Page:Ethical Studies (reprint 1911).djvu/92

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

certainly include the feeling of pleasure; but if the alternative is presented to us of lower functions with less pains and greater pleasures, or higher functions with greater pains and less pleasures, then we must choose the latter.

And the alternative is conceivable. If it is impossible in fact that a stage of progress could come, where by advancing further in the direction of what seems to it highest, humanity would decrease its surplus of pleasure (and I do not see how it is to be proved impossible),[1]—yet, at all events, the alternative can be brought directly before the mind. Advance in this direction (the higher) at the cost of pleasure, on the whole, after the pleasure of advance is counted in; advance in that direction (the lower), with the gain of pleasure, on the whole, even after the regrets of the non-advance have been subtracted. The necessity for choice can be imagined, and there is no doubt, on the one side, what the choice of the moral man would be; there is no doubt, on the other side, what, if pleasure were the end, it ought to be. In such a case, what we think the most moral man and people would be therefore the most certain to act immorally, if Hedonism is morality.

But these consequences, it will be urged, do not apply to modern Utilitarianism. That creed, we shall be told, whether for

  1. Mr. Mill’s assertion that ‘most of the great positive evils of the world are in themselves removable’ (Utilitarianism, p. 21), calls for no remark; but the reader may perhaps think that Mr. Spencer’s doctrine of the Evanescence of Evil (Social Statics, p. 73, fol.) should be noticed. His proof seems (so far as I understand it) to rest on the following assumptions:—
      (1) The natural environment of mankind is stationary. Can this be proved?
      (2) The spiritual environment of mankind is stationary. Not only can this not be proved, but the opposite is, or ought to be, supposed by the doctrine of evolution. Progress must alter the environment.
      (3) Apparently children are to be born in harmony with their surroundings, and remain so till death.
      (4) Moral evil, in the sense of moral badness, is to disappear. It will be impossible to oppose one’s private good to the general good, and act according to the former. Self-will will cease, and with it the pain it brings.
      All these assumptions, I think, are wanted. Nos. 3 and 4 represent absolute impossibilities, so far as I understand the matter. No. 2 is impossible on the supposition of continual progress. No other supposition can be proved to be true; and No. 1 can not, I believe, be proved. How for Mr. Spencer’s own teaching contradicts these assumptions is of no importance here.