Popular Science Monthly/Volume 25/October 1884/The Morality of Happiness IX



Closing Remarks.

IT remains only now that I should consider the general conclusions toward which our discussion of the subject of happiness as a guide to conduct may appear to have led us.

Let me note, yet once more, that those have entirely misapprehended the whole drift of this series of papers who imagine, as many still seem to do, that my subject has been the morality of being happy, the propriety of seeking after happiness. The mistake appears so absurd, when the nature of the reasoning I have advanced is considered, that it would seem hardly worth while to correct it, seeing that no one who could fall into such a mistake could (one would imagine) in the least profit by any explanation or correction. Yet the mistake has been made by several who are clearly not devoid of capacity alike to render and to receive a reason. I have, therefore, felt bound to correct it as far as possible, and, as several letters recently received show that the error is still entertained, I have now to correct it afresh. Let me explain, then, that the object of these papers has been to show what sort of moral law is likely to arise, and what law appears actually to have arisen and to be in progress of formation, when the guide of conduct is the increase of happiness—individual happiness, and the happiness of those around us, with due regard to the proper apportionment of altruistic and egoistic happiness. I have not examined such questions as. What is happiness? What kind of happiness is worthiest? and so forth. I have taken, as included in the term "happiness," all the various forms of pleasurable emotion of which the human race is susceptible, while all the various forms of painful emotion to which we are exposed have come naturally into consideration as all involving greater or less diminution of happiness. With the development of the human race, or of any part of the human race, in one direction or in another (for development is multiform), we find that ideas about pleasure and pain become modified in various ways. And it has been a special part of our subject to consider how the lower forms of pleasure, those related first to the physical gratification of self, and next those related specially to self but otherwise of higher type, give place gradually to the higher gratifications arising from altruistic relations. But, apart from such considerations, our whole inquiry has been into the development of conduct by the natural operation of those laws which influence the development of happiness.

In passing I would, however, note that the law of conduct thus considered is by no means that abstraction which has been called "the happiness of the greater number," according to which each person is to regard himself and to be regarded as one, while the rest, being many, are to be regarded as of very much greater importance. This abstraction has not and never had any value whatever, as a rule of conduct, either in a man's self or in his relation to others. Even if we can adopt any meaning for the word happiness as thus used, it will be found that no rational way of apportioning the happiness thus regarded as a sort of common property, can be conceived. If the law instead of being an abstraction were real and could be definitely applied, it could result only in this, that each person, being but one, should utterly neglect his individual welfare in favor of the general happiness, and, as it can be readily seen that no benefits he might receive from those around him (obeying, we may assume, the same law) could possibly compensate for the direct and immediate effects of this complete self-abnegation, it follows that a community of persons obeying this law would be a community of miserable beings; so that obedience to this law for obtaining general happiness would in reality insure universal misery.

Taking concrete instead of abstract happiness as the guide of conduct, were cognize far different results. We see that, though there must of necessity be a compromise between egoistic satisfactions and altruistic cares, the compromise need by no means imply antagonism. Regard for the welfare of others, though in its inception more or lass of an effort, becomes more and more spontaneous as social relations develop. After spontaneity has been attained, altruistic actions involve more and more of egoistic satisfaction. Conversely, the care of self, which in the earlier stages of social development appears to involve more or less of disregard for the interests of others, becomes more and more altruistic in its effect as society advances. Thus also we recognize the answer to what at first might seem a difficulty, viz., that with the improvement of social relations the opportunity for altruistic actions might seem likely to steadily diminish. We see that the domain available for altruistic actions changes in position rather than in extent; nay, that such change of extent as actually accrues is toward increase. In a society where, owing to the steady improvement of the relation between egoistic and altruistic interests, the number of those depending for their happiness or even for their existence on altruistic cares has steadily diminished, the number of those who are the subject of altruistic emotions will as steadily have increased. Sympathy becomes more widely extended, its development becomes surer and more rapid, as its operation becomes more pleasurable, and a change of this sort can not but take place as occasions for directly altruistic actions, such as arise out of pain and suffering, become less frequent.

With increased spontaneity in altruistic actions, more pleasurable feelings in the discharge of altruistic duties, and a wider range for altruistic emotions, will inevitably come such an evolution of conduct as must tend greatly to increase the well-being of the community. The care of self will be felt as a duty to others; due care of others will become a source of gratification to self. Society will be simply, on an enlarged scale and in a more varied form, such a community as might be formed by a number of kindly, well-meaning persons, of good capacity and pleasing manners, brought together for purposes of travel, research, or pleasure. In such a community it would be felt that each person's first duty was to take due care of self, first as just to himself, and secondly (yet chiefly) as a duty to the rest of the community. But it would also be felt by each member of such a community that he must be careful of the interests of others, ready to be of use to any other members of the community who required assistance such as he could give individually, or to combine with others where the assistance of several might seem to be required. Picture the relations of such a community, all of good-will, kindly, and anxious that the business of the community should go on so as to give pleasure to all, and it will be at once seen how little there is of actual selfishness in due care of self, how such care may be, nay, must be, a duty owed to all the rest; while, on the other hand, it will become clear also how each member of such a community is interested in the existence among all of a kindly interest on the part of each in the well-being of the rest. The social body, whether we consider the family, or the gathering of families into communities, or the collection of communities into nations, or the multitude of nations which form the population of the earth, may be regarded as an aggregate which should be pervaded by such ideas as are found essential for the comfort and happiness of gatherings casually brought together. The due subordination of self to others in certain relations, and of others to self in relations not less important, which is found in all such gatherings on a small scale and of comparatively uniform character—as in the passengers on an ocean-steamship, the members of a company of travelers, the fellows of a scientific expedition, or even a pleasure-party—is what is necessary for the well-being of the body social; and out of this necessity, instinctively recognized, and exercising its influence steadily in the process of the evolution of races, nations, and the human family as a whole, seem to have sprung all those duties between man and man, between race and race, and between nation and nation, which form the present code of social morals, and will hereafter—developed and improved—form the moral code of perfected man. "What now, in even the highest natures," as the great teacher of our day says, "is occasional and feeble may be expected with further evolution to become habitual and strong; and what now characterizes the exceptionally high may be expected eventually to characterize all. For that which the best human nature is capable of is within the reach of human nature at large."

"That these conclusions," Mr. Spencer goes on to say, "will meet with any considerable acceptance is improbable. Neither with current ideas nor with current sentiments are they sufficiently congruous. Such a view will not be agreeable to those who lament the spreading disbelief in eternal damnation; nor to those who follow the apostle of brute force in thinking that because the rule of the strong hand was once good it is good for all time; nor to those whose reverence for one who told them to put up the sword is shown by using the sword to spread his doctrine among heathens." From ten thousand teachers of a religion of love who are silent when a nation is moved by the religion of hate will come no sign of assent; nor from those priestly lawgivers who, "far from urging the extreme precept of the Master they pretend to follow, to turn the other cheek when one is smitten, vote for acting on the principle. Strike lest ye be struck. Nor will any approval be felt by legislators who, after praying to be forgiven their trespasses as they forgive the trespasses of others, forthwith decide to attack those who have not trespassed against them. But though men who profess Christianity and practice Paganism can feel no sympathy with such a view, there are some, classed as antagonists to the current creed, who may not think it absurd to believe that a rationalized version of its ethical principles will eventually be acted upon."

Finally, I would ask those who have followed me thus far to note how all the duties we have considered, both egoistic duties and altruistic ones, may be seen with advantage from a different point of view and in a changed aspect, though unchanged in reality. We are in the habit of regarding the study of moral laws always from the personal side, and nearly all teachers in such matters (one might almost say all) view the subject in this way, since, even when laying down a code of morals, they present each law as it appeals to the reason and should affect the conduct of the individual. But it should be remembered that a moral law which commends to each man a particular line of conduct, is a law which, if accepted and followed by all, influences each man by the effect it produces on all the rest. Thus, a rule of conduct seemingly egoistic, and really egoistic as affecting the individual, becomes, in any society which accepts and obeys it, purely altruistic in its effect; while, per contra, a law seemingly altruistic in terms becomes purely egoistic in influence. If, instead of indicating a due regard for self and a proper subordination of self to others, our study of the morality of happiness had indicated as best for the community a series of duties directed solely to the benefit of self, yet the adoption of such a moral code by all men would be altogether unselfish, seeing that it would mean the forsaking of all right or title to help or sympathy from others; and others are many, while self is but one. If, on the other hand, we had found a system of perfect altruism commending itself as best, the acceptance of such a system would be no sacrificing of self to others, but would mean the acceptance of the principle that every one else was bound to assist in all his ways and wishes the accepter of this seemingly altruistic code—to sympathize with him in all his sorrows, and to care for him far more than for themselves. We have not been led to recognize any such abnegation of self on the one hand, or regard for self alone on the other hand, as desirable; but, in such degree as we have seen a regard for self to be desirable, we have in reality been led to the recognition of the rights of others (since each self is another to all others), while, in such degree as we have seen that each should consider not only the rights but the requirements of others, we have been led in reality to the recognition of the rights of each man to the assistance and sympathy of his fellows.