Ethical Studies/Essay 1
the Theories of Free-Will and Necessity.
WHAT is not the scope of this essay? We must begin with that, for round the phrases which appear in our title there exist ‘perverse associations,’ which may lead our readers to expect, some this, and others that. And, because we think that some of these expectations will be disappointed, we will start with saying what it is that we do not propose to treat of.
The scope of this essay might have been the solution of one, or both, of two difficult problems. We might have asked what responsibility at bottom is; whether it implies necessity or freedom, and what these mean; and then we should have come to questions of abstract metaphysic. Or again, our task might have been the limitation of our accountability with reference to legal imputation, and here we should have had a juridical enquiry. But our object is not the solution of either one or the other of these questions.
What then is the end which we do set before us? It is a threefold undertaking: to ascertain first, if possible, what it is that, roughly and in general, the vulgar mean when they talk of being responsible; to ask, in the second place, whether either of the doctrines of Freedom and Necessity (as current among ourselves) agree with their notions; and, in case they do not agree, lastly to enquire in what points or respects they are incompatible with them.
And, at first sight, this undertaking may seem to the reader both easy and worthless; easy, because what every one thinks must be known by all men; and worthless, because the theories of philosophers do not stand and fall with the opinions of the people. To a more thoughtful consideration, however, it will appear to be neither.
It is not so easy to say what the people mean by their ordinary words, for this reason, that the question is not answered until it is asked; that asking is reflection, and that we reflect in general not to find the facts, but to prove our theories at the expense of them. The ready-made doctrines we bring to the work colour whatever we touch with them; and the apprehension of the vulgar mind, at first sight so easy, now seems, because we are not vulgar, to present a difficulty. And to know the signification of popular phrases is, in the second place, not worthless. Not all our philosophy professes its readiness to come into collision with ordinary morality. On the subject of responsibility this is certainly the case; the expounders of ‘Free-Will’ believe their teaching to be thoroughly at one with popular ideas, and even to be the sole expression and interpretation of them. So much does this weigh with many men, that their belief in vulgar moral accountability is the only obstacle to their full reception of Necessitarianism. And not to all of the disciples of Necessity has been given that strength of mind, which still survives in our Westminster Reviewers, and for which ‘responsibility or moral desert in the vulgar sense’ are terms which stand for ‘horrid figments of the imagination’ (West. Rev., Oct. 1873, p. 311). But, if to any philosophy what we call responsibility is not yet a figment, then it can not be without interest to know, on the one side, the conclusions of that philosophy; on the other side, the beliefs of the vulgar; and whether the two can be reconciled with one another. This is the limit of our present essay. Beyond us lie the fields of metaphysic, which the reader must remember we are, so far as possible, not to enter but merely to indicate.
So much by way of preface; what we have now to do is, first, to enter on a question of fact. What is the popular notion of responsibility? The popular notion is certainly to be found in the ordinary consciousness, in the mind of the plain or non-theoretical man, the man who lives without having or wishing for opinions of his own, as to what living is or ought to be. And, to find this plain man, where are we to go? For nowadays, when all have opinions, and too many also practice of their own; when every man knows better, and does worse, than his father before him; when to be enlightened is to be possessed by some wretched theory, which is our own just so far as it separates us from others; and to be cultivated is to be aware that doctrine means narrowness, that all truths are so true that any truth must be false; when ‘young pilgrims,’ at their outset, are ‘spoiled by the sophistry’ of shallow moralities, and the fruit of life rots as it ripens—amid all this ‘progress of the species’ the plain man is by no means so common as he once was, or at least is said to have been. And so, if we want a moral sense that has not yet been adulterated, we must not be afraid to leave enlightenment behind us. We must go to the vulgar for vulgar morality, and there what we lose in refinement we perhaps are likely to gain in integrity.
Betaking ourselves, therefore, to the uneducated man, let us find from him, if we can, what lies at the bottom of his notion of moral responsibility.
What in his mind is to be morally responsible? We see in it at once the idea of a man’s appearing to answer. He answers for what he has done, or (which we need not separately consider) has neglected and left undone. And the tribunal is a moral tribunal; it is the court of conscience, imagined as a judge, divine or human, external or internal. It is not necessarily implied that the man does answer for all or any of his acts; but it is implied that he might have to answer, that he is liable to be called upon—in one word (the meaning of which, we must remember, we perhaps do not know), it is right that he should be subject to the moral tribunal; or the moral tribunal has a right over him, to call him before it, with reference to all or any of his deeds.
He must answer, if called on, for all his deeds. There is no question of lying here; and, without lying, he can disown none of his acts—nothing which in his heart or his will has ever been suffered to come into being. They are all his, they are part of his substance; he can not put them on one side, and himself on the other, and say, ‘It is not mine; I never did it.’ What he ever at any time has done, that he is now; and, when his name is called, nothing, which has ever been his, can be absent from that which answers to the name. In this (real or supposed) juridical sphere the familiar saying of Agathon,
μόνου γὰρ αὐτοῦ καὶ θεὸς στερίσκεται,
ἀγένητα ποιεῖν ἅσσ᾽ ἂν ᾖ πεπραγμένα.
And he must account for all. But to give an account to a tribunal means to have one’s reckoning settled. It implies that, when the tribunal has done with us, we do not remain, if we were so before, either debtors or creditors. We pay what we owe; or we have that paid to us which is our due, which is owed to us (what we deserve). Further, because the court is no civil court between man and man, that which is owed to us is what we pay (alas for the figments of the unenlightened mind). In short, there is but one way to settle accounts; and that way is punishment, which is due to us, and therefore is assigned to us.
Hence, when the late Mr. Mill said, ‘Responsibility means punishment,’ what he had in his mind was the vulgar notion, though he expressed it incorrectly, unless on the supposition that all must necessarily transgress. What is really true for the ordinary consciousness; what it clings to, and will not let go; what marks unmistakeably, by its absence, a ‘philosophical’ or a ‘debauched’ morality, is the necessary connection between responsibility and liability to punishment, between punishment and desert, or the finding of guiltiness before the law of the moral tribunal. For practical purposes we need make no distinction between responsibility, or accountability, and liability to punishment. Where you have the one, there (in the mind of the vulgar) you have the other; and where you have not the one, there you can not have the other. And, we may add, the theory which will explain the one, in its ordinary sense, will also explain the other; and the theory which fails in the one, fails also in the other; and the doctrine which conflicts with popular belief as to one, does so also with regard to the other.
So far we have seen that subjection to a moral tribunal lies at the bottom of our answering for our deeds. The vulgar understand that we answer; that we answer not for everything, but only for what is ours; or, in other words, for what can be imputed to us. If now we can say what is commonly presupposed by imputability, we shall have accomplished the first part of our undertaking, by the discovery of what responsibility means for the people. And at this point again we must repeat our caution to the reader, not to expect from us either law or systematic metaphysics; and further to leave out of sight the slow historical evolution of the idea in question. We have one thing to do, and one only, at present—to find what lies in the mind of the ordinary man.
Now the first condition of the possibility of my guiltiness, or of my becoming a subject for moral imputation, is my self-sameness; I must be throughout one identical person. We do say, ‘He is not the same man that he was,’ but always in another sense, to signify that the character or disposition of the person is altered. We never mean by it, ‘He is not the same person,’ strictly; and, if that were our meaning, then we (the non-theoretical) should also believe, as a consequence, that the present person could not rightly be made to answer for what (not his self, but) another self had done. If, when we say, ‘I did it,’ the I is not to be the one I, distinct from all other I’s; or if the one I, now here, is not the same I with the I, whose act the deed was, then there can be no question whatever but that the ordinary notion of responsibility disappears.
In the first place, then, I must be the very same person to whom the deed belonged; and, in the second place, it must have belonged to me—it must have been mine. What then is it which makes a deed mine? The question has been often discussed, and it is not easy to answer it with scientific accuracy; but here we are concerned simply with the leading features of the ordinary notion. And the first of these is, that we must have an act, and not something which can not be called by that name. The deed must issue from my will; in Aristotle’s language, the ἀρχή must be in myself. Where I am forced, there I do nothing. I am not an agent at all, or in any way responsible. Where compulsion exists, there my will, and with it accountability, does not exist. So far the ordinary consciousness is clear, and on this point we must not press it further. To fix the limits of compulsion; to say where force ends, and where will begins; to find the conditions, under which we may say, ‘There was no possibility of volition, and there could have been none’ — is no easy matter, and fortunately one which does not concern us. [See more, Note A.]
Not only must the deed be an act, and come from the man without compulsion, but, in the second place, the doer must be supposed intelligent; he must know the particular circumstances of the case. (Τὸ ἑκόυσιον δόξειεν ἂν εἴναι οὗ ή ὰρχη ἐν αὐτῷ εἰδότι τὰ καθ' ἕκαστα ἐν οἶς ἡ πρᾶξις). If the man is ignorant, and if it was not his duty to know (for, supposing that to be his duty, the act, done in ignorance, is imputed to the will through the ignorance itself, which is criminally imputable), then the deed is not his act. A certain amount of intelligence, or ‘sense,’ is thus a condition of responsibility. No one who does not possess a certain minimum of general intelligence can be considered a responsible being; and under this head come imbecile persons, and, to a certain extent, young children. Further, the person whose intellect is eclipsed for a time—such eclipse being not attributable to himself—can not be made accountable for anything. He can say, and say truly, ‘I was not myself;’ for he means by his self an intelligent will.
Thirdly, responsibility implies a moral agent. No one is accountable, who is not capable of knowing (not, who does not know) the moral quality of his acts. Wherever we can not presume upon a capacity for apprehending (not, an actual apprehension of) moral distinctions, in such cases, for example, as those of young children and some madmen, there is, and there can be, no responsibility, because there exists no moral will. Incapacity, however, must not be imputable to act or wilful omission.
No more than the above is, I believe, contained in the popular creed. There are points which that creed has never encountered, and others again where historical developement has, to some extent, been the cause of divergences.
If we asked the plain man, What is an act? he could not possibly tell us what he meant by it. The problem, In what does an act consist? has never come home to his mind. To some extent we shall see the opinions of that mind, when we see (as we shall) what are not its opinions. For the present we may say, that what seems to lie at the bottom of its notion is this, that an act translates mere thoughts into corresponding external existence; that, by the mediation of the body, it carries what was only in the mind into the world outside the mind, in such a way that the changes thereby produced in the outer world are, on the other side, alterations in itself; and that in that quality they all form part of, and are all for ever preserved in, the self.
And there are points again, where ordinary morality shows divergences of opinion. In the absence of intelligence and moral capacity responsibility can not exist. A beast or an idiot is not accountable. But the vulgar could not tell us beforehand the amount of sense which is required, and, even in particular cases, would often be found to disagree amongst themselves. If we asked again about the relation of act to intent, we should find little more than confusion. What consequences are, and what are not, contained in the act itself? and how far are they contained? What, in such cases, is the degree of moral responsibility? Does a criminal state (e.g., drunkenness) make a man accountable for what he does in that state? and, if so, to what degree? How far, again, does a wrong act, done for an object innocent in itself, make the doer responsible for consequences issuing contrary to his intention? With regard to such points we should find a sterner and a softer view. One section would emphasize the act, and the other the (actual or possible) intention. The one sees crime committed, and is prone to neglect the mind of the doer; while the other is always ready to narrow the field of criminality, to see incapacity rather than guilt, and to make absence of crime in the intent carry its quality into the act.
To resume then; According to vulgar notions, a man must act himself, be now the same man who acted, have been himself at the time of the act, have had sense enough to know what he was doing, and to know good from bad. In addition, where ignorance is wrong, not to have known does not remove accountability, though the degree of it may be doubtful. And everything said of commission applies equally well to omission or negligence.
We have found roughly what the ordinary man means by responsibility; and this was the first task we undertook. We pass to the second, to see whether, and how far, the current theories of Freedom and Necessity (better, Indeterminism and Determinism) are consistent with his beliefs.
Let us first take the theory which goes by the name of the Freewill doctrine, and which exists apparently for the purpose of saving moral accountability. We have to ask, Is it compatible with the ordinary notions on the subject?
This doctrine, we are told, is the only one which asserts Freedom, and without liberty responsibility can not exist. And this sounds well: if we are not free to do as we will, then (on this point the plain man is clear) we can not be responsible. ‘We must have liberty to act according to our choice:’ is this the theory? ‘No, more than that; for that,’ we shall be told, ‘is not near enough. Not only must you be free to do what you will, but also you must have liberty to choose what you will to do. It must be your doing, that you will to do this thing, and not rather that thing; and, if it is not your doing, then you are not responsible.’
So far, I believe, most persons would agree that the doctrine has not gone beyond a fair interpretation of common consciousness. On the whole I think this is so, if we except perhaps a class of acts we have mentioned above, sudden so-called ‘instinctive’ actions. For if responsibility must imply choice, and if it can be maintained that no alternatives, in these cases, came before the mind at all, that all reflection, and therefore all choice, was absent—then, on that showing, we should not in these cases be accountable; and hence, as a consequence, the free-will doctrine would come into collision with the vulgar mind, which holds that a man can act freely without exercising choice.
Let us pass by this, however, as a point which we need not discuss, and, on the whole, we are still at one with ordinary notions. To proceed,—we are free to choose, but what does that mean? ‘It means,’ will be the answer, ‘that our choice is not necessitated by motives; that to will and to desire are different in kind; that there is a gap between them, and that no desire, or complication of desires, carries with it a forcing or compelling power over our volitions. My will is myself, and myself is superior to my desires, and exercises over them an independent faculty of choice, wherein lies freedom and with it responsibility.’ And all this again, in the main, does not appear contrary to ordinary beliefs, unless it implies that we are able to act altogether in the absence, and independent of, desire; and that seems certainly a curious idea, though we need not stop to consider it here.
But it is not right that we should learn the teaching of Freewill, as the opposite (real or supposed) of Necessitarianism, because as yet we do not know what the latter is. We must therefore ask, not what the Free-will theory is not, but what it is. What is then liberty of choice? ‘Self-determination. I determine myself to this or that course.’ Does that mean that I make myself do the act, or merely that my acts all issue from my will? ‘Making is not the word, and very much more is implied than the latter. You are the uncaused cause of your particular volitions.’ But does not what I am come from my disposition, my education, my habits? ‘In this case certainly not. The ego in volition is not a result, and is not an effect, but a cause simply; and of this fact we have a certain and intuitive knowledge.’ Or, if we express the answer in a different metaphysical language, it amounts to this: ‘The I is an universal, which has the power to abstract from all its particulars, and to suspend itself over them, before in choice it takes any one of them into itself, so as to realize that one, and itself thereby. This I, in the act of “I will,” is the self, as pure I, which is superior to all its contents, desires, &c., and descends into them only by its own libertas arbitrii.’
We have stated the doctrine in its clearest form, without troubling ourselves to keep too closely to our English expositors. That to a large extent it rightly expresses indubitable facts, the thoughtful reader will perceive. But we are not to ask, Is it true, and if so, how far true? but to find, if we can, how far it agrees with responsibility as commonly accepted. And so, reflecting on the theory, we see that, in the main, it is only the denial of the opposite theory. It is positive, so far as it asserts the self to be more than a collection of particulars, desires, &c., and to be necessarily concerned in the actions which are imputed to it. And so far the doctrine agrees well enough with common ideas. But the chief bearing of its conclusion is merely negative; and here, as we shall see, it comes into sharp collision with vulgar notions of responsibility.
In this bearing, Free-will means Non-determinism. The will is not determined to act by anything else; and, further, it is not determined to act by anything at all. Self-determination means that the self, the universal, may realize itself by and in this, that, and the other particular; but it also implies that there is no reason why it should identify itself with this one, rather than with that one; there is no rational connection between the two sides; there is nothing in the self which brings this, and not that, act out of it. Turn it as we will, the libertas arbitrii is no more at last than contingentia arbitrii. Freedom means chance; you are free, because there is no reason which will account for your particular acts, because no one in the world, not even yourself, can possibly say what you will, or will not, do next. You are ‘accountable,’ in short, because you are a wholly ‘unaccountable’ creature.
We can not escape this conclusion. If we always can do anything, or nothing, under any circumstances, or merely if, of given alternatives, we can always choose either, then it is always possible that any act should come from any man. If there is no real, no rational connection between the character and the actions (as the upholder of ‘Freedom’ does not deny there is between the actions and the character), then, use any phrases we please, what it comes to is this, that volitions are contingent. In short, the irrational connection, which the Free-will doctrine fled from in the shape of external necessity, it has succeeded only in reasserting in the shape of chance.
The theory was to save responsibility. It saves it thus. A man is responsible, because there was no reason why he should have done one thing, rather than another thing. And that man, and only that man, is responsible, concerning whom it is impossible for any one, even himself, to know what in the world he will be doing next; possible only to know what his actions are, when once they are done, and to know that they might have been the diametrical opposite. So far is such an account from saving responsibility (as we commonly understand it), that it annihilates the very conditions of it. It is the description of a person, who is not responsible, who (if he is anything) is idiotic.
The doctrine of Indeterminism asserts that the actions are in no case the result of a given character, in a given position. The self, or the will, of Indeterminism is not the man, not the character at all, but the mere characterless abstraction, which is ‘free,’ because it is indifferent. It has been well called ‘a will which wills nothing.’ 
But here we have not to investigate the doctrine, but to bring it into contact with ordinary life. Let us suppose a man of good character, innocent of theoretical reflections. Our apostle of Freedom would assure him of his responsibility, and our plain man would welcome and emphasize the statement. Our apostle would inform him, that the secret of man’s accountability was in his possession. He would be received with attention, though perhaps not belief. He might go on to say that a man was responsible, because he always had liberty of choice; and so far he might be followed. But, when he advanced, and began to explain that such freedom of choice must mean, that, before a man acted, it was never certain how he would act, then, I think, he might get for an answer, ‘that depends on what sort of man he is.’ Perhaps at this point he might appeal to his hearer’s consciousness, and put it to him, whether he was not aware that, on opportunities rising for the foulest crimes, he could not only do these acts if he would, but also that it was quite possible, in every case, that he should do them. Such a question, if asked, would be answered, I doubt not, by an indignant negative; and should a similar suggestion be made with respect to a friend or relation, the reply might not confine itself to words. What sayings in life are more common than, ‘You might have known me better. I never could have done such a thing.’ ‘It was impossible for me to act so, and you ought to have known that nothing could have made me’?
We have seen that responsibility (on the usual understanding of it) can only exist in a moral agent. And, if it be true of any man, that his actions are matters of chance, and his will in a state of equilibrium disturbed by contingency, then I think that the question, whether such a being is a moral agent, is a question answered, as soon as raised. And, if this is so, then, with the best of intentions, (such good intentions are the ruin of thinking) the saviours of accountability have failed to save it. They may have held their own against the enemy, and borne in triumph their ark from the contest. But what is brought out of the battle is a very different thing from that which went in, or, perhaps, which never was there at all.
Having first seen what responsibility was for the vulgar mind, we have now also seen what it is (or ought to be) for the one of ‘our two great schools’; and we have seen that the creed of the philosophical, so far, seems seriously different from that which the people hold by. In saying thus much we feel ourselves safe; but we are far indeed from suggesting, that the belief of the philosopher is not every whit as superior in theory, as it doubtless, so far as we can conceive it realized, might in some respects prove convenient in practice.
But, be that as it may, the doctrine of Free-will does not square with popular views; and, bearing in mind that, of ‘two great philosophies,’ when one is taken, but one remains, it is natural to think that Necessity, as the opposite of Free-will, may succeed in doing what its rival has left undone. The enemy, perhaps, after all will be our friend, and the saviour of the reality, and not of an Idolon.
The strict interpretation of the doctrine of Freedom is that no actions can be predicted; the plain man believes that at least some actions can be predicted with tolerable certainty; while the necessitarian affirms that, given the data, all our actions could be foretold beforehand.
But, at this point, the upholder of Liberty may threaten summarily to destroy us. ‘Let my theory be as false,’ he may say, ‘as I, on the other hand, am sure that it is true, yet about one thing there is no disputing. If human actions can be predicted, then responsibility is unmeaning; and the ordinary man, confused as he may be on other points, sees this well enough, and will tell you so if you ask him.’
If this were so, it would be waste of time to enquire any further, but I think it is not so; and, before we embarrass ourselves with exposition or criticism of necessitarian doctrine, it is necessary to get what light we can on the matter.
Is it a fact that the plain man objects to the prediction of his actions; and, if it is a fact, does the objection apply to all, or only to some? If he objects in some cases only, where does he not object, and where does he? And further, why does he object? What is the ground that underlies his objection? These questions must be answered, and they are not easy. It is hard to get the facts, and hard to interpret them; but I hope to suggest to the thoughtful reader what, if new to him, may be worth his consideration.
We have seen already that, in certain cases, the man, who is not a philosopher, has no objection to the mere prediction of his actions. On the contrary, he demands it. We saw that his notion of responsibility implied, together with rationality, a capacity for acting rationally; and further, that this means to act with some regularity, to act so that your actions can be counted on, and, if counted on, then with more or less certainty predicted.
Nothing is clearer than that the plain man does not consider himself any less responsible, because it can be foretold of him that, in a given position, he is sure to do this, and will certainly not do that; that he will not insult helplessness, but respect it; not rob his employer, but protect his interests; and, if this be admitted, as I think it must be, then it will follow that it can not be all his actions, to the prediction of which he entertains an objection.
So much being settled, we must ask, Is there no prediction then which he does find objectionable? I think there is. I believe that if, at forty, our supposed plain man could be shown the calculation, made by another before his birth, of every event in his life, rationally deduced from the elements of his being, from his original natural endowment, and the complication of circumstances which in any way bore on him,—if such a thing were possible in fact, as it is conceivable in certain systems, then, I will not go so far as to say that our man would begin to doubt his responsibility; I do not say his notions of right and wrong would be unsettled (on this head I give no opinion); but I believe that he would be most seriously perplexed, and in a manner outraged.
Let us take these two points for granted then, that some prediction is not objectionable, while some, on the other hand, is; and let us now proceed, if we can, to distinguish the cases, and find, in the first place, what is not, and, in the second, what is objected to.
Subject to the correction of the reader, I say that, when we confine ourselves to mere prediction (as we must, because the attendant circumstances may always annoy), the man of healthy mind has no objection to the prediction of any actions, which he looks on as issuing from his character. A formed man, if healthy, feels himself to be what he is; he is ‘made’; he has certain principles, certain habits, certain ways. He has, in a word, a certain self. He knows what that self is; he is not ashamed of it, and he has no objection whatever to the world knowing what it is: he likes it to be known. He is aware what he would do, under given conditions; and why in the world, then, should other people not be able to tell beforehand, how he would act, and what he would do under those conditions? He sets no great store by ideal moralities; there he is, pretty much what he ought to be, with peculiarities of his own, as he sees that his fellows have all their own points, which belong to them, all of them ‘bound’ to do this or that, as their friends could tell you beforehand. He may not be what other men are, but he is quite as good, and he has his own ways; right or wrong, he is not very likely to alter them now. Will he answer for them? Why, for what else should he answer? They are his, they are himself.
Let us take an instance. After a certain action, he is told that his friend said of him, ‘I know him, and he will do this.’ Is he disturbed? In no way. Rather he is pleased to be understood. And when to his face his friend tells him, ‘I knew that you would say that,’ he smiles in silence, or as he enquires, ‘Why, how did you know it?’
The strongest proof that no connection whatever exists between belief in accountability and the mere idea of knowledge beforehand, is the fact that, for the faults we were sure beforehand we should commit, and which we know for certain we should commit again, we never for one moment doubt we are responsible.
Our result at present is this: the prediction which is not objected to, is mere simple prediction founded on knowledge of character. There may be extraneous conditions which, in some cases, make such prediction offensive; but these do not affect our conclusion.
We now have to ask, what is the prediction which is objectionable? Would it be going too far, if we said that the ordinary man would not like the foretelling of any one of his conscious acts, unless so far as they issued from his character? I do not think it would be. Let us take a trivial illustration, and if it border on the ludicrous, so much the better. Suppose that on several occasions our man finds that another has said beforehand what fruit he would choose from a large variety, and on no two occasions the same. He would be much surprised; but if told by the other, ‘I knew you would do it, because I have noticed you, and you always have done it,’ I believe he would be satisfied at once. But failing this, and failing a conclusion to his choice from any of his habits or ways, I think he would be most uncomfortable. His feeling would be, that the other man knew something he had no right, and which was not his, to know. And we might see the same thing in a number of instances, as the reader will find by considering the matter.
At present we have only to discover the facts, and no doubt so far they appear irrational; but the next illustration will, I hope, begin to enlighten us. As we have already remarked, the ordinary man would probably be little short of horrified to find that the whole of his history, everything which has gone to settle his character, every element in the evolution which has made him what he is, had been foretold in detail before his birth. If I am right, he would be inclined to say, ‘The growth of my character has been predicted when I was not; and how then can I have had anything to do with it?’
We are certain, unless we are careful, to miss the important point here. It is not the mere fact of his present character being beforehand an object of knowledge, which troubles him so much. For his notions are not clear, as they well may not be. He is his self, and his self is his character; and he being born, his character, when he so considers it, is likewise born. And thus, sinking the fact of the process of his developement, he is what he is; he is such, and may be known as such, and the sooner or later are unimportant considerations, which may be dropped out of sight. And hence the prediction is the prediction of his character with its actions, which in no way troubles him. But what he was horrified at was to find the qualities of his being, deduced from that which is not himself. He can not bear to see the genesis of himself, or his self in becoming. And so, if I see the facts rightly, when we put out of view the results of his character, it is not the irrational prediction of his doings which disquiets him, but rather, and very much more, the rational.
This seems at first sight a surprising result, but nevertheless it is far from inexplicable.
We must consider, first, that irrational prevision need not imply (among ourselves it does not imply) the belief in Fate, as a negative power that stands over, sways, and crushes individuals. And, this being so, the individual stands and is left to himself; he is not interfered with by a foreign element; his deeds are his own doing—they come from himself. It is a mere question of knowing them sooner or later; and the plain man never dreams of reasoning that, because they are foreknown, therefore they pre-exist, and therefore they are not his. But if they are his, then he is responsible for them; and, if he is troubled, he is troubled so far as the doctrine of Fate is suggested, and because Fate means a non-moral, inhuman order of the world. So far, then, as irrational prevision implies a non-moral order of the world, and so far as such order is incompatible with accountability; so far, and no farther, does irrational prevision conflict with ordinary morality. But we must not linger here, for much still lies before us.
We have now done with the question of fact, and we come to the question ‘Why.’ What is the ground of objection to rational prevision (always apart from knowledge of character)? And the first point to remark is, that when a man is disquieted by that, there does seem no reason at all to suppose that what comes before him is, directly and primarily, his accountability.
What really does lie and does work in his mind, would appear to be this. He is sure that he exists. A man, as we know, may doubt of many things, of anything else; but he never can doubt of his own being. And he is sure that he is nothing but himself. His notions on the matter are entirely hazy. It would be idle and absurd to ask him questions; but he can not think of himself and not-himself, and bring the two ideas together. He can think (and it is a delusion to say he can not think) of the world, apart from and without himself. The stage is there, and he can come on or go off. He can appear or not appear, be or not be; can come in and go out, like a candle, which must be alight or not alight—a fire, which must be ‘in’ or ‘out;’ but by no possibility can he conceive of himself as in becoming. How can he (there already) become himself? and how can he (there still) be ceasing to be himself? It is impossible that this should come before his mind.
What he means by his self, we have already remarked, he knows not; and indeed his views are much confused; for at times, as we said, he identifies his character with his self (anything but his character would not be his self), and carries it back to the beginning of his life; and, at times again, he will tell you that without his bringing-up and education, and without his own resolution and self-denial, he never would have been the sort of man he is now; and here the self, which is there from the first, is not the character. You may tell him his character was born with him, that is one of his views; or you may tell him it has been developed, that is another; but then you must add (fairly to represent him) that he has developed it.
Suppose that all this is lying in his mind, and one sees directly the ground of our man’s dislike for rational prediction; for such prediction is, in a word, the construction of himself out of what is not himself; and that, as we saw, he can not understand. If, from given data and from universal rules, another man can work out the generation of him like a sum in arithmetic, where is his self gone to? It is invaded by another, broken up into selfless elements, put together again, mastered and handled, just as a poor dead thing is mastered by man. And this being so, our man feels dimly that, if another can thus unmake and remake him, he himself might just as well have been anybody else from the first, since nothing remains which is specially his. The sanctum of his individuality is outraged and profaned; and with that profanation ends the existence, that once seemed impenetrably sure. To explain the origin of a man is utterly to annihilate him.
Even when the character is formed, and the knowledge of it by others is not objected to, every one knows it is the grossest rudeness to affect to understand a man, or to know him, as well or better than he knows himself, unless the parties are on intimate terms. And one ground of this is no doubt the feeling just mentioned, that a man can not be worked like a sum, but repels the intrusion of an external mind.
That a man feels no pain at the thought that God knows his inmost being, and the elements of it; or that he feels such pain only, when irreligiously he thinks of himself and of God as two finite persons, is a confirmation of the above account. In that religious relation the relation ceases; the self loses sight of its private selfness, and gives itself up, to find itself and more than itself.
The objection to the rational developement of the character is founded, I believe, on the above ideas. But, if we come now to belief in responsibility, and ask how far, in the mind of our man, it stands connected with these notions, the answer must be, that immediately, and in the mind of the practical man, it is not so connected at all. He is responsible for that which he is, no matter what he is, and no matter how he became so; provided only that the conditions of imputation are present. But what the ordinary man would think is one thing; what he ought to think, if he saw more clearly, is another thing. And if we state the question differently, and ask whether rational prevision is consistent with all that is implied in accountability, can coexist with the conditions of imputation, a different reply must, I think, be given. We saw that a man was accountable, because he himself, and no other, has acted; and now, so far as I am able to see, the possibility of the explanation of his self means that his self does not exist at all, and therefore, of course, can not act.
The matter in hand has important bearings, and I do not think that, in general, our ideas are very clear concerning it. It is common to find some such belief as this. Either the human world is subject to law, or it is not; and if it is subject, then there is no reason in the nature of things, why you should not so understand the characters of men and the principles of historical developement, as to be able to say beforehand, what a man or a stage in history is to be. As a matter of fact, you can not go beyond ‘tendencies;’ but that is only because you never have a sufficiency of particular data; and, given these, it would be possible rationally to foresee the future man or stage in history. Such a notion, I think, is altogether erroneous; and, if we ask what the proposal comes to in plain language, it is this,—à priori to construe an individual man or state of society out of its elements, such individual being unknown, and not yet in existence. Let us see what there is to be said against that.
I am far from suggesting that the human world is not ‘under law;’ partly, because I am not sure that I know what that means. And, though I consider the phrase ‘result’ inaccurate and here misleading, I do not deny that the character of a man does follow, as a result, from his natural endowment together with his environment. If his self is the negation of all its particulars, that does not mean that it is not determined by them. But I do say that, given the knowledge of a man’s innate disposition, and given the knowledge of his outward world (in the fullest possible sense), yet you can not, from these data, deduce his character. I do say that, given historical materials, and given any knowledge of laws which you please, it does not follow that you can construe from them a future state of society; and, if society is organic (and a better theory tells us it is more than organic), and if history is progressive, then you may guess and foresee many things by a practical insight; but, give you what knowledge of ‘laws’ and what particular existing data you please, you can not calculate the future. You can predict the result, only so far as your experience goes, i.e. so far as you know the result; and as long as history does not repeat itself, and while no two men are ever born the same, so long will the individual result you want be lacking to you.
Even if we suppose, what is very hard to suppose, that the character is inborn; yet even then it is knowable only so far as manifested, and, therefore, not till later in life. Or suppose, again, that the character is known, and the environment the same as others of which we have had experience, yet even here the question arises, Are you able to generalize laws of the action and reaction of character and circumstances, when character does not mean disposition or temperament (the man is more than these)? If you can not class characters, so as to deduce particulars from them, then even the premises we have supposed you to possess are useless to you.
But if, turning from suppositions, which we can not here discuss, but which we believe to be at the mercy of criticism, we hold, as the only conclusion possible, that the character of the man is not what is made, but what makes itself, out of and from the disposition and environment; and if, again, we suppose that everything, which exists outside the self, must, to make that definite self which we know, be fused together in the self, in such manner as to be one thing or another thing, or well-nigh anything, according to the quality of the whole individuality; if every part is in the whole, and determines that whole—if the whole is in every part, and informs each part with the nature of the whole—then it does seem mere thoughtlessness to imagine that by ‘compounding’ and ‘deducing’ we are likely to do much. The whole question lies in a nutshell. If the man is made by what answers to your theoretical deduction, then you can deduce him in anticipation; but if he is not, then you can not. And so with society. If a stage in history is the result of what corresponds to your intellectual putting together of conclusions from premises, then you may calculate it; but if it is not, then you can not. If the individual self and society are ‘compositions’ of that order, that a knowledge of their elements gives you, apart from experience, a knowledge of the individuals, then you can ‘compound’ them, and construe them à priori; but if they are not, you can not.
To ‘understand’ (the word is used in the loosest sense) a result when you have it before you or in you, is one thing; to construe it by the intellect beforehand, altogether and absolutely another thing. I do not say, that is never done; everybody knows that, in certain spheres, you can and do deduce from laws and data: but I do say that the fact that, in respect of one subject-matter, you can do it here, gives you no right to say that, in respect of another subject-matter, you can do it there. And as to ‘science of tendencies,’ what has science to do with such loose phrases? If ‘tendencies’ mean abstractions, there is no objection to that in itself. The question to be answered is, ‘Are the abstractions possible?’; and we have answered that in the negative, so far as the science of character is concerned. Its ‘laws’ are ‘empty opinions;’  there is not one sphere in which they hold good. If they are not, they ought to be false outside the character, because they profess to be specially laws of the character; and inside the character they are false, because they abstract from the character; and where they happen to be right, it is only because they happen not to be wrong. And what applies to the individual man, applies mutatis mutandis to a stage in historical progress.
If the above be in any way correct, then the rational prediction of human character is a sheer impossibility; and to maintain it to be possible, may not be to jar with the plain man’s feelings and beliefs, but it is to collide with his notion of accountability; because, as we saw, that notion contains the idea of an individual self, and because, unless that idea be not real, rational prediction is out of the question. So much for rational prediction: but how far, and whether, irrational prediction strikes at the root of individuality, is a question we can not enter into here.
At the cost of a somewhat lengthy digression, we are now, I hope, in a better position to ask how far responsibility, as it exists for the vulgar, agrees with the teaching of the expounders of Necessity. We saw that the plain man did not think himself accountable, for the reason that he never could be counted on; and if Necessity meant no more than the regularity of his volitions, the possibility of telling, from his character, his action in a given position, then, I believe, no objection would be made to it. But we saw as well that, if necessity means the theoretical developement of the characterized self, then necessity collides with popular morality.
But this last point need not at present engage us; let us confine our attention to the full-grown man. When he hears of necessity, he is sure to object to it. ‘But that,’ says the believer, ‘is only because he does not understand our terms; by ‘cause’ we mean one thing, and he means another; and so with ‘necessity’ ’. In that case, we may answer, speaking in the place, though not with the words, of our vulgar objector, you really should not go on using these terms, since you must be aware that you generate confusion; and also, in the writings of our necessitarians, we can not see that these terms do signify what they do not signify for the non-philosophical. Where we see that words go on standing for the same matters, it is hard to believe that their meaning is so different. You take phrases, which we apply to the natural world, and you apply them to what we think the non-natural world; you break down our distinction between the physical and the mental. You say, indeed, that this matters not, since your view of the physical world also is different from ours; but we say, in answer, that we are not philosophers, and do not know what they think of it; but when you speak to us of stones, and sticks, and what we understand; and talk of a blow from a stick causing bruises, and the necessity of a stone breaking panes in a window, then your view of nature seems at bottom to be ours, and we believe that you take that common view and transfer it to the human world, and there, so far as we understand you, we do not believe in you. Your theoretical definition of cause and necessity may be different from anything in our minds, but your practical application we see to be, everywhere else, much the same, and we do not trust you, when you tell us that here it is different.
When you speak to us plainly, you have to say that you really understand a man to be free, and free in no other sense than a falling stone, or than running water. In the one case there is as little necessity as in the other, and just as much freedom. And we believe that this is your meaning. But we know that, if these things are so, a man has no more of what we call freedom than a candle or a coprolite, and of that you will never succeed in convincing us. You must persuade us either that the coprolite is responsible, or that we are not responsible; and, with all due respect to you, we are going to believe neither.
And this, no doubt, is what lies at the bottom of the objection entertained against ordinary determinism. The vulgar are convinced that a gulf divides them from the material world; they believe their being to lie beyond the sphere of mere physical laws; their character, or their will, is to them their thinking and rational self; and they feel quite sure that it is not a thing in space, to be pushed here and there by other things outside of it. And so, when you treat their will as a something physical and interpret its action by mechanical metaphors, they believe that you do not treat it or interpret it at all, but rather something quite other than it. It is not that you say about it what you should not say, but that you never say anything about it at all; that you ignore the centre of their moral being, that which for them means freedom, and is freedom; and this is what is signified, when it is said of determinism, that ‘it holds by a will which wills nothing’, just as we saw that indeterminism did indeed hold by a will, but ‘a will that willed nothing.’
But we must not allow our client, or ourselves, too great a liberty in what may be considered the assertion of a theory; for we have not to assert, but to understand and criticize. We must see for ourselves, in what the consistent determinist can not endorse the plain man’s notion of moral accountability.
We saw above that responsibility and liability to punishment might be taken as convertible, and that, hence, the theory, which would justify punishment, would account for responsibility; and that, where the former (in its ordinary sense) was meaningless, there the latter must also be wanting.
Let us see, then, what punishment means first for the vulgar, and, next, for the believer in Necessity. Let us see for ourselves, if the two ideas are compatible; and then enquire wherein they are incompatible, in case they are so.
If there is any opinion to which the man of uncultivated morals is attached, it is the belief in the necessary connection of punishment and guilt. Punishment is punishment, only where it is deserved. We pay the penalty, because we owe it, and for no other reason; and if punishment is inflicted for any other reason whatever, than because it is merited by wrong, it is a gross immorality, a crying injustice, an abominable crime, and not what it pretends to be. We may have regard for whatever considerations we please—our own convenience, the good of society, the benefit of the offender; we are fools, and worse, if we fail to do so. Having once the right to punish, we may modify the punishment according to the useful and the pleasant, but these are external to the matter; they can not give us a right to punish, and nothing can do that but criminal desert. This is not a subject to waste words over: if the fact of the vulgar view is not palpable to the reader, we have no hope, and no wish, to make it so.
I am not to be punished, on the ordinary view, unless I deserve it. Why then (let us repeat) on this view do I merit punishment? It is because I have been guilty. I have done ‘wrong.’ I have taken into my will, made a part of myself, have realized my being in something, which is the negation of ‘right,’ the assertion of not right. Wrong can be imputed to me. I am the realization, and the standing assertion of wrong. Now the plain man may not know what he means by ‘wrong,’ but he is sure that, whatever it is, it ‘ought’ not to exist, that it calls and cries for obliteration; that, if he can remove it, it is his business to do so; that, if he does not remove it, it rests also upon him, and that the destruction of guilt, whatever be the consequences, and even if there be no consequences at all, is still a good in itself. And this, not because a mere negation is a good, but because the denial of wrong is the assertion of right (whatever ‘right’ means); and the assertion of right is an end in itself.
Punishment is the denial of wrong by the assertion of right, and the wrong exists in the self, or will, of the criminal; his self is a wrongful self, and is realized in his person and possessions; he has asserted in them his wrongful will, the incarnate denial of right; and in denying that assertion, and annihilating, whether wholly or partially, that incarnation by fine, or imprisonment, or even by death, we annihilate the wrong and manifest the right; and since this, as we saw, was an end in itself, so punishment is also an end in itself.
Yes, in despite of sophistry, and in the face of sentimentalism, with well-nigh the whole body of our self-styled enlightenment against them, our people believe to this day that punishment is inflicted for the sake of punishment; though they know no more than our philosophers themselves do, that there stand on the side of the unthinking people the two best known names of modern philosophy.
But, even were we able, it is not our task here to expound to the reader, what this, or again what the other metaphysician understands by punishment. The above is no more than the theoretical expression of the popular view, viz. that punishment is justice; that justice implies the giving what is due; that suppression of its existence, in one form or other, is due to guilt, and so to the guilty person; and that, against his will, to give or take from a man what is not due, is, on the other hand, injustice. We have now to see what punishment is for the believer in Necessity.
And here the Necessitarian does not leave us in doubt. For him, it is true, ‘responsibility’ may ‘mean punishment,’ or rather the liability thereto; and perhaps he would not mind saying that guilt deserves punishment. But when we ask him, what is to be understood by the term ‘desert,’ then we are answered at once, that its meaning is something quite other than the ‘horrid figment’ which we believe in; or, lost in phrases, we perceive thus much, that the world we are in is certainly not that of the vulgar mind.
We must be careful here not to suffer ourselves to be led astray. The empirical origin in history, or in the individual, of the notions of justice and desert is for us altogether beside the point. For we are concerned with the ‘What,’ and not here at all with the question, ‘How comes it to be?’ And though often (I do not say, always) for a complete result we must consider both; yet to run them into one, and confuse them together, is an error as common as it is utterly ruinous. We have to answer no more than the question ‘what’, and that in the sense of, what is the vulgar notion? And secondly, we must not wander to a discussion on the right to punish. We need not ask how it is, that, if 99 men are of opinion, that it is more convenient, for both the 99 and the 100th, or for the 100th without the 99, or the 99 without the 100th, that he, the 100th, should cease to exist—that therefore it is right for their opinion to be conveyed to him by the hanging of him, whatever may be his opinion on the subject. The discussion of this question we leave to utilitarian philosophers. We must keep to facts, and fortunately they are plain. For our vulgar, once more, punishment is the complement of criminal desert; is justifiable only so far as deserved; and further is an end in itself. For our Necessitarian, punishment is avowedly never an end in itself; it is never justifiable, except as a means to an external end.
‘There are two ends,’ says the late Mr Mill (Hamilton, p. 592), and he means there are only two ends, ‘which, on the Necessitarian theory, are sufficient to justify punishment: the benefit of the offender himself, and the protection of others.’
And (p. 597), ‘If indeed punishment is inflicted for any other reason than in order to operate on the will; if its purpose be other than that of improving the culprit himself, or securing the just rights of others against unjust violation [‘justice,’ the reader must remember, may be for him, and Mr Mill, two different things], then, I admit, the case is totally altered. If any one thinks that there is justice in the infliction of purposeless suffering; that there is a natural affinity between the two ideas of guilt and punishment, which makes it intrinsically fitting that wherever there has been guilt, pain should be inflicted by way of retribution [the reader will not forget that for him, beside that of justice, there may also be other spheres, and possibly higher: what is merely just need not be intrinsically fitting]; I acknowledge that I can find no argument to justify punishment inflicted on this principle. As a legitimate satisfaction to feelings of indignation and resentment which are on the whole salutary and worthy of cultivation [the figments are not ‘horrid’ to Mr Mill; he seems willing even to encourage them], I can in certain cases admit it; but here it is still a means to an end. The merely retributive [‘merely’ is misleading] view of punishment derives no justification from the doctrine I support.’
Punishment to Mr Mill is ‘medicine’; and, turn himself aside as he might from the issue (p. 593-4), he could not avoid the conclusion forced on him by the ‘Inquirer,’ that if rewards carried with them the benefits of punishment, then I should deserve rewards, when, and because, I am wicked.
Now against this theory of punishment I have nothing here to say. The great and ancient names, which in punishment saw nothing but a means to the good of the State or the individual, demand that we treat that view with respect; and hence I will not even say that the old Hellenic doctrine is not also the latest and best to be had. But what we must say, what nearly every one will admit, what we must take for granted without further discussion, is this, that whatever else it may be it is at least not the opinion of the vulgar.
We need not dwell on the point. If, on the one side, punishment is always an end in itself, whatever else it may be, and if, on the other, whatever else it is, it never can be an end in itself, we may take it for granted that between the two there is no agreement.
But if, as we saw, to understand punishment is to understand responsibility, and not to know the one is to be ignorant of the other, and to hold an opposite theory on the one, is to hold, as a consequence, an opposite theory on the other; if ‘responsibility means punishment,’ and punishability is the same as accountability; and if, further, the teaching of the Necessitarian with respect to punishment is in flagrant contradiction with vulgar opinion—how, if he were so minded, is he to assert that his teaching on responsibility is not so also? How is he to deny that accountability is a ‘figment;’ and that his moral world is, in everything but names and phrases, not the moral world of the vulgar? If, to repeat, on the theory of Necessity I am not punishable in the ordinary sense, then (for we saw that the two went together) I am not responsible either.
Our result so far then is this: we have seen what punishment for the vulgar and for the Determinist respectively are; and to see that is to see that they are altogether incompatible; and so in like manner the responsibilities, which correspond to them, are not the same. And our conclusion must be, that neither the one nor the other of our ‘two great philosophical modes of thought,’ however excellent they may (or may not) be as philosophies, each by itself and the one against the other, does in any way theoretically express the moral notions of the vulgar mind, or fail in some points to contradict them utterly.
But to perceive the fact is not enough for us. It has not been a discovery, but has been admitted and professed by teachers of Determinism. Our interest is mainly to see wherein it is that Necessitarianism fails to interpret the popular belief. It fails in this, that it altogether ignores the rational self in the form of will; it ignores it in the act of volition, and it ignores it in the abiding personality, which is the same throughout all its acts, and by which alone imputation gets a meaning.
A man, to express what the people believe, is only responsible for what (mediately or immediately) issues from the act of volition; and in that act his will is present, his will being himself, and neither a part of himself nor a certain disposition of elements not in a self, but the whole self expressing itself in a particular way, manifesting itself as will in this or that utterance, and, in and by such manifestation, qualifying the will which manifests itself. The will must be in the act, and the act in the will; and as the will is the self which remains the same self, therefore the act, which was part of the self, is now part of the self, since the self is that which it has done. We say ‘I will,’ and we mean something by it. We distinguish ‘I’ and ‘will.’ ‘I’ is what we always say, when we speak of thinking or doing at all, and ‘will’ means now some particular act which we will. And again in ‘I will’ we unite ‘I’ and ‘will,’ in such a way that the notion of dividing them is absurd; when of each it can be said that the one is in the other, partition is out of the question. ‘I’ was there, as a solid individual; then, when a particular act was before it, ‘I’ became to us that which included and was wider than this, that, or the other possible particulars; and lastly, in ‘I will’ there is no particular nor universal apart, but an inseparable whole. The vulgar, as we know, are the prey of delusions, which we think our ‘inductive’ psychology, and our anti-metaphysical metaphysic, and our all too metaphysical ‘Baconian’ science make impossible for ourselves; and the sole possible expression of the one most widely spread amongst all these rooted beliefs is this, that an universal is real, and that that universal is conscious of itself.
We said that our Necessitarians ignored the self, both as willing self and as self-same will. Let us begin with the first. We saw (to repeat it) that ‘the will must be in the act, and the act in the will’; and phrases of this sort, which express the beliefs of the vulgar mind, should warn us that either we are living in an universe of ‘figments,’ or else that in the world we have entered no physical theories, which apply to things outside of each other in space, are likely to avail us. And so when we hear such phrases as ‘the mechanism of the human mind,’ we feel at a loss, if at least we believe that the sphere of mere mechanism has ceased, before that of the mind has even begun; and when, further, we learn the avowed intention to bring nothing but physical methods to bear on the interpretation of mind, what confidence we had altogether vanishes. And proceeding to inquire into the determination of the will by ‘motives,’ we find every term and phrase has a meaning not until we import into the consideration of ourselves the coarsest and crassest mechanical metaphors of pulls and pushes, drawings and thrustings, which we believed to exist not anywhere except in the lowest phenomena of the natural world. Just as in reading Locke and so many of the friends of Locke, we have nothing before our understanding, until, as it were, we call up before our eyes solid things in space, denting, and punching, and printing another thing called a mind, and this other thing in like manner (how, heaven knows) making marks and prints on itself also—so, in reading our determinists, the one chance of their terms bringing anything at all before the intellect, is for us to keep in sight a thing called a will, pushed and pulled by things called motives; or else certain ‘forces’ called motives, acting within a given space called self, and, by their ‘composition,’ resulting in no movement at all or a movement called ‘will;’ uncertain whether such movement is a movement of the whole ‘collection’ in the space called self, or a movement only of part of that collection.
If now we can bring these objects before our minds, and know that the will is a thing ‘in a bag’ called self, and is moved by other things out of or in the bag; or (more refinedly) that states of mind, called motives, stand to the mind, of which they are the states, as forces stand to the space they meet in,—then Determinism is intelligible enough, and considered as an intellectual amusement is perhaps a pleasing theory. But when such a theory is brought into relation with the actions of ourselves, then, speaking not merely for ourselves alone, we can say little more than that we really can see no connection between the theory and the facts we know. The phrases of one sphere lose all their meaning when applied to the other sphere. That the self in desire should have gone beyond itself, and yet not be beside itself; that the many desires should all be the desires of the self; that the self should be divided against itself in desire; that the self should from all its desires distinguish itself; that it should confront them, and taking some one of them into itself, should free itself so from all other attractions, and spend its whole being in that one direction; that the realized desire is the utterance of the self, and that the act which is that utterance should remain in the self, even as the self went out in the act—all and every one of these sayings become senseless, when translated into the language of mechanism, into motives, and tractions, and compositions of forces. You may name them as you please, if you do not prefer to ignore them altogether; you may call them the ghosts of the delusions of the vulgar, shamelessly walking in the daylight and shrouded in the phrases of a mystical jargon; but you can not get rid of one simple fact, that they represent what to the unphilosophical mind is reality palpable as the noonday sun, and that your philosophy is impotent to explain them.
But not only in the act of ‘I will’ does Determinism entirely lose sight of the ‘I,’ and hence fail to recognize the characteristic of the will; not only does it hold by a will that wills nothing, and misses thereby an element involved in responsibility; but, also, it ignores or denies the identity of the self in all the acts of the self, and without self-sameness we saw there was no possibility of imputation.
On this important point it is simply impossible to state the vulgar belief too strongly. If I am not now the same man, the identical self that I was; if the acts that I did are not the acts of the one and individual I which exists at this moment, then I can not deserve to be punished for that which myself has not done. For imputation it is required that the acts, which were mine, now also are mine; and this is possible only on the supposition that the will, which is now, is the will which was then, so that the contents of the will, which were then, are the contents of the self-same will which is now existing. On this point again repetitions are wearisome, and words are wasted; without personal identity responsibility is sheer nonsense; and to the psychology of our Determinists personal identity (with identity in general) is a word without a vestige of meaning.
And I am far from saying that in the regions of philosophy their doctrines are not right. For on these matters I advance no opinion at present; and, for anything I have to say here, their conclusions may be the correct ones. We are right, it may be, here again to apply to the self the methods, or what are said to be the methods, of all physical enquiry, to view through the glass of an accurate introspection this nebula of the ordinary vision, till it breaks into points, which laws, not their own, move hither and thither in the limited space which once seemed to be fulness. I do not assert that the self is not ‘resolvable’ into coexistence and sequence of states of the mind. I am far from denying that the I or the self is no more than ‘collective,’ than a collection of sensations, and ideas, and emotions, and volitions swept together with one another and after one another by ‘the laws of association’; though I confess that to a mind, which is but little ‘inductive,’ and which can not view the world wholly ὰ posteriori, these things are very difficult even to picture, and altogether impossible in any way to understand. We can bring before the mind certain atoms in space; we can call them feelings, or ideas, or what we will; and we can say that we mean by the mind a given collection of these pictured atoms; and so far we do well enough. But then comes our first trouble. We have imaged to ourselves a collection of points in space, and that means we see the collection itself, as covering a given area, with other spaces and collections outside of it. Are we to say that the mind is in space? ‘Oh, no!’ we shall be told; ‘for that is to talk about things in themselves: our knowledge is relative, which means that we must confine ourselves to our given collection; the question is unanswerable, because unintelligible.’ And so, by talking ourselves about ‘things in themselves’, we change, so to speak, a subject of conversation which was beginning to be slightly improper, and continue, as before, to picture the mind as a collection in space of material points; or if time be spoken of, we have but, as it were, to give a turn to our kaleidoscope. And so far still we are doing pretty well.
But still we must not be too confident. We forgot for the moment that the units of the collection are, each one separately, a state of the collection (they are ‘states of mind,’ and the mind is ‘collective’), and we can see well enough that in a bag of marbles or a bunch of grapes the state of the marbles affects the state of the bag, and the state of the grapes is the state of the bunch; but it is very hard to see why each marble is to be called a state of the bag of marbles, and each grape a state of the bunch of grapes, unless we suppose an ‘entity’ inside the bag irresolvable into marbles, or an ‘entity’ in the grapes of the bunch irresolvable into grapes. And that, as we know, has been exploded long ago. We feel that there are, and must be, some questions it is useless to ask; and if we use self-control, and abstain from asking them, we still, as before, can see things very well.
But here, unfortunately, our troubles are not over: this collection is aware of itself; it talks about itself as if it were simple. And this it is impossible to picture at all; and we here (I speak for myself, so far as I have tried) are reduced to despair; for we want to keep the collection steadily before us, and yet, as often as we have to imagine it aware of itself, our picture is at once in confusion, and we do not know what we have before us at all: all we are sure of is that it is not a collection, while we know all the time that it really is so; and we must comfort ourselves, I suppose, by saying that, so long as we remain ‘scientific,’ such difficulties as these must not be made too much of. But when we hear collections affirming that they really are not collections, and saying that what is many is really at the same time one, and that what is complex is really at the same time simple, and that what is different is none the less identical; and declaring that all this is contained in that which they call themselves, and which they say it is impossible for them to doubt of, because existence, for them, implies the thinking so—then we know with whom we have to do. These collections are trying to be ‘entities’ and ‘things in themselves’ or perhaps even the Absolute; and that is the only reason they have for saying these things, which can not be true, because, if they were, what we say would be false. This matter Hume—whom we have our reasons for not talking about, but keep, as it were, in reserve—has settled, and settled for ever. Such beliefs are nothing but fictions of the mind, and the mind itself is a fiction of the mind.
Let us take an illustration. We have all seen onions on a rope. Now each of these onions is not any other onion—it may be taken by itself, as a separate individual; and yet each of these onions is a state of the rope of onions. And further, this rope of onions is aware of itself—it talks about itself and generally comports itself as if it were inseparable, and, no doubt, it really is what it calls self-conscious. But here is the beginning of delusion; for, talking about ‘self,’ we (i.e. the onions) fall into the belief that there is something there under the onions and the rope, and on looking we see there is nothing of the kind. But on looking we see even more than this; for the rope of the onions is a rope of straw, and that is, being interpreted, no rope at all, but the fiction of a rope. The onions keep together because of the laws of association of onions; and because of these laws it is, that the mutual juxtaposition of the onions engenders in them the belief in a rope, and the consequent foolish ideas of a self, which we see in all their foolishness, when we perceive, first, that there is nothing but a rope, and then that the rope is nothing at all. The only thing which after all is hard to see is this, that we ourselves, who apprehend the illusion, are ourselves the illusion which is apprehended by us; and perhaps, on the theory of ‘relativity,’ in order to know a fiction you yourself must be the fiction you know; but it all is hard to understand, especially to a mind which is little ‘analytical’ and, I begin to fear, not at all ‘inductive.’
We can see that a stream is a flux, and that the wisp which plays on it has really no more of permanence than the stream; but how that wisp is ever to think about these things, and to delude itself into the belief, and to publish the theory, that it can not help thinking of itself as one being, and that yet after all it is nothing but a wisp; to see how this is seems really impossible. The only way to represent it is to picture a delusion, which is nothing but a delusion, and which, after belief that it is not a delusion, has at length found out that really it is a delusion. And since this, to the non-philosophical mind, appears meaningless nonsense; and since this is the conclusion to which ‘inductive’ psychology, if we carry it out, seems necessarily to lead, I do not see much reason to think that the premises of that psychology would not to the vulgar seem similar nonsense, if they only were aware what those premises did really stand for and signify.
We have dwelt too long on this matter. If the self is ignored in the psychology of our Determinists, or recognized in a sense which is not the vulgar sense, then responsibility and punishment and all the beliefs intellectual and moral, which hang from (as we have seen) and involve in their being the reality of the vulgar sense, with the non-reality thereof fall and are destroyed; or survive, at most, in a form and in a shape which, whatever and however much better it may be, is absolutely irreconcilable with the notions of the people. A criminal is as ‘responsible’ for his acts of last year as the Thames at London is responsible for an accident on the Isis at Oxford, and he is no more responsible. And to punish that criminal, in the vulgar sense, is to repeat the story of Xerxes and the Hellespont. It may be true that, by operating on a stream in one place, you may make that stream much better in all places lower down, and possibly also may influence other streams; but if you think that, because of this, the stream is punishable and the water responsible in anything like the way in which we use the words, then you do most grossly deceive yourselves. And our conclusion must be this, that of ‘the two great schools’ which divide our philosophy, as the one, so the other stands out of relation to vulgar morality; that for both alike responsibility (as we believe in it) is a word altogether devoid of signification and impossible of explanation.
Now, if this conclusion be the true one, and, it not being mine in particular, I may say that I do not doubt that it is true; and further, if the drawing of morals be not out of the fashion, it would seem that there are several morals, which here might well be drawn. And the first is the vulgar one, that seeing all we have of philosophy looks away (to a higher sphere doubtless) from the facts of our unenlightend beliefs and our vulgar moralities; and since these moralities are what we most care about, that therefore we also should leave these philosophers to themselves, nor concern ourselves at all with their lofty proceedings. This moral I think, on the whole, to be the best; though in our days perhaps it also is the hardest for all of us to practise. And the moral which comes next is, of course, the philosophical one, that, seeing the vulgar are after all the vulgar, we should not be at pains to agree with their superstitions; but since philosophy is the opposite of no philosophy, we rather should esteem ourselves, according as our creed is different from, and hence is higher than theirs. And this moral, as for some persons it is the only one possible, so also I recommend it them as their certain road to an unmixed happiness. But there remains still left a third moral, which, as I am informed, has been drawn by others; that if we are not able to rest with the vulgar, nor to shout in the battle of our two great schools, it might then be perhaps worth our while to remember that we live in an island, and that our national mind, if we do not enlarge it, may also grow insular; that not far from us there lies (they say so) a world of thought, which, with all its variety, is neither one nor the other of our two philosophies, but whose battle is the battle of philosophy itself against two undying and opposite one-sidednesses; a philosophy which thinks what the vulgar believe; a philosophy, lastly, which we all have refuted, and, having so cleared our consciences, which some of us at least might take steps to understand.
- If, through my bad habits, it is my fault, that what presumably would not have been compulsion amounted to it in my case, then I am responsible for what I do under such compulsion. The degree is of course another matter.
- If there are in fact any adult sane persons, of whom it can be said that (capacity or no capacity) they not only are without any notions of good and bad, but have never had any the smallest chance of having them, and so are incapable; and whose fault it therefore in no sense is that they are what they are, then such persons must be considered as out of the moral sphere, and therefore, in the court of conscience, irresponsible and lunatic (whatever they have to be in law). But what standard a man is to be morally judged by, is quite another question, which we do not discuss.
- If we act ‘without thinking,’ are we responsible? I am not concerned to decide whether we ever do so; but, given a case where thinking in no sense was, yet responsibility may be even there. The act may come from presence or absence of habits of mind, for the creation, or non-creation, or non-suppression of which we certainly are responsible. Our self means thought, and the act is the outcome and issue of our self. Let us take an instance: A man of violent disposition, accustomed to handle weapons, is insulted at table by another man. A knife is in his hand, with which he at once stabs. Is he responsible? Yes; the deed came not merely from his disposition—a man is more than his disposition; it came from his character, the habits which his acts have formed. These acts have issued from the thinking self, and the thinking self is therefore responsible for the outcome of the habits. Hence for our dreams, and for what may seem to be merely physical, we may be accountable. The description in the text, let me remark, applies only to an overt act.
- ‘The doctrine of Determinism is a will which wills nothing, which lacks the form of will; the doctrine of Indeterminism is a will which wills nothing, a will with no content.’—Erdmann, Psychologie, sec. 160, note. We shall come to the first part of this statement lower down.
- We can not use, as an instance, the prediction of bad actions, i.e. such actions as the man himself considers bad. This is painful, not because it is a prediction, but because here the man is forced to see that he is bad, that another knows it for certain, and also has said it.
- By ‘rational’ prediction I mean the calculation beforehand, by certain laws and from given data, of a definite result. This gives an answer to the question How? or the question Why? in one of its applications. By ‘irrational’ prediction is meant the foretelling without a ground or a reason why. Thus (real or supposed) supernatural or magical predictions are always irrational; the fortune is told through (or without) certain means or signs; but the means or signs are not the reason of the fortune, for which there may exist (in most cases there does exist) no reason at all. The prevision gives the future, it does not explain it; it takes and it leaves the individual in its own un-rationalized individuality; it sees an object of sight, and the ‘now’ and the ‘then’ are distinctions which make no difference. The reader will understand that I express no opinion on the obscure subject of irrational prediction.
- The reader will be enlightened here by Hegel, Werke, ii. 218-24, but Hegel must not be considered responsible for everything I say.
- The reader must not consider me anxious to prove against a theory what it is ready to admit; but if we do not see the facts for ourselves, we shall not find the reasons.
- The following passages from Kant will perhaps surprise those persons among us, who think nothing ‘philosophical’ but immoral Humanitarianism. Kant’s Werke, ix. 180, 183:—
‘Judicial punishment (poena forensis) is not the same as natural (poena naturalis). By means of this latter, guilt brings a penalty on itself; but the legislator has not to consider it in any way. Judicial punishment can never be inflicted simply and solely as a means to forward a good, other than itself, whether that good be the benefit of the criminal, or of civil society; but it must at all times be inflicted on him, for no other reason than because he has acted criminally. A man can never be treated simply as a means for realizing the views of another man, and so confused with the objects of the law of Property. Against that his inborn personality defends him; although he can be quite properly condemned to forfeit his civil personality. He must first of all be found to be punishable, before there is even a thought of deriving from the punishment any advantage for himself or his fellow-citizens. The penal law is a categorical imperative; and woe to that man, who crawls through the serpentine turnings of the happiness-doctrine, to find out some consideration, which, by its promise of advantage, should free the criminal from his penalty, or even from any degree thereof. That is the maxim of the Pharisees, “it is expedient that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not;” but if justice perishes, then it is no more worth while that man should live upon the earth.’
‘Even if a civil society were to dissolve itself by the vote of all its members (e.g. if a people, inhabiting an island, were to resolve to separate from one another, and scatter themselves over the surface of the globe), nevertheless, before they go, the last murderer in prison must be executed. And this, that every man may receive what is the due of his deeds, and the guilt of blood may not rest upon a people, which has failed to exact the penalty; for, in that case, the people may be considered as participators in this public violation of justice.’ I am not to be considered as endorsing wholly Kant’s views. Cf. Hegel, viii. p. 132-141, and Trendelenburg: Naturrecht, p. 136, foll.
- Although it is not connected with the subject, I must continue the quotation as a specimen of our English philosophising. ‘The first justifies it, because to benefit a person cannot be to do him an injury.’ If ‘injury’ is the opposite of ‘benefit,’ the ‘because’ disappears; if of ‘justice,’ we have the unproved assertion of a controverted proposition; one which I, for instance, consider not merely false, but monstrous. The proviso of ‘a proper title’ in the following sentence makes matters no better.
- Still it is not the only doctrine; and Mr Bain, in his Manual of Mental and Moral Science (p. 404), really should not talk to the student as if it were. For Mr. Bain’s solid work in psychology I have a great respect, but still I, or any one else, have a right to protest against this. Still more right have I to protest against the statement in his preface, ‘Part Second—the Ethical Systems—is a full detail of all the systems, ancient and modern;’ when, by his own admission (p. 725), this is not the case.
- There are two points we can not pass over—(1) Punishment of children; (2) Correction of animals. (1) We must distinguish punishment and discipline, or correction; the former is inflicted because of wrong-doing, as desert, the latter is applied as means of improvement. It is right to inflict the former, only in the case of a being either wholly or partially accountable. The application of the latter (which is not punishment) is a practical question for parents or tutors, both in respect of the occasion and amount. Pedagogic punishment (proper) differs from judicial in admitting greater latitude of particular considerations in the individual case. (2) If many persons meant what they said, animals are moral and responsible, and animals are punished. And a time would seem coming, when we shall hear of the ‘rights of the beast.’ Why not, in Heaven’s name? Why is the beast not a subject of right, civil at least, if not political? But this is for our emancipators of the future. We are content to hold the vulgar creed that a beast is no moral agent, actual or possible; is not responsible, nor the subject of rights, however much the object of duties. According to vulgar notions, a beast ought not to be punished because he deserves it, but only to make him better; and though practice is bad on this head, yet I think most persons would say that a man, who habitually punished a dog for a fault, in respect of which he was ὅλος ἀνίατος, was not fit to keep a dog at all; but the ὅλος ἀνίατος among men, the hardened habituals, are the men whom we consider most punishable. On the other hand, though the beast can not be punished, yet he can be corrected as often as is convenient and to any extent. I was once told of a west-country sportsman who, on starting for the field before the day’s work was begun, used regularly to tie up his dogs to a gate and thrash them, and at intervals during the day’s sport repeat the νουθέτησις. Whether it was wise to correct for no fault is a question for the dog-breaker; but surely no man in his senses would call it punishment. And yet it was good utilitarian punishment. And that is what is meant, when it is said that such punishment is the treating a man like a dog.
- Mr. Bain collects that the mind is a collection. Has he ever thought who collects Mr. Bain?
- I am perfectly aware that it is possible to inherit both premises and conclusions, and then, while holding to the premises, to ignore or refuse to accept the conclusions, so far as they are found to be inconvenient. When a fact stopped the way of Hume’s conclusions, he banished it as a fiction. The late Mr. Mill’s was a mind of a different order. Starting from premises the same, with the same fact before him, which gave the lie to his whole psychological theory, he could not ignore it, he could not recognize it, he would not call it a fiction; so he put it aside as a ‘final inexplicability,’ and thought, I suppose, that by covering it with a phrase he got rid of its existence. But against his adversary (p. 561) he expressed himself otherwise. ‘He’ (the theorist) ‘is not entitled to frame a theory from one class of phenomena, extend it to another class which it does not fit, and excuse himself by saying that if we cannot make it fit, it is because ultimate facts are inexplicable.’