Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/757

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GENESIS OF DISINTERESTED BENEVOLENCE.

But it is not from this simplest form of the mental quality that moral benevolence takes its rise. Besides the confusion just spoken of, there is another, the outflow and consequence of that between body and mind, nearly as common among children and uneducated men. It is the confusion between the acts of ourself, of our mind, and those of our body; between intended effects and willed acts.

This confusion is to be found in the laws of all rude and semi-barbarous nations. Their criminal codes punish the result of an act irrespective of the intention of the agent; they make, for instance, no difference between murder and manslaughter. In more civilized countries, where generations of lawgivers have for centuries developed the theory of criminal responsibility, the law is even now far from perfect. The result of an act, even when not intended, continues to be taken into account for punishment. A man who would be let off with a small fine for an illegal act producing no direct harm would be fined more heavily, or even imprisoned, if by such an act some harm were unintentionally done. Even if the legislator wished to correct this irrational state of the law, the general opinion of the uneducated majority would prevent him from doing so. It will be long ere the theory of criminal responsibility is generally understood.

But if in criminal law, which it is the interest of so many persons to clear up, the confusion still exists, how much the more will it continue in those matters where no great interest is at stake! If a man kills another man, fear of punishment, fear of his own conscience, will prompt him to consider whether the death was intended or not, whether he is guilty of murder or of simple manslaughter. But, if a man by mere chance does some good to another man, there is nothing which incites him to a similar mental effort, while on the contrary the agreeable sense of power which the consciousness of the effect produces, the gratitude of the benefited individual and the approbation of society, will make the idea that he is the author of the benefit pleasant to him and prevent him from too closely analyzing his motives. He will easily assume that he is the author of the benefit, and so it happens that, when an act of his body has produced a beneficial result upon some one else, an average man thinks that he himself has done good to that individual.

From this confusion real disinterested benevolence will take its origin. The agreeable sense of power, produced by the unintended beneficial effect, will continue as long as the agent can remember that effect. This, however, will only be the case if the benefit persists for some time, so that it may hereafter be remembered, and it will be all the more the case if that benefit continues for a long time so as to be actually perceived. There is, then, an inducement so to act that it may persist. This inducement is of course very weak at first, and will produce no action if there is not a considerable spontaneous energy. But there is already a germ of benevolence, the wish that a benefit con-