Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/786

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discharged when it has produced the warrant for its requirements as generally expressed [i. e., that the individual should so promote his own pleasure as not to mar the pleasure of others]; when it has shown the imperativeness of obedience to them; and when it has thus taught the need for deliberately considering whether the conduct fulfills them as well as may be."

While Spencer gives away reluctantly nearly his whole position here (for of what value is an ethical system which can shed no light on the path of private duty?), yet the small portion he retains is retained unjustly, and must be surrendered. An ethical system which boils down into an exhortation to all men to promote their own interests has no ethical quality left in it; for, as we have seen, the mere doing of that which is clearly essential to self-preservation pertains to business and not to morals; since, to have a moral quality, an act must raise the question, Is it right? which mere attention to business does not raise any more than the flight of birds, the falling of water, or the explosion of gases.

The nearest thing to an authoritative and universal rule which we get in the "Data of Ethics" is the assertion that "the life of the social organism must, as a rule, rank above the lives of its units." Supposing even that society is in any but a figurative sense an organism with a life of its own distinct from those of its members, this canon, as it stands in Mr. Spencer's pages, appears to be almost as much a dogma and as little supported by demonstration as anything in the Athanasian Creed. Prove to a man, if you can, that to enjoy his own pleasure he must avoid interfering with the pleasure of others, obtain the co-operation of his fellows, and pay a certain tribute to the interests of society. But to tell him that, where there is a question between the life or the pleasure of the social organism and his life or pleasure, the claim of the social organism must rank first, is to tell him what, we venture to think, you will not be able to prove with any arguments supplied by the "Data of Ethics," the reasoning of which, like the promptings of Nature apart from theism, point rather the other way. The chapter on the "Sociological View of Ethics" is not, at least I have not found it, the clearest in a book generally remarkable for perspicuity: but, if I do not mistake, it forecasts a diminution of the claims of society on the allegiance of the individual man, in proportion as militarism gives way to industry, and the need of protection against the violence of other social organisms becomes less.

In one remarkable passage Mr. Spencer seems practically to avow the inability of his principle to settle what have hitherto been deemed the plainest questions of morality:

In men's wider relations frequently occur circumstances under which a decision one or other way is imperative, and yet under which not even the most sensitive conscience, helped by the clearest judgment, can decide which of the alternatives is relatively right. Two examples will suffice. . . . Here is a merchant who loses by the failure of a man indebted to him. Unless he gets help he himself will fail; and if he fails he will bring disaster not only on his family but on all who have given him credit. Even if by borrowing he is enabled to meet immediate engagements, he is not sate; for the time is one of panic, and