Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/571

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LITERARY NOTICES.

plays of Ability, Restraints on Blame, and Restraints on Praise, Mr. Spencer makes many excellent remarks bearing on everyday conduct. We regard these chapters, indeed, as moral discourses of the highest value, and commend them to the earnest attention of all whose duty it is to give moral instruction to old or young. Many a Christian minister might, we are convinced, infuse new life into his teaching by simply assimilating the contents of this volume and thus acquiring a fresh sense of the truth, the authority, and the interdependence of moral precepts which have heretofore had the warrant only of dogma or of sentiment.

To illustrate the class of matters with which Mr. Spencer here deals, we may quote the following from the chapter on Restraints on Displays of Ability:

"In nearly all cases the intrusion of personal feeling makes controversy of small value for its ostensible purpose—the establishment of truth. Desire for the éclat which victory brings often causes a mercilessness and a dishonesty which hinder the arrival at right conclusions. Negative beneficence here conduces to public benefit while it mitigates private injury. Usually the evidence may be marshaled, and a valid argument set forth, without discrediting an opponent in too conspicuous a manner. Small slips of statement and reasoning, which do not affect the general issue, may be generously passed over. A due negative beneficence will respect an antagonist's amour propre; save, perhaps, in cases where his dishonesty and his consequent endeavor to obscure the truth demand exposure. Lack of right feeling in this sphere has disastrous public effects. It needs but to glance around at the courses of political and of theological controversy to see how extreme are the perversions of men's beliefs caused by absence of that sympathetic interpretation which negative beneficence enjoins."

If any have heretofore supposed that the evolution philosophy leaves but a very restricted field, if any, for the exercise of practical benevolence, the volume before us should suffice to banish the idea. There is a wide scope, as Mr. Spencer shows, for negative beneficence, or self-restraint in the interest of weaker individuals, and there is also a wide scope for the exercise of positive beneficence or the active assistance to those less favorably circumstanced than ourselves. The one condition to be kept in view is that our assistance be not of a nature to cause subsequently more serious trouble or suffering than it alleviates in the present. The subdivisions of Positive Beneficence treated by Mr. Spencer are Marital Beneficence, Parental Beneficence, Filial Beneficence, Aiding the Sick and Injured, Succor to the Ill-used and the Endangered, Pecuniary Aid to Relatives and Friends, Relief of the Poor, Social Beneficence, and Political Beneficence. Here and there in reading these chapters, as also indeed in the section on Negative Beneficence, we find the line of demarcation between Beneficence and Justice a little shadowy. Both, of course, are subdivisions of Ethical Conduct in general, and that the two aspects, which Mr. Spencer for convenience of exposition tries to keep separate, should now and then seem to merge in a higher unity is not surprising. The man who has it in his power to be just or unjust, and who decides, against his own immediate interest, in favor of justice, must in general be moved by a sentiment of beneficence; and, on the other hand, the man who exercises a wise, rational, and restrained beneficence will probably regard his own conduct as, on a broad view of the matter, scarcely going beyond the limits of justice.

It might possibly puzzle some fairly informed readers to understand in advance what Mr. Spencer means by "political beneficence": the virtue is certainly one not much understood in political circles. Let the following sentence give the key to the puzzle: "Under a political régime like that into which we have grown, taking a share in political life is the duty of every citizen; and not to do so is at once short-sighted, ungrateful, and mean: short-sighted, because abstention, if general, must bring decay of any good institutions which exist; ungrateful, because to leave uncared for these good institutions which patriotic ancestors established is to ignore our indebtedness to them; mean, because to benefit by such institutions and devolve the maintenance and improvement of them entirely upon others implies a readiness to receive an advantage and give nothing in return." A passage which has special application to this country is the following: "In