mystery, but a simple piece of practical business, wherein means were to be adapted to ends, as in any of the other arts of life. To have accomplished this, supposing him to have done nothing else, is to have equalled the glory of the greatest scientific benefactors of the human race.

But Mr. Bentham, unlike Bacon, did not merely prophesy a science; he made large strides towards the creation of one. He was the first who conceived with anything approaching to precision, the idea of a Code, or complete body of law; and the distinctive characters of its essential parts,—the Civil Law, the Penal Law, and the Law of Procedure. On the first two of these three departments he rendered valuable service; the third he actually created. Conformably to the habits of his mind, he set about investigating ab initio, a philosophy or science for each of the three branches. He did with the received principles of each, what a good code would do with the laws themselves;—extirpated the bad, substituting others; re-enacted the good, but in so much clearer and more methodical a form, that those who were most familiar with them before, scarcely recognized them as the same. Even upon old truths, when they pass through his hands, he leaves so many of his marks, that often he almost seems to claim the discovery of what he has only systematized.

In creating the philosophy of Civil Law, he proceeded not much beyond establishing on the proper basis some of its most general principles, and cursorily discussing some of the most interesting of its details. Nearly the whole of what he has published on this branch of law, is contained in the Traités de Législation, edited by M. Dumont. To the most difficult part, and that which most needed a master-hand to clear away its difficulties, the nomenclature and arrangement of the Civil Code, he contributed little, except detached observations, and criticisms upon the errors of his predecessors. The “Vue Générale d’un Corps Complet de Législation,” included in the work just cited, contains almost all which he has given to us on this subject.

In the department of Penal Law, he is the author of the best attempt yet made towards a philosophical classification of offences. The theory of punishments (for which however more had been done by his predecessors, than for any other part of the science of law) he left nearly complete.

The theory of Procedure (including that of the constitution of the courts of justice) he found in a more utterly barbarous state than even either of the other branches; and he left it incomparably the most perfect. There is scarcely a question of practical importance in this most important department, which he has not settled. He has left next to nothing for his successors.

He has shown with the force of demonstration, and has enforced and illustrated the truth in a hundred ways, that by sweeping away the greater part of the artificial rules and forms which obtain in all the countries called civilized, and adopting the simple and direct modes of investigation, which all men employ in endeavouring to ascertain facts for their own private knowledge, it is possible to get rid of at least nine-tenths of the expense, and ninety-nine hundredths of the delay, of law proceedings; not only with no increase, but with an almost incredible diminution, of the chances of erroneous decision. He has also established irrefragably the principles of a good judicial establishment: a division of the country into districts, with one judge in each, appointed only for a limited period, and deciding all sorts of cases; with a deputy under him, appointed and removable by himself: an appeal lying in all cases whatever, but by the transmission of papers only, to a supreme court or courts, consisting each of only one judge, and stationed in the metropolis.

It is impossible within the compass of this sketch, to attempt any further statement of Mr. Bentham’s principles and views on the great science which first became a science in his hands.

As an analyst of human nature (the faculty in which above all it is necessary that an ethical philosopher should excel) I cannot rank Mr. Bentham very high. He has done little in this department, beyond introducing what appears to me a very deceptive phraseology, and furnishing a catalogue of the “springs of action,” from which some of the most important are left out.

That the actions of sentient beings are wholly determined by pleasure and pain, is the fundamental principle from which he starts; and thereupon Mr. Bentham creates a motive, and an interest, corresponding to each pleasure or pain, and affirms that our actions are determined by our interests, by the preponderant interest, by the balance of motives. Now if this only means what was before asserted, that our actions are determined by pleasure and pain, that simple and unambiguous mode of stating the proposition is preferable. But under cover of the obscurer phrase a meaning creeps in, both to the author’s mind and the reader’s, which goes much farther, and is entirely false: that all our acts are determined by pains and pleasures in prospect, pains and pleasures to which we look forward as the consequences of our acts. This, as a universal truth, can in no way be maintained. The pain or pleasure which determines our conduct is as frequently one which precedes the moment of action as one which follows it. A man may, it is true, be deterred, in circumstances of temptation, from perpetrating a crime, by his dread of the punishment, or of the remorse, which he fears he may have to endure after the guilty act; and in that case we may say with some kind of propriety, that his conduct is swayed by the balance of motives; or, if you will, of interests. But the case may be, and is to the full as likely to be, that he recoils from the very thought of committing the act; the idea of placing himself in such a situation is so painful, that he cannot dwell upon it long enough to have even the physical power of perpetrating the crime. His conduct is determined by pain; but by a pain which precedes the act, not by one which is expected to follow it. Not only may this be so, but unless it be so, the man is not really virtuous. The fear of pain consequent upon the act, cannot arise, unless there be deliberation; and the man as well as “the woman who deliberates,” is in imminent danger of being lost. With what propriety shrinking from an action without deliberation, can be called yielding to an interest, I cannot see. Interest surely conveys, and is intended to convey, the idea of an end, to which the conduct (whether it be act or forbearance) is designed as the means. Nothing of this sort takes place in the above example. It would be more correct to say that conduct is sometimes determined by an interest, that is, by a deliberate and conscious aim; and sometimes by an impulse, that is, by a feeling (call it an association if you think fit) which has no ulterior end, the act or forbearance becoming an end in itself.

The attempt, again, to enumerate motives, that is, human desires and aversions, seems to me to be in its very conception an error. Motives are innumerable: there is nothing whatever which may not become an object of desire or of dislike by association. It may be desirable to distinguish by peculiar notice the motives which are strongest and of most frequent operation; but Mr. Bentham has not even done this. In his list of motives, though he includes sympathy, he omits conscience, or the feeling of duty: one would never imagine from reading him that any human being ever did an act merely because it is right, or abstained from it merely because it is wrong. In this Mr. Bentham differs widely from Hartley, who, although he considers the moral sentiments to be wholly the result of association, does not therefore deny them a place in his system, but includes the feelings of “the moral sense” as one of the six classes into which he divides pleasures and pains. In Mr. Bentham’s own mind, deeply imbued as it was with the “greatest-happiness principle,” this motive was probably so blended with that of sympathy as to be undistinguishable from it; but he should have recollected that those who acknowledge another standard of right and wrong than happiness, or who have never reflected on the subject at all, have often very strong feelings of moral obligation; and whether a person’s standard be happiness or anything else, his attachment to his standard is not necessarily in proportion to his benevolence. Persons of weak sympathies have often a strong feeling of justice; and others, again, with the feelings of benevolence in considerable strength, have scarcely any consciousness of moral obligation at all.

It is scarcely necessary to point out that the habitual omission of so important a spring of action in an enumeration professing to be complete, must tend to create a habit of overlooking the same phenomenon, and consequently making no allowance for it, in other moral speculations. It is difficult to imagine any more fruitful source of gross error; though one would be apt to suppose the oversight an impossible one, without this evidence of its having been committed by one of the greatest thinkers our species has produced. How can we suppose him to be alive to the existence and force of the motive in particular cases, who omits it in a deliberate and comprehensive enumeration of all the influences by which human conduct is governed?

In laying down as a philosophical axiom, that men’s actions are always obedient to their interests, Mr. Bentham did no more than dress up the very trivial proposition that all persons do what they feel themselves most disposed to do, in terms which appeared to him more precise, and better suited to the purposes of philosophy, than those more familiar expressions. He by no means intended by this assertion to impute universal selfishness to mankind, for he reckoned the motive of sympathy as an interest, and would have included conscience under the same appellation, if that motive had found any place in his philosophy, as a distinct principle from benevolence. He distinguished two kinds of interests, the self-regarding and the social: in vulgar discourse, the name is restricted to the former kind alone.

But there cannot be a greater mistake than to suppose that, because we may ourselves be perfectly conscious of an ambiguity in our language, that ambiguity therefore has no effect in perverting our modes of thought. I am persuaded, from experience, that this habit of speaking of all the feelings which govern mankind under the name of interests, is almost always in point of fact connected with a tendency to consider interest in the vulgar sense, that is, purely self-regarding interest, as exercising, by the very constitution of human nature, a far more exclusive and paramount control over human actions than it really does exercise. Such, certainly, was the tendency of Mr. Bentham’s own opinions. Habitually, and throughout his works, the moment he has shown that a man’s selfish interest would prompt him to a particular course of action, he lays it down without further parley that the man’s interest lies that way; and, by sliding insensibly from the vulgar sense of the word into the philosophical, and from the philosophical back into the vulgar, the conclusion which is always brought out is, that the man will act as the selfish interest prompts. The extent to which Mr. Bentham was a believer in the predominance of the selfish principle in human nature, may be seen from the sweeping terms in which, in his Book of Fallacies, he expressly lays down that predominance as a philosophical axiom.

“In every human breast (rare and short-lived ebullitions, the result of some extraordinarily strong stimulus or excitement, excepted) self-regarding interest is predominant over social interest; each person’s own individual interest over the interests of all other persons taken together.” (Pp. 392-3.)

In another passage of the same work (p. 363) he says, “Taking the whole of life together, there exists not, nor ever can exist, that human being in whose instance any public interest he can have had will not, in so far as depends upon himself, have been sacrificed to his own personal interest. Towards the advancement of the public interest, all that the most public-spirited (which is as much as to say the most virtuous) of men can do, is to do what depends upon himself towards bringing the public interest, that is, his own personal share in the public interest, to a state as nearly approaching to coincidence, and on as few occasions amounting to a state of repugnance, as possible, with his private interests.”

By the promulgation of such views of human nature, and by a general tone of thought and expression perfectly in harmony with them, I conceive Mr. Bentham’s writings to have done and to be doing very serious evil. It is by such things that the more enthusiastic and generous minds are prejudiced against all his other speculations, and against the very attempt to make ethics and politics a subject of precise and philosophical thinking; which attempt, indeed, if it were necessarily connected with such views, would be still more pernicious than the vague and flashy declamation for which it is proposed as a substitute. The effect is still worse on the minds of those who are not shocked and repelled by this tone of thinking, for on them it must be perverting to their whole moral nature. It is difficult to form the conception of a tendency more inconsistent with all rational hope of good for the human species, than that which must be impressed by such doctrines, upon any mind in which they find acceptance.

There are, there have been, many human beings, in whom the motives of patriotism or of benevolence have been permanent steady principles of action, superior to any ordinary, and in not a few instances, to any possible, temptations of personal interest. There are, and have been, multitudes, in whom the motive of conscience or moral obligation has been thus paramount. There is nothing in the constitution of human nature to forbid its being so in all mankind. Until it is so, the race will never enjoy one-tenth part of the happiness which our nature is susceptible of. I regard any considerable increase of human happiness, through mere changes in outward circumstances, unaccompanied by changes in the state of the desires, as hopeless; not to mention that while the desires are circumscribed in self, there can be no adequate motive for exertions tending to modify to good ends even those external circumstances. No man’s individual share of any public good which he can hope to realize by his efforts, is an equivalent for the sacrifice of his ease, and of the personal objects which he might attain by another course of conduct. The balance can be turned in favour of virtuous exertion, only by the interest of feeling or by that of conscience—those “social interests,” the necessary subordination of which to “self-regarding” is so lightly assumed.

But the power of any one to realize in himself the state of mind, without which his own enjoyment of life can be but poor and scanty, and on which all our hopes of happiness or moral perfection to the species must rest, depends entirely upon his having faith in the actual existence of such feelings and dispositions in others, and in their possibility for himself. It is for those in whom the feelings of virtue are weak, that ethical writing is chiefly needful, and its proper office is to strengthen those feelings. But to be qualified for this task, it is necessary, first to have, and next to show, in every sentence and in every line, a firm unwavering confidence in man’s capability of virtue. It is by a sort of sympathetic contagion, or inspiration, that a noble mind assimilates other minds to itself; and no one was ever inspired by one whose own inspiration was not sufficient to give him faith in the possibility of making others feel what he feels.

Upon those who need to be strengthened and upheld by a really inspired moralist—such a moralist as Socrates, or Plato, or (speaking humanly and not theologically) as Christ; the effect of such writings as Mr. Bentham’s, if they be read and believed and their spirit imbibed, must either be hopeless despondency and gloom, or a reckless giving themselves up to a life of that miserable self-seeking, which they are there taught to regard as inherent in their original and unalterable nature.

Mr. Bentham’s speculations on politics in the narrow sense, that is, on the theory of government, are distinguished by his usual characteristic, that of beginning at the beginning. He places before himself man in society without a government, and, considering what sort of government it would be advisable to construct, finds that the most expedient would be a representative democracy. Whatever may be the value of this conclusion, the mode in which it is arrived at appears to me to be fallacious; for it assumes that mankind are alike in all times and all places, that they have the same wants and are exposed to the same evils, and that if the same institutions do not suit them, it is only because in the more backward stages of improvement they have not wisdom to see what institutions are most for their good. How to invest certain servants of the people with the power necessary for the protection of person and property, with the greatest possible facility to the people of changing the depositaries of that power, when they think it is abused; such is the only problem in social organization which Mr. Bentham has proposed to himself. Yet this is but a part of the real problem. It never seems to have occurred to him to regard political institutions in a higher light, as the principal means of the social education of a people. Had he done so, he would have seen that the same institutions will no more suit two nations in different stages of civilization, than the same lessons will suit children of different ages. As the degree of civilization already attained varies, so does the kind of social influence necessary for carrying the community forward to the next stage of its progress. For a tribe of North American Indians, improvement means, taming down their proud and solitary self-dependence; for a body of emancipated negroes, it means accustoming them to be self-dependent, instead of being merely obedient to orders: for our semi-barbarous ancestors it would have meant, softening them; for a race of enervated Asiatics it would mean hardening them. How can the same social organization be fitted for producing so many contrary effects?

The prevailing error of Mr. Bentham’s views of human nature appears to me to be this—he supposes mankind to be swayed by only a part of the inducements which really actuate them; but of that part he imagines them to be much cooler and more thoughtful calculators than they really are. He has, I think, been, to a certain extent, misled in the theory of politics, by supposing that the submission of the mass of mankind to an established government is mainly owing to a reasoning perception of the necessity of legal protection, and of the common interest of all in a prompt and zealous obedience to the law. He was not, I am persuaded, aware, how very much of the really wonderful acquiescence of mankind in any government which they find established, is the effect of mere habit and imagination, and, therefore, depends upon the preservation of something like continuity of existence in the institutions, and identity in their outward forms; cannot transfer itself easily to new institutions, even though in themselves preferable; and is greatly shaken when there occurs anything like a break in the line of historical duration—anything which can be termed the end of the old constitution and the beginning of a new one.

The constitutional writers of our own country, anterior to Mr. Bentham, had carried feelings of this kind to the height of a superstition; they never considered what was best adapted to their own times, but only what had existed in former times, even in times that had long gone by. It is not very many years since such were the principal grounds on which parliamentary reform itself was defended. Mr. Bentham has done much service in discrediting, as he has done completely, this school of politicians, and exposing the absurd sacrifice of present ends to antiquated means; but he has, I think, himself fallen into a contrary error. The very fact that a certain set of political institutions already exist, have long existed, and have become associated with all the historical recollections of a people, is in itself, as far as it goes, a property which adapts them to that people, and gives them a great advantage over any new institutions in obtaining that ready and willing resignation to what has once been decided by lawful authority, which alone renders possible those innumerable compromises between adverse interests and expectations, without which no government could be carried on for a year, and with difficulty even for a week. Of the perception of this important truth, scarcely a trace is visible in Mr. Bentham’s writings.

It is impossible, however, to contest to Mr. Bentham, on this subject or on any other which he has touched, the merit, and it is very great, of having brought forward into notice one of the faces of the truth, and a highly important one. Whether on government, on morals, or on any of the other topics on which his speculations are comparatively imperfect, they are still highly instructive and valuable to any one who is capable of supplying the remainder of the truth; they are calculated to mislead only by the pretension which they invariably set up of being the whole truth, a complete theory and philosophy of the subject. Mr. Bentham was more a thinker than a reader; he seldom compared his ideas with those of other philosophers, and was by no means aware how many thoughts had existed in other minds, which his doctrines did not afford the means either to refute or to appreciate.




Monthly Repository, VII (Oct., 1833), 661-9. Unsigned; not republished. The title is footnoted: “History of Moral Science. By Robert Blakey, Author of an Essay on Moral Good and Evil. 2 vols. 8vo. [London: Duncan,] 1833.” Identified in JSM’s bibliography as “A review of Blakey’s ‘History of Moral Science’ in the Monthly Repository for October 1833” (MacMinn, 34). In the brief account in the Autobiography (138) of his writings for the Monthly Repository, JSM does not mention this article. The writing of it can be dated fairly precisely by JSM’s letter (7/9/33) to W. J. Fox, editor of the Monthly Repository, in which he says: “I am ashamed to say I can give no hope that Blakey will be ready on Monday [9 Sept.]—though I think part of him will be.” Telling Carlyle (5/10/33) which of the articles in the October number are his, JSM writes: “one [is] a review of a foolish book by a man named Blakey, of Morpeth, called a History of Moral Science; for writing which he is utterly unfit, being a man who as you would say, has no eyes, only a pair of glasses and I will add, almost opake ones.” (Earlier Letters, XII, 177, 181.)

There are no corrections or alterations in the two Somerville College copies.

Blakey’s History of Moral Science

an ambitious title, and one which promises much; but the promises of title-pages are so seldom followed by performances! “Moral science” should naturally mean the science of morals. It were something to find that there is a writer alive who believes that such a science exists; and not only exists, but is in such a state of advancement that the time is come to write its history; who, consequently, is not only able to tell us the opinions of others, but has systematic ones of his own. For how should he write the history of a science, who has not constructed a consistent scheme of the science in its present state? The historian of moral philosophy must himself have a philosophy of morals; must have surveyed the field of ethics extensively enough, and with sufficient power of concatenation, to have arranged its truths (or whatever present themselves to his mind as such) into a connected series, following and flowing out of one another: thus much, at least, is implied in the name of science. But Mr. Blakey has no such thought. There are few ways in which a mind of little depth or compass is more apt to betray itself than by the use of big words to express small things; whoever does this innocently and without quackery, shows himself to be unfurnished with the larger idea for which he should have reserved his large phrase. By giving the name “History of Moral Science” to a book, which should have been called “Sketch of the Opinions of various Authors on the Foundation of Moral Obligation, with critical Remarks,” Mr. Blakey demonstrates how little meaning even the word “Science” has for him, since he considers the whole history of a science to be summed up in the controversial discussions concerning the first principle of it.

After a short preamble, and a few loose remarks about “the ancient systems of morality,” Mr. Blakey presents us with what professes to be a summary of the opinions of the following writers, concerning the first principle of ethics:—Hobbes, Cudworth, Bishop Cumberland, Locke, Archbishop King, Wollaston, Clarke, Shaftesbury, Mandeville, Bolingbroke and Pope, Soame Jenyns, Hutcheson, a Mr. Thomas Rutherford, Hume, Hartley and Priestley, Lord Kames, Bishop Butler, Dr. Ferguson, Dr. Price, Adam Smith, Paley, Gisborne, Bentham, Godwin, Dugald Stewart, Cogan, Dr. Thomas Brown, and a certain Dr. Dewar. All foreign authors whatever are then disposed of in a single chapter; and two chapters more are employed in promulgating such of the author’s own opinions as have not been sufficiently manifested by his strictures on other writers.

Mr. Blakey’s statement of the opinions of these various authors deserves the praise of honesty. He never perversely distorts an opinion, in the blindness of prejudice, or to serve a purpose. He generally treats the intentions and talents, even of those from whom he differs most, with justice and liberality. He does not insist upon fastening on them a meaning or consequence which they never contemplated; and he employs but sparingly the favourite weapon of the uncandid and the bigot, imputation of immoral tendency. But our commendation cannot go much further. It is not every man who can give an instructive view of other men’s opinions.

There are two modes of writing usefully concerning systems of philosophy: the one, suitable to a mind which is qualified to judge; the other, to one which can only describe. The intellect which can survey the wanderings of imperfect thinkers from a higher eminence of thought, commanding a view not only of the right track, but of all the by-ways of error, and all the fallacious appearances which seduce the unguarded to deviate into them—such a critic (we use the prostituted word only because we have no other) can not only estimate more justly, but can actually state more clearly and forcibly an author’s theory, than the author himself; can really understand it better; because he sees (what the author himself does not see) how the doctrine arose in the author’s own mind; of what peculiar position in regard to opportunities of observation, or of what peculiarity of intellect or of disposition, it is the natural consequence. Any thing like this we were not entitled to expect from Mr. Blakey; it supposes a philosopher, and such Mr. Blakey is not. But if this was impossible, the next thing to it in usefulness, though at a vast distance, would have been a condensed view of each system, not as it appears to a higher intelligence, but as it appeared to its author; such a statement of the author’s train of thought, of the series of his premises and his conclusions, as would be conveyed by a well-made abstract of his principal works, or as would be given by an intelligent disciple thoroughly conversant with his master’s doctrines. Mr. Blakey’s summaries by no means come up to this idea; they are vague and sketchy, and not only do not, to those who knew the doctrines before, exhibit them in any new light, but give no sufficiently distinct conception of them to those who knew them not. Often the conclusions are exhibited almost without the premises: and on the whole there is little to be learnt even by the merest tyro in philosophy, from these volumes, except a few generalities, and a few forms of expression. He is told in what words philosophers have expressed the results of their speculations, but though he may not be made positively to misunderstand, he is not made thoroughly to feel, the meaning in the philosopher’s own mind, to which the words are but an index, and often a most imperfect one.

An overweening self-confidence, and contemptuous assumption of superiority, in judging of the intellects of others, would be peculiarly unbecoming in a mind of Mr. Blakey’s calibre: and he cannot be accused of those faults; he mostly treats with due respect all who by their speculations have deserved any. To the liberal appreciation of merit which he commonly evinces, there are indeed exceptions; and, unfortunately, in the very cases in which there is most merit to appreciate. But this is a very different thing from arrogance. It is not because an author differs from Mr. Blakey, that Mr. Blakey deems scornfully of him; but because, in addition to differing from Mr. Blakey, he has been cried down by the world—that is to say, the English world. Over-reliance on our own judgment is one thing, over-reliance on the judgment of the world when in unison with our own, is another. The latter is the failing of a weaker, but certainly of a more modest mind. The misfortune is, that the contempt of those who have confidence enough to be scornful only when they are backed by a crowd, is aptest to fall upon those who are most in advance of their age. Mr. Blakey’s strongest expressions of disdain are divided between the association-philosophy as taught by Hartley, and the metaphysics of the German school. In other words, the only metaphysical doctrines which he utterly despises, are the two systems between which, and which only, almost every metaphysician, deserving the name, in all Europe, is now beginning to be convinced that it is necessary to choose: the two most perfect forms of the only two theories of the human mind which are, strictly speaking, possible. Both are alike worthless in Mr. Blakey’s eyes, because it has been the fashion among English writers to treat both with disrespect, and because he himself understands neither of them. The difference is, he pronounces the one unintelligible, because it is so to him; the other he flatters himself that he sees through and through, and can discern that there is nothing in it.

So little does Mr. Blakey comprehend of the theory which resolves all the phenomena of the mind into ideas of sensation connected together by the law of association, that he does not even see any thing peculiar in the doctrine. Association itself, he will not allow to be a distinct principle or fact in human nature. It is nothing more, he says, than remembrance; it has been known in all ages, as the faculty of memory. Just so we may conceive, on the appearance of Newton’s Principia, some mind of the same character objecting to the theory of gravitation, that there was nothing in it but the ancient and familiar fact of weight.

If a person, [says Mr. Blakey,] will take the first volume of the treatise On Man, and read it carefully over, and whenever he finds the words association, associates, associating, &c. let him replace them with the words memory, remembered, remembrance, connected in his mind, and he will find that the sense of the various passages in which the former class of words are used, will remain as completely the same, when words descriptive of memory are thus employed.

(Vol. II, p. 124.)

Not so, Mr. Blakey. Memory and remembrance only denote the fact that somehow we do remember: association denotes that our remembrances (pardon the expression) suggest and recall one another in an order, determined by the order of succession of the facts remembered; or rather, determined partly by the order of succession, and partly by the more or less interesting nature, of those previous impressions. Cannot Mr. Blakey understand the difference between a phenomenon, and the law of the phenomenon? The reflexion of light, and of sound, is a fact; that the angle of reflexion is equal to the angle of incidence, is the law of that fact. And this law of nature may be something new to a person, even although he may have heard an echo, and seen his face in a mirror. In like manner a person may know that when we have seen an object or experienced a feeling, we remember it, (which is all that is expressed by the words faculty of memory,) and may, notwithstanding, have yet to learn that when we have seen two objects or had two feelings together, we think of them together, and not otherwise; and that the strength of their connexion in our remembrance, depends jointly upon the number of previous conjunctions in fact or in thought, and upon the intensity of the original impressions. Once for all, association is not memory, but the law of memory.

Now, the theory of the human mind of which Dr. Hartley was the principal author, maintains that this same law, which is the law of memory, namely, that the order of our thoughts follows the order of our sensations, is not only the law of memory, but the law of imagination, of belief, of reasoning, of the affections, of the will. This may not be true; but it is at least very different from every other theory. But Mr. Blakey knows so little about the Hartleian doctrine, that he propounds as a complete summary of it, the following proposition: The advocates of association state a simple fact, that there is a connexion amongst our ideas. (Vol. II, p. 126.) We exhort him to read Hartley; or a more recent work, which has done far more for Hartley’s theory, than Hartley himself, Mr. Mill’s Analysis of the Human Mind.

As a specimen of argumentation which Mr. Blakey considers to be conclusive, we quote the following:

Association is the tendency of one idea to introduce another into the mind. Very well, then; but how do we come to set it down as a general fact, that one set of ideas has an invariable tendency to introduce another set of ideas? By experience, it must be answered. But what is experience? Why, it is the remembrance of that which is past.

[Vol. II, pp. 116-17.]

Therefore, association is nothing but memory.

We will treat Mr. Blakey with a specimen in return. The pretended science of chemistry is nothing but memory.

Chemistry is the properties of simple substances, and their various compounds. But how do we come to set it down as a general fact, that two substances, as oxygen and hydrogen, being compounded together, form a third substance, water? By experience, it must be answered. But what is experience? Why, it is the remembrance of that which is past. In what, therefore, does this chemistry differ from memory?

Mr. Blakey continues—

But to put this matter in as clear a light as possible, let us suppose that A is a present idea in the mind, and that it has a tendency to introduce another idea which has never been in the mind before, and which we will call B. To this tendency of A to introduce B into the mind, is given the name of association. Now how can we assert or deny any thing respecting the tendency of A to introduce B, till we have witnessed A’s power over B, and have had B present to the understanding? The very proposition that A has an influence over B implies that we have seen this tendency, and that B must have previously been in the mind, and consequently an object of memory. Thus we see then, when we speak about connexions among our ideas, we must consider them as connexions which have been known before; and therefore we ought to infer, that the treating of them comes within the province of memory, and not within any other intellectual power whatever.

(Vol. II, p. 117.)

What a paralogism; we might almost call it a bull. Yes, certainly, the proposition that A has a tendency to introduce B, implies that we have seen this tendency at some former time, because otherwise we should not know it: but the fact itself implies nothing of the kind. When A for the first time introduced B, “which had never been in the mind before,” B was not an object of memory; although it is so when we have observed and treasured up the occurrence. Because an event must be remembered before it can be talked about, Mr. Blakey imagines that it was a subject of memory when it first happened. It is upon the strength of such reasoning that he assumes such a tone as this:

What a dull and paralyzing effect has the reading of a book in which the principle of the association of ideas forms the philosophical dramatis personæ in the piece. . . . There is no way of getting through the book, without violating the rules of politeness by enjoying a smile at the expense of the system.

(Vol. II, p. 127.)

With much more of the same sort.

Of foreign authors Mr. Blakey seems to be profoundly ignorant. He affirms that in the majority of cases—

The continental philosophy of human nature presents to a well-constituted mind a repulsive aspect, and is profusely saturated with everything that is impure, ridiculous, profane, whimsical, and pernicious.

(Vol. II, p. 300.)

Meaning, we suppose, some French writers only, and those only in the eighteenth century. The celebrated theory of Malebranche he states thus, that “all things should be seen in God;” (Vol. II, p. 308) and he imagines that Candide was written to support the doctrines which are put into the mouth of Pangloss! (Vol. II, p. 289.)

At the conclusion of his abstract of the opinions of previous authors, which, it is but justice to say, is in general much fairer, and even more intelligent, than might be supposed from the specimens which we have given, Mr. Blakey sums up the result of the examination in the following words:

All the systems we have examined may, I conceive, be referred to six distinct heads. 1st. The eternal and immutable nature of all moral distinctions. 2nd. That utility, public or private, is the foundation of moral obligation. 3rd. That all morality is founded upon the will of God. 4th. That a moral sense, feeling, or emotion, is the ground of virtue. 5th. That it is by supposing ourselves in the situation of others, or by a species of sympathetic mechanism, that we derive our notions of good and evil. And 6th, the doctrine of vibrations, and the association of ideas.

(Vol. II, p. 317.)

After declaring that “there are none of these different systems that are not in some degree founded on truth,” and that “we cannot resolve all the moral feelings and habits of our nature into one general principle,” he assigns, nevertheless, his reasons for preferring to all the other theories the doctrine, “that virtue depends upon the will of God,” as made known by revelation. [Vol. II, pp. 319, 320.]

Mr. Blakey’s enumeration is illogical: it confounds two distinct, though nearly connected, questions; the standard or test of moral obligation, and the origin of our moral sentiments. It is one question what rule we ought to obey, and why; another question how our feelings of approbation and disapprobation actually originate. The former is the fundamental question of practical morals; the latter is a problem in mental philosophy. Adam Smith’s doctrine of sympathy which stands fifth, and the doctrine of association which stands sixth in Mr. Blakey’s list, are theories respecting the nature and origin of our feelings of morality. His second and third are theories respecting the rule or law by which we ought to guide our conduct. His first and fourth involve, or may be so understood as to involve, both considerations.

These several theories, therefore, are not exclusive of one another. It is possible, for instance, to hold with Hartley, that our feelings of morality originate in association, and with Bentham that our conduct, in all things which depend on our will, and among the rest, in the cultivation of those very feelings, should be guided by utility; or with our author, that the will of God is itself the foundation of the obligations of virtue. David Hume seems to have combined the recognition of utility as the standard or test of morality, with the belief of a moral sense, independent of association. Paley has no theory respecting the nature of moral feelings, but his notion of the moral law is compounded of the second and third of the theories enumerated by our author.

But of all those theories, whether ethical or metaphysical, whether declaring what our conduct should be, or what our feelings are, none surely is so utterly destitute of plausibility as Mr. Blakey’s own doctrine, that virtue is constituted by the will of God.

If we believe this, we believe that God does not declare what is good, and command us to do it, but that God actually makes it good. Good is whatever God makes it. What we call evil, is only evil because he has arbitrarily prohibited it. The countless myriads to whom he has never signified his will, are under no moral obligations. This doctrine takes away all motives to yield obedience to God, except those which induce a slave to obey his master. He must be obeyed because he is the stronger. He is not to be obeyed because he is good, for that implies a good which he could not have made bad by his mere will. If we had the misfortune to believe that the world is ruled by an evil principle, that there is no God, but only a devil, or that the devil has more power over us than God, we ought by this rule to obey the devil. Mr. Blakey is evidently quite unconscious of these consequences of his theory. But, that they are legitimate consequences who can doubt?

And this theory Mr. Blakey believes to rest upon the authority of scripture.

I venture to affirm, [says he,] that from Genesis to Revelation inclusive, there is not a single passage, which, when fairly examined, claims the attention and homage of mankind upon any other ground than what is implied in the command which accompanies it.

(Vol. II, p. 326.)

The scriptures, as Mr. Blakey himself says elsewhere, do not enter into speculative questions; they tell us what to do, not why. But do they not say perpetually, God is good, God is just, God is righteous, God is holy? And are we to understand by these affirmations nothing at all, but the identical and unmeaning proposition God is himself, or a proposition which has so little to do with morality as this, God is powerful? Has God in short no moral attributes? no attributes but those which the devil is conceived to possess in a smaller degree? and no title to our obedience but such as the devil would have, if there were a devil, and the universe were without God?

Mr. Blakey insists much upon the sublimity of the scriptures, and the perfection of scripture morality; considerations which tell strongly against his own doctrine; for if we are capable of recognising excellence in the commands of the Omnipotent, they must possess excellence independently of his command; and excellence discoverable by us even without revelation; for whatever reason can recognise when found, reason can find. If the morality of the scriptures is admirable because it conduces to happiness, this implies that the production of happiness is a legitimate purpose of morals: if because it accords with our sympathies, that implies that morality may be founded on sympathy. If the precepts of scripture have nothing intrinsically good, but are good solely by reason of the power from which they emanate, their character ought to be as mysterious and incomprehensible to us as the ceremonies of magic: nor could there on that supposition be any reason apparent to us, why we are not commanded to hate our neighbour instead of to love him.

Not being of opinion, with Mr. Blakey, that our reception of a philosophic doctrine ought to be determined, not solely by its truth, but by what we imagine respecting the arguments it may afford for or against our religious belief, we ought not, perhaps, to notice the claim which Mr. Blakey sets up for his doctrine, of being peculiarly favourable to the interests of revealed religion. But though such arguments go for nothing with those who can trust themselves to judge of the true and the false, who are resolved to believe the truth, whatever may be its consequences, and are not afraid of finding one truth irreconcilable with another; those who are diffident of their own intellectual powers, naturally dread any doctrine which they can be led to think tends to shake from under their feet, the foundation on which they have built all their hopes and purposes. Mr. Blakey, therefore, shall not be allowed the exclusive use of this argument. We tell him that his doctrine is more destructive to the foundations of Christianity, than any of the theories of moral obligation which he has enumerated; by taking away altogether its internal evidences, the only ones which are not common to it with a thousand superstitions. In Judea itself, both before and after Christ appeared, numbers of false Christs and charlatans of all descriptions had pretended to work miracles, and had been believed; believed not only by their proselytes, but by those who rejected them, and who ascribed their miraculous powers to the agency of evil spirits. If these impostors sunk, and were heard of no more, while Christianity spread itself over the earth, it was not that greater credence was given to the Christian miracles than to theirs; it was, that the simple-hearted men who gathered themselves round the founder of Christianity, far from believing the doctrines to be excellent because they came from God, believed them to come from God because they felt them to be excellent. The fervour of their love and admiration could not find fit utterance but in the phrase, “he spake as never man spake.” Christianity had perished with its founder if Mr. Blakey’s theory had been true. The world has acknowledged him as sent of God, has believed him to be God, because there was a standard of morality by which man could test not the word of man merely, but what was vouched for as the word of God; because of that internal evidence, which according to the repeated declarations of Christ himself, ought to have been sufficient. It was out of the hardness of their hearts that they needed signs. Had all been right within, the precepts themselves would have sufficed to prove their own origin.

We have expended more words than were perhaps necessary upon so preposterous a doctrine. Our excuse must be, the infinitely mischievous tendency of a theory of moral duty, according to which God is to be obeyed, not because God is good, nor because it is good to obey him, but from some motive or principle which might have dictated equally implicit obedience to the powers of darkness. Such a philosophy, in proportion as it is realized in men’s lives and characters, must extirpate from their minds all reverence, all admiration, and all conscience, and leave them only the abject feelings of a slave.

Such a theory cannot be combated too often; it should be warred against wherever it rears its head. But with regard to most of the other conflicting opinions respecting the primary grounds of moral obligation, it appears to us that a degree of importance is often attached to them, more than commensurate to the influence they really exercise for good or for evil. Doubtless they are important, as all questions in morals are important: a clear conception of the ultimate foundation of morality, is essential to a systematic and scientific treatment of the subject, and to the decision of some of its disputed practical problems. But the most momentous of the differences of opinion on the details of morality, have quite another origin. The real character of any man’s ethical system depends not on his first and fundamental principle, which is of necessity so general as to be rarely susceptible of an immediate application to practice; but upon the nature of those secondary and intermediate maxims, vera illa et media axiomata, in which, as Bacon observes, real wisdom resides. The grand consideration is, not what any person regards as the ultimate end of human conduct, but through what intermediate ends he holds that his ultimate end is attainable, and should be pursued: and in these there is a nearer agreement between some who differ, than between some who agree, in their conception of the ultimate end. When disputes arise as to any of the secondary maxims, they can be decided, it is true, only by an appeal to first principles; but the necessity of this appeal may be avoided far oftener than is commonly believed; it is surprising how few, in comparison, of the disputed questions of practical morals, require for their determination any premises but such as are common to all philosophic sects.




“Professor Sedgwick’s Discourse on the Studies of the University of Cambridge,” D&D, I (2nd ed., 1867), 95-159, with footnote to title: “London Review, April 1835.” Reprinted from the London Review, I (Apr., 1835), 94-135, signed “A”. Original heading: “Art. V. Professor Sedgwick’s Discourse.—State of Philosophy in England. / A Discourse on the Studies of the University. By Adam Sedgwick, M.A., F.R.S.; Woodwardian Professor, and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. [London: Parker,] 1834. 3d edit.” Identified in JSM’s bibliography as “A review of Sedgwick’s ‘Discourse on the Studies of the University,’ headed ‘Professor Sedgwick’s Discourse—State of Philosophy in England’, in the first number of the London Review (April, 1835)” (MacMinn, 43). The article, which he had begun writing by 14 October, 1834, was finished, presumably in an unrevised state, by 26 November (see JSM’s letters to J. P. Nichol on those dates, Earlier Letters, XII, 235 and 238). See also the footnote to 45 below, which describes a passage as “Written in 1834.” For JSM’s attitude to this article, and its relation to others in this volume, see the Textual Introduction, cxvii-cxx above.

The following text is collated with that in D&D (1st ed.), and that in the London Review. In the footnoted variants, D&D (2nd ed.) is indicated by “67”; D&D (1st ed.) by “59”; the London Review by “35”. There are no corrections or alterations in the Somerville College copies of D&D and the London Review.

Sedgwick’s Discourse

if we were asked for what end, above all others, endowed universities exist, or ought to exist, we should answer—To keep alive philosophy. This, too, is the ground on which, of late years, our own national endowments have chiefly been defended. To educate common minds for the common business of life, a public provision may be useful, but is not indispensable: nor are there wanting arguments, not conclusive, yet of considerable strength, to show that it is undesirable. Whatever individual competition does at all, it commonly does best. All things in which the public are adequate judges of excellence, are best supplied where the stimulus of individual interest is the most active; and that is where pay is in proportion to exertion: not where pay is made sure in the first instance, and the only security for exertion is the superintendence of government; far less where, as in the English universities, even that security has been successfully excluded. But there is an education of which it cannot be pretended that the public are competent judges; the education by which great minds are formed. To rear up minds with aspirations and faculties above the herd, capable of leading on their countrymen to greater achievements in virtue, intelligence, and social well-being; to do this, and likewise so to educate the leisured classes of the community generally, that they may participate as far as possible in the qualities of these superior spirits, and be prepared to appreciate them, and follow in their steps—these are purposes, requiring institutions of education placed above dependence on the immediate pleasure of that very multitude whom they are designed to elevate. These are the ends for which endowed universities are desirable; they are those which all endowed universities profess to aim at; and great is their disgrace, if, having undertaken this task, and claiming credit for fulfilling it, they leave it unfulfilled.

In what manner are these purposes—the greatest which any human institution can propose to itself—purposes which the English Universities must be fit for, or they are fit for nothing—performed by those universities?—Circumspice.

In the intellectual pursuits which form great minds, this country was formerly pre-eminent. England once stood at the head of European philosophy. Where stands she now? Consult the general opinion of Europe. The celebrity of England, in the present day, rests upon her docks, her canals, her railroads. In intellect she is distinguished only for a kind of sober good sense, free from extravagance, but also void of lofty aspirations; and for doing all those things which are best done where man most resembles a machine, with the precision of a machine. Valuable qualities, doubtless; but not precisely those by which to the perfection of nature, or greater and greater conquests over the difficulties which encumber social arrangements. Ask any reflecting person in France or Germany his opinion of England; whatever may be his own tenets—however friendly his disposition to us—whatever his admiration of our institutions, and ; however alive to the faults and errors of his own countrymen, the feature which always strikes him in the English mind is the absence of enlarged and commanding views. Every question he finds discussed and decided on its own basis, however narrow, without any light thrown upon it from principles more extensive than itself; and no question discussed at all, unless parliament, or some constituted authority, is to be moved to-morrow or the day after to put it to the vote. Instead of the ardour of research, the eagerness for large and comprehensive inquiry, of the educated part of the French and German youth, what find we? Out of the narrow bounds of mathematical and physical science, not a vestige of a reading and thinking public engaged in the investigation of truth as truth, in the prosecution of thought for the sake of thought. Among except sectarian religionists—and what they are we all know—is there any interest in the great problem of man’s nature and life: among is there any curiosity respecting the nature and principles of human society, the history or the philosophy of civilization; nor any belief that, from such inquiries, a single important practical consequence can follow. Guizot, the greatest admirer of England among the Continental philosophers, nevertheless remarks that, in England, even great events do not, as they do everywhere else, inspire great ideas. Things, in England, are greater than the men who accomplish them.

But perhaps this degeneracy is the effect of some cause over which the universities had no control, and against which they have been ineffectually struggling. If so, those bodies are wonderfully patient of being baffled. Not a word of complaint escapes any of their leading dignitaries—not a hint that their highest endeavours are thwarted, their best labours thrown away; not a symptom of dissatisfaction with the intellectual state of the national mind, save when it discards the boroughmongers, lacks zeal for the Church, or calls for the admission of Dissenters within their precincts. On the contrary, perpetual boasting how perfectly they succeed in accomplishing all that they attempt; endless celebrations of the country’s glory and happiness in possessing a youth so taught, so mindful of what they are taught. When any one presumes to doubt whether the universities are all that universities should be, he is not told that they do their best, but that the tendencies of the age are too strong for them; no—he is, with an air of triumph, referred to their fruits, and asked whether an education which has made English gentlemen what we see them, can be other than a good education? All is right so long as no one speaks of taking away their endowments, or encroaching upon their monopoly. While they are thus eulogizing their own efforts, and the results of their efforts; philosophy—not any particular school of philosophy, but philosophy altogether—speculation of any comprehensive kind, and upon any deep or extensive subject—has been falling more and more into distastefulness and disrepute among the educated classes of England. Have those classes meanwhile learned to slight and despise these authorized teachers of philosophy, or ceased to frequent their schools? Far from it. The universities then may flourish, though the pursuits which are the end and justification of the existence of universities decay. The teacher thrives and is in honour, while that which he affects to teach vanishes from among mankind.

If the above reflections were to occur, as they well might, to an intelligent foreigner, deeply interested in the condition and prospects of English intellect, we may imagine with what avidity he would seize upon the publication before us. It is a discourse on the studies of Cambridge, by a Cambridge Professor, delivered to a Cambridge audience, and published at their request. It contains the opinion of one of the most liberal members of the University on the studies of the place; or, as we should rather say, on the studies which the place recommends, and which some few of its pupils actually prosecute. Mr. Sedgwick is not a mere pedant of a college, who defends the system because he has been formed by the system, and has never learned to see anything but in the light in which the system showed it to him. Though an intemperate , he is not a bigoted, partisan of the body to which he belongs; he can see faults as well as excellences, not merely in their mode of teaching, but in some parts of what they teach. His intellectual pretensions, too, are high. of him can it be said that he aspires not to philosophy; he writes in the character of one to whom its loftiest eminences are familiar. Curiosity, therefore, cannot but be somewhat excited to know what he finds to say respecting the Cambridge scheme of education, and what notion may be formed of the place from the qualities he exhibits in himself, one of its favourable specimens.

Whatever be the value of Professor Sedgwick’s Discourse in the former of these two points of view, in the latter we have found it, on examination, to be a document of considerable importance. The Professor gives his opinion (for the benefit chiefly, he says, of the younger members of the University, but in a manner, he hopes, “not altogether unfitting to other ears” ) on the value of several great branches of intellectual culture, and on the spirit in which they should be pursued. Not satisfied with this, he proclaims in his preface another and a still more ambitious purpose—the destruction of what the Utilitarian theory of morals. “He has attacked the utilitarian theory of morals, not merely because he thinks it founded on false reasoning, but because he also believes that it produces a degrading effect on the temper and conduct of those who adopt it.”

This is promising great things: to refute a theory of morals; and to trace its influence on the character and actions of those who embrace it. A better test of capacity for philosophy could not be desired. We shall see how Professor Sedgwick acquits himself of his two-fold task, and what were his qualifications for undertaking it.

From an author’s mode of introducing his subject, and laying the outlines of it before the reader, some estimate may generally be formed of his capacity for discussing it. In this respect, the indications afforded by Mr. Sedgwick’s commencement are not favourable. Before giving his opinion of the studies of the University, he had to tell us what those studies are. They are, first, mathematical and physical science; secondly, the classical languages and literature; thirdly (if some small matter of Locke and Paley deserve so grand a denomination), mental and moral science. For Mr. Sedgwick’s purpose, this simple mode of designating these studies would have been sufficiently precise; but if he was determined to hit off their metaphysical characteristics, it should not have been in the following style:—

The studies of this place, as far as they relate to mere human learning, divide themselves into three branches: First, the study of the laws of nature, comprehending all parts of inductive philosophy. Secondly, the study of ancient literature, or, in other words, of those authentic records which convey to us an account of the feelings, the sentiments, and the actions of men prominent in the history of the most famous empires of the ancient world: in these works we seek for examples and maxims of prudence and models of taste. Thirdly, the study of ourselves, considered as individuals and as social beings: under this head are included ethics and metaphysics, moral and political philosophy, and some other kindred subjects of great complexity, hardly touched on in our academic system, and to be followed out in the more mature labours of after life.

(P. 10.)

How many errors in expression and classification in one short passage! The “study of the laws of nature” is spoken of as one thing, “the study of ourselves” as another. In studying ourselves, are we not studying the laws of our nature? “All parts of inductive philosophy” are placed under one head; “ethics and metaphysics, moral and political philosophy,” under another. Are these no part of inductive philosophy? Of what philosophy, then, are they a part? Is not all philosophy, which is founded upon experience and observation, inductive? What, again can Mr. Sedgwick mean by calling “ethics” one thing and “moral philosophy” another? Moral philosophy must be either ethics or a branch of metaphysics—either the knowledge of our duty, or the theory of the feelings with which we regard our duty. What a loose description, too, of ancient literature—where no description at all was required. The writings of the ancients are spoken of as if there were nothing in them but the biographies of eminent statesmen.

This want of power to express accurately what is conceived, almost unerringly denotes inaccuracy in the conception itself: such verbal criticism, therefore, is far from unimportant. But the topics of a graver kind, which Mr. Sedgwick’s Discourse suggests, are fully sufficient to occupy us, and to them we shall henceforth confine ourselves.

The Professor’s survey of the studies of the University commences with “the study of the laws of nature,” or, to speak a more correct language, the laws of the material universe. Here, to a mind stored with the results of comprehensive thought, there lay open a boundless field of remark, of the kind most useful to the young students of the University. At the stage in education which they are supposed to have reached, the time was come for disengaging their minds from the microscopic contemplation of the details of the various sciences, and elevating them to the idea of Science as a whole—to the idea of human culture as a whole—of the place which those various sciences occupy in the former, and the functions which they perform in the latter. Though an actual analysis would have been impossible, there was room to present, in a rapid sketch, the results of an analysis, of of the various physical sciences— the processes by which they severally arrive at truth: the peculiar logic of each science, and the light thrown thereby upon universal logic: the various kinds and degrees of evidence upon which the truths of those sciences rest; how to estimate them; how to adapt our modes of investigation to them: how far the habits of estimating evidence, which these sciences engender, are applicable to other subjects, and to evidence of another kind; how far inapplicable. Hence the transition was easy to the more extensive inquiry, what these physical studies are capable of doing for the mind; which of the habits and powers that constitute a fine intellect those pursuits tend to cultivate; what are those which they do not cultivate those even (for such there are) which they tend to impede; by what other studies and intellectual exercises by what general reflections, or course of reading or meditation, those deficiencies may be supplied. The Professor might thus have shown (what it is usual only to declaim about) how highly a familiarity with mathematics, with dynamics, with even experimental physics and natural history, conduces both to strength and soundness of understanding; and yet how possible it is to be master of all these sciences, and to be unable to put two ideas together with a useful result, on any other topic. The youth of the university might have been taught to set a just value on these attainments, yet to see in them, as branches of general education, what they really are—the early stages in the formation of a mind; the instruments of a higher culture. Nor would it have been out of place in such a discourse, though perhaps not peculiarly appropriate to this part of it, to have added a few considerations on the tendency of scientific pursuits in general; the influence of habits of analysis and abstraction upon the character:—how, without those habits, the mind is the slave of its own accidental associations, the dupe of every superficial appearance, and fit only to receive its opinions from authority:—on the other hand, how their exclusive , while it strengthens the associations which connect means with ends, effects with causes, tends to weaken many of those upon which our enjoyments and our social feelings depend; and by accustoming the mind to consider, in objects, chiefly the properties on account of which we refer them to classes and give them general names, leaves our conceptions of them as individuals, lame and meagre:—how, therefore, the corrective and antagonist principle to the pursuits which deal with objects only in the abstract, is to be sought in those which deal with them altogether in the concrete, clothed in properties and circumstances: real life in its most varied forms, poetry and art in all their branches.

These, and many kindred topics, a philosopher, standing in the place of Professor Sedgwick, would, as far as space permitted, have illustrated and insisted on. But the Professor’s resources supplied him only with a few trite commonplaces, on the high privilege of comprehending the mysteries of the natural world; the value of studies which give a habit of abstraction, and a “power of concentration;” the use of scientific pursuits in saving us from languor and vacuity; with other truths of . To these he adds, that “the study of the higher sciences is well suited to keep down a spirit of arrogance and intellectual pride,” by convincing us of “the narrow limitation of our faculties;” and upon this peg he appends a dissertation on the evidences of design in the universe—a subject on which much originality was not to be hoped for, and the nature of which may be allowed to protect feebleness from any severity of comment.

The Professor’s next topic is the classical languages and literature. And here he begins by wondering. to erect everything into a wonder. cannot consider the greatness and wisdom of God, once for all, as proved, but bound to be finding fresh arguments for it in every chip or stone; and nothing a proof of greatness unless can wonder at it; and to most minds a wonder explained is a wonder no longer. Hence a sort of vague feeling, as if, to conceptions, God would not be so great if he had made us capable of understanding more of the laws of his universe; and hence a reluctance to admit even the most obvious explanation, lest it should destroy the wonder.

The subject of Professor Sedgwick’s wonder is a very simple thing—the manner in which a child acquires a language.

I may recall to your minds, [says he,] the wonderful ease with which a child comprehends the conventional signs of thought formed between man and man—not only learns the meaning of words descriptive of visible things; but understands, by a kind of rational instinct, the meaning of abstract terms, without ever thinking of the faculty by which he comes to separate them from the names of mere objects of sense. The readiness with which a child acquires a language may well be called a rational instinct: for during the time that his knowledge is built up, and that he learns to handle the implements of thought, he knows no more of what passes within himself, that he does of the structure of the eye, or of the properties of light, while he attends to the impressions on his visual sense, and gives to each impression its appropriate name.

(P. 33.)

whatever we do without understanding the machinery by which we do it, be done by a rational instinct, we learn to dance by instinct: since few of the dancing-master’s pupils have ever heard of any one of the muscles which his instructions and their own sedulous practice give them the power to use. Do we grow wheat by “a rational instinct,” because we know not how the seed germinates in the ground? We know by experience, not by instinct, that it , and on that assurance we sow it. A child learns a language by the ordinary laws of association; by hearing the word spoken, on the various occasions on which the meaning denoted by it has to be conveyed. This mode of acquisition is better adapted for giving a loose and vague, than a precise, conception of the meaning of an abstract term; accordingly, most people’s conceptions of the meaning of many abstract terms in common use remain always loose and vague. The rapidity with which a language is not more wonderful than the rapidity with which so much else at an early age. It is a common remark, that we gain more knowledge in the first few years of life, without labour, than we ever acquire by the hardest toil, in double the time. There are many causes to account for this; among which it is sufficient to specify, that the knowledge we then acquire concerns our most pressing wants, and that our attention to outward impressions is not yet deadened by familiarity, nor distracted, as in grown persons, by a previously accumulated stock of inward .

Against the general tendency of the Professor’s remarks on the cultivation of the ancient languages, . We think with him, that “our fathers have done well in making classical studies an early and prominent part of liberal education” (p. 36). We fully coincide in his opinion, that “the philosophical and ethical works of the ancients deserve a much larger portion of our time than we” (meaning Cambridge) “have hitherto bestowed on them” (p. 39). We commend the liberality (for, in a professor of an English University, the liberality which admits the smallest fault in the university system of tuition deserves to be accounted extraordinary) of the following remarks:—

It is notorious, that during many past years, while verbal criticism has been pursued with so much ardour, the works to which I now allude (coming home, as they do, to the business of life; and pregnant, as they are, with knowledge well fitted to fortify the reasoning powers) have, by the greater number of us, hardly been thought of; and have in no instance been made prominent subjects of academic training. (P. 39.)

I think it incontestably true, that for the last fifty years our classical studies (with much to demand our undivided praise) have been too critical and formal; and that we have sometimes been taught, while straining after an accuracy beyond our reach, to value the husk more than the fruit of ancient learning: and if of late years our younger members have sometimes written prose Greek almost with the purity of Xenophon, or composed iambics in the finished diction of the Attic poets, we may well doubt whether time suffices for such perfection—whether the imagination and the taste might not be more wisely cultivated than by a long sacrifice to what, after all, ends but in verbal imitations.—In short, whether such acquisitions, however beautiful in themselves, are not gained at the expense of something better. This at least is true, that he who forgets that language is but the sign and vehicle of thought, and, while studying the word, knows little of the sentiment—who learns the measure, the garb, and fashion of ancient song, without looking to its living soul or feeling its inspiration—is not one jot better than a traveller in classic land, who sees its crumbling temples, and numbers, with arithmetical precision, their steps and pillars, but thinks not of their beauty, their design, or the living sculptures on their walls—or who counts the stones in the Appian way instead of gazing on the monuments of the ‘eternal city.’

(Pp. 37-8.)

The illustration which closes the above passage (though, as is often the case with illustrations, it does not illustrate) is rather pretty: a circumstance which we should be sorry not to notice, as, amid much straining, and many elaborate flights of imagination, we have not met with any other instance in which the Professor makes so near an approach to actual eloquence.

We have said that we go all lengths with our author in claiming for classical literature a place in education, at least equal to that commonly assigned to it. But though we think his opinion right, we think most of his reasons wrong. As, for example, the following:—

With individuals as with nations, the powers of imagination reach their maturity sooner than the powers of reason; and this is another proof that the severer investigations of science ought to be preceded by the study of languages; and especially of those great works of imagination which have become a pattern for the literature of every civilized tongue.

(P. 34.)

This dictum respecting Imagination and Reason is only not a truism, because it is, as Coleridge would say, a falsism. Does the Professor mean that work of imagination”—the Paradise Lost, for instance—could have been produced at an earlier age, or by a less matured or less accomplished mind, than the Mécanique Céleste? Does he mean that a learner can appreciate Æschylus or Sophocles before he is old enough to understand Euclid or Lacroix? In nations, again, the assertion, that imagination, in any but the vulgarest sense of the word, attains maturity sooner than reason, is so far from being , that throughout all history the two have invariably flourished together; have, and necessarily must. Does Mr. Sedgwick think that any great work of imagination ever was, or can be, produced, without great powers of reason? Be the country Greece or Rome, Italy, France, or England, the age of her greatest eminence in poetry and the fine arts has been that of her greatest statesmen, generals, orators, historians, navigators—in one word, thinkers, in every department of active life; not, indeed, of her greatest philosophers, but only because Philosophy is the tardiest product of Reason itself.

, we find not a word in Mr. Sedgwick’s tract; but, instead of them, much harping on the value of the writings of antiquity as “patterns” and “models.” This is lauding the abuse of classical knowledge as the use; and is a very bad lesson to members” of the University. The study of the ancient writers has been of unspeakable benefit to the moderns; from which benefit, the attempts at direct imitation of those writers have been no trifling drawback. The necessary effect of imitating “models” is, to set manner above matter. The imitation of the classics has perverted the whole taste of modern Europe on the subject of composition: it has made style a subject of cultivation and of praise, independently of ideas; whereas, by the ancients, style was never thought of but in complete subordination to matter. The ancients would as soon have thought of a coat in the abstract, as of style in the abstract: the merit of a style, in their eyes, was, that it exactly fitted the thought. Their first aim was, by the assiduous study of their subject, to secure to themselves thoughts worth expressing; their next was, to find words which would convey those thoughts with the utmost degree of nicety; and only when this was made sure, did they think of ornament. Their style, therefore, whether ornamented or plain, grows out of their turn of thought; and may be admired, but cannot be imitated, by any one whose turn of thought is different. The instruction which Professor Sedgwick should have given to his pupils, was to follow no models; to attempt no style, but let their thoughts shape out the style best suited to them; to resemble the ancients, not by copying their manner, but by understanding their own subject as well, cultivating their faculties as highly, and taking as much trouble with their work, as the ancients did. All imitation of an author’s style, except that which arises from making his thoughts own, is mere affectation and vicious mannerism.

In discussing the value of the ancient languages, Mr. Sedgwick touches upon the importance of ancient history. On this topic, on which so much, and of the most interesting kind, might have been said, he delivers nothing but questionable commonplaces. “History,” says he, “is, to our knowledge of man in his social capacity, what physical experiments are to our knowledge of the laws of nature” (p. 42). Common as this notion is, it is a strange one to be held by a professor of physical science; for assuredly no person is satisfied with such evidence in studying the laws of the natural world, as history affords with respect to the laws of political society. The evidence of history, instead of being analogous to that of experiment, leaves the philosophy of society in exactly the state in which physical science was, before the method of experiment was introduced. The Professor should reflect, that we cannot make experiments in history. We are obliged, therefore, as the ancients did in physics, to content ourselves with such experiments as we find made to our hands; and these are so few, and so complicated, that little or nothing can be inferred from them. There is not a fact in history which is not susceptible of as many different explanations as there are possible theories of human affairs. Not only is history not the of political philosophy, but the profoundest political philosophy is requisite to explain history; without it all in history which is worth understanding remains mysterious. Can Mr. Sedgwick explain why the Greeks, in their brief career, so far surpassed their , or why the Romans conquered the world? through the study of ourselves by reflection, and of mankind by actual intercourse with them. That what we know of former ages, like what we know of foreign nations, is, with all its , of much use, by correcting the narrowness incident to personal experience, ; but the usefulness of history depends upon its being kept in the second place.

The Professor wholly unaware of the importance of accuracy, either in thought or in expression. “In ancient history,” says he (p. 42), “we can trace the fortunes of mankind under almost every condition of political and social life.” So far is this from being true, that ancient history does not so much as furnish an example of a civilized people in which the bulk of the inhabitants were not slaves. Again, “all the successive actions we contemplate are at such a distance from us, that we can see their true bearings on each other undistorted by that mist of prejudice with which every modern political question is surrounded.” We appeal to all who are conversant with the modern writings on ancient history, whether even this is true. The most elaborate Grecian history which we possess is impregnated with the anti-Jacobin spirit in every line; and the Quarterly Review laboured as diligently for many years to vilify the Athenian republic as the American.

Thus far, the faults which we have discovered in Mr. Sedgwick are of omission rather than of commission: or at worst, amount only to this, that he has the trivialities he found current . Had there been nothing to be said of the remainder of the Discourse, we should not have disturbed its peaceful progress to oblivion.

We have now, however, arrived at the opening of that part of Professor Sedgwick’s Discourse which is most laboured, and for the sake of which all the rest may be surmised to have been written,—his strictures on Locke’s Essay on the Human Understanding, and Paley’s Principles of Moral Philosophy. These works comprise what little of ethical and metaphysical instruction is given, or professed to be given, at Cambridge. The remainder of Mr. Sedgwick’s Discourse is devoted to an attack upon them.

We assuredly have no thought of defending either work as a text-book, still less as the sole text-book, on their respective subjects, in any school of philosophy. Of Paley’s work, though it possesses in a high degree some minor merits, we think, on the whole, meanly. Of Locke’s Essay, the beginning and foundation of the modern analytical psychology, we cannot speak but with the deepest reverence; whether we consider the era which it constitutes in philosophy, the intrinsic value, even at the present day, of its thoughts, or the noble devotion to truth, the beautiful and touching earnestness and simplicity, which he not only manifests in himself, but has the power beyond almost all other philosophical writers of infusing into his reader. His Essay should be familiar to every student. But no work, a hundred and fifty years old, can be fit to be the sole, or even the principal work for the instruction of youth in a science like that of Mind. In metaphysics, every new truth sets aside or modifies much of what was previously received as truth. Berkeley’s refutation of the doctrine of abstract ideas would of itself necessitate a complete revision of the phraseology of the most valuable parts of Locke’s book. And the important speculations originated by Hume and by Brown, concerning the nature of our experience, are acknowledged, even by the philosophers who do not adopt in their full extent the conclusions of those writers, to have carried the analysis of our knowledge and of the process of acquiring it, so much beyond the point where Locke left it, as to require that his work should be entirely recast.

Moreover, the book which has changed the face of a science, even when not superseded in its doctrines, is seldom suitable for didactic purposes. It is adapted to the state of mind, not of those who are ignorant of every doctrine, but of those who are instructed in an erroneous doctrine. So far as it is taken up directly combating the errors which prevailed before it was written, the more completely it has done its work, the more certain it is of becoming superfluous, not to say unintelligible, without a commentary. And even its positive truths are defended against such objections only as were current in its own times, and guarded only against such misunderstandings as the people of those times were likely to fall into. Questions of morals and metaphysics differ from physical questions in this, that their aspect changes with every change the human mind. At no two periods is the same question embarrassed by the same difficulties, or the same truth in need of the same explanatory comment. The fallacy which is satisfactorily refuted in one age, re-appears in another, in a shape which the arguments formerly used do not precisely meet; and seems to triumph, until some one, with weapons suitable to the altered form of the error, arises and repeats its overthrow.

These remarks are peculiarly applicable to Locke’s Essay. His doctrines were new, and had to make their way: he therefore wrote not for learners, but for the learned; for who were trained in the systems to his— of the Schoolmen or of the Cartesians. He said what he thought necessary to establish his own opinions, and answered the objections of such objectors as the age afforded; but he could not anticipate all the objections which might be made by a subsequent age: least of all could he anticipate those which would be made now, when his philosophy has long been the prevalent one; when the arguments of objectors have been rendered as far as possible consistent with his principles, and are often such as could not have been thought of until he had cleared the ground by demolishing some received opinion, which no one before him had thought of disputing.

To attack Locke, therefore, because other arguments than it was necessary for him to use have become requisite to the support of some of his conclusions, is like reproaching the Evangelists because they did not write Evidences of Christianity. The question is, not what Locke has said, but what would he have said if he had heard all that has since been said against him? , however, as is a criticism on Locke conceived in this spirit, Mr. Sedgwick indulges in another strain of criticism even more .

The “greatest fault,” he says, of Locke’s Essay, “is the contracted view it takes of the capacities of man—allowing him, indeed, the faculty of reflecting, and following out trains of thought according to the rules of abstract reasoning; but depriving him both of his powers of imagination and of his moral sense” (p. 57). Several pages are thereupon employed in celebrating “the imaginative powers.” And a metaphysician who “discards these powers from his system” (which, according to Mr. Sedgwick, Locke does), is accused of “shutting his eyes to the loftiest qualities of the soul” (p. 49).

Has the Professor so far forgotten the book which he must have read once, and on which he passes judgment with so much authority, as to fancy that it claims to be a treatise on all “the capacities of man?” write in the manner we have just quoted about Locke’s book, with the fact looking him in the face from his own pages, that it is entitled An Essay on the Human Understanding? Who besides Mr. Sedgwick would look for a treatise on the imagination under such a title? What place, what concern could it have had there?

The one object of Locke’s speculations was to ascertain the limits of our knowledge; what questions we may hope to solve, what are beyond our reach. This purpose is in the Preface, and manifested in every chapter of the book. He that he commenced his inquiries because “in discoursing on a subject very remote from this,” it came into his thoughts that “before we set ourselves upon inquiries of that nature, it was necessary to examine our own abilities, and see what objects our understandings were, or were not, fitted to deal with.” The following, from the first chapter of the first book, are a few of the passages in which he describes the scope of his speculations:—

“To inquire into the original, certainty, and extent of human knowledge, together with the grounds and degrees of belief, opinion, and assent.” “To consider the discerning faculties of man, as they are employed about the objects which they have to do with.” “To give an account of the ways whereby our understandings come to attain those notions of things we have,” and “set down” some “measures of the certainty of our knowledge, or the grounds of those persuasions which are to be found amongst men.” “To search out the bounds between opinion and knowledge, and to examine by what measures, in things whereof we have no certain knowledge, we ought to regulate our assent, and moderate our persuasions.” And “by this inquiry into the nature of the understanding,” to “discover the powers thereof, how far they reach, to what things they are in any degree proportionate, and where they fail us;” and thereby to “prevail with the busy mind of man to be more cautious in meddling with things exceeding its comprehension, to stop when it is at the utmost extent of its tether, and to sit down in a quiet ignorance of those things which, upon examination, are found to be beyond the reach of our capacities.”

And because a philosopher, having placed before himself an undertaking of this magnitude, and of this strictly scientific character, and having his mind full of thoughts which were destined to effect a revolution in the philosophy of the human intellect, does not quit his subject to panegyrize the imagination, he is accused of saying that there is no such thing; or of saying that it is a pernicious thing; or rather (for to this pitch of ingenuity Mr. Sedgwick’s criticism reaches) of saying that there is no such thing, and that it is a pernicious thing. He “deprives man of his powers of imagination;” he “discards these powers from his system;” and at the same time he “speaks of those powers only to condemn them;” he “denounces the exercise of the imagination as a fraud upon the reason.” As well might it be asserted, that Locke denies that man has a body, or condemns the exercise of the body, because he is not constantly proclaiming what a beautiful and glorious thing the body is. Mr. Sedgwick cannot conceive the state of mind of such a man as Locke, who is too entirely absorbed in his subject to be able to turn aside from it every time that an opportunity offers for a flight of rhetoric. With the imagination in its own province, as a source of enjoyment, and a means of educating the feelings, Locke had nothing to do; nor was the subject suited to the character of his mind. He was concerned with imagination, only in the province of pure intellect; and all he had to do with it there, was to warn it off the ground. This Mr. Sedgwick calls “denouncing the exercise of the imagination as a fraud upon the reason,” and “regarding men who appeal to the powers of imagination in their proofs and mingle them in their exhortations as no better than downright cheats” (p. 50). Locke certainly says that imagination is not proof. Does the Professor then mean—and by his rhapsody about the imagination does he intend us to understand—that imagination is proof? But how can we expect clearness of ideas on metaphysical subjects, from a writer who cannot discriminate between the Understanding and the Will? Locke’s Essay is on the Understanding; Mr. Sedgwick tells us, much finery , that the imagination is a powerful engine for acting on the will. So is a cat-o’-nine-tails. Is a cat-o’-nine-tails, therefore, one of the sources of human knowledge? “In trying circumstances,” says the Professor, “the determination of the will is often more by feeling than by reason” (p. 51). In all circumstances, trying or otherwise, the determination of the will is wholly by feeling. Reason is not an end in itself: it teaches us to know the right ends, and the way to them; but if we desire those ends, this desire is not Reason, but a feeling. Hence the importance of the question, how to give to the imagination that direction which will exercise the most beneficial influence upon the feelings. But the Professor probably meant that “in trying circumstances, the determination” not “of the will,” but of the understanding, “is often more by feeling than by reason.” Unhappily it is; this is the tendency in human nature, against which Locke warns his readers; and by so warning them, incurs the censure of Mr. Sedgwick.

The other accusation which the Professor urges against Locke—that of overlooking “the faculties of moral judgment,” and “depriving” man of his “moral sense” —will best be considered along with his strictures on Paley’s Moral Philosophy; for against Paley, also, the principal charge is that he denies the moral sense.

It is a fact in human nature, that we have moral judgments and moral feelings. We judge certain actions and dispositions to be right, others wrong: this we call approving and disapproving them. We have also feelings of pleasure in the contemplation of the former class of actions and dispositions—feelings of dislike and aversion to the latter; which feelings, as everybody must be conscious, do not exactly resemble any other of our feelings of pain or pleasure.

Such are the phenomena. Concerning their reality there is no dispute. But there are two theories respecting the origin of these phenomena, which have divided philosophers from the earliest ages of philosophy. One is, that the distinction between right and wrong is an ultimate and inexplicable fact; that we perceive this distinction, as we perceive the distinction of colours, by a peculiar faculty; and that the pleasures and pains, the desires and aversions, consequent upon this perception, are all ultimate facts in our nature; as much so as the pleasures and pains, or the desires and aversions, of which sweet or bitter tastes, pleasing or grating sounds, are the object. This is called the theory of the moral sense—or of moral instincts—or of eternal and immutable morality—or of intuitive principles of morality—or by many other names; to the differences between which, those who adopt the theory often attach great importance, but which, for our present purpose, may all be considered as .

The other theory is, that the ideas of right and wrong, and the feelings which attach themselves to those ideas, are not ultimate facts, but may be explained and accounted for; are not the result of any peculiar law of our nature, but of the same laws on which all our other complex ideas and feelings depend: that the distinction between moral and immoral acts is not a peculiar and inscrutable property in the acts themselves, which we perceive by a sense, as we perceive colours by our sense of sight; but flows from the ordinary properties of those actions, for the recognition of which we need no other faculty than our intellects and our bodily senses. And the particular property in actions, which constitutes them moral or immoral, in the opinion of those who hold this theory (all of them, at least, who need be noticed), is the influence of those actions, and of the dispositions from which they emanate, upon human happiness.

This theory is sometimes called the theory of Utility; and is what Mr. Sedgwick means by “the utilitarian theory of morals.”

Maintaining this second theory, Mr. Sedgwick calls “denying the existence of moral feelings” (p. 32). This is, in the first place, misstating the question. Nobody denies the existence of moral feelings. The feelings exist, manifestly exist, and cannot be denied. The questions on which there is a difference are—first, whether they are simple or complex feelings, and if complex, of what elementary feelings they are which is a question of metaphysics; and secondly, what kind of acts and dispositions are the proper objects of those in other words, what is the principle of These questions, and more peculiarly the last, the theory which professes to solve.

Paley adopted this theory. Mr. Sedgwick, who professes the other theory, treats Paley, and all who take Paley’s side of the question, with extreme contumely.

We shall show that Mr. Sedgwick has no right to represent Paley as a type of the theory of utility; that he has failed in refuting even Paley; and that the tone of which he has towards all who adopt that theory is altogether unmerited on their part, and on his, from his extreme ignorance of the subject, peculiarly unbecoming.

Those who maintain that human happiness is the end and test of morality are bound to prove that the principle is true; but not that Paley understood it. entitled to found an argument against a principle, upon the faults or blunders of a particular writer who professed to build his system upon it, without taking notice that the principle may be understood differently, and has in fact been understood differently by other What would be thought of an assailant of Christianity, who should judge of its truth or beneficial tendency from the taken of it by the Jesuits, or by the Shakers? A doctrine is not judged at all until it is judged in its form. The principle of utility may be viewed in as many different lights as every other rule or principle may. If it be liable to mischievous misinterpretations, this is true of all very general, and therefore of all first, principles. Whether the ethical creed of a follower of utility will lead him to moral or immoral consequences, depends on what he thinks useful;—just as, with a partizan of the opposite doctrine—that of conscience—it depends on what he thinks his conscience enjoins. But either the one theory or the other must be true. Instead, therefore, of cavilling about the abuses and perversions of either, real manliness would consist in accepting the true, with all its liabilities to abuse and perversion; and then bending the whole force of our intellects to the establishment of such secondary and intermediate maxims, as may be guides to the bonâ fide inquirer in the application of the principle, and salutary checks to the sophist and the dishonest casuist.

There are faults in Paley’s conception of the philosophy of morals, both in its foundations and its subsequent stages, which prevent his book from being an example of the conclusions justly deducible from the doctrine of utility, or of the influences of that doctrine, when properly understood, upon the intellect and character.

In the first place, he does not consider utility as itself the source of moral obligation, but as a mere index to the will of God, which he regards as the ultimate groundwork of all morality, and the origin of its binding force. This doctrine (not that utility is an index to the will of God, but that it is an index and nothing else) we consider as highly exceptionable; and having really many of those bad effects on the mind, erroneously ascribed to the principle of utility.

The only view of the connexion between religion and morality which does not annihilate the very idea of the latter, is that which considers the Deity as not , moral obligation. In the minds of most English down to the middle of the last century, the idea of duty, and that of obedience to God, were so indissolubly united, as to be inseparable even in thought: and when we consider how in those days religious motives and ideas stood in the front of all speculations, it is not wonderful that religion should have been thought to constitute the of all obligations to which it annexed its . To have inquired, Why am I bound to obey God’s will? would, to a Christian of that age, have appeared irreverent. It is a question, however, which, as much as any other, requires an answer from a Christian philosopher. “Because he is my Maker” is no answer. Why should I obey my Maker? From gratitude? Then gratitude is in itself obligatory, independently of my Maker’s will. From reverence and love? But why is he a proper object of love and reverence? Not because he is my Maker. If I had been made by an evil spirit, for evil purposes, my love and reverence (supposing me to be capable of such feelings) would have been due, not to the evil, but to the good Being. Is it because he is just, righteous, merciful? Then these attributes are in themselves good, independently of his pleasure. If any person has the misfortune to believe that his Creator commands wickedness, more respect is due to him for disobeying such imaginary commands, than for obeying them. If virtue would not be virtue unless the Creator commanded it—if it derive all its obligatory force from his will—there remains no ground for obeying him except his power; no motive for morality except the selfish one of the hope of heaven, or the selfish and slavish one of the fear of hell.

Accordingly, in strict consistency with this view of the nature of morality, Paley not only represents the proposition that we ought to do good and not harm to mankind, as a mere corollary from the proposition that God wills their good, and not their harm—but represents the motive to virtue, and the motive which constitutes it virtue, as consisting solely in the hope of heaven and the fear of hell.

It does not, however, follow that Paley believed mankind to have no feelings except selfish ones. He doubtless would have admitted that they are acted upon by other motives, or, in the language of Bentham and Helvetius, that they have other interests, than merely self-regarding ones. But he chose to say that actions done from those other motives are not virtuous. The happiness of mankind, according to him, was the end for which morality was enjoined; yet he would not admit anything to be morality, when the happiness of mankind, or of any of mankind except ourselves, is the inducement of it. He annexed an arbitrary meaning to the word virtue. How he came to think this arbitrary meaning the right one may be a question. by the habit of thinking and talking of morality under the metaphor of a law. In the notion of a law, the idea of the command of a superior, enforced by penalties, is of course the main element.

If Paley’s ethical system is thus unsound in its foundations, the spirit which runs through the details is no less exceptionable. It is, indeed, such as to prove, that neither the character nor the objects of the writer were those of a philosopher. There is none of the single-minded earnestness for truth, whatever it may be—the intrepid defiance of prejudice, the firm resolve to look all consequences in the face, which the word philosopher supposes, and without which nothing worthy of note was ever accomplished in moral or political philosophy. One sees throughout that he has a particular set of conclusions to come to, and will not, perhaps cannot, allow himself to let in any premises which would interfere with them. His book is one of a class which has since become very numerous, and is likely to become still more so—an apology for commonplace. Not to lay a solid foundation, and erect an edifice over it suited to the professed ends, but to construct pillars, and insert them the existing structure, was Paley’s object. He took the doctrines of practical morals which he found current. Mankind were, about that time, ceasing to consider mere use and wont, or even the ordinary special pleading from texts of scripture, as sufficient warrants for common opinions, and were demanding something like a philosophic basis for them. This philosophic basis, Paley, consciously or unconsciously, made it his endeavour to supply. The skill with which his book was adapted to satisfy this want of the time, accounts for the popularity which attended it, notwithstanding the absence of that generous and inspiring tone, which gives so much of their usefulness as well as of their charm to the writings of Plato, and Locke, and Fenelon, and which mankind are accustomed to pretend to admire, whether they really respond to it or not.

When an author starts with such an object, it is of little consequence what premises he sets out from. In adopting the principle of utility, Paley, no doubt, followed the convictions of his ; but if he had started from any other principle, we have as little doubt that he would have arrived at the very same conclusions. These conclusions, namely, the received maxims of his time, were (it would have been strange if they were not) accordant in many points with those which philosophy would have dictated. But had they been accordant on all points, that was not the way in which a philosopher would have dealt with them.

The only deviation from commonplace which has been made an accusation (for all departures from commonplace are made accusations) against Paley’s moral system, is that of too readily allowing exceptions to important rules; and this Mr. Sedgwick does not fail to lay hold of, and endeavour, as others have done before him, to fix upon the principle of utility as . It is, however, imputable to the very same cause which we have already pointed out. Along with the prevailing maxims, Paley borrowed the prevailing laxity in their application. He had not only to maintain existing doctrines, but to save the credit of existing practices also. He found in his country’s morality (especially its political morality), modes of conduct universally prevalent, and applauded by all persons of station and consideration, but which, being acknowledged violations of great , could only be defended as cases of exception, resting on special grounds of expediency; and the only expediency which it was possible to ascribe to them was political expediency—that is, conduciveness to the of the . To this, and not to the tendencies of the principle of utility, is to be ascribed the lax morality taught by Paley, and justly objected to by Mr. Sedgwick, on the subject of lies, of to articles, of the abuses of influence in the British constitution, and various other topics. The principle of utility leads to no such conclusions. Let us be permitted to add that, if it did, we should not of late years have heard so much in reprobation of it from all manner of persons, and from none more than from the sworn defenders of those very malpractices.

When an inquirer knows beforehand the conclusions which he is to come to, he is not likely to seek far for grounds to rest them upon. Accordingly, the considerations of expediency upon which Paley founds his moral rules, are almost all of the most obvious and vulgar kind. In estimating the consequences of actions, in order to obtain a measure of their morality, there are always two sets of considerations involved: the consequences to the outward interests of the parties concerned (including the agent himself); and the consequences to the characters of the same persons, and to their outward interests so far as dependent on their characters. In the estimation of the first of these two classes of considerations, there is in general not much difficulty, nor much room for difference of opinion. The actions which are directly hurtful, or directly useful, to the outward interests of oneself or of other people, are easily distinguished, sufficiently at least for the guidance of a private individual. The rights of individuals, which other individuals ought to respect, over external things, are sufficiently pointed out by a few plain rules, and by the laws of one’s country. But it often happens that an essential part of the morality or immorality of an action or a rule of action consists in its influence upon the agent’s own mind: upon his susceptibilities of pleasure or pain, upon the general direction of his thoughts, feelings, and imagination, or upon some particular association. Many actions, moreover, produce effects upon the character of other persons besides the agent. In all these cases there will naturally be as much difference in the moral judgments of different persons, as there is in their views of human nature, and of the formation of character. Clear and comprehensive views of education and human culture must therefore precede, and form the basis of, a philosophy of morals; nor can the latter subject ever be understood, but in proportion as the former is so. For this, much yet remains to be done. Even the materials, though abundant, are not complete. Of those which exist, a large proportion have never yet found their way into the writings of philosophers; but are to be gathered, on the one hand, from actual observers of mankind; on the other, from those autobiographers, and from those poets or novelists, who have spoken out unreservedly, from their own experience, any true human feeling. To collect together these materials, and to add to them, will be a labour for successive generations. But Paley, instead of having brought from the philosophy of education and character any new light to illuminate the subject of morals, has not even availed himself of the lights which had already been thrown upon it from that source. He, in fact, had meditated little on this branch of the subject, and had no ideas in relation to it, but the commonest and most superficial.

Thus much we have been induced to say, rather from the importance of the subject, than for the sake of a just estimate of Paley, which is a matter of inferior consequence; still less for the , as we shall soon see, might have been more summarily disposed of.

Mr. Sedgwick’s objections to the principle of utility are of two kinds—first, that it is not true; secondly, that it is dangerous, degrading, and so forth. What he says against its truth, when picked out from a hundred different places, and brought together, would fill about three pages, leaving about twenty consisting of attacks upon its tendency. This already looks ill; for, after all, the truth or falsehood of the principle is the main point. When, of a dissertation on any controverted question, a small part only is employed in proving the author’s own opinion, a large part in ascribing odious consequences to the opposite opinion, we are apt to think that, on the former point, there was not very much to be said . One thing is certain; that if an opinion have ever such mischievous consequences, that cannot prevent any thinking person from believing it, if the evidence is in its favour. Unthinking persons, indeed, if they are very solemnly assured that an opinion has mischievous consequences, may be frightened from examining the evidence. When, therefore, we find that this mode of dealing with an opinion is the favourite one—is resorted to in preference to the other, and with greater vehemence, and at greater length—we conclude that it is upon unthinking rather than upon thinking persons that the author calculates upon making an impression; or else, that he himself is one of the former class of persons—that his own judgment is determined, less by evidence presented to his understanding, than by the repugnancy of the opposite opinion to his partialities and affections; and that, perceiving clearly the opinion to be one which it would be painful to him to adopt, he has been easily satisfied with reasons for rejecting it.

All that the Professor says to disprove the principle of utility, and to prove the existence of a moral sense, is found in the following paragraph:—

Let it not be said that our moral sentiments are superinduced by seeing and tracing the consequences of crime. The assertion is not true. The early sense of shame comes before such trains of thought, and is not, therefore, caused by them; and millions, in all ages of the world, have grown up as social beings and moral agents, amenable to the laws of God and man, who never traced or thought of tracing the consequences of their actions, nor ever referred them to any standard of utility. Nor let it be said that the moral sense comes of mere teaching—that right and wrong pass as mere words, first from the lips of the mother to the child, and then from man to man; and that we grow up with moral judgments gradually ingrafted in us from without, by the long-heard lessons of praise and blame, by the experience of fitness, or the sanction of the law. I repeat that the statement is not true—that our moral perceptions show themselves not in any such order as this. The question is one of feeling; and the moral feelings are often strongest in very early life, before moral rules or legal sanctions have once been thought of. Again, what are we to understand by teaching? Teaching implies capacity: one can be of no use without the other. A faculty of the soul may be called forth, brought to light, and matured; but cannot be created, any more than we can create a new particle of matter, or invent a new law of nature.

(Pp. 52-3.)

The substance of the last three sentences is repeated at somewhat greater length shortly after (pp. 54-5), in a passage from which we only quote the following words:—“No training (however greatly it may change an individual mind) can create a new faculty, any more than it can give a new organ of sense.” In many other parts of the Discourse, the same arguments are alluded to, but no new ones are introduced.

Let us, then, examine these arguments.

First, the Professor says, or seems to say, that our moral sentiments cannot be generated by experience of consequences, because a child feels the sense of shame before he has any experience of consequences; and likewise because millions of persons grow up, have moral feelings, and live morally, “who never traced, or thought of tracing, the consequences of their actions,” but who yet, it seems, are suffered to go at large, which we thought was not usually the case with persons who never think of the consequences of their actions. The Professor continues—“who never traced, or thought of tracing, the consequences of their actions, nor ever referred them to any standard of utility.”

Secondly; that our moral feelings cannot arise from teaching, because those feelings are often strongest in very early life.

Thirdly; that our moral feelings cannot arise from teaching, because teaching can only call forth a faculty, but cannot create one.

Let us first consider the singular allegation, that the sense of shame in a child precedes all experience of the consequences of actions. Is it not astounding that such an assertion should be ventured upon by any person of sane mind? At what period in a child’s life, after it is capable of forming the idea of an action at all, can it be without experience of the consequences of actions? As soon as it has the idea of one person striking another, is it not aware that striking produces pain? As soon as it has the idea of being commanded by its parent, has it not the notion that, by not doing what is commanded, it will excite the parent’s displeasure? A child’s knowledge of the simple fact (one of the earliest he becomes acquainted with), that some acts produce pain and others pleasure, is called by pompous names, “seeing and tracing the consequences of crime,” “trains of thought,” “referring actions to a standard,” terms which imply continued reflection and large abstractions; and because these terms are absurd when used of a child or an uneducated person, we are to conclude that a child or an uneducated person has no notion that one thing is caused by another. As well might it be said that a child requires an instinct to tell him that he has ten fingers, because he knows it before he has ever thought of “ arithmetical computations.” Though a child is not a jurist or a moral philosopher (to whom alone the Professor’s phrases would be properly applicable), he has the idea of himself hurting or offending some one, or of some one hurting or annoying him. These are ideas which precede any sense of shame in doing wrong; and it is out of these elements, and not out of abstractions, that the supporters of the theory of utility contend that the idea of wrong, and our feelings of disapprobation it, are originally formed. Mr. Sedgwick’s argument resembles one we often hear, that the principle of utility must be false, because it supposes morality to be founded on the good of society, an idea too complex for the majority of mankind, who look only to the particular persons concerned. Why, none but those who mingle in public transactions, or whose example is likely to have extensive influence, have any occasion to look beyond the particular persons concerned. Morality, for all other people, consists in doing good and refraining from harm, to themselves and to those who immediately surround them. As soon as a child has the idea of voluntarily producing pleasure or pain to any one person, he has an accurate notion of utility. When he afterwards gradually rises to the very complex idea of “society,” and learns in what manner his actions may affect the interests of other persons than those who are present to his sight, his conceptions of utility, and of right and wrong founded on utility, undergo a corresponding enlargement, but receive no new element.

Again, if it were ever to true that the sense of shame in a child precedes all knowledge of consequences, what is that to the question respecting a moral sense? with a moral sense? A child is ashamed of doing what he is told is wrong; but so is he also ashamed of doing what he knows is right, if he expects to be laughed at for doing it; he is ashamed of being duller than another child, of being ugly, of being poor, of not having fine clothes, of not being able to run, or wrestle, or box so well as another. He is ashamed of whatever causes him to be thought less of by the persons who surround him. This feeling of shame is accounted for by obvious associations; but suppose it to be innate, what would that prove in favour of a moral sense? If all that Mr. Sedgwick can show for a moral sense is the sense of shame, that all our moral sentiments are the result of opinions which come to us from without; since the sense of shame so obviously follows the opinion of others, and, at least in early years, is wholly determined by it.

On the Professor’s first argument no more needs be said. His second is the following: that moral feelings cannot “come of mere teaching,” because they do not grow up gradually, but are often strongest in very early life.

Now, this is, in the first place, a mistaking of the matter in dispute. Nobody says that moral feelings “come of mere teaching.” It is not pretended that they are factitious and artificial associations, inculcated by parents and teachers purposely to further certain social ends, and no more congenial to our natural feelings than the contrary associations. The idea of the pain of another is naturally painful; the idea of the pleasure of another is naturally pleasurable. From this in our natural constitution, all our affections both of love and aversion towards human beings, in so far as they are different from those we entertain towards mere inanimate objects which are pleasant or disagreeable to us . In this, the unselfish part of our nature, lies a foundation, even independently of inculcation from without, for the generation of moral feelings.

But if, because it is not inconsistent with the constitution of our nature that moral feelings should grow up independently of teaching, Mr. Sedgwick would infer that they generally do so, or that teaching is not the source of almost all the moral feeling which exists in the world, his assertion is a piece of sentimentality completely at variance with the facts. If by saying that “moral feelings are often strongest in very early life,” Mr. Sedgwick means that they are strongest in children, he only proves his ignorance of children. Young children have affections, but moral feelings; and children whose will is never resisted, never acquire them. There is no selfishness equal to of children, as every one who is acquainted with children well knows. It is not the hard, cold selfishness of a grown person, for the most affectionate children have it ; but the most selfish of grown persons does not come up to a child in the reckless seizing of any pleasure to himself, regardless of the consequences to others. The pains of others, though naturally painful to us, are not so until we have realized them by an act of imagination, implying voluntary attention; and that no child ever pays, while under the impulse of a present desire. If a child restrains the indulgence of any wish, it is either from affection or sympathy, which are quite other feelings than those of morality; or else (whatever Mr. Sedgwick may think) because he has been to do so. And he only learns the habit gradually, and in proportion to the assiduity and skill of the teaching.

The assertion that “moral feelings are often strongest in very early life,” is true in no sense but one which confirms what it is brought to refute. The time of life at which moral feelings are apt to be strongest, is the age when we cease to be merely members of our own families, and begin to have intercourse with the world; that is, when the teaching has continued longest in one direction, and has not commenced in any other direction. When we go forth into the world, and meet with teaching, both by precept and example, of an opposite tendency to that which we have been used to, the feeling begins to weaken. Is this a sign of its being wholly independent of teaching? Has a boy quietly educated in , or one who has been at a public school, the strongest moral feelings?

on the Professor’s second argument. is, that teaching may strengthen our natural faculties, and call forth those which are powerless because untried; but cannot create a faculty which does not exist; cannot, therefore, have created the moral faculty.

It is surprising that Mr. Sedgwick should not see that his argument begs the question in dispute. To prove that our moral judgments are innate, he assumes that they proceed from a distinct faculty. But this is precisely what the adherents of the principle of utility deny. They contend that the morality of actions is perceived by the same faculties by which we perceive any other of the qualities of actions, namely, our intellects and our senses. They the capacity of perceiving moral distinctions no more a faculty than the capacity of trying causes, or of making a speech to a jury. This last is a very peculiar power, yet no one says that it must have preexisted in Sir James Scarlett before he was called to the bar, because teaching and practice cannot create a new faculty. They can create a new power; and a faculty is but a finer name for a power. A power powerless!t

The only colour for representing our moral judgments as the result of a peculiar part of our nature, is that our feelings of moral approbation and disapprobation are really peculiar feelings. But is it not notorious that peculiar feelings, unlike any others which we have experience of, are created by association every day? What does the Professor think of the feelings of ambition; the desire of power over our fellow-creatures, and the pleasure of its possession and exercise? These are peculiar feelings. But they are obviously generated by the law of association, from the connexion between power over our fellow-creatures and the gratification of almost all our other inclinations. What will the Professor say of the chivalrous point of honour? What of the feelings of envy and jealousy? What of the feelings of miser to his gold? Who ever looked upon these last as the subject of a distinct natural faculty? Their origin in association is obvious to all the world. Yet they are feelings as peculiar, as unlike any other part of our nature, as the feelings of conscience.

It will hardly be believed that what we have now answered is all that Mr. Sedgwick advances, to prove the principle of utility untrue; yet such is the fact. Let us now see whether he is more successful in proving the pernicious consequences of the principle, and the “degrading effect” which it produces “on the temper and conduct of those who adopt it.”

The Professor’s talk is more indefinite, and the few ideas he has are more overlaid with declamatory phrases, on this point, than even on the preceding one. We can, however, descry through the mist some faint semblance of two tangible objections: one, that the principle of utility is not suited to man’s capacity—that if we were ever so desirous of applying it correctly, we should not be capable; the other, that it debases the moral practice of those who adopt it—which seems to imply (strange as the assertion is) that adoption of it as a principle to apply it correctly.

We must quote Mr. Sedgwick’s very words, or it would hardly be believed that we quote him fairly:—

Independently of the bad effects produced on the moral character of man, by a system which makes expediency (in whatever sense the word be used) the test of right and wrong, we may affirm, on a more general view, that the rule itself is utterly unfitted to his capacity. Feeble as man may be, he forms a link in a chain of moral causes, ascending to the throne of God; and trifling as his individual acts may seem, he tries in vain to follow out their consequences as they go down into the countless ages of coming time. Viewed in this light, every act of man is woven into a moral system, ascending through the past—descending to the future—and preconceived in the mind of the Almighty. Nor does this notion, as far as regards ourselves, end in mere quietism and necessity. For we know right from wrong, and have that liberty of action which implies responsibility; and, as far as we are allowed to look into the ways of Providence, it seems compatible with his attributes to use the voluntary acts of created beings, as second causes in working out the ends of his own will. Leaving, however, out of question that stumbling-block which the prescience of God has often thrown in the way of feeble and doubting minds, we are, at least, certain, that man has not foreknowledge to trace the consequences of a single action of his own; and hence that utility (in the highest sense of which the word is capable) is, as a test of right and wrong, unfitted to his understanding, and therefore worthless in its application. (Pp.


Mr. Sedgwick appears to be one of that numerous class who never take the trouble to set before themselves fairly opinion which they have an aversion to. Who ever said that it was necessary to foresee all the consequences of each individual action, “as they go down into the countless ages of coming time?” Some of the consequences of an action are accidental; others are its natural result, according to the known laws of the universe. The former, for the most part, cannot be foreseen; but the whole course of human life is founded upon the fact that the latter can. In what reliance do we ply our several trades—in what reliance do we buy or sell, eat or drink, write books or read them, walk, ride, speak, think, except on our foresight of the consequences of those actions? The commonest person lives according to maxims of prudence wholly founded on foresight of consequences; and we are told by a wise man from Cambridge, that the foresight of consequences, as a rule to guide ourselves by, is impossible! Our foresight of consequences is not perfect. Is anything else in our constitution perfect? Est quodam prodire tenus, si non datur ultra: Non possis oculo quantum contendere Lynceus; Non tamen idcirco contemnas lippusinungi. If the Professor quarrels with such means of guiding our conduct as , it is incumbent on him to show that, in point of fact, with better. Does the moral sense, allowing its existence, point out any surer practical rules? If so, let us have them in black and white. If nature has given us rules which suffice for our conduct, without any consideration of the probable consequences of our actions, produce them. But no; for two thousand years, nature’s moral code has been a topic for declamation, and no one has yet produced a single chapter of it: nothing but a few elementary generalities, which are the mere alphabet of a morality founded upon utility. Hear Bishop Butler, the oracle of the moral-sense school, and whom our author quotes:—

However much men may have disputed about the nature of virtue, and whatever ground for doubt there may be about particulars, yet in general there is an universally acknowledged standard of it. It is that which all ages and all countries have made a profession of in public; it is that which every man you meet puts on the show of; it is that which the primary and fundamental laws of all civil constitutions over the face of the earth make it their business and endeavour to enforce the practice of upon mankind: namely, justice, veracity, and regard to the common good. (P. 130.)

Mr. Sedgwick praises Butler for not being more explanatory. Did Butler, then, or does Mr. Sedgwick, seriously believe that mankind have not sufficient foresight of consequences to perceive the advantage of “justice, veracity, and regard to the common good?” That, without a peculiar faculty, they would not be able to see that these qualities are useful to them?

When, indeed, the question arises, what is justice?—that is, what are those claims of others which we are bound to respect? and what is the conduct required by “regard to the common good?” the solutions which we can deduce from our foresight of consequences are not infallible. But let any one try those which he can deduce from the moral sense. Can deduce any? Show us, written in the human heart, any answer to these questions. Bishop Butler gives up the point; and Mr. Sedgwick praises him for doing so. When Mr. Sedgwick wants something definite, to oppose to the indefiniteness of a morality founded on utility, he has recourse not to the moral sense, but to Christianity. With such fairness as this does he hold the between the two principles: he supposes his moral-sense man provided with all the guidance which can be derived from a revelation from heaven, and his destitute of any such help. When one sees the question so stated, one cannot wonder at any conclusion. Need we say that Revelation, as a means of supplying the uncertainty of human , is as open to one of the two parties as to the other? Need we say that Paley, the very author who, in this Discourse, is treated as the representative of , appeals to Revelation throughout? and no credit from Mr. Sedgwick for it, but the contrary; for Revelation, it seems, may be referred to in aid of the moral sense, but not to assist or rectify our judgments of utility.

The truth, however, is, that Revelation , as Paley justly observed, the details of ethics. Christianity does not deliver a code of morals, any more than a code of laws. Its practical morality is altogether indefinite, and was meant to be so. This indefiniteness has been considered by some of the ablest defenders of Christianity as one of its most signal merits, and among the strongest proofs of its divine origin: being the quality which fits it to be an universal religion, and distinguishes it both from the Jewish dispensation, and from all other religions, which as they invariably enjoin, under their most awful sanctions, acts which are only locally or temporarily useful, are in their own nature local and temporary. Christianity, on the contrary, influences by shaping the character itself: it aims at so elevating and purifying the desires, that there shall be no hindrance to the fulfilment of our duties when recognised; but of what our duties are, at least in regard to outward acts, it says very little but what have said. If, therefore, we would have any definite morality at all, we must perforce resort to that “foresight of consequences,” of the difficulties of which the Professor has so formidable an idea.

But this talk about uncertainty is mere exaggeration. There uncertainty if each individual had all to do for himself, and only his own experience to guide him. But we are not so situated. Every one directs himself in morality, as in all his conduct, not by his own unaided foresight, but by the accumulated wisdom of all former ages, traditional aphorisms. So strong is the disposition to submit to the authority of such traditions, and so little danger is there of erring on the other side, that the absurdest customs are perpetuated through a lapse of ages from no other cause. A hundred millions of human beings think it the most exalted virtue to swing by a hook before an idol, and the most dreadful pollution to drink cow-broth—only because their forefathers thought so. A Turk thinks it the height of indecency for women to in the streets unveiled; and when that in some countries without any evil result, he shakes his head and says, “If you hold butter to the fire it will melt.” Did not many generations of the most educated men in Europe believe every line of Aristotle to be infallible? So difficult is it to break loose from a received opinion. The progress of experience, and the growth of the human intellect, succeed but too slowly in correcting and improving traditional opinions. There is little fear, truly, that the mass of mankind should insist upon “tracing the consequences of actions” by their own unaided lights;—they are but too ready to let it be done for them once for all, and to think they have nothing to do with rules of morality (as say they have with the laws) but to obey them.

Mr. Sedgwick is master of phrases of those who know nothing of the principle of utility but the name. To act upon rules of conduct, of which utility is recognised as the basis, he calls “waiting for the calculations of utility”—a thing, according to him, in itself immoral, since “to hesitate is to rebel.” On the same principle, navigating by rule instead of by instinct might be called waiting for the calculations of astronomy. is in the middle of the South Because a sailor has not verified all the computations in the Nautical Almanac, does he therefore “hesitate” to use it?

Thus far Mr. Sedgwick on the difficulties of the principle of utility, when we mean to apply it honestly. But he further charges the principle with having a “debasing” and “degrading” effect.

A word like “debasing,” applied to anything which acts upon the mind, may mean several things. It may mean, making us unprincipled; regardless of the rights and feelings of other people. It may mean, making us slavish; spiritless, submissive to injury or insult; incapable of asserting our own rights, and vindicating the just independence of our minds and actions. It may mean, making us cowardly; slothful; incapable of bearing pain, or nerving ourselves to exertion for a worthy object. It may mean, making us narrow-minded; pusillanimous, in Hobbes’s sense of the word: too intent upon little things to feel rightly about great ones: incapable of having our imagination fired by a grand object of contemplation; incapable of thinking, feeling, aspiring, or acting, on any but a small scale. An opinion which produced any of these effects upon the mind would be rightly called debasing. But when, without proving, or even in plain terms asserting, that it produces these effects, or any effects which he can make distinctly understood, a man merely says of an opinion that it is debasing,—all he really says is, that he has a . What definite proposition concerning the effect of any doctrine on the mind can be extracted from such a passage as this?—

If expediency be the measure of right, and every one claim the liberty of judgment, virtue and vice have no longer any fixed relations to the moral condition of man, but change with the fluctuations of opinion. Not only are his actions tainted by prejudice and passion, but his rule of life, under this system, must be tainted in like degree—must be brought down to own level: for he will no longer be able, compatibly with his principles, to separate the rule from its application. No high and unvarying standard of morality, which his heart approves, however infirm his practice, will be offered to his thoughts. But his bad passions will continue to do their work in bending him to the earth; and unless he be held upright by the strong power of religion (an extrinsic power which I am not now considering), he will inevitably be carried down, by a degrading standard of action, to a sordid and grovelling life. It may perhaps be said, that we are arguing against a rule, only from its misapprehension and abuse. But we reply, that every precept is practically bad when its abuse is natural and inevitable—that the system of utility brings down virtue from a heavenly throne, and places her on an earthly tribunal, where her decisions, no longer supported by any holy sanction, are distorted by judicial ignorance, and tainted by base passion.

(P. 63.)

What does this tell us? First, that if utility be the standard, different persons may have different opinions on morality. This is the talk about uncertainty, which already disposed of. Next, that where there is uncertainty, men’s passions will bias their judgment. Granted; this is one of the evils of our condition, and must be borne with. We do not diminish it by pretending that nature tells us what is right, when nobody ever ventures to set down what nature tells us, nor affects to expound her laws in any way but by an appeal to utility. All that the remainder of the passage does, is to repeat, in various phrases, that Mr. Sedgwick feels such a “standard of action” to be “degrading;” that Mr. Sedgwick feels it to be “sordid” and “grovelling.” If so, nobody can compel Mr. Sedgwick to adopt it. If he feels it debasing, no doubt it would be so to him. But until he is able to show some reason why it must be so to others, may we be permitted to suggest, that perhaps the cause of its being so to himself, is only that he does not understand it?

Read this:—

Christianity considers every act grounded on mere worldly consequences as built on a false foundation. The mainspring of every virtue is placed by it in the affections, called into renewed strength by a feeling of self-abasement—by gratitude for an immortal benefit—by communion with God—and by the hopes of everlasting life. Humility is the foundation of the Christian’s honour—distrust of self is the ground of his strength—and his religion tells him that every work of man is counted worthless in the sight of heaven, as the means of his pardon or the price of his redemption. Yet it gives him a pure and perfect rule of life; and does not for an instant exempt him from the duty of obedience to his rule: for it ever aims at a purgation of the moral faculties, and a renewal of the defaced image of God; and its moral precepts have an everlasting sanction. And thus does Christian love become an efficient and abiding principle—not tested by the world, but above the world; yet reaching the life-spring of every virtuous deed, and producing in its season a harvest of good and noble works incomparably more abundant than ever rose from any other soil.

The utilitarian scheme starts, on the contrary, with an abrogation of the authority of conscience—a rejection of the moral feelings as the test of right and wrong. From first to last, it is in bondage to the world, measuring every act by a worldly standard, and estimating its value by worldly consequences. Virtue becomes a question of calculation—a matter of profit or loss; and if man gain heaven at all on such a system, it must be by arithmetical details—the computation of his daily work—the balance of his moral ledger. A conclusion such as this offends against the spirit breathing in every page of the book of life; yet is it fairly drawn from the principle of utility. It appears, indeed, not only to have been foreseen by Paley, but to have been accepted by him—a striking instance of the tenacity with which man ever clings to system, and is ready to embrace even its monstrous consequences rather than believe that he has himself been building on a wrong foundation.

(Pp. 66-7.)

In a note, he adds,—

The following are the passages here referred to:—

‘The Christian religion hath not ascertained the precise quantity of virtue necessary to salvation.’

‘It has been said, that it can never be a just economy of Providence to admit one part of mankind into heaven, and condemn the other to hell; since there must be very little to choose between the worst man who is received into heaven, and the best who is excluded. And how know we, it might be answered, but that there may be as little to choose in their conditions?’ (Moral Philosophy, Bk. I, Chap. vii [London: Tegg, 1824, 29, 30].)

In the latter years of his life, Paley would, I believe, have been incapable of uttering or conceiving sentiments such as these.

So that a “purgation of the moral faculties” is necessary: the moral feelings require to be corrected. Yet the moral feelings are “the test of right and wrong;” and whoever “rejects” them as a test, must be called hard names. But we do not want to convict Mr. Sedgwick of inconsistency; we want to get at his meaning. Have we come to it at last? The gravamen of the charge against the principle of utility seems to lie in a word. Utility is a worldly standard; and estimates every act by worldly consequences.

To make his assertion about the worldliness of the standard of utility, true, it must be understood in one sense; to make it have the invidious effect which is intended, it must be understood in another. By “worldly,” does he mean to what is commonly meant when as a reproach—an undue regard to interest in the vulgar sense, our wealth, power, social position, and the like, our command over agreeable outward objects, and over the opinion and good offices of other people? If so, to call utility a worldly standard is . It is not true that utility estimates actions by this sort of consequences; it estimates them by their consequences. If he means that the principle of utility regards only (to use a scholastic distinction) the objective consequences of actions, and omits the subjective; attends to the effects on our outward condition, and that of other people, too much—to those on our internal sources of happiness or unhappiness, too little; this criticism is, as we have already remarked, in some degree applicable to Paley; but to charge this blunder upon the principle of utility, would be to say, that if judge of a thing by its consequences, you will judge only by . Again, if Mr. Sedgwick meant to speak of a “worldly standard” in contradistinction to a religious standard, and to say that if we adopt the principle of utility, we cannot admit religion as a sanction for it, or cannot attach importance to religious motives or feelings, the assertion would be simply false, and a gross Paley. What, therefore, can Mr. Sedgwick mean? this: that our actions take place in the world; that their consequences are produced in the world; that in the world; and that there, if anywhere, we must earn a place in heaven. The morality founded on utility allows this, certainly: does Mr. Sedgwick’s system of morality deny it?

Mark the involved in this sentence: “Christianity considers every act grounded on mere worldly consequences as built on a false foundation.” What is saving a father from death, but saving him from a worldly consequence? What are healing the sick, clothing the naked, sheltering the houseless, but acts which wholly consist in producing a worldly consequence? Confine Mr. Sedgwick to unambiguous words, and he is already answered. What is really true is, that Christianity considers no act as meritorious which is done from mere worldly motives; that is, which is in no degree prompted by the desire of our own moral perfection, or of the of a perfect being. These motives, we need scarcely observe, may be equally powerful, whatever be our standard of morality, provided we believe that the Deity approves it.

Mr. Sedgwick is scandalized at the supposition that the place awarded to each of us in the next world will depend on the balance of the good and evil of our lives. According to his notions of justice, we presume, it ought to depend wholly upon one of the two. As usual, Mr. Sedgwick begins by a misapprehension; he neither understands Paley, nor the conclusion which, he says, is “fairly drawn from the principles of utility.” Paley held, with Christians, that our place hereafter would be determined by our degree of moral perfection; that is, by the balance, not of our good and evil , which depend upon opportunity and temptation, but of our good and evil ; by the intensity and continuity of our will to do good; by the strength with which we have struggled to be virtuous; not by our accidental lapses, or by the unintended good or evil which has followed from our actions. When Paley said that Christianity has not ascertained “the precise quantity of virtue necessary to salvation,” he did not mean the number or kind of beneficial actions; he meant, that Christianity has not decided what positive strength of virtuous inclinations, and what capacity of resisting temptations, will procure acquittal at the tribunal of God. And most is this left undecided. Nor can there be a solution more consistent with the attributes which Christianity ascribes to the Deity, than Paley’s own—that every step in moral perfection, will be something gained towards everlasting welfare.

The remainder of Mr. Sedgwick’s argument—if argument it can be called—is a perpetual ignoratio elenchi. He lumps up the principle of utility—which is a theory of right and wrong—with the theory, if there be such a theory, of the universal selfishness of mankind. We never know, for many sentences together, which of the two he is arguing against; he never seems to know it himself. He begins a sentence on the one, and ends it on the other. In his mind they seem to be one and the same. Read this:—

Utilitarian philosophy and Christian ethics have in their principles and motives no common bond of union, and ought never to have been linked together in one system: for, palliate and disguise the difference as we may, we shall find at last that they rest on separate foundations; one deriving all its strength from the moral feelings, and the other from the selfish passions of our nature.

(P. 67.)

Or this:—

If we suppress the authority of conscience, reject the moral feelings, rid ourselves of the sentiments of honour, and sink (as men too often do) below the influence of religion; and if, at the same time, we are taught to think that utility is the universal test of right and wrong; what is there left within us as an antagonist power to the craving of passion, or the base appetite of worldly gain? In such a condition of the soul, all motive not terminating in mere passion becomes utterly devoid of meaning. On this system, the sinner is no longer abhorred as a rebel against his better nature—as one who profanely mutilates the image of God: he acts only on the principles of other men, but he blunders in calculating the chances of his personal advantage: and thus we deprive virtue of its holiness, and vice of its deformity; humanity of its honour, and language of its meaning; we shut out, as no better than madness or folly, the loftiest sentiments of the heathen as well as of the Christian world; and all that is great or generous in our nature droops under the influence of a cold and withering selfishness.

(Pp. 76-7.)

What has “calculating the chances of personal advantage” to do with the principle of utility? The object of Mr. Sedgwick is, to represent that principle as leading to the conclusion, that a vicious man is no more a subject of disapprobation than a person who blunders in a question of prudence. If Mr. Sedgwick did but know what the principle of utility is, he would see that it leads to no such conclusion. Some people have been led to that conclusion, not by the principle of utility, but by a theory of motives, which has been called the selfish theory; and even from that it does not justly follow.

The finery about shutting out “lofty sentiments” scarcely deserves notice. It resembles what in the next page [77] about “suppressing all the kindly emotions which minister to virtue.” wilful misrepresentation, but is the very next thing to it—misrepresentation in voluntary ignorance. Who proposes to suppress Human beings, the Professor may be assured, will always love and honour every sentiment, whether “lofty” or otherwise, which is either directly pointed to their good, or tends to raise the mind above the influence of the petty objects for the sake of which mankind injure one another. The Professor is afraid that the sinner will be “no longer abhorred.” We imagined that it was not the sinner who should be abhorred, but sin. Mankind, however, are sufficiently ready to abhor whatever is obviously noxious to them. A human being filled with malevolent dispositions, or coldly indifferent to the feelings of his fellow-creatures, will never, the Professor may assure himself, be amiable in their eyes. Whether they will speak of him as “a rebel against his better nature,”—“one who profanely mutilates the image of God,” and so on, will depend upon whether they are proficients in commonplace rhetoric. But whatever words they use, rely on it that, while men dread and abhor a wolf or a serpent, which have no better nature, and no image of God to mutilate, they will abhor with infinitely greater intensity a human being who, outwardly resembling themselves, is inwardly their enemy, and, being far more powerful than “toad or asp,” voluntarily cherishes the same .

If utility be the standard, “the end,” in the Professor’s opinion, “will be made to sanctify the means” (p. 78). We answer—just so far as in any other system, and no . In every system of morality, the end, when good, justifies all means which do not conflict with some more important good. On Mr. Sedgwick’s own scheme, are there not ends which sanctify actions, in other cases deserving the utmost abhorrence—such, for instance, as taking the life of a fellow-creature in cold blood, in the face of the whole people? According to the principle of utility, the end justifies all means necessary to its attainment, except those which are more mischievous than the end is useful

We have now concluded our of Mr. Sedgwick: first, as a commentator on the studies which form part of a liberal education; and next, as an assailant of the “utilitarian theory of morals.” We have shown that, on the former subject, he has omitted almost everything which ought to have been said; that almost all which he has said is trivial, and much of it . With regard to the other part of his design, we have shown that he has not only failed to refute the doctrine that human happiness is the foundation of morality, but has, in the attempt, proved himself not to understand what the doctrine is; and to be capable of other men’s opinions, and themselves, .

The question is not one of pure speculation. Not to mention the importance, to those who are entrusted with the education of the moral sentiments, of just views respecting their origin and nature; we may remark that, upon the truth or falseness of the doctrine of a moral sense, it depends whether morality is a fixed or a progressive body of doctrine. If it be true that man has a sense given him to determine what is right and wrong, it follows that his moral judgments and feelings cannot be susceptible of any improvement; such as they are they ought to remain. The question, what mankind in general to think and feel on the subject of their duty, must be determined by observing what, when no interest or passion can be seen to bias them, they think and feel already. According to the theory of utility, on the contrary, the question, what is our duty, is as open to discussion as any other question. Moral doctrines are no more to be received without evidence, to be sifted less carefully, than any other doctrines. An appeal lies, as on all other subjects, from a received opinion, however generally entertained, to the decisions of cultivated reason. The weakness of human intellect, and all the other infirmities of our nature, are considered to interfere as much with the rectitude of our judgments on morality, as on any other of our concerns; and changes as great are anticipated in our opinions on that subject, as on every other, both from the progress of intelligence, from more authentic and enlarged experience, and from alterations in the condition of the human race, requiring altered rules of conduct.

deeply concerns the greatest interests of our race, that the only mode of treating ethical questions which at correcting existing maxims, and rectifying any of the perversions of existing feeling, should not be borne down by clamour. The contemners of analysis have long enough had all the pretension to themselves. They have had the monopoly of the claim to pure, and lofty, and sublime principles; and those who gave reasons to justify their feelings have submitted to be cried down as low, and cold, and degraded. We hope they will submit no longer




D&D, I (1867), 330-92, with footnote to title: “London and Westminster Review, August 1938.” Reprinted from London and Westminster Review, 7 & 29 (Aug., 1838), 467-506, signed “A” and headed: “Art. XI.—The Works of Jeremy Bentham: now first collected, under the supervision of his Executor, John Bowring. Parts I to IV. Tait, Edinburgh. 1838.” (These Parts appeared in the full edition in Vols. I and IV; for full details of the contents, see under Bentham, Works, in the Bibliographic Appendix, 512 below.) This number of the London and Westminster went into a second edition (probably because of this article); in the reprinting JSM added the final footnote (115n), but made no other changes. The second version appeared as an offprint, An Estimate of Bentham’s Philosophy (London: printed by C. Reynell, 1838), with a title page, new pagination, and the running titles removed, but no other changes (it is still signed “A”). Described in JSM’s bibliography as “An article on Bentham, in the London and Westminster Review for August 1838 (No. 6)” (MacMinn, 50).

There are no corrections or alterations in the Somerville College copies of the article, the offprint, and D&D. The following text is collated with that in D&D (1st ed.); those in the London and Westminster, 1st and 2nd eds.; and that of the offprint. In the footnoted variants, D&D (2nd ed.) is indicated by “67”; D&D (1st ed.) by “59”; and the London and Westminster by “38” (in the final footnote, “382” indicates the 2nd ed. of the London and Westminster).


there are two men, recently deceased, to whom their country is indebted not only for the greater part of the important ideas which have been thrown into circulation among its thinking men in their time, but for a revolution in its general modes of thought and investigation. These men, dissimilar in almost all else, agreed in being closet-students—secluded in a peculiar degree, by circumstances and character, from the business and intercourse of the world: and both were, through a large portion of their lives, regarded by those who took the lead in opinion (when they happened to hear of them) with feelings akin to contempt. But they were destined to renew a lesson given to mankind by every age, and always disregarded—to show that speculative philosophy, which to the superficial appears a thing so remote from the business of life and the outward interests of men, is in reality the thing on earth which most influences them, and in the long run overbears every other influence save those which it must itself obey. The writers of whom we speak have never been read by the multitude; except for the more slight of their works, their readers have been few: but they have been the teachers of the teachers; there is hardly to be found in England an individual of any importance in the world of mind, who (whatever opinions he may have afterwards adopted) did not first learn to think from one of these two; and though their influences have but begun to diffuse themselves through these intermediate channels over society at large, there is already scarcely a publication of any consequence addressed to the educated classes, which, if these persons had not existed, would not have been different from what it is. These men are, Jeremy Bentham and Samuel Taylor Coleridge—the two great seminal minds of England in their age.

No comparison is intended here between the minds or influences of these remarkable men: this were impossible unless there were first formed a complete judgment of each, considered apart. It is our intention to attempt, on the present occasion, an estimate of one of them; the only one, a complete edition of whose works is yet in progress, and who, in the classification which may be made of all writers into and Conservative, belongs to the same division with ourselves. For although they were far too great men to be correctly designated by either appellation exclusively, yet in the main, Bentham was a philosopher, Coleridge a Conservative one. The influence of the former has made itself felt chiefly of the latter, on and the two systems of concentric circles which the shock given by them is spreading over the ocean of mind, have only just begun to meet and intersect. The writings of both contain severe lessons to their own side, on many of the errors and faults they are addicted to: but to Bentham it was given to discern more particularly those truths with which existing doctrines and institutions were at variance; to Coleridge, the neglected truths which lay in them.

A man of great knowledge of the world, and of the highest reputation for practical talent and sagacity among the official men of his time (himself no follower of Bentham, nor of any partial or exclusive school whatever) once said to us, as the result of his observation, that to Bentham more than to any other source might be traced the questioning spirit, the disposition to demand the why of everything, which had gained so much ground and was producing such important consequences in these . The more this assertion is examined, the more true it will be found. Bentham has been in this age and country the great questioner of things established. It is by the influence of the modes of thought with which his writings inoculated a considerable number of thinking men, that the yoke of authority has been broken, and innumerable opinions, formerly received on tradition as incontestable, are put upon their defence, and required to give an account of themselves. Who, before Bentham, (whatever controversies might exist on points of detail) dared to speak disrespectfully, in express terms, of the British Constitution, or the English Law? He did so; and his arguments and his example together encouraged others. We do not mean that his writings caused the Reform Bill, or that the Appropriation Clause owns him as its parent: the changes which have been made, and the greater changes which will be made, in our institutions, are not the work of philosophers, but of the interests and instincts of large portions of society recently grown into strength. But Bentham gave voice to those interests and instincts: until he spoke out, those who found our institutions unsuited to them did not dare to say so, did not dare consciously to think so; they had never heard those institutions questioned by cultivated men, by men of acknowledged intellect; and it is not in the nature of uninstructed minds to resist the united authority of the instructed. Bentham broke the spell. It was not Bentham by his own writings; it was Bentham through the minds and pens which those writings fed—through the men in more direct contact with the world, into whom his spirit passed. If the superstition about ancestorial wisdom has fallen into decay; if the public are grown familiar with the idea that their laws and institutions are not the product of intellect and virtue, but of modern corruption grafted upon ancient barbarism; if the hardiest innovation is no longer scouted it is an innovation—establishments no longer considered sacred because they are establishments—it will be found that those who have accustomed the public mind to these ideas have learnt them in Bentham’s school, and that the assault on ancient institutions has been, and is, carried on for the most part with his weapons. It matters not although these thinkers, or indeed thinkers of any description, have been but scantily found among the persons prominently and ostensibly at the head of the Reform movement. All movements, except revolutionary ones, are headed, not by those who originate them, but by those who know best how to compromise between the old opinions and the new. The father of English innovation, both in doctrines and in institutions, is Bentham: he is the great subversive, or, in the language of continental philosophers, the great critical, thinker of his age and country.

We consider this, however, to be not his highest title to fame. Were this all, he were to be ranked among the lowest order of the potentates of mind—the negative, or destructive philosophers; those who can perceive what is false, but not what is true; who awaken the human mind to the inconsistencies and absurdities of time-sanctioned opinions and institutions, but substitute nothing in the place of what they take away. We have no desire to undervalue the services of such persons: mankind have been deeply indebted to them; nor will there ever be a lack of work for them, in a world in which so many false things are believed, in which so many which have been true, are believed long after they have ceased to be true. The qualities, however, which fit men for perceiving anomalies, without perceiving the truths which would rectify them, are not among the rarest of endowments. Courage, verbal acuteness, command over the forms of argumentation, and a popular style, will make, out of the shallowest man, with a sufficient lack of reverence, a negative philosopher. Such men have never been wanting in periods of culture; and the period in which Bentham formed his early impressions was emphatically their reign, in proportion to its barrenness in the more noble products of the human mind. An age of formalism in the Church and corruption in the State, when the most valuable part of the meaning of had faded from the minds even of those who retained from habit a mechanical belief in them, was the time to raise up all kinds of sceptical philosophy. Accordingly, France had Voltaire, and his school of negative thinkers, and England had the profoundest negative thinker on record, David Hume: a man, the peculiarities of whose mind qualified him to detect failure of proof, and want of logical consistency, at a depth which French sceptics, with their comparatively feeble powers of analysis and abstraction, stopt far short of

If Bentham had merely continued the work of Hume, he would scarcely have been heard of in philosophy; for he was far inferior to Hume in Hume’s qualities, and was in no respect fitted to excel as a metaphysician. We must not look for subtlety, or the power of recondite analysis, among his intellectual characteristics. In the former quality, few great thinkers have ever been so deficient; and to find the latter, in any considerable measure, in a mind acknowledging any kindred with his, we must have recourse to the late Mr. Mill—a man who united the great qualities of the metaphysicians of the eighteenth century, with others of a different complexion, admirably qualifying him to complete and correct their work. Bentham had not these peculiar gifts; but he possessed others, not inferior, which were not possessed by any of his precursors; which have made him a source of light to a generation which has far outgrown their influence, and, as we called him, the chief subversive thinker of an age which has long lost all that could subvert.

To speak of him first as a merely negative philosopher—as one who refutes illogical arguments, exposes sophistry, detects contradiction and absurdity; even in that capacity there was a wide field left vacant for him by Hume, and which he has occupied to an unprecedented extent; the field of practical abuses. This was Bentham’s peculiar province: to this he was called by the whole bent of his disposition: to carry the warfare against absurdity into things practical. His was an essentially practical mind. It was by practical abuses that his mind was first turned to speculation—by the abuses of the profession which was chosen for him, that of the law. He has himself stated what particular abuse first gave that shock to his mind, the recoil of which has made the whole mountain of abuse totter; it was the custom of making the client pay for three attendances in the office of a Master in Chancery, when only one was given. The law, he found, on examination, was full of such things. But were these discoveries of his? No; they were known to every lawyer who practised, to every judge who sat on the bench, and neither before nor for long after did they cause any apparent uneasiness to the consciences of these learned persons, nor hinder them from asserting, whenever occasion offered, in books, in parliament, or on the bench, that the law was the perfection of reason. During so many generations, in each of which thousands of educated young men were successively placed in Bentham’s position and with Bentham’s opportunities, he alone was found with sufficient moral sensibility and self-reliance to say that these things, however profitable they might be, were frauds, and that between them and himself there should be a gulf fixed. To this rare union of self-reliance and moral sensibility we are indebted for all that Bentham has done. Sent to Oxford by his father at the unusually early age of fifteen—required, on admission, to declare his belief in the Thirty-nine Articles—he felt it necessary to examine them; and the examination suggested scruples, which he sought to get removed, but instead of the satisfaction he expected, was told that it was not for boys like him to set up their judgment against the great men of the Church. After a struggle, he signed; but the impression that he had done an immoral act, never left him; he considered himself to have a falsehood, and throughout life he never relaxed in his indignant denunciations of all laws which command such falsehoods, all institutions which attach rewards to them.

By thus carrying the war of criticism and refutation, the conflict with falsehood and absurdity, into the field of practical evils, Bentham, even if he had done nothing else, would have earned an important place in the history of intellect. He carried on the warfare without intermission. To this, not only many of his most piquant chapters, but some of the most finished of his entire works, are entirely devoted: the Defence of Usury; the Book of Fallacies; and the onslaught upon Blackstone, published anonymously under the title of A Fragment on Government, which, though a first production, and of a writer afterwards so much ridiculed for his style, excited the highest admiration no less for its composition than for its thoughts, and was attributed by turns to Lord Mansfield, to Lord Camden, and (by Dr. Johnson) to Dunning, one of the greatest masters of style among the lawyers of his day. These writings are altogether original; though of the negative school, they resemble nothing previously produced by negative philosophers; and would have sufficed to create for Bentham, among the subversive thinkers of modern Europe, a place peculiarly his own. But it is not these writings that constitute the real distinction between him and them. There was a deeper difference. It was that they were purely negative thinkers, he was positive: they only assailed error, he made it a point of conscience not to do so until he thought he could plant instead the corresponding truth. Their character was exclusively analytic, his was synthetic. They took for their starting-point the received opinion on any subject, dug round it with their logical implements, pronounced its foundations defective, and condemned it: he began de novo, laid his own foundations deeply and firmly, built up his own structure, and mankind compare the two; it was when he had solved the problem himself, or thought he had done so, that he declared all other solutions to be erroneous. Hence, what they will not last; it must perish, much of it has already perished, with the errors which it exploded: what he did has its own value, by which it must outlast all errors to which it is opposed. Though we may reject, as we often must, his practical conclusions, yet his premises, the collections of facts and observations from which his conclusions were drawn, remain for ever, a part of the materials of philosophy.

A place, therefore, must be assigned to Bentham among the masters of wisdom, the great teachers and permanent intellectual ornaments of the human race. He is among those who have enriched mankind with imperishable gifts; and although these do not transcend all other gifts, nor entitle him to those honours “above all Greek, above all Roman fame,” which by a natural reaction against the neglect and contempt of the of his admirers were once disposed to accumulate upon him, yet to refuse an admiring recognition of what he was, on account of what he was not, is a much worse error, and one which, pardonable in the vulgar, is no longer permitted to any cultivated and instructed mind.

If we were asked to say, in the fewest possible words, we conceive to be Bentham’s place among these great intellectual benefactors of humanity; what he was, and what he was not; what kind of service he did and did not render to truth; we should say—he was not a great philosopher, but he was a great reformer in philosophy. He brought into philosophy something which it greatly needed, and for want of which it was at a stand. It was not his doctrines which did this, it was his mode of arriving at them. He introduced into morals and politics those habits of thought and modes of investigation, which are essential to the idea of science; and the absence of which made those departments of inquiry, as physics had been before Bacon, a field of interminable discussion, leading to no result. It was not his , in short, but his , that constituted the novelty and the value of what he did; a value beyond all price, even though we should reject the whole, as we unquestionably must a large part, of the opinions themselves.

Bentham’s method may be shortly described as the method of ; of treating wholes by separating them into their parts, abstractions by resolving them into Things,—classes and generalities by distinguishing them into the individuals of which they are made up; and breaking every question into pieces before attempting to solve it. The precise amount of originality of this process, considered as a logical conception—its degree of connexion with the methods of physical science, or with the previous labours of Bacon, Hobbes, or Locke—is not an essential consideration in this place. Whatever originality there was in the method—in the subjects he applied it to, and in the rigidity with which he adhered to it, there was the greatest. Hence his interminable classifications. Hence his elaborate demonstrations of the most acknowledged truths. That murder, incendiarism, robbery, are mischievous actions, he will not take for granted without proof; let the thing appear ever so self-evident, he will know the why and the how of it with the last degree of precision; he will distinguish all the different mischiefs of a crime, whether of the first, the second, or the third order, namely, 1. the evil to the sufferer, and to his personal connexions; 2. the danger from example, and the alarm or painful feeling of insecurity; and 3. the discouragement to industry and useful pursuits arising from the alarm, and the trouble and resources which must be expended in warding off the danger. After this enumeration, he will prove from the laws of human feeling, that even the first of these evils, the sufferings of the immediate victim, will on the average greatly outweigh the pleasure reaped by the offender; much more when all the other evils are taken into account. Unless this could be proved, he would account the infliction of punishment unwarrantable; and for taking the trouble to prove it formally, his defence is, “there are truths which it is necessary to prove, not for their own sakes, because they are acknowledged, but that an opening may be made for the reception of other truths which depend upon them. It is in this manner we provide for the reception of first principles, which, once received, prepare the way for admission of all other truths.” To which may be added, that in this manner also we discipline the mind for practising the same sort of dissection upon questions more complicated and of more doubtful issue.

It is a sound maxim, and one which all close thinkers have felt, but which no one before Bentham ever so consistently applied, that error lurks in generalities: that the human mind is not capable of embracing a complex whole, until it has surveyed and catalogued the parts of which that whole is made up; that abstractions are not , but an abridged mode of expressing facts, and that the only practical mode of dealing with them is to trace them back to the facts (whether of experience or of consciousness) of which they are the expression. Proceeding on this principle, Bentham makes short work with the ordinary modes of moral and political reasoning. These, it appeared to him, when hunted to their source, for the most part terminated in phrases. In politics, liberty, social order, constitution, law of nature, social compact, &c., were the catch-words: ethics had its analogous ones. Such were the arguments on which the gravest questions of morality and policy were made to turn; not reasons, but allusions to reasons; sacramental expressions, by which a summary appeal was made to some general sentiment of mankind, or to some maxim in familiar use, which might be true or not, but the limitations of which no one had ever critically examined. And this satisfied other people; but not Bentham. He required something more than opinion as a reason for opinion. Whenever he found a phrase used as an argument for or against anything, he insisted upon knowing what it meant; whether it appealed to any standard, or gave intimation of any matter of fact relevant to the question; and if he could not find that it did either, he treated it as an attempt on the part of the disputant to impose his own individual sentiment on other people, without giving them a reason for it; a “contrivance for avoiding the obligation of appealing to any external standard, and for prevailing upon the reader to accept of the author’s sentiment and opinion as a reason, and that a sufficient one, for itself.” Bentham shall speak for himself on this subject: the passage is from his first systematic work, Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation , and we could scarcely quote anything more strongly exemplifying both the strength and weakness of his .

It is curious enough to observe the variety of inventions men have hit upon, and the variety of phrases they have brought forward, in order to conceal from the world, and, if possible, from themselves, this very general and therefore very pardonable self-sufficiency.

1. One man says, he has a thing made on purpose to tell him what is right and what is wrong; and that is called a ‘moral sense:’ and then he goes to work at his ease, and says, such a thing is right, and such a thing is wrong—why? ‘Because my moral sense tells me it is.’

2. Another man comes and alters the phrase: leaving out moral, and putting in common in the room of it. He then tells you that his common sense tells him what is right and wrong, as surely as the other’s moral sense did: meaning by common sense a sense of some kind or other, which, he says, is possessed by all mankind: the sense of those whose sense is not the same as the author’s being struck out as not worth taking. This contrivance does better than the other; for a moral sense being a new thing, a man may feel about him a good while without being able to find it out: but common sense is as old as the creation; and there is no man but would be ashamed to be thought not to have as much of it as his neighbours. It has another great advantage: by appearing to share power, it lessens envy; for when a man gets up upon this ground, in order to anathematize those who differ from him, it is not by a sic volo sic jubeo, but by a velitis jubeatis.

3. Another man comes, and says, that as to a moral sense indeed, he cannot find that he has any such thing: that, however, he has an understanding, which will do quite as well. This understanding, he says, is the standard of right and wrong: it tells him so and so. All good and wise men understand as he does: if other men’s understandings differ in any part from his, so much the worse for them: it is a sure sign they are either defective or corrupt.

4. Another man says, that there is an eternal and immutable Rule of Right: that that rule of right dictates so and so: and then he begins giving you his sentiments upon anything that comes uppermost: and these sentiments (you are to take for granted) are so many branches of the eternal rule of right.

5. Another man, or perhaps the same man (it is no matter), says that there are certain practices conformable, and others repugnant, to the Fitness of Things; and then he tells you, at his leisure, what practices are conformable, and what repugnant: just as he happens to like a practice or dislike it.

6. A great multitude of people are continually talking of the Law of Nature; and then they go on giving you their sentiments about what is right and what is wrong: and these sentiments, you are to understand, are so many chapters and sections of the Law of Nature.

7. Instead of the phrase, Law of Nature, you have sometimes Law of Reason, Right Reason, Natural Justice, Natural Equity, Good Order. Any of them will do equally well. This latter is most used in politics. The three last are much more tolerable than the others, because they do not very explicitly claim to be anything more than phrases: they insist but feebly upon the being looked upon as so many positive standards of themselves, and seem content to be taken, upon occasion, for phrases expressive of the conformity of the thing in question to the proper standard, whatever that may be. On most occasions, however, it will be better to say utility: utility is clearer, as referring more explicitly to pain and pleasure.

8. We have one philosopher, who says, there is no harm in anything in the world but in telling a lie; and that if, for example, you were to murder your own father, this would only be a particular way of saying, he was not your father. Of course when this philosopher sees anything that he does not like, he says, it is a particular way of telling a lie. It is saying, that the act ought to be done, or may be done, when, in truth, it ought not to be done.

9. The fairest and openest of them all is that sort of man who speaks out, and says, I am of the number of the Elect: now God himself takes care to inform the Elect what is right: and that with so good effect, that let them strive ever so, they cannot help not only knowing it but practising it. If therefore a man wants to know what is right and what is wrong, he has nothing to do but to come to me.

Few out.

It is the introduction into the philosophy of human conduct, of this method of detail—of this practice of never reasoning about wholes until they have been resolved into their parts, nor about abstractions until they have been translated into realities—that constitutes the originality of Bentham in philosophy, and makes him the great reformer of the moral and political branch of it. To what he terms the “exhaustive method of classification,” which is but one branch of this more general method, he himself ascribes everything original in the systematic and elaborate work from which we have quoted. The generalities of his philosophy itself have little or no novelty: to ascribe any to the doctrine that general utility is the foundation of morality, would imply great ignorance of the history of philosophy, of general literature, and of Bentham’s own writings. He derived the idea, as he says himself, from Helvetius; and it was the doctrine no less, of the religious philosophers of that age, prior to Reid and Beattie. We never saw an abler defence of the doctrine of utility than in a book written in refutation of Shaftesbury, and now little read—Brown’sEssays on the Characteristics; and in Johnson’s celebrated review of Soame Jenyns, the same doctrine is set forth as that both of the author and of the reviewer. In all ages of philosophy one of its schools has been utilitarian—not only from the time of Epicurus, but long before. It was by mere accident that this opinion became connected in Bentham with his peculiar method. The utilitarian philosophers antecedent to him had no more claims to the method than their antagonists. To refer, for instance, to the Epicurean philosophy, according to the most complete view we have of the moral part of it, by the most accomplished scholar of antiquity, Cicero; we ask any one who has read his philosophical writings, the De Finibus for instance, whether the arguments of the Epicureans rhetorical appeals to common notions, to ἐικότα and σημεῖα instead of τεκμήρια, notions any of the other schools; they never take a question to pieces, and join issue on a definite point. Bentham certainly did not learn his sifting and anatomizing method from them.

This method Bentham has finally installed in philosophy; has made it henceforth imperative on philosophers of all schools. By it he has formed the intellects of many thinkers, who either never adopted, or have abandoned of his peculiar opinions. He has taught the method to men of the most opposite schools to his; he has made them perceive that if they do not test their doctrines by the method of detail, their adversaries will. He has thus, it is not too much to say, for the first time introduced precision of thought into moral and political philosophy. Instead of taking up their opinions by intuition, or by ratiocination from premises adopted on a mere rough view, and couched in language so vague that it is impossible to say exactly whether they are true or false, philosophers are now forced to understand one another, to break down the generality of their propositions, and join a precise issue in every dispute. This is nothing less than a revolution in philosophy. Its effect is gradually becoming evident in the writings of English thinkers of every variety of opinion, and will be felt more and more in proportion as Bentham’s writings are diffused, and as the number of minds to whose formation they contribute is multiplied.

It will naturally be presumed that of the fruits of this great philosophical improvement some portion at least will have been reaped by its author. Armed with such a potent instrument, and wielding it with such singleness of aim; cultivating the field of practical philosophy with such unwearied and such consistent use of a method right in itself, and not adopted by his predecessors; it cannot be but that Bentham by his own inquiries must have accomplished something considerable. And so, it will be found, he has; something not only considerable, but extraordinary; though but little compared with what he has left undone, and far short of what his sanguine and almost boyish fancy made him flatter himself that he had accomplished. His peculiar method, admirably calculated to make clear thinkers, and sure ones to the extent of their materials, has not equal efficacy for making those materials complete. It is a security for accuracy, but not for comprehensiveness; or rather, it is a security for one sort of comprehensiveness, but not for another.

Bentham’s method of laying out his subject is admirable as a preservative against one kind of narrow and partial views. He begins by placing before himself the whole of the field of inquiry to which the particular question belongs, and divides down till he arrives at the thing he is in search of; and thus by successively rejecting all which is the thing, he gradually works out a definition of what it . This, which he calls the exhaustive method, is as old as philosophy itself. Plato owes everything to it, and does everything by it; and the use made of it by that great man in his Dialogues, Bacon, in one of those pregnant logical hints scattered through his writings, and so much neglected by most of his pretended followers, pronounces to be the nearest approach to a true inductive method in the ancient philosophy. Bentham was aware that Plato had anticipated him in the process to which he too declared that he owed everything. By the practice of it, his speculations are rendered eminently systematic and consistent; no question, with him, is ever an insulated one; he sees every subject in connexion with all the other subjects with which in his view it is related, and from which it requires to be distinguished; and as all that he knows, in the least degree allied to the subject, has been marshalled in an orderly manner before him, he does not, like people who use a looser method, forget and overlook a thing on one occasion to remember it on another. Hence there is probably no philosopher of so wide a range, in whom there are so few inconsistencies. If any of the truths which he did not see, had come to be seen by him, he would have remembered it everywhere and at all times, and would have adjusted his whole system to it. And this is another admirable quality which he has impressed upon the best of the minds trained in his habits of thought: when open to admit new truths, they digest them as fast as they receive them.

But this system, excellent for keeping before the mind of the thinker all that he knows, does not make him know enough; it does not make a knowledge of of the properties of a thing suffice for the whole of it, nor render a rooted habit of surveying a complex object (though ever so carefully) in only one of its aspects, tantamount to the power of contemplating it in all. To give this last power, other qualities are required: whether Bentham possessed those other qualities we now have to see.

Bentham’s mind, as we have already said, was eminently synthetical. He begins all his inquiries by supposing nothing to be known on the subject, and reconstructs all philosophy ab initio, without reference to the opinions of his predecessors. But to build either a philosophy or anything else, there must be materials. For the philosophy of matter, the materials are the properties of matter; for moral and political philosophy, the properties of man, and of man’s position in the world. The knowledge which any inquirer possesses of these properties, constitutes a limit beyond which, as a moralist or a political philosopher, whatever be his powers of mind, he cannot . Nobody’s synthesis can be more complete than his analysis. If in his survey of human nature and life he has left any element out, then, wheresoever that element exerts any influence, his conclusions will fail, more or less, in their application. If he has left out many elements, and those very important, his labours may be highly valuable; he may have largely contributed to that body of partial truths which, when completed and corrected by one another, constitute practical truth; but the applicability of his system to practice in its own proper shape will be of an exceedingly limited range.

Human nature and human life are , and whoever would embark in an enterprise requiring a thorough knowledge of them, has need both of large stores of his own, and of all aids and appliances from elsewhere. His qualifications for success will be proportional to two things: the degree in which his own nature and circumstances furnish him with a correct and complete picture of man’s nature and circumstances; and his capacity of deriving light from other minds.

Bentham failed in deriving light from other minds. His writings contain few traces of the accurate knowledge of any of thinking but his own; and many proofs of his entire conviction that they could teach him nothing worth knowing. For some of the most illustrious of previous thinkers, his contempt was unmeasured. In almost the only passage of Deontology which, from its style, and from its having before appeared in print, may be known to be Bentham’s, Socrates, and Plato are spoken of in terms distressing to his greatest admirers; and the incapacity to appreciate such men, is a fact perfectly in unison with the general habits of Bentham’s mind. He had a phrase, expressive of the view he took of all moral speculations to which his method had not been applied, or (which he considered as the same thing) not founded on a recognition of utility as the moral standard; this phrase was “vague generalities. Whatever presented itself to him in such a shape, he dismissed as unworthy of notice, or dwelt upon only to denounce as absurd. He did not heed, or rather the nature of his mind prevented it from occurring to him, that these generalities contained the whole unanalysed experience of the human race.

Unless it can be asserted that mankind did not know anything until logicians taught it them—that until the last hand has been put to a moral truth by giving it a metaphysically precise expression, all the previous rough-hewing which it has undergone by the common intellect at the suggestion of common wants and common experience is to go for nothing; it must be allowed, that even the originality which can, and the courage which dares, think for itself, is not a more necessary part of the philosophical character than for previous thinkers, and for the collective mind of the human race. What has been the opinion of mankind, has been the opinion of persons of all tempers and dispositions, of all partialities and prepossessions, of all varieties in position, in education, in opportunities of observation and inquiry. No one inquirer is all this; every inquirer is either young or old, rich or poor, sickly or healthy, married or , meditative or active, a poet or a logician, an ancient or a modern, a man or a woman; and if a thinking person, has, in addition, the accidental peculiarities of his individual modes of thought. Every circumstance which gives a character to the life of a human being, carries with it is peculiar biases; its peculiar facilities for perceiving some things, and for missing or forgetting others. But, from points of view different from his, different things are perceptible; and none are likely to have seen what he does not see, those who do not see what he sees. The general opinion of mankind is the average of the conclusions of all minds, stripped indeed of their choicest and most recondite thoughts, but freed from their twists and partialities: a net result, in which everybody’s particular point of view is represented, nobody’s predominant. The collective mind does not penetrate below the surface, but it sees all the surface; which profound thinkers, even by reason of their profundity, do: their intenser view of a thing in some of its aspects diverting their attention from others.

The hardiest assertor, therefore, of the freedom of private judgment—the keenest detector of the errors of his predecessors, and of the inaccuracies of current modes of thought—is the very person who most needs to fortify the weak side of his own intellect, by study of the opinions of mankind in all ages and nations, and of the speculations of philosophers of the modes of thought most opposite to his own. It is there that he will find the experiences denied to himself—the remainder of the truth of which he sees but half—the truths, of which the errors he detects are commonly but the exaggerations. If, like Bentham, he brings with him an improved instrument of investigation, the greater is the probability that he will find ready prepared a rich abundance of rough ore, which was merely waiting for that instrument. A man of clear ideas errs grievously if he imagines that whatever is seen confusedly does not exist: it belongs to him, when he meets with such a thing, to dispel the mist, and fix the outlines of the vague form which is looming through it.

Bentham’s contempt, then, of all other schools of thinkers; his determination to create a philosophy wholly out of the materials furnished by his own mind, and by minds like his own; was his first disqualification as a philosopher. His second, was the incompleteness of his own mind as a representative of universal human nature. In many of the most natural and strongest feelings of human nature he had no sympathy; from many of its graver experiences he was altogether cut off; and the faculty by which one mind understands a mind different from itself, and throws itself into the feelings of that other mind, was denied him by his deficiency of Imagination.

With Imagination in the popular sense, command of imagery and metaphorical expression, Bentham was, to a certain degree, endowed. For want, indeed, of poetical culture, the images with which his fancy supplied him were seldom beautiful, but they were quaint and humorous, or bold, forcible, and intense: passages might be quoted from him both of playful irony, and of declamatory eloquence, seldom surpassed in the writings of philosophers. The Imagination which he had not, was that to which the name is generally appropriated by the best writers of the present day; that which enables us, by a voluntary effort, to conceive the absent as if it were present, the imaginary as if it were real, and to clothe it in the feelings which, if it were indeed real, it would bring along with it. This is the power by which one human being enters into the mind and circumstances of another. This power constitutes the poet, in so far as he does anything but melodiously utter his own actual feelings. It constitutes the dramatist entirely. It is one of the constituents of the historian; by it we understand other times; by it Guizot interprets to us the middle ages; Nisard, in his beautiful Studies on the later Latin poets, places us in the Rome of the Cæsars; Michelet disengages the distinctive characters of the different races and of mankind from the facts of their history. Without it nobody knows even his own nature, further than circumstances have actually tried it and called it out; nor the nature of his fellow-creatures, beyond such generalizations as he may have been enabled to make from his observation of their outward conduct.

By these limits, accordingly, Bentham’s knowledge of human nature is bounded. It is wholly empirical; and the empiricism of one who has had little experience. He had neither internal experience nor external; the quiet, even tenor of his life, and his healthiness of mind, conspired to exclude him from both. He never knew prosperity and adversity, passion nor satiety: he never had even the experiences which sickness gives; he lived from childhood to the age of eighty-five in boyish health. He knew no dejection, no heaviness of heart. He never felt life a sore and a weary burthen. He was a boy to the last. Self-consciousness, that dæmon of the men of genius of our time, from Wordsworth to Byron, from Goethe to Chateaubriand, and to which this age owes both of its cheerful and its mournful wisdom, never was awakened in him. How much of human nature slumbered in him he knew not, neither can we know. He had never been made alive to the unseen influences which were acting on himself, nor consequently on his fellow-creatures. Other ages and other nations were a blank to him for purposes of instruction. He measured them but by one standard; their knowledge of facts, and their capability to take correct views of utility, and merge all other objects in it. His own lot was cast in a generation of the leanest and barrenest men whom had yet produced, and he was an old man when a better race came in with the present century. He saw accordingly in man little but what the vulgarest eye can see; recognised no diversities of character but he who runs may read. Knowing so little of human feelings, he knew still less of the influences by which those feelings are formed: all the more subtle workings both of the mind upon itself, and of external things upon the mind, escaped him; and no one, probably, who, in a highly instructed age, ever attempted to give a rule to all human conduct, set out with a more limited either of the by which human conduct is, or of those by which it should be, influenced.

This, then, is our idea of Bentham. He was a man both of remarkable endowments for philosophy, and of remarkable deficiencies for it: fitted, beyond almost any man, for drawing from his premises, conclusions not only correct, but sufficiently precise and specific to be practical: but whose general conception of human nature and life, furnished him with an unusually slender stock of premises. It is obvious what would be likely to be achieved by such a man; what a thinker, thus gifted and thus disqualified, could in philosophy. He could half-truths to their consequences and practical applications, on a scale both of greatness and of minuteness not previously exemplified; and this is the character which posterity will probably assign to Bentham.

We express our sincere and well-considered conviction when we say, that there is hardly anything in Bentham’s philosophy which is not true: that when his practical conclusions are erroneous, which in our opinion they are very often, it is not because the considerations which he urges are not rational and valid in themselves, but because some more important principle, which he did not perceive, supersedes those considerations, and turns the scale. The bad part of his writings is his resolute denial of all that he does not see, of all truths but those which he recognises. By that alone has he exercised any bad influence upon his age; by that he has, not created a school of deniers, for this is an ignorant prejudice, but put himself at the head of the school which exists always, though it does not always find a great man to give it the sanction of philosophy: thrown the mantle of intellect over the natural tendency of men in all ages to deny of which they have no consciousness in themselves.

The truths which are not Bentham’s, which his philosophy takes no account of, are many and important; but his non-recognition of them does not put them out of existence; they are still with us, and it is a comparatively easy task that is reserved for us, to harmonize truths with his. To reject his half of the truth because he overlooked the other half, would be to fall into his error without having his excuse. For our own part, we have a large tolerance for one-eyed men, provided their one eye is a penetrating one: if they saw more, they probably would not see so keenly, nor so eagerly pursue one course of inquiry. Almost all rich veins of original and striking speculation have been opened by systematic : though whether these new thoughts drive out others as good, or are peacefully superadded to them, depends on whether these are or are not followed in the same track by complete . The field of man’s nature and life cannot be too much worked, or in too many directions; until every clod is turned up the work is imperfect; no whole truth is possible but by combining the points of view of all the fractional truths, nor, therefore, until it has been fully seen what each fractional truth can do by itself.

What Bentham’s fractional truths could do, there is no such good means of showing as by a review of his philosophy: and such a review, though inevitably a most brief and general one, it is now necessary to attempt.

The first question in regard to any man of speculation is, what is his theory of human life? In the minds of many philosophers, whatever theory they have of this sort is latent, and it would be a revelation to themselves to have it pointed out to them in their writings as others can see it, unconsciously moulding everything to its own likeness. But Bentham always knew his own premises, and made his reader know them: it was not his custom to leave the theoretic grounds of his practical conclusions to conjecture. Few great thinkers have afforded the means of assigning with so much certainty the exact conception which they had formed of man and of man’s life.

Man is conceived by Bentham as a being susceptible of pleasures and pains, and governed in all his conduct partly by the different modifications of self-interest, and the passions commonly classed as selfish, partly by sympathies, or occasionally antipathies, towards other beings. And here Bentham’s conception of human nature stops. He does not exclude religion; the prospect of divine rewards and punishments he includes under the head of “self-regarding interest,” and the devotional feeling under that of sympathy God. But the whole of the impelling or restraining principles, whether of this , which he recognises, are either self-love, or love or hatred towards other beings. That there might be no doubt of what he thought on the subject, he has not left us to the general evidence of his writings, but has drawn out a Table of the Springs of Action, an express enumeration and classification of human motives, with their various names, laudatory, vituperative, and neutral: and this table, to be found in Part I of , we recommend to the study of those who would understand his philosophy.

Man is never recognised by him as a being capable of pursuing spiritual perfection as an end; of desiring, for its own sake, the conformity of his own character to his standard of excellence, without hope of good or fear of evil from other source than his own inward consciousness. Even in the more limited form of Conscience, this great fact in human nature escapes him. Nothing is more curious than the absence of recognition in any of his writings of the existence of conscience, as a thing distinct from philanthropy, from affection for God or man, and from self-interest in this world or in the next. There is a studied abstinence from any of the phrases which, in the mouths of others, import the acknowledgment of such a fact. If we find the words “Conscience,” “Principle,” “Moral Rectitude,” “Moral Duty,” in his Table of the Springs of Action, it is among the synonymes of the “love of reputation;” with an intimation as to the two former phrases, that they are also sometimes synonymous with the religious motive, or the motive of sympathy. The feeling of moral approbation or disapprobation properly so called, either towards ourselves or our fellow-creatures, he seems unaware of the existence of; and neither the word self-respect, nor the idea to which that word is appropriated, occurs even once, so far as our recollection serves us, in his whole writings.

Nor is it only the moral part of man’s nature, in the strict sense of the term—the desire of perfection, or the feeling of an approving or of an accusing conscience—that he overlooks; he but faintly recognises, as a fact in human nature, the pursuit of any other ideal end for its own sake. The sense of honour, and personal dignity—that feeling of personal exaltation and degradation which acts independently of other people’s opinion, or even in defiance of it; the love of beauty, the passion of the artist; the love of order, of congruity, of consistency in all things, and conformity to their end; the love of power, not in the limited form of power over other human beings, but abstract power, the power of making our volitions effectual; the love of action, the thirst for movement and activity, a principle scarcely of less influence in human life than its opposite, the love of ease:—None of these powerful constituents of human nature are thought worthy of a place among the “Springs of Action;” and though there is possibly no one of them of the existence of which an acknowledgment might not be found in some corner of Bentham’s writings, no conclusions are ever founded on the acknowledgment. Man, that most complex being, is a very simple one in his eyes. Even under the head of sympathy, his recognition does not extend to the more complex forms of the feeling—the love of loving, the need of a sympathising support, or of of admiration and reverence. If he thought at all of any of the deeper feelings of human nature, it was but as idiosyncrasies of taste, with which the legislator had any concern, further than to prohibit such as were mischievous among the actions to which they might chance to lead. To say either that man should, or that he should not, take pleasure in one thing, displeasure in another, appeared to him as much an act of despotism in the moralist as in the political ruler.

It would be most unjust to Bentham to surmise (as narrow-minded and passionate adversaries are apt in such cases to do) that this picture of human nature was copied from himself; that all those constituents of humanity which he rejected from his table of motives, were wanting in his own breast. The unusual strength of his early feelings of virtue, was, as we have seen, the original cause of all his speculations; and a noble sense of morality, and especially of justice, guides and pervades them all. But having been early accustomed to keep before his mind’s eye the happiness of mankind (or rather of the whole sentient world), as the only thing desirable in itself, or which rendered anything else desirable, he confounded all disinterested feelings which he found in himself, with the desire of happiness: just as some religious writers, who loved virtue for its own sake as much perhaps as men could do, habitually confounded their love of virtue with their fear of hell. It would have required greater subtlety than Bentham possessed, to distinguish from each other, feelings which, from long habit, always acted in the same direction; and his want of imagination prevented him from reading the distinction, where it is legible enough, in the hearts of others.

Accordingly, he has not been followed in this grand oversight by any of the able men who, from the extent of their intellectual obligations to him, have been regarded as his disciples. They may have followed him in his doctrine of utility, and in his rejection of moral sense as test of right and wrong: but while repudiating it as such, they have, with Hartley, acknowledged it as a fact in human nature; they have endeavoured to account for it, to assign its laws: nor are they justly chargeable either with undervaluing this part of our nature, or with any disposition to throw it into the background of their speculations. If part of the influence of this cardinal error has extended itself to them, it is circuitously, and through the effect on their minds of other parts of Bentham’s doctrines.

Sympathy, the only disinterested motive which Bentham recognised, he felt the inadequacy of, except in certain limited cases, as a security for virtuous action. Personal affection, he well knew, is as liable to operate to the injury of third parties, and requires as much to be kept , as any other feeling whatever: and general philanthropy, considered as a motive influencing mankind in general, he estimated at its true value when divorced from the feeling of duty—as the very weakest and most unsteady of all feelings. There remained, as a motive by which mankind are influenced, and by which they may be guided to their good, only personal interest. Accordingly, Bentham’s idea of the world is that of a collection of persons pursuing each his separate interest or pleasure, and the prevention of whom from jostling one another more than be attempted by hopes and fears derived from three sources—the law, religion, and public opinion. To these three powers, considered as binding human conduct, he gave the name of sanctions: the political sanction, operating by the rewards and penalties of the law; the religious sanction, by those expected from the Ruler of the Universe; and the popular, which he characteristically calls also the moral sanction, operating through the pains and pleasures arising from the favour or disfavour of our fellow-creatures.

Such is Bentham’s theory of the world. And now, in a spirit neither of apology nor of censure, but of calm appreciation, we are to inquire how far this view of human nature and life will carry any one:—how much it will accomplish in morals, and how much in political and social philosophy: what it will do for the individual, and what for society.

It will do nothing for the conduct of the individual, beyond prescribing some of the obvious dictates of worldly prudence, and outward probity and beneficence. There is no need to expatiate on the deficiencies of a system of ethics which does not pretend to aid individuals in the formation of their own character; which recognises no such wish as that of self-culture, we may even say no such power, as existing in human nature; and if it did recognise, could furnish little assistance to that , because it overlooks the existence of about half of the whole number of mental feelings which human beings are capable of, including all those of which the direct objects are states of their own mind.

Morality consists of two parts. One of these is self-education; the training, by the human being himself, of his affections and will. That department is a blank in Bentham’s system. The other and coequal part, the regulation of his outward actions, must be altogether halting and imperfect without the first; for how can we judge in what manner many an action will affect the worldly interests of ourselves or others, unless we take in, as part of the question, its influence on the regulation of our, or their, affections and desires? A moralist on Bentham’s principles may get as far as this, that ought not to slay, burn, or steal; but what will be his qualifications for regulating the nicer shades of human behaviour, or for laying down even the greater moralities as to those facts in human life influence the depths of the character quite independently of any influence on worldly circumstances—such, for instance, as the sexual relations, or those of family in general, or any other social and sympathetic connexions of an intimate kind? The moralities of these questions depend on considerations .

It is fortunate for the world that Bentham’s taste lay rather in the direction of jurisprudential than of properly ethical inquiry. Nothing expressly of the latter kind has been published under his name, except the Deontology—a book scarcely ever alluded to by any admirer of Bentham without deep regret that it ever saw the light. We did not expect from Bentham correct systematic views of ethics, or a sound treatment of any question the moralities of which require a profound knowledge of the human heart; but we did that the greater moral questions would have been boldly plunged into, and at least a searching criticism produced of the received opinions; we did not expect that the petite morale almost alone would have been treated, and that with the most pedantic minuteness, and on the quid pro quo principles which regulate . The book has not even the value which would belong to an authentic exhibition of the legitimate consequences of an erroneous line of thought; for the style proves it to have been so entirely rewritten, that it is impossible to tell how much or how little of it is Bentham’s. The collected edition, now in progress, will not, it is said, include Bentham’s religious writings; these, although we think them of exceedingly small value, are at least his, and the world has a right to whatever light they throw upon the constitution of his mind. But the omission of the Deontology would be an act of editorial discretion which we should deem entirely justifiable.

If Bentham’s theory of life can do so little for the individual, what can it do for society?

It will enable a society which has attained a certain state of spiritual development, and the maintenance of which in that state is otherwise provided for, to prescribe the rules by which it may protect its material interests. It will do nothing (except sometimes as an instrument in the hands of a higher ) for the spiritual interests of society; nor does it suffice of itself even for the material interests. That which alone causes any material interests to exist, which alone enables any body of human beings to exist as a society, is national character: that it is, which causes one nation to succeed in it attempts, another to fail; one nation to understand and aspire to elevated things, another to grovel in mean ones; which makes the greatness of one nation lasting, and dooms another to early and rapid decay. The true teacher of the fitting social arrangements for England, France, or America, is the one who can point out how the English, French, or American character can be improved, and how it has been made what it is. A philosophy of laws and institutions, not founded on a philosophy of national character, is an absurdity. But what could Bentham’s opinion be worth on national character? How could he, whose mind contained so few and so poor types of individual character, rise to that higher generalization? All he can do is but to indicate means by which, in any given state of the national mind, the material interests of society can be protected; saving the question, of which others must judge, whether the use of those means would have, on the national character, any injurious influence.

We have arrived, then, at a sort of estimate of what a philosophy like Bentham’s can do. It can teach the means of organizing and regulating the merely business part of the social arrangements. Whatever can be understood or whatever done without reference to moral influences, his philosophy is equal to; where those influences require to be taken into account, it is at fault. He committed the mistake of supposing that the part of human affairs was the whole of them; all at least that the legislator and the moralist had to do with. Not that he disregarded moral influences when he perceived them; but his want of imagination, small experience of human feelings, and ignorance of the filiation and connexion of feelings with one another, made this rarely the case.

The part is accordingly the only province of human affairs which Bentham has cultivated with any success; into which he has introduced any considerable number of comprehensive and luminous practical principles. That is the field of his greatness; and there he is indeed great. He has swept away the accumulated cobwebs of centuries—he has untied knots which the efforts of the ablest thinkers, age after age, had only drawn tighter; and it is no exaggeration to say of him that over a great part of the field he was the first to shed the light of reason.

We turn with pleasure from what Bentham could not do, to what he did. It is an ungracious task to call a great benefactor of mankind to account for not being a greater—to insist upon the errors of a man who has originated more new truths, has given to the world more sound practical lessons, than it ever received, except in a few glorious instances, from any other individual. The unpleasing part of our work is ended. We are now to show the greatness of the man; the grasp which his intellect took of the subjects with which it was fitted to deal; the giant’s task which was before him, and the hero’s courage and strength with which he achieved it. Nor let that which he did be deemed of small account because its province was limited: man has but the choice to go a little way in many paths, or a great way in only one. The field of Bentham’s labours was like the space between two parallel lines; narrow to excess in one direction, in another it reached to infinity.

Bentham’s speculations, as we are already aware, began with law; and in that department he accomplished his greatest triumphs. He found the philosophy of law a chaos, he left it a science: he found the practice of the law an Augean stable, he turned the river into it which is mining and sweeping away mound after mound of its rubbish.

Without the exaggerated invectives against lawyers, which Bentham sometimes permitted himself, or making one portion of society alone accountable for the fault of all, we may say that circumstances had made English lawyers in a peculiar degree liable to the reproach of Voltaire, who defines lawyers the “conservators of ancient barbarous usages.” The basis of the English law was, and still is, the feudal system. That system, like all those which existed as custom before they were established as law, possessed a certain degree of suitableness to the wants of the society among whom it grew up—that is to say, of a tribe of rude soldiers, holding a conquered people in subjection, and dividing its among themselves. Advancing civilization had, however, converted this armed encampment of barbarous warriors in the midst of enemies reduced to slavery, into an industrious, commercial, rich, and free people. The laws which were suitable to the first of these states of society, could have no manner of relation to the circumstances of the second; which could not even have come into existence unless something had been done to adapt those laws to it. But the adaptation was not the result of thought and design; it arose not from any comprehensive consideration of the new state of society and its exigencies. What was done, was done by a struggle of centuries between the old barbarism and the new civilization; between the feudal aristocracy of conquerors, holding fast to the rude system they had established, and the conquered effecting their emancipation. The last was the growing power, but was never strong enough to break its bonds, though ever and anon some weak point gave way. Hence the law came to be like the costume of a full-grown man who had never put off the clothes made for him when he first went to school. Band after band had burst, and, as the rent widened, then, without removing anything except what might drop off of itself, the hole was darned, or patches of fresh law were brought from the nearest shop and stuck on. Hence all ages of English history have given one another in English law; their several products may be seen all together, not interfused, but heaped one upon another, as ages of the earth may be read in some perpendicular section of its surface—the deposits of each successive period not substituted but superimposed on those of the preceding. And in the world of law no less than in the physical world, every commotion and conflict of the elements has left its mark behind in some break or irregularity of the strata: every struggle which ever rent the bosom of society is apparent in the disjointed condition of the part of the field of law which covers the spot: nay, the very traps and pitfalls which one contending party set for another are still standing, and the teeth not of hyenas only, but of foxes and all cunning animals, are imprinted on the curious remains found in these antediluvian caves.

In the English law, as in the Roman before it, the adaptations of barbarous laws to the growth of civilized society were made chiefly by stealth. They were generally made by the courts of justice, who could not help reading the new wants of mankind in the cases between man and man which came before them; but who, having no authority to make new laws for those new wants, were obliged to do the work covertly, and evade the jealousy and opposition of an ignorant, prejudiced, and for the most part brutal and tyrannical legislature. Some of the most necessary of these improvements, such as the giving force of law to , and the breaking up of , were effected in actual opposition to the strongly-declared will of Parliament, whose clumsy hands, no match for the astuteness of judges, could not, after repeated trials, manage to make any law which the judges could not find a trick for rendering inoperative. The whole history of the contest about trusts may still be read in the words of a conveyance, as could the contest about entails, till the abolition of fine and recovery by a bill of the present Attorney-General; but dearly did the client pay for the cabinet of historical curiosities which he was obliged to purchase every time that he made a settlement of his estate. The result of this mode of improving social institutions was, that whatever new things were done had to be done in consistency with old forms and names; and the laws were improved with much the same effect as if, in the improvement of agriculture, the plough could only have been introduced by making it look like a spade; or as if, when the primeval practice of ploughing by the horse’s tail gave way to the innovation of harness, the tail, for form’s sake, had still remained attached to the plough.

When the conflicts were over, and the mixed mass settled down into something like a fixed state, and that state a very profitable and therefore a very agreeable one to lawyers, they, following the natural tendency of the human mind, began to theorize upon it, and, in obedience to necessity, had to digest it and give it a systematic form. It was from this thing of shreds and patches, in which the only part that approached to order or system was the early barbarous part, more than half superseded, that English lawyers had to construct, by induction and abstraction, their philosophy of law; and without the logical habits and general intellectual cultivation which the lawyers of the Roman empire brought to a similar task. Bentham found the philosophy of law what English practising lawyers had made it; a , in which real and personal property, law and equity, felony, præmunire, misprision, and misdemeanour, words without a vestige of meaning when detached from the history of English institutions—mere tide-marks to point out the line which the sea and the shore, in their secular struggles, had adjusted as their mutual boundary—all passed for distinctions inherent in the nature of things; in which every absurdity, every lucrative abuse, had a reason found for it—a reason which only now and then even pretended to be drawn from expediency; most commonly a technical reason, one of mere form, derived from the old barbarous system. While the theory of the law was in this state, to describe what the practice of it was would require the pen of a Swift, or of Bentham himself. The whole progress of a suit at law seemed like a series of contrivances for lawyers’ profit, in which the suitors were regarded as the prey; and if the poor were not the helpless victims of every Sir Giles Overreach who could pay the price, they might thank opinion and manners for it, not the law.

It may be fancied by some people that Bentham did an easy thing in merely calling all this absurd, and proving it to be so. But he began the contest a young man, and he had grown old before he had any followers. History will one day refuse to give credit to the intensity of the superstition which, till very lately, protected this mischievous mess from examination or doubt— off the charming representations of Blackstone for a just estimate of the English law, and the shame of human reason to be the perfection of it. Glory to Bentham that he has dealt to this superstition its deathblow—that he has been the Hercules of this hydra, the St. George of this pestilent dragon! The honour is all his—nothing but his peculiar qualities could have done it. There were his indefatigable perseverance, his firm self-reliance, needing no support from other men’s opinion; his intensely practical turn of mind, his synthetical habits—above all, his peculiar method. Metaphysicians, armed with vague generalities, had often tried their hands at the subject, and left it no more advanced than they found it. Law is a matter of business; means and ends are the things to be considered in it, not abstractions: vagueness was not to be met by vagueness, but by definiteness and precision: details were not to be encountered with generalities, but with details. Nor could any progress be made, on such a subject, by merely showing that existing things were bad; it was necessary also to show how they might be made better. No great man whom we read of was qualified to do this thing except Bentham. He has done it, once and for ever .

Into the of what Bentham has done we cannot enter: many hundred pages would be required to give a tolerable abstract of it. To sum up our estimate under a few heads. First: he has expelled mysticism from the philosophy of law, and set the example of viewing laws in a practical light, as means to certain definite and precise ends. Secondly: he has cleared up the confusion and vagueness attaching to the idea of law in general, to the idea of a body of laws, and general ideas therein involved. Thirdly: he demonstrated the necessity and practicability of codification, or the conversion of all law into a written and systematically arranged code: not like the Code Napoleon, a code without a single definition, requiring a constant reference to anterior precedent for the meaning of its technical terms; but containing within itself all that is necessary for its own interpretation, together with a perpetual provision for its own emendation and improvement. He has shown of what parts such a code would consist; the relation of those parts to one another; and by his distinctions and classifications has done very much towards showing what should be, or might be, its nomenclature and arrangement. What he has left undone, he has made it comparatively easy for others to do. Fourthly: he has taken a systematic view of the exigencies of society for which the civil code is intended to provide, and of the principles of human nature by which its provisions are to be tested: and this view, defective (as we have already intimated) wherever spiritual interests require to be taken into account, is excellent for that large portion of the laws of any country which are designed for the protection of material interests. Fifthly: (to say nothing of the subject of punishment, for which something considerable had been done before) he found the philosophy of judicial procedure, including that of judicial establishments and of evidence, in a more wretched state than even any other part of the philosophy of law; he carried it at once almost to perfection. He left it with every one of its principles established, and little remaining to be done even in the suggestion of practical arrangements.

These assertions in behalf of Bentham may be left, without fear for the result, in the hands of those who are competent to judge of them. There are even in the highest seats of justice, men to whom the claims made for him will not appear extravagant. Principle after principle of those propounded by him is moreover making its way by infiltration into the understandings most shut against his influence, and driving nonsense and prejudice from one corner of them to another. The reform of the laws of any country according to his principles, can only be gradual, and may be long ere it is accomplished; but the work is in progress, and both parliament and the judges are every year doing something, and often something not inconsiderable, towards the forwarding of it.

It seems proper here to take notice of an accusation sometimes made both against Bentham and against the principle of codification—as if they required one uniform suit of ready-made laws for all times and all states of society. The doctrine of codification, as the word imports, relates to the form only of the laws, not their substance; it does not concern itself with what the laws should be, but declares that whatever they are, they ought to be systematically arranged, and fixed down to a determinate form of words. To the accusation, so far as it affects Bentham, one of the essays in the for the first time published in English) is a complete answer: that “On the Influence of Time and Place in Matters of Legislation.” It may there be seen that the different exigencies of different nations with respect to law, occupied his attention as systematically as any other portion of the wants which render laws necessary: with the limitations, it is true, which were set to all his speculations by the imperfections of his theory of human nature. For, taking, as we have seen, next to no account of national character and the causes which form and maintain it, he was precluded from considering, except to a very limited extent, the laws of a country as an instrument of national culture: one of their most important aspects, and in which they must of course vary according to the degree and kind of culture already attained; as a tutor gives his pupil different lessons according to the progress already made in his education. The same laws would not have suited our wild ancestors, accustomed to rude independence, and a people of Asiatics bowed down by military despotism: the slave needs to be trained to govern himself, the savage to submit to the government of others. The same laws will not suit the English, who . Very different institutions are needed to train to the perfection of their nature, or to constitute into a united nation and social polity, an essentially subjective people like the Germans, and an essentially objective people like those of Northern and Central Italy; the one affectionate and dreamy, the other passionate and worldly; the one trustful and loyal, the other calculating and suspicious; the one not practical enough, the other overmuch; the one wanting individuality, the other fellow-feeling; the one failing for want of exacting enough for itself, the other for want of conceding enough to others. Bentham was little accustomed to look at institutions in their relation to these topics. The effects of this oversight must of course be perceptible throughout his speculations, but we do not think the errors into which it led him very material in the greater part of civil and penal law: it is in the department of constitutional legislation that they were fundamental.

The Benthamic theory of government has made so much noise in the world of late years; it has held such a conspicuous place among Radical philosophies, and Radical modes of thinking have participated so much more largely than any others in its spirit, that many worthy persons imagine there is no other Radical philosophy extant. Leaving such to discover their as they may, we shall expend a few words in attempting to discriminate between the truth and error of this celebrated theory.

There are three great questions in government. First, to what authority is it for the good of the people that they should be subject? Secondly, how are they to be induced to obey that authority? The answers to these two questions vary indefinitely, according to the degree and kind of civilization and cultivation already attained by a people, and their peculiar aptitudes for receiving more. Comes next a third question, not liable to so much variation, namely, by what means are the abuses of this authority to be checked? This third question is the only one of the three to which Bentham seriously applies himself, and he gives it the only answer it admits of—Responsibility: responsibility to persons whose interest, whose obvious and recognisable interest, accords with the end in view—good government. This being granted, it is next to be asked, in what body of persons this identity of interest with good government, that is, with the interest of the whole community, is to be found? In nothing less, says Bentham, than the numerical majority: nor, say we, even in the numerical majority itself; of no portion of the community less than all, will the interest coincide, at all times and in all respects, with the interest of all. But, since power given to all, by a representative government, is in fact given to a majority; we are obliged to fall back upon the first of our three questions, namely, under what authority is it for the good of the people that they be placed? And if to this the answer be, under that of a majority among themselves, Bentham’s system cannot be questioned. This one assumption being made, his Constitutional Code is admirable. That extraordinary power which he possessed, of at once seizing comprehensive principles, and scheming out minute details, is brought into play with surpassing vigour in devising means for preventing rulers from escaping from the control of the majority; for enabling and inducing the majority to exercise that control unremittingly; and for providing them with servants of every desirable endowment, moral and intellectual, compatible with entire subservience to their will.

But is this fundamental doctrine of Bentham’s political philosophy an universal truth? Is it, at all times and places, good for mankind to be under the absolute authority of the majority of themselves? We say the , not the authority merely, because it is chimerical to suppose that whatever has absolute power over men’s bodies will not arrogate it over their minds—will not seek to control (not perhaps by legal penalties, but by the persecutions of society) opinions and feelings which depart from its standard; will not attempt to shape the education of the young by its model, and to extinguish all books, all schools, all combinations of individuals for joint action upon society, which may be attempted for the purpose of keeping alive a spirit at variance with its own. Is it, we say, the proper condition of man, in all ages and nations, to be under the despotism of Public Opinion?

It is very conceivable that such a doctrine should find acceptance from some of the noblest spirits, in a time of reaction against the aristocratic governments of modern Europe; governments founded on the entire sacrifice (except so far as prudence, and sometimes humane feeling interfere) of the community generally, to the self-interest and ease of a few. European reformers have been accustomed to see the numerical majority everywhere unjustly depressed, everywhere trampled upon, or at the best overlooked, by governments; nowhere possessing power enough to extort redress of their most positive grievances, provision for their mental culture, or even to prevent themselves from being taxed avowedly for the pecuniary profit of the ruling classes. To see these things, and to seek to put an end to them, by means (among other things) of giving more political power to the majority, constitutes Radicalism; and it is because so many in this age have felt this wish, and have felt that the realization of it was an object worthy of men’s devoting their lives to it, that such a theory of government as Bentham’s has found favour with them. But, though to pass from one form of bad government to another be the ordinary fate of mankind, philosophers ought not to make themselves parties to it, by sacrificing one portion of important truth to another.

The numerical majority of any society whatever, must consist of persons all standing in the same social position, and having, in the main, the same pursuits, namely, unskilled manual labourers; and we mean no disparagement to them: whatever we say to their disadvantage, we say equally of a numerical majority of shopkeepers, or of squires. Where there is identity of position and pursuits, there also will be identity of partialities, passions, and prejudices; and to give to any set of partialities, passions, and prejudices, absolute power, without counter-balance from partialities, passions, and prejudices of a different sort, is the way to render the correction of any of those imperfections hopeless; to make one narrow, mean type of human nature universal and perpetual, and to crush every influence which tends to the further improvement of man’s intellectual and moral nature. There must, we know, be some paramount power in society; and that the majority should be that power, is on the whole right, not as being just in itself, but as being less unjust than any other footing on which the matter can be placed. But it is necessary that the institutions of society should make provision for keeping up, in some form or other, as a corrective to partial views, and a shelter for freedom of thought and individuality of character, a perpetual and standing Opposition to the will of the majority. All countries which have long continued progressive, or been durably great, have been so because there has been an organized opposition to the ruling power, of whatever kind that power was: plebeians to patricians, clergy to kings, freethinkers to clergy, kings to barons, commons to king and aristocracy. Almost all the greatest men who ever lived have formed part of such an Opposition. Wherever some such quarrel has not been going on—wherever it has been terminated by the complete victory of one of the contending principles, and no new contest has taken the place of the old—society has either hardened into Chinese stationariness, or fallen into dissolution. A centre of resistance, round which all the moral and social elements which the ruling power views with disfavour may cluster themselves, and behind whose bulwarks they may find shelter from the attempts of that power to hunt them out of existence, is as necessary where the opinion of the majority is sovereign, as where the ruling power is a hierarchy or an aristocracy. Where no such point d’appui exists, there the human race will inevitably degenerate; and the question, whether the United States, for instance, will in time sink into another China (also a most commercial and industrious nation), resolves itself, to us, into the question, whether such a centre of resistance will gradually evolve itself or not.

These things being considered, we cannot think that Bentham made the most useful employment which might have been made of his great powers, when, not content with enthroning the majority as sovereign, by means of universal suffrage without king or house of lords, he exhausted all the resources of ingenuity in devising means for riveting the yoke of public opinion closer and closer round the necks of all public functionaries, and excluding every possibility of the exercise of the slightest or most temporary influence either by a minority, or by the functionary’s own notions of right. Surely when care is thenceforth wanted rather to prevent that strongest power from swallowing up all others. Wherever all the forces of society act in one single direction, of the individual human being are in extreme peril. The power of the majority is salutary so far as it is used —as its exertion is tempered by respect for the personality of the individual, and superiority of cultivated intelligence. If Bentham had employed himself in pointing out the means by which institutions fundamentally democratic might be best adapted to the preservation and strengthening of those two sentiments, he would have done something more permanently valuable, and more worthy of his great intellect. Montesquieu, with the lights of the present age, would have done it; and we are possibly destined to receive this benefit from the Montesquieu of our own times, M. de Tocqueville.

Do we then consider Bentham’s political speculations useless? Far from it. We consider them only one-sided. He has brought out into a strong light, has cleared from a thousand confusions and misconceptions, and pointed out with admirable skill the best means of promoting, one of the ideal qualities of a perfect government—identity of interest between the trustees and the community for whom they hold their power in trust. This quality is not attainable in its ideal perfection, and must moreover be striven for with a perpetual eye to all other requisites; but those other requisites must still more be striven for without losing sight of this: and when the slightest postponement is made of it to any other end, the sacrifice, often necessary, is never unattended with evil. Bentham has pointed out how complete this sacrifice is in modern European societies: how exclusively, partial and sinister interests are the ruling power there, with only such check as is imposed by public opinion—which being thus, in the existing order of things, perpetually apparent as a source of good, he was led by natural partiality to exaggerate its intrinsic excellence. This sinister interest of rulers Bentham hunted through all its disguises, and especially through those which hide it from the men themselves who are influenced by it. The greatest service rendered by him to the philosophy of universal human nature, is, perhaps, his of what he terms “interest-begotten prejudice”—the tendency of man to make a duty and a virtue of following his self-interest. The idea, it is true, was far from being peculiarly Bentham’s: the artifices by which we persuade ourselves that we are not yielding to our selfish inclinations when we are, had attracted the notice of all moralists, and had been probed by religious writers to a depth as much below Bentham’s, as their knowledge of the profundities and windings of the human heart was superior to his. But it is selfish interest in the form of class-interest, and the class morality founded thereon, which Bentham has illustrated: the manner in which any set of persons who mix much together, and have a common interest, are apt to make that common interest their standard of virtue, and the social feelings of the members of the class are made to play into the hands of their selfish ones; whence the union so often exemplified in history, between the most heroic personal disinterestedness and the most odious class-selfishness. This was one of Bentham’s leading ideas, and almost the only one by which he contributed to the elucidation of history: much of which, except so far as this explained it, must have been entirely inexplicable to him. The idea was given him by Helvetius, whose book, De l’Esprit, is one continued and most acute commentary on it; and, together with the other great idea of Helvetius, the influence of circumstances on character, it will make his name live by the side of Rousseau, when the other French of the eighteenth century be extant as such only in literary history.

In the brief view which we have been able to give of Bentham’s philosophy, it may surprise the reader that we have said so little about the first principle of it, with which his name is more identified than with anything else; the “principle of utility,” or, as he afterwards named it, “the greatest-happiness principle.” It is a topic on which much were to be said, if there were room, or if it were in reality necessary for the just estimation of Bentham. On an occasion more suitable for a discussion of the metaphysics of morality, or on which the necessary to make an opinion on so abstract a subject intelligible could be conveniently given, we should be fully prepared to state what we think on this subject. We think utility, or happiness, much too complex and indefinite an end to be sought except through the medium of various secondary ends, concerning which there may be, and often is, agreement among persons who differ in their ultimate standard; and about which there does in fact prevail a much greater unanimity among thinking persons, than might be supposed from their diametrical divergence on the great questions of moral metaphysics. As mankind are much more nearly of one nature, than of one opinion about their own nature, they are more easily brought to agree in their intermediate principles, vera illa et media axiomata, as Bacon says, than in their first principles: and the attempt to make the bearings of actions upon the ultimate end more evident than they can be made by referring them to the intermediate ends, and to estimate their value by a direct reference to human happiness, generally terminates in attaching most importance, not to those effects which are really the greatest, but to those which can most easily be pointed to and individually identified. Those who adopt utility as a standard can seldom apply it truly except through the secondary principles; those who reject it, generally do no more than erect those secondary principles into first principles. a question of arrangement and logical subordination rather than of practice; important principally in a purely scientific point of view, for the sake of the systematic unity and coherency of ethical philosophy. It is probable, however, that to the principle of utility we owe all that Bentham did; that it was necessary to him to find a first principle which he could receive as self-evident, and to which he could attach all his other doctrines as logical consequences: that to him systematic unity was an indispensable condition of his confidence in his own intellect. And there is something further to be remarked happiness be or be not the end to which morality should be referred—that it be referred to an end of some sort, and not left in the dominion of vague feeling or inexplicable internal conviction, that it be made a matter of reason and calculation, and not merely of sentiment, is essential to the very idea of moral philosophy; is, in fact, what renders argument or discussion on moral questions possible. That the morality of actions depends on the consequences which they tend to produce, is the doctrine of rational persons of all schools; that the good or evil of those consequences is measured solely by pleasure or pain, is all of the doctrine of the school of utility, which is peculiar to it.

In so far as Bentham’s adoption of the principle of utility induced him to fix his attention upon the of actions as the consideration determining their morality, so far in the right path: though to go far in it without wandering, there was needed a greater knowledge of the formation of character, and of the consequences of actions upon the agent’s own frame of mind, than Bentham possessed. His want of power to estimate this class of consequences, together with his want of the degree of modest on questions of practical ethics.

He is chargeable also with another error, which it would be improper to pass over, because nothing has tended more to place him in opposition to the common feelings of mankind, and to give to his philosophy that cold, mechanical, and ungenial air which characterizes the popular idea of a Benthamite. This error, or rather one-sidedness, belongs to him not as a utilitarian, but as a moralist by profession, and in common with almost all professed moralists, whether religious or philosophical: it is that of treating the moral view of actions and characters, which is unquestionably the first and most important mode of looking at them, as if it were the one: whereas it is only one of three, by all of which our sentiments towards the human being may be, ought to be, and without entirely crushing our own nature cannot but be, materially influenced. Every human action has three aspects: its moral aspect, or that of its right and wrong; its æsthetic aspect, or that of its beauty; its sympathetic aspect, or that of its loveableness. The first addresses itself to our reason and conscience; the second to our imagination; the third to our human fellow-feeling. According to the first, we approve or disapprove; according to the second, we admire or despise; according to the third, we love, pity, or dislike. The of an action depends on its foreseeable consequences; its beauty, and its loveableness, or the reverse, depend on the qualities which it is evidence of. Thus, a lie is wrong, because its effect is to mislead, and because it tends to destroy the confidence of man in man; it is also mean, because it is cowardly—because it proceeds from not daring to face the consequences of telling the truth—or at best is evidence of want of that power to compass our ends by straightforward means, which is conceived as properly belonging to every person not deficient in energy or in understanding. The action of Brutus in sentencing his sons was right, because it was executing a law essential to the freedom of his country, against persons of whose guilt there was no doubt: it was admirable, because it evinced a rare degree of patriotism, courage, and self-control; but there was nothing loveable in it; it affords no presumption in regard to loveable qualities, a presumption of their deficiency. If one of the sons had engaged in the conspiracy from affection for the other, action would have been loveable, though neither moral nor admirable. It is not possible for any sophistry to confound these three modes of viewing an action; but it is very possible to adhere to one of them exclusively, and lose sight of the rest. Sentimentality consists in setting the last two of the three above the first; the error of moralists in general, and of Bentham, is to sink the two latter entirely. This is pre-eminently the case with Bentham: he both wrote and felt as if the moral standard ought not only to be paramount (which it ought), but to be alone; as if it ought to be the sole master of all our actions, and even of all our sentiments; as if either to admire or like, or despise or dislike a person for any action which neither does good nor harm, or which does not do a good or a harm proportioned to the sentiment entertained, were an injustice and a prejudice. He carried this so far, that there were certain phrases which, being expressive of what he considered to be this groundless liking or aversion, he could not bear to hear pronounced in his presence. Among these phrases were those of good and bad taste. He thought it an insolent piece of dogmatism in one person to praise or condemn another a matter of taste: as if men’s likings and dislikings, on things in themselves indifferent, were not the most important inferences as to every point of their character; as if a person’s tastes did not show him to be wise or a fool, cultivated or ignorant, gentle or rough, sensitive or callous, generous or sordid, benevolent or selfish, conscientious or depraved.

Connected with the same topic are Bentham’s peculiar opinions on poetry. Much , about his contempt for the pleasures of imagination, and for the fine arts. Music was throughout life his favourite amusement; painting, sculpture, and the other arts addressed to the eye, he was so far from holding in any contempt, that he occasionally recognises them as means employable for important social ends; though his ignorance of the deeper springs of human character prevented him from suspecting how profoundly such things enter into the moral nature of man, and into the education both of the individual and of the race. But towards poetry in the narrower sense, that which employs the language of words, he entertained no favour. Words, he thought, were perverted from their proper office when they were employed in uttering anything but precise logical truth. He says, somewhere in his works, that, “quantity of pleasure being equal, push-pin is as good as poetry:” but this is only a paradoxical way of stating what he would equally have said of the things which he most valued and admired. Another aphorism is attributed to him, which is much more characteristic of his view of this subject: “All poetry is misrepresentation.” Poetry, he thought, consisted essentially in exaggeration for effect: in proclaiming some one view of a thing very emphatically, and suppressing all the limitations and qualifications. This trait of character seems to us a curious example of what Mr. Carlyle strikingly calls “the completeness of limited men.” Here is a philosopher who is happy within his narrow boundary as no man of indefinite range ever was; who flatters himself that he is so completely emancipated from the essential law of poor human intellect, by which it can only see one thing at a time well, that he can even turn round upon the imperfection and lay a solemn interdict upon it. Did Bentham really suppose that it is in only that propositions cannot be exactly true, cannot contain in themselves all the limitations and qualifications with which they require to be taken when applied to practice? We have seen how far his own prose propositions are from realizing this Utopia: and even the attempt to approach it would be incompatible not with poetry merely, but with oratory, and popular writing of every kind. Bentham’s charge is true to the fullest extent; all writing which undertakes to make men truths as well as them, does take up one point at a time, does seek to impress that, to drive that home, to make it sink into and colour the whole mind of the reader or hearer. It is justified in doing so, if the portion of truth which it thus enforces be that which is called for by the occasion. All writing addressed to the feelings has a natural tendency to exaggeration; but Bentham should have remembered that in this, as in many things, we must aim at too much, to be assured of doing enough.

From the same principle in Bentham came the intricate and involved style, which makes his later writings books for the student only, not the general reader. It was from his perpetually aiming at impracticable precision. Nearly all his earlier, and many parts of his later writings, are models, as we have already observed, of light, playful, and popular style: a Benthamiana might be made of passages worthy of Addison or Goldsmith. But in his later years and more advanced studies, he fell into a Latin or German structure of sentence, foreign to the genius of the English language. He could not bear, for the sake of clearness and the reader’s ease, to say, as ordinary men are content to do, a little more than the truth in one sentence, and correct it in the next. The whole of the qualifying remarks which , he insisted upon imbedding as parentheses in the very middle of the sentence itself. And thus the sense being so long suspended, and attention being required to the accessory ideas before the principal idea had been properly seized, it became difficult, without some practice, to make out the train of thought. It is fortunate that so many of the most important parts of his writings are free from this defect. We regard it as a reductio ad absurdum of his objection to poetry. In trying to write in a manner against which the same objection should not lie, he could stop nowhere short of utter unreadableness, and after all attained no more accuracy than is compatible with opinions as imperfect and one-sided as those of any poet or sentimentalist breathing. Judge then in what state literature and philosophy would be, and what chance they would have of influencing the multitude, if his objection were allowed, and all styles of writing banished which would not stand his test.

We must here close this brief and imperfect view of Bentham and his doctrines; in which many parts of the subject have been entirely untouched, and no part done justice to, but which at least proceeds from an intimate familiarity with his writings, and is the first attempt at an impartial estimate of his character as a philosopher, and of the result of his labours to the world.

After every abatement, and it has been seen whether we have made our abatements sparingly—there remains to Bentham an indisputable place among the great intellectual benefactors of mankind. His writings will long form an indispensable part of the education of the highest order of practical thinkers; and the of them ought to be in the hands of every one who would either understand his age, or take any beneficial part in the great business of it.




D&D, I (1867), 393-466, with footnote to title: “London and Westminster Review, March 1840.” Reprinted from the London and Westminster Review, XXXIII (March, 1840), 257-302, signed “A” and headed: “Art. I.—1. The Literary Remains of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Collected and edited by Henry Nelson Coleridge, Esq., M.A. 8vo. [London:] Pickering. 4 vols published. 1836-9. / 2. Specimens of the Table Talk of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Second Edition. 12mo. [London:] Murray, 1836. / 3. I.—On the Constitution of the Church and State, according to the Idea of Each. Third Edition. II.—Lay Sermons: 1. The Statesman’s Manual. 2. “Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters.” Second Edition. By Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Edited from the Author’s Corrected Copies; with Notes by Henry Nelson Coleridge, Esq., M.A. 12mo. [London:] Pickering, 1839. / 4. Aids to Reflection in the Formation of a Manly Character, on the several grounds of Prudence, Morality, and Religion. Illustrated by Extracts from our Elder Divines, especially from Archbishop Leighton. By S. T. Coleridge. Third Edition. 8vo. [London:] Pickering, 1836. / 5. The Friend: a Series of Essays, to aid in the Formation of Fixed Principles in Politics, Morals, and Religion; with Literary Amusements interspersed. By S. T. Coleridge. A new Edition, with the Author’s last Corrections, and an Appendix, with a Synoptical Table of the Contents of the Work, by Henry Nelson Coleridge, Esq., M.A. 8vo. 3 vols. [London: Rest Fenner, 1818.] / 6. Biographia Literaria; or, Biographical Sketches of my Literary Life and Opinions. By S. T. Coleridge, Esq. 2 vols. 8vo. [London: Rest Fenner, 1817.] / 7. Memoirs of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. By James Gillman, Esq. Vol. I. 8vo. [London: Pickering,] 1839.”

Identified in JSM’s bibliography as “An article on Coleridge, in the London and Westminster Review for March 1840 (No. 65)” (MacMinn, 52). There are no corrections or alterations in the Somerville College copies of the article and D&D. The following text is collated with that in D&D (1st ed.), and that in the London and Westminster. In the footnoted variants, D&D (2nd ed.) is indicated by “67”; D&D (1st ed.) by “59”; and the London and Westminster by “40”.


the name of Coleridge is one of the few English names of our time which are likely to be oftener pronounced, and to become symbolical of more important things, in proportion as the inward workings of the age manifest themselves more and more in outward facts. Bentham excepted, no Englishman of recent date has left his impress so deeply in the opinions and mental tendencies of those among us who attempt to enlighten their practice by philosophical meditation. If it be true, as Lord Bacon affirms, that a knowledge of the speculative opinions of the men between twenty and thirty years of age is the great source of political prophecy, the existence of Coleridge will show itself by no slight or ambiguous traces in the coming history of our country; for no one has contributed more to shape the opinions of those among its younger men, who can be said to have opinions at all.

The influence of Coleridge, like that of Bentham, extends far beyond those who share in the peculiarities of his religious or philosophical creed. He has been the great awakener in this country of the spirit of philosophy, within the bounds of traditional opinions. He has been, almost as truly as Bentham, “the great questioner of things established;” for a questioner needs not necessarily be an enemy. By Bentham, beyond all others, men have been led to ask themselves, in regard to any ancient or received opinion, Is it true? and by Coleridge, What is the meaning of it? The one took his stand the received opinion, and surveyed it as an entire stranger to it: the other looked at it from within, and endeavoured to see it with the eyes of a believer in it; to discover by what apparent facts it was at first suggested, and by what appearances it has ever since been rendered continually credible—has seemed, to a succession of persons, to be a faithful interpretation of their experience. Bentham judged a proposition true or false as it accorded or not with the result of his own inquiries; and did not search very curiously into what might be meant by the proposition, when it obviously did not mean what he thought true. With Coleridge, on the contrary, the very fact that any doctrine had been believed by thoughtful men, and received by whole nations or generations of mankind, was part of the problem to be solved, was one of the phenomena to be accounted for. And as Bentham’s short and easy method of referring all to the selfish interests of aristocracies, or priests, or lawyers, or some other species of impostors, could not satisfy a man who saw so much farther into the complexities of the human intellect and feelings—he considered the long or extensive prevalence of any opinion as a presumption that it was not altogether a fallacy; that, to its first authors at least, it was the result of a struggle to express in words something which had a reality to them, though perhaps not to many of those who have since received the doctrine by mere tradition. The long duration of a belief, he thought, is at least proof of an adaptation in it to some portion or other of the human mind; and if, on digging down to the root, we do not find, as is generally the case, some truth, we shall find some natural want or requirement of human nature which the doctrine in question is fitted to satisfy: among which wants the instincts of selfishness and of credulity have a place, but by no means an exclusive one. From this difference in the points of view of the two philosophers, and from the too rigid adherence of each of his own, it was to be expected that Bentham should continually miss the truth which is in the traditional opinions, and Coleridge that which is out of them, and at variance with them. But it was also likely that each would find, or show the way to finding, much of what the other missed.

It is hardly possible to speak of Coleridge, and his position among his , without reverting to Bentham: they are connected by two of the closest bonds of association—resemblance and contrast. It would be difficult to find two persons of philosophic eminence more exactly the contrary of one another. Compare their modes of treatment of any subject, and you might fancy them inhabitants of different worlds. They seem to have scarcely a principle or a premise in common. Each of them sees scarcely anything but what the other does not see. Bentham would have regarded Coleridge with a peculiar measure of the good-humoured contempt with which he was accustomed to regard all modes of philosophizing different from his own. Coleridge would probably have made Bentham one of the exceptions to the enlarged and liberal appreciation which (to the credit of his mode of philosophizing) he extended to most thinkers of any eminence, from whom he differed. But contraries, as logicians say, are but quœ in eodem genere maxime distant, the things which are farthest from one another . These two agreed in being the men who, in their age and country, did most to enforce, by precept and example, the necessity of a philosophy. They agreed in making it their occupation to recal opinions to first principles; taking no proposition for granted without examining into the grounds of it, and ascertaining that it possessed the kind and degree of evidence suitable to its nature. They agreed in recognising that sound theory is the only foundation for sound practice, and that whoever despises theory, let him give himself what airs of wisdom he may, is self-convicted of being a quack. If a book were to be compiled containing all the best things ever said on the rule-of-thumb school of political craftsmanship, and on the insufficiency for practical purposes of what the mere practical man calls experience, it is difficult to say whether the collection would be more indebted to the writings of Bentham or of Coleridge. They agreed, too, in perceiving that the groundwork of all other philosophy must be laid in the philosophy of the mind. To lay this foundation deeply and strongly, and to raise a superstructure in accordance with it, were the objects to which their lives were devoted. They employed, indeed, for the most part, different materials; but as the materials of both were real observations, the genuine product of experience—the results will in the end be found not hostile, but supplementary, to one another. Of their methods of philosophizing, the same thing may be said: they were different, yet both were legitimate logical processes. In every respect the two men are each other’s “completing counterpart:” the strong points of each correspond to the weak points of the other. Whoever could master the premises and combine the methods of both, would possess the entire English philosophy of age. Coleridge used to say that every one is born either a Platonist or an Aristotelian: it may be similarly affirmed, that every Englishman of the present day is by implication either a Benthamite or a Coleridgian; holds views of human affairs which can only be proved true on the principles either of Bentham or of Coleridge. In one respect, indeed, the parallel fails, Bentham so improved and added to the system of philosophy he adopted, that for his successors he may almost be accounted its founder; while Coleridge, though he has left on the system he inculcated, such traces of himself as cannot fail to be left by any mind of original powers, was anticipated in all the essentials of his doctrine by the great Germans of the latter half of the last century, and was accompanied in it by the remarkable series of their French expositors and followers. Hence, although Coleridge is to Englishmen the type and the main source of that doctrine, he is the creator rather of the shape in which it has appeared among us, than of the doctrine itself.

The time is yet far distant when, in the estimation of Coleridge, and of his influence upon the intellect of our time, anything like unanimity can be looked for. As a poet, Coleridge has taken his place. The healthier taste, and more intelligent canons of poetic criticism, which he was himself mainly instrumental in diffusing, have at length assigned to him his proper rank, as one among the great, and (if we look to the powers shown rather than to the amount of actual achievement) among the greatest, names in our literature. But as a philosopher, the class of thinkers has scarcely yet arisen by whom he is to be judged. The limited philosophical public of this country is as yet too exclusively divided between those to whom Coleridge and the views which he promulgated or defended are , and those to whom they are . A thinker can only be justly estimated when his thoughts have worked their way into minds formed in a different school; have been wrought and moulded into consistency with all other true and relevant thoughts; when the noisy conflict of half-truths, angrily denying one another, has subsided, and ideas which seemed mutually incompatible, have been found only to require mutual limitations. This time has not yet come for Coleridge. The spirit of philosophy in England, like that of religion, is still rootedly sectarian. Conservative thinkers and Liberals, transcendentalists and admirers of Hobbes and Locke, regard each other as out of the pale of philosophical intercourse; look upon each other’s speculations as vitiated by an original taint, which makes all study of them, except for purposes of attack, useless if not mischievous. An error much the same as if Kepler had refused to profit by Ptolemy’s or Tycho’s observations, because those astronomers believed that the sun moved round the earth; or as if Priestley and Lavoisier, because they differed on the doctrine of phlogiston, had rejected chemical experiments. a still greater error than either of these. For, among the truths long recognised by Continental philosophers, but which very few Englishmen have yet , one is, the importance, in the present imperfect state of mental and social science, of antagonist modes of thought: which, it will one day be felt, are as necessary to one another in speculation, as mutually checking powers are in a political constitution. A clear insight, indeed, into this necessity is the only rational or enduring basis of philosophical tolerance; the only condition under which liberality in matters of opinion can be anything better than a polite synonym for indifference between one opinion and another.

All students of man and society who possess that first requisite for so difficult a study, a due sense of its difficulties, are aware that the besetting danger is not so much of embracing falsehood for truth, as of mistaking part of the truth for the whole. It might be plausibly maintained that in every one of the leading controversies, past or present, in social philosophy, both sides were in the right in what they affirmed, though wrong in what they denied; and that if either could have been made to take the other’s views in addition to its own, little more would have been needed to make its doctrine . Take for instance the question how far mankind have gained by civilization. One is forcibly stuck by the multiplication of physical comforts; the advancement and diffusion of knowledge; the decay of superstition; the facilities of mutual intercourse; the softening of manners; the decline of war and personal conflict; the progressive limitation of the tyranny of the strong over the weak; the great works accomplished throughout the globe by the co-operation of multitudes: and he becomes that very common character, the worshipper of “our enlightened age.” Another fixes his attention, not upon the value of these advantages, but upon the high price which is paid for them; the relaxation of individual energy and courage; the loss of proud and self-relying independence; the slavery of so large a portion of mankind to artificial wants; their effeminate shrinking from the shadow of pain; the dull unexciting monotony of their lives, and the passionless insipidity, and absence of any marked individuality, in their characters; the contrast between the narrow mechanical understanding, produced by a life spent in executing by fixed rules a fixed task, and the varied powers of the man of the woods, whose subsistence and safety depend at each instant upon his capacity of extemporarily adapting means to ends; the demoralizing effect of great inequalities in wealth and social rank; and the sufferings of the great mass of the people of civilized countries, whose wants are scarcely better provided for than those of the savage, while they are bound by a thousand fetters in lieu of the freedom and excitement which are his compensations. who attends to these things, and to these exclusively, will infer that savage life is ; that the work of civilization should as far as possible be undone; and from the premises of Rousseau, he will not improbably be led to the practical conclusions of Rousseau’s disciple, Robespierre. No two thinkers can be more entirely at variance than the two we have supposed—the worshippers of Civilization and of Independence, of the present and of the remote past. Yet all that is positive in the opinions of either of them is true; and we see how easy it would be to choose one’s path, if either half of the truth were the whole of it, and how great may be the difficulty of framing, as it is necessary to do, a set of practical maxims which combine both.

So again, one sees in a very strong light the need which the great mass of mankind have of being ruled over by a degree of intelligence and virtue superior to their own. He is deeply impressed with the mischief done to the uneducated and uncultivated by weaning them of all habits of reverence, appealing to them as a competent tribunal to decide the most questions, and making them think themselves capable, not only of being a light to themselves, but of giving the law to their superiors in culture. He sees, , that cultivation, to be carried beyond a certain point, requires leisure; that leisure is the natural attribute of a hereditary aristocracy; that such a body has all the means of acquiring intellectual and moral superiority; and he needs be at no loss to endow them with abundant motives to it. An aristocracy indeed, being human, are, as he cannot but see, not exempt, any more than their inferiors, from the common need of being controlled and enlightened by a still greater wisdom and goodness than their own. For this, however, his reliance is upon reverence for a Higher above them, sedulously inculcated and fostered by the course of their education. We thus see brought together all the elements of a conscientious zealot for an aristocratic government, supporting and supported by an established Christian church. There is truth, and important truth, in this premises. But there is a of a very different description, in whose premises there is an equal portion of truth. This is he who says, that an average man, even an average member of an aristocracy, if he postpone the interests of other people to his own calculations or instincts of self-interest, will do so; that all governments done so, as far as they were permitted, and generally to a ruinous extent; and that the only possible remedy is a pure democracy, in which the people are their own governors, and can have no selfish interest in oppressing themselves.

Thus it is in regard to every important partial truth; there are always two conflicting modes of thought, one tending to give to that truth too large, the other to give it too small, a place: and the history of opinion is generally an oscillation between these extremes. From the imperfection the human faculties, it seldom happens that, even in the minds of thinkers, each partial view of their subject passes for its worth, and none for more than its worth. But even if this just balance exist in the mind of the wiser teacher, it will not exist in his disciples, still less in the general mind. He cannot prevent that which is new in his doctrine, and on which, being new, he is forced to insist the most strongly, from making a disproportionate impression. The impetus necessary to overcome the obstacles which resist all novelties of opinion, seldom fails to carry the public mind almost as far on the contrary side of the perpendicular. Thus every excess in either direction determines a corresponding reaction; improvement consisting only in this, that the oscillation, each time, departs rather less widely from the centre, and an ever-increasing tendency is manifested to settle finally in it.

Now the Germano-Coleridgian doctrine is, in our view of the matter, the result of such a reaction. It expresses the revolt of the human mind against the philosophy of the eighteenth century. It is ontological, because that was experimental; conservative, because that was innovative; religious, because so much of that was infidel; concrete and historical, because that was abstract and metaphysical; poetical, because that was matter-of-fact and prosaic. In every respect it flies off in the contrary direction to its predecessor; yet faithful to the general law of improvement last noticed, it is less extreme in its opposition, it denies less of what is true in the doctrine it wars against, than been the case in any previous philosophic reaction; and in particular, far less than when the philosophy of the eighteenth century triumphed, and so memorably abused its victory, over that which preceded it.

We may begin our consideration of the two systems either at one extreme or the other; with their highest philosophical generalizations, or with their practical conclusions. , because it is their highest generalities that the difference between the two systems is most familiarly known.

Every consistent scheme of philosophy requires as its starting-point, a theory respecting the sources of human knowledge, and the objects which the human faculties are capable of taking cognizance of. The prevailing theory in the eighteenth century, on this most comprehensive of questions, was that proclaimed by Locke, and attributed to Aristotle—that all knowledge consists of generalizations from experience. Of nature, or anything whatever external to ourselves, we know, according to this theory, nothing, except the facts which present themselves to our senses, and such other facts as may, by analogy, be inferred from these. There is no knowledge à priori; no truths cognizable by the mind’s inward light, and grounded on intuitive evidence. Sensation, and the mind’s consciousness of its own acts, are not only the exclusive sources, but the sole materials of our knowledge. From this doctrine, Coleridge, with the German philosophers since Kant (not to go farther back) and most of the English since Reid, strongly dissents. He claims for the human mind a capacity, within certain limits, of perceiving the nature and properties of “Things in themselves.” He distinguishes in the human intellect two faculties, which, in the technical language common to him with the Germans, he calls Understanding and Reason. The former faculty judges of phenomena, or the appearances of things, and forms generalizations from these: to the latter it belongs, by direct intuition, to perceive things, and recognise truths, not cognizable by our senses. These perceptions are not indeed innate, nor could ever have been awakened in us without experience; but they are not copies of it: experience is not their prototype, it is only the occasion by which they are irresistibly suggested. The appearances in nature excite in us, by an inherent law, ideas of those invisible things which are the causes of the visible appearances, and on whose laws those appearances depend: and we then perceive that these things must have pre-existed to render the appearances possible; just as (to use a frequent illustration of Coleridge’s) we see, before we know that we have eyes; but when once this is known to us, we perceive that eyes must have pre-existed to enable us to see. Among the truths which are thus known à priori, by occasion of experience, but not themselves the subjects of experience, Coleridge includes the fundamental doctrines of religion and , the principles of mathematics, and the ultimate laws even of physical nature; which he contends cannot be proved by experience, though they must necessarily be consistent with it, and would, if we knew them perfectly, enable us to account for all observed facts, and to predict all those which are as yet unobserved.

It is not necessary to remind any one who concerns himself with such subjects, that between the partisans of these two opposite doctrines there reigns a bellum internecinum. Neither side is sparing in the imputation of intellectual and moral obliquity to the perceptions, and of pernicious consequences to the creed, of its antagonists. Sensualism is the common term of abuse for the one philosophy, mysticism for the other. The one doctrine is accused of making men beasts, the other lunatics. It is the unaffected belief of numbers on one side of the controversy, that their adversaries are actuated by a desire to break loose from moral and religious obligation; and of numbers on the other that their opponents are either men fit for Bedlam, or who cunningly pander to the interests of hierarchies and aristocracies, by manufacturing superfine new arguments in favour of old prejudices. It is almost needless to say that those who are freest with these mutual accusations, are seldom those who are most at home in the real intricacies of the question, or who are best acquainted with the argumentative strength of the opposite side, or even of their own. But without going to these extreme lengths, even sober men on both sides take no charitable view of the tendencies of each other’s opinions.

It is affirmed that the doctrine of Locke and his followers, that all knowledge is experience generalized, leads by strict logical consequence to atheism: that Hume and other sceptics were right when they contended that it is impossible to prove a God on grounds of experience; and Coleridge maintains positively, that the ordinary argument for a Deity, from marks of design in the universe, or, in other words, from the resemblance of the order in nature to the effects of human skill and contrivance, is not tenable. It is further said that the same doctrine annihilates moral obligation; reducing morality either to the blind impulses of animal sensibility, or to a calculation of prudential consequences, both equally fatal to its essence. Even science, it is affirmed, loses character of science in this view of it, and becomes empiricism; a mere enumeration and arrangement of facts, not explaining nor accounting for them: since a fact is only then accounted for when we are made to see in it the manifestation of laws, which, as soon as they are perceived at all, are perceived to be necessary. These are the charges brought by the transcendental philosophers against the school of Locke, Hartley, and Bentham. They in their turn allege that the transcendentalists make imagination, and not observation, the criterion of truth; that they lay down principles under which a man may enthrone his wildest dreams in the chair of philosophy, and impose them on mankind as intuitions of the pure reason: which has, in fact, been done in all ages, by all manner of mystical enthusiasts. And even if, with gross inconsistency, the private revelations of any individual or Swedenborg be disowned, or, in other words, outvoted (the only means of discrimination which, it is contended, the theory admits of), this is still only substituting, as the test of truth, the dreams of the majority for the dreams of each individual. Whoever form a strong enough party, may at any time set up the immediate perceptions of their reason, that is to say, any reigning prejudice, as a truth independent of experience; a truth not only requiring no proof, but to be believed in opposition to all that appears proof to the mere understanding; nay, the more to be believed, because it cannot be put into words and into the logical form of a proposition without a contradiction in terms: for no less authority than this is claimed by some transcendentalists for their à priori truths. And thus a ready mode is provided, by which whoever is on the strongest side may dogmatize at his ease, and instead of proving his propositions, may rail at all who deny them, as bereft of “the vision and the faculty divine,” or blinded to its plainest revelations by a corrupt heart.

This is a very temperate statement of what is charged by these two classes of thinkers against each other In truth, a system of consequences from an opinion, drawn by an adversary, is seldom of much worth. Disputants are rarely sufficiently masters of each other’s doctrines, to be good judges what is fairly deducible from them, or how a consequence which seems to flow from one part of the theory may or may not be defeated by another part. To combine the different parts of a doctrine with one another, and with all admitted truths, is not indeed a small trouble, one which a is often inclined to take for other people’s opinions. Enough if each does it for his own, which he has a greater interest in, and is more disposed to be just to. Were we to search among men’s recorded thoughts for the choicest manifestations of human imbecility and prejudice, our specimens would be mostly taken from their opinions of the opinions of one another. Imputations of horrid consequences ought not to bias the judgment of any person capable of independent thought. Coleridge himself says (in the 25th Aphorism of his Aids to Reflection), “He who begins by loving Christianity better than truth, will proceed by loving his own sect or church better than Christianity, and end in loving himself better than all.”

As to the fundamental difference of opinion respecting the sources of our knowledge (apart from the corollaries which either party may have drawn from its own principle, or imputed to its opponent’s), the question lies far too deep in the recesses of psychology for us to discuss it here. The lists having been open ever since the dawn of philosophy, it is not wonderful that the two parties should have been forced to put on their strongest armour, both of attack and of defence. The question would not so long have remained a question, if the more obvious arguments on either side had been unanswerable. Each has been able to urge in its own favour numerous and striking facts, to the opposite theory has required all the metaphysical resources which that theory could command. It will not be wondered at, then, that we here content ourselves with a bare statement of our opinion. It is, that the truth, on this much-debated question, lies with the school of Locke and of Bentham. The nature and laws of Things in themselves, or of the hidden causes of the phenomena which are the objects of experience, appear to us radically inaccessible to the human faculties. We see no ground for believing that anything can be the object of our knowledge except our experience, and what can be inferred from our experience by the analogies of experience itself; nor that there is any idea, feeling, or power in the human mind, which, in order to account for it, requires that its origin should be referred to any other source. We are therefore at issue with Coleridge on the central idea of his philosophy; and we find no need of, and no use for, the technical terminology which he and his masters the Germans have introduced into philosophy, for the double purpose of giving logical precision to doctrines which we do not admit, and of marking a relation between those abstract doctrines and many concrete experimental truths, which this language, in our judgment, serves not to elucidate, but to disguise and obscure. Indeed, but for these peculiarities of language, it would be difficult to understand how the reproach of (by which nothing is meant in common parlance but ) has been fixed upon Coleridge and the Germans in the minds of many, to whom doctrines substantially the same, when taught in a manner more superficial and less fenced round against objections, by Reid and Dugald Stewart, have appeared the plain dictates of “common sense,” successfully asserted against the subtleties of metaphysics.

Yet, though we think the doctrines of Coleridge and the Germans, in the pure science of mind, erroneous, and have no taste for their peculiar terminology, we are far from thinking that even in respect of this, the least valuable part of their intellectual exertions, those philosophers have lived in vain. The doctrines of the school of Locke stood in need of an entire renovation: to borrow a physiological illustration from Coleridge, they required, like certain secretions of the human body, to be reabsorbed into the system and secreted afresh. In what form did that philosophy generally prevail throughout Europe? In that of the shallowest set of doctrines which perhaps were ever passed off upon a cultivated age as a complete psychological system—the ideology of Condillac and his school; a system which affected to resolve all the phenomena of the human mind into sensation, by a process which essentially consisted in merely calling all states of mind, however heterogeneous, by that name; a philosophy now acknowledged to consist solely of a set of verbal generalizations, explaining nothing, distinguishing nothing, leading to nothing. That men should begin by sweeping this was the first sign that the age of real psychology was about to commence. In England the case, though different, was scarcely better. The philosophy of Locke, as a popular doctrine, had remained as it stood in his own book; which, as its title implies, did not pretend to give an account of any but the intellectual part of our nature; which, even within that limited sphere, was but the commencement of a system, and though its errors and defects as such have been exaggerated beyond all just bounds, it did expose many vulnerable points to the searching criticism of the new school. The least imperfect part of it, the purely logical part, had almost dropped out of sight. With respect to those of Locke’s doctrines which are properly metaphysical; however the sceptical part of them may have been followed up by others, and carried beyond the point at which he stopped; the only one of his successors who attempted, and achieved, any considerable improvement and extension of the analytical part, and thereby added anything to the explanation of the human mind on Locke’s principles, was Hartley. But Hartley’s , so far as they are true, were so much in advance of the age, and the way had been so little prepared for them by the general tone of thinking which yet prevailed, even under the influence of Locke’s writings, that the philosophic world did not deem them worthy of being attended to. Reid and Stewart were allowed to run them down uncontradicted: Brown, though a man of a kindred genius, had evidently never read them; and but for the accident of their being taken up by Priestley, who transmitted them as a kind of heirloom to his Unitarian followers, the name of Hartley might have perished, or survived only as that of a visionary physician, the author of an exploded physiological hypothesis. It perhaps required all the violence of the assaults made by Reid and the German school upon Locke’s system, to recall men’s minds to Hartley’s principles, as alone adequate to the solution, upon that system, of the peculiar difficulties which those assailants pressed upon men’s attention as altogether insoluble by it. We may here notice that Coleridge, before he adopted his later philosophical views, was an enthusiastic Hartleian; so that his abandonment of the philosophy of Locke cannot be imputed to unacquaintance with the highest form of that philosophy which had yet appeared. That he should pass through that highest form without stopping at it, is itself a strong presumption that there were more difficulties in the question than Hartley had solved. That anything has since been done to solve them we probably owe to the revolution in opinion, of which Coleridge was one of the organs; and even in abstract metaphysics his writings, and those of his school of thinkers, are from whence the opposite school can draw the materials for what has yet to be done to perfect their own theory.

If we now pass from the purely abstract to the concrete and practical doctrines of the two schools, we shall see still more clearly the necessity of the reaction, and the great service rendered to philosophy by its authors. This will be best manifested by a survey of the state of practical philosophy in Europe, as Coleridge and his compeers found it, towards the close of the last century.

The state of opinion in the latter half of the eighteenth century was by no means the same on the Continent of Europe and in our own island; and the difference was still greater in appearance than it was in reality. In the more advanced nations of the Continent, the prevailing philosophy had done its work completely: it had spread itself over every department of human knowledge; it had taken possession of the whole Continental mind: and scarcely one educated person was left who retained any allegiance to the opinions or the institutions of ancient times. In England, the native country of compromise, things had stopped far short of this; the philosophical movement had been brought to a halt in an early stage, and a peace had been patched up by concessions on both sides, between the philosophy of the time and its traditional institutions and creeds. Hence the aberrations of the age were generally, on the Continent, at that period, the extravagances of new opinions; in England, the corruptions of old ones.

To insist upon the deficiencies of the Continental philosophy of the last century, or, as it is commonly termed, the French philosophy, is almost superfluous. That philosophy is indeed as unpopular in this country as its bitterest enemy could desire. If its faults were as well understood as they are much railed at, criticism might be considered to have finished its work. But that this is not yet the case, the nature of the imputations currently made upon the French philosophers, sufficiently proves; many of these being as inconsistent with a just philosophic comprehension of their system of opinions, as with charity towards the men themselves. It is not true, for example, that any of them denied moral obligation, or sought to weaken its force. So far were they from meriting this accusation, that they could not even tolerate the writers who, like Helvetius, ascribed a selfish origin to the feelings of morality, resolving them into a sense of interest. Those writers were as much cried down among the philosophes themselves, and what was true and good in them (and there is much that is so) met with as little appreciation, then as now. The error of the philosophers was rather that they trusted too much to those feelings; believed them to be more deeply rooted in human nature than they are; to be not so dependent, as in fact they are, upon collateral influences. They thought them the natural and spontaneous growth of the human heart; so firmly fixed in it, that they would subsist unimpaired, nay invigorated, when the whole system of opinions and observances with which they were habitually intertwined was violently torn away.

To tear away was, indeed, all that these philosophers, for the most part, aimed at: they had no conception that anything else was needful. At their millennium, superstition, priestcraft, error and prejudice of every kind, were to be annihilated; some of them gradually added that despotism and hereditary privileges must share the same fate; and, this accomplished, they never for a moment suspected that all the virtues and graces of humanity could fail to flourish, or that when the noxious weeds were once rooted out, the soil would stand in any need of tillage.

In this they committed the very common error, of mistaking the state of things with which they had always been familiar, for the universal and natural condition of mankind. They were accustomed to see the human race agglomerated in large nations, all (except here and there a madman or a malefactor) yielding obedience more or less strict to a set of laws prescribed by a few of their own number, and to a set of moral rules prescribed by each other’s opinion; renouncing the exercise of individual will and judgment, except within the limits imposed by these laws and rules; and acquiescing in the sacrifice of their individual wishes when the point was decided against them by lawful authority; or persevering only in hopes of altering the opinion of the ruling powers. Finding matters to be so generally in this condition, the philosophers apparently concluded that they could not possibly be in any other; and were ignorant, by what a host of civilizing and restraining influences a state of things so repugnant to man’s self-will and love of independence has been brought about, and how imperatively it demands the continuance of those influences as the condition of its own existence. The very first element of the social union, obedience to a government of some sort, has not been found so easy a thing to establish in the world. Among a timid and spiritless race, like the inhabitants of the vast plains of tropical countries, passive obedience may be of natural growth; though even there we doubt whether it has ever been found among any people with whom fatalism, or in other words, submission to the pressure of circumstances as the decree of God, did not prevail as a religious doctrine. But the difficulty of inducing a brave and warlike race to submit their individual arbitrium to any common umpire, has always been felt to be so great, that nothing short of supernatural power has been deemed adequate to overcome it; and such tribes have always assigned to the first institution of civil society a divine origin. So differently did those judge who knew savage man by actual experience, from those who had no acquaintance with him except in the civilized state. In modern Europe itself, after the fall of the Roman empire, to subdue the feudal anarchy and bring the whole people of any European nation into subjection to government (although Christianity in most concentrated form was co-operating in the work) required thrice as many centuries as have elapsed since that time.

Now if these philosophers had known human nature under any other type than that of their own age, and of the particular classes of society among whom they , it would have occurred to them, that wherever this habitual submission to law and government has been firmly and durably established, and yet the vigour and manliness of character which resisted its establishment have been in any degree preserved, certain requisites have existed, certain conditions have been fulfilled, of which the following may be regarded as the principal.

First: There has existed, for all who were accounted citizens,—for all who were not slaves, kept down by brute force,—a system of education, beginning with infancy and continued through life, of which, whatever else it might include, one main and incessant ingredient was restraining discipline. To train the human being in the habit, and thence the power, of subordinating his personal impulses and aims, to what were considered the ends of society; of adhering, against all temptation, to the course of conduct which those ends prescribed; of controlling in himself all the feelings which were liable to militate against those ends, and encouraging all such as tended towards them; this was the purpose, to which every outward motive that the authority directing the system could command, and every inward power or principle which its knowledge of human nature enabled it to evoke, were endeavoured to be rendered instrumental. And whenever and in proportion as the strictness of discipline was relaxed, the natural tendency of mankind to anarchy reasserted itself; the State became disorganized from within; mutual conflict for selfish ends, neutralized the energies which were required to keep up the contest against natural causes of evil; and the nation, after a longer or briefer interval of progressive decline, became either the slave of a despotism, or the prey of a foreign invader.

The second condition of permanent political society has been found to be, the existence, in some form or other, of the feeling of allegiance, or loyalty. This feeling may vary in its objects, and is not confined to any particular form of government; but whether in a democracy or in a monarchy, its essence is always the same; viz. that there be in the constitution of the State something which is settled, something permanent, and not to be called in question; something which, by general agreement, has a right to be where it is, and to be secure against disturbance, whatever else may change. This feeling may attach itself, as among the Jews (and indeed in most of the commonwealths of antiquity), to a common God or gods, the protectors and guardians of their State. Or it may attach itself to certain persons, who are deemed to be, whether by divine appointment, by long prescription, or by the general recognition of their superior capacity and worthiness, the rightful guides and guardians of the rest. Or it may attach itself to laws; to ancient liberties, or ordinances But in all political societies which have had a durable existence, there has been some fixed point; something which men agreed in holding sacred; which lawful to contest in theory, but which no one could either fear or hope to see shaken in practice; which, in short (except perhaps during some temporary crisis), was in the common estimation placed discussion. And the necessity of this may easily be made evident. A State never is, nor, until mankind are vastly improved, can hope to be, for any long time exempt from internal dissension; for there neither is, nor has ever been, any state of society in which collisions did not occur between the immediate interests and passions of powerful sections of the people. What, then, enables society to weather these storms, and pass through turbulent times without any permanent weakening of the ? Precisely this—that however important the interests about which men out, the conflict not affect the fundamental principles of the system of social union which to exist; nor threaten large portions of the community with the subversion of that on which they built their calculations, and with which their hopes and aims become identified. But when the questioning of these fundamental principles is (not occasional disease, but) the habitual condition of the body politic, and when all the violent animosities are called forth, which spring naturally from such a situation, the State is virtually in a position of civil war; and can never long remain free from it in act and fact.

The third essential condition , is a strong and active principle of . We need scarcely say that we do not mean a senseless antipathy to foreigners; a cherishing of peculiarities because they are national; or a refusal to adopt what has been found good by other countries. We mean a principle of sympathy, not of hostility; of union, not of separation. We mean a feeling of common interest among those who live under the same government, and are contained within the same natural or historical boundaries. We mean, that one part of the community not consider themselves as foreigners with regard to another part; that they feel that they are one people, that their lot is cast together, that evil to any of their fellow-countrymen is evil to themselves; and free themselves from their share of any common inconvenience by severing the connexion. How strong this feeling was in ancient commonwealths every one knows. How happily Rome, in spite of all her tyranny, succeeded in establishing the feeling of a common country amoung the provinces of her vast and divided empire, will appear when any one who has given due attention to the subject shall take the trouble to point it out. In modern times the countries which have had that feeling in the strongest degree have been the most powerful countries; England, France, and, in proportion to their territory and resources, Holland and Switzerland; while England in her connexion with Ireland, is one of the most signal examples of the consequences of its absence. Every Italian knows why Italy is under a foreign yoke; every German knows what maintains despotism in the Austrian empire; the of Spain flow as much from the absence of nationality among the Spaniards themselves, as from the presence of it in their relations with foreigners; while the completest illustration of all is afforded by the republics of South America, where the parts of one and the same state adhere so slightly together, that no sooner does any province think itself aggrieved by the general government, than it proclaims itself a separate nation.

These essential requisites of civil society the French philosophers of the eighteenth century unfortunately overlooked. They found, indeed, all three—at least the first and second, and most of what nourishes and invigorates the third—already undermined by the vices of the institutions, and of the men, that were set up as the guardians and bulwarks of them. If innovators, in their theories, disregarded the elementary principles of the social union, Conservatives, in their practice, had set the first example. The existing order of things had ceased to realize those first principles: from the force of circumstances, and from the short-sighted selfishness of its administrators, it had ceased to possess the essential conditions of permanent society, and was therefore tottering to its fall. But the philosophers did not see this. Bad as the existing system was in the days of its decrepitude, according to them it was still worse when it actually did what it now only pretended to do. Instead of feeling that the effect of a bad social order in sapping the necessary foundations of society itself, is worst of its many mischiefs, the philosophers saw only, and saw with joy, that it was sapping its own foundations. In the weakening of all government they saw only the weakening of bad government; and thought they could not better employ themselves than in finishing the task so well begun—in ; in unsettling everything which was still considered settled, making men doubtful of the few things of which they still felt certain; and in uprooting what little remained in the people’s minds of reverence for anything above them, of respect to any of the limits which custom and prescription had set to the indulgence of each man’s fancies or inclinations, or of attachment to any of the things which belonged to them as a nation, and which made them feel their unity as such.

Much of all this was, no doubt, unavoidable, and not justly matter of blame. When the vices of all constituted authorities, added to natural causes of decay, have eaten the heart out of old institutions and beliefs, while at the same time the growth of knowledge, and the altered circumstances of the age, would have required institutions and creeds different from these even if they had remained uncorrupt, we are far from saying that any degree of wisdom on the part of speculative thinkers could avert the political catastrophes, and the subsequent moral anarchy and unsettledness, which we have witnessed and are witnessing. Still less do we pretend that those principles and influences which we have spoken of as the conditions of the permanent existence of the social union, once lost, can ever be, or should be attempted to be, revived in connexion with the same institutions or the same doctrines as before. When society requires to be rebuilt, there is no use in attempting to rebuild it on the old plan. By the union of the enlarged views and analytic powers of speculative men with the observation and contriving sagacity of men of practice, better institutions and better doctrines must be elaborated; and until this is done we cannot hope for much improvement in our present condition. The effort to do it in the eighteenth century would have been premature, as the attempts of the Economistes (who, of all persons then living, came nearest to it, and who were the first to form the idea of a Social Science), sufficiently testify. The time was not ripe for doing effectually any other work than that of destruction. But the work of the day should have been so performed as not to impede that of the morrow. No one can calculate what struggles, which the cause of improvement has yet to undergo, might have been spared if the philosophers of the eighteenth century had done anything like justice to the Past. Their mistake was, that they did not acknowledge the historical value of much which had ceased to be useful, nor saw that institutions and creeds, now effete, had rendered essential services to civilization, and still filled a place in the human mind, and in the arrangements of society, which could not without peril, be left vacant. Their mistake was, that they did not recognise in many of the errors which they assailed, corruptions of important truths, and in many of the institutions most cankered with abuse, necessary elements of civilized society, though in a form and vesture no longer suited to the age; and hence they involved, as far as in them lay, many great truths, in a common discredit with the errors which had grown up around them. threw away the shell without preserving the kernel; and attempting to new-model society without the binding forces which hold society together, met with such success as might have been anticipated.

Now we claim, in behalf of the philosophers of the reactionary school—of the school to which Coleridge belongs—that exactly what we blame the philosophers of the eighteenth century for not doing, they have done.

Every reaction in opinion, of course brings into view that portion of the truth which was overlooked before. It was natural that a philosophy which anathematized all that had been going on in Europe from Constantine to Luther, or even to Voltaire, should be succeeded by another, at once a severe critic of the new tendencies of society, and an impassioned vindicator of what was good in the past. This is the easy merit of all Tory and Royalist writers. But the peculiarity of the Germano-Coleridgian school is, that they saw beyond the immediate controversy, to the fundamental principles involved in all such controversies. They were the first who inquired into the inductive laws of the existence and growth of human society. They were the first to bring prominently forward the three requisites which we have enumerated, as essential principles of all permanent forms of social existence, as principles, we say, and not as mere accidental advantages inherent in the particular polity or religion which the writer happened to patronize. They were the first who pursued, philosophically and in the spirit of Baconian investigation, not only this inquiry, but others ulterior and collateral to it. They thus produced, not a piece of party advocacy, but a philosophy of society, in the only form in which it is yet possible, that of a philosophy of history; not a defence of particular ethical or religious doctrines, but a contribution, the largest made by any class of thinkers, towards the philosophy of human culture.

The brilliant light which has been thrown upon history during the last half century, has proceeded almost wholly from this school. The disrespect in which history was held by the philosophes is notorious; one of the soberest of them, D’Alembert we believe, was the author of the wish that all record whatever of past events could be blotted out. And indeed the ordinary mode of writing history, and the ordinary mode of drawing lessons from it, were almost sufficient to excuse this contempt. But the philosophes saw, as usual, what was not true, not what was. It is no wonder that the greater part of what had been handed down from the past, sheer hindrances to man’s attaining a well-being which would otherwise be of easy attainment, should content themselves with a very superficial study of history. But the case was otherwise with those who regarded the maintenance of society at all, and especially its maintenance in a state of progressive advancement, as a very difficult task, actually achieved, in however imperfect a manner, for a number of centuries, against the strongest obstacles. It was natural that they should feel a deep interest in ascertaining how this had been effected; and should be led to inquire, both what were the requisites of the permanent existence of the body politic, and what were the conditions which had rendered the preservation of these permanent requisites compatible with perpetual and progressive improvement. And hence that series of great writers and thinkers, from Herder to Michelet, by whom history, which was till then “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” has been made a science of causes and effects; who, by making the facts and events of the past have a meaning and an intelligible place in the gradual evolution of humanity, have at once given history, even to the imagination, an interest like romance, and afforded the only means of predicting and guiding the future, by unfolding the agencies which have produced and still maintain the Present.

The same causes have naturally led the same class of thinkers to do what their predecessors never could have done, for the philosophy of human culture. For the tendency of their speculations compelled them to see in the character of the national education existing in any political society, at once the principal cause of its permanence as a society, and the chief source of its progressiveness: the former by the extent to which that education operated as a system of restraining discipline; the latter by the degree in which it called forth and invigorated the active faculties. Besides, not to have looked upon the culture of the inward man as the problem of problems, would have been incompatible with the belief which of these philosophers entertained in Christianity, and the recognition by all of them of its historical value, and the prime part which it has acted in the progress of mankind. But here, too, let us not fail to observe, they rose to principles, and did not stick in the particular case. The culture of the human being had been carried to no ordinary height, and human nature had exhibited many of its noblest manifestations, not in Christian countries only, but in the ancient world, in Athens, Sparta, Rome; nay, even barbarians, as the Germans, or still more unmitigated savages, the wild Indians, and again the Chinese, the Egyptians, the Arabs, all had their own education, their own culture; a culture which, whatever might be its tendency upon the whole, had been successful in some respect or other. Every form of polity, every condition of society, whatever else it had done, had formed its type of national character. What that type was, and how it had been made what it was, were questions which the metaphysician might overlook, the historical philosopher could not. Accordingly, the views respecting the various elements of human culture and the causes influencing the formation of national character, which pervade the writings of the Germano-Coleridgian school, throw into the shade everything which had been effected before, or which has been attempted simultaneously by any other school. Such views are, more than anything else, the characteristic feature of the Goethian period of German literature; and are richly diffused through the historical and critical writings of the new French school, as well as of Coleridge and his followers.

In this long, though most compressed, dissertation on the Continental philosophy preceding the reaction, and on the nature of the reaction, so far as directed against that philosophy, we have unavoidably been led to speak rather of the movement itself, than of Coleridge’s particular share in it; which, from his posteriority in date, was necessarily a subordinate one. And it would be useless, even did our limits permit, to bring together from the scattered writings of a man who produced no systematic work, any of the fragments which he may have contributed to an edifice still incomplete, and even the general character of which, we can have rendered very imperfectly intelligible to those who are not acquainted with the itself. Our object is to invite to the study of the original sources, not to supply the place of such a study. What was peculiar to Coleridge will be better manifested, when we now proceed to review the state of popular philosophy immediately preceding him in our own island; which was different, in some material respects, from the contemporaneous Continental philosophy.

In England, the philosophical speculations of the age had not, except in a few highly metaphysical minds (whose example rather served to deter than to invite others), taken so audacious a flight, nor achieved anything like so complete a victory over the counteracting influences, as on the Continent. There is in the English mind, both in speculation and in practice, a highly salutary shrinking from all extremes. But as this shrinking is rather an instinct of caution than a result of insight, it is too ready to satisfy itself with any medium, merely because it is a medium, and to acquiesce in a union of the disadvantages of both extremes instead of their advantages. The circumstances of the age, too, were unfavourable to decided opinions. The repose which followed the great struggles of the Reformation and the Commonwealth; the final victory over Popery and Puritanism, Jacobitism and Republicanism, and the lulling of the controversies which kept speculation and spiritual consciousness alive; the lethargy which came upon all governors and teachers, after their position in society became fixed; and the growing absorption of all classes in material interests—caused a of mind to diffuse itself, with less of deep inward workings, and less capable of interpreting those it had, than had existed for centuries. The age seemed smitten with an incapacity of producing deep or strong feeling, such could ally itself with meditative habits. There were few poets, and none of a high order; and philosophy fell mostly into the hands of men of a dry prosaic nature, who had not enough of the materials of human feeling in them to be able to imagine any of its more complex and mysterious manifestations; all of which they either left out of their theories, or introduced them with such explanations as no one who had experienced the feelings could receive as adequate. An age like this, an age without earnestness, was the natural era of .

To make out a case for the feudal and ecclesiastical institutions of modern Europe was by no means impossible: they had a meaning, had existed for honest ends, and an honest theory of them might be made. But the administration of those institutions had long ceased to accord with any honest theory. It was impossible to justify them in principle, except on grounds which condemned them in practice; and grounds of which there was at any rate little or no recognition in the philosophy of the eighteenth century. The natural tendency, therefore, of that philosophy, everywhere but in England, was to seek the extinction of those institutions. In England it would doubtless have done the same, had it been strong enough: but as this was beyond its strength, an adjustment was come to between the rival powers. What neither party cared about, the ends of existing institutions, the work that was to be done by teachers and governors, was flung overboard. The wages of that work the teachers and governors did care about, and those wages were secured to them. The existing institutions in Church and State were to be preserved inviolate, in outward semblance at least, but were required to be, practically, as much a nullity as possible. The Church continued to “rear her mitred front in courts and palaces,” but not as in the days of Hildebrand or Becket, as the champion of arts against arms, of the serf against the seigneur, peace against war, or spiritual principles and powers against the domination of animal force. Nor even (as in the days of Latimer and John Knox) as a body divinely commissioned to train the nation in a knowledge of God and obedience to his laws, whatever became of temporal principalities and powers, and whether this end might most effectually be compassed by their assistance or by trampling them under foot. No; but the people of England liked old things, and nobody knew how the place might be filled which the doing away with so conspicuous an institution would leave vacant, and quieta ne movere was the favourite doctrine of those times; therefore, on condition of not making too much noise about religion, or taking it too much in earnest, the church was supported, even by philosophers—as a “bulwark against fanaticism,” a sedative to the religious spirit, to prevent it from disturbing the harmony of society or the tranquillity of states. The clergy of the establishment thought they had a good bargain on these terms, and kept its conditions very faithfully.

The State, again, was no longer considered, according to the old , as a concentration of the force of all the individuals of the nation in the hands of certain of its members, in order to the accomplishment of whatever could be best accomplished by systematic co-operation. It was found that the State was a bad judge of the wants of society; that it in reality cared very little for them; and when it attempted anything beyond that police against crime, and arbitration of disputes, which are indispensable to social existence, the private sinister interest of some class or individual was usually the prompter of its proceedings. The natural inference would have been that the constitution of the State was somehow not suited to the existing wants of society; having indeed descended, with modifications that could be avoided, from a time when the most prominent exigencies of society were quite different. This conclusion, however, was shrunk from; and it required the peculiarities of very recent times, and the speculations of the Bentham school, to produce even any considerable tendency that way. The existing Constitution, and all the arrangements of existing society, continued to be applauded as the best possible. The celebrated theory of the three powers was got up, which made the excellence of our Constitution consist in doing less harm than would be done by any other form of government. Government altogether was regarded as a necessary evil, and was required to hide itself, to make itself as little felt as possible. The cry of the people was not “help us,” “guide us,” “do for us the things we cannot do, and those which we can”—and truly such requirements from such rulers would have been a bitter jest: the cry was “let us alone.” to decide questions of meum and tuum, to protect society from open violence, and from some of the most dangerous modes of fraud, could not be withheld; these the Government was left in possession of, and to these it became the expectation of the public that it should confine itself.

Such was the prevailing tone of English belief in temporals; what was it in spirituals? Here too a similar system of compromise had been at work. Those who pushed their philosophical speculations to the denial of the received religious belief, whether they went to the exent of infidelity or only of heterodoxy, met with little encouragement; neither religion itself, nor the received forms of it, were at all shaken by the few attacks which were made upon them from without. The philosophy, however, of the time, made itself felt as effectually in another fashion; it pushed its way into religion. The à priori arguments for a God were first dismissed. This was indeed inevitable. The internal evidences of Christianity shared nearly the same fate; if not absolutely thrown aside, they fell into the background, and were little thought of. The doctrine of Locke, that we have no innate moral sense, perverted into the doctrine that we have no moral sense at all, made it appear that we had not any capacity of judging from the doctrine itself, whether it was worthy to have come from a righteous Being. In forgetfulness of the most solemn warnings of the Author of Christianity, as well as of the Apostle who was the main diffuser of it through the world, belief in his religion was left to stand upon miracles—a species of evidence which, according to the universal belief of the early Christians themselves, was by no means peculiar to true religion: and it is melancholy to see on what frail reeds able defenders of Christianity preferred to rest, rather than upon that better evidence which alone gave to their so-called evidences any value as a collateral confirmation. In the interpretation of Christianity, the palpablest bibliolatry prevailed: if (with Coleridge) we may so term that superstitious worship of particular texts, which persecuted Galileo, and, in our own day, anathematized the discoveries of geology. Men whose faith in Christianity rested on the literal infallibility of the sacred volume, in terror from the idea that it could have been included in the scheme of Providence that the human opinions and mental habits of the particular writers should be allowed to mix with and colour their mode of conceiving and of narrating the divine transactions. Yet this slavery to the letter has not only raised every difficulty which envelopes the most unimportant passage in the Bible, into an objection to revelation, but has paralysed many a well-meant effort to bring Christianity home, as a consistent scheme, to human experience and capacities of apprehension; as if there much of it which it was more prudent to leave in nubibus, lest, in the attempt to make the mind seize hold of it as a reality, some text might be found to stand in the way. It might have been expected that this idolatry of the words of Scripture would at least have saved its doctrines from being tampered with by human notions: but the contrary proved to be the effect; for the vague and sophistical mode of interpreting texts, which was necessary in order to reconcile what was manifestly irreconcilable, engendered a habit of playing fast and loose with Scripture, and finding in , or leaving out of it, whatever one pleased. Hence, while Christianity was, in theory and in intention, received and submitted to, with even “prostration of the understanding” before it, much alacrity was in fact displayed in accommodating it to the received philosophy, and even to the popular notions of the time. To take only one example, but so signal a one as to be instar omnium. If there is any one requirement of Christianity less doubtful than another, it is that of being spiritually-minded; of loving and practising good from a pure love, simply because it is good. But one of the crotchets of the philosophy of the age was, that all virtue is self-interest; and accordingly, in the text-book adopted by the Church (in one of its universities) for instruction in moral philosophy, the reason for doing good is declared to be, that God is stronger than we are, and is able to damn us if we do not. This is no exaggeration of the sentiments of Paley, and hardly even of the crudity of his language.

Thus, on the whole, England had neither the benefits, such as they were, of the new ideas nor of the old. We were just sufficiently under the influences of each, to render the other powerless. We had a Government, which we respected too much to attempt to change it, but not enough to trust it with any power, or look to it for any services that were not compelled. We had a Church, which had ceased to fulfil the honest purposes of a church, but which we made a great point of keeping up as the pretence or simulacrum of one. We had a highly spiritual religion (which we were instructed to obey from selfish motives), and the most mechanical and worldly notions on every other subject; and we were so much afraid of being wanting in reverence to each particular syllable of the book which contained our religion, that we let its most important meanings slip through our fingers, and entertained the most grovelling conceptions of its spirit and general purposes. This was not a state of things which could recommend itself to any earnest mind. It was sure in no great length of time to call forth two sorts of men—the one demanding the extinction of the institutions and creeds which had hitherto existed; the other that they be made a reality: the one pressing the new doctrines to their utmost consequences; the other reasserting the meaning and purposes of the old. The first type attained its greatest in Bentham; the last in Coleridge.

We hold that these two sorts of men, who seem to be, and believe themselves to be, enemies, are in reality allies. The powers they wield are opposite poles of one great force of progression. What was really hateful and contemptible was the state which preceded them, and which each, in its way, has been striving now for many years to improve. Each ought to hail with rejoicing the advent of the other. But most of all ought an enlightened Radical or Liberal to rejoice over such a Conservative as Coleridge. For such a Radical must know, that the Constitution and Church of England, and the religious opinions and political maxims professed by their supporters, are not mere frauds, nor sheer nonsense—have not been got up originally, and all along maintained, for the sole purpose of picking people’s pockets; without aiming at, or being found conducive to, any honest end during the whole process. Nothing, of which this is a sufficient account, would have lasted a tithe of five, eight, or ten centuries, in the most improving period and the most improving nation the world. These things, we may depend upon it, were not always without much good in them, however little of it may now be left: and Reformers ought to hail the man as a brother Reformer who points out what this good is; what it is we have a right to expect from things established—which they are bound to do for us, as the justification of their being established: so that they may be recalled to it and compelled to do it, or the impossibility of their any longer doing it may be conclusively manifested. What is any case for reform good for, until it has passed this test? What mode is there of determining whether a thing is fit to exist, considering what purposes it exists for, and whether it be still capable of fulfilling them?

We have not room here to consider Coleridge’s Conservative philosophy in all its aspects, or in relation to all the quarters from which objections might be raised against it. We shall consider it with relation to Reformers, and especially to Benthamites. We would assist them to determine whether they would have to do with Conservative philosophers or with Conservative ; and whether, since there are Tories, it be better that they should learn their Toryism from Lord , or even Sir Robert Peel, or from Coleridge.

Take, for instance, Coleridge’s view of the grounds of a Church Establishment. His mode of treating any institution is to investigate what he terms the Idea of it, or what in common parlance would be called the principle involved in it. The idea or principle of a national church, and of the Church of England in that character, is, according to him, the reservation of a portion of the land, or of a right to a portion of its produce, as a fund—for what purpose? For the worship of God? For the performance of religious ceremonies? No; for the advancement of knowledge, and the civilization and cultivation of the community. This fund he does not term Church-property, but “the nationality,” or national property. He considers it as destined for

the support and maintenance of a permanent class or order, with the following duties. A certain smaller number were to remain at the fountain-heads of the humanities, in cultivating and enlarging the knowledge already possessed, and in watching over the interests of physical and moral science; being likewise the instructors of such as constituted, or were to constitute, the remaining more numerous classes of the order. The members of this latter and far more numerous body were to be distributed throughout the country, so as not to leave even the smallest integral part or division without a resident guide, guardian, and instructor; the objects and final intention of the whole order being these—to preserve the stores and to guard the treasures of past civilization, and thus to bind the present with the past; to perfect and add to the same, and thus to connect the present with the future; but especially to diffuse through the whole community, and to every native entitled to its laws and rights, that quantity and quality of knowledge which was indispensable both for the understanding of those rights, and for the performance of the duties correspondent; finally, to secure for the nation, if not a superiority over the neighbouring states, yet an equality at least, in that character of general civilization, which equally with, or rather more than, fleets, armies, and revenue, forms the ground of its defensive and offensive power.

This organized body, set apart and endowed for the cultivation and diffusion of knowledge, is not, in Coleridge’s view, necessarily a religious corporation.

Religion may be an indispensable ally, but is not the essential constitutive end, of that national institute, which is unfortunately, at least improperly, styled the Church; a name which, in its best sense, is exclusively appropriate to the Church of Christ. . . . . The clerisy of the nation, or national church in its primary acceptation and original intention, comprehended the learned of all denominations, the sages and professors of the law and jurisprudence, of medicine and physiology, of music, of military and civil architecture, with the mathematical as the common organ of the preceding; in short, all the so-called liberal arts and sciences, the possession and application of which constitute the civilization of a country, as well as the theological. The last was, indeed, placed at the head of all; and of good right did it claim the precedence. But why? Because under the name of theology or divinity were contained the interpretation of languages, the conservation and tradition of past events, the momentous epochs and revolutions of the race and nation, the continuation of the records, logic, ethics, and the determination of ethical science, in application to the rights and duties of men in all their various relations, social and civil; and lastly, the ground-knowledge, the prima scientia, as it was named,—philosophy, or the doctrine and discipline of ideas.

Theology formed only a part of the objects, the theologians formed only a portion of the clerks or clergy, of the national Church. The theological order had precedency indeed, and deservedly; but not because its members were priests, whose office was to conciliate the invisible powers, and to superintend the interests that survive the grave; nor as being exclusively, or even principally, sacerdotal or templar, which, when it did occur, is to be considered as an accident of the age, a misgrowth of ignorance and oppression, a falsification of the constitutive principle, not a constituent part of the same. No; the theologians took the lead, because the science of theology was the root and the trunk of the knowledge of civilized man: because it gave unity and the circulating sap of life to all other sciences, by virtue of which alone they could be contemplated as forming collectively the living tree of knowledge. It had the precedency because, under the name theology, were comprised all the main aids, instruments, and materials of national education, the nisus formativus of the body politic, the shaping and informing spirit, which, educing or eliciting the latent man in all the natives of the soil, trains them up to be citizens of the country, free subjects of the realm. And, lastly, because to divinity belong those fundamental truths which are the common groundwork of our civil and our religious duties, not less indispensable to a right view of our temporal concerns than to a rational faith respecting our immortal well-being. Not without celestial observations can even terrestrial charts be accurately construtced. (Church and State, Chap. v [pp. 48-52].)

The , or national property, according to Coleridge, “cannot rightfully, and without foul wrong to the nation never has been, alienated from its original purposes,” from the promotion of “a continuing and progressive civilization,” to the benefit of individuals, or any public purpose of merely economical or material interest. But the State may withdraw the fund from its actual holders, for the better execution of its purposes. There is no sanctity attached to the means, but only to the ends. The fund is not dedicated to any particular scheme of religion, nor even to religion at all; religion has only to do with it instrument of civilization, and in common with all the other instruments.

I do not assert that the proceeds from the cannot be rightfully vested, except in what we now mean by clergymen and the established clergy. I have everywhere implied the contrary. . . . . In relation to the national church, Christianity, or the Church of Christ, is a blessed accident, a providential boon, a grace of God. . . . . As the olive tree is said in its growth to fertilize the surrounding soil, to invigorate the roots of the vines in its immediate neighbourhood, and to improve the strength and flavour of the wines; such is the relation of the Christian and the national Church. But as the olive is not the same plant with the vine, or with the elm or poplar (that is, the State) with which the vine is wedded; and as the vine, with its prop, may exist, though in less perfection, without the olive, or previously to its implantation; even so is Christianity, and à fortiori any particular scheme of theology derived, and supposed by its partisans to be deduced, from Christianity, no essential part of the being of the national Church, however conducive or even indispensable it may be to its well-being.

(Chap. vi [pp. 53-4, 59-60].)

What Sir Robert Inglis, or Sir Robert Peel, or Mr. to such a doctrine as this? Will they thank Coleridge for this advocacy of Toryism? What would become of the three years’ debates on the Appropriation Clause, which so disgraced this country before the face of Europe? Will the ends of practical Toryism be much served by a theory under which the Royal Society might claim a part of the Church property with as good right as the bench of bishops, if, by endowing that body like the French Institute, science could be better promoted? a theory by which the State, in the conscientious exercise of its judgment, having decided that the Church of England does not fulfil the object for which the nationalty was intended, might transfer its endowments to any other ecclesiastical body, or to any other body not ecclesiastical, which it deemed more competent to fulfil those objects; might establish any other sect, or all sects, or no sect at all, if it should deem that in the divided condition of religious opinion in this country, the State can no longer with advantage attempt the complete religious instruction of its people, but must for the present content itself with providing secular instruction, and such religious teaching as all can take part in; leaving each sect to apply to its own communion that which they all agree in considering as the keystone of the arch? We believe this to be the true state of affairs in Great Britain at the present time. We are far from thinking it other than a serious evil. We entirely acknowledge, that in any person fit to be a teacher, the view he takes of religion will be intimately connected with the view he will take of all the greatest things which he has to teach. Unless the same teachers who give instruction on those other subjects, are at liberty to enter freely on religion, the scheme of education will be, to a certain degree, fragmentary and incoherent. But the State at present has only the option of such an imperfect scheme, or of entrusting the whole business to perhaps the most unfit body among persons of any intellectual attainments, namely, the established clergy as at present trained and composed. Such a body would have no chance of being selected as the exclusive administrators of the nationalty, on any foundation but that of divine right; the ground avowedly taken by the only other school of Conservative philosophy which is attempting to raise its head in this country—that of the new Oxford theologians .

Coleridge’s merit in this matter consists, as it seems to us, in two things. First, that by setting in a clear light what a national church establishment ought to be, and what, by the very fact of its existence, it must be held to pretend to be, he has pronounced the severest satire upon what in fact it is. There is some difference, truly, between Coleridge’s church, in which the schoolmaster forms the first step in the hierarchy, “who, in due time, and under condition of a faithful performance of his arduous duties, should succeed to the pastorate,” and the Church of England such as we now see. But to say the Church, and mean only the clergy, “constituted,” according to Coleridge’s conviction, “the first and fundamental apostasy.” He, and the thoughts which have proceeded from him, have done more than would have been effected in thrice the time by Dissenters and Radicals, to make the Church ashamed of the evil of her ways, and to determine that movement of improvement from within, which has begun where it ought to begin, at the Universities and among the younger clergy, and which, if this sect-ridden country is ever to be really taught, must proceed pari passu with the assault carried on from without.

Secondly, we honour Coleridge for having rescued from the discredit in which the corruptions of the English Church had involved everything connected with it, and for having vindicated against Bentham and Adam Smith and the whole eighteenth century, the principle of an endowed class, for the cultivation of learning, and for diffusing its results among the community. That such a class is likely to be behind, instead of before, the progress of knowledge, is an induction erroneously drawn from the peculiar circumstances of the last two centuries, and in contradiction to all the rest of modern history. If we have seen of the abuses of endowments, we have not seen what this country might be made by a proper administration of them, as we trust we shall not see what it would be without them. On this subject we are entirely one with Coleridge, and with the other great defender of endowed establishments, Dr. Chalmers; and we consider the definitive establishment of this fundamental principle, to be one of the permanent benefits which political science owes to the Conservative philosophers.

Coleridge’s theory of the Constitution is not less worthy of notice than his theory of the Church. The Delolme and Blackstone doctrine, the balance of the three powers, he declares he never could elicit one ray of common sense from, no more than from the balance of trade. There is, however, according to him, an Idea of the Constitution, of which he says—

Because our whole history, from Alfred onwards, demonstrates the continued influence of such an idea, or ultimate aim, in the minds of our forefathers, in their characters and functions as public men, alike in what they resisted and what they claimed; in the institutions and forms of polity which they established, and with regard to those against which they more or less successfully contended; and because the result has been a progressive, though not always a direct or equable, advance in the gradual realization of the idea; and because it is actually, though (even because it is an idea) not adequately, represented in a correspondent scheme of means really existing; we speak, and have a right to speak, of the idea itself as actually existing, that is, as a principle existing in the only way in which a principle can exist—in the minds and consciences of the persons whose duties it prescribes, and whose rights it determines.

This fundamental idea

is at the same time the final criterion by which all particular frames of government must be tried: for here only can we find the great constructive principles of our representative system: those principles in the light of which it can alone be ascertained what are excrescences, symptoms of distemperature, and marks of degeneration, and what are native growths, or changes naturally attendant on the progressive development of the original germ, symptoms of immaturity, perhaps, but not of disease; or, at worst, modifications of the growth by the defective or faulty, but remediless or only gradually remediable, qualities of the soil and surrounding elements

Of these principles he gives the following account:—

It is the chief of many blessings derived from the insular character and circumstances of our country, that our social institutions have formed themselves out of our proper needs and interests; that long and fierce as the birth-struggle and growing pains have been, the antagonist powers have been of our own system, and have been allowed to work out their final balance with less disturbance from external forces than was possible in the Continental States. . . Now, in every country of civilized men, or acknowledging the rights of property, and by means of determined boundaries and common laws united into one people or nation, the two antagonist powers or opposite interests of the State, under which all other State interests are comprised, are those of permanence and of progression.

The interest of permanence, or the Conservative interest, he considers to be naturally connected with the land, and with landed property. This doctrine, false in our opinion as an universal principle, is true of England, and of all countries where landed property is accumulated in large masses.

“On the other hand,” he says, “the progression of a State, in the arts and comforts of life, in the diffusion of the information and knowledge useful or necessary for all; in short, all advances in civilization, and the rights and privileges of citizens, are especially connected with, and derived from, the four classes,—the mercantile, the manufacturing, the distributive, and the professional.” (We must omit the interesting historical illustrations of this maxim.) “These four last-mentioned classes I will designate by the name of the Personal Interest, as the exponent of all moveable and personal possessions, including skill and acquired knowledge, the moral and intellectual stock in trade of the professional man and the artist, no less than the raw materials, and the means of elaborating, transporting, and distributing them.”

The interest of permanence, then, is provided for by a representation of the landed proprietors; that of progression, by a representation of personal property and of intellectual acquirement: and while one branch of the Legislature, the Peerage, is essentially given over to the former, he considers it a part both of the general theory and of the actual English constitution, that the representatives of the latter should form “the clear and effectual majority of the Lower House;” or if not, that at least, by the added influence of public opinion, they should exercise an effective preponderance there. That “the very weight intended for the effectual counterpoise of the great landholders” has “in the course of events, been shifted into the opposite scale;” that the members for the towns “now constitute a large proportion of the political power and influence of the very class of men whose personal cupidity and whose partial views of the landed interest at large they were meant to keep in check;”—these things he acknowledges: and only suggests a doubt, whether roads, canals, machinery, the press, and other influences favourable to the popular side, do not constitute an equivalent force to supply the deficiency.

How much better a Parliamentary Reformer, then, is Coleridge, than Lord John Russell, or any Whig who stickles for maintaining this unconstitutional omnipotence of the landed interest. If these became the principles of Tories, we should not wait long for further reform, even in our organic institutions. It is true Coleridge disapproved of the Reform Bill, or rather of the principle, or the no-principle, on which it was supported. He saw in it the dangers of a change amounting almost to a revolution, without any real tendency to remove those defects in the machine, which alone could justify a change so extensive. And that this is nearly a true view of the matter, all parties seem to be now agreed. The Reform Bill was not calculated to improve the general composition of the Legislature. The good it has done, which is considerable, consists chiefly in this, that being so great a change, it weakened the superstitious feeling against great changes. Any good, which is contrary to the selfish interest of the dominant class, is improvements which threaten no powerful body in their social importance or in their pecuniary emoluments, are no longer resisted, as they once were, because of their greatness—because of the very benefit which they promised. Witness the speedy passing of the Poor Law Amendment and the Penny Postage Acts.

Meanwhile, though Coleridge’s theory is but a mere commencement, not amounting to the first lines of a political philosophy, has the age produced any other theory of government which can stand a comparison with it as to its first principles? Let us take, for example, the Benthamic theory. The principle of this may be said to be, that since the general interest is the object of government, a complete control over the government ought to be given to those whose interest is identical with the general interest. The authors and propounders of this theory were men of extraordinary intellectual powers, and the greater part of what they meant by it is true and important. But considered as the foundation of a science, it would be difficult to find among theories proceeding from philosophers one less like a philosophical theory, or, in the works of analytical , anything more entirely unanalytical. What can a philosopher such complex notions as “interest” and “general interest,” without breaking them down into the elements of which they are composed? If by men’s interest be meant what would appear such to a calculating bystander, judging what would be good for a man during his whole life, and making no account, or but little, of the gratification of his present passions, his pride, his envy, his vanity, his cupidity, his love of pleasure, his love of ease—it may be questioned whether, in this sense, the interest of an aristocracy, and still more that of a monarch, would not be as accordant with the general interest as that of either the middle or the poorer classes; and if men’s interest, in this understanding of it, usually governed their conduct, absolute monarchy would probably be the best form of government. But since men usually do what they like, often being perfectly aware that it is not for their ultimate interest, still more often that it is not for the interest of their posterity; and almost always overrating its value; it is necessary to consider, not who are they whose permanent interest, but who are they whose immediate interests and habitual feelings, are likely to be most in accordance with the end we seek to obtain. And as that end (the general good) is a very complex state of things, comprising as its component elements many requisites which are neither of one and the same nature, nor attainable by one and the same means—political philosophy must begin by a classification of these elements, in order to distinguish those of them which go naturally together (so that the provision made for one will suffice for the rest), from those which are ordinarily in a state of antagonism, or at least of separation, and require to be provided for apart. This preliminary classification being supposed, things would, in a perfect government, be so ordered, that corresponding to each of the great interests of society, there would be some branch or some integral part of the governing body, so constituted that it should not be merely deemed by philosophers, but actually and constantly deem itself, to have its strongest interests involved in the maintenance of that one of the ends of society which it is intended to be the guardian of. This, we say, is the thing to be aimed at, the type of perfection in a political constitution. Not that there is a possibility of making more than a limited approach to it in practice. A government must be composed out of the elements already existing in society, and the distribution of power in the constitution cannot vary much or long from the distribution of it in society itself. But wherever the circumstances of society allow any choice, wherever wisdom and contrivance are at all available, this, we conceive, is the principle of guidance; and whatever anywhere exists is imperfect and a failure, just so far as it recedes from this type.

Such a philosophy of government, we need hardly say, is in its infancy: the first step to it, the classification of the exigencies of society, has not been made. Bentham, in his Principles of Civil Law, has given a specimen, very useful for many other purposes, but not available, nor intended to be so, for founding a theory of representation upon it. For that particular purpose we have seen nothing comparable as far as it goes, notwithstanding its manifest insufficiency, to Coleridge’s division of the interests of society into the two antagonist interests of Permanence and Progression. The Continental philosophers have, by a different path, arrived at the same division; and this is about as far, probably, as the science of political institutions has yet reached.

In the details of Coleridge’s political opinions there is much good, and much that is questionable, or worse. In political economy especially he writes like an arrant driveller, and it would have been well for his reputation had he never meddled with the subject. But this department of knowledge can now take care of itself. On other points we meet with far-reaching remarks, and a tone of general feeling sufficient to make a Tory’s hair stand on end. Thus, in the work from which we have most quoted, he calls the State policy of the last half-century “a Cyclops with one eye, and that in the back of the head”—its measures “either a series of anachronisms, or a truckling to events instead of the science that should command them.” He styles the great Commonwealthsmen “the stars of that narrow interspace of blue sky between the black clouds of the First and Second Charles’s reigns.” The Literary Remains are full of disparaging remarks on many of the heroes of Toryism and Church-of-Englandism. He sees, for instance, no difference between Whitgift and Bancroft, and Bonner and Gardiner, except that the last were the most consistent—that the former sinned against better knowledge; and one of the most poignant of his writings is a character of Pitt, the very reverse of panegyrical. As a specimen of his practical views, we have mentioned his recommendation that the parochial clergy should begin by being schoolmasters. He urges “a different division and subdivision of the kingdom” instead of “the present barbarism, which forms an obstacle to the improvement of the country of much greater magnitude than men are generally aware.” But we must confine ourselves to instances in which he has helped to bring forward great principles, either implied in the old English opinions and institutions, or at least opposed to the new tendencies.

For example, he is at issue with the let alone doctrine, or the theory that governments can do better than to do nothing; a doctrine generated by the manifest selfishness and incompetence of modern European governments, but of which, as a general theory, we may now be permitted to say, that one half of it is true, and the other half false. All who are on a level with their age now readily admit that government ought not to interdict men from publishing their opinions, pursuing their employments, or buying and selling their goods, in whatever place or manner they deem the most advantageous. Beyond suppressing force and fraud, governments can seldom, without doing more harm than good, attempt to chain up the free agency of individuals. But does it follow from this that government cannot exercise a free agency of its own?—that it cannot beneficially employ its powers, its means of information, and its pecuniary resources (so far surpassing those of any other association, or of any individual), in promoting the public welfare by a thousand means which individuals would never think of, would have no sufficient motives to attempt, or no sufficient to accomplish? To confine ourselves to one, and that a limited view of the subject: a State ought to be considered as a great benefit society, or mutual insurance company, for helping (under the necessary regulations for preventing abuse) that large proportion of its members who cannot help themselves.

Let us suppose, [says Coleridge,] the negative ends of a State already attained, namely, its own safety by means of its own strength, and the protection of person and property for all its members; there will then remain its positive ends:—1. To make the means of subsistence more easy to each individual: 2. To secure to each of its members the hope of bettering his own condition or that of his children: 3. The development of those faculties which are essential to his humanity, that is to his rational and moral being.

In regard to the two former ends, he of course does not mean that they can be accomplished merely by making laws to that effect; or that, according to the wild doctrines now afloat, it is the fault of the government if every one has not enough to eat and drink. But he means that government can do something directly, and very much indirectly, to promote even the physical comfort of the people; and that if, besides making a proper use of its own powers, it would exert itself to teach the people what is in theirs, indigence would soon disappear from the face of the earth.

Perhaps, however, the greatest service which Coleridge has rendered to politics in his capacity of a Conservative philosopher, though its fruits are mostly yet to come, is in reviving the idea of a trust inherent in landed property. The land, the gift of nature, the source of subsistence to all, and the foundation of everything that influences our physical well-being, cannot be considered a subject of in the same absolute sense in which men are deemed proprietors of that but themselves—that which they have actually called into existence by their own bodily exertion. As Coleridge points out, such a notion is altogether of modern growth.

The very idea of individual or private property in our present acceptation of the term, and according to the current notion of the right to it, was originally confined to moveable things; and the more moveable, the more susceptible of the nature of property.

By the early institutions of Europe, property in land was a public function, created for certain public purposes, and held under condition of their fulfilment; and as such, we predict, under the modifications suited to modern society, it will again come to be considered. In this age, when everything is called in question, and when the foundation of private property itself needs to be argumentatively maintained against plausible and persuasive sophisms, one may easily see the danger of mixing up what is not really tenable with what is—and the impossibility of maintaining an absolute right in an individual to an unrestricted control, a jus utendi et abutendi, over an unlimited quantity of the mere raw material of the globe, to which every other person could originally make out as good a natural title as himself. It will certainly not be much longer tolerated that agriculture should be carried on (as Coleridge expresses it) on the same principles as those of trade; “that a gentleman should regard his estate as a merchant his cargo, or a shopkeeper his stock;” that he should be allowed to deal with it as if it only existed to yield rent to him, not food to the numbers whose hands till it; and should have a right, and a right possessing all the sacredness of property, to turn them out by hundreds and make them perish on the high road, as has been done before now by Irish landlords. We believe it will soon be thought, that a mode of property in land which has brought things to this pass, has existed long enough.

We shall not be suspected (we hope) of recommending a general resumption of landed possessions, or the depriving any one, without compensation, of anything which the law gives him. But we say that when the State allows any one to exercise ownership over more land than suffices to raise by his own labour his subsistence and that of his family, it confers on him power over other human beings—power affecting them in their most vital interests; and that no notion of private property can bar the right which the State inherently possesses, to require that the power which it has so given shall not be abused. We say, also, that, by giving this power over so large a portion of the community, power is necessarily conferred over all the remaining portion; and this, too, it is the duty of the State to place under proper control. Further, the tenure of land, the various rights connected with it, and the system on which its cultivation is carried on, are points of the utmost importance both to the economical and to the moral well-being of the whole community. And the State fails in one of its highest obligations, unless it takes these points under its particular superintendence; unless, to the full extent of its power, it takes means of providing that the manner in which land is held, the mode and degree of its division, and every other peculiarity which influences the mode of its cultivation, shall be the most favourable possible for making the best use of the land: for drawing the greatest benefit from its productive resources, for securing the happiest existence to those employed on it, and for setting the greatest number of hands free to employ their labour for the benefit of the community in other ways. We believe that these opinions will become, in no very long period, universal throughout Europe. And we gratefully bear testimony to the fact, that the first among us who has given the sanction of philosophy to so great a reform in the popular and current notions, is a Conservative philosopher.

Of Coleridge as a moral and religious philosopher (the character which he presents most prominently in his principal works), there is neither room, nor would it be expedient for us to speak more than generally. On both subjects, few men have ever combined so much earnestness with so catholic and unsectarian a spirit. “We have imprisoned,” says he, “our own conceptions by the lines which we have drawn in order to exclude the conceptions of others. J’ai trouvé que la plupart des sectes ont raison dans une bonne partie de ce qu’elles avancent, mais non pas tant en ce qu’elles nient.” That almost all sects, both in philosophy and religion, are right in the positive part of their tenets, though commonly wrong in the negative, is a doctrine which he professes as strongly as the eclectic school in France. Almost all errors he holds to be “truths misunderstood,” “half-truths taken as the whole,” though not the less, but the more dangerous on that account. Both the theory and practice of enlightened tolerance in matters of opinion, might be exhibited in extracts from his writings more copiously than in those of any other writer we know; though there are a few (and but a few) exceptions to his own practice of it. In the theory of ethics, he contends against the doctrine of general consequences, and holds that, for man, “to obey the simple unconditional commandment of eschewing every act that implies a self-contradiction”—so to act as to “be able, without involving any contradiction, to will that the maxim of thy conduct should be the law of all intelligent beings,—is the one universal and sufficient principle and guide of morality.” Yet even a utilitarian can have little complaint to make of a philosopher who lays it down that “the outward object of virtue” is “the greatest producible sum of happiness of all men,” and that “happiness in its proper sense is but the continuity and sum-total of the pleasure which is allotted or happens to a man.”

But his greatest object was to bring into harmony Religion and Philosophy. He laboured incessantly to establish that “the Christian faith—in which,” says he, “I include every article of belief and doctrine professed by the first reformers in common”—is not only divine truth, but also “the perfection of Human Intelligence.” All that Christianity has revealed, philosophy, according to him, can prove, though there is much which it could never have discovered; human reason, once strengthened by Christianity, can evolve all the Christian doctrines from its own sources. Moreover, “if infidelity is not to overspread England as well as France,” the Scripture, and every passage of Scripture, must be submitted to this test; inasmuch as “the compatibility of a document with the conclusions of self-evident reason, and with the laws of conscience, is a condition à priori of any evidence adequate to the proof of its having been revealed by God;” and this, he says, is no novelty, but a principle “clearly laid down both by Moses and St. Paul.” He thus goes quite as far as the Unitarians in making man’s reason and moral feelings a test of revelation; but differs toto cælo from them in their rejection of its mysteries, which he regards as the highest philosophic truths, and says that “the Christian to whom, after a long profession of Christianity, the mysteries remain as much mysteries as before, is in the same state as a schoolboy with regard to his arithmetic, to whom the facit at the end of the examples in his cyphering-book is the whole ground for his assuming that such and such figures amount to so and so.”

These opinions are not likely to be popular in the religious world, and Coleridge knew it: “I quite calculate,” said he once, “on my being one day or other holden in worse repute by many Christians than the must be undergone by every one who loves the truth for its own sake beyond all other things.” For our part, we are not bound to defend him; and we must admit that, in his attempt to arrive at theology by way of philosophy, we see much straining, and , as it appears to us, total failure. The question, however, is not whether Coleridge’s attempts are successful, but whether it is desirable or not that such attempts should be made. Whatever some religious people may think, philosophy will and must go on, ever seeking to understand whatever can be made understandable; and, whatever some philosophers may think, there is little prospect at present that philosophy will take the place of religion, or that any philosophy will be received in this country, unless supposed not only to be consistent with, but even to yield collateral support to, Christianity. What is the use, then, of treating with contempt the idea of a religious philosophy? , and our main hope ought to be that the conditions of a philosophy—the very foremost of which is, unrestricted freedom of thought. There is no philosophy possible where fear of consequences is a stronger principle than love of truth; where speculation is paralyzed, either by the belief that conclusions honestly arrived at will be punished by a just and good Being eternal damnation, or by seeing in every text of Scripture a foregone conclusion, with which the results of inquiry must, at any expense of sophistry and self-deception, be made to quadrate.

From both these withering influences, that have so often made the acutest intellects exhibit specimens of obliquity and imbecility in their theological speculations which have the pity of subsequent generations, Coleridge’s mind was perfectly free. Faith—the faith which is —was, in his view, a state of the will and of the affections, not of the understanding. Heresy, in “the literal sense and scriptural import of the word,” is, according to him, “wilful error, or belief originating in some perversion of the will;” he says, therefore, that there may be orthodox heretics, since indifference to truth may as well be shown on the right side of the question as on the wrong; and denounces, in strong language, the contrary doctrine of the “pseudo-Athanasius,” who “interprets Catholic faith by belief,” an act of the understanding alone. The “true Lutheran doctrine,” he says, is, that “neither will truth, as a mere conviction of the understanding, save, nor error condemn. To love truth sincerely is spiritually to have truth; and an error becomes a personal error, not by its aberration from logic or history, but so far as the causes of such error are in the heart, or may be traced back to some antecedent unchristian wish or habit.” “The unmistakable passions of a factionary and a schismatic, the ostentatious display, the ambitious and dishonest arts of a sect-founder, must be superinduced on the false doctrine before the heresy makes the man a heretic.”

Against the other terror, so fatal to the unshackled exercise of reason on the greatest questions, the view which Coleridge took of the authority of the Scriptures was a preservative. He drew the strongest distinction between the inspiration which he owned in the various writers, and an express dictation by the Almighty of every word they wrote. “The notion of the absolute truth and divinity of every syllable of the text of the books of the Old and New Testament as we have it,” he again and again asserts to be unsupported by the Scripture itself; to be one of those superstitions in which “there is a heart of unbelief;” to be, “if possible, still more extravagant” than the Papal infallibility; and declares that the very same arguments are used for both doctrines. God, he believes, informed the minds of the writers with the truths he meant to reveal, and left the rest to their human faculties. He pleaded most earnestly, says his nephew and editor, for this liberty of criticism with respect to the Scriptures, as

the only middle path of safety and peace between a godless disregard of the unique and transcendent character of the Bible, taken generally, and that scheme of interpretation, scarcely less adverse to the pure spirit of Christian wisdom, which wildly arrays our faith in opposition to our reason, and inculcates the sacrifice of the latter to the former; for he threw up his hands in dismay at the language of some of our modern divinity on this point, as if a faith not founded on insight were aught else than a specious name for wilful positiveness; as if the Father of Lights could require, or would accept, from the only one of his creatures whom he had endowed with reason, the sacrifice of fools! . . . . Of the aweless doctrine that God might, if he had so pleased, have given to man a religion which to human intelligence should not be rational, and exacted his faith in it, Coleridge’s whole middle and later life was one deep and solemn denial.

He bewails “bibliolatry” as the pervading error of modern Protestant divinity, and the great stumbling-block of Christianity, and exclaims, “O might I live but to utter all my meditations on this most concerning point . . . in what sense the Bible may be called the word of God, and how and under what conditions the unity of the Spirit is translucent through the letter, which, read as the letter merely, is the word of this and that pious, but fallible and imperfect, man.” It is known that he did live to write down these meditations; and speculations so important will one day, it is devoutly to be hoped, be given to the world.

Theological discussion is beyond our province, and it is not for us, in this place, to judge these sentiments of Coleridge; but it is that they are not the sentiments of a bigot, or of one who is to be dreaded by Liberals, lest he should illiberalize the minds of the rising generation of Tories and High-Churchmen. We think the danger is rather lest they should find him vastly too liberal. And yet, now when the most orthodox divines, both in the Church and out of it, find it necessary to explain away the sense of the whole first chapter of Genesis, one would think the time gone by for expecting to learn from the Bible what it never could have been intended to communicate, and to find in all its statements a literal truth neither necessary nor conducive to what the volume itself declares to be the ends of revelation. Such at least was Coleridge’s opinion: and whatever influence such an opinion may have over Conservatives, it cannot do other than make them less bigots, and better philosophers.

But we must close this long essay: long in itself, short in its relation to its subject, and to the multitude of topics involved in it. We do not pretend to have given any sufficient account of Coleridge; but we hope we may have proved to some, not previously aware of it, that there is something both in him, and in the school to which he belongs, not unworthy of their better knowledge. We may have done something to show that a Tory philosopher cannot be wholly a Tory, but must often be a better Liberal than Liberals themselves; while he is the natural means of rescuing from oblivion truths which Tories have forgotten, and which the prevailing schools of Liberalism never knew.

And even if a Conservative philosophy were an absurdity, it is well calculated to drive out a hundred absurdities worse than itself. Let no one think that it is nothing, to accustom to give a reason for their opinion, be the opinion ever so untenable, the reason ever so insufficient. A accustomed to submit his fundamental tenets to the test of reason, will be more open to the dictates of reason on every other point. Not from him shall we have to apprehend the owl-like dread of light, the drudge-like aversion to change, which were the characteristics of the old unreasoning race of bigots. A man accustomed to contemplate the fair side of Toryism (the side that every attempt at a philosophy of it must bring to view), and to defend the existing system by the display of its capabilities as an engine of public good,—such a man, when he comes to administer the system, will be more anxious than another to realize those capabilities, to bring the fact a little nearer to the specious theory. “Lord, enlighten thou our enemies,” should be the prayer of every true Reformer; sharpen their wits, give acuteness to their perceptions, and consecutiveness and clearness to their reasoning powers: we are in danger from their folly, not from their wisdom; their weakness is what fills us with apprehension, not their strength.

For ourselves, we are not so blinded by our particular opinions as to be ignorant that in this and in every other country , the great mass of the owners of property, and of all the classes intimately connected with the owners of property, are, and must be , in the main, Conservative. To suppose that so mighty a body can be without immense influence in the commonwealth, or to lay plans for effecting great changes, either spiritual or temporal, in which they are left out of the question, would be . Let those who desire such changes, ask themselves if they are content that these classes should be, and remain, to a man, banded against them; and what progress they expect to make, or by what means, unless a process of preparation shall be going on in the minds of these very classes; not by the method of converting them from Conservatives into Liberals, but by their being led to adopt one liberal opinion after another, as a part of Conservatism itself. The first step to this, is to inspire them with the desire to systematize and rationalize their own actual creed: and the feeblest attempt to do this has an intrinsic value; far more, then, one which has so much in it, both of moral goodness and true insight, as the philosophy of Coleridge.




D&D, II (1867), 450-509, with footnote to title: “Westminster Review, October 1852.—1. ‘Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy in England.’ By William Whewell, D.D., Master of Trinity College, and Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Cambridge. 1 vols. 8vo. [London: Parker,] 1852. 2. ‘Elements of Morality, including Polity.’ By the same Author. 2 vols. 8vo. [London: Parker,] 1845.” Reprinted from the Westminster and Foreign Quarterly Review, LVIII [n.s. II] (Oct., 1852), 349-85 and headed: “Art. II.—Whewell’s Moral Philosophy” with the same bibliographic information as in D&D. Identified in JSM’s bibliography as “A review of Whewell’s Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy in England, & his Elements of Morality, in the Westminster Review new series No. 4 for October 1852” (MacMinn, 77). For a discussion of the relation between this article and some others in this volume, see the Textual Introduction, cxxii above, and the Preface to D&D, 493-4 below. JSM requested offprints of the article from John Chapman, the editor of the Westminster, but when only tear-sheets were sent, he refused the further offer of reprinting, saying that he did “not think it worth the expense” as he merely wished to give copies to friends (7 & 9/10/52; A.l.s. at Indiana University). In the one copy he retained he corrected the running-title on 359 from “Association” to “Asceticism” (Somerville College).

The following text is collated with that in D&D (2nd ed.), and that in the Westminster. In the footnoted variants, D&D (2nd ed.) is indicated by “67”; D&D (1st ed.) by “59”; and the Westminster by “52”.

Whewell on Moral Philosophy

if the worth of Dr. Whewell’s writings could be measured by the importance and amplitude of their subjects, no writer of the age could vie with him in merit or usefulness. He has aspired to be not only the historian, but the philosopher and legislator, of almost all the great departments of human knowledge; reducing each to its first principles, and showing how it might be scientifically evolved from these as a connected whole. After endeavouring, in his History and Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, to place physics, and incidentally metaphysics, on a philosophic foundation, he has made an almost equally ambitious attempt on the subjects of morals and government, of which the two works before us are the results. He is thus entitled to the praise of having done his best to wipe off from the two endowed universities, in one of which he holds a high place, the reproach to which they have so long been justly liable, of neglecting the higher regions of philosophy. By his writings and influence, he has been an agent in that revival of speculation on the most difficult and highest subjects, which has been noticeable for some years past within as well as without the pale of Oxford and Cambridge. And inasmuch as mental activity of any kind is better than torpidity, and bad solutions of the great questions of philosophy are preferable to a lazy ignoring of their existence, whoever has taken so active a part as Dr. Whewell in this intellectual movement, may lay claim to considerable merit.

Unfortunately it is not in the nature of bodies constituted like the English Universities, even when stirred up into something like mental activity, to send forth thought of any but one description. There have been universities (those of France and Germany have at some periods been practically conducted on this principle) which brought together into a body the most vigorous thinkers and the ablest teachers, whatever the conclusions to which their thinking might have led them. But in the English Universities no thought can find place, except that which can reconcile itself with orthodoxy. They are ecclesiastical institutions; and it is the essence of all churches to vow adherence to a set of opinions made up and prescribed, it matters little whether three or thirteen centuries ago. Men will some day open their eyes, and perceive how fatal a thing it is that the instruction of those who are intended to be the guides and governors of mankind should be confided to a collection of persons thus pledged. If the opinions they are pledged to were every one as true as any fact in physical science, and had been adopted, not as they almost always are, on trust and authority, but as the result of the most diligent and impartial examination of which the mind of the recipient was capable; even then, the engagement under penalties always to adhere to the opinions once assented to, would debilitate and lame the mind, and unfit it for progress, still more for assisting the progress of others. The person who has to think more of what an opinion leads to, than of what is the evidence of it, cannot be a philosopher, or a teacher of philosophers. Of what value is the opinion on any subject, of a man of whom every one knows that by his profession he must hold that opinion? and how can intellectual vigour be fostered by the teaching of those who, even as a matter of duty, would rather that their pupils were weak and orthodox, than strong with freedom of thought? Whoever thinks that persons thus tied are fitting depositaries of the trust of educating a people, must think that the proper object of intellectual education is not to strengthen and cultivate the intellect, but to make sure of its adopting certain conclusions: that, in short, in the exercise of the thinking faculty, there is something, either religion, or conservatism, or peace, or whatever it be, more important than truth. Not to dilate further on this topic, it is nearly inevitable, that when persons bound by the vows and placed in the circumstances of an established clergy, enter into the paths of higher speculation, and endeavour to make a philosophy, either purpose or instinct will direct them to the kind of philosophy best fitted to prop up the doctrines to which they are pledged. And when these doctrines are so prodigiously in arrear of the general progress of thought, as the doctrines of the Church of England now are, the philosophy resulting will have a tendency not to promote, but to arrest progress.

Without the slightest wish to speak in disparagement of Dr. Whewell’s labours, and with no ground for questioning his sincerity of purpose, we think the preceding thoroughly applicable to his philosophical speculations. We do not say the intention, but certainly the tendency, of his efforts, is to shape the whole of philosophy, physical as well as moral, into a form adapted to serve as a support and a justification to any opinions which happen to be established. A writer who has gone beyond all his predecessors in the manufacture of necessary truths, that is, of propositions which, according to him, may be known to be true independently of proof; who ascribes this self-evidence to the larger generalities of all sciences (however little obvious at first) as soon as they have become familiar—was still more certain to regard all moral propositions familiar to him from his early years as self-evident truths. His Elements of Morality could be nothing better than a classification and systematizing of the opinions which he found prevailing among those who had been educated according to the approved methods of his own country; or, let us rather say, an apparatus for converting those prevailing opinions, on matters of morality, into reasons for themselves.

This, accordingly, is what we find in Dr. Whewell’s volumes: while we have sought in vain for the numerous minor merits, which a real scientific value to his previous works. If the Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences was, as we think, an erroneous philosophy, it contained much that was not unfit to find place in a better, and was often calculated to suggest deeper thoughts than it possessed of its own. But in the Elements of Morality he leaves the subject so exactly as he found it,—the book is so mere a catalogue of received opinions, containing nothing to correct any of them, and little which can work with any potency even to confirm them,—that it can scarcely be counted as anything more than one of the thousand waves on the dead sea of commonplace, affording nothing to invite or to reward a separate examination. We should not, therefore, have felt called upon to concern ourselves specially about it, if Dr. Whewell had not, in his more recent publication, Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy in England, undertaken to characterize and criticise, from his own point of view, all other English writers on moral philosophy; and particularly those who derive their ethical conclusions, not from internal intuition, but from an external standard. So long as he contented himself with giving what we think bad reasons for common opinions, there was not much inducement to interfere with them; but assaults on the only methods of philosophising from which any improvement in ethical opinions can be looked for, ought to be repelled. And in doing this it is necessary to extend our comments to some of Dr. Whewell’s substantive opinions also. When he argues in condemnation of any external standard, and especially of utility, or tendency to happiness, as the principle or test of morality, it is material to examine how he gets on without it; how he fares in the attempt to construct a coherent theory of morals on any other basis. We shall make use of his larger work in so far only as it is evidence on this point.

Even with the Lectures, considered as giving an account of English speculations on moral philosophy previous to the age of Bentham and Paley, it is not to meddle: Hobbes, therefore, and Locke, must be left in the hands of Dr. Whewell, without any attempt either to correct his estimate of their opinions, or to offer any judgment of our own. This historical sketch suggests, however, one remark of an historical character, not new to any one who is conversant with the writings of English thinkers on ethical subjects. During the greater part of the eighteenth century, the received opinions in religion and ethics were chiefly attacked, as by Shaftesbury, and even by Hume, on the ground of instinctive feelings of virtue, and the theory of a moral taste or sense. As a consequence of this, the defenders of established opinions, both lay and clerical, commonly professed utilitarianism. To the many writers on the side of orthodoxy, of the utilitarian school, mentioned by Dr. Whewell, might be added several, of at least equal note, whom he has omitted; as John Brown, the author of Essays on the Characteristics; Soame Jenyns, and his more celebrated reviewer, Dr. Johnson; all of whom, as explicitly as Bentham, laid down the doctrine that utility is the foundation of morals. This series of writers attained its culmination in Paley, whose treatise, proclaiming without evasion or circumlocution, not only expediency as the end, but (a very different doctrine) simple self-interest as the motive, of virtue, and deducing from these premises all the orthodox conclusions, became the text-book of moral philosophy in one of the two Universities of the Church of England. But a change ensued, and the utilitarian doctrine, which had been the favourite theory of the defenders of orthodoxy, began to be used by its assailants. In the hands of the French philosophers, and in those of Godwin and of Bentham,—who, though earlier than Godwin in date, was later in acquiring popular influence,—a moral philosophy founded on utility led to many conclusions very unacceptable to the orthodox. For a whole generation, so effectual a fight was kept up against those conclusions, by bayonets in the field, and prosecutions in the courts of justice, that there seemed no necessity for taking much concern about the premises: but when those carnal weapons fell into disuse, and the spirit had wielded them was laid—when the battle of established opinions in Church and State had again to be fought by argument, a demand arose for metaphysics and moral philosophy, of the kind most remote from that which appeared so full of danger to received opinions. Utility was now abjured as a deadly heresy, and the doctrine of à priori or self-evident morality, an end in itself, independent of all consequences, became the orthodox theory. Having once entered into this course, and gone in search of a philosophical system to be extracted from the mind itself, without any external evidence, the defenders of orthodoxy were insensibly led to seek their system where it exists in the most elaborate shape—in the German metaphysicians. It was not without reluctance that they found themselves engaged in this path; for German metaphysics in Germany lay under as grave a suspicion of religious scepticism, as the rival philosophy in England or France. But it was found on trial, that philosophy of this cast admitted of easy adaptation, and would bend to the very Thirty-nine Articles; as it is the essence of a philosophy which seeks its evidence in internal conviction, that it bears its testimony with equal ease for any conclusions in favour of which there is a predisposition, and is sceptical with the sceptical, and mystical with the mystical. Accordingly, the tone of religious metaphysics, and of the ethical speculations connected with religion, is now altogether Germanized; and Dr. Whewell, by his writings, has done no little to impress upon the metaphysics of orthodoxy this change of character.

It has always been indistinctly felt that the doctrine of à priori principles is one and the same doctrine, whether applied to the ὂν or the δέον—to the knowledge of truth or to that of duty; that it belongs to the same general tendency of thought, to extract from the mind itself, without any outward standard, principles and rules of morality, and to deem it possible to discover, by mere introspection into our minds, the laws of external nature. Both forms of this mode of thought attained a brilliant development in Descartes, the real founder of the modern anti-inductive school of philosophy. The Cartesian tradition was never lost, being kept alive by direct descent through Spinoza, Leibnitz, and Kant, to Schelling and Hegel; but the speculations of Bacon and Locke, and the progress of the experimental sciences, gave a long period of predominance to the philosophy of experience; and though many followed out that philosophy into its natural alliances, and acknowledged not only observation and experiment as rulers of the speculative world, but utility of the practical, others thought that it was scientifically possible to separate the two opinions, and professed themselves Baconians in the physical department, remaining Cartesians in the moral. It will probably be thought by posterity to be the principal merit of the German metaphysicians of the last and present age, that they have proved the impossibility of resting on this middle ground of compromise; and have convinced all thinkers of any force, that if they adhere to the doctrine of à priori principles of morals, they must follow Descartes and Hegel in ascribing the same character to the principles of physics.

On the present occasion, it is only with the moral branch of the subject that we have to deal; and we shall begin by showing in what manner Dr. Whewell states the question between us.

Schemes of morality, that is, modes of deducing the rules of human action, are of two kinds:—those which assert it to be the law of human action to aim at some external object, (external, that is, to the mind which aims,) as, for example, those which in ancient or modern times have asserted pleasure, or utility, or the greatest happiness of the greatest number, to be the true end of human action; and those which would regulate human action by an internal principle or relation, as conscience or a moral faculty, or duty, or rectitude, or the superiority of reason to desire. These two kinds of schemes may be described respectively as dependent and independent morality. Now, it is here held that independent morality is the true scheme. We maintain, with Plato, that reason has a natural and rightful authority over desire and affection; with Butler, that there is a difference of kind in our principles of action; with the general voice of mankind, that we must do what is right, at whatever cost of pain and loss. We deny the doctrine of the ancient Epicureans, that pleasure is the supreme good; of Hobbes, that moral rules are only the work of men’s mutual fear; of Paley, that what is expedient is right, and that there is no difference among pleasures except their intensity and duration; and of Bentham, that the rules of human action are to be obtained by casting up the pleasures which actions produce. But though we thus take our stand upon the ground of independent morality, as held by previous writers, we hope that we are (by their aid mainly) able to present it in a more systematic and connected form than has yet been done. (“Introductory Lecture,” [Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy in England,] pp. ix-x.)

There is in this mode of stating the question, great unfairness to the doctrine of “dependent morality,” as Dr. Whewell terms it, though the word independent is as applicable to it as to the intuition doctrine. He appropriates to his own side of the question all the expressions, such as conscience, duty, rectitude, with which the reverential feelings of mankind towards moral ideas are associated, and cries , I am for these noble things, you are for pleasure, or utility. We cannot accept this as a description of the matter in issue. Dr. Whewell is assuming to himself what belongs quite as rightfully to his antagonists. We are as much for conscience, duty, rectitude, as Dr. Whewell. The terms, and all the feelings connected with them, are as much a part of the ethics of utility as of intuition. The point in dispute is, what acts are the proper objects of those whether we ought to take the feelings as we find them, as accident or design has made them, or whether the tendency of actions to promote happiness affords a test to which the feelings of morality should In the same spirit, Dr. Whewell announces it as his opinion, as the side he takes in this great controversy, “that we must do what is right, at whatever cost of pain and loss.” As if this was not everybody’s opinion: as if it was not the very meaning of the word right. The matter in debate is, what is right, not whether what is right ought to be done. Dr. Whewell represents his opponents as denying an identical proposition, in order that he may claim a monopoly of high principle for his own opinions. The same unfairness pervades the whole phraseology. It is not only Dr. Whewell who “maintains, with Plato, that reason has a rightful authority over desire and affection.” Everybody maintains it; only, what is reason? and by what rule is it to guide and govern the desires and affections? The description of Bentham, as obtaining his rule of conduct by “casting up the pleasures which actions produce,” ought to be “casting up the pleasures and pains which actions produce:” a very different thing.

As might be expected from the historical character of the Lectures, the discussion of opinions mostly assumes the form of criticism on writers. Dr. Whewell’s objections to utility, or the “greatest happiness,” as the standard of morals, are chiefly contained in his animadversions on Paley and on Bentham. It would be quite open to a defender of the principle of utility, to refuse encumbering himself with a defence of either of those authors. The principle is not bound up with what they have said in its behalf, nor with the degree of felicity which they may have shown in applying it. As for Paley, we resign him without compunction to the tender mercies of Dr. Whewell. It concerns Dr. Whewell more than ourselves to uphold the reputation of a writer, who, whatever principle of morals he professed, seems to have had no object but to insert it as a foundation underneath the existing set of opinions, ethical and political; who, when he had laid down utility as the fundamental axiom, and the recognition of general rules as the condition of its application, took his leave of scientific analysis, and betook himself to picking up utilitarian reasons by the wayside, in proof of all accredited doctrines, and in defence of most tolerated practices. Bentham was a moralist of another stamp. With him, the first use to be made of his ultimate principle, was to erect on it, as a foundation, secondary or middle principles, capable of serving as premises for a body of ethical doctrine not derived from existing opinions, but fitted to be their test. Without such middle principles, an universal principle, either in science or in morals, serves for little but a thesaurus of commonplaces for the discussion of questions, instead of a means of deciding them. If Bentham has been regarded by subsequent adherents of a morality grounded on the “greatest happiness,” as in a peculiar sense the founder of that system of ethics, it is not because, as Dr. Whewell imagines (p. 190), he either thought himself, or was thought by others, to be the “discoverer of the principle,” but because he was the first who, keeping clear of the direct and indirect influences of all doctrines inconsistent with it, deduced a set of subordinate generalities from utility alone, and by these consistently tested all particular questions. This great service, previously to which a scientific doctrine of ethics on the foundation of utility was impossible, has been performed by Bentham (though with a view to the exigencies of legislation more than to those of morals) in a manner, as far as it goes, eminently meritorious, and so as to indicate clearly the way to complete the scheme. We must at the same time qualify our approbation by adding, not that his practical conclusions were often wrong, for we think that as far as they went they were mostly right; but that there were large deficiencies and hiatuses in his scheme of human nature and life, and a consequent want of breadth and comprehension in his secondary principles, which led him often to deduce just conclusions from premises so narrow as to provoke many minds to a rejection of what was nevertheless truth. It is by his method chiefly that Bentham, as we think, justly earned a position in moral science analogous to that of Bacon in physical. It is because he was the first to enter into the right mode of working ethical problems, though he worked many of them, as Bacon did physical, on insufficient data. Dr. Whewell’s shafts, however, seldom touch Bentham where he is really vulnerable; they are mostly aimed at his strong points.

Before commencing his attack on Bentham’s opinions, Dr. Whewell gives a sketch of his life. In this there is an apparent desire to be just to Bentham, as far as the writer’s opinions allow. But there is in some of the strictures a looseness of expression, excusable in an extemporaneous lecture, and still less in a printed book. “He [Bentham] showed very early that peculiar one-sidedness in his mode of asserting and urging his opinions, which made him think all moderation with regard to his opponents superfluous and absurd” (p. 189). What is here called “one-sidedness in his mode of asserting and urging his opinions,” must mean one-sidedness in the opinions themselves. It could not be Bentham’s “mode of asserting his opinions,” that “made him think” whatever he did think. This is as if any one should say, “his speaking only English made him unable to understand French,” or “his peculiar habit of fighting made him think it superfluous and absurd to keep the peace.” Again (pp. 190-1), “Bentham appears to have been one of those persons to whom everything which passes through their own thoughts assumes quite a different character and value from that which the same thing had when it passed through the thoughts of other persons.” If a thought in a person’s own mind did not assume a different character from what the same thought had in other minds, people might as well think by deputy.

A more serious injustice to Bentham is that of citing, as is constantly done in this volume, the book called Deontology, as the authentic exposition of Bentham’s philosophy of morals. Dr. Whewell would, no doubt, justify this by saying that the book in question is the only treatise expressly and exclusively on morals, which we have from Bentham. It is true that we have no other; but the Deontology was not, and does not profess to be written by Bentham. Still less ought that book to be represented as the embodiment of the opinions and mental characteristics of all who share Bentham’s general conception of ethics. After charging the compiler of the Deontology with profound ignorance, and saying that it is almost “superfluous to notice misstatements so gross and partiality so blind,” Dr. Whewell adds that “such misrepresentations and such unfairness are the usual style of controversy of him [Bentham] and his disciples; and it is fit that we, in entering upon the consideration of their writings, should be aware of this.” Who are the persons here included under the name of Bentham’s “disciples,” we are not enabled to judge; nor are we aware that Bentham ever had any disciples, in Dr. Whewell’s sense of the term. As far as our means of observation have gone, which are considerably greater than Dr. Whewell’s, those who, from the amount of their intellectual obligations to Bentham, would be the most likely to be classed by Dr. Whewell as Benthamites, were and are persons in an unusual degree addicted to judging and thinking for themselves; persons remarkable for learning willingly from all masters, but swearing blind fealty to none. It is also a fact, with which Dr. Whewell cannot be altogether unacquainted, that among them there have been men of the widest and most accurate acquirements in history and philosophy, against whom the accusation of ignorance of the opinions which they controverted would be as unfounded as the imputation of blind partiality. We protest against including them and Bentham in an imaginary sect, of which the Deontology is to be considered the gospel. Bentham’s merits or demerits must stand on what is contained in the books written by himself.

Among these, the one in which the doctrine of utility is expressly discussed, and contrasted with the various ethical doctrines opposed to it, is the Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, published in 1789. On this Dr. Whewell comments as follows:—

The first chapter of this work is ‘On the Principle of Utility:’ the second ‘On Principles adverse to that of Utility.’ These adverse principles are stated to be two: The Principle of Asceticism, and the Principle of Sympathy. [Bentham calls it the Principle of Sympathy and Antipathy, which is already a considerable difference.] The principle of asceticism is that principle which approves of actions in proportion as they tend to diminish human happiness, and, conversely, disapproves of them as they tend to augment it. The principle of sympathy is that which approves or disapproves of certain actions ‘merely because a man finds himself disposed to approve or disapprove of them, holding up that approbation or disapprobation as a sufficient reason for itself, and disclaiming the necessity of looking out for any extrinsic ground.’ And these two principles are, it seems, according to Bentham’s view, the only principles which are, or which can be, opposed to the principle of utility!

Now it is plain that these are not only not fair representations of any principles ever held by moralists, or by any persons speaking gravely and deliberately, but that they are too extravagant and fantastical to be accepted even as caricatures of any such principles. For who ever approved of actions because they tend to make mankind miserable? or who ever said anything which could, even in an intelligible way of exaggeration, be so represented? . . . But who then are the ascetic school who are thus ridiculed? We could not, I think, guess from the general description thus given; but from a note, it appears that he had the Stoical philosophers and the religious ascetics in his mind. With regard to the Stoics, it would of course be waste of time and thought to defend them from such coarse buffoonery as this, which does not touch their defects, whatever these may be, [&c.]

(Pp. 202-3.)

Not solely for the due estimation of Bentham, but for the right understanding of the utilitarian controversy, it is important to know what the truth is, respecting the points here in issue between Bentham and Dr. Whewell.

Undoubtedly no one has set up, in opposition to the “greatest happiness” principle, a “greatest unhappiness” principle, as the standard of virtue. But it was Bentham’s business not merely to discuss the avowed principles of his opponents, but to draw out those which, without being professed as principles, were implied in detail, or were essential to support the judgments passed in particular cases. His own doctrine being that the increase of pleasure and the prevention of pain were the proper ends of all moral rules, he had for his opponents all who contended that pleasure could ever be an evil or pain a good in itself, apart from its consequences. Now this, whatever Dr. Whewell may say, the religious ascetics really did. They held that self-mortification, or even self-torture, practised for its own sake, and not for the sake of any useful end, was meritorious. It matters not that they may have expected to be rewarded for these merits by consideration in this world, or by the favour of an invisible tyrant in a world to come. So far as this life was concerned, their doctrine required it to be supposed that pain was a thing to be sought, and pleasure to be avoided. Bentham generalized this into a maxim, which he called the principle of asceticism. The Stoics did not go so far as the ascetics; they stopped half-way. They did not say that pain is a good, and pleasure an evil. But they said, and boasted of saying, that pain is no evil, and pleasure no good: and this is all, and more than all, that Bentham imputes to them, as may be seen by any one who reads that chapter of his book. This, however, was enough to place them, equally with the ascetics, in direct opposition to Bentham, since they denied his supreme end to be an end at all. And hence he classed them and the ascetics together, as professing the direct negation of the utilitarian standard.

In the other division of his opponents he placed those who, though they did not deny pleasure to be a good and pain an evil, refused to consider the pain or the pleasure which an action or a class of actions tends to produce, as the criterion of its morality. As the former category of opponents were described by Bentham as followers of the “principle of asceticism,” so he described these as followers of “the principle of sympathy and antipathy;” not because they had themselves generalized their principle of judgment, or would have acknowledged it when placed undisguised before them; but because, at the bottom of what they imposed on themselves and others as reasons, he could find nothing else; because they all, in one phrase or another, placed the test of right and wrong in a feeling of approbation or disapprobation, thus making the feeling its own reason and its own justification. This portion of Bentham’s doctrine can only be fairly exhibited in his own words.

It is manifest that this [the principle of sympathy and antipathy] is rather a principle in name than in reality; it is not a positive principle of itself, so much as a term employed to signify the negation of all principle. What one expects to find in a principle is something that points out some external consideration as a means of warranting and guiding the internal sentiments of approbation and disapprobation: this expectation is but ill fulfilled by a proposition which does neither more nor less than hold up each of these sentiments as a ground and standard for itself.

In looking over the catalogue of human actions (says a partisan of this principle) in order to determine which of them are to be marked with the seal of disapprobation, you need but to take counsel of your own feelings; whatever you find in yourself a propensity to condemn, is wrong for that very reason. For the same reason it is also meet for punishment: in what proportion it is adverse to utility, or whether it be adverse to utility at all, is a matter that makes no difference. In that same proportion also is it meet for punishment: if you hate much, punish much; if you hate little, punish little: punish as you hate. If you hate not at all, punish not at all: the fine feelings of the soul are not to be overborne and tyrannized by the harsh and rugged dictates of political utility.

The various systems that have been formed concerning the standard of right and wrong, may all be reduced to the principle of sympathy and antipathy. One account may serve for all of them. They consist, all of them, in so many contrivances for avoiding the obligation of appealing to any external standard, and for prevailing upon the reader to accept of the author’s sentiment or opinion as a reason for itself. The phrase is different, but the principle the same.

It is curious enough to observe the variety of inventions men have hit upon, and the variety of phrases they have brought forward, in order to conceal from the world, and if possible from themselves, this very general, and therefore very pardonable self-sufficiency.

One man says, he has a thing made on purpose to tell him what is right and what is wrong, and that it is called a moral sense; and then he goes to work at his ease, and says, such a thing is right, and such a thing is wrong—why? ‘because my moral sense tells me it is.’

Another man comes and alters the phrase; leaving out moral, and putting in common in the room of it. He then tells you, that his common sense teaches him what is right and wrong, as much as the other’s moral sense did: meaning, by common sense, a sense of some kind or other, which, he says, is possessed by all mankind; the sense of those, whose sense is not the same as the author’s, being struck out of the account as not worth taking. This contrivance does better than the other; for a moral sense being a new thing, a man may feel about him a good while without being able to find it out; but common sense is as old as the creation; and there is no man but would be ashamed to be thought not to have as much of it as his neighbours. It has another great advantage; by appearing to share power, it lessens envy: for when a man gets up upon this ground, in order to anathematize those who differ from him, it is not by a sic volo sic jubeo, but by a velitis jubeatis.

Another man comes, and says, that as to a moral sense indeed, he cannot find that he has any such thing; that, however, he has an understanding, which will do quite as well. This understanding, he says, is the standard of right and wrong: it tells him so and so. All good and wise men understand as he does: if other men’s understandings differ in any point from his, so much the worse for them; it is a sure sign they are either defective or corrupt.

Another man says, that there is an eternal and immutable rule of right; that that rule of right dictates so and so; and then he begins giving you his sentiments upon anything that comes uppermost; and these sentiments (you are to take for granted) are so many branches of the eternal rule of right.

Another man, or perhaps the same man (it’s no matter), says, that there are certain practices conformable, and others repugnant, to the fitness of things; and then he tells you, at his leisure, what practices are conformable and what repugnant; just as he happens to like a practice or dislike it.

A great multitude of people are continually talking of the law of nature; and then they go on giving you their sentiments about what is right and what is wrong; and these sentiments, you are to understand, are so many chapters and sections of the law of nature.

We have one philosopher who says, there is no harm in anything in the world but in telling a lie; and that if, for example, you were to murder your own father, this would only be a particular way of saying, he was not your father. Of course, when this philosopher sees anything that he does not like, he says, it is a particular way of telling a lie. It is saying, that the act ought to be done, or may be done, when, in truth, it ought not to be done. (Chap. ii.)

To this Dr. Whewell thinks it a sufficient answer to call it extravagant ridicule, and to ask, “Who ever asserted that he approved or disapproved of actions merely because he found himself disposed to do so, and that this was reason sufficient in itself for his moral judgments?” Dr. Whewell will find that this by no means disposes of Bentham’s doctrine. Bentham did not mean that people “ever asserted” that they approved or condemned actions only because they felt disposed to do so. He meant that they do it without asserting it; that they find certain feelings of approbation and disapprobation in themselves, take for granted that these feelings are the right ones, and when called on to say anything in justification of their approbation or disapprobation, produce phrases which mean nothing but the fact of the approbation or disapprobation itself. If the hearer or reader feels in the same way, the phrases pass muster; and a great part of all the ethical reasoning in books and in the world is of this sort. All this is not only true, but cannot consistently be denied by those who, like Dr. Whewell, consider the moral feelings as their own justification. Dr. Whewell will doubtless say that the feelings they appeal to are not their own individually, but a part of universal human nature. Nobody denies that they say so: a feeling of liking or aversion to an action, confined to an individual, would have no chance of being accepted as a reason. The appeal is always to something which is assumed to belong to all mankind. But it is not of much consequence whether the feeling which is set up as its own standard is the feeling of an individual human being, or of a multitude. A feeling is not proved to be right, and exempted from the necessity of justifying itself, because the writer or speaker is not only conscious of it in himself, but expects to find it in other people; because instead of saying “I,” he says “you and I.” If it is alleged that the intuitive school require, as an authority for the feeling, that it should in fact be universal, we deny it. They assume the utmost latitude of arbitrarily determining whose votes deserve to be counted. They either ignore the existence of dissentients, or leave them out of the account, on the pretext that they have the feeling which they deny having, or if not, that they ought to have it. This falsification of the universal suffrage which is ostensibly appealed to, is not confined, as is often asserted, to cases in which the only dissentients are barbarous tribes. The same measure is dealt out to whole ages and nations, the most conspicuous for the cultivation and development of their mental faculties; and to individuals among the best and wisest of their respective countries. The explanation of the matter is, the inability of persons in general to conceive that feelings of right and wrong, which have been deeply implanted in their minds by the teaching they have from infancy received from all around them, can be sincerely thought by any one else to be mistaken or misplaced. This is the mental infirmity which Bentham’s philosophy tends especially to correct, and Dr. Whewell’s to perpetuate. Things which were really believed by all mankind, and for which all were convinced that they had the unequivocal evidence of their senses, have been proved to be false: as that the sun rises and sets. Can immunity from similar error be claimed for the moral feelings? when all experience shows that those feelings are eminently artificial, and the product of culture; that even when reasonable, they are no more spontaneous than the growth of corn and wine (which are quite as natural), and that the most senseless and pernicious feelings can as easily be raised to the utmost intensity by inculcation, as hemlock and thistles could be reared to luxuriant growth by sowing them instead of wheat. Bentham, therefore, did not judge too severely a kind of ethics whereby any implanted sentiment which is tolerably general may be erected into a moral law, binding, under penalties, on all mankind. The contest between the morality which appeals to an external standard, and that which grounds itself on internal conviction, is the contest of progressive morality against stationary—of reason and argument against the deification of mere opinion and habit. The doctrine that the existing order of things is the natural order, and that, being natural, all innovation upon it is criminal, is as vicious in morals, as it is now at last admitted to be in physics, and in society and government.

Let us now consider Dr. Whewell’s objections to utility as the foundation of ethics.

Let it be taken for granted, as a proposition which is true, if the terms which it involves be duly understood, that actions are right and virtuous in proportion as they promote the happiness of mankind; the actions being considered upon the whole, and with regard to all their consequences. Still, I say, we cannot make this truth the basis of morality, for two reasons: first, we cannot calculate all the consequences of any action, and thus cannot estimate the degree in which it promotes human happiness; second, happiness is derived from moral elements, and therefore we cannot properly derive morality from happiness. The calculable happiness resulting from actions cannot determine their virtue: first, because the resulting happiness is not calculable; and secondly, because the virtue is one of the things which determine the resulting happiness.

(P. 210.)

The first of these arguments is an irrelevant truism. “We cannot calculate all the consequences of any action.” If Dr. Whewell can point out any department of human affairs in which we can do all that would be desirable, he will have found something new. But because we cannot foresee everything, is there no such thing as foresight? Does Dr. Whewell mean to say that no estimate can be formed of consequences, which can be any guide for our conduct, unless we can calculate all consequences? that because we cannot predict every effect which may follow from a person’s death, we cannot know that the liberty of murder would be destructive to human happiness? Dr. Whewell, in his zeal against the morality of consequences, commits the error of proving too much. Whether morality is or is not a question of consequences, he cannot deny that prudence is; and if there is such a thing as prudence, it is because the consequences of actions can be calculated. Prudence, indeed, depends on a calculation of the consequences of individual actions, while for the establishment of moral rules it is only necessary to calculate the consequences of classes of actions—a much easier matter. It is certainly a very effectual way of proving that morality does not depend on expediency, to maintain that there is no such thing as expediency—that we have no means of knowing whether anything is expedient or not. Unless Dr. Whewell goes this length, to what purpose is what he says about the uncertainty of consequences? Uncertain or certain, we are able to guide ourselves by them, otherwise human life could not exist. And there is hardly any one concerned in the business of life, who has not daily to decide questions of expediency far more knotty than those which Dr. Whewell so coolly pronounces to be insoluble.

But let us examine more closely what Dr. Whewell finds to say for the proposition, that “if we ask whether a given action will increase or diminish the total amount of human happiness, it is impossible to answer with any degree of certainty.”

Take ordinary cases. I am tempted to utter a flattering falsehood: to gratify some sensual desire contrary to ordinary moral rules. How shall I determine, on the greatest happiness principle, whether the act is virtuous, or the contrary? In the first place, the direct effect of each act is to give pleasure, to another by flattery, to myself by sensual gratification; and pleasure is the material of happiness, in the scheme we are now considering. But by the flattering lie I promote falsehood, which is destructive of confidence, and so, of human comfort. Granted that I do this in some degree—although I may easily say that I shall never allow myself to speak falsely, except when it will give pleasure; and thus I may maintain that I shall not shake confidence in any case in which it is of any value. But granted that I do, in some degree, shake the general fabric of mutual human confidence by my flattering lie,—still the question remains, how much I do this: whether in such a degree as to overbalance the pleasure, which is the primary and direct consequence of the act. How small must be the effect of my solitary act upon the whole scheme of human action and habit! how clear and decided is the direct effect of increasing the happiness of my hearer! And in the same way we may reason concerning the sensual gratification. Who will know it? Who will be influenced by it of those who do know it? What appreciable amount of pain will it produce in its consequences, to balance the palpable pleasure, which, according to our teachers, is the only real good? It appears to me that it is impossible to answer these questions in any way which will prove, on these principles, mendacious flattery, and illegitimate sensuality, to be vicious and immoral. They may possibly produce, take in all their effects, a balance of evil; but if they do, it is by some process which we cannot trace with any clearness, and the result is one which we cannot calculate with any certainty, or even probability; and therefore, on this account, because the resulting evil of such falsehood and sensuality is not calculable or appreciable, we cannot, by calculation of resulting evil, show falsehood and sensuality to be vices. And the like is true of other vices; and, on this ground, the construction of a scheme of morality on Mr. Bentham’s plan is plainly impossible.

(Pp. 210-12.)

Dr. Whewell supposes his self-deceiving utilitarian to be very little master of his own principles. If the effect of a “solitary act upon the whole scheme of human action and habit” is small, the addition which the accompanying pleasure makes to the general mass of human happiness is small likewise. So small, in the great majority of cases, are both, that we have no scales to weigh them against each other, taken singly. We must look at them multiplied, and in large masses. The portion of the tendencies of an action which belong to it not individually, but as a violation of a general rule, are as certain and as calculable as any other consequences; they must be examined not in the individual case, but in classes of cases. Take, for example, the case of murder. There are many persons to kill whom would be to remove men who are a cause of no good to any human being, of cruel physical and moral suffering to , and whose whole influence tends to increase the mass of unhappiness and vice. Were such a man to be assassinated, the balance of traceable consequences would be greatly in favour of the act. The counter-consideration, on the principle of utility, is, that unless persons were punished for killing, and taught not to kill; that if it were thought allowable for any one to put to death at pleasure any human being whom he believes that the world would be well rid of, nobody’s life would be safe. To this Dr. Whewell answers—

How does it appear that the evil, that is, the pain, arising from violating a general rule once, is too great to be overbalanced by the pleasurable consequences of that single violation? The actor says, I acknowledge the general rule—I do not deny its value; but I do not intend that this one act should be drawn into consequence.

(Pp. 212-13.)

But it does not depend on him whether or not it shall be drawn into consequence. If one person may break through the rule on his own judgment, the same liberty cannot be refused to others; and since no one could rely on the rule’s being observed, the rule would cease to exist. If a hundred infringements would produce all the mischief implied in the abrogation of the rule, a hundredth part of that mischief must be debited to each one of the infringements, though we may not be able to trace it home individually. And this hundredth part will generally far outweigh any good from the individual act. We say generally, not universally; for the admission of exceptions to rules is a necessity equally felt in all systems of morality. To take an obvious instance, the rule against homicide, the rule against deceiving, the rule against taking advantage of superior physical strength, and various other important moral rules, are suspended against enemies in the field, and partially against malefactors in private life: in each case suspended as far as is required by the peculiar nature of the case. That the moralities arising from the special circumstances of the action may be so important as to overrule those arising from the class of acts to which it belongs, perhaps to take it out of the category of virtues into that of crimes, or vice versâ, is a liability common to all ethical systems.

And here it may be observed that Dr. Whewell, in his illustration drawn from flattering lies, gives to the side he advocates a colour of rigid adherence to principle, which the fact does not bear out. Is none of the intercourse of society carried on by those who hold the common opinions, by means of what is here meant by “flattering lies?” Does no one of Dr. Whewell’s way of thinking say, or allow it to be thought, that he is glad to see a visitor whom he wishes away? Does he never ask acquaintances or relatives to stay when he would prefer them to go, or invite them when he hopes that they will refuse? Does he never show any interest in persons and things he cares nothing for, or send people away believing in his friendly feeling, to whom his real feeling is indifference, or even dislike? Whether these things are right, we are not now going to discuss. For our part, we think that flattery should be only permitted to those who can flatter without lying, as all persons of sympathizing feelings and quick perceptions can. At all events, the existence of exceptions to moral rules is no stumbling-block peculiar to the principle of utility. The essential is, that the exception should be itself a general rule; so that, being of definite extent, and not leaving the expediencies to the partial judgment of the agent in the individual case, it may not shake the stability of the wider rule in the cases to which the reason of the exception does not extend. This is an ample foundation for “the construction of a scheme of morality.” With respect to the means of inducing people to conform in their actions to the scheme so formed, the utilitarian system depends, like all other schemes of morality, on the external motives supplied by law and opinion, and the internal feelings produced by education or reason. It is thus no worse off in this respect than any other scheme—we might rather say, much better; inasmuch as people are likely to be more willing to conform to rules when a reason is given for them.

Dr. Whewell’s second argument against the happiness principle is, that the morality of actions cannot depend on the happiness they produce, because the happiness depends on the morality.

Why should a man be truthful and just? Because acts of veracity and justice, even if they do not produce immediate gratification to him and his friends in other ways (and it may easily be that they do not), at least produce pleasure in this way, that they procure him his own approval and that of all good men. To us this language is intelligible and significant; but the Benthamite must analyze it further. What does it mean according to him? A man’s own approval of his act, means that he thinks it virtuous. And therefore the matter stands thus. He (being a Benthamite) thinks it virtuous, because it gives him pleasure; and it gives him pleasure because he thinks it virtuous. This is a vicious circle, quite as palpable as any of those in which Mr. Bentham is so fond of representing his adversaries as revolving. And in like manner with regard to the approval of others. The action is virtuous, says the Benthamite, because it produces pleasure; namely, the pleasure arising from the approval of neighbours; they approve it and think it virtuous, he also says, because it gives pleasure. The virtue depends upon the pleasure, the pleasure depends upon the virtue. Here again is a circle from which there is no legitimate egress. We may grant that, taking into account all the elements of happiness—the pleasures of self-approval—of peace of mind and harmony within us, and of the approval of others—of the known sympathy of all good men;—we may grant that, including these elements, virtue always does produce an overbalance of happiness; but then we cannot make this moral truth the basis of morality, because we cannot extricate the happiness and the virtue the one from the other, so as to make the first, the happiness, the foundation of the second, the virtue.

(Pp. 215-16.)

In Dr. Whewell’s first argument against utility, he was obliged to assert that it is impossible for human beings to know that some actions are useful and others hurtful. In the present, he forgets against what principle he is combating, and draws out an elaborate argument against something else. What he now appears to be contending against, is the doctrine (whether really held by any one or not), that the test of morality is the greatest happiness of the agent himself. It argues total ignorance of Bentham, to represent him as saying that an action is virtuous because it produces “the approbation of neighbours,” and as making so “fluctuating” a thing as “public opinion,” and such a “loose and wide abstraction as education,” the “basis of morality.” When Bentham talks of public opinion in connexion with morality, he is not talking of the “basis of morality” at all. He was the last person to found the morality of actions upon anybody’s opinion of them. He founded it upon facts: namely, upon the observed tendencies of the actions. Nor did he ever dream of defining morality to be the self-interest of the agent. His “greatest happiness principle” was the greatest happiness of mankind, and of all sensitive beings. When he talks of education, and of “the popular or moral sanction,” meaning the opinion of our fellow-creatures, it is not as constituents or tests of virtue, but as motives to it; as means of making the self-interest of the individual accord with the greatest happiness principle.

Dr. Whewell’s remark, therefore, that the approval of our fellow-creatures, presupposing moral ideas, cannot be the foundation of morality, has no application against Bentham, nor against the principle of utility. It may, however, be pertinently remarked, that the moral ideas which this approval presupposes, are no other than those of utility and hurtfulness. There is no great stretch of hypothesis in supposing that in proportion as mankind are aware of the tendencies of actions to produce happiness or misery, they will like and commend the first, abhor and reprobate the second. How these feelings of natural complacency and natural dread and aversion directed towards actions, come to assume the peculiar character of what we term moral feelings, is not a question of ethics but of metaphysics, and very fit to be discussed in its proper place. Bentham did not concern himself with it. He left it to other thinkers. It sufficed him that the perceived influence of actions on human happiness is cause enough, both in reason and in fact, for strong feelings of favour to some actions and of hatred towards others. From the sympathetic reaction of these feelings in the imagination and self-consciousness of the agent, naturally arise the more complex feelings of self-approbation and self-reproach, or, to avoid all disputed questions, we will merely say of satisfaction and dissatisfaction with ourselves. All this must be admitted, whatever else may be denied. Whether the greatest happiness is the principle of morals or not, people do desire their own happiness, and do consequently like the conduct in other people which they think promotes it, and dislike that which visibly endangers it. This is absolutely all that Bentham postulates. Grant this, and you have his popular sanction, and its reaction on the agent’s own mind, two influences tending, in proportion to mankind’s enlightenment, to keep the conduct of each in the line which promotes the general happiness. Bentham thinks that there is no other true morality than this, and that the so-called moral sentiments, whatever their origin or composition, should be trained to act in this direction only. And Dr. Whewell’s attempt to find anything illogical or incoherent in this theory, only proves that he does not yet understand it.

Dr. Whewell puts the last hand to his supposed refutation of Bentham’s principle, by what he thinks a crushing reductio ad absurdum. The reader might make a hundred guesses before discovering what this is. We have not yet got over our astonishment, not at Bentham, but at Dr. Whewell. See, he says, to what consequences your greatest-happiness principle leads! Bentham says that it is as much a moral duty to regard the pleasures and pains of other animals as those of human beings. We cannot resist quoting the admirable passage which Dr. Whewell cites from Bentham, with the most naïf persuasion that everybody will regard it as reaching the last pitch of paradoxical absurdity.

Under the Gentoo and Mahometan religion the interests of the rest of the animal kingdom seem to have met with some attention. Why have they not, universally, with as much as those of human creatures, allowance made for the difference in point of sensibility? Because the laws that are, have been the work of mutual fear; a sentiment which the less rational animals have not had the same means as man has of turning to account. Why ought they not? No reason can be given. The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. It may come one day to be recognised that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the caprice of a tormentor. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day, a week, or even a month old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, can they reason? nor, can they speak? but, can they suffer?

This noble anticipation, in 1780, of the better morality of which a first dawn has been seen in the laws enacted nearly fifty years afterwards against cruelty to animals, is in Dr. Whewell’s eyes the finishing proof that the morality of happiness is absurd!

The pleasures of animals are elements of a very different order from the pleasures of man. We are bound to endeavour to augment the pleasures of men, not only because they are pleasures, but because they are human pleasures. We are bound to men by the universal tie of humanity, of human brotherhood. We have no such tie to animals. [Lectures, p. 223.]

This then is Dr. Whewell’s noble and disinterested ideal of virtue. Duties, according to him, are only duties to ourselves and our like.

We are to be humane to them, because we are human, not because we and they alike feel animal pleasures. . . . The morality which depends upon the increase of pleasure alone, would make it our duty to increase the pleasure of pigs or of geese rather than that of men, if we were sure that the pleasures we could give them were greater than the pleasures of men. . . . . It is not only not an obvious, but to most persons not a tolerable doctrine, that we may sacrifice the happiness of men provided we can in that way produce an overplus of pleasure to cats, dogs, and hogs.

(Pp. 223-5.)

It is “to most persons” in the Slave States of America not a tolerable doctrine that we may sacrifice any portion of the happiness of white men for the sake of a greater amount of happiness to black men. It would have been intolerable five centuries ago “to most persons” among the feudal nobility, to hear it asserted that the greatest pleasure or pain of a hundred serfs ought not to give way to the smallest of a nobleman. According to the standard of Dr. Whewell, the slavemasters and the nobles were right. They too felt themselves “bound” by a “tie of brotherhood” to the white men and to the nobility, and felt no such tie to the negroes and serfs. And if a feeling on moral subjects is right because it is natural, their feeling was justifiable. Nothing is more natural to human beings, nor, up to a certain point in cultivation, more universal, than to estimate the pleasures and pains of others as deserving of regard exactly in proportion to their likeness to . These superstitions of selfishness had the characteristics by which Dr. Whewell recognises his moral rules; and his opinion on the rights of animals shows that in this case at least he is consistent. We are perfectly willing to stake the whole question on this one issue. Granted that any practice causes more pain to animals than it gives pleasure to ; is that practice moral or immoral? And if, exactly in proportion as human beings raise their heads out of the slough of selfishness, they do not with one voice answer “immoral,” let the morality of the principle of utility be for ever condemned.

There cannot be a fitter transition than this subject affords, from the Benthamic standard of ethics to that of Dr. Whewell. It is not enough to object to the morality of utility. It is necessary also to show that there is another and a better morality. This is what Dr. Whewell proposes to himself in his Introductory Lecture, and in the whole of his previous work, Elements of Morality. We shall now, therefore, proceed to examine Dr. Whewell’s achievements as the constructor of a scientific foundation for the theory of morals.

“The moral rule of human action,” Dr. Whewell says, is that “we must do what is right.” (Lectures, p. xi.) Here, at all events, is a safe proposition; since to deny it would be a contradiction in terms. But what is meant by “right?” According to Dr. Whewell, “what we must do.” This, he says, is the very definition of right.

The definition of rightful, or of the adjective right, is, I conceive, contained in the maxim which I have already quoted as proceeding from the general voice of mankind: namely this, that we must do what is right at whatever cost. That an action is right, is a reason for doing it, which is paramount to all other reasons, and overweighs them all when they are on the contrary side. It is painful; but it is right: therefore we must do it. It is a loss; but it is right: therefore we must do it. It is unkind; but it is right: therefore we must do it. These are self-evident [he might have said identical] propositions. That a thing is right, is a supreme reason for doing it. Right implies this supreme, unconquerable reason; and does this especially and exclusively. No other word does imply such an irresistible cogency in its effect, except in so far as it involves the same notion. What we ought to do, what we should do, that we must do, though it bring pain and loss. But why? Because it is right. The expressions all run together in their meaning. And this supreme rule, that we must do what is right, is also the moral rule of human action.

(Pp. x-xi.)

Right means that which we must do, and the rule of action is, that we must do what is right; that we must do that which we must do. This we will call vicious circle the first. But let us not press hardly on Dr. Whewell at this stage; perhaps he only means that the foundation of morals is the conviction that there is something which we must do at all risks; and he admits that we have still to find what this something is. “What is right; what it is that we ought to do, we must have some means of determining, in order to complete our moral scheme.” (P. xi.)

Attempting then to pick out Dr. Whewell’s leading propositions, and exhibit them in connexion, we find, first, that “the supreme rule of human action, Rightness,” ought to control the desires and affections, or otherwise that these are “to be regulated so that they may be right.” (Pp. xii-xiii.) This does not help towards showing what is right.

But secondly, we come to a “condition which is obviously requisite.” In order that the desires and affections which relate to “other men” may be right, “they must conform to this primary and universal condition, that they do not violate the rights of others. This condition may not be sufficient, but it is necessary.” (Pp. xiii-xiv.)

This promises something. In tracing to its elements the idea of Right, the adjective, we are led to the prior, and it is to be presumed more elementary idea, of Rights, the substantive. But now, what are rights? and how came they to be rights?

Before answering these questions, Dr. Whewell gives a classification of rights “commonly recognised among men.” [P. xiv.] He says, they are of five sorts, “those of person, property, family, state, and contract.” (P. xv.) But how do we discover that they are rights? and what is meant by calling them rights? Much to our surprise, Dr. Whewell refers us, on both these points, to the law. And he asks, “in what manner do we rise from mere legal rights to moral rightness?” and replies, “we do so in virtue of this principle: that the supreme rule of man’s actions must be a rule which has authority over the whole of man; over his intentions as well as his actions; over his affections, his desires, his habits, his thoughts, his wishes.” [P. xv.] We must not only not violate the rights of others, but we must not desire to violate them. “And thus we rise from legal obligation to moral duty; from legality to virtue; from blamelessness in the forum of man to innocence in the court of conscience.” [P. xvi.]

And this Dr. Whewell actually gives as his scheme of morality. His rule of right is, to infringe no rights conferred by the law, and to cherish no dispositions which could make us desire such infringements! According to this, the early Christians, the religious reformers, the founders of all free governments, Clarkson, Wilberforce, and all enemies of the rights of slaveowners, must be classed among the wicked. If this is Dr. Whewell’s morality, it is the very Hobbism which he reprobates, and this in its worst sense. But though Dr. Whewell says that this is his morality, he presently unsays it.

Our morality is not derived from the special commands of existing laws, but from the fact that laws exist, and from our classification of their subjects. Personal safety, property, contracts, family and civil relations, are everywhere the subjects of law, and are everywhere protected by law; therefore we judge that these things must be the subjects of morality, and must be reverently regarded by morality. But we are not thus bound to approve of all the special appointments with regard to those subjects, which may exist at a given time in the laws of a given country. On the contrary, we may condemn the laws as being contrary to morality. We cannot frame a morality without recognising property, and property exists through law; but yet the law of property, in a particular country, may be at variance with that moral purpose for which, in our eyes, laws exist. Law is the foundation and necessary condition of justice; but yet laws may be unjust, and when unjust ought to be changed.

(P. xvii.)

The practical enormities consequent on Dr. Whewell’s theory are thus got rid of; but when these are gone, there is nothing of the theory left. He undertook to explain how we may know what is right. It appeared at first that he was about to give a criterion, when he said that it is not right to violate legal rights. According to this, when we want to know what is right, we have to consult the law, and see what rights it recognises. But now it seems that these rights may be contrary to right; and all we can be sure of is, that it is right there should be rights of some sort. And we learn that, after all, it is for a “moral purpose” that in Dr. Whewell’s opinion “laws exist.” So that while the meaning of ought is that we ought to respect rights, it is a previous condition that these rights must be such as ought to be respected. Morality must conform to law, but law must first conform to morality. This is vicious circle the second. Dr. Whewell has broken out of the first; he has made, this time, a larger sweep; the curve he describes is wider, but it still returns into itself.

An adherent of “dependent morality” would say that, instead of deriving right from rights, we must have a rule of right before it can be decided what ought to be rights; and that, both in law and in morals, the rights which ought to exist are those which for the general happiness it is expedient should exist. And Dr. Whewell anticipates that some one may even do him what he thinks the injustice of supposing this to be his opinion. He introduces an objector as saying, “that by making our morality begin from rights, we really do found it upon expediency, notwithstanding our condemnation of systems so founded. For, it may be said, rights such as property exist only because they are expedient.” Dr. Whewell hastens to repel this imputation; and here is his theory. “We reply as before, that rights are founded on the whole nature of man, in such a way that he cannot have a human existence without them. He is a moral being, and must have rights, because morality cannot exist where rights are not.” [Pp. xviii-xix.] Was ever an unfortunate metaphysician driven into such a corner? We wanted to know what morality is, and Dr. Whewell said that it is conforming to rights. We ask how he knows that there are rights, and he answers, because otherwise there could be no morality. This is vicious circle the third, and the most wonderful of the three. The Indians placed their elephant on the back of a tortoise, but they did not at the same time place the tortoise on the back of the elephant.

Dr. Whewell has failed in what it was impossible to succeed in. Every attempt to dress up an appeal to intuition in the forms of reasoning, must break down in the same manner. The system must, from the conditions of the case, revolve in a circle. If morality is not to gravitate to any end, but to hang self-balanced in space, it is useless attempting to suspend one point of it upon another point. The fact of moral rules supposes a certain assemblage of ideas. It is to no purpose detaching these ideas one from another, and saying that one of them must exist because another does. Press the moralist a step farther, and he can only say that the other must exist because of the first. The house must have a centre because it has wings, and wings because it has a centre. But the question was about the whole house, and how it comes to exist. It would be much simpler to say plainly, that it exists because it exists. This is what Dr. Whewell is in the end obliged to come to; and he would have saved himself a great deal of bad logic, if he had begun with it.

So much as to the existence of moral rules: now as to what they are.

We do not rest our rules of action upon the tendency of actions to produce the happiness of others, or of mankind in general; because we cannot solve a problem so difficult as to determine which of two courses of action will produce the greatest amount of human happiness: and we see a simpler and far more satisfactory mode of deducing such rules; namely, by considering that there must be such rules; that they must be rules for man; for man living among men; and for the whole of man’s being. Since we are thus led directly to moral rules, by the consideration of the internal condition of man’s being, we cannot think it wise to turn away from this and to try to determine such rules by reference to an obscure and unmanageable external condition, the amount of happiness produced.

(P. xx.)

If these were not Dr. Whewell’s own words, we should expect to be charged, as he charges Bentham, with caricature. This is given as a scientific statement of the proper mode of discovering what are the rules of morality! We are to “deduce such rules” from four considerations. First, “that there must be such rules;” a necessary preliminary, certainly. If we are to build a wall, it is because it has been previously decided that there must be a wall. But we must know what the wall is for; what end it is intended to serve; or we shall not know what sort of wall is required. What end are moral rules intended to serve? No end, according to Dr. Whewell. They do not exist for the sake of an end. To have them is part of man’s nature, like (it is Dr. Whewell’s own illustration) the circulation of the blood. It is now then to be inquired what rules are part of our nature. This is to be discovered from three things: that they must be “rules for man; for man living among men; and for the whole of man’s being.” This is only saying over again, in a greater number of words, what we want, not how we are to find it. First, they must be “rules for man;” but we are warned not to suppose that this means for man’s benefit; it only means that they are for man to obey. This leaves us exactly where we were before. Next, they are for “man living among men,” that is, for the conduct of man to men: but how is man to conduct himself to men? Thirdly, they are “for the whole of man’s being;” that is, according to Dr. Whewell’s explanation, they are for the regulation of our desires as well as of our actions; but what we wanted to know was, how we are to regulate our desires and our actions? Of the four propositions given as premises from which all moral rules are to be deduced, not one points to any difference between one kind of moral rules and another. Whether the rule is to love or to hate our neighbour, it will equally answer all Dr. Whewell’s conditions. These are the premises which are more “simple and satisfactory” than such “obscure and unmanageable” propositions, so utterly impossible to be assured of, as that some actions are favourable, and others injurious, to human happiness! Try a parallel case. Let it be required to find the principles of the art of navigation. Bentham says, we must look to an “external end;” getting from place to place on the water. No, says Dr. Whewell, there is a “simpler and more satisfactory” mode, viz. to consider that there must be such an art; that it must be for a ship; for a ship at sea; and for all the parts of a ship. Would Dr. Whewell prevail on any one to suppose that these considerations made it unnecessary to consider, with Bentham, what a ship is intended to do?

This account is all we get from Dr. Whewell, in the Lectures, of the mode of discovering and recognising the rules of morality. But perhaps he succeeds better in doing the thing, than in explaining how it ought to be done. At all events, having written two volumes of Elements of Morality, he must have performed this feat, either well or ill; he must have found a way of “deducing moral rules.” We will now, therefore, dismiss Dr. Whewell’s generalities, and try to estimate his method, not by what he says about it, but by what we see him doing when he carries it into practice.

We turn, then, to his Elements of Morality, and to the third chapter of that work, which is entitled, “Moral Rules exist necessarily.” And here we at once find something well calculated to surprise us. That moral rules must exist, was, it may be remembered, the first of Dr. Whewell’s four fundamental axioms; and has been presented hitherto as a law of human nature, requiring no proof. It must puzzle some of his pupils to find him here proving it; and still more, to find him proving it from utility.

In enumerating and describing, as we have done, certain desires as among the most powerful springs of human action, we have stated that man’s life is scarcely tolerable if these desires are not in some degree gratified; that man cannot be at all satisfied without some security in such gratification; that without property, which gratifies one of these desires, man’s free agency cannot exist; that without marriage, which gratifies another, there can be no peace, comfort, tranquillity, or order. And the same may be said of all those springs of actions which we enumerated as mental desires. Without some provision for the tranquil gratification of these desires, society is disturbed, unbalanced, painful. The gratification of such desires must be a part of the order of the society. There must be rules which direct the course and limits of such gratification. Such rules are necessary for the peace of society.

(Elements, Vol. I, pp. 32-3.)

This is a very different mode of treating the subject from that which we observed in the Lectures. We are now among reasons: good or bad they may be, but still reasons. Moral rules are here spoken of as means to an end. We now hear of the peace and comfort of society; of making man’s life tolerable; of the satisfaction and gratification of human beings; of preventing a disturbed and painful state of society. This is utility—this is pleasure and pain. When real reasons are wanted, the repudiated happiness-principle is always the resource. It is true, this is soon followed by a recurrence to the old topics, of the necessity of rules “for the action of man as man,” and the impossibility to “conceive man as man without conceiving him as subject to rules.” [Vol. I, p. 33.] But any meaning it is possible to find in these phrases (which is not much) is all reflected from the utilitarian reasons given just before. Rules are necessary, because mankind would have no security for any of the things which they value, for anything which gives them pleasure or shields them from pain, unless they could rely on one another for doing, and in particular for abstaining from, certain acts. And it is true, that man could not be conceived “as man,” that is, with the average human intelligence, if he were unable to perceive so obvious an utility.

Almost all the generalia of moral philosophy prefixed to the Elements are in like manner derived from utility. For example: that the desires, until subjected to general rules, bring mankind into conflict and opposition; but that, when general rules are established, the feelings which gather round these “are sources not of opposition, but of agreement;” that they “tend to make men unanimous; and that such rules with regard to the affections and desires as tend to control the repulsive and confirm the attractive forces which operate in human society; such as tend to unite men, to establish concord, unanimity, sympathy, agree with that which is the character of moral rules.” (Vol. I, p. 35.) This is Benthamism—even approaching to Fourierism.

And again, in attempting a classification and definition of virtues, and a parallel one of duties corresponding to them. The definitions of both the one and the other are deduced from utility. After classing virtues under the several heads of benevolence, justice, truth, purity, and order, Benevolence is defined as “desire of the good of all men;” and in a wider sense, as the “absence of all the affections which tend to separate men, and the aggregate of the affections which unite them.” (Vol. I, pp. 137-8.) Justice, as “the desire that each person should have his own.” (P. 138.) Truth is defined “an agreement of the verbal expression with the thought,” and is declared to be a duty because “lying and deceit tend to separate and disunite men, and to make all actions implying mutual dependence, that is, all social action and social life, impossible.” (Pp. 139, 138-9.) Purity is defined “the control of the appetites by the moral sentiments and the reason.” [P. 139.] Order, as a conformity of our internal dispositions to the laws and to moral rules (why not rather to good laws, and good moral rules?) All these definitions, though very open to criticism in detail, are in principle utilitarian. Though Dr. Whewell will not recognise the promotion of happiness as the ultimate principle, he deduces his secondary principles from it, and supports his propositions by utilitarian reasons as far as they will go. He is chiefly distinguished from utilitarian moralists of the more superficial kind, by this, that he ekes out his appeals to utility with appeals to “our idea of man as man;” and when reasons fail, or are not sufficiently convincing, then “all men think,” or “we cannot help feeling,” serves as a last resort, and closes the discussion.

Of this hybrid character is the ethics of Dr. Whewell’s Elements of Morality. And in this he resembles all other writers of the intuitive school of . They are none of them frankly and consistently intuitive. To use a happy expression of Bentham in a different case, they draw from a double fountain—utility, and internal conviction; the tendencies of actions, and the feelings with which mankind regard them. This is not a matter of choice with these writers, but of necessity. It arises from the nature of the morality of internal conviction. Utility, as a standard, is capable of being carried out singly and consistently; a moralist can deduce from it his whole system of ethics, without calling to his assistance any foreign principle. It is not so with one who relies on moral intuition; for where will he find his moral intuitions? How many ethical propositions can be enumerated, of which the most reckless assertor will venture to affirm that they have the adhesion of all mankind? Dr. Whewell declares unhesitatingly that the moral judgment of mankind, when it is unanimous, must be right. “What are universally held as virtues, must be dispositions in conformity with this [the supreme] law: what are universally reckoned vices, must be wrong.” [Vol. I, p. 164.] This is saying much, when we consider the worth, in other matters nearly allied to these, of what is complimentarily called the general opinion of mankind; when we remember what grovelling superstitions, what witchcraft, magic, astrology, what oracles, ghosts, what gods and demons scattered through all nature, were once universally believed in, and still are so by the majority of the human race. But where are these unanimously recognised vices and virtues to be found? Practices the most revolting to the moral feelings of some ages and nations do not incur the smallest censure from others; and it is doubtful whether there is a single virtue which is held to be a virtue by all nations . There are, indeed, some moralities of an utility so unmistakeable, so obviously indispensable to the common purposes of life, that as general rules mankind could no more differ about them than about the multiplication table; but even here, there is the widest difference of sentiment about the exceptions. The universal voice of mankind, so often appealed to, is universal only in its discordance. What passes for it is merely the voice of the majority, or, failing that, of any large number having a strong feeling on the subject; especially if it be a feeling of which they cannot give any account, and which, as it is not consciously grounded on any reasons, is supposed to be better than reasons, and of higher authority. With Dr. Whewell, a strong feeling, shared by most of those whom he thinks worth counting, is always an ultima ratio from which there is no appeal. He forgets that as much might have been pleaded, and in many cases might still be pleaded, in defence of the absurdest superstitions.

It seems to be tacitly supposed that however liable mankind are to be wrong in their opinions, they are generally right in their feelings, and especially in their antipathies. On the contrary, there is nothing which it is more imperative that they should be required to justify by reasons. The antipathies of mankind are mostly derived from three sources. One of these is an impression, true or false, of utility. They dislike what is painful or dangerous, or what is apparently so. These antipathies, being grounded on the happiness principle, must be required to justify themselves by it. The second class of antipathies are against what they are taught, or imagine, to be displeasing to some visible or invisible power, capable of doing them harm, and whose wrath, once kindled, may be wreaked on those who tolerated, as well as on those who committed, the offence. The third kind of antipathies, often as strong as either of the others, are directed towards mere differences of opinion, or of taste. Any of the three, when nourished by education, and deriving confidence from mutual encouragement, assumes to common minds the character of a moral feeling. But to pretend that any such antipathy, were it ever so general, gives the smallest guarantee of its own justice and reasonableness, or has any claim to be binding on those who do not partake in the sentiment, is as irrational as to adduce the belief in ghosts or witches as a proof of their real existence. I am not bound to abstain from an action because another person dislikes it, however he may dignify his dislike with the name of disapprobation.

We cannot take leave of Dr. Whewell’s strictures on Bentham, without adverting to some observations made by him on Bentham’s character as a jurist rather than as a moralist. In this capacity Dr. Whewell does more justice to Bentham, than in the department of moral philosophy. But he finds fault with him for two things: first, for not sufficiently recognising what Dr. Whewell calls the historical element of legislation; and imagining “that to a certain extent his schemes of law might be made independent of local conditions.” [Lectures, p. 254.] Dr. Whewell admits it to be part of Bentham’s doctrine, that different countries must to a certain extent have different laws; and is aware that he wrote an Essay on the Influence of Time and Place in Matters of Legislation; but thinks him wrong in maintaining that there should be a general plan, of which the details only should be modified by local circumstances; and contends, that different countries require different ground-plans of legislation.

There is in every national code of law a necessary and fundamental historical element; not a few supplementary provisions which may be added or adapted to the local circumstances after the great body of the code has been constructed: not a few touches of local colouring to be put in after the picture is almost painted: but an element which belongs to law from its origin, and penetrates to its roots: a part of the intimate structure; a cast in the original design. The national views of personal status; property, and the modes of acquisition; bargains, and the modes of concluding them; family, and its consequences; government, and its origin; these affect even the most universal aspects and divisions of penal offences; these affect still more every step of the expository process which the civil law applies to rights in defining penal offences.

(Lectures, p. 254.)

What Dr. Whewell designates by the obscure and misleading expression, “an historical element,” and accuses Bentham of paying too little regard to, is the existing opinions and feelings of the people. These may, without doubt, in some sense be called historical, as being partly the product of their previous history; but whatever attention is due to those opinions and feelings in legislation, is due to them not as matter of history, but as social forces in present being. Now Bentham, in common with all other rational persons, admitted that a legislator is obliged to have regard to the opinions and feelings of the people to be legislated for; but with this difference, that he did not look upon those opinions and feelings as affecting, in any great degree, what was desirable to be done, but only what could be done. Take one of Dr. Whewell’s instances, “the national views of personal status.” The “national views” may regard slavery as a legitimate condition of human beings, and Mr. Livingston, in legislating for Louisiana, may have been obliged to recognise slavery as a fact, and to make provision for it, and for its consequences, in his code of laws; but he was bound to regard the equality of human beings as the foundation of his legislation, and the concession to the “historical element” as a matter of temporary expediency; and while yielding to the necessity, to endeavour, by all the means in his power, to educate the nation into better things. And so of the other subjects mentioned by Dr. Whewell—property, contracts, family, and government. The fact that, in any of these matters, a people prefer some particular mode of legislation, on historical grounds—that is, because they have been long used to it,—is no proof of any original adaptation in it to their nature or circumstances, and goes a very little way in recommendation of it as for their benefit now. But it may be a very important element in determining what the legislator can do, and still more, the manner in which he should do it: and in both these respects Bentham allowed it full weight. What he is at issue with Dr. Whewell upon, is in deeming it right for the legislator to keep before his mind an ideal of what he would do if the people for whom he made laws were entirely devoid of prejudice or accidental prepossession: while Dr. Whewell, by placing their prejudices and accidental prepossessions “at the basis of the system,” [Lectures, p. 255,] enjoins legislation not in simple recognition of existing popular feelings, but in obedience to them.

The other objection made by Dr. Whewell to Bentham as a writer on legislation, (for we omit the criticism on his classification of offences, as too much a matter of detail for the present discussion,) is that he does not fully recognise “the moral object of law” (p. 257). Dr. Whewell says, in phraseology which we considerably abridge, that law ought not only to preserve and gratify man, but to improve and teach him: not only to take care of him as an animal, but to raise him to a moral life. Punishment, therefore, he says, “is to be, not merely a means of preventing suffering, but is also to be a moral lesson.” [Ibid.] But Bentham, as Dr. Whewell is presently forced to admit, says the same: and in fact carries this doctrine so far, as to maintain that legal punishment ought sometimes to be attached to acts for the mere purpose of stigmatizing them, and turning the popular sentiment against them. No one, more than Bentham, recognises that most important, but most neglected, function of the legislator, the office of an instructor, both moral and intellectual. But he receives no credit for this from Dr. Whewell, except that of being false to his principles; for Dr. Whewell seems to reckon it an impertinence in anybody to recognise morality as a good, who thinks, as Bentham does, that it is a means to an end. If any one who believes that the moral sentiments should be guided by the happiness of mankind, proposes that moral sentiments, so guided, should be cultivated and fostered, Dr. Whewell treats this as a deserting of utilitarian principles, and borrowing or stealing from his.

As an example of “Bentham’s attempt to exclude morality, as such, in his legislation,” Dr. Whewell refers to “what he says respecting the laws of marriage, and especially in favour of a liberty of divorce by common consent.” As this is the only opportunity Dr. Whewell gives his readers, of comparing his mode of discussing a specific moral question with Bentham’s, we shall devote a few words to it.

Having quoted from Bentham the observation that a government which interdicts divorce “takes upon itself to decide that it understands the interests of individuals better than they do themselves,” Dr. Whewell answers, that this is an objection to all laws: that in many other cases, “government, both in its legislation and administration, does assume that it understands the interests of individuals, and the public interest as affected by them, better than they do themselves.” The words which we have put in italics, adroitly change the question. Government is entitled to assume that it will take better care than individuals of the public interest, but not better care of their own interest. It is one thing for the legislator to dictate to individuals what they shall do for their own advantage, and another thing to protect the interest of other persons who may be injuriously affected by their acts. Dr. Whewell’s own instances “What is the meaning of restraints imposed for the sake of public health, cleanliness, and comfort? Why are not individuals left to do what they like with reference to such matters? Plainly because carelessness, ignorance, indolence, would prevent their doing what is most for their own interest.” (P. 258.) Say rather, would lead them to do what is contrary to the interest of other people. The proper object of sanitary laws is not to compel people to take care of their own health, but to prevent them from endangering that of others. To prescribe by law, what they should do for their own health alone, would by most people be justly regarded as something very like tyranny.

Dr. Whewell continues:—

But is Mr. Bentham ready to apply consistently the principle which he thus implies, that in such matters individuals are the best judges of their own interests? Will he allow divorce to take place whenever the two parties agree in desiring it? . . . Such a facility of divorce as this, leaves hardly any difference possible between marriage and concubinage. If a pair may separate when they please, why does the legislator take the trouble to recognise their living together? [P. 259.]

Apply this to other cases. If a man can pay his tailor when he and his tailor choose, why does the law take the trouble to recognise them as debtor and creditor? Why recognise, as partners in business, as landlords and tenants, as servants and employers, people who are not tied to each other for life?

Dr. Whewell finds what he thinks an inconsistency in Bentham’s view of the subject. He thus describes Bentham’s opinions.

Marriage for life is, he [Bentham] says, the most natural marriage: if there were no laws except the ordinary law of contracts, this would be the most ordinary arrangement. So far, good. But Mr. Bentham, having carried his argument so far, does not go on with it. What conclusion are we to suppose him to intend? This arrangement would be very general without law, therefore the legislator should pass a law to make it universal? . . . No. The very next sentence is employed in showing the absurdity of making the engagement one from which the parties cannot liberate themselves by mutual consent. And there is no attempt to reduce these arguments, or their results, to a consistency.

(Pp. 259-60.)

Dr. Whewell’s ideas of inconsistency seem to be peculiar. Bentham, he says, is of opinion, that in the majority of cases it is best for the happiness of married persons that they should remain together. Is it so? (says Dr. Whewell)—then why not force them to remain together, even when it would be best for their happiness to separate?

Try again parallel cases. In choosing a profession, a sensible person will fix on one in which he will find it agreeable to remain; therefore, it should not be lawful to change a profession once chosen. A landlord, when he has a good tenant, best consults his own interest by not changing him; therefore, all tenancy should be for life. Electors who have found a good representative will probably do wisely in re-electing him; therefore, members of parliament should be irremovable.

Dr. Whewell intended to show into what errors Bentham was led, by treating the question of marriage apart from “moral grounds.” Yet part of his complaint is that Bentham does consider moral grounds, which, according to Dr. Whewell, he has no right to do. If one married person maltreats the other to procure consent to a divorce,—

Bentham’s decision is, that liberty should be allowed to the party maltreated and not to the other. . . . Now to this decision I have nothing to object: but I must remark, that the view which makes it tolerable is, its being a decision on moral grounds, such as Mr. Bentham would not willingly acknowledge. The man may not take advantage of his own wrong: that is a maxim which quite satisfies us. But Mr. Bentham, who only regards wrong as harm, would, I think, find it difficult to satisfy the man that he was fairly used. [P. 261.]

Mr. Bentham would have found it difficult to conceive that any one attempting to criticise his philosophy could know so little of its elements. Dr. Whewell wonders what the reason can be, on Bentham’s principles, for not allowing a man to benefit by his own wrong. Did it never occur to him, that it is to take away from the man his inducement to commit the wrong?

Finally, Dr. Whewell says, “No good rule can be established on this subject without regarding the marriage union in a moral point of view; without assuming it as one great object of the law to elevate and purify men’s idea of marriage; to lead them to look upon it as an entire union of interests and feelings, enjoyments and hopes, between the two parties.” [P. 262.] We cannot agree in the doctrine that it should be an object of the law to “lead men to look upon” marriage as being what it is not. Neither Bentham nor any one who thinks with him would deny that this entire union is the completest ideal of marriage; but it is bad philosophy to speak of a relation as if it always was the best thing that it possibly can be, and then infer that when it is notoriously not such, as in an immense majority of cases, and even when it is the extreme contrary, as in a minority, it should nevertheless be treated exactly as if the fact corresponded with the theory. The liberty of divorce is contended for, because marriages are not what Dr. Whewell says they should be looked upon as being; because a choice made by an inexperienced person, and not allowed to be corrected, cannot, except by a happy accident, realize the conditions essential to this complete union.

We give these observations not as a discussion of the question, but of Dr. Whewell’s treatment of it; as part of the comparison which he invites his readers to institute between his method and that of Bentham. Were it our object to confirm the general character we have given of Dr. Whewell’s philosophy, by a survey in detail of the morality laid down by him, the two volumes of Elements afford abundant materials. We could show that Dr. Whewell not only makes no improvement on the old moral doctrines, but attempts to set up afresh several of them which have been loosened or thrown down by the stream of human progress.

Thus we find him everywhere inculcating, as one of the most sacred duties, reverence for superiors, even when personally undeserving (Vol. I, pp. 176-7), and obedience to existing laws, even when bad. “The laws of the state are to be observed even when they enact slavery.” (Vol. I, p. 351.) “The morality of the individual,” he says, (Vol. I, p. 58), “depends on his not violating the law of his nation.” It is not even the spirit of the law, but the letter (Vol. I, p. 213), to which obedience is due. The law, indeed, is accepted by Dr. Whewell as the fountain of rights; of those rights which it is the primary moral duty not to infringe. And mere custom is of almost equal authority with express enactment. Even in a matter so personal as marriage, the usage and practice of the country is to be a paramount law. “In some countries, the marriage of the child is a matter usually managed by the parents; in such cases, it is the child’s duty to bring the affections, as far as possible, into harmony with the custom.” (Vol. I, p. 211.) “Reverence and affection” towards “the constitution of each country,” he holds (Vol. II, p. 204) as “one of the duties of a citizen.”

Again, Dr. Whewell affirms, with a directness not usually ventured on in these days by persons of his standing and importance, that to disbelieve either a providential government of the world, or revelation, is morally criminal; for that “men are blameable in disbelieving truths after they have been promulgated, though they are ignorant without blame before the promulgation.” (Vol. II, p. 93.) This is the very essence of religious intolerance, aggravated by the fact, that among the persons thus morally stigmatized are notoriously included many of the best men who ever lived. He goes still further, and lays down the principle of intolerance in its broad generality, saying, that “the man who holds false opinions” is morally condemnable “when he has had the means of knowing the truth” (Vol. II, p. 102); that it is “his duty to think rationally,” (i.e. to think the same as Dr. Whewell): that it is to no purpose his saying that he has “done all he could to arrive at truth, since a man has never done all he can to arrive at truth.” (Vol. II, pp. 105, 106.) If a man has never done all he can, neither has his judge done all he can; and the heretic may have more for believing his opinion true, than the judge has for affirming it to be false. But the judge is on the side of received opinions, which, according to Dr. Whewell’s standard, makes all right.

It is not, however, our object to criticise Dr. Whewell as a teacher of the details of morality. Our design goes no farther than to illustrate his controversy with Bentham respecting its first principle. It may, perhaps, be thought that Dr. Whewell’s arguments against the philosophy of utility are too feeble to require so long a refutation. But feeble arguments easily pass for convincing, when they are on the same side the prevailing sentiment; and readers in general are so little acquainted with that or any other system of moral philosophy, that they take the word of anybody, especially an author in repute, who professes to inform them what it is; and suppose that a doctrine must be indeed absurd, to which mere truisms are offered as a sufficient reply. It was, therefore, not unimportant to show, by a minute examination, that Dr. Whewell has misunderstood and misrepresented the philosophy of utility, and that his attempts to refute it, and to construct a moral philosophy without it, have been equally failures.




4th ed. London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1871. Revised and reprinted from 3rd ed. (London: Longmans, Green, Reader and Dyer, 1867), 2nd ed. (London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green, 1864), 1st ed. (London: Parker, Son, and Bourn, 1863), and Fraser’s Magazine, LXIV (Oct., 1861), 391-406 [Chaps. i-ii], ibid. (Nov., 1861), 525-34 [Chaps. iii-iv], ibid. (Dec., 1861), 658-73 [Chap. v]. The articles in Fraser’s were identified as “by John Stuart Mill.” Described in JSM’s bibliography as “An Essay in five Chapters entitled ‘Utilitarianism’ published in the three numbers of Fraser’s Magazine for October, November and December 1861. Reprinted as a separate work early in 1863.” (MacMinn, 93.) For a further account of the place of the work in relation to the other essays in this volume, see the Textual Introduction, cxxii-cxxvi above.

The following text is collated with those of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd eds., and that in Fraser’s. In the footnoted variants, the 4th ed. is indicated by “71”; the 3rd by “67”; the 2nd by “64”; the 1st by “63”; and Fraser’s by “61”. There are no copies of relevant editions in Somerville College. In all versions the title of Chap. v begins “On the . . .”; the Tables of Contents, however, except for 63, give “Of the. . . .” Here “On” is accepted.


General Remarks

there are few circumstances among those which make up the present condition of human knowledge, more unlike what might have been expected, or more significant of the backward state in which speculation on the most important subjects still lingers, than the little progress which has been made in the decision of the controversy respecting the criterion of right and wrong. From the dawn of philosophy, the question concerning the summum bonum, or, what is the same thing, concerning the foundation of morality, has been accounted the main problem in speculative thought, has occupied the most gifted intellects, and divided them into sects and schools, carrying on a vigorous warfare against one another. And after more than two thousand years the same discussions continue, philosophers are still ranged under the same contending banners, and neither thinkers nor mankind at large seem nearer to being unanimous on the subject, than when the youth Socrates listened to the old Protagoras, and asserted (if Plato’s dialogue be grounded on a real conversation) the theory of utilitarianism against the popular morality of the so-called sophist.

It is true that similar confusion and uncertainty, and in some cases similar discordance, exist respecting the first principles of all the sciences, not excepting that which is deemed the most certain of them, mathematics; without much impairing, generally indeed without impairing at all, the trustworthiness of the conclusions of those sciences. An apparent anomaly, the explanation of which is, that the detailed doctrines of a science are not usually deduced from, nor depend for their evidence upon, what are called its first principles. Were it not so, there would be no science more precarious, or whose conclusions were more insufficiently made out, than algebra; which derives none of its certainty from what are commonly taught to learners as its elements, since these, as laid down by some of its most eminent teachers, are as full of fictions as English law, and of mysteries as theology. The truths which are ultimately accepted as the first principles of a science, are really the last results of metaphysical analysis, practised on the elementary notions with which the science is conversant; and their relation to the science is not that of foundations to an edifice, but of roots to a tree, which may perform their office equally well though they be never dug down to and exposed to light. But though in science the particular truths precede the general theory, the contrary might be expected to be the case with a practical art, such as morals or legislation. All action is for the sake of some end, and rules of action, it seems natural to suppose, must take their whole character and colour from the end to which they are subservient. When we engage in a pursuit, a clear and precise conception of what we are pursuing would seem to be the first thing we need, instead of the last we are to look forward to. A test of right and wrong must be the means, one would think, of ascertaining what is right or wrong, and not a consequence of having already ascertained it.

The difficulty is not avoided by having recourse to the popular theory of a natural faculty, a sense or instinct, informing us of right and wrong. For—besides that the existence of such a moral instinct is itself one of the matters in dispute—those believers in it who have any pretensions to philosophy, have been obliged to abandon the idea that it discerns what is right or wrong in the particular case in hand, as our other senses discern the sight or sound actually present. Our moral faculty, according to all those of its interpreters who are entitled to the name of thinkers, supplies us only with the general principles of moral judgments; it is a branch of our reason, not of our sensitive faculty; and must be looked to for the abstract doctrines of morality, not for perception of it in the concrete. The intuitive, no less than what may be termed the inductive, school of ethics, insists on the necessity of general laws. They both agree that the morality of an individual action is not a question of direct perception, but of the application of a law to an individual case. They recognise also, to a great extent, the same moral laws; but differ as to their evidence, and the source from which they derive their authority. According to the one opinion, the principles of morals are evident à priori, requiring nothing to command assent, except that the meaning of the terms be understood. According to the other doctrine, right and wrong, as well as truth and falsehood, are questions of observation and experience. But both hold equally that morality must be deduced from principles; and the intuitive school affirm as strongly as the inductive, that there is a science of morals. Yet they seldom attempt to make out a list of the à priori principles which are to serve as the premises of the science; still more rarely do they make any effort to reduce those various principles to one first principle, or common ground of obligation. They either assume the ordinary precepts of morals as of à priori authority, or they lay down as the common groundwork of those maxims, some generality much less obviously authoritative than the maxims themselves, and which has never succeeded in gaining popular acceptance. Yet to support their pretensions there ought either to be some one fundamental principle or law, at the root of all morality, or if there be several, there should be a determinate order of precedence among them; and the one principle, or the rule for deciding between the various principles when they conflict, ought to be self-evident.

To inquire how far the bad effects of this deficiency have been mitigated in practice, or to what extent the moral beliefs of mankind have been vitiated or made uncertain by the absence of any distinct recognition of an ultimate standard, would imply a complete survey and criticism of past and present ethical doctrine. It would, however, be easy to show that whatever steadiness or consistency these moral beliefs have attained, has been mainly due to the tacit influence of a standard not recognised. Although the non-existence of an acknowledged first principle has made ethics not so much a guide as a consecration of men’s actual sentiments, still, as men’s sentiments, both of favour and of aversion, are greatly influenced by what they suppose to be the effects of things upon their happiness, the principle of utility, or as Bentham latterly called it, the greatest happiness principle, has had a large share in forming the moral doctrines even of those who most scornfully reject its authority. Nor is there any school of thought which refuses to admit that the influence of actions on happiness is a most material and even predominant consideration in many of the details of morals, however unwilling to acknowledge it as the fundamental principle of morality, and the source of moral obligation. I might go much further, and say that to all those à priori moralists who deem it necessary to argue at all, utilitarian arguments are indispensable. It is not my present purpose to criticize these thinkers; but I cannot help referring, for illustration, to a systematic treatise by one of the most illustrious of them, the Metaphysics of Ethics, by Kant. This remarkable man, whose system of thought will long remain one of the landmarks in the history of philosophical speculation, does, in the treatise in question, lay down an universal first principle as the origin and ground of moral obligation; it is this:—“So act, that the rule on which thou actest would admit of being adopted as a law by all rational beings.” But when he begins to deduce from this precept any of the actual duties of morality, he fails, almost grotesquely, to show that there would be any contradiction, any logical (not to say physical) impossibility, in the adoption by all rational beings of the most outrageously immoral rules of conduct. All he shows is that the consequences of their universal adoption would be such as no one would choose to incur.

On the present occasion, I shall, without further discussion of the other theories, attempt to contribute something towards the understanding and appreciation of the Utilitarian or Happiness theory, and towards such proof as it is susceptible of. It is evident that this cannot be proof in the ordinary and popular meaning of the term. Questions of ultimate ends are not amenable to direct proof. Whatever can be proved to be good, must be so by being shown to be a means to something admitted to be good without proof. The medical art is proved to be good, by its conducing to health; but how is it possible to prove that health is good? The art of music is good, for the reason, among others, that it produces pleasure; but what proof is it possible to give that pleasure is good? If, then, it is asserted that there is a comprehensive formula, including all things which are in themselves good, and that what ever else is good, is not so as an end, but as a , the formula may be accepted or rejected, but is not a subject of what is commonly understood by proof. We are not, however, to infer that its acceptance or rejection must depend on blind impulse, or arbitrary choice. There is a larger meaning of the word proof, in which this question is as amenable to it as any other of the disputed questions of philosophy. The subject is within the cognizance of the rational faculty; and neither does that faculty deal with it solely in the way of intuition. Considerations may be presented capable of determining the intellect either to give or withhold its assent to the doctrine; and this is equivalent to proof.

We shall examine presently of what nature are these considerations; in what manner they apply to the case, and what rational grounds, therefore, can be given for accepting or rejecting the utilitarian formula. But it is a preliminary condition of rational acceptance or rejection, that the formula should be correctly understood. I believe that the very imperfect notion ordinarily formed of its meaning, is the chief obstacle which impedes its reception; and that could it be cleared, even from only the grosser misconceptions, the question would be greatly simplified, and a large proportion of its difficulties removed. Before, therefore, I attempt to enter into the philosophical grounds which can be given for assenting to the utilitarian standard, I shall offer some illustrations of the doctrine itself; with the view of showing more clearly what it is, distinguishing it from what it is not, and disposing of such of the practical objections to it as either originate in, or are closely connected with, mistaken interpretations of its meaning. Having thus prepared the ground, I shall afterwards endeavour to throw such light as I can upon the question, considered as one of philosophical theory.


What Utilitarianism Is

a passing remark is all that needs be given to the ignorant blunder of supposing that those who stand up for utility as the test of right and wrong, use the term in that restricted and merely colloquial sense in which utility is opposed to pleasure. An apology is due to the philosophical opponents of utilitarianism, for even the momentary appearance of confounding them with any one capable of so absurd a misconception; which is the more extraordinary, inasmuch as the contrary accusation, of referring everything to pleasure, and that too in its grossest form, is another of the common charges against utilitarianism: and, as has been pointedly remarked by an able writer, the same sort of persons, and often the very same persons, denounce the theory “as impracticably dry when the word utility precedes the word pleasure, and as too practicably voluptuous when the word pleasure precedes the word utility.” Those who know anything about the matter are aware that every writer, from Epicurus to Bentham, who maintained the theory of utility, meant by it, not something to be contradistinguished from pleasure, but pleasure itself, together with exemption from pain; and instead of opposing the useful to the agreeable or the ornamental, have always declared that the useful means these, among other things. Yet the common herd, including the herd of writers, not only in newspapers and periodicals, but in books of weight and pretension, are perpetually falling into this shallow mistake. Having caught up the word utilitarian, while knowing nothing whatever about it but its sound, they habitually express by it the rejection, or the neglect, of pleasure in some of its forms; of beauty, of ornament, or of amusement. Nor is the term thus ignorantly misapplied solely in disparagement, but occasionally in compliment; as though it implied superiority to frivolity and the mere pleasures of the moment. And this perverted use is the only one in which the word is popularly known, and the one from which the new generation are acquiring their sole notion of its meaning. Those who introduced the word, but who had for many years discontinued it as a distinctive appellation, may well feel themselves called upon to resume it, if by doing so they can hope to contribute anything towards rescuing it from this utter degradation.

The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure. To give a clear view of the moral standard set up by the theory, much more requires to be said; in particular, what things it includes in the ideas of pain and pleasure; and to what extent this is left an open question. But these supplementary explanations do not affect the theory of life on which this theory of morality is grounded—namely, that pleasure, and freedom from pain, are the only things desirable as ends; and that all desirable things (which are as numerous in the utilitarian as in any other scheme) are desirable either for the pleasure inherent in themselves, or as means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain.

Now, such a theory of life excites in many minds, and among them in some of the most estimable in feeling and purpose, inveterate dislike. To suppose that life has (as they express it) no higher end than pleasure—no better and nobler object of desire and pursuit—they designate as utterly mean and grovelling; as a doctrine worthy only of swine, to whom the followers of Epicurus were, at a very early period, contemptuously likened; and modern holders of the doctrine are occasionally made the subject of equally polite comparisons by its German, French, and English assailants.

When thus attacked, the Epicureans have always answered, that it is not they, but their accusers, who represent human nature in a degrading light; since the accusation supposes human beings to be capable of no pleasures except those of which swine are capable. If this supposition were true, the charge could not be gainsaid, but would then be no longer an imputation; for if the sources of pleasure were precisely the same to human beings and to swine, the rule of life which is good enough for the one would be good enough for the other. The comparison of the Epicurean life to that of beasts is felt as degrading, precisely because a beast’s pleasures do not satisfy a human being’s conceptions of happiness. Human beings have faculties more elevated than the animal appetites, and when once made conscious of them, do not regard anything as happiness which does not include their gratification. I do not, indeed, consider the Epicureans to have been by any means faultless in drawing out their scheme of consequences from the utilitarian principle. To do this in any sufficient manner, many Stoic, as well as Christian elements require to be included. But there is no known Epicurean theory of life which does not assign to the pleasures of the intellect, of the feelings and imagination, and of the moral sentiments, a much higher value as pleasures than to those of mere sensation. It must be admitted, however, that utilitarian writers in general have placed the superiority of mental over bodily pleasures chiefly in the greater permanency, safety, uncostliness, &c., of the former—that is, in their circumstantial advantages rather than in their intrinsic nature. And on all these points utilitarians have fully proved their case; but they might have taken the other, and, as it may be called, higher ground, with entire consistency. It is quite compatible with the principle of utility to recognise the fact, that some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and more valuable than others. It would be absurd that while, in estimating all other things, quality is considered as well as quantity, the estimation of pleasures should be supposed to depend on quantity alone.

If I am asked, what I mean by difference of quality in pleasures, or what makes one pleasure more valuable than another, merely as a pleasure, except its being greater in amount, there is but one possible answer. 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. If one of the two is, by those who are competently acquainted with both, placed so far above the other that they prefer it, even though knowing it to be attended with a greater amount of discontent, and would not resign it for any quantity of the other pleasure which their nature is capable of, we are justified in ascribing to the preferred enjoyment a superiority in quality, so far outweighing quantity as to render it, in comparison, of small account.

Now it is an unquestionable fact that those who are equally acquainted with, and equally capable of appreciating and enjoying, both, do give a most marked preference to the manner of existence which employs their higher faculties. Few human creatures would consent to be changed into any of the lower animals, for a promise of the fullest allowance of a beast’s pleasures; no intelligent human being would consent to be a fool, no instructed person would be an ignoramus, no person of feeling and conscience would be selfish and base, even though they should be persuaded that the fool, the dunce, or the rascal is better satisfied with his lot than they are with theirs. They would not resign what they possess more than he, for the most complete satisfaction of all the desires which they have in common with him. If they ever fancy they would, it is only in cases of unhappiness so extreme, that to escape from it they would exchange their lot for almost any other, however undesirable in their own eyes. A being of higher faculties requires more to make him happy, is capable probably of more acute suffering, and certainly accessible to it at more points, than one of an inferior type; but in spite of these liabilities, he can never really wish to sink into what he feels to be a lower grade of existence. We may give what explanation we please of this unwillingness; we may attribute it to pride, a name which is given indiscriminately to some of the most and to some of the least estimable feelings of which mankind are capable; we may refer it to the love of liberty and personal independence, an appeal to which was with the Stoics one of the most effective means for the inculcation of it; to the love of power, or to the love of excitement, both of which do really enter into and contribute to it: but its most appropriate appellation is a sense of dignity, which all human beings possess in one form or other, and in some, though by no means in exact, proportion to their higher faculties, and which is so essential a part of the happiness of those in whom it is strong, that nothing which conflicts with it could be, otherwise than momentarily, an object of desire to them. Whoever supposes that this preference takes place at a sacrifice of happiness—that the superior being, in anything like equal circumstances, is not happier than the inferior—confounds the two very different ideas, of happiness, and content. It is indisputable that the being whose capacities of enjoyment are low, has the greatest chance of having them fully satisfied; and a highly-endowed being will always feel that any happiness which he can look for, as the world is constituted, is imperfect. But he can learn to bear its imperfections, if they are at all bearable; and they will not make him envy the being who is indeed unconscious of the imperfections, but only because he feels not at all the good which those imperfections qualify. It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.

It may be objected, that many who are capable of the higher pleasures, occasionally, under the influence of temptation, postpone them to the lower. But this is quite compatible with a full appreciation of the intrinsic superiority of the higher. Men often, from infirmity of character, make their election for the nearer good, though they know it to be the less valuable; and this no less when the choice is between two bodily pleasures, than when it is between bodily and mental. They pursue sensual indulgences to the injury of health, though perfectly aware that health is the greater good. It may be further objected, that many who begin with youthful enthusiasm for everything noble, as they advance in years sink into indolence and selfishness. But I do not believe that those who undergo this very common change, voluntarily choose the lower description of pleasures in preference to the higher. I believe that before they devote themselves exclusively to the one, they have already become incapable of the other. Capacity for the nobler feelings is in most natures a very tender plant, easily killed, not only by hostile influences, but by mere want of sustenance; and in the majority of young persons it speedily dies away if the occupations to which their position in life has devoted them, and the society into which it has thrown them, are not favourable to keeping that higher capacity in exercise. Men lose their high aspirations as they lose their intellectual tastes, because they have not time or opportunity for indulging them; and they addict themselves to inferior pleasures, not because they deliberately prefer them, but because they are either the only ones to which they have access, or the only ones which they are any longer capable of enjoying. It may be questioned whether any one who has remained equally susceptible to both classes of pleasures, ever knowingly and calmly preferred the lower; though many, in all ages, have broken down in an ineffectual attempt to combine both.

From this verdict of the only competent judges, I apprehend there can be no appeal. On a question which is the best worth having of two pleasures, or which of two modes of existence is the most grateful to the feelings, apart from its moral attributes and from its consequences, the judgment of those who are qualified by knowledge of both, or, if they differ, that of the majority among them, must be admitted as final. And there needs be the less hesitation to accept this judgment respecting the quality of pleasures, since there is no other tribunal to be referred to even on the question of quantity. What means are there of determining which is the acutest of two pains, or the intensest of two pleasurable sensations, except the general suffrage of those who are familiar with both? Neither pains nor pleasures are homogeneous, and pain is always heterogeneous with pleasure. What is there to decide whether a particular pleasure is worth purchasing at the cost of a particular pain, except the feelings and judgment of the experienced? When, therefore, those feelings and judgment declare the pleasures derived from the higher faculties to be preferable in kind, apart from the question of intensity, to those of which the animal nature, disjoined from the higher faculties, is susceptible, they are entitled on this subject to the same regard.

I have dwelt on this point, as being a necessary part of a perfectly just conception of Utility or Happiness, considered as the directive rule of human conduct. But it is by no means an indispensable condition to the acceptance of the utilitarian standard; for that standard is not the agent’s own greatest 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. Utilitarianism, therefore, could only attain its end by the general cultivation of nobleness of character, even if each individual were only benefited by the nobleness of others, and his own, so far as happiness is concerned, were a sheer deduction from the benefit. But the bare enunciation of such an absurdity renders refutation superfluous.

According to the Greatest Happiness Principle, as above explained, the ultimate end, with reference to and for the sake of which all other things are desirable (whether we are considering our own good or that of other people), is an existence exempt as far as possible from pain, and as rich as possible in enjoyments, both in point of quantity and quality; the test of quality, and the rule for measuring it against quantity, being the preference felt by those who, in their opportunities of experience, to which must be added their habits of self-consciousness and self-observation, are best furnished with the means of comparison. This, being, according to the utilitarian opinion, the end of human action, is necessarily also the standard of morality; which may accordingly be defined, the rules and precepts for human conduct, by the observance of which an existence such as has been described might be, to the greatest extent possible, secured to all mankind; and not to them only, but, so far as the nature of things admits, to the whole sentient creation.

Against this doctrine, however, arises another class of objectors, who say that happiness, in any form, cannot be the rational purpose of human life and action; because, in the first place, it is unattainable: and they contemptuously ask, What right hast thou to be happy? a question which Mr. Carlyle clenches by the addition, What right, a short time ago, hadst thou even to be? Next, they say, that men can do without happiness; that all noble human beings have felt this, and could not have become noble but by learning the lesson of Entsagen, or renunciation; which lesson, thoroughly learnt and submitted to, they affirm to be the beginning and necessary condition of all virtue.

The first of these objections would go to the root of the matter were it well founded; for if no happiness is to be had at all by human beings, the attainment of it cannot be the end of morality, or of any rational conduct. Though, even in that case, something might still be said for the utilitarian theory; since utility includes not solely the pursuit of happiness, but the prevention or mitigation of unhappiness; and if the former aim be chimerical, there will be all the greater scope and more imperative need for the latter, so long at least as mankind think fit to live, and do not take refuge in the simultaneous act of suicide recommended under certain conditions by Novalis. When, however, it is thus positively asserted to be impossible that human life should be happy, the assertion, if not something like a verbal quibble, is at least an exaggeration. If by hapiness be meant a continuity of highly pleasurable excitement, it is evident enough that this is impossible. A state of exalted pleasure lasts only moments, or in some cases, and with some intermissions, hours or days, and is the occasional brilliant flash of enjoyment, not its permanent and steady flame. Of this the philosophers who have taught that happiness is the end of life were as fully aware as those who taunt them. The happiness which they meant was not a life of rapture; but moments of such, in an existence made up of few and transitory pains, many and various pleasures, with a decided predominance of the active over the passive, and having as the foundation of the whole, not to expect more from life than it is capable of bestowing. A life thus composed, to those who have been fortunate enough to obtain it, has always appeared worthy of the name of happiness. And such an existence is even now the lot of many, during some considerable portion of their lives. The present wretched education, and wretched social arrangements, are the only real hindrance to its being attainable by almost all.

The objectors perhaps may doubt whether human beings, if taught to consider happiness as the end of life, would be satisfied with such a moderate share of it. But great numbers of mankind have been satisfied with much less. The main constituents of a satisfied life appear to be two, either of which by itself is often found sufficient for the purpose: tranquillity, and excitement. With much tranquillity, many find that they can be content with very little pleasure: with much excitement, many can reconcile themselves to a considerable quantity of pain. There is assuredly no inherent impossibility in enabling even the mass of mankind to unite both; since the two are so far from being incompatible that they are in natural alliance, the prolongation of either being a preparation for, and exciting a wish for, the other. It is only those in whom indolence amounts to a vice, that do not desire excitement after an interval of repose; it is only those in whom the need of excitement is a disease, that feel the tranquillity which follows excitement dull and insipid, instead of pleasurable in direct proportion to the excitement which preceded it. When people who are tolerably fortunate in their outward lot do not find in life sufficient enjoyment to make it valuable to them, the cause generally is, caring for nobody but themselves. To those who have neither public nor private affections, the excitements of life are much curtailed, and in any case dwindle in value as the time approaches when all selfish interests must be terminated by death: while those who leave after them objects of personal affection, and especially those who have also cultivated a fellow-feeling with the collective interests of mankind, retain as lively an interest in life on the eve of death as in the vigour of youth and health. Next to selfishness, the principal cause which makes life unsatisfactory, is want of mental cultivation. A cultivated mind—I do not mean that of a philosopher, but any mind to which the fountains of knowledge have been opened, and which has been taught, in any tolerable degree, to exercise its faculties—finds sources of inexhaustible interest in all that surrounds it; in the objects of nature, the achievements of art, the imaginations of poetry, the incidents of history, the ways of mankind past and present, and their prospects in the future. It is possible, indeed, to become indifferent to all this, and that too without having exhausted a thousandth part of it; but only when one has had from the beginning no moral or human interest in these things, and has sought in them only the gratification of curiosity.

Now there is absolutely no reason in the nature of things why an amount of mental culture sufficient to give an intelligent interest in these objects of contemplation, should not be the inheritance of every one born in a civilized country. As little is there an inherent necessity that any human being should be a selfish egotist, devoid of every feeling or care but those which centre in his own miserable individuality. Something far superior to this is sufficiently common even now, to give ample earnest of what the human species may be made. Genuine private affections, and a sincere interest in the public good, are possible, though in unequal degrees, to every rightly brought up human being. In a world in which there is so much to interest, so much to enjoy, and so much also to correct and improve, every one who has this moderate amount of moral and intellectual requisites is capable of an existence which may be called enviable; and unless such a person, through bad laws, or subjection to the will of others, is denied the liberty to use the sources of happiness within his reach, he will not fail to find this enviable existence, if he escape the positive evils of life, the great sources of physical and mental suffering—such as indigence, disease, and the unkindness, worthlessness, or premature loss of objects of affection. The main stress of the problem lies, therefore, in the contest with these calamities, from which it is a rare good fortune entirely to escape; which, as things now are, cannot be obviated, and often cannot be in any material degree mitigated. Yet no one whose opinion deserves a moment’s consideration can doubt that most of the great positive evils of the world are in themselves removable, and will, if human affairs continue to improve, be in the end reduced within narrow limits. Poverty, in any sense implying suffering, may be completely extinguished by the wisdom of society, combined with the good sense and providence of individuals. Even that most intractable of enemies, disease, may be indefinitely reduced in dimensions by good physical and moral education, and proper control of noxious influences; while the progress of science holds out a promise for the future of still more direct conquests over this detestable foe. And every advance in that direction relieves us from some, not only of the chances which cut short our own lives, but, what concerns us still more, which deprive us of those in whom our happiness is wrapt up. As for vicissitudes of fortune, and other disappointments connected with worldly circumstances, these are principally the effect either of gross imprudence, of ill-regulated desires, or of bad or imperfect social institutions. All the grand sources, in short, of human suffering are in a great degree, many of them almost entirely, conquerable by human care and effort; and though their removal is grievously slow—though a long succession of generations will perish in the breach before the conquest is completed, and this world becomes all that, if will and knowledge were not wanting, it might easily be made—yet every mind sufficiently intelligent and generous to bear a part, however small and unconspicuous, in the endeavour, will draw a noble enjoyment from the contest itself, which he would not for any bribe in the form of selfish indulgence consent to be without.

And this leads to the true estimation of what is said by the objectors concerning the possibility, and the obligation, of learning to do without happiness. Unquestionably it is possible to do without happiness; it is done involuntarily by nineteen-twentieths of mankind, even in those parts of our present world which are least deep in barbarism; and it often has to be done voluntarily by the hero or the martyr, for the sake of something which he prizes more than his individual happiness. But this something, what is it, unless the happiness of others, or some of the requisites of happiness? It is noble to be capable of resigning entirely one’s own portion of happiness, or chances of it: but, after all, this self-sacrifice must be for some end; it is not its own end; and if we are told that its end is not happiness, but virtue, which is better than happiness, I ask, would the sacrifice be made if the hero or martyr did not believe that it would earn for others immunity from similar sacrifices? Would it be made, if he thought that his renunciation of happiness for himself would produce no fruit for any of his fellow creatures, but to make their lot like his, and place them also in the condition of persons who have renounced happiness? All honour to those who can abnegate for themselves the personal enjoyment of life, when by such renunciation they contribute worthily to increase the amount of happiness in the world; but he who does it, or professes to do it, for any other purpose, is no more deserving of admiration than the ascetic mounted on his pillar. He may be an inspiriting proof of what men can do, but assuredly not an example of what they should.

Though it is only in a very imperfect state of the world’s arrangements that any one can best serve the happiness of others by the absolute sacrifice of his own, yet so long as the world is in that imperfect state, I fully acknowledge that the readiness to make such a sacrifice is the highest virtue which can be found in man. I will add, that in this condition of the world, paradoxical as the assertion may be, the conscious ability to do without happiness gives the best prospect of realizing such happiness as is attainable. For nothing except that consciousness can raise a person above the chances of life, by making him feel that, let fate and fortune do their worst, they have not power to subdue him: which, once felt, frees him from excess of anxiety concerning the evils of life, and enables him, like many a Stoic in the worst times of the Roman Empire, to cultivate in tranquillity the sources of satisfaction accessible to him, without concerning himself about the uncertainty of their duration, any more than about their inevitable end.

Meanwhile, let utilitarians never cease to claim the morality of self-devotion as a possession which belongs by as good a right to them, as either to the Stoic or to the Transcendentalist. The utilitarian morality does recognise in human beings the power of sacrificing their own greatest good for the good of others. It only refuses to admit that the sacrifice is itself a good. A sacrifice which does not increase, or tend to increase, the sum total of happiness, it considers as wasted. The only self-renunciation which it applauds, is devotion to the happiness, or to some of the means of happiness, of others; either of mankind collectively, or of individuals within the limits imposed by the collective interests of mankind.

I must again repeat, what the assailants of utilitarianism seldom have the justice to acknowledge, that the happiness which forms the utilitarian standard of what is right in conduct, is not the agent’s own happiness, but that of all concerned. As between his own happiness and that of others, utilitarianism requires him 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 would be done by, and to love neighbour as , constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality. As the means of making the nearest approach to this ideal, utility would enjoin, first, that laws and social arrangements should place the happiness, or (as speaking practically it may be called) the interest, of every individual, as nearly as possible in harmony with the interest of the whole; and secondly, that education and opinion, which have so vast a power over human character, should so use that power as to establish in the mind of every individual an indissoluble association between his own happiness and the good of the whole; especially between his own happiness and the practice of such modes of conduct, negative and positive, as regard for the universal happiness prescribes: so that not only he may be unable to conceive the possibility of happiness to himself, consistently with conduct opposed to the general good, but also that a direct impulse to promote the general good may be in every individual one of the habitual motives of action, and the sentiments connected therewith may fill a large and prominent place in every human being’s sentient existence. If the impugners of the utilitarian morality represented it to their own minds in this its true character, I know not what recommendation possessed by any other morality they could possibly affirm to be wanting to it: what more beautiful or more exalted developments of human nature any other ethical system can be supposed to foster, or what springs of action, not accessible to the utilitarian, such systems rely on for giving effect to their mandates.

The objectors to utilitarianism cannot always be charged with representing it in a discreditable light. On the contrary, those among them who entertain anything like a just idea of its disinterested character, sometimes find fault with its standard as being too high for humanity. They say it is exacting too much to require that people shall always act from the inducement of promoting the general interests of society. But this is to mistake the very meaning of a standard of morals, and confound the rule of action with the motive of it. It is the business of ethics to tell us what are our duties, or by what test we may know them; but no system of ethics requires that the sole motive of all we do shall be a feeling of duty; on the contrary, ninety-nine hundredths of all our actions are done from other motives, and rightly so done, if the rule of duty does not condemn them. It is the more unjust to utilitarianism that this particular misapprehension should be made a ground of objection to it, inasmuch as utilitarian moralists have gone beyond almost all others in affirming that the motive has nothing to do with the morality of the action, though much with the worth of the agent. He who saves a fellow creature from drowning does what is morally right, whether his motive be duty, or the hope of being paid for his trouble: he who betrays the friend that trusts him, is guilty of a crime, even if his object be to serve another friend to whom he is under greater obligations. But to speak only of actions done from the motive of duty, and in direct obedience to principle: it is a misapprehension of the utilitarian mode of thought, to conceive it as implying that people should fix their minds upon so wide a generality as the world, or society at large. The great majority of good actions are intended, not for the benefit of the world, but for that of individuals, of which the good of the world is made up; and the thoughts of the most virtuous man need not on these occasions travel beyond the particular persons concerned, except so far as is necessary to assure himself that in benefiting them he is not violating the rights—that is, the legitimate and authorized expectations—of any one else. The multiplication of happiness is, according to the utilitarian ethics, the object of virtue: the occasions on which any person (except one in a thousand) has it in his power to do this on an extended scale, in other words, to be a public benefactor, are but exceptional; and on these occasions alone is he called on to consider public utility; in every other case, private utility, the interest or happiness of some few persons, is all he has to attend to. Those alone the influence of whose actions extends to society in general, need concern themselves habitually about so large an object. In the case of abstinences indeed—of things which people forbear to do, from moral considerations, though the consequences in the particular case might be beneficial—it would be unworthy of an intelligent agent not to be consciously aware that the action is of a class which, if practised generally, would be generally injurious, and that this is the ground of the obligation to abstain from it. The amount of regard for the public interest implied in this recognition, is no greater than is demanded by every system of morals; for they all enjoin to abstain from whatever is manifestly pernicious to society.

The same considerations dispose of another reproach against the doctrine of utility, founded on a still grosser misconception of the purpose of a standard of morality, and of the very meaning of the words right and wrong. It is often affirmed that utilitarianism renders men cold and unsympathizing; that it chills their moral feelings towards individuals; that it makes them regard only the dry and hard consideration of the consequences of actions, not taking into their moral estimate the qualities from which those actions emanate. If the assertion means that they do not allow their judgment respecting the rightness or wrongness of an action to be influenced by their opinion of the qualities of the person who does it, this is a complaint not against utilitarianism, but against having any standard of morality at all; for certainly no known ethical standard decides an action to be good or bad because it is done by a good or a bad man, still less because done by an amiable, a brave, or a benevolent man, or the contrary. These considerations are relevant, not to the estimation of actions, but of persons; and there is nothing in the utilitarian theory inconsistent with the fact that there are other things which interest us in persons besides the rightness and wrongness of their actions. The Stoics, indeed, with the paradoxical misuse of language which was part of their system, and by which they strove to raise themselves above all concern about anything but virtue, were fond of saying that he who has that has everything; that he, and only he, is rich, is beautiful, is a king. But no claim of this description is made for the virtuous man by the utilitarian doctrine. Utilitarians are quite aware that there are other desirable possessions and qualities besides virtue, and are perfectly willing to allow to all of them their full worth. They are also aware that a right action does not necessarily indicate a virtuous character, and that actions which are blameable often proceed from qualities entitled to praise. When this is apparent in any particular case, it modifies their estimation, not certainly of the act, but of the agent. I grant that they are, notwithstanding, of opinion, that in the long run the best proof of a good character is good actions; and resolutely refuse to consider any mental disposition as good, of which the predominant tendency is to produce bad conduct. This makes them unpopular with many people; but it is an unpopularity which they must share with every one who regards the distinction between right and wrong in a serious light; and the reproach is not one which a conscientious utilitarian need be anxious to repel.

If no more be meant by the objection than that many utilitarians look on the morality of actions, as measured by the utilitarian standard, with too exclusive a regard, and do not lay sufficient stress upon the other beauties of character which go towards making a human being loveable or admirable, this may be admitted. Utilitarians who have cultivated their moral feelings, but not their sympathies nor their artistic perceptions, do fall into this mistake; and so do all other moralists under the same conditions. What can be said in excuse for other moralists is equally available for them, namely, that if there is to be any error, it is better that it should be on that side. As a matter of fact, we may affirm that among utilitarians as among adherents of other systems, there is every imaginable degree of rigidity and of laxity in the application of their standard: some are even puritanically rigorous, while others are as indulgent as can possibly be desired by sinner or by sentimentalist. But on the whole, a doctrine which brings prominently forward the interest that mankind have in the repression and prevention of conduct which violates the moral law, is likely to be inferior to no other in turning the sanctions of opinion against such violations. It is true, the question, What does violate the moral law? is one on which those who recognise different standards of morality are likely now and then to differ. But difference of opinion on moral questions was not first introduced into the world by utilitarianism, while that doctrine does supply, if not always an easy, at all events a tangible and intelligible mode of deciding such differences.

It may not be superfluous to notice a few more of the common misapprehensions of utilitarian ethics, even those which are so obvious and gross that it might appear impossible for any person of candour and intelligence to fall into them: since persons, even of considerable mental endowments, often give themselves so little trouble to understand the bearings of any opinion against which they entertain a prejudice, and men are in general so little conscious of this voluntary ignorance as a defect, that the vulgarest misunderstandings of ethical doctrines are continually met with in the deliberate writings of persons of the greatest pretensions both to high principle and to philosophy. We not uncommonly hear the doctrine of utility inveighed against as a godless doctrine. If it be necessary to say anything at all against so mere an assumption, we may say that the question depends upon what idea we have formed of the moral character of the Deity. If it be a true belief that God desires, above all things, the happiness of his creatures, and that this was his purpose in their creation, utility is not only not a godless doctrine, but more profoundly religious than any other. If it be meant that utilitarianism does not recognise the revealed will of God as the supreme law of morals, I answer, that an utilitarian who believes in the perfect goodness and wisdom of God, necessarily believes that whatever God has thought fit to reveal on the subject of morals, must fulfil the requirements of utility in a supreme degree. But others besides utilitarians have been of opinion that the Christian revelation was intended, and is fitted, to inform the hearts and minds of mankind with a spirit which should enable them to find for themselves what is right, and incline them to do it when found, rather than to tell them, except in a very general way, what it is: and that we need a doctrine of ethics, carefully followed out, to interpret to us the will of God. Whether this opinion is correct or not, it is superfluous here to discuss; since whatever aid religion, either natural or revealed, can afford to ethical investigation, is as open to the utilitarian moralist as to any other. He can use it as the testimony of God to the usefulness or hurtfulness of any given course of action, by as good a right as others can use it for the indication of a transcendental law, having no connexion with usefulness or with happiness.

Again, Utility is often summarily stigmatized as an immoral doctrine by giving it the name of Expediency, and taking advantage of the popular use of that term to contrast it with Principle. But the Expedient, in the sense in which it is opposed to the Right, generally means that which is expedient for the particular interest of the agent himself; as when a minister sacrifices the of his country to keep himself in place. When it means anything better than this, it means that which is expedient for some immediate object, some temporary purpose, but which violates a rule whose observance is expedient in a much higher degree. The Expedient, in this sense, instead of being the same thing with the useful, is a branch of the hurtful. Thus, it would often be expedient, for the purpose of getting over some momentary embarrassment, or attaining some object immediately useful to ourselves or others, to tell a lie. But inasmuch as the cultivation in ourselves of a sensitive feeling on the subject of veracity, is one of the most useful, and the enfeeblement of that feeling one of the most hurtful, things to which our conduct can be instrumental; and inasmuch as any, even unintentional, deviation from truth, does that much towards weakening the trustworthiness of human assertion, which is not only the principal support of all present social well-being, but the insufficiency of which does more than any one thing that can be named to keep back civilization, virtue, everything on which human happiness on the largest scale depends; we feel that the violation, for a present advantage, of a rule of such transcendant expediency, is not expedient, and that he who, for the sake of a convenience to himself or to some other individual, does what depends on him to deprive mankind of the good, and inflict upon them the evil, involved in the greater or less reliance which they can place in each other’s word, acts the part of one of their worst enemies. Yet that even this rule, sacred as it is, admits of possible exceptions, is acknowledged by all moralists; the chief of which is when the withholding of some fact (as of information from a malefactor, or of bad news from a person dangerously ill) would (especially other than oneself) from great and unmerited evil, and when the withholding can only be effected by denial. But in order that the exception may not extend itself beyond the need, and may have the least possible effect in weakening reliance on veracity, it ought to be recognised, and, if possible, its limits defined; and if the principle of utility is good for anything, it must be good for weighing these conflicting utilities against one another, and marking out the region within which one or the other preponderates.

Again, defenders of utility often find themselves called upon to reply to such objections as this—that there is not time, previous to action, for calculating and weighing the effects of any line of conduct on the general happiness. This is exactly as if any one were to say that it is impossible to guide our conduct by Christianity, because there is not time, on every occasion on which anything has to be done, to read through the Old and New Testaments. The answer to the objection is, that there has been ample time, namely, the whole past duration of the human species. During all that time mankind have been learning by experience the tendencies of actions; on which experience all the prudence, as well as all the morality of life, dependent. People talk as if the commencement of this course of experience had hitherto been put off, and as if, at the moment when some man feels tempted to meddle with the property or life of another, he had to begin considering for the first time whether murder theft are injurious to human happiness. Even then I do not think that he would find the question very puzzling; but, at all events, the matter is now done to his hand. It is truly a whimsical supposition that if mankind were agreed in considering utility to be the test of morality, they would remain without any agreement as to what is useful, and would take no measures for having their notions on the subject taught to the young, and enforced by law and opinion. There is no difficulty in proving any ethical standard whatever to work ill, if we suppose universal idiocy to be conjoined with it; but on any hypothesis short of that, mankind must by this time have acquired positive beliefs as to the effects of some actions on their happiness; and beliefs which have thus come down are the rules of morality for the multitude, and for the philosopher until he has succeeded in finding better. That philosophers might easily do this, even now, on many subjects; that the received code of ethics is by no means of divine right; and that mankind have still much to learn as to the effects of actions on the general happiness, I admit, or rather, earnestly maintain. The corollaries from the principle of utility, like the precepts of every practical art, admit of indefinite improvement, and, in a progressive state of the human mind, their improvement is perpetually going on. But to consider the rules of morality as improvable, is one thing; to pass over the intermediate generalizations entirely, and endeavour to test each individual action directly by the first principle, is another. It is a strange notion that the acknowledgment of a first principle is inconsistent with the admission of secondary ones. To inform a traveller respecting the place of his ultimate destination, is not to forbid the use of landmarks and direction-posts on the way. The proposition that happiness is the end and aim of morality, does not mean that no road ought to be laid down to that goal, or that persons going thither should not be advised to take one direction rather than another. Men really ought to leave off talking a kind of nonsense on this subject, which they would neither talk nor listen to on other matters of practical concernment. Nobody argues that the art of navigation is not founded on astronomy, because sailors cannot wait to calculate the Nautical Almanack. Being rational creatures, they go to sea with it ready calculated; and all rational creatures go out upon the sea of life with their minds made up on the common questions of right and wrong, as well as on many of the far more difficult questions of wise and foolish. And this, as long as foresight is a human quality, it is to be presumed they will continue to do. Whatever we adopt as the fundamental principle of morality, we require subordinate principles to apply it by: the impossibility of doing without them, being common to all systems, can afford no argument against any one in particular: but gravely to argue as if no such secondary principles could be had, and as if mankind had remained till now, and always must remain, without drawing any general conclusions from the experience of human life, is as high a pitch, I think, as absurdity has ever reached in philosophical controversy.

The remainder of the stock arguments against utilitarianism mostly consist in laying to its charge the common infirmities of human nature, and the general difficulties which embarrass conscientious persons in shaping their course through life. We are told than an utilitarian will be apt to make his own particular case an exception to moral rules, and, when under temptation, will see an utility in the breach of a rule, greater than he will see in its observance. But is utility the only creed which is able to furnish us with excuses for evil doing, and means of cheating our own conscience? They are afforded in abundance by all doctrines which recognise as a fact in morals the existence of conflicting considerations; which all doctrines do, that have been believed by sane persons. It is not the fault of any creed, but of the complicated nature of human affairs, that rules of conduct cannot be so framed as to require no exceptions, and that hardly any kind of action can safely be laid down as either always obligatory or always condemnable. There is no ethical creed which does not temper the rigidity of its laws, by giving a certain latitude, under the moral responsibility of the agent, for accommodation to peculiarities of circumstances; and under every creed, at the opening thus made, self-deception and dishonest casuistry get in. There exists no moral system under which there do not arise unequivocal cases of conflicting obligation. These are the real difficulties, the knotty points both in the theory of ethics, and in the conscientious guidance of personal conduct. They are overcome practically with greater or with less success according to the intellect and virtue of the individual; but it can hardly be pretended that any one will be the less qualified for dealing with them, from possessing an ultimate standard to which conflicting rights and duties can be referred. If utility is the ultimate source of moral obligations, utility may be invoked to decide between them when their demands are incompatible. Though the application of the standard may be difficult, it is better than none at all: while in other systems, the moral laws all claiming independent authority, there is no common umpire entitled to interfere between them; their claims to precedence one over another rest on little better than sophistry, and unless determined, as they generally are, by the unacknowledged influence of considerations of utility, afford a free scope for the action of personal desires and partialities. We must remember that only in these cases of conflict between secondary principles is it requisite that first principles should be appealed to. There is no case of moral obligation in which some secondary principle is not involved; and if only one, there can seldom be any real doubt which one it is, in the mind of any person by whom the principle itself is recognised.


Of the Ultimate Sanction of the Principle of Utility

the question is often asked, and properly so, in regard to any supposed moral standard—What is its sanction? what are the motives to obey it? or more specifically, what is the source of its obligation? whence does it derive its binding force? It is a necessary part of moral philosophy to provide the answer to this question; which, though frequently assuming the shape of an objection to the utilitarian morality, as if it had some special applicability to that above others, really arises in regard to all standards. It arises, in fact, whenever a person is called on to adopt a standard, or refer morality to any basis on which he has not been accustomed to rest it. For the customary morality, that which education and opinion have consecrated, is the only one which presents itself to the mind with the feeling of being in itself obligatory; and when a person is asked to believe that this morality derives its obligation from some general principle round which custom has not thrown the same halo, the assertion is to him a paradox; the supposed corollaries seem to have a more binding force than the original theorem; the superstructure seems to stand better without, than with, what is represented as its foundation. He says to himself, I feel that I am bound not to rob or murder, betray or deceive; but why am I bound to promote the general happiness? If my own happiness lies in something else, why may I not give that the preference?

If the view adopted by the utilitarian philosophy of the nature of the moral sense be correct, this difficulty will always present itself, until the influences which form moral character have taken the same hold of the principle which they have taken of some of the consequences—until, by the improvement of education, the feeling of unity with our fellow creatures shall be (what it cannot be that Christ intended it to be) as deeply rooted in our character, and to our own consciousness as completely a part of our nature, as the horror of crime is in an ordinarily well-brought up young person. In the mean time, however, the difficulty has no peculiar application to the doctrine of utility, but is inherent in every attempt to analyse morality and reduce it to principles; which, unless the principle is already in men’s minds invested with as much sacredness as any of its applications, always seems to divest them of a part of their sanctity.

The principle of utility either has, or there is no reason why it might not have, all the sanctions which belong to any other system of morals. Those sanctions are either external or internal. Of the external sanctions it is not necessary to speak at any length. They are, the hope of favour and the fear of displeasure from our fellow creatures or from the Ruler of the Universe, along with whatever we may have of sympathy or affection for them, or of love and awe of Him, inclining us to do his will independently of selfish consequences. There is evidently no reason why all these motives for observance should not attach themselves to the utilitarian morality, as completely and as powerfully as to any other. Indeed, those of them which refer to our fellow creatures are sure to do so, in proportion to the amount of general intelligence; for whether there be any other ground of moral obligation than the general happiness or not, men do desire happiness; and however imperfect may be their own practice, they desire and commend all conduct in others towards themselves, by which they think their happiness is promoted. With regard to the religious motive, if men believe, as most profess to do, in the goodness of God, those who think that conduciveness to the general happiness is the essence, or even only the criterion, of good, must necessarily believe that it is also that which God approves. The whole force therefore of external reward and punishment, whether physical or moral, and whether proceeding from God or from our fellow men, together with all that the capacities of human nature admit, of disinterested devotion to either, become available to enforce the utilitarian morality, in proportion as that morality is recognised; and the more powerfully, the more the appliances of education and general cultivation are bent to the purpose.

So far as to external sanctions. The internal sanction of duty, whatever our standard of duty may be, is one and the same—a feeling in our own mind; a pain, more or less intense, attendant on violation of duty, which in properly-cultivated moral natures rises, in the more serious cases, into shrinking from it as an impossibility. This feeling, when disinterested, and connecting itself with the pure idea of duty, and not with some particular form of it, or with any of the merely accessory circumstances, is the essence of Conscience; though in that complex phenomenon as it actually exists, the simple fact is in general all encrusted over with collateral associations, derived from sympathy, from love, and still more from fear; from all the forms of religious feeling; from the recollections of childhood and of all our past life; from self-esteem, desire of the esteem of others, and occasionally even self-abasement. This extreme complication is, I apprehend, the origin of the sort of mystical character which, by a tendency of the human mind of which there are many other examples, is apt to be attributed to the idea of moral obligation, and which leads people to believe that the idea cannot possibly attach itself to any other objects than those which, by a supposed mysterious law, are found in our present experience to excite it. Its binding force, however, consists in the existence of a mass of feeling which must be broken through in order to do what violates our standard of right, and which, if we do nevertheless violate that standard, will probably have to be encountered afterwards in the form of remorse. Whatever theory we have of the nature or origin of conscience, this is what essentially constitutes it.

The ultimate sanction, therefore, of all morality (external motives apart) being a subjective feeling in our own minds, I see nothing embarrassing to those whose standard is utility, in the question, what is the sanction of that particular standard? We may answer, the same as of all other moral standards—the conscientious feelings of mankind. Undoubtedly this sanction has no binding efficacy on those who do not possess the feelings it appeals to; but neither will these persons be more obedient to any other moral principle than to the utilitarian one. On them morality of any kind has no hold but through the external sanctions. Meanwhile the feelings exist, a fact in human nature, the reality of which, and the great power with which they are capable of acting on those in whom they have been duly cultivated, are proved by experience. No reason has ever been shown why they may not be cultivated to as great intensity in connexion with the utilitarian, as with any other rule of morals.

There is, I am aware, a disposition to believe that a person who sees in moral obligation a transcendental fact, an objective reality belonging to the province of “Things in themselves,” is likely to be more obedient to it than one who believes it to be entirely subjective, having its seat in human consciousness only. But whatever a person’s opinion may be on this point of Ontology, the force he is really urged by is his own subjective feeling, and is exactly measured by its strength. No one’s belief that Duty is an objective reality is stronger than the belief that God is so; yet the belief in God, apart from the expectation of actual reward and punishment, only operates on conduct through, and in proportion to, the subjective religious feeling. The sanction, so far as it is disinterested, is always in the mind itself; and the notion therefore of the transcendental moralists must be, that this sanction will not exist in the mind unless it is believed to have its root out of the mind; and that if a person is able to say to himself, This which is restraining me, and which is called my conscience, is only a feeling in my own mind, he may possibly draw the conclusion that when the feeling ceases the obligation ceases, and that if he find the feeling inconvenient, he may disregard it, and endeavour to get rid of it. But is this danger confined to the utilitarian morality? Does the belief that moral obligation has its seat outside the mind make the feeling of it too strong to be got rid of? The fact is so far otherwise, that all moralists admit and lament the ease with which, in the generality of minds, conscience can be silenced or stifled. The question, Need I obey my conscience? is quite as often put to themselves by persons who never heard of the principle of utility, as by its adherents. Those whose conscientious feelings are so weak as to allow of their asking this question, if they answer it affirmatively, will not do so because they believe in the transcendental theory, but because of the external sanctions.

It is not necessary, for the present purpose, to decide whether the feeling of duty is innate or implanted. Assuming it to be innate, it is an open question to what objects it naturally attaches itself; for the philosophic supporters of that theory are now agreed that the intuitive perception is of principles of morality, and not of the details. If there be anything innate in the matter, I see no reason why the feeling which is innate should not be that of regard to the pleasures and pains of others. If there is any principle of morals which is intuitively obligatory, I should say it must be that. If so, the intuitive ethics would coincide with the utilitarian, and there would be no further quarrel between them. Even as it is, the intuitive moralists, though they believe that there are other intuitive moral obligations, do already believe this to be one; for they unanimously hold that a large portion of morality turns upon the consideration due to the interests of our fellow creatures. Therefore, if the belief in the transcendental origin of moral obligation gives any additional efficacy to the internal sanction, it appears to me that the utilitarian principle has already the benefit of it.

On the other hand, if, as is my own belief, the moral feelings are not innate, but acquired, they are not for that reason the less natural. It is natural to man to speak, to reason, to build cities, to cultivate the ground, though these are acquired faculties. The moral feelings are not indeed a part of our nature, in the sense of being in any perceptible degree present in all of us; but this, unhappily, is a fact admitted by those who believe the most strenuously in their transcendental origin. Like the other acquired capacities above referred to, the moral faculty, if not a part of our nature, is a natural outgrowth from it; capable, like them, in a certain small degree, of springing up spontaneously; and susceptible of being brought by cultivation to a high degree of development. Unhappily it is also susceptible, by a sufficient use of the external sanctions and of the force of early impressions, of being cultivated in almost any direction: so that there is hardly anything so absurd or so mischievous that it may not, by means of these influences, be made to act on the human mind with all the authority of conscience. To doubt that the same potency might be given by the same means to the principle of utility, even if it had no foundation in human nature, would be flying in the face of all experience.

But moral associations which are wholly of artificial creation, when intellectual culture goes on, yield by degrees to the dissolving force of analysis: and if the feeling of duty, when associated with utility, would appear equally arbitrary; if there were no leading department of our nature, no powerful class of sentiments, with which that association would harmonize, which would make us feel it congenial, and incline us not only to foster it in others (for which we have abundant interested motives), but also to cherish it in ourselves; if there were not, in short, a natural basis of sentiment for utilitarian morality, it might well happen that this association also, even after it had been implanted by education, might be analysed away.

But there is this basis of powerful natural sentiment; and this it is which, when once the general happiness is recognised 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, even 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 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 and slave, is manifestly impossible on any other footing than that 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 state of 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. They are also familiar with the fact of co-operating with others, and proposing to themselves a collective, not an individual, interest, as the aim (at least for the time being) of their actions. So long as they are co-operating, their ends are identified with those of others; there is at least a temporary feeling that the interests of others are their own interests. 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 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. Now, whatever amount of this feeling a person has, he is urged by the strongest motives both of interest and of sympathy to demonstrate it, and to the utmost of his power encourage it in others; and even if he has none of it himself, he is as greatly interested as any one else that others should have it. Consequently, the smallest germs of the feeling are laid hold of and nourished by the contagion of sympathy and the influences of education; and a complete web of corroborative association is woven round it, by the powerful agency of the external sanctions. This mode of conceiving ourselves and human life, as civilization goes on, is felt to be more and more natural. Every step in political improvement renders it more so, by removing the sources of opposition of interest, and levelling those inequalities of legal privilege between individuals or classes, owing to which there are large portions of mankind whose happiness it is still practicable to disregard. In an improving state of the human mind, the influences are constantly on the increase, which tend to generate in each individual a feeling of unity with all the rest; which , if perfect, would make him never think of, or desire, any beneficial condition for himself, in the benefits of which they are not included. 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 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. To any ethical student who finds the realization difficult, I recommend, as a means of facilitating it, the second of M. Comte’s two principal works, the de Politique Positive. I entertain the strongest 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 a Providence, both the 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 ascendancy 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 recognise it, to wait for those social influences which would make its obligation felt by mankind at large. In the comparatively early state 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 lay out their course of life on the plan of paying no regard to others except so far as their own private interest compels.


Of What Sort of Proof the Principle of Utility Is Susceptible

it has already been remarked, that questions of ultimate ends do not admit of proof, in the ordinary acceptation of the term. To be incapable of proof by reasoning is common to all first principles; to the first premises of our knowledge, as well as to those of our conduct. But the former, being matters of fact, may be the subject of a direct appeal to the faculties which judge of fact—namely, our senses, and our internal consciousness. Can an appeal be made to the same faculties on questions of practical ends? Or by what other faculty is cognizance taken of them?

Questions about ends are, in other words, questions what things are desirable. The utilitarian doctrine is, that happiness is desirable, and the only thing desirable, as an end; all other things being only desirable as means to that end. What ought to be required of this doctrine—what conditions is it requisite that the doctrine should fulfil—to make good its claim to be believed?

The only proof capable of being given that an object is visible, is that people actually see it. The only proof that a sound is audible, is that people hear it: and so of the other sources of our experience. In like manner, I apprehend, the sole evidence it is possible to produce that anything is desirable, is that people do actually desire it. If the end which the utilitarian doctrine proposes to itself were not, in theory and in practice, acknowledged to be an end, nothing could ever convince any person that it was so. No reason can be given why the general happiness is desirable, except that each person, so far as he believes it to be attainable, desires his own happiness. This, however, being a fact, we have not only all the proof which the case admits of, but all which it is possible to require, that happiness is a good: that each person’s happiness is a good to that person, and the general happiness, therefore, a good to the aggregate of all persons. Happiness has made out its title as one of the ends of conduct, and consequently one of the criteria of morality.

But it has not, by this alone, proved itself to be the sole criterion. To do that, it would seem, by the same rule, necessary to show, not only that people desire happiness, but that they never desire anything else. Now it is palpable that they do desire things which, in common language, are decidedly distinguished from happiness. They desire, for example, virtue, and the absence of vice, no less really than pleasure and the absence of pain. The desire of virtue is not as universal, but it is as authentic a fact, as the desire of happiness. And hence the opponents of the utilitarian standard deem that they have a right to infer that there are other ends of human action besides happiness, and that happiness is not the standard of approbation and disapprobation.

But does the utilitarian doctrine deny that people desire virtue, or maintain that virtue is not a thing to be desired? The very reverse. It maintains not only that virtue is to be desired, but that it is to be desired disinterestedly, for itself. Whatever may be the opinion of utilitarian moralists as to the original conditions by which virtue is made virtue; however they may believe (as they do) that actions and dispositions are only virtuous because they promote another end than virtue; yet this being granted, and it having been decided, from considerations of this description, what is virtuous, they not only place virtue at the very head of the things which are good as means to the ultimate end, but they also recognise as a psychological fact the possibility of its being, to the individual, a good in itself, without looking to any end beyond it; and hold, that the mind is not in a right state, not in a state conformable to Utility, not in the state most conducive to the general happiness, unless it does love virtue in this manner—as a thing desirable in itself, even although, in the individual instance, it should not produce those other desirable consequences which it tends to produce, and on account of which it is held to be virtue. This opinion is not, in the smallest degree, a departure from the Happiness principle. The ingredients of happiness are very various, and each of them is desirable in itself, and not merely when considered as swelling an aggregate. The principle of utility does not mean that any given pleasure, as music, for instance, or any given exemption from pain, as for example health, are to be looked upon as means to a collective something termed happiness, and to be desired on that account. They are desired and desirable in and for themselves; besides being means, they are a part of the end. Virtue, according to the utilitarian doctrine, is not naturally and originally part of the end, but it is capable of becoming so; and in those who love it disinterestedly it has become so, and is desired and cherished, not as a means to happiness, but as a part of their happiness.

To illustrate this farther, we may remember that virtue is not the only thing, originally a means, and which if it were not a means to anything else, would be and remain indifferent, but which by association with what it is a means to, comes to be desired for itself, and that too with the utmost intensity. What, for example, shall we say of the love of money? There is nothing originally more desirable about money than about any heap of glittering pebbles. Its worth is solely that of the things which it will buy; the desires for other things than itself, which it is a means of gratifying. Yet the love of money is not only one of the strongest moving forces of human life, but money is, in many cases, desired in and for itself; the desire to possess it is often stronger than the desire to use it, and goes on increasing when all the desires which point to ends beyond it, to be compassed by it, are falling off. It said truly, that money is desired not for the sake of an end, but as part of the end. From being a means to happiness, it has come to be itself a principal ingredient of the individual’s conception of happiness. The same may be said of the majority of the great objects of human life—power, for example, or ; except that to each of these there is a certain amount of immediate pleasure annexed, which has at least the semblance of being naturally inherent in them; a thing which cannot be said of money. Still, however, the strongest natural attraction, both of power and of , is the immense aid they give to the attainment of our other wishes; and it is the strong association thus generated between them and all our objects of desire, which gives to the direct desire of them the intensity it often assumes, so as in some characters to surpass in strength all other desires. In these cases the means have become a part of the end, and a more important part of it than any of the things which they are means to. What was once desired as an instrument for the attainment of happiness, has come to be desired for its own sake. In being desired for its own sake it is, however, desired as part of happiness. The person is made, or thinks he would be made, happy by its mere possession; and is made unhappy by failure to obtain it. The desire of it is not a different thing from the desire of happiness, any more than the love of music, or the desire of health. They are included in happiness. They are some of the elements of which the desire of happiness is made up. Happiness is not an abstract idea, but a concrete whole; and these are some of its parts. And the utilitarian standard sanctions and approves their being so. Life would be a poor thing, very ill provided with sources of happiness, if there were not this provision of nature, by which things originally indifferent, but conducive to, or otherwise associated with, the satisfaction of our primitive desires, become in themselves sources of pleasure more valuable than the primitive pleasures, both in permanency, in the space of human existence that they are capable of covering, and even in intensity.

Virtue, according to the utilitarian conception, is a good of this description. There was no original desire of it, or motive to it, save its conduciveness to pleasure, and especially to protection from pain. But through the association thus formed, it may be felt a good in itself, and desired as such with as great intensity as any other good; and with this difference between it and the love of money, of power, or of , that all of these may, and often do, render the individual noxious to the other members of the society to which he belongs, whereas there is nothing which makes him so much a blessing to them as the cultivation of the disinterested love of virtue. And consequently, the utilitarian standard, while it tolerates and approves those other acquired desires, up to the point beyond which they would be more injurious to the general happiness than promotive of it, enjoins and requires the cultivation of the love of virtue up to the greatest strength possible, as being above all things important to the general happiness.

It results from the preceding considerations, that there is in reality nothing desired except happiness. Whatever is desired otherwise than as a means to some end beyond itself, and ultimately to happiness, is desired as itself a part of happiness, and is not desired for itself until it has become so. Those who desire virtue for its own sake, desire it either because the consciousness of it is a pleasure, or because the consciousness of being without it is a pain, or for both reasons united; as in truth the pleasure and pain seldom exist separately, but almost always together, the same person feeling pleasure in the degree of virtue attained, and pain in not having attained more. If one of these him no pleasure, and the other no pain, he would not love or desire virtue, or would desire it only for the other benefits which it might produce to himself or to persons whom he cared for.

We have now, then, an answer to the question, of what sort of proof the principle of utility is susceptible. If the opinion which I have now stated is psychologically true—if human nature is so constituted as to desire nothing which is not either a part of happiness or a means of happiness, we can have no other proof, and we require no other, that these are the only things desirable. If so, happiness is the sole end of human action, and the promotion of it the test by which to judge of all human conduct; from whence it necessarily follows that it must be the criterion of morality, since a part is included in the whole.

And now to decide whether this is really so; whether mankind do desire nothing for itself but that which is a pleasure to them, or of which the absence is a pain; we have evidently arrived at a question of fact and experience, dependent, like all similar questions, upon evidence. It can only be determined by practised self-consciousness and self-observation, assisted by observation of others. I believe that these sources of evidence, impartially consulted, will declare that desiring a thing and finding it pleasant, aversion to it and thinking of it as painful, are phenomena entirely inseparable, or rather two parts of the same phenomenon; in strictness of language, two different modes of naming the same psychological fact: that to think of an object as desirable (unless for the sake of its consequences), and to think of it as pleasant, are one and the same thing; and that to desire anything, except in proportion as the idea of it is pleasant, is a physical and metaphysical impossibility.

So obvious does this appear to me, that I expect it will hardly be disputed: and the objection made will be, not that desire can possibly be directed to anything ultimately except pleasure and exemption from pain, but that the will is a different thing from desire; that a person of confirmed virtue, or any other person whose purposes are fixed, carries out his purposes without any thought of the pleasure he has in contemplating them, or expects to derive from their fulfilment; and persists in acting on them, even though these pleasures are much diminished, by changes in his character or decay of his passive sensibilities, or are outweighed by the pains which the pursuit of the purposes may bring upon him. All this I fully admit, and have stated it elsewhere, as positively and emphatically as any one. Will, the active phenomenon, is a different thing from desire, the state of passive sensibility, and though originally an offshoot from it, may in time take root and detach itself from the parent stock; so much so, that in the case of an habitual purpose, instead of willing the thing because we desire it, we often desire it only because we will it. This, however, is but an instance of that familiar fact, the power of habit, and is nowise confined to the case of virtuous actions. Many indifferent things, which men originally did from a motive of some sort, they continue to do from habit. Sometimes this is done unconsciously, the consciousness coming only after the action: at other times with conscious volition, but volition which has became habitual, and is put operation by the force of habit, in opposition perhaps to the deliberate preference, as often happens with those who have contracted habits of vicious or hurtful indulgence. Third and last comes the case in which the habitual act of will in the individual instance is not in contradiction to the general intention prevailing at other times, but in fulfilment of it; as in the case of the person of confirmed virtue, and of all who pursue deliberately and consistently any determinate end. The distinction between will and desire thus understood, is an authentic and highly important psychological fact; but the fact consists solely in this—that will, like all other parts of our constitution, is amenable to habit, and that we may will from habit what we no longer desire for itself, or desire only because we will it. It is not the less true that will, in the beginning, is entirely produced by desire; including in that term the repelling influence of pain as well as the attractive one of pleasure. Let us take into consideration, no longer the person who has a confirmed will to do right, but him in whom that virtuous will is still feeble, conquerable by temptation, and not to be fully relied on; by what means can it be strengthened? How can the will to be virtuous, where it does not exist in sufficient force, be implanted or awakened? Only by making the person desire virtue—by making him think of it in a pleasurable light, or of its absence in a painful one. It is by associating the doing right with pleasure, or the doing wrong with pain, or by eliciting and impressing and bringing home to the person’s experience the pleasure naturally involved in the one or the pain in the other, that it is possible to call forth that will to be virtuous, which, when confirmed, acts without any thought of either pleasure or pain. Will is the child of desire, and passes out of the dominion of its parent only to come under that of habit. That which is the result of habit affords no presumption of being intrinsically good; and there would be no reason for wishing that the purpose of virtue should become independent of pleasure and pain, were it not that the influence of the pleasurable and painful associations which prompt to virtue is not sufficiently to be depended on for unerring constancy of action until it has acquired the support of habit. Both in feeling and in conduct, habit is the only thing which imparts certainty; and it is because of the importance to others of being able to rely absolutely on one’s feelings and conduct, and to oneself of being able to rely on one’s own, that the will to do right ought to be cultivated into this habitual independence. In other words, this state of the will is a means to good, not intrinsically a good; and does not contradict the doctrine that nothing is a good to human beings but in so far as it is either itself pleasurable, or a means of attaining pleasure or averting pain.

But if this doctrine be true, the principle of utility is proved. Whether it is so or not, must now be left to the consideration of the thoughtful reader.


On the Connexion between Justice and Utility

in all ages of speculation, one of the strongest obstacles to the reception of the doctrine that Utility or Happiness is the criterion of right and wrong, has been drawn from the idea of Justice. The powerful sentiment, and apparently clear perception, which that word recals with a rapidity and certainty resembling an instinct, have seemed to the majority of thinkers to point to an inherent quality in things; to show that the Just must have an existence in Nature as something absolute—generically distinct from every variety of the Expedient, and, in idea, opposed to it, though (as is commonly acknowledged) never, in the long run, disjoined from it in fact.

In the case of this, as of our other moral sentiments, there is no necessary connexion between the question of its origin, and that of its binding force. That a feeling is bestowed on us by Nature, does not necessarily legitimate all its promptings. The feeling of justice might be a peculiar instinct, and might yet require, like our other instincts, to be controlled and enlightened by a higher reason. If we have intellectual instincts, leading us to judge in a particular way, as well as animal instincts that prompt us to act in a particular way, there is no necessity that the former should be more infallible in their sphere than the latter in theirs: it may as well happen that wrong judgments are occasionally suggested by those, as wrong actions by these. But though it is one thing to believe that we have natural feelings of justice, and another to acknowledge them as an ultimate criterion of conduct, these two opinions are very closely connected in point of fact. Mankind are always predisposed to believe that any subjective feeling, not otherwise accounted for, is a revelation of some objective reality. Our present object is to determine whether the reality, to which the feeling of justice corresponds, is one which needs any such special revelation; whether the justice or injustice of an action is a thing intrinsically peculiar, and distinct from all its other qualities, or only a combination of certain of those qualities, presented under a peculiar aspect. For the purpose of this inquiry, it is practically important to consider whether the feeling itself, of justice and injustice, is sui generis like our sensations of colour and taste, or a derivative feeling, formed by a combination of others. And this it is the more essential to examine, as people are in general willing enough to allow, that objectively the dictates of justice coincide with a part of the field of General Expediency; but inasmuch as the subjective mental feeling of Justice is different from that which commonly attaches to simple expediency, and, except in extreme cases of the latter, is far more imperative in its demands, people find it difficult to see, in Justice, only a particular kind or branch of general utility, and think that its superior binding force requires a totally different origin.

To throw light upon this question, it is necessary to attempt to ascertain what is the distinguishing character of justice, or of injustice: what is the quality, or whether there is any quality, attributed in common to all modes of conduct designated as unjust (for justice, like many other moral attributes, is best defined by its opposite), and distinguishing them from such modes of conduct as are disapproved, but without having that particular epithet of disapprobation applied to them. If, in everything which men are accustomed to characterize as just or unjust, some one common attribute or collection of attributes is always present, we may judge whether this particular attribute or combination of attributes would be capable of gathering round it a sentiment of that peculiar character and intensity by virtue of the general laws of our emotional constitution, or whether the sentiment is inexplicable, and requires to be regarded as a special provision of Nature. If we find the former to be the case, we shall, in resolving this question, have resolved also the main problem: if the latter, we shall have to seek for some other mode of investigating it.

To find the common attributes of a variety of objects, it is necessary to begin by surveying the objects themselves in the concrete. Let us therefore advert successively to the various modes of action, and arrangements of human affairs, which are classed, by universal or widely spread opinion, as Just or as Unjust. The things well known to excite the sentiments associated with those names, are of a very multifarious character. I shall pass them rapidly in review, without studying any particular arrangement.

In the first place, it is mostly considered unjust to deprive any one of his personal liberty, his property, or any other thing which belongs to him by law. Here, therefore, is one instance of the application of the terms just and unjust in a perfectly definite sense, namely, that it is just to respect, unjust to violate, the legal rights of any one. But this judgment admits of several exceptions, arising from the other forms in which the notions of justice and injustice present themselves. For example, the person who suffers the deprivation may (as the phrase is) have forfeited the rights which he is so deprived of: a case to which we shall return presently. But also,

Secondly; the legal rights of which he is deprived, may be rights which ought not to have belonged to him; in other words, the law which confers on him these rights, may be a bad law. When it is so, or when (which is the same thing for our purpose) it is supposed to be so, opinions will differ as to the justice or injustice of infringing it. Some maintain that no law, however bad, ought to be disobeyed by an individual citizen; that his opposition to it, if shown at all, should only be shown in endeavouring to get it altered by competent authority. This opinion (which condemns many of the most illustrious benefactors of mankind, and would often protect pernicious institutions against the only weapons which, in the state of things existing at the time, have any chance of succeeding against them) is defended, by those who hold it, on grounds of expediency; principally on that of the importance, to the common interest of mankind, of maintaining inviolate the sentiment of submission to law. Other persons, again, hold the directly contrary opinion, that any law, judged to be bad, may blamelessly be disobeyed, even though it be not judged to be unjust, but only inexpedient; while others would confine the licence of disobedience to the case of unjust laws: but again, some say, that all laws which are inexpedient are unjust; since every law imposes some restriction on the natural liberty of mankind, which restriction is an injustice, unless legitimated by tending to their good. Among these diversities of opinion, it seems to be universally admitted that there may be unjust laws, and that law, consequently, is not the ultimate criterion of justice, but may give to one person a benefit, or impose on another an evil, which justice condemns. When, however, a law is thought to be unjust, it seems always to be regarded as being so in the same way in which a breach of law is unjust, namely, by infringing somebody’s right; which, as it cannot in this case be a legal right, receives a different appellation, and is called a moral right. We may say, therefore, that a second case of injustice consists in taking or withholding from any person that to which he has a moral right.

Thirdly, it is universally considered just that each person should obtain that (whether good or evil) which he deserves; and unjust that he should obtain a good, or be made to undergo an evil, which he does not deserve. This is, perhaps, the clearest and most emphatic form in which the idea of justice is conceived by the general mind. As it involves the notion of desert, the question arises, what constitutes desert? Speaking in a general way, a person is understood to deserve good if he does right, evil if he does wrong; and in a more particular sense, to deserve good from those to whom he does or has done good, and evil from those to whom he does or has done evil. The precept of returning good for evil has never been regarded as a case of the fulfilment of justice, but as one in which the claims of justice are waved, in obedience to other considerations.

Fourthly, it is confessedly unjust to break faith with any one: to violate an engagement, either express or implied, or disappoint expectations raised by our own conduct, at least if we have raised those expectations knowingly and voluntarily. Like the other obligations of justice already spoken of, this one is not regarded as absolute, but as capable of being overruled by a stronger obligation of justice on the other side; or by such conduct on the part of the person concerned as is deemed to absolve us from our obligation to him, and to constitute a forfeiture of the benefit which he has been led to expect.

Fifthly, it is, by universal admission, inconsistent with justice to be partial; to show favour or preference to one person over another, in matters to which favour and preference do not properly apply. Impartiality, however, does not seem to be regarded as a duty in itself, but rather as instrumental to some other duty; for it is admitted that favour and preference are not always censurable, and indeed the cases in which they are condemned are rather the exception than the rule. A person would be more likely to be blamed than applauded for giving his family or friends no superiority in good offices over strangers, when he could do so without violating any other duty; and no one thinks it unjust to seek one person in preference to another as a friend, connexion, or companion. Impartiality where rights are concerned is of course obligatory, but this is involved in the more general obligation of giving to every one his right. A tribunal, for example, must be impartial, because it is bound to award, without regard to any other consideration, a disputed object to the one of two parties who has the right to it. There are other cases in which impartiality means, being solely influenced by desert; as with those who, in the capacity of judges, preceptors, or parents, administer reward and punishment as such. There are cases, again, in which it means, being solely influenced by consideration for the public interest; as in making a selection among candidates for a government employment. Impartiality, in short, as an obligation of justice, may be said to mean, being exclusively influenced by the considerations which it is supposed ought to influence the particular case in hand; and resisting the solicitation of any motives which prompt to conduct different from what those considerations would dictate.

Nearly allied to the idea of impartiality, is that of equality; which often enters as a component part both into the conception of justice and into the practice of it, and, in the eyes of many persons, constitutes its essence. But in this, still more than in any other case, the notion of justice varies in different persons, and always conforms in its variations to their notion of utility. Each person maintains that equality is the dictate of justice, except where he thinks that expediency requires inequality. The justice of giving equal protection to the rights of all, is maintained by those who support the most outrageous inequality in the rights themselves. Even in slave countries it is theoretically admitted that the rights of the slave, such as they are, ought to be as sacred as those of the master; and that a tribunal which fails to enforce them with equal strictness is wanting in justice; while, at the same time, institutions which leave to the slave scarcely any rights to enforce, are not deemed unjust, because they are not deemed inexpedient. Those who think that utility requires distinctions of rank, do not consider it unjust that riches and social privileges should be unequally dispensed; but those who think this inequality inexpedient, think it unjust also. Whoever thinks that government is necessary, sees no injustice in as much inequality as is constituted by giving to the magistrate powers not granted to other people. Even among those who hold levelling doctrines, there are as many questions of justice as there are differences of opinion about expediency. Some Communists consider it unjust that the produce of the labour of the community should be shared on any other principle than that of exact equality; others think it just that those should receive most whose are greatest; while others hold that those who work harder, or who produce more, or whose services are more valuable to the community, may justly claim a larger quota in the division of the produce. And the sense of natural justice may be plausibly appealed to in behalf of every one of these opinions.

Among so many diverse applications of the term Justice, which yet is not regarded as ambiguous, it is a matter of some difficulty to seize the mental link which holds them together, and on which the moral sentiment adhering to the term essentially depends. Perhaps, in this embarrassment, some help may be derived from the history of the word, as indicated by its etymology.

In most, if not in all, languages, the etymology of the word which corresponds to Just, points to an origin connected . Justum is a form of jussum, that which has been ordered. Δίκαιον comes from δίκη, a suit at law. Recht, from which came right and righteous, is synonymous with law. by law is equally necessary to moral straightness or rectitude, is as significant of the original character of moral ideas as if the derivation had been the reverse way.i The courts of justice, the administration of justice, are the courts and the administration of law. La justice, in French, is the established term for judicature. There can, I think, be no doubt that the idée mère, the primitive element, in the formation of the notion of justice, was conformity to law. It constituted the entire idea among the Hebrews, up to the birth of Christianity; as might be expected in the case of a people whose laws attempted to embrace all subjects on which precepts were required, and who believed those laws to be a direct emanation from the Supreme Being. But other nations, and in particular the Greeks and Romans, who knew that their laws had been made originally, and still continued to be made, by men, were not afraid to admit that those men might make bad laws; might do, by law, the same things, and from the same motives, which, if done by individuals without the sanction of law, would be called unjust. And hence the sentiment of injustice came to be attached, not to all violations of law, but only to violations of such laws as ought to exist, including such as ought to exist but do not; and to laws themselves, if supposed to be contrary to what ought to be law. In this manner the idea of law and of its injunctions was still predominant in the notion of justice, even when the laws actually in force ceased to be accepted as the standard of it.

It is true that mankind consider the idea of justice and its obligations as applicable to many things which neither are, nor is it desired that they should be, regulated by law. Nobody desires that laws should interfere with the whole of private life; yet every one allows that in all daily conduct a person may and does show himself to be either just or unjust. But even here, the idea of the breach of what ought to be law, still lingers in a modified shape. It would always give us pleasure, and chime in with our feelings of fitness, that acts which we deem unjust should be punished, though we do not always think it expedient that this should be done by the tribunals. We forego that gratification on account of incidental inconveniences. We should be glad to see just conduct enforced and injustice repressed, even in the minutest details, if we were not, with reason, afraid of trusting the magistrate with so unlimited an amount of power over individuals. When we think that a person is bound in justice to do a thing, it is an ordinary form of language to say, that he ought to be compelled to do it. We should be gratified to see the obligation enforced by anybody who had the power. If we see that its enforcement by law would be inexpedient, we lament the impossibility, we consider the impunity given to injustice as an evil, and strive to make amends for it by bringing a strong expression of our own and the public disapprobation to bear upon the offender. Thus the idea of legal constraint is still the generating idea of the notion of justice, though undergoing several transformations before that notion, as it exists in an advanced state of society, becomes complete.

The above is, I think, a true account, as far as it goes, of the origin and progressive growth of the idea of justice. But we must observe, that it contains, as yet, nothing to distinguish that obligation from moral obligation in general. For the truth is, that the idea of penal sanction, which is the essence of law, enters not only into the conception of injustice, but into that of any kind of wrong. We do not call anything wrong, unless we mean to imply that a person ought to be punished in some way or other for doing it; if not by law, by the opinion of his fellow creatures; if not by opinion, by the reproaches of his own conscience. This seems the real turning point of the distinction between morality and simple expediency. It is a part of the notion of Duty in every one of its forms, that a person may rightfully be compelled to fulfil it. Duty is a thing which may be exacted from a person, as one exacts a debt. Unless we think that it be exacted from him, we do not call it his duty. Reasons of prudence, or the interest of other people, may militate against actually exacting it; but the person himself, it is clearly understood, would not be entitled to complain. There are other things, on the contrary, which we wish that people should do, which we like or admire them for doing, perhaps dislike or despise them for not doing, but yet admit that they are not bound to do; it is not a case of moral obligation; we do not blame them, that is, we do not think that they are proper objects of punishment. How we come by these ideas of deserving and not deserving punishment, will appear, perhaps, in the sequel; but I think there is no doubt that this distinction lies at the bottom of the notions of right and wrong; that we call any conduct wrong, or employ, instead, some other term of dislike or disparagement, according as we think that the person ought, or ought not, to be punished for it; and we it would be right to do so and so, or merely that it would be desirable or laudable, according as we would wish to see the person whom it concerns, compelled, or only persuaded and exhorted, to act in that manner.

This, therefore, being the characteristic difference which marks off, not justice, but morality in general, from the remaining provinces of Expediency and Worthiness; the character is still to be sought which distinguishes justice from other branches of morality. Now it is known that ethical writers divide moral duties into two classes, denoted by the ill-chosen expressions, duties of perfect and of imperfect obligation; the latter being those in which, though the act is obligatory, the particular occasions of performing it are left to our choice; as in the case of charity or beneficence, which we are indeed bound to practise, but not towards any definite person, nor at any prescribed time. In the more precise language of philosophic jurists, duties of perfect obligation are those duties in virtue of which a correlative right resides in some person or persons; duties of imperfect obligation are those moral obligations which do not give birth to any right. I think it will be found that this distinction exactly coincides with that which exists between justice and the other obligations of morality. In our survey of the various popular acceptations of justice, the term appeared generally to involve the idea of a personal right—a claim on the part of one or more individuals, like that which the law gives when it confers a proprietary or other legal right. Whether the injustice consists in depriving a person of a possession, or in breaking faith with him, or in treating him worse than he deserves, or worse than other people who have no greater claims, in each case the supposition implies two things—a wrong done, and some assignable person who is wronged. Injustice may also be done by treating a person better than others; but the wrong in this case is to his competitors, who are also assignable persons. It seems to me that this feature in the case—a right in some person, correlative to the moral obligation—constitutes the specific difference between justice, and generosity or beneficence. Justice implies something which it is not only right to do, and wrong not to do, but which some individual person can claim from us as his moral right. No one has a moral right to our generosity or beneficence, because we are not morally bound to practise those virtues towards any given individual. And it will be found with respect to this as to every correct definition, that the instances which seem to conflict with it are those which most confirm it. For if a moralist attempts, as some have done, to make out that mankind generally, though not any given individual, have a right to all the good we can do them, he at once, by that thesis, includes generosity and beneficence within the category of justice. He is obliged to say, that our utmost exertions are due to our fellow creatures, thus assimilating them to a debt; or that nothing less can be a sufficient return for what society does for us, thus classing the case as one of gratitude; both of which are acknowledged cases of justice. Wherever there is a right, the case is one of justice, and not of the virtue of beneficence: and whoever does not place the distinction between justice and morality in general where we have now placed it, will be found to make no distinction between them at all, but to merge all morality in justice.

Having thus endeavoured to determine the distinctive elements which enter into the composition of the idea of justice, we are ready to enter on the inquiry, whether the feeling, which accompanies the idea, is attached to it by a special dispensation of nature, or whether it could have grown up, by any known laws, out of the idea itself; and in particular, whether it can have originated in considerations of general expediency.

I conceive that the sentiment itself does not arise from anything which would commonly, or correctly, be termed an idea of expediency; but that though the sentiment does not, whatever is moral in it does.

We have seen that the two essential ingredients in the sentiment of justice are, the desire to punish a person who has done harm, and the knowledge or belief that there is some definite individual or individuals to whom harm has been done.

Now it appears to me, that the desire to punish a person who has done harm to some individual, is a spontaneous outgrowth from two sentiments, both in the highest degree natural, and which either are or resemble instincts; the impulse of self-defence, and the feeling of sympathy.

It is natural to resent, and to repel or retaliate, any harm done or attempted against ourselves, or against those with whom we sympathize. The origin of this sentiment it is not necessary here to discuss. Whether it be an instinct or a result of intelligence, it is, we know, common to all animal nature; for every animal tries to hurt those who have hurt, or who it thinks are about to hurt, itself or its young. Human beings, on this point, only differ from other animals in two particulars. First, in being capable of sympathizing, not solely with their offspring, or, like some of the more noble animals, with some superior animal who is kind to them, but with all human, and even with all sentient, beings. Secondly, in having a more developed intelligence, which gives a wider range to the whole of their sentiments, whether self-regarding or sympathetic. By virtue of his superior intelligence, even apart from his superior range of sympathy, a human being is capable of apprehending a community of interest between himself and the human society of which he forms a part, such that any conduct which threatens the security of the society generally, is threatening to his own, and calls forth his instinct (if instinct it be) of self-defence. The same superiority of intelligence, joined to the power of sympathizing with human beings generally, enables him to attach himself to the collective idea of his tribe, his country, or mankind, in such a manner that any act hurtful to them his instinct of sympathy, and urges him to resistance.

The sentiment of justice, in that one of its elements which consists of the desire to punish, is thus, I conceive, the natural feeling of retaliation or vengeance, rendered by intellect and sympathy applicable to those injuries, that is, to those hurts, which wound us through, or in common with, society at large. This sentiment, in itself, has nothing moral in it; what is moral is, the exclusive subordination of it to the social sympathies, so as to wait on and obey their call. For the natural feeling make us resent indiscriminately whatever any one does that is disagreeable to us; but when moralized by the social feeling, it only acts in the directions conformable to the general good: just persons resenting a hurt to society, though not otherwise a hurt to themselves, and not resenting a hurt to themselves, however painful, unless it be of kind which society has a common interest with them in the repression of.

It is no objection against this doctrine to say, that when we feel our sentiment of justice outraged, we are not thinking of society at large, or of any collective interest, but only of the individual case. It is common enough certainly, though the reverse of commendable, to feel resentment merely because we have suffered pain; but a person whose resentment is really a moral feeling, that is, who considers whether an act is blameable before he allows himself to resent it—such a person, though he may not say expressly to himself that he is standing up for the interest of society, certainly does feel that he is asserting a rule which is for the benefit of others as well as for his own. If he is not feeling this—if he is regarding the act solely as it affects him individually—he is not consciously just; he is not concerning himself about the justice of his actions. This is admitted even by anti-utilitarian moralists. When Kant (as before remarked) propounds as the fundamental principle of morals, “So act, that thy rule of conduct might be adopted as a law by all rational beings,” he virtually acknowledges that the interest of mankind collectively, or at least of mankind indiscriminately, must be in the mind of the agent when conscientiously deciding on the morality of the act. Otherwise he uses words without a meaning: for, that a rule even of utter selfishness could not possibly be adopted by all rational beings—that there is any insuperable obstacle in the nature of things to its adoption—cannot be even plausibly maintained. To give any meaning to Kant’s principle, the sense put upon it must be, that we ought to shape our conduct by a rule which all rational beings might adopt with benefit to their .

To recapitulate: the idea of justice supposes two things; a rule of conduct, and a sentiment which sanctions the rule. The first must be supposed common to all mankind, and intended for their good. The other (the sentiment) is a desire that punishment may be suffered by those who infringe the rule. There is involved, in addition, the conception of some definite person who suffers by the infringement; whose rights (to use the expression appropriated to the case) are violated by it. And the sentiment of justice appears to me to be, the animal desire to repel or retaliate a hurt or damage to oneself, or to those with whom one sympathizes, widened so as to include all persons, by the human capacity of enlarged sympathy, and the human conception of intelligent self-interest.

I have, throughout, treated the idea of a right residing in the injured person, and violated by the injury, not as a separate element in the composition of the idea and sentiment, but as one of the forms in which the other two elements clothe themselves. These elements are, a hurt to some assignable person or persons on the one hand, and a demand for punishment on the other. An examination of our own minds, I think, will show, that these two things include all that we mean when we speak of violation of a right. When we call anything a person’s right, we mean that he has a valid claim on society to protect him in the possession of it, either by the force of law, or by that of education and opinion. If he has what we consider a sufficient claim, on whatever account, to have something guaranteed to him by society, we say that he has a right to it. If we desire to prove that anything does not belong to him by right, we think this done as soon as it is admitted that society ought not to take measures for securing it to him, but should leave to chance, or to his own exertions. Thus, a person is said to have a right to what he can earn in fair professional competition; because society ought not to allow any other person to hinder him from endeavouring to earn in that manner as much as he can. But he has not a right to three hundred a-year, though he may happen to be earning it; because society is not called on to provide that he shall earn that sum. On the contrary, if he owns ten thousand pounds three per cent stock, he has a right to three hundred a-year; because society has come under an obligation to provide him with an income of that amount.

To have a right, then, is, I conceive, to have something which society ought to defend me in the possession of. If the objector goes on to I can give him no other reason than general utility. If that expression does not seem to convey a sufficient feeling of the strength of the obligation, nor to account for the peculiar energy of the , it is because the extraordinarily important and impressive kind of utility which is concerned. The interest involved is that of security, to every one’s feelings the most vital of all interests. other earthly benefits are needed by one person, not needed by another; and many of them can, if necessary, be cheerfully foregone, or replaced by something else; but security no human being can possibly do without; on it we depend for all our immunity from evil, and for the whole value of all and every good, beyond the passing moment; since nothing but the gratification of the instant could be of any worth to us, if we could be deprived of everything the next instant by whoever was momentarily stronger than ourselves. Now this most indispensable of all necessaries, after physical nutriment, cannot be had, unless the machinery for providing it is kept unintermittedly in active play. Our notion, therefore, of the claim we have on our fellow-creatures to join in making safe for us the very groundwork of our existence, gathers feelings round it so much more intense than those concerned in any of the more common cases of utility, that the difference in degree (as is often the case in psychology) becomes a real difference in kind. The claim assumes that character of absoluteness, that apparent infinity, and incommensurability with all other considerations, which constitute the distinction between the feeling of right and wrong and that of ordinary expediency and inexpediency. The feelings concerned are so powerful, and we count so positively on finding a responsive feeling in others (all being alike interested), that ought and should grow into must, and recognised indispensability becomes a moral necessity, analogous to physical, and often not inferior to it in binding force.

If the preceding analysis, or something resembling it, be not the correct account of the notion of justice; if justice be totally independent of utility, and be a standard per se, which the mind can recognise by simple introspection of itself; it is hard to understand why that internal oracle is so ambiguous, and why so many things appear either just or unjust, according to the light in which they are regarded.

We are continually informed that Utility is an uncertain standard, which every different person interprets differently, and that there is no safety but in the immutable, ineffaceable, and unmistakeable dictates of Justice, which carry their evidence in themselves, and are independent of the fluctuations of opinion. One would suppose from this that on questions of justice there could be no controversy; that if we take that for our rule, its application to any given case could leave us in as little doubt as a mathematical demonstration. So far is this from being the fact, that there is as much difference of opinion, and as discussion, about what is just, as about what is useful to society. Not only have different nations and individuals different notions of justice, but, in the mind of one and the same individual, justice is not some one rule, principle, or maxim, but many, which do not always coincide in their dictates, and in choosing between which, he is guided either by some extraneous standard, or by his own personal predilections.

For instance, there are some who say, that it is unjust to punish any one for the sake of example to others; that punishment is just, only when intended for the good of the sufferer himself. Others maintain the extreme reverse, contending that to punish persons who have attained years of discretion, for their own benefit, is despotism and injustice, since if the matter at issue is solely their own good, no one has a right to control their own judgment of it; but that they may justly be punished to prevent evil to others, this being exercise of the legitimate right of self-defence. Mr. Owen, again, affirms that it is unjust to punish at all; for the criminal did not make his own character; his education, and the circumstances which him, have made him a criminal, and for these he is not responsible. All these opinions are extremely plausible; and so long as the question is argued as one of justice simply, without going down to the principles which lie under justice and are the source of its authority, I am unable to see how any of these reasoners can be refuted. For, in truth, every one of the three builds upon rules of justice confessedly true. The first appeals to the acknowledged injustice of singling out an individual, and making him a sacrifice, without his consent, for other people’s benefit. The second relies on the acknowledged justice of self-defence, and the admitted injustice of forcing one person to conform to another’s notions of what constitutes his good. The Owenite invokes the admitted principle, that it is unjust to punish any one for what he cannot help. Eact is triumphant so long as he is not compelled to take into consideration any other maxims of justice than the one he has selected; but as soon as their several maxims are brought face to face, each disputant seems to have exactly as much to say for himself as the others. No one of them can carry out his own notion of justice without trampling upon another equally binding. These are difficulties; they have always been felt to be such; and many devices have been invented to turn rather than to overcome them. As a refuge from the last of the three, men imagined what they called the freedom of the will; fancying that they could not justify punishing a man whose will is in a thoroughly hateful state, unless it be supposed to have come into that state through no influence of anterior circumstances. To escape from the other difficulties, a favourite contrivance has been the fiction of a contract, whereby at some unknown period all the members of society engaged to obey the laws, and consented to be punished for any disobedience to them; thereby giving to their legislators the right, which it is assumed they would not otherwise have had, of punishing them, either for their own good or for that of society. This happy thought was considered to get rid of the whole difficulty, and to legitimate the infliction of punishment, in virtue of another received maxim of justice, volenti non fit injuria; that is not unjust which is done with the consent of the person who is supposed to be hurt by it. I need hardly remark, that even if the consent were not a mere fiction, this maxim is not superior in authority to the others which it is brought in to supersede. It is, on the contrary, an instructive specimen of the loose and irregular manner in which supposed principles of justice grow up. This particular one evidently came into use as a help to the coarse exigencies of courts of law, which are sometimes obliged to be content with very uncertain presumptions, on account of the greater evils which would often arise from any attempt on their part to cut finer. But even courts of law are not able to adhere consistently to the maxim, for they allow voluntary engagements to be set aside on the ground of fraud, and sometimes on that of mere mistake or misinformation.

Again, when the legitimacy of inflicting punishment is admitted, how many conflicting conceptions of justice come to light in discussing the proper apportionment of to offences. No rule on subject recommends itself so strongly to the primitive and spontaneous sentiment of justice, as the lex talionis, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Though this principle of the Jewish and of the Mahomedan law has been generally abandoned in Europe as a practical maxim, there is, I suspect, in most minds, a secret hankering after it; and when retribution accidentally falls on an offender in that precise shape, the general feeling of satisfaction evinced, bears witness how natural is the sentiment to which this repayment in kind is acceptable. With many the test of justice in penal infliction is that the punishment should be proportioned to the offence; meaning that it should be exactly measured by the moral guilt of the culprit (whatever be their standard for measuring moral guilt): the consideration, what amount of punishment is necessary to deter from the offence, having nothing to do with the question of justice, in their estimation: while there are others to whom that consideration is all in all; who maintain that it is not just, at least for man, to inflict on a fellow-creature, whatever may be his offences, any amount of suffering beyond the least that will suffice to prevent him from repeating, and others from imitating, his misconduct.

To take another example from a subject already once referred to. In a co-operative industrial association, is it just or not that talent or skill should give a title to superior remuneration? On the negative side of the question it is argued, that whoever does the best he can, deserves equally well, and ought not in justice to be put in a position of inferiority for no fault of his own; that superior abilities have already advantages more than enough, in the admiration they excite, the personal influence they command, and the internal sources of satisfaction attending them, without adding to these a superior share of the world’s goods; and that society is bound in justice rather to make compensation to the less favoured, for this unmerited inequality of advantages, than to aggravate it. On the contrary side it is contended, that society receives more from the more efficient labourer; that his services being more useful, society owes him a larger return for them; that a greater share of the joint result is actually his work, and not to allow his claim to it is a kind of robbery; that if he is only to receive as much as others, he can only be justly required to produce as much, and to give a smaller amount of time and , proportioned to his superior efficiency. Who shall decide between these appeals to conflicting principles of justice? Justice has in this case two sides to it, which it is impossible to bring into harmony, and the two disputants have chosen opposite sides; the one looks to what it is just that the individual should receive, the other to what it is just that the community should give. Each, from his own point of view, is unanswerable; and any choice between them, on grounds of justice, must be perfectly arbitrary. Social utility alone can decide the preference.

How many, again, and how irreconcileable, are the standards of justice to which reference is made in discussing the repartition of taxation. One opinion is, that payment to the State should be in numerical proportion to pecuniary means. Others think that justice dictates what they term graduated taxation; taking a higher percentage from those who have more to spare. In point of natural justice a strong case might be made for disregarding means altogether, and taking the same absolute sum (whenever it could be got) from every one: as the subscribers to a mess, or to a club, all pay the same sum for the same privileges, whether they can all equally afford it or not. Since the protection (it might be said) of law and government is afforded to, and is equally required by, all, there is no injustice in making all buy it at the same price. It is reckoned justice, not injustice, that a dealer should charge to all customers the same price for the same article, not a price varying according to their means of payment. This doctrine, as applied to taxation, finds no advocates, because it conflicts strongly with feelings of humanity and of social expediency; but the principle of justice which it invokes is as true and as binding as those which can be appealed to against it. Accordingly, it exerts a tacit influence on the line of defence employed for other modes of assessing taxation. People feel obliged to argue that the State does more for the rich than for the poor, as a justification for its taking more from them: though this is in reality not true, for the rich would be far better able to protect themselves, in the absence of law or government, than the poor, and indeed would probably be successful in converting the poor into their slaves. Others, again, so far defer to the same conception of justice, as to maintain that all should pay an equal capitation tax for the protection of their persons (these being of equal value to all), and an unequal tax for the protection of their property, which is unequal. To this others reply, that the all of one man is as valuable to him as the all of another. From these confusions there is no other mode of extrication than the utilitarian.

Is, then, the difference between the Just and the Expedient a merely imaginary distinction? Have mankind been under a delusion in thinking that justice is a more sacred thing than policy, and that the latter ought only to be listened to after the former has been satisfied? By no means. The exposition we have given of the nature and origin of the sentiment, recognises a real distinction; and no one of those who profess the most sublime contempt for the consequences of actions as an element in their morality, attaches more importance to the distinction than I do. While I dispute the pretensions of any theory which sets up an imaginary standard of justice not grounded on utility, I account the justice which is grounded on utility to be the chief part, and incomparably the most sacred and binding part, of all morality. Justice is a name for certain classes of moral rules, which concern the essentials of human well-being more nearly, and are therefore of more absolute obligation, than any other rules for the guidance of life; and the notion which we have found to be of the essence of the idea of justice, that of a right residing in an individual, implies and testifies to this more binding obligation.

The moral rules which forbid mankind to hurt one another (in which we must never forget to include wrongful interference with each other’s freedom) are more vital to human well-being than any maxims, however important, which only point out the best mode of managing some department of human affairs. They have also the peculiarity, that they are the main element in determining the whole of the social feelings of mankind. It is their observance which alone preserves peace among human beings: if obedience to them were not the rule, and disobedience the exception, every one would see in every one else enemy, against whom he must be perpetually guarding himself. What is hardly less important, these are the precepts which mankind have the strongest and the most direct inducements for impressing upon one another. By merely giving to each other prudential instruction or exhortation, they may gain, or think they gain, nothing: in inculcating on each other the duty of positive beneficence they have an unmistakeable interest, but far less in degree: a person may possibly not need the benefits of others; but he always needs that they should not do him hurt. Thus the moralities which protect every individual from being harmed by others, either directly or by being hindered in his freedom of pursuing his own good, are at once those which he himself has most at heart, and those which he has the strongest interest in publishing and enforcing by word and deed. It is by a person’s observance of these, that his fitness to exist as one of the fellowship of human beings, is tested and decided; for on that depends his being a nuisance or not to those with whom he is in contact. Now it is these moralities primarily, which compose the obligations of justice. The most marked cases of injustice, and those which give the tone to the feeling of repugnance which characterizes the sentiment, are acts of wrongful aggression, or wrongful exercise of power over some one; the next are those which consist in wrongfully withholding from him something which is his due; in both cases, inflicting on him a positive hurt, either in the form of direct suffering, or of the privation of some good which he had reasonable ground, either of a physical or of a social kind, for counting upon.

The same powerful motives which command the observance of these primary moralities, enjoin the punishment of those who violate them; and as the impulses of self-defence, of defenc