Editor Popular Science Monthly:
DEAR SIR: In the April number of your magazine you say that a sentence quoted from me by Bishop Vincent in The Chautauquan "is absolutely without foundation." The objectionable sentence is, "Some counselors, like Herbert Spencer, advise us to follow our own self-interest, without concern for others, with the assurance that all will thus be happier, because more independent." The quotation is made from my volume of lectures on The Social Influence of Christianity. It is I rather than Bishop Vincent who should "either justify the above statement in regard to Mr. Spencer or withdraw it." My respect for Mr. Spencer's ability as a thinker and his sincerity as a man is so great that I should certainly withdraw a statement that I felt misrepresented him to those who may not share my high opinion of him. In seeking to render justice to Mr. Spencer, I trust you will not apply the lex talionis to those who may seem to you to do him wrong.
The sentence which you condemn as "absolutely without foundation" occurs after a criticism of "undiscriminating charity" in the distribution of wealth, and the citation of a case where the literal interpretation of Christ's words, "Give to him that asketh thee," led to the demoralization of a parish. In antithesis to this extreme I name Mr. Spencer as a representative of what I consider the opposite extreme—the emphasis of egoism. Of course, I do not mean that Mr. Spencer advocates an absolute and unqualified selfishness, taking no account of the rights of others. His teaching is, that there is a u permanent supremacy of egoism over altruism"; that "each creature shall take the benefits and the evils of his own nature, be they derived from ancestry or those due to self-produced modifications," and that "egoistic claims must take precedence of altruistic claims" (Data of Ethics, pp. 186, 187, 189). He advances two suppositions: (1) "that each citizen pursues his own happiness independently, not to the detriment of others, but without active concern for others"; and (2) "that each, instead of making his own happiness the object of pursuit, makes the happiness of others the object of pursuit"; and argues that the amount of happiness would not be greater in the second case (Data of Ethics, p. 227). He sees "inconsistency" in the doctrine expressed in the Christian maxim—"Love your neighbor as yourself" (Data of Ethics, p. 233). His conclusion is that "general happiness is to be achieved mainly through the adequate pursuit of their own happinesses by individuals; while, reciprocally, the happinesses of individuals are to be achieved in part by their pursuit of the general happiness" (Data of Ethics, p. 238). Is not the center of concern here for each one his own happiness, with only so much regard for the happiness of others as is likely to reflect happiness upon himself?
Mr. Spencer also says: "The poverty of the incapable, the distresses that come upon the imprudent, the starvation of the idle, and those shoulderings aside of the weak by the strong, which leave so many 'in shallows and in miseries,' are the decrees of a large, far-seeing benevolence. It seems hard that an unskillfulness which with all his efforts he can not overcome should entail hunger upon the artisan. It seems hard that a laborer incapacitated by sickness from competing with his stronger fellows should have to bear the resulting privation. It seems hard that widows and orphans should be left to struggle for life or death. Nevertheless, when regarded not separately, but in connection with the interests of universal humanity, these harsh features are seen to be full of the highest beneficence—the same beneficence which brings to early graves the children of diseased parents, and singles out the low-spirited, the intemperate, and the debilitated as the victims of an epidemic" (Social Statics, p. 354). In the foregoing paragraph Mr. Spencer has included types of all the objects of human charity. He himself says (p. 356): "At first sight these considerations seem conclusive against all relief to the poor—voluntary as well as compulsory; and it is no doubt true that they imply a condemnation of whatever private charity enables the recipients to elude the necessities of our social existence." He "makes no objection" to "helping men to help themselves," "countenances it rather," but he shows no concern for those who need our charity because they can not help themselves.
In another book he says, "It may be doubted whether the maudlin philanthropy which, looking only at direct mitigations, persistently ignores indirect mischiefs, does not inflict a greater total of misery than the extremest selfishness inflicts" (The Study of Sociology, p. 345). But all charity inspired by personal sympathy looks mainlv to "direct mitigations," and overlooks those "indirect mischiefs" which the aid of the inferior is likely to produce. The "extremest selfishness" would seem from this presentation to be better than interference with that "large, far-seeing benevolence" which Mr. Spencer sees in the operation of the law of consequences.