"such a principle as this that should be accepted as the fundamental principle of legislation; this is too obscure, too vague, too susceptible of different interpretations; it would leave too much to the arbitrary judgment of the legislation." The only safe guide in legislation is the principe du plus grand bonheur. "The problem of the legislator is simply this: A multitude of men being collected together, to procure for them the greatest sum of happiness possible. It is upon his principle that all systems of legislation should be based." All this reads like so many sentences from Bentham himself; and the resemblance is by no means merely coincidental. In the ethical and political writings of Maupertuis and of Helvétius we have the head-waters of the important stream of utilitarian influence which became so broad and sweeping a current through the work of the Benthamites. Bentham read Maupertuis early—perhaps about 1770, in his twenty-second or twenty-third year, thinks a recent writer on the subject—and although he had already got the suggestion of his doctrine from Priestley and Helvétius and Beccaria, he found, as he himself tells us, his utilitarian tendencies strengthened and corroborated by his reading of the 'Essai de Philosophie Morale.' The utilitarian political teaching of Maupertuis was enunciated at least three years before the publication of a similar doctrine in the book of Helvétius (De l'Esprit, 1758); and that book, Mr. John Morley has said, 'contained the one principle capable of supplying such a system of thinking about society as would have taught the French of that time in what direction to look for reforms.' The work of Beccaria, the third of the early influences upon the mind of Bentham, was still later in date of publication (1764).
In treating of the relation of scientific method to theology, Maupertuis—although professing a somewhat perfunctory religious orthodoxy—criticized the favorite eighteenth century argument for theism—the so-called argument from design—in which the deists no less than the orthodox of the period found the principal basis of their religious philosophy; and his criticism upon it is just such as a Darwinian might now make. It closely resembles, indeed, the criticism of the same argument that Romanes put forward long afterward as a special outcome of Darwinism. Many, says Maupertuis, have found an evidence of design in the marvelous adaptation of the organs of animals to their needs. But "may we not say that, in the fortuitous combination of the productions of Nature, since only those creatures could survive in whose organization a certain degree of adaptation was present (ou se trouvaient certains rapports de convenance), there is nothing extraordinary in the fact that such adaptation is actually
- Halévy, 'La jeunesse de Bentham,' 1901, p. 288.
- Ibid., p. 406.
- 'A Candid Examination of Theism.'