Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/759

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GENESIS OF DISINTERESTED BENEVOLENCE.

the recipient of it, rendered easy by the fact that, by continuing the special benefit, the whole welfare of the plant was assured. But such is not always the case. If the benefits have all been of one and the same kind, if the benefactor has been prevented from extending the sphere of his beneficial action, the feeling of benevolence will remain in its primitive state, directed toward one quality of the individual. However strong it may become, it will never extend to the whole being.

Cases of this kind are by no means rare, but they are generally misunderstood. We assume that A feels benevolence toward B, and that, if he lays so much stress on a single quality of the latter, this arises from an error of judgment as to what is good for B. In reality the error of judgment is ours, and the man whose folly we condemn is intellectually quite in the right. Having never learned to love B, but only to love one of his qualities, A favors this latter even to the detriment of the holder.

In the first example adduced by me, benevolence took its origin in a chance act, no effect at all having at first been intended. This is not necessarily the case. A benefit may be intended in a limited degree, for instance, as an. equivalent for a benefit received. The spring of action here is gratitude, based on equity. But, while this benefit is conferred, a benevolent feeling, first, toward the special quality furthered, and, finally, toward the whole individual, may arise in exactly the same manner in which it arose from a chance act. Gratitude will be forgotten, and disinterested benevolence felt instead. One moral feeling has here given rise to another; equity to disinterested benevolence. In our social system this latter genesis will be most common; it is only where social relations are rare that benevolence will commonly be produced as a consequence of a chance act. But, in all cases it will be a necessary condition to the perfection of the feeling, that it be extended to the whole individual, as else it may often tend rather to injure than to favor this latter.

My meaning, I hope, is now sufficiently explained. It remains to be seen how far my theory is in accordance with the known facts about benevolence. For this I hold to be the indispensable test of every psychological theory—that it will offer an easy explanation of the facts known from experience; and this test I shall now apply.

The strongest feeling of benevolence on record is probably the love a mother bears to her infant child. The strong feeling that she has given it life, that the child is her creation, explains the energy of the affection. This is further strengthened by the consciousness, that by nourishing and tending her child she confers constantly new benefits, indispensable to its welfare. But, as the child grows up, this benevolent feeling may, with mentally undeveloped persons, lose much of its power. When the child becomes independent, when it is no longer in want of the maternal care, the maternal affection will cool down or turn