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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 37/June 1890/Correspondence

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 37‎ | June 1890



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.

I am not alone in my view of Mr. Spencer'a teaching upon this point. In his criticism of The Kan versus the State, in The Popular Science Monthly, vol. xxvii, p. 170, Prof. de Laveleye says, "The law that Mr. Herbert Spencer desires to adopt is simply Darwin's law—the survival of the fittest." On page 172, after citing a passage explaining the manner in which natural selection among animals is accomplished, M. de Laveleye adds, "This is the ideal order of things which, we are told, ought to prevail in human societies." In his Rejoinder Mr. Spencer evades this by saying that his Social Statics was written in 1851, while Darwin's Origin of Species was written in 1859. This is satisfactory so far as the expression "survival of the fittest" is especially "Darwin's law," but the principle is involved in the operation of the "large, far-seeing benevolence" which kills off the weak and helpless, by whatever name it is designated. Mr. Spencer docs not seem to complain of M. de Laveleye's imputation, if the latter means "the survival of the industrially superior, and those who are fittest for the requirements of social life." I understand Mr. Spencer to oppose carrying the struggles of the "tooth and claw" period into our industrial era, but that he is willing to permit the operation of the principle of natural selection with more civilized weapons.

In his Rejoinder to M. de Laveleye, Mr. Spencer, after speaking of the distribution of aid by the Government, says, "If others, in their private capacities, are prompted by affection to pity or to mitigate the evil results, by all means let them do so"; but this assumes the tone of mere sufferance when he immediately adds: "No power can equitably prevent them from making efforts, or giving money, to diminish the sufferings of the unfortunate and the inferior; at the same time that no power can equitably coerce them into doing so." I understand this to mean that there is no right in the state to interfere with private charity, if any one is moved to it. In another place Mr. Spencer says (p. 189), "Without wishing to restrain philanthropic action, but quite contrariwise, I have in various places argued that philanthropy will better achieve its ends by nongovernmental means than by governmental means." I understand by this that Mr. Spencer has no wish to "restrain" philanthropy, and he believes the voluntary form better than the compulsory; but he does not claim any wish to promote charity, and the kind of "philanthropy" he has in mind seems to be only such as is consistent with his other doctrines. As he views it, true philanthropy is best expressed by non-interference. The greatest happiness is worked out by the law of consequences, which in reality is a "large, far-seeing benevolence." "Inevitably, then, this law in conformity with which each member of a species takes the consequences of its own nature; and In virtue of which the progeny of each member, participating in its nature, also takes such consequences: is one that tends ever to raise the aggregate happiness of the species by furthering the multiplication of the happier and hindering that of the less happy. All this is true of human beings as of other beings" (Data of Ethics, p. 190).

I have tried to present the grounds on which my statement regarding Mr. Spencer rests. I think he means to encourage self-reliance as the primary virtue of humanity, and that he seriously believes that what is known in the world as "charity" weakens it. The question is not now whether he is right or wrong, but whether or not this is his teaching. I am aware that my words can be so interpreted as to represent Mr. Spencer as indifferent to human beings other than himself, but that is not my meaning. He distinguishes between acting "to the detriment of others" and acting "without active concern for others" (Data of Ethics, p. 227), and I use the words "without concern for others" in his own sense. If you think the word "active" modifies the meaning in any important way, I am willing to introduce it in my sentence, if I can be assured that "concern," which is but passive and not active, has any meaning. Otherwise the expression "active concern" is a pleonasm.

Mr. Spencer's doctrine is, as I interpret it, that, if each looks out well for himself, then all will be happy, at least as soon as "adaptation" has been realized; and until it has, no amount of solicitude for others or sacrifice in their behalf can possibly realize their happiness.

Very respectfully yours,
David J. Hill.
University of Rochester,
Rochester, N. Y.,
April 12, 1890.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Sir: In reply to the letter of Mr. Gustav Lindenthal (vol. xxxvi, page 844), criticising my remarks as to the lack of stability of suspension bridges (page 478), I would like to make the following statement:

I do not consider it at all necessary that my remarks upon any of the different types of bridges should be followed by the words "as usually built," as, from the title of the article, The Evolution of the Modern Railway Bridge, I could not possibly refer to any mode of construction other than that in general use or some antiquated method.

I did refer to the suspension bridge as "usually built," and as such it is very deficient in rigidity, and in practice it has been found almost impossible to so brace it laterally and vertically as to render it in any way a desirable bridge for the passage of our modern heavy trains at a high rate of speed.

I refer simply to the suspension bridge up to its present point of evolution, both as to length of span and method of construction, and not to the possible suspension bridge of the future.

In regard to the remainder of Mr. Lindenthal's letter: A bridge to be stable and rigid, in the engineering meaning of the words, must be so designed that under any probable form of loading no change of form can take place, either in the bridge as a whole or any of its parts, other than that due to the elasticity of the material used.

The suspension bridge, as we know it, consists of a flexible chain or cable from which the roadway is hung: given a sufficiently heavy moving load relative to the dead weight of the bridge, and the form of the curve assumed by this chain or cable will change with each change in the position of the load, and the bridge can not be called stable.

The mere fact that the inverted arch is in stable equilibrium while the upright arch is not, has absolutely no bearing upon this question, when we consider the form of the materials that are used in each case. I admit that, if the steel arches of the St. Louis Bridge were inverted and braced and counterbraced in a manner similar to that made use of at present, the bridge would be as stable, etc., as the present bridge; but certainly not if the vertical and lateral bracing were dispensed with, and simply a chain substituted for the present compression arch.

It is, however, impossible to state the relative merits of different bridge designs without taking into account the length of span; and to a great extent the question is decided by the relation that exists between the dead load, consisting of weight of the bridge, and the live load, consisting of the passing train, etc. The following may be taken as the maximum economic lengths for railway bridges of iron or steel:

Plate girders 50 feet.
Riveted lattice 350 "
Pin-connected with parallel chords or arched top chord 550 "
Cantilever 1,750 "
Suspension, over 1,750 "

When the suspension bridge reaches such a size that the weight of any probable load that may come upon it is nothing as compared to its own weight—as would be the case in the proposed suspension bridge extending from New York to Jersey City, designed by Mr. Lindenthal, with a central span of 2,850 feet—then much that has been said here in regard to the instability of suspension bridges will not apply, owing to the fact that under no circumstances would it be possible to so load a bridge of such dimensions that the load would bear even an appreciable value to its own weight.

One word more in regard to "the popular and fashionable misconception as to the merits of the cantilever bridge." Its greater deflection is due simply to the fact that it is in the form of a girder fastened at one end and strained over a pier, and does not amount to a demerit in the principle.

If I understand Mr. Lindenthal's use of the expression "all other things being equal," etc., correctly to mean vertical and lateral bracing, etc., practically everything never could be equal; and the cantilever bridge, within the limits of span given, is in every way superior to the suspension bridge as a modern railway bridge.

Charles Davis Jameson.
Iowa City, April 3, 1890.