THE DIFFICULTIES OF A CONSCIOUS AUTOMATON.
THE conscious automaton who, writing in the Fortnightly Review for March, signs himself "Henry Blanchamp," has evidently not reached the point at which his whole nature, or, indeed, any considerable part of it, has conformed itself to the theory he proclaims with such ostentatious courage. "I am an automaton," he begins, "a puppet dangling on my distinctive wire, which Fate holds with an unrelaxing grip. I am not different, nor do I feel differently, from my fellow-men;
but my eyes refuse to blink away the truth, which is that I am an automatic machine, a piece of clockwork wound up to go for an allotted time, smoothly or otherwise, as the efficiency of the machinery may determine. Free-will is a myth invented by man to satisfy his emotions, not his reason. I feel as if I were free, as if I were responsible for my thoughts and actions, just as a person under the influence of hypnotism believes he is free to do as he pleases. But he is not, nor am I. If it was once possible for a rational being to question this fact, the discoveries of Darwin must have set his thoughts at rest." If that be so, we must express our belief that Mr. Blanchamp, when he was wound up to go for an allotted time, "smoothly or not as the efficiency of the machinery" might determine, was wound up to go very roughly indeed, so soon at least as his eyes refused "to blink away the truth" that all men are automatons. Neither his temper nor his logic remains long in keeping with his theory. After a good deal of irrelevant and sarcastic disquisition on the Church with which his philosophical position has nothing to do, he lays down boldly and without vouchsafing to answer even the most obvious and elementary objections to his crude state- ment, that "the act of volition is often speciously urged in refutation of the Determinist position. But the will, which is analysable into the greater pleasure attending a par- ticular course of action over its alternatives, is itself an inherited want or desire in the direction of that action,"— and there he leaves it, apparently quite satisfied that with this not even so much as " specious " analysis, he has dis- posed of the " specious " objections he had referred to. But it would be idle to go into the determinist controversy with a writer who seems to know so little about it as Mr. Blanchamp. What we wish to point out is, not Mr. Blan- champ's philosophical weakness, but his complete inability to bring the automaton, himself, into any sort of harmony with his doctrine. He states that doctrine with clearness and vigour. "Pride' ' and 'shame,'" he says, " vice ' and virtue' are meaningless words,—mere labels. • Vice' is an object of pity, toleration, and mercy, not of loathing and hatred ; nobody is able to control his desires and passions beyond the limit of his nature." [Did anybody ever affirm that he could ? If he can control it within the limits of his nature there must be a will free within certain limits.] "Sin is a misfortune, not an act of wilful transgression. The possession of 'virtue' confers no merit on the possessor. It is a valuable and useful quality implying self-com- mand"—[but what is self-command to signify in a theory which gives all the command into the hands of the strongest desire ?]—" and soundness of instinct." And further on Mr. Blanchamp states, in perfect consistency with his analy- sis of volition, that " self-interest " is "the motive-power of all human action," and that the only sound educational system is based upon teaching those who have not as yet realised it, that an "upright and honest life" is the surest means of "attaining the highest happiness this, the only world affords," a doctrine which we *thought every shrewd utilitarian and secularist had agreed to reject in favour of the much more plausible doctrine from their point of view, that to aim at the average standard of uprightness and honesty in any age, and certainly not much higher, offers a far greater chance of secular prosperity than to aim at uprightness and honesty of a type to which the society in which one lives has not attained,—indeed, to which it does not even aspire.
But now, assuming these data of human action as proper and essential for a conscious automaton, we proceed to ask what should be the temper and logic of such a conscious automaton, supposing (what, of course, could not be fairly supposed in any concrete ease at the pre- sent stage of the determinist controversy) that the whole character and temper and reasoning habits had been moulded in harmony with the automaton theory of human life. In the first place, the creed that a "human being is an automaton, and therefore not responsible for his thoughts or his acts," should, if it were -realised, extinguish every vestige of scorn and contempt in the automaton's attitude towards other automatons. "Determinism," says Mr. Blanchamp, "never fails of the deepest pity, the broadest charity, and the truest encouragement in the struggle of life. Sympathy and tolerance are of its very essence." In that case, the conscious automaton who composed this article has certainly embodied a great many remarkable discords in his rather short and very shallow composition. Scorn for every one who does not hold the determinist doctrine, and who does not look upon religion as "a form of intellectual measles," is the key-note of the conscious automaton's essay. Now, since it is his express teaching that no one who rejects Determinism could possibly have helped rejecting Determinism, and that no one who suffers from what he calls "intellectual measles" could possibly have avoided catching them and suffering from them, this attitude of scorn seems very unworthy of the creed to which this con- scious automaton has surrendered himself. What is the meaning of attacking the virtuous man for his frequent " cruelty " and "intolerance," when it is urged that in- finite pity should be felt for the vicious man? As our automaton justly observes, on his theory "virtue" and " vice" have no real meaning. They are only labels. The virtuous man, even if he carries his virtue to " cruelty " and "intolerance," is just as irresponsible for doing so, if our automaton is right, as is the vicious man for his crimes and his violence. Why, then, does our automaton scourge the virtuous man and persistently pity the vicious ? Why does he assail, almost with passion, the "villainously bad" educators of the day, when they could by no possibility have been better ? Surely the temper of an automaton towards all his brother-automatons should be one of uniform equanimity. The good and religious should be just as much objects of pity to him, if they are mistaken, as even the bad and the blasphemers. The moral attitude of our automaton towards those who differ from him and think him altogether wrong, is not in harmony with his own theory. He almost grinds his teeth at Church dignitaries and classical masters and pharisaic moralists, and reserves all his infinite pity for those who are sunk in depravity and vice.
In the next place, our automaton's logic is very infirm. His doctrine is that self-interest is the secret of all action, and en- lightened self-interest of all right action. "Virtue" and "vice," —awl, we presume, "justice" and "injustice,"—are "mere labels" without intrinsic meaning. Why, then, does he astonish us by saying that for the State to kill the wicked man as it might kill a wild beast "would be a most unjust and arbitrary action. It would mean killing him because he was not born of different parents, and because society had permitted his parents, in spite of organic constitutional defects, to reproduce their kind." Well, why not ? If self-interest is the true spring of all actions, and " justice " and " injustice " are mere labels, what in the world id to prevent the State from putting an end to lives which endanger the welfare of society, just be- cause they are what they are, and were allowed to come into existence, when, if the automaton's view of duty had been fully recognised by his brother-automatons, they ought not to have been allowed to come into existence? How is self- interest disqualified for taking adequate remedies at a later stage, just because it had not been clear-sighted enough to take adequate precautions at an earlier stage ? Surely an automaton who had dismissed such " labels " as justice and injustice as utterly meaningless, should have been too logical to reintroduce them in order to save his more vicious fellow-creatures from capital punishment? And as he is even anxious, it appears, to subject them to mutilation, it seems obvious that it is not any lingering of the old notion that justice and injustice are intrinsic quali ties of human character, which misleads him into this incon- sistency. Possibly the rhetorician feels the attraction of a class of associations which the utilitarian philosopher had condemned as pregnant with error, and slips back into the kind of appeal to ethical instincts which he is trying to unlearn and to teach others to avoid.
Evidently it will be long before this music of the future can be played by an automaton of even the most rigid determinist convictions, without deviating into the old sonor- ous keys which are now pronounced so discordant and incom- patible with the harmony of Nature. lin the compositions of the new masters, Righteousness, far from kissing Peace, is to be set forth .as the enemy of Peace, and to vanish at her approach. Devoutness is to be treated as a childish malady, and self-forgetfulness as the very symbol of the impossible. The true catholic is to be he who blames nothing, seeing that nothing could be otherwise than it is. Error is to be dispersed by mere blandishment, and wrath of every kind is to become obsolete. But the automaton which can breathe out melodies of this type is not yet in existence.
Mr. Henry Blanchamp's music'. is :chiefly discordant. He begins one tune, and breaks off into another the sentiment of which he repudiates. His sweet reasonableness passes rapidly into harsh objurgations. He is an automaton of many jarring tones. No doubt he explains his own diffi- culties as an evil legacy of the principle of heredity, to which he avows also so deep an obligation. But when he plays his next tune in the Fortnightly Review, we would suggest that at least his first failure should make the second attempt more modest and leas arrogant.