Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/280

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

the facts are against him is a question we do not undertake to decide; but it us to us hardly probable that he would even try to maintain his present position if thoroughly informed on the point at issue.

Dr. Hill tells us that, in the lecture in which the passage challenged by us occurred, he was drawing attention to the two hurtful extremes of undiscriminating charity and complete egoism, as represented by Herbert Spencer; and that it was thus that he came to say that "some counselors, like Herbert Spencer, advise us to follow our own self-interest without concern for others, with the assurance that all will be thus happier because more independent." The intention to make Mr. Spencer the representative of a more or less repulsive moral doctrine is thus avowed. What, then, is the proof that Mr. Spencer advocates any such doctrine? Dr. Hill points us to a passage in which Mr. Spencer uses some of the words employed to summarize his teaching. But, in the passage in question (Data of Ethics, page 227), Mr. Spencer is not giving any counsel; he is simply making two suppositions and drawing a conclusion from each. These are his words: "Suppose that each citizen pursues his own happiness independently, not to the detriment of others, but without active concern for others; then their united happiness constitutes a certain sum—a certain general happiness. Now suppose that each, instead of making his own happiness the object of pursuit, makes the happiness of others the object of pursuit; then again there results a certain sum of happiness." He goes on to show that it is impossible any general gain could result from the neglect of one's own happiness in the pursuit of that of others. What proof is there here that he would not wish us to interest ourselves in the welfare of our neighbors? The whole drift of the chapter (entitled Trial and Compromise) in which the above passage is found is to show that absolute egoism and absolute altruism alike defeat the ends in view: the absolutely egoistic man fails to make himself happy, and the absolutely altruistic man fails to make others happy; therefore, some compromise between the two principles is necessary. Not to go any further than this we find Mr. Spencer's position sufficiently defined. He does not stand, as Dr. Hill would have his readers believe, for "the emphasis of egoism": what he emphasizes, and that over and over again, is the necessity for a due blending of egoism and altruism.

But Dr. Hill has other proofs. He quotes Mr. Spencer as saying that there is "a permanent supremacy of egoism over altruism." True; and how does Mr. Spencer explain the words? Let us quote: "The acts by which each maintains his own life must, speaking generally, precede in imperativeness all other acts of which he is capable. . . . The acts required for continued self-preservation, including the enjoyment of benefits achieved by such acts, are the first requisites to universal welfare. Unless each duly cares for himself, his care for all others is ended by death; and if each thus dies, there remain no others to be cared for." Then follow the words which Dr. Hill relies on to help his case: "This permanent supremacy of egoism over altruism is further made manifest," etc. Now, here we have it fully explained that by "supremacy" is meant priority in time and precedence in biological importance. How is this to be twisted into an exhortation "to follow our own self-interest, without concern for others"?

Dr. Hill further asserts Mr. Spencer's teaching to be that "each creature shall take the benefits and evils of its own nature, be they those derived from ancestry or those due to self-produced modifications." This is not quite correctly put, though the error is probably not intentional on Dr. Hill's part. Mr. Spencer does not say that "each creat-