AN ATTEMPT TO SETTLE A SOMEWHAT TEDIOUS CONTROVERSY.
IN the forthcoming number of the Westminster Review, will be found another article on the " greatest happiness principle,"—substantially the same with the dissertations that have preceded it, though differing a little in form, and a good deal in the manner. It follows the natural course of exposition, rather than that into which the controversy had previously been diverted; and the tone of the writer, though it indi- cates unshaken confidence in the soundness of his own views, breathes less of the certainty of triumph over his antagonist. We look upon this discussion as a curious one in all its stages. The opinions which the Edinburgh Review has advanced on the question have been com- mon in France for some time ; and have been generally met, we be- lieve, by arguments akin to those on which the Westminster founds. It seems to us, as we lately stated, that neither the impugners nor the defenders of BENTHAm's philosophy understand it ; and as it is not our custom to draw very largely on the patience of our readers, we expect their indulgence on this occasion, while we attempt to elucidate as briefly as possible a somewhat dry question, which has puzzled for twelve months back those who stand in the foremost rank of public instructors.
"The greatest I aviness principle," says the Edinburgh Review, " is included in the Christian morality= Do as you would be clone by,'—` Love your Leighbour as yourself.' These are directions to a man to do something which otherwise he would not do, and they furnish him with a new motive for doing it. But Mr. BENTHAM has no new motive to furnish his disciples with; and what society wants is a new motive, not anew cant. The Utilitarian principle is, at best, either a truism or a contradiction in terms. When reduced to one plain, im- perative proposition, will it run thus—Pursue your own happiness ? This is superfluous. Will it run thus—Pursue the greatest happiness of mankind, whether it be your own greatest happiness or not? This is absurd and impossible."
" The greatest happiness principle," says the Westminster Review, "is, that the greatest happiness of the individual is in the long run to be obtained by pursuing the greatest happiness of the aggregate. It is an extension of the ancient maxim that honesty is the best policy. There are men who think that honesty is not the best policy in private life, in politics, or in international law ; and Mr. BENTHAM'S principle proves such to be fools. It has been said that he holds out no new motive. The motive which his principle holds out is the same as the motive to personal honesty,—namely, that the conduct which leads to the greatest happiness of the aggregate, is, in the end, the soundest policy for the individual. To those who have not found this out, such a motive is 'a new motive.' " Such, says the Westminster Reviewer, in his previous article, is the principle of utility; and in his present, while he repeats these posi- tions,—he adds, that it addresses itself, first, " to individuals, and then becomes transferable to societies."
These expositions, we think, prove their authors to be ignorant not merely of the import of the Utilitarian principle, but of the meaning of those phrases, in the marshalling of which consists their merit as tac ticians. Two systems—that of Chitin and that of BENTHAM—are, by some unknown principle of classification, coupled together ; and then these doughty wranglers go to war as to the "new motive" which the one system may involve, to the disparagement of the other. It so happens, however, that neither system involves a new motive. CHRIST did not remodel our intellectual nature. He did not add to the number of motives by which we are impelled to action. No; he addressed himself to a motive that has been in operation since man was first created—the love of happiness ; and he merely held out new objects, to the attainment of which it was desirable that mankind should be incited. But though the Edinburgh Reviewer is unable to distinguish between a " motive" and an object=between a principle of action, and an end, he is right in saying that BENTHAM has created .• no new motives—simply because BENTHAM has not effected impossi- bilities. The Westminster Reviewer, on the contrary, says he has, and even relieves our perplexity on the point by specifying the. motive which owes its existence to Mr. BENTHAM. " The motive which his principle holds out, is the same as the motive to personal honesty,— namely, that the conduct which leads to the greatest happiness of the aggregate, is, in the end, the soundest policy for the individual." These definitions make sad work with the metaphysics of the question. "Principles," we beg to assure the Westminster Review, do not" hold , out motives," but ajects ; and " motives" are not equivalent to "conduct," nor have they their place "in the end" of any course of
The sage of the Edinburgh then defies, as we have seen, his brother sage of the Westminster to extract from the greatest happiness prin- ciple any plain intelligible proposition—to raise it, in short, above the level of truism or commonplace. The Westminster answers this by declaring that nothing can be more plain than the principle in question —that it teaches men their duty aright, and shows them that their happiness is, in the long run, identical with that of the greatest number.
Here again there is a terrible jumble on both sides. When the Edinburgh Reviewer calls for an exposition of the greatest happiness principle, he is discussing a theory of government. He starts a ques- tion in the province of morals, and furnishes an answer from the pro- vince of legislation. Here are his words. " Does Mr. BENTHAM profess to hold out any new motive, which mayinduce men to promote the happiness of the species to which they belong Not at all. He distinctly admits, that if he is asked why governments should attempt to produce the greatest possible happiness, he can give no answer."
By what affinity, except that which the printer has created, are the query and the response connected together? A " motive" in morals is very different from a siandard in morals ; and it differs yet more widely from a standard of duty in legislation. Neither of the Reviewers, however, can perceive these distinctions, but flounder on together, without ever gaining firm footing, in this field of controversy.
Then comes the application by both parties of the greatest happi- ness principle, as they understand it. The principle of utility, says the Westminster, teaches men to know their true interests—to calculate the chances of happiness more accurately than they could do without its aid. It teaches a thief and a member of the House of Commons not to trust too much to the impunity which may have attended the previous misdeeds of individuals in their respective lines, but to be- lieve that their happiness is identicaPwith that of the greatest number, and to have the punishments that sometimes overtake misgovernment and theft more constantly before their eyes. Thieves and unprincipled legislators, rejoins the Edinburgh, calcu- late the chances of punishment as correctly as other men, but it is their " humour" to snatch present enjoyment, whatever may be the risks that attend it. How can the principle of utility induce a man to believe his own happiness identical with that of the greatest number, or induce him to sacrifice his own, when it is not ? Will a thief, who may escape from his cell on the morning appointed for his execution, be induced, by a belief that the happiness of the greatest number de- mands his death, to remain in prison and await his doom ? If not, then there obviously are men, whose greatest happiness is not iden- tical with the greatest happiness of the community. The princiiile of utility, as the Westminster supposes, assumes that honesty is the best policy, and that individuals will in the long run best promote their own happiness by seeking that of their neighbours. But instead of denying, as the Edinburgh says it does, it assumes also, that some individuals will always seek their happiness in ways in- consistent with the happiness of the greatest number ; and the up- holders of the principle never hope to subdue the selfish propensities of our nature, by preaching to individuals on the folly of their indul- gence. They do not' address themselves to thieves and legislators in the manner ascribed to them by the Westminster ; nor profess any power to render a felon enamoured of the scaffold, as the Edinburgh calls on them to do. But they know that there is a mode of making society admit truths, of which it would be impossible to convince all the individuals of whom society is composed. They know that, despite the selfish tendencies of individuals, society is kept together, not merely by counteracting tendencies, but by public opinion, which operates upon all the elements of society with force sufficient to retain the mass in its orbit. The public has an interest which is not identical in all respects with the interest of any individual ; and public opinion serves to keep the public interest predominant. The aim of Utilitarians, therefore, is to direct public opinion—to frame a standard of morals upon rational principles ; and they propose to do so by showing that actions have no other title to approbation or censure than their ten dency to promote or lessen the general happiness. The principle of utility thus becomes a standard by which the moral character of ac- tions is easily ascertained ; and public opinion, when it shall adopt this standard, will be directed to the repression of the selfish propen- sities of our nature. Utilitarians do not trust to the influence of abstract truth upon the actions of individuals ; but they show the pub- lic how to render available a truth by which the public is to profit. Were public opinion, however, much more enlightened than it is, no one can expect that selfish passions shall be altogether repressed— that thieves and jobbers shall altogether disappear from society; though it may be expected that their chances of detection and punish- ment will be greatly increased. But this must be effected, not as the Westminster Review supposes, by addressing arguments directly to the selfish, but by teaching society never to lose sight of the happi- ness of the greatest number, and by allowing those who think only of their own happiness to discover the increasing disadvantages to which their propensities expose them. As to the case which the Edinburgh Review supposes, it does not come within the scope of the greatest happiness principle at all. When the culprit is in the cell to which
the Reviewer has consigned him, public opinion, even when directed by the greatest happiness principle, has spent its force upon him ; and since that principle has not prevented him from committing the crime, why should it be expected to prevent him from shunning the scaffold ?
Such is the import of the principle of utility in morals: but why dispute about it as if it were BENTHAM'S ? It was recognized ages before Mr. BENTHAM was horn ; and his merit consists not in adopting it, but in extending its influence —in the aplendid application which htJ has made of it to the science of legislation. He has shown that it is quite as available there as in morals ; for governments are the crea• hires of society, as much as morality is. Codes of morals have in different ages and countries been framed on principles that differ widely from each other—so have governments. Mr. BENTHAM saw that there was only one rational principle in morals—that which re- garded the good of society as their end ; and he saw likewise that there could be no other rational principle in the formation of governments. He saw that as governments, like codes of morality, are created for the good of society, they should be framed to produce the good, not of the few, but of the many ; and while he has proclaimed to the many the indefeasible right which they possess to have their interests con- sulted by the institutions to which they have given being and power, he has shown how these interests may be best promoted by legisla- tion. This is the use which he has made of the principle of utility; and who has ever impugned the value of this applica- tion of it ? The Edinburgh Reviewer has never ventured to do so. What has he done ? Why, discussing a theory of go- vernment, he turns aside to question the value of the greatest happi- ness principle, not in legislation, but n morals ;—and even then, not to question its value as a standard of morals, which the Utilitarians deem it, but as a " motive' to moral conduct in individuals, which nobody but the Westminster Reviewer ever upheld it to be.* In fine, Mr. BENTHA1VI'S system requires no such defence as the Re- viewer's zeal has suggested ; and should a defence of it ever be neces- sary, BENTHAM lives still—the patriarch of the world of thought, and even yet the most vigorous of living thinkers.
* Our able and certainly not uncandid Northern friend, the Editor of the Dundee Ad- vertiser, seems to have been puzzled by the brevity of expression in our former state- ment of this distinction. He will now see that he mistook our meaning, and be satisfied with our explanation ;—at least we hope so, for we know too well how liberally Nature has developed his orcan of combativeness, to have any desire to open up a fresh contro- versy on the point with him.