in question without calling in question his religion as a whole, he pretends to others and to himself that he believes them—believes things which in his innermost consciousness he knows he does not believe. He professes to think that entire self-sacrifice must be right, though dimly conscious that it would be fatal.
If he had the courage to think out clearly what he vaguely perceives, he would discover that self-sacrifice, passing a certain limit, entails evil on all—evil on those for whom sacrifice is made as well as on those who make it. While a continual giving-up of pleasures and continual submission to pains is physically injurious, so that its final outcome is debility, disease, and abridgment of life, the continual acceptance of benefits at the expense of a fellow-being is morally injurious. Just as much as unselfishness is cultivated by the one, selfishness is cultivated by the other. If to surrender a gratification to another is noble, readiness to accept the gratification so surrendered is ignoble; and if repetition of the one kind of act is elevating, repetition of the other kind of act is degrading. So that, though up to a certain point altruistic action blesses giver and receiver, beyond that point it curses giver and receiver—physically deteriorates the one and morally deteriorates the other. Every one can remember cases where greediness for pleasures, reluctance to take trouble, and utter disregard of those around, have been perpetually increased by unmeasured and ever-ready kindnesses; while the unwise benefactor has shown by languid movements and pale face the debility consequent on disregard of self: the outcome of the policy being destruction of the worthy in making worse the unworthy.
The absurdity of unqualified altruism becomes, indeed, glaring enough on remembering that it can be extensively practised only if in the same society there coexist one moiety altruistic and one moiety egoistic. Only those who are intensely selfish will allow their fellows habitually to behave to them with extreme unselfishness. If all are duly regardful of others, there are none to accept the sacrifices which others are ready to make. If a high degree of sympathy characterizes all, no one can be so unsympathetic as to let another receive positive or negative injury that he may benefit. So that pure altruism in a society implies a nature which makes pure altruism impossible, from the absence of those toward whom it may be exercised!
Equally untenable does the doctrine show itself when looked at from another point of view. If life and its gratifications are valuable in another, they are equally valuable in self. There is no total increase of happiness if as much is gained by one as is lost by another; and if, as continually happens, the gain is not equal to the loss—if the recipient, already inferior, is further demoralized by habitual acceptance of sacrifices, and so made less capable of happiness (which he inevitably is)—the total amount of happiness is diminished: benefactor and beneficiary are both losers.