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Title: Utilitarianism
Author: Mill, John Stuart, 1806-1873
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Utilitarianism" ***


















There are few circumstances among those which make up the present
condition of human knowledge, more unlike what might have been expected,
or more significant of the backward state in which speculation on the
most important subjects still lingers, than the little progress which
has been made in the decision of the controversy respecting the
criterion of right and wrong. From the dawn of philosophy, the question
concerning the _summum bonum_, or, what is the same thing, concerning
the foundation of morality, has been accounted the main problem in
speculative thought, has occupied the most gifted intellects, and
divided them into sects and schools, carrying on a vigorous warfare
against one another. And after more than two thousand years the same
discussions continue, philosophers are still ranged under the same
contending banners, and neither thinkers nor mankind at large seem
nearer to being unanimous on the subject, than when the youth Socrates
listened to the old Protagoras, and asserted (if Plato's dialogue be
grounded on a real conversation) the theory of utilitarianism against
the popular morality of the so-called sophist.

It is true that similar confusion and uncertainty, and in some cases
similar discordance, exist respecting the first principles of all the
sciences, not excepting that which is deemed the most certain of them,
mathematics; without much impairing, generally indeed without impairing
at all, the trustworthiness of the conclusions of those sciences. An
apparent anomaly, the explanation of which is, that the detailed
doctrines of a science are not usually deduced from, nor depend for
their evidence upon, what are called its first principles. Were it not
so, there would be no science more precarious, or whose conclusions were
more insufficiently made out, than algebra; which derives none of its
certainty from what are commonly taught to learners as its elements,
since these, as laid down by some of its most eminent teachers, are as
full of fictions as English law, and of mysteries as theology. The
truths which are ultimately accepted as the first principles of a
science, are really the last results of metaphysical analysis, practised
on the elementary notions with which the science is conversant; and
their relation to the science is not that of foundations to an edifice,
but of roots to a tree, which may perform their office equally well
though they be never dug down to and exposed to light. But though in
science the particular truths precede the general theory, the contrary
might be expected to be the case with a practical art, such as morals or
legislation. All action is for the sake of some end, and rules of
action, it seems natural to suppose, must take their whole character
and colour from the end to which they are subservient. When we engage in
a pursuit, a clear and precise conception of what we are pursuing would
seem to be the first thing we need, instead of the last we are to look
forward to. A test of right and wrong must be the means, one would
think, of ascertaining what is right or wrong, and not a consequence of
having already ascertained it.

The difficulty is not avoided by having recourse to the popular theory
of a natural faculty, a sense or instinct, informing us of right and
wrong. For--besides that the existence of such a moral instinct is
itself one of the matters in dispute--those believers in it who have any
pretensions to philosophy, have been obliged to abandon the idea that it
discerns what is right or wrong in the particular case in hand, as our
other senses discern the sight or sound actually present. Our moral
faculty, according to all those of its interpreters who are entitled to
the name of thinkers, supplies us only with the general principles of
moral judgments; it is a branch of our reason, not of our sensitive
faculty; and must be looked to for the abstract doctrines of morality,
not for perception of it in the concrete. The intuitive, no less than
what may be termed the inductive, school of ethics, insists on the
necessity of general laws. They both agree that the morality of an
individual action is not a question of direct perception, but of the
application of a law to an individual case. They recognise also, to a
great extent, the same moral laws; but differ as to their evidence, and
the source from which they derive their authority. According to the one
opinion, the principles of morals are evident _à priori_, requiring
nothing to command assent, except that the meaning of the terms be
understood. According to the other doctrine, right and wrong, as well as
truth and falsehood, are questions of observation and experience. But
both hold equally that morality must be deduced from principles; and the
intuitive school affirm as strongly as the inductive, that there is a
science of morals. Yet they seldom attempt to make out a list of the _à
priori_ principles which are to serve as the premises of the science;
still more rarely do they make any effort to reduce those various
principles to one first principle, or common ground of obligation. They
either assume the ordinary precepts of morals as of _à priori_
authority, or they lay down as the common groundwork of those maxims,
some generality much less obviously authoritative than the maxims
themselves, and which has never succeeded in gaining popular acceptance.
Yet to support their pretensions there ought either to be some one
fundamental principle or law, at the root of all morality, or if there
be several, there should be a determinate order of precedence among
them; and the one principle, or the rule for deciding between the
various principles when they conflict, ought to be self-evident.

To inquire how far the bad effects of this deficiency have been
mitigated in practice, or to what extent the moral beliefs of mankind
have been vitiated or made uncertain by the absence of any distinct
recognition of an ultimate standard, would imply a complete survey and
criticism of past and present ethical doctrine. It would, however, be
easy to show that whatever steadiness or consistency these moral beliefs
have attained, has been mainly due to the tacit influence of a standard
not recognised. Although the non-existence of an acknowledged first
principle has made ethics not so much a guide as a consecration of men's
actual sentiments, still, as men's sentiments, both of favour and of
aversion, are greatly influenced by what they suppose to be the effects
of things upon their happiness, the principle of utility, or as Bentham
latterly called it, the greatest happiness principle, has had a large
share in forming the moral doctrines even of those who most scornfully
reject its authority. Nor is there any school of thought which refuses
to admit that the influence of actions on happiness is a most material
and even predominant consideration in many of the details of morals,
however unwilling to acknowledge it as the fundamental principle of
morality, and the source of moral obligation. I might go much further,
and say that to all those _à priori_ moralists who deem it necessary to
argue at all, utilitarian arguments are indispensable. It is not my
present purpose to criticise these thinkers; but I cannot help
referring, for illustration, to a systematic treatise by one of the most
illustrious of them, the _Metaphysics of Ethics_, by Kant. This
remarkable man, whose system of thought will long remain one of the
landmarks in the history of philosophical speculation, does, in the
treatise in question, lay down an universal first principle as the
origin and ground of moral obligation; it is this:--'So act, that the
rule on which thou actest would admit of being adopted as a law by all
rational beings.' But when he begins to deduce from this precept any of
the actual duties of morality, he fails, almost grotesquely, to show
that there would be any contradiction, any logical (not to say
physical) impossibility, in the adoption by all rational beings of the
most outrageously immoral rules of conduct. All he shows is that the
_consequences_ of their universal adoption would be such as no one would
choose to incur.

On the present occasion, I shall, without further discussion of the
other theories, attempt to contribute something towards the
understanding and appreciation of the Utilitarian or Happiness theory,
and towards such proof as it is susceptible of. It is evident that this
cannot be proof in the ordinary and popular meaning of the term.
Questions of ultimate ends are not amenable to direct proof. Whatever
can be proved to be good, must be so by being shown to be a means to
something admitted to be good without proof. The medical art is proved
to be good, by its conducing to health; but how is it possible to prove
that health is good? The art of music is good, for the reason, among
others, that it produces pleasure; but what proof is it possible to give
that pleasure is good? If, then, it is asserted that there is a
comprehensive formula, including all things which are in themselves
good, and that whatever else is good, is not so as an end, but as a
mean, the formula may be accepted or rejected, but is not a subject of
what is commonly understood by proof. We are not, however, to infer that
its acceptance or rejection must depend on blind impulse, or arbitrary
choice. There is a larger meaning of the word proof, in which this
question is as amenable to it as any other of the disputed questions of
philosophy. The subject is within the cognizance of the rational
faculty; and neither does that faculty deal with it solely in the way
of intuition. Considerations may be presented capable of determining the
intellect either to give or withhold its assent to the doctrine; and
this is equivalent to proof.

We shall examine presently of what nature are these considerations; in
what manner they apply to the case, and what rational grounds,
therefore, can be given for accepting or rejecting the utilitarian
formula. But it is a preliminary condition of rational acceptance or
rejection, that the formula should be correctly understood. I believe
that the very imperfect notion ordinarily formed of its meaning, is the
chief obstacle which impedes its reception; and that could it be
cleared, even from only the grosser misconceptions, the question would
be greatly simplified, and a large proportion of its difficulties
removed. Before, therefore, I attempt to enter into the philosophical
grounds which can be given for assenting to the utilitarian standard, I
shall offer some illustrations of the doctrine itself; with the view of
showing more clearly what it is, distinguishing it from what it is not,
and disposing of such of the practical objections to it as either
originate in, or are closely connected with, mistaken interpretations of
its meaning. Having thus prepared the ground, I shall afterwards
endeavour to throw such light as I can upon the question, considered as
one of philosophical theory.



A passing remark is all that needs be given to the ignorant blunder of
supposing that those who stand up for utility as the test of right and
wrong, use the term in that restricted and merely colloquial sense in
which utility is opposed to pleasure. An apology is due to the
philosophical opponents of utilitarianism, for even the momentary
appearance of confounding them with any one capable of so absurd a
misconception; which is the more extraordinary, inasmuch as the contrary
accusation, of referring everything to pleasure, and that too in its
grossest form, is another of the common charges against utilitarianism:
and, as has been pointedly remarked by an able writer, the same sort of
persons, and often the very same persons, denounce the theory "as
impracticably dry when the word utility precedes the word pleasure, and
as too practicably voluptuous when the word pleasure precedes the word
utility." Those who know anything about the matter are aware that every
writer, from Epicurus to Bentham, who maintained the theory of utility,
meant by it, not something to be contradistinguished from pleasure, but
pleasure itself, together with exemption from pain; and instead of
opposing the useful to the agreeable or the ornamental, have always
declared that the useful means these, among other things. Yet the
common herd, including the herd of writers, not only in newspapers and
periodicals, but in books of weight and pretension, are perpetually
falling into this shallow mistake. Having caught up the word
utilitarian, while knowing nothing whatever about it but its sound, they
habitually express by it the rejection, or the neglect, of pleasure in
some of its forms; of beauty, of ornament, or of amusement. Nor is the
term thus ignorantly misapplied solely in disparagement, but
occasionally in compliment; as though it implied superiority to
frivolity and the mere pleasures of the moment. And this perverted use
is the only one in which the word is popularly known, and the one from
which the new generation are acquiring their sole notion of its meaning.
Those who introduced the word, but who had for many years discontinued
it as a distinctive appellation, may well feel themselves called upon to
resume it, if by doing so they can hope to contribute anything towards
rescuing it from this utter degradation.[A]

The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the
Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion
as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the
reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the
absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure. To
give a clear view of the moral standard set up by the theory, much more
requires to be said; in particular, what things it includes in the ideas
of pain and pleasure; and to what extent this is left an open question.
But these supplementary explanations do not affect the theory of life on
which this theory of morality is grounded--namely, that pleasure, and
freedom from pain, are the only things desirable as ends; and that all
desirable things (which are as numerous in the utilitarian as in any
other scheme) are desirable either for the pleasure inherent in
themselves, or as means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention
of pain.

Now, such a theory of life excites in many minds, and among them in some
of the most estimable in feeling and purpose, inveterate dislike. To
suppose that life has (as they express it) no higher end than
pleasure--no better and nobler object of desire and pursuit--they
designate as utterly mean and grovelling; as a doctrine worthy only of
swine, to whom the followers of Epicurus were, at a very early period,
contemptuously likened; and modern holders of the doctrine are
occasionally made the subject of equally polite comparisons by its
German, French, and English assailants.

When thus attacked, the Epicureans have always answered, that it is not
they, but their accusers, who represent human nature in a degrading
light; since the accusation supposes human beings to be capable of no
pleasures except those of which swine are capable. If this supposition
were true, the charge could not be gainsaid, but would then be no
longer an imputation; for if the sources of pleasure were precisely the
same to human beings and to swine, the rule of life which is good enough
for the one would be good enough for the other. The comparison of the
Epicurean life to that of beasts is felt as degrading, precisely because
a beast's pleasures do not satisfy a human being's conceptions of
happiness. Human beings have faculties more elevated than the animal
appetites, and when once made conscious of them, do not regard anything
as happiness which does not include their gratification. I do not,
indeed, consider the Epicureans to have been by any means faultless in
drawing out their scheme of consequences from the utilitarian principle.
To do this in any sufficient manner, many Stoic, as well as Christian
elements require to be included. But there is no known Epicurean theory
of life which does not assign to the pleasures of the intellect; of the
feelings and imagination, and of the moral sentiments, a much higher
value as pleasures than to those of mere sensation. It must be admitted,
however, that utilitarian writers in general have placed the superiority
of mental over bodily pleasures chiefly in the greater permanency,
safety, uncostliness, &c., of the former--that is, in their
circumstantial advantages rather than in their intrinsic nature. And on
all these points utilitarians have fully proved their case; but they
might have taken the other, and, as it may be called, higher ground,
with entire consistency. It is quite compatible with the principle of
utility to recognise the fact, that some _kinds_ of pleasure are more
desirable and more valuable than others. It would be absurd that while,
in estimating all other things, quality is considered as well as
quantity, the estimation of pleasures should be supposed to depend on
quantity alone.

If I am asked, what I mean by difference of quality in pleasures, or
what makes one pleasure more valuable than another, merely as a
pleasure, except its being greater in amount, there is but one possible
answer. Of two pleasures, if there be one to which all or almost all who
have experience of both give a decided preference, irrespective of any
feeling of moral obligation to prefer it, that is the more desirable
pleasure. If one of the two is, by those who are competently acquainted
with both, placed so far above the other that they prefer it, even
though knowing it to be attended with a greater amount of discontent,
and would not resign it for any quantity of the other pleasure which
their nature is capable of, we are justified in ascribing to the
preferred enjoyment a superiority in quality, so far outweighing
quantity as to render it, in comparison, of small account.

Now it is an unquestionable fact that those who are equally acquainted
with, and equally capable of appreciating and enjoying, both, do give a
most marked preference to the manner of existence which employs their
higher faculties. Few human creatures would consent to be changed into
any of the lower animals, for a promise of the fullest allowance of a
beast's pleasures; no intelligent human being would consent to be a
fool, no instructed person would be an ignoramus, no person of feeling
and conscience would be selfish and base, even though they should be
persuaded that the fool, the dunce, or the rascal is better satisfied
with his lot than they are with theirs. They would not resign what they
possess more than he, for the most complete satisfaction of all the
desires which they have in common with him. If they ever fancy they
would, it is only in cases of unhappiness so extreme, that to escape
from it they would exchange their lot for almost any other, however
undesirable in their own eyes. A being of higher faculties requires more
to make him happy, is capable probably of more acute suffering, and is
certainly accessible to it at more points, than one of an inferior type;
but in spite of these liabilities, he can never really wish to sink into
what he feels to be a lower grade of existence. We may give what
explanation we please of this unwillingness; we may attribute it to
pride, a name which is given indiscriminately to some of the most and to
some of the least estimable feelings of which mankind are capable; we
may refer it to the love of liberty and personal independence, an appeal
to which was with the Stoics one of the most effective means for the
inculcation of it; to the love of power, or to the love of excitement,
both of which do really enter into and contribute to it: but its most
appropriate appellation is a sense of dignity, which all human beings
possess in one form or other, and in some, though by no means in exact,
proportion to their higher faculties, and which is so essential a part
of the happiness of those in whom it is strong, that nothing which
conflicts with it could be, otherwise than momentarily, an object of
desire to them. Whoever supposes that this preference takes place at a
sacrifice of happiness-that the superior being, in anything like equal
circumstances, is not happier than the inferior-confounds the two very
different ideas, of happiness, and content. It is indisputable that the
being whose capacities of enjoyment are low, has the greatest chance of
having them fully satisfied; and a highly-endowed being will always feel
that any happiness which he can look for, as the world is constituted,
is imperfect. But he can learn to bear its imperfections, if they are at
all bearable; and they will not make him envy the being who is indeed
unconscious of the imperfections, but only because he feels not at all
the good which those imperfections qualify. It is better to be a human
being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates
dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, is of a
different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the
question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.

It may be objected, that many who are capable of the higher pleasures,
occasionally, under the influence of temptation, postpone them to the
lower. But this is quite compatible with a full appreciation of the
intrinsic superiority of the higher. Men often, from infirmity of
character, make their election for the nearer good, though they know it
to be the less valuable; and this no less when the choice is between two
bodily pleasures, than when it is between bodily and mental. They pursue
sensual indulgences to the injury of health, though perfectly aware that
health is the greater good. It may be further objected, that many who
begin with youthful enthusiasm for everything noble, as they advance in
years sink into indolence and selfishness. But I do not believe that
those who undergo this very common change, voluntarily choose the lower
description of pleasures in preference to the higher. I believe that
before they devote themselves exclusively to the one, they have already
become incapable of the other. Capacity for the nobler feelings is in
most natures a very tender plant, easily killed, not only by hostile
influences, but by mere want of sustenance; and in the majority of young
persons it speedily dies away if the occupations to which their position
in life has devoted them, and the society into which it has thrown them,
are not favourable to keeping that higher capacity in exercise. Men lose
their high aspirations as they lose their intellectual tastes, because
they have not time or opportunity for indulging them; and they addict
themselves to inferior pleasures, not because they deliberately prefer
them, but because they are either the only ones to which they have
access, or the only ones which they are any longer capable of enjoying.
It may be questioned whether any one who has remained equally
susceptible to both classes of pleasures, ever knowingly and calmly
preferred the lower; though many, in all ages, have broken down in an
ineffectual attempt to combine both.

From this verdict of the only competent judges, I apprehend there can be
no appeal. On a question which is the best worth having of two
pleasures, or which of two modes of existence is the most grateful to
the feelings, apart from its moral attributes and from its consequences,
the judgment of those who are qualified by knowledge of both, or, if
they differ, that of the majority among them, must be admitted as final.
And there needs be the less hesitation to accept this judgment
respecting the quality of pleasures, since there is no other tribunal to
be referred to even on the question of quantity. What means are there of
determining which is the acutest of two pains, or the intensest of two
pleasurable sensations, except the general suffrage of those who are
familiar with both? Neither pains nor pleasures are homogeneous, and
pain is always heterogeneous with pleasure. What is there to decide
whether a particular pleasure is worth purchasing at the cost of a
particular pain, except the feelings and judgment of the experienced?
When, therefore, those feelings and judgment declare the pleasures
derived from the higher faculties to be preferable _in kind_, apart from
the question of intensity, to those of which the animal nature,
disjoined from the higher faculties, is susceptible, they are entitled
on this subject to the same regard.

I have dwelt on this point, as being a necessary part of a perfectly
just conception of Utility or Happiness, considered as the directive
rule of human conduct. But it is by no means an indispensable condition
to the acceptance of the utilitarian standard; for that standard is not
the agent's own greatest happiness, but the greatest amount of happiness
altogether; and if it may possibly be doubted whether a noble character
is always the happier for its nobleness, there can be no doubt that it
makes other people happier, and that the world in general is immensely a
gainer by it. Utilitarianism, therefore, could only attain its end by
the general cultivation of nobleness of character, even if each
individual were only benefited by the nobleness of others, and his own,
so far as happiness is concerned, were a sheer deduction from the
benefit. But the bare enunciation of such an absurdity as this last,
renders refutation superfluous.

According to the Greatest Happiness Principle, as above explained, the
ultimate end, with reference to and for the sake of which all other
things are desirable (whether we are considering our own good or that of
other people), is an existence exempt as far as possible from pain, and
as rich as possible in enjoyments, both in point of quantity and
quality; the test of quality, and the rule for measuring it against
quantity, being the preference felt by those who, in their opportunities
of experience, to which must be added their habits of self-consciousness
and self-observation, are best furnished with the means of comparison.
This, being, according to the utilitarian opinion, the end of human
action, is necessarily also the standard of morality; which may
accordingly be defined, the rules and precepts for human conduct, by the
observance of which an existence such as has been described might be, to
the greatest extent possible, secured to all mankind; and not to them
only, but, so far as the nature of things admits, to the whole sentient

Against this doctrine, however, arises another class of objectors, who
say that happiness, in any form, cannot be the rational purpose of human
life and action; because, in the first place, it is unattainable: and
they contemptuously ask, What right hast thou to be happy? a question
which Mr. Carlyle clenches by the addition, What right, a short time
ago, hadst thou even _to be_? Next, they say, that men can do _without_
happiness; that all noble human beings have felt this, and could not
have become noble but by learning the lesson of Entsagen, or
renunciation; which lesson, thoroughly learnt and submitted to, they
affirm to be the beginning and necessary condition of all virtue.

The first of these objections would go to the root of the matter were it
well founded; for if no happiness is to be had at all by human beings,
the attainment of it cannot be the end of morality, or of any rational
conduct. Though, even in that case, something might still be said for
the utilitarian theory; since utility includes not solely the pursuit of
happiness, but the prevention or mitigation of unhappiness; and if the
former aim be chimerical, there will be all the greater scope and more
imperative need for the latter, so long at least as mankind think fit to
live, and do not take refuge in the simultaneous act of suicide
recommended under certain conditions by Novalis. When, however, it is
thus positively asserted to be impossible that human life should be
happy, the assertion, if not something like a verbal quibble, is at
least an exaggeration. If by happiness be meant a continuity of highly
pleasurable excitement, it is evident enough that this is impossible. A
state of exalted pleasure lasts only moments, or in some cases, and with
some intermissions, hours or days, and is the occasional brilliant flash
of enjoyment, not its permanent and steady flame. Of this the
philosophers who have taught that happiness is the end of life were as
fully aware as those who taunt them. The happiness which they meant was
not a life of rapture, but moments of such, in an existence made up of
few and transitory pains, many and various pleasures, with a decided
predominance of the active over the passive, and having as the
foundation of the whole, not to expect more from life than it is capable
of bestowing. A life thus composed, to those who have been fortunate
enough to obtain it, has always appeared worthy of the name of
happiness. And such an existence is even now the lot of many, during
some considerable portion of their lives. The present wretched
education, and wretched social arrangements, are the only real hindrance
to its being attainable by almost all.

The objectors perhaps may doubt whether human beings, if taught to
consider happiness as the end of life, would be satisfied with such a
moderate share of it. But great numbers of mankind have been satisfied
with much less. The main constituents of a satisfied life appear to be
two, either of which by itself is often found sufficient for the
purpose: tranquillity, and excitement. With much tranquillity, many find
that they can be content with very little pleasure: with much
excitement, many can reconcile themselves to a considerable quantity of
pain. There is assuredly no inherent impossibility in enabling even the
mass of mankind to unite both; since the two are so far from being
incompatible that they are in natural alliance, the prolongation of
either being a preparation for, and exciting a wish for, the other. It
is only those in whom indolence amounts to a vice, that do not desire
excitement after an interval of repose; it is only those in whom the
need of excitement is a disease, that feel the tranquillity which
follows excitement dull and insipid, instead of pleasurable in direct
proportion to the excitement which preceded it. When people who are
tolerably fortunate in their outward lot do not find in life sufficient
enjoyment to make it valuable to them, the cause generally is, caring
for nobody but themselves. To those who have neither public nor private
affections, the excitements of life are much curtailed, and in any case
dwindle in value as the time approaches when all selfish interests must
be terminated by death: while those who leave after them objects of
personal affection, and especially those who have also cultivated a
fellow-feeling with the collective interests of mankind, retain as
lively an interest in life on the eve of death as in the vigour of youth
and health. Next to selfishness, the principal cause which makes life
unsatisfactory, is want of mental cultivation. A cultivated mind--I do
not mean that of a philosopher, but any mind to which the fountains of
knowledge have been opened, and which has been taught, in any tolerable
degree, to exercise its faculties--finds sources of inexhaustible
interest in all that surrounds it; in the objects of nature, the
achievements of art, the imaginations of poetry, the incidents of
history, the ways of mankind past and present, and their prospects in
the future. It is possible, indeed, to become indifferent to all this,
and that too without having exhausted a thousandth part of it; but only
when one has had from the beginning no moral or human interest in these
things, and has sought in them only the gratification of curiosity.

Now there is absolutely no reason in the nature of things why an amount
of mental culture sufficient to give an intelligent interest in these
objects of contemplation, should not be the inheritance of every one
born in a civilized country. As little is there an inherent necessity
that any human being should be a selfish egotist, devoid of every
feeling or care but those which centre in his own miserable
individuality. Something far superior to this is sufficiently common
even now, to give ample earnest of what the human species may be made.
Genuine private affections, and a sincere interest in the public good,
are possible, though in unequal degrees, to every rightly brought-up
human being. In a world in which there is so much to interest, so much
to enjoy, and so much also to correct and improve, every one who has
this moderate amount of moral and intellectual requisites is capable of
an existence which may be called enviable; and unless such a person,
through bad laws, or subjection to the will of others, is denied the
liberty to use the sources of happiness within his reach, he will not
fail to find this enviable existence, if he escape the positive evils of
life, the great sources of physical and mental suffering--such as
indigence, disease, and the unkindness, worthlessness, or premature loss
of objects of affection. The main stress of the problem lies, therefore,
in the contest with these calamities, from which it is a rare good
fortune entirely to escape; which, as things now are, cannot be
obviated, and often cannot be in any material degree mitigated. Yet no
one whose opinion deserves a moment's consideration can doubt that most
of the great positive evils of the world are in themselves removable,
and will, if human affairs continue to improve, be in the end reduced
within narrow limits. Poverty, in any sense implying suffering, may be
completely extinguished by the wisdom of society, combined with the good
sense and providence of individuals. Even that most intractable of
enemies, disease, may be indefinitely reduced in dimensions by good
physical and moral education, and proper control of noxious influences;
while the progress of science holds out a promise for the future of
still more direct conquests over this detestable foe. And every advance
in that direction relieves us from some, not only of the chances which
cut short our own lives, but, what concerns us still more, which deprive
us of those in whom our happiness is wrapt up. As for vicissitudes of
fortune, and other disappointments connected with worldly circumstances,
these are principally the effect either of gross imprudence, of
ill-regulated desires, or of bad or imperfect social institutions. All
the grand sources, in short, of human suffering are in a great degree,
many of them almost entirely, conquerable by human care and effort; and
though their removal is grievously slow--though a long succession of
generations will perish in the breach before the conquest is completed,
and this world becomes all that, if will and knowledge were not wanting,
it might easily be made--yet every mind sufficiently intelligent and
generous to bear a part, however small and unconspicuous, in the
endeavour, will draw a noble enjoyment from the contest itself, which he
would not for any bribe in the form of selfish indulgence consent to be

And this leads to the true estimation of what is said by the objectors
concerning the possibility, and the obligation, of learning to do
without happiness. Unquestionably it is possible to do without
happiness; it is done involuntarily by nineteen-twentieths of mankind,
even in those parts of our present world which are least deep in
barbarism; and it often has to be done voluntarily by the hero or the
martyr, for the sake of something which he prizes more than his
individual happiness. But this something, what is it, unless the
happiness of others, or some of the requisites of happiness? It is noble
to be capable of resigning entirely one's own portion of happiness, or
chances of it: but, after all, this self-sacrifice must be for some end;
it is not its own end; and if we are told that its end is not happiness,
but virtue, which is better than happiness, I ask, would the sacrifice
be made if the hero or martyr did not believe that it would earn for
others immunity from similar sacrifices? Would it be made, if he thought
that his renunciation of happiness for himself would produce no fruit
for any of his fellow creatures, but to make their lot like his, and
place them also in the condition of persons who have renounced
happiness? All honour to those who can abnegate for themselves the
personal enjoyment of life, when by such renunciation they contribute
worthily to increase the amount of happiness in the world; but he who
does it, or professes to do it, for any other purpose, is no more
deserving of admiration than the ascetic mounted on his pillar. He may
be an inspiriting proof of what men _can_ do, but assuredly not an
example of what they _should_.

Though it is only in a very imperfect state of the world's arrangements
that any one can best serve the happiness of others by the absolute
sacrifice of his own, yet so long as the world is in that imperfect
state, I fully acknowledge that the readiness to make such a sacrifice
is the highest virtue which can be found in man. I will add, that in
this condition of the world, paradoxical as the assertion may be, the
conscious ability to do without happiness gives the best prospect of
realizing such happiness as is attainable. For nothing except that
consciousness can raise a person above the chances of life, by making
him feel that, let fate and fortune do their worst, they have not power
to subdue him: which, once felt, frees him from excess of anxiety
concerning the evils of life, and enables him, like many a Stoic in the
worst times of the Roman Empire, to cultivate in tranquillity the
sources of satisfaction accessible to him, without concerning himself
about the uncertainty of their duration, any more than about their
inevitable end.

Meanwhile, let utilitarians never cease to claim the morality of
self-devotion as a possession which belongs by as good a right to them,
as either to the Stoic or to the Transcendentalist. The utilitarian
morality does recognise in human beings the power of sacrificing their
own greatest good for the good of others. It only refuses to admit that
the sacrifice is itself a good. A sacrifice which does not increase, or
tend to increase, the sum total of happiness, it considers as wasted.
The only self-renunciation which it applauds, is devotion to the
happiness, or to some of the means of happiness, of others; either of
mankind collectively, or of individuals within the limits imposed by the
collective interests of mankind.

I must again repeat, what the assailants of utilitarianism seldom have
the justice to acknowledge, that the happiness which forms the
utilitarian standard of what is right in conduct, is not the agent's own
happiness, but that of all concerned. As between his own happiness and
that of others, utilitarianism requires him to be as strictly impartial
as a disinterested and benevolent spectator. In the golden rule of Jesus
of Nazareth, we read the complete spirit of the ethics of utility. To
do as one would be done by, and to love one's neighbour as oneself,
constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality. As the means of
making the nearest approach to this ideal, utility would enjoin, first,
that laws and social arrangements should place the happiness, or (as
speaking practically it may be called) the interest, of every
individual, as nearly as possible in harmony with the interest of the
whole; and secondly, that education and opinion, which have so vast a
power over human character, should so use that power as to establish in
the mind of every individual an indissoluble association between his own
happiness and the good of the whole; especially between his own
happiness and the practice of such modes of conduct, negative and
positive, as regard for the universal happiness prescribes: so that not
only he may be unable to conceive the possibility of happiness to
himself, consistently with conduct opposed to the general good, but also
that a direct impulse to promote the general good may be in every
individual one of the habitual motives of action, and the sentiments
connected therewith may fill a large and prominent place in every human
being's sentient existence. If the impugners of the utilitarian morality
represented it to their own minds in this its true character, I know not
what recommendation possessed by any other morality they could possibly
affirm to be wanting to it: what more beautiful or more exalted
developments of human nature any other ethical system can be supposed to
foster, or what springs of action, not accessible to the utilitarian,
such systems rely on for giving effect to their mandates.

The objectors to utilitarianism cannot always be charged with
representing it in a discreditable light. On the contrary, those among
them who entertain anything like a just idea of its disinterested
character, sometimes find fault with its standard as being too high for
humanity. They say it is exacting too much to require that people shall
always act from the inducement of promoting the general interests of
society. But this is to mistake the very meaning of a standard of
morals, and to confound the rule of action with the motive of it. It is
the business of ethics to tell us what are our duties, or by what test
we may know them; but no system of ethics requires that the sole motive
of all we do shall be a feeling of duty; on the contrary, ninety-nine
hundredths of all our actions are done from other motives, and rightly
so done, if the rule of duty does not condemn them. It is the more
unjust to utilitarianism that this particular misapprehension should be
made a ground of objection to it, inasmuch as utilitarian moralists have
gone beyond almost all others in affirming that the motive has nothing
to do with the morality of the action, though much with the worth of the
agent. He who saves a fellow creature from drowning does what is morally
right, whether his motive be duty, or the hope of being paid for his
trouble: he who betrays the friend that trusts him, is guilty of a
crime, even if his object be to serve another friend to whom he is under
greater obligations.[B] But to speak only of actions done from the
motive of duty, and in direct obedience to principle: it is a
misapprehension of the utilitarian mode of thought, to conceive it as
implying that people should fix their minds upon so wide a generality as
the world, or society at large. The great majority of good actions are
intended, not for the benefit of the world, but for that of individuals,
of which the good of the world is made up; and the thoughts of the most
virtuous man need not on these occasions travel beyond the particular
persons concerned, except so far as is necessary to assure himself that
in benefiting them he is not violating the rights--that is, the
legitimate and authorized expectations--of any one else. The
multiplication of happiness is, according to the utilitarian ethics, the
object of virtue: the occasions on which any person (except one in a
thousand) has it in his power to do this on an extended scale, in other
words, to be a public benefactor, are but exceptional; and on these
occasions alone is he called on to consider public utility; in every
other case, private utility, the interest or happiness of some few
persons, is all he has to attend to. Those alone the influence of whose
actions extends to society in general, need concern themselves
habitually about so large an object. In the case of abstinences
indeed--of things which people forbear to do, from moral considerations,
though the consequences in the particular case might be beneficial--it
would be unworthy of an intelligent agent not to be consciously aware
that the action is of a class which, if practised generally, would be
generally injurious, and that this is the ground of the obligation to
abstain from it. The amount of regard for the public interest implied in
this recognition, is no greater than is demanded by every system of
morals; for they all enjoin to abstain from whatever is manifestly
pernicious to society.

The same considerations dispose of another reproach against the doctrine
of utility, founded on a still grosser misconception of the purpose of a
standard of morality, and of the very meaning of the words right and
wrong. It is often affirmed that utilitarianism renders men cold and
unsympathizing; that it chills their moral feelings towards
individuals; that it makes them regard only the dry and hard
consideration of the consequences of actions, not taking into their
moral estimate the qualities from which those actions emanate. If the
assertion means that they do not allow their judgment respecting the
rightness or wrongness of an action to be influenced by their opinion of
the qualities of the person who does it, this is a complaint not against
utilitarianism, but against having any standard of morality at all; for
certainly no known ethical standard decides an action to be good or bad
because it is done by a good or a bad man, still less because done by an
amiable, a brave, or a benevolent man or the contrary. These
considerations are relevant, not to the estimation of actions, but of
persons; and there is nothing in the utilitarian theory inconsistent
with the fact that there are other things which interest us in persons
besides the rightness and wrongness of their actions. The Stoics,
indeed, with the paradoxical misuse of language which was part of their
system, and by which they strove to raise themselves above all concern
about anything but virtue, were fond of saying that he who has that has
everything; that he, and only he, is rich, is beautiful, is a king. But
no claim of this description is made for the virtuous man by the
utilitarian doctrine. Utilitarians are quite aware that there are other
desirable possessions and qualities besides virtue, and are perfectly
willing to allow to all of them their full worth. They are also aware
that a right action does not necessarily indicate a virtuous character,
and that actions which are blameable often proceed from qualities
entitled to praise. When this is apparent in any particular case, it
modifies their estimation, not certainly of the act, but of the agent.
I grant that they are, notwithstanding, of opinion, that in the long run
the best proof of a good character is good actions; and resolutely
refuse to consider any mental disposition as good, of which the
predominant tendency is to produce bad conduct. This makes them
unpopular with many people; but it is an unpopularity which they must
share with every one who regards the distinction between right and wrong
in a serious light; and the reproach is not one which a conscientious
utilitarian need be anxious to repel.

If no more be meant by the objection than that many utilitarians look on
the morality of actions, as measured by the utilitarian standard, with
too exclusive a regard, and do not lay sufficient stress upon the other
beauties of character which go towards making a human being loveable or
admirable, this may be admitted. Utilitarians who have cultivated their
moral feelings, but not their sympathies nor their artistic perceptions,
do fall into this mistake; and so do all other moralists under the same
conditions. What can be said in excuse for other moralists is equally
available for them, namely, that if there is to be any error, it is
better that it should be on that side. As a matter of fact, we may
affirm that among utilitarians as among adherents of other systems,
there is every imaginable degree of rigidity and of laxity in the
application of their standard: some are even puritanically rigorous,
while others are as indulgent as can possibly be desired by sinner or by
sentimentalist. But on the whole, a doctrine which brings prominently
forward the interest that mankind have in the repression and prevention
of conduct which violates the moral law, is likely to be inferior to no
other in turning the sanctions of opinion against such violations. It is
true, the question, What does violate the moral law? is one on which
those who recognise different standards of morality are likely now and
then to differ. But difference of opinion on moral questions was not
first introduced into the world by utilitarianism, while that doctrine
does supply, if not always an easy, at all events a tangible and
intelligible mode of deciding such differences.

       *       *       *       *       *

It may not be superfluous to notice a few more of the common
misapprehensions of utilitarian ethics, even those which are so obvious
and gross that it might appear impossible for any person of candour and
intelligence to fall into them: since persons, even of considerable
mental endowments, often give themselves so little trouble to understand
the bearings of any opinion against which they entertain a prejudice,
and men are in general so little conscious of this voluntary ignorance
as a defect, that the vulgarest misunderstandings of ethical doctrines
are continually met with in the deliberate writings of persons of the
greatest pretensions both to high principle and to philosophy. We not
uncommonly hear the doctrine of utility inveighed against as a _godless_
doctrine. If it be necessary to say anything at all against so mere an
assumption, we may say that the question depends upon what idea we have
formed of the moral character of the Deity. If it be a true belief that
God desires, above all things, the happiness of his creatures, and that
this was his purpose in their creation, utility is not only not a
godless doctrine, but more profoundly religious than any other. If it be
meant that utilitarianism does not recognise the revealed will of God as
the supreme law of morals, I answer, that an utilitarian who believes in
the perfect goodness and wisdom of God, necessarily believes that
whatever God has thought fit to reveal on the subject of morals, must
fulfil the requirements of utility in a supreme degree. But others
besides utilitarians have been of opinion that the Christian revelation
was intended, and is fitted, to inform the hearts and minds of mankind
with a spirit which should enable them to find for themselves what is
right, and incline them to do it when found, rather than to tell them,
except in a very general way, what it is: and that we need a doctrine of
ethics, carefully followed out, to _interpret_ to us the will of God.
Whether this opinion is correct or not, it is superfluous here to
discuss; since whatever aid religion, either natural or revealed, can
afford to ethical investigation, is as open to the utilitarian moralist
as to any other. He can use it as the testimony of God to the usefulness
or hurtfulness of any given course of action, by as good a right as
others can use it for the indication of a transcendental law, having no
connexion with usefulness or with happiness.

Again, Utility is often summarily stigmatized as an immoral doctrine by
giving it the name of Expediency, and taking advantage of the popular
use of that term to contrast it with Principle. But the Expedient, in
the sense in which it is opposed to the Right, generally means that
which is expedient for the particular interest of the agent himself: as
when a minister sacrifices the interest of his country to keep himself
in place. When it means anything better than this, it means that which
is expedient for some immediate object, some temporary purpose, but
which violates a rule whose observance is expedient in a much higher
degree. The Expedient, in this sense, instead of being the same thing
with the useful, is a branch of the hurtful. Thus, it would often be
expedient, for the purpose of getting over some momentary embarrassment,
or attaining some object immediately useful to ourselves or others, to
tell a lie. But inasmuch as the cultivation in ourselves of a sensitive
feeling on the subject of veracity, is one of the most useful, and the
enfeeblement of that feeling one of the most hurtful, things to which
our conduct can be instrumental; and inasmuch as any, even
unintentional, deviation from truth, does that much towards weakening
the trustworthiness of human assertion, which is not only the principal
support of all present social well-being, but the insufficiency of which
does more than any one thing that can be named to keep back
civilisation, virtue, everything on which human happiness on the largest
scale depends; we feel that the violation, for a present advantage, of a
rule of such transcendent expediency, is not expedient, and that he who,
for the sake of a convenience to himself or to some other individual,
does what depends on him to deprive mankind of the good, and inflict
upon them the evil, involved in the greater or less reliance which they
can place in each other's word, acts the part of one of their worst
enemies. Yet that even this rule, sacred as it is, admits of possible
exceptions, is acknowledged by all moralists; the chief of which is when
the withholding of some fact (as of information from a male-factor, or
of bad news from a person dangerously ill) would preserve some one
(especially a person other than oneself) from great and unmerited evil,
and when the withholding can only be effected by denial. But in order
that the exception may not extend itself beyond the need, and may have
the least possible effect in weakening reliance on veracity, it ought to
be recognized, and, if possible, its limits defined; and if the
principle of utility is good for anything, it must be good for weighing
these conflicting utilities against one another, and marking out the
region within which one or the other preponderates.

Again, defenders of utility often find themselves called upon to reply
to such objections as this--that there is not time, previous to action,
for calculating and weighing the effects of any line of conduct on the
general happiness. This is exactly as if any one were to say that it is
impossible to guide our conduct by Christianity, because there is not
time, on every occasion on which anything has to be done, to read
through the Old and New Testaments. The answer to the objection is, that
there has been ample time, namely, the whole past duration of the human
species. During all that time mankind have been learning by experience
the tendencies of actions; on which experience all the prudence, as well
as all the morality of life, is dependent. People talk as if the
commencement of this course of experience had hitherto been put off, and
as if, at the moment when some man feels tempted to meddle with the
property or life of another, he had to begin considering for the first
time whether murder and theft are injurious to human happiness. Even
then I do not think that he would find the question very puzzling; but,
at all events, the matter is now done to his hand. It is truly a
whimsical supposition, that if mankind were agreed in considering
utility to be the test of morality, they would remain without any
agreement as to what is useful, and would take no measures for having
their notions on the subject taught to the young, and enforced by law
and opinion. There is no difficulty in proving any ethical standard
whatever to work ill, if we suppose universal idiocy to be conjoined
with it, but on any hypothesis short of that, mankind must by this time
have acquired positive beliefs as to the effects of some actions on
their happiness; and the beliefs which have thus come down are the rules
of morality for the multitude, and for the philosopher until he has
succeeded in finding better. That philosophers might easily do this,
even now, on many subjects; that the received code of ethics is by no
means of divine right; and that mankind have still much to learn as to
the effects of actions on the general happiness, I admit, or rather,
earnestly maintain. The corollaries from the principle of utility, like
the precepts of every practical art, admit of indefinite improvement,
and, in a progressive state of the human mind, their improvement is
perpetually going on. But to consider the rules of morality as
improvable, is one thing; to pass over the intermediate generalizations
entirely, and endeavour to test each individual action directly by the
first principle, is another. It is a strange notion that the
acknowledgment of a first principle is inconsistent with the admission
of secondary ones. To inform a traveller respecting the place of his
ultimate destination, is not to forbid the use of landmarks and
direction-posts on the way. The proposition that happiness is the end
and aim of morality, does not mean that no road ought to be laid down to
that goal, or that persons going thither should not be advised to take
one direction rather than another. Men really ought to leave off talking
a kind of nonsense on this subject, which they would neither talk nor
listen to on other matters of practical concernment. Nobody argues that
the art of navigation is not founded on astronomy, because sailors
cannot wait to calculate the Nautical Almanack. Being rational
creatures, they go to sea with it ready calculated; and all rational
creatures go out upon the sea of life with their minds made up on the
common questions of right and wrong, as well as on many of the far more
difficult questions of wise and foolish. And this, as long as foresight
is a human quality, it is to be presumed they will continue to do.
Whatever we adopt as the fundamental principle of morality, we require
subordinate principles to apply it by: the impossibility of doing
without them, being common to all systems, can afford no argument
against any one in particular: but gravely to argue as if no such
secondary principles could be had, and as if mankind had remained till
now, and always must remain, without drawing any general conclusions
from the experience of human life, is as high a pitch, I think, as
absurdity has ever reached in philosophical controversy.

The remainder of the stock arguments against utilitarianism mostly
consist in laying to its charge the common infirmities of human nature,
and the general difficulties which embarrass conscientious persons in
shaping their course through life. We are told that an utilitarian will
be apt to make his own particular case an exception to moral rules, and,
when under temptation, will see an utility in the breach of a rule,
greater than he will see in its observance. But is utility the only
creed which is able to furnish us with excuses for evil doing, and means
of cheating our own conscience? They are afforded in abundance by all
doctrines which recognise as a fact in morals the existence of
conflicting considerations; which all doctrines do, that have been
believed by sane persons. It is not the fault of any creed, but of the
complicated nature of human affairs, that rules of conduct cannot be so
framed as to require no exceptions, and that hardly any kind of action
can safely be laid down as either always obligatory or always
condemnable. There is no ethical creed which does not temper the
rigidity of its laws, by giving a certain latitude, under the moral
responsibility of the agent, for accommodation to peculiarities of
circumstances; and under every creed, at the opening thus made,
self-deception and dishonest casuistry get in. There exists no moral
system under which there do not arise unequivocal cases of conflicting
obligation. These are the real difficulties, the knotty points both in
the theory of ethics, and in the conscientious guidance of personal
conduct. They are overcome practically with greater or with less success
according to the intellect and virtue of the individual; but it can
hardly be pretended that any one will be the less qualified for dealing
with them, from possessing an ultimate standard to which conflicting
rights and duties can be referred. If utility is the ultimate source of
moral obligations, utility may be invoked to decide between them when
their demands are incompatible. Though the application of the standard
may be difficult, it is better than none at all: while in other systems,
the moral laws all claiming independent authority, there is no common
umpire entitled to interfere between them; their claims to precedence
one over another rest on little better than sophistry, and unless
determined, as they generally are, by the unacknowledged influence of
considerations of utility, afford a free scope for the action of
personal desires and partialities. We must remember that only in these
cases of conflict between secondary principles is it requisite that
first principles should be appealed to. There is no case of moral
obligation in which some secondary principle is not involved; and if
only one, there can seldom be any real doubt which one it is, in the
mind of any person by whom the principle itself is recognized.


[Footnote A: The author of this essay has reason for believing himself
to be the first person who brought the word utilitarian into use. He did
not invent it, but adopted it from a passing expression in Mr. Galt's
_Annals of the Parish_. After using it as a designation for several
years, he and others abandoned it from a growing dislike to anything
resembling a badge or watchword of sectarian distinction. But as a name
for one single opinion, not a set of opinions--to denote the recognition
of utility as a standard, not any particular way of applying it--the
term supplies a want in the language, and offers, in many cases, a
convenient mode of avoiding tiresome circumlocution.]

[Footnote B: An opponent, whose intellectual and moral fairness it is a
pleasure to acknowledge (the Rev. J. Llewellyn Davis), has objected to
this passage, saying, "Surely the rightness or wrongness of saving a man
from drowning does depend very much upon the motive with which it is
done. Suppose that a tyrant, when his enemy jumped into the sea to
escape from him, saved him from drowning simply in order that he might
inflict upon him more exquisite tortures, would it tend to clearness to
speak of that rescue as 'a morally right action?' Or suppose again,
according to one of the stock illustrations of ethical inquiries, that a
man betrayed a trust received from a friend, because the discharge of it
would fatally injure that friend himself or some one belonging to him,
would utilitarianism compel one to call the betrayal 'a crime' as much
as if it had been done from the meanest motive?"

I submit, that he who saves another from drowning in order to kill him
by torture afterwards, does not differ only in motive from him who does
the same thing from duty or benevolence; the act itself is different.
The rescue of the man is, in the case supposed, only the necessary first
step of an act far more atrocious than leaving him to drown would have
been. Had Mr. Davis said, "The rightness or wrongness of saving a man
from drowning does depend very much"--not upon the motive, but--"upon
the _intention_" no utilitarian would have differed from him. Mr. Davis,
by an oversight too common not to be quite venial, has in this case
confounded the very different ideas of Motive and Intention. There is no
point which utilitarian thinkers (and Bentham pre-eminently) have taken
more pains to illustrate than this. The morality of the action depends
entirely upon the intention--that is, upon what the agent _wills to do_.
But the motive, that is, the feeling which makes him will so to do, when
it makes no difference in the act, makes none in the morality: though it
makes a great difference in our moral estimation of the agent,
especially if it indicates a good or a bad habitual _disposition_--a
bent of character from which useful, or from which hurtful actions are
likely to arise.]



The question is often asked, and properly so, in regard to any supposed
moral standard--What is its sanction? what are the motives to obey it?
or more specifically, what is the source of its obligation? whence does
it derive its binding force? It is a necessary part of moral philosophy
to provide the answer to this question; which, though frequently
assuming the shape of an objection to the utilitarian morality, as if it
had some special applicability to that above others, really arises in
regard to all standards. It arises, in fact, whenever a person is called
on to adopt a standard or refer morality to any basis on which he has
not been accustomed to rest it. For the customary morality, that which
education and opinion have consecrated, is the only one which presents
itself to the mind with the feeling of being _in itself_ obligatory; and
when a person is asked to believe that this morality _derives_ its
obligation from some general principle round which custom has not thrown
the same halo, the assertion is to him a paradox; the supposed
corollaries seem to have a more binding force than the original theorem;
the superstructure seems to stand better without, than with, what is
represented as its foundation. He says to himself, I feel that I am
bound not to rob or murder, betray or deceive; but why am I bound to
promote the general happiness? If my own happiness lies in something
else, why may I not give that the preference?

If the view adopted by the utilitarian philosophy of the nature of the
moral sense be correct, this difficulty will always present itself,
until the influences which form moral character have taken the same hold
of the principle which they have taken of some of the
consequences--until, by the improvement of education, the feeling of
unity with our fellow creatures shall be (what it cannot be doubted that
Christ intended it to be) as deeply rooted in our character, and to our
own consciousness as completely a part of our nature, as the horror of
crime is in an ordinarily well-brought-up young person. In the mean
time, however, the difficulty has no peculiar application to the
doctrine of utility, but is inherent in every attempt to analyse
morality and reduce it to principles; which, unless the principle is
already in men's minds invested with as much sacredness as any of its
applications, always seems to divest them of a part of their sanctity.

The principle of utility either has, or there is no reason why it might
not have, all the sanctions which belong to any other system of morals.
Those sanctions are either external or internal. Of the external
sanctions it is not necessary to speak at any length. They are, the hope
of favour and the fear of displeasure from our fellow creatures or from
the Ruler of the Universe, along with whatever we may have of sympathy
or affection for them or of love and awe of Him, inclining us to do His
will independently of selfish consequences. There is evidently no
reason why all these motives for observance should not attach themselves
to the utilitarian morality, as completely and as powerfully as to any
other. Indeed, those of them which refer to our fellow creatures are
sure to do so, in proportion to the amount of general intelligence; for
whether there be any other ground of moral obligation than the general
happiness or not, men do desire happiness; and however imperfect may be
their own practice, they desire and commend all conduct in others
towards themselves, by which they think their happiness is promoted.
With regard to the religious motive, if men believe, as most profess to
do, in the goodness of God, those who think that conduciveness to the
general happiness is the essence, or even only the criterion, of good,
must necessarily believe that it is also that which God approves. The
whole force therefore of external reward and punishment, whether
physical or moral, and whether proceeding from God or from our fellow
men, together with all that the capacities of human nature admit, of
disinterested devotion to either, become available to enforce the
utilitarian morality, in proportion as that morality is recognized; and
the more powerfully, the more the appliances of education and general
cultivation are bent to the purpose.

So far as to external sanctions. The internal sanction of duty, whatever
our standard of duty may be, is one and the same--a feeling in our own
mind; a pain, more or less intense, attendant on violation of duty,
which in properly cultivated moral natures rises, in the more serious
cases, into shrinking from it as an impossibility. This feeling, when
disinterested, and connecting itself with the pure idea of duty, and
not with some particular form of it, or with any of the merely accessory
circumstances, is the essence of Conscience; though in that complex
phenomenon as it actually exists, the simple fact is in general all
encrusted over with collateral associations, derived from sympathy, from
love, and still more from fear; from all the forms of religious feeling;
from the recollections of childhood and of all our past life; from
self-esteem, desire of the esteem of others, and occasionally even
self-abasement. This extreme complication is, I apprehend, the origin of
the sort of mystical character which, by a tendency of the human mind of
which there are many other examples, is apt to be attributed to the idea
of moral obligation, and which leads people to believe that the idea
cannot possibly attach itself to any other objects than those which, by
a supposed mysterious law, are found in our present experience to excite
it. Its binding force, however, consists in the existence of a mass of
feeling which must be broken through in order to do what violates our
standard of right, and which, if we do nevertheless violate that
standard, will probably have to be encountered afterwards in the form of
remorse. Whatever theory we have of the nature or origin of conscience,
this is what essentially constitutes it.

The ultimate sanction, therefore, of all morality (external motives
apart) being a subjective feeling in our own minds, I see nothing
embarrassing to those whose standard is utility, in the question, what
is the sanction of that particular standard? We may answer, the same as
of all other moral standards--the conscientious feelings of mankind.
Undoubtedly this sanction has no binding efficacy on those who do not
possess the feelings it appeals to; but neither will these persons be
more obedient to any other moral principle than to the utilitarian one.
On them morality of any kind has no hold but through the external
sanctions. Meanwhile the feelings exist, a feet in human nature, the
reality of which, and the great power with which they are capable of
acting on those in whom they have been duly cultivated, are proved by
experience. No reason has ever been shown why they may not be cultivated
to as great intensity in connection with the utilitarian, as with any
other rule of morals.

There is, I am aware, a disposition to believe that a person who sees in
moral obligation a transcendental fact, an objective reality belonging
to the province of "Things in themselves," is likely to be more obedient
to it than one who believes it to be entirely subjective, having its
seat in human consciousness only. But whatever a person's opinion may be
on this point of Ontology, the force he is really urged by is his own
subjective feeling, and is exactly measured by its strength. No one's
belief that Duty is an objective reality is stronger than the belief
that God is so; yet the belief in God, apart from the expectation of
actual reward and punishment, only operates on conduct through, and in
proportion to, the subjective religious feeling. The sanction, so far as
it is disinterested, is always in the mind itself; and the notion,
therefore, of the transcendental moralists must be, that this sanction
will not exist _in_ the mind unless it is believed to have its root out
of the mind; and that if a person is able to say to himself, That which
is restraining me, and which is called my conscience, is only a feeling
in my own mind, he may possibly draw the conclusion that when the
feeling ceases the obligation ceases, and that if he find the feeling
inconvenient, he may disregard it, and endeavour to get rid of it. But
is this danger confined to the utilitarian morality? Does the belief
that moral obligation has its seat outside the mind make the feeling of
it too strong to be got rid of? The fact is so far otherwise, that all
moralists admit and lament the ease with which, in the generality of
minds, conscience can be silenced or stifled. The question, Need I obey
my conscience? is quite as often put to themselves by persons who never
heard of the principle of utility, as by its adherents. Those whose
conscientious feelings are so weak as to allow of their asking this
question, if they answer it affirmatively, will not do so because they
believe in the transcendental theory, but because of the external

It is not necessary, for the present purpose, to decide whether the
feeling of duty is innate or implanted. Assuming it to be innate, it is
an open question to what objects it naturally attaches itself; for the
philosophic supporters of that theory are now agreed that the intuitive
perception is of principles of morality, and not of the details. If
there be anything innate in the matter, I see no reason why the feeling
which is innate should not be that of regard to the pleasures and pains
of others. If there is any principle of morals which is intuitively
obligatory, I should say it must be that. If so, the intuitive ethics
would coincide with the utilitarian, and there would be no further
quarrel between them. Even as it is, the intuitive moralists, though
they believe that there are other intuitive moral obligations, do
already believe this to be one; for they unanimously hold that a large
portion of morality turns upon the consideration due to the interests of
our fellow creatures. Therefore, if the belief in the transcendental
origin of moral obligation gives any additional efficacy to the internal
sanction, it appears to me that the utilitarian principle has already
the benefit of it.

On the other hand, if, as is my own belief, the moral feelings are not
innate, but acquired, they are not for that reason the less natural. It
is natural to man to speak, to reason, to build cities, to cultivate the
ground, though these are acquired faculties. The moral feelings are not
indeed a part of our nature, in the sense of being hi any perceptible
degree present in all of us; but this, unhappily, is a fact admitted by
those who believe the most strenuously in their transcendental origin.
Like the other acquired capacities above referred to, the moral faculty,
if not a part of our nature, is a natural outgrowth from it; capable,
like them, in a certain small degree, of springing up spontaneously; and
susceptible of being brought by cultivation to a high degree of
development. Unhappily it is also susceptible, by a sufficient use of
the external sanctions and of the force of early impressions, of being
cultivated in almost any direction: so that there is hardly anything so
absurd or so mischievous that it may not, by means of these influences,
be made to act on the human mind with all the authority of conscience.
To doubt that the same potency might be given by the same means to the
principle of utility, even if it had no foundation in human nature,
would be flying in the face of all experience.

But moral associations which are wholly of artificial creation, when
intellectual culture goes on, yield by degrees to the dissolving force
of analysis: and if the feeling of duty, when associated with utility,
would appear equally arbitrary; if there were no leading department of
our nature, no powerful class of sentiments, with which that association
would harmonize, which would make us feel it congenial, and incline us
not only to foster it in others (for which we have abundant interested
motives), but also to cherish it in ourselves; if there were not, in
short, a natural basis of sentiment for utilitarian morality, it might
well happen that this association also, even after it had been implanted
by education, might be analysed away.

But there is this basis of powerful natural sentiment; and this it is
which, when once the general happiness is recognized as the ethical
standard, will constitute the strength of the utilitarian morality. This
firm foundation is that of the social feelings of mankind; the desire to
be in unity with our fellow creatures, which is already a powerful
principle in human nature, and happily one of those which tend to become
stronger, even without express inculcation, from the influences of
advancing civilization. The social state is at once so natural, so
necessary, and so habitual to man, that, except in some unusual
circumstances or by an effort of voluntary abstraction, he never
conceives himself otherwise than as a member of a body; and this
association is riveted more and more, as mankind are further removed
from the state of savage independence. Any condition, therefore, which
is essential to a state of society, becomes more and more an inseparable
part of every person's conception of the state of things which he is
born into, and which is the destiny of a human being. Now, society
between human beings, except in the relation of master and slave, is
manifestly impossible on any other footing than that the interests of
all are to be consulted. Society between equals can only exist on the
understanding that the interests of all are to be regarded equally. And
since in all states of civilization, every person, except an absolute
monarch, has equals, every one is obliged to live on these terms with
somebody; and in every age some advance is made towards a state in which
it will be impossible to live permanently on other terms with anybody.
In this way people grow up unable to conceive as possible to them a
state of total disregard of other people's interests. They are under a
necessity of conceiving themselves as at least abstaining from all the
grosser injuries, and (if only for their own protection.) living in a
state of constant protest against them. They are also familiar with the
fact of co-operating with others, and proposing to themselves a
collective, not an individual, interest, as the aim (at least for the
time being) of their actions. So long as they are co-operating, their
ends are identified with those of others; there is at least a temporary
feeling that the interests of others are their own interests. Not only
does all strengthening of social ties, and all healthy growth of
society, give to each individual a stronger personal interest in
practically consulting the welfare of others; it also leads him to
identify his feelings more and more with their good, or at least with
an ever greater degree of practical consideration for it. He comes, as
though instinctively, to be conscious of himself as a being who _of
course_ pays regard to others. The good of others becomes to him a thing
naturally and necessarily to be attended to, like any of the physical
conditions of our existence. Now, whatever amount of this feeling a
person has, he is urged by the strongest motives both of interest and of
sympathy to demonstrate it, and to the utmost of his power encourage it
in others; and even if he has none of it himself, he is as greatly
interested as any one else that others should have it. Consequently, the
smallest germs of the feeling are laid hold of and nourished by the
contagion of sympathy and the influences of education; and a complete
web of corroborative association is woven round it, by the powerful
agency of the external sanctions. This mode of conceiving ourselves and
human life, as civilization goes on, is felt to be more and more
natural. Every step in political improvement renders it more so, by
removing the sources of opposition of interest, and levelling those
inequalities of legal privilege between individuals or classes, owing to
which there are large portions of mankind whose happiness it is still
practicable to disregard. In an improving state of the human mind, the
influences are constantly on the increase, which tend to generate in
each individual a feeling of unity with all the rest; which feeling, if
perfect, would make him never think of, or desire, any beneficial
condition for himself, in the benefits of which they are not included.
If we now suppose this feeling of unity to be taught as a religion, and
the whole force of education, of institutions, and of opinion,
directed, as it once was in the case of religion, to make every person
grow up from infancy surrounded on all sides both by the profession and
by the practice of it, I think that no one, who can realize this
conception, will feel any misgiving about the sufficiency of the
ultimate sanction for the Happiness morality. To any ethical student who
finds the realization difficult, I recommend, as a means of facilitating
it, the second of M. Comte's two principal works, the _Système de
Politique Positive_. I entertain the strongest objections to the system
of politics and morals set forth in that treatise; but I think it has
superabundantly shown the possibility of giving to the service of
humanity, even without the aid of belief in a Providence, both the
physical power and the social efficacy of a religion; making it take
hold of human life, and colour all thought, feeling, and action, in a
manner of which the greatest ascendency ever exercised by any religion
may be but a type and foretaste; and of which the danger is, not that it
should be insufficient, but that it should be so excessive as to
interfere unduly with human freedom and individuality.

Neither is it necessary to the feeling which constitutes the binding
force of the utilitarian morality on those who recognize it, to wait for
those social influences which would make its obligation felt by mankind
at large. In the comparatively early state of human advancement in which
we now live, a person cannot indeed feel that entireness of sympathy
with all others, which would make any real discordance in the general
direction of their conduct in life impossible; but already a person in
whom the social feeling is at all developed, cannot bring himself to
think of the rest of his fellow creatures as struggling rivals with him
for the means of happiness, whom he must desire to see defeated in their
object in order that he may succeed in his. The deeply-rooted conception
which every individual even now has of himself as a social being, tends
to make him feel it one of his natural wants that there should be
harmony between his feelings and aims and those of his fellow creatures.
If differences of opinion and of mental culture make it impossible for
him to share many of their actual feelings-perhaps make him denounce and
defy those feelings-he still needs to be conscious that his real aim and
theirs do not conflict; that he is not opposing himself to what they
really wish for, namely, their own good, but is, on the contrary,
promoting it. This feeling in most individuals is much inferior in
strength to their selfish feelings, and is often wanting altogether. But
to those who have it, it possesses all the characters of a natural
feeling. It does not present itself to their minds as a superstition of
education, or a law despotically imposed by the power of society, but as
an attribute which it would not be well for them to be without. This
conviction is the ultimate sanction of the greatest-happiness morality.
This it is which makes any mind, of well-developed feelings, work with,
and not against, the outward motives to care for others, afforded by
what I have called the external sanctions; and when those sanctions are
wanting, or act in an opposite direction, constitutes in itself a
powerful internal binding force, in proportion to the sensitiveness and
thoughtfulness of the character; since few but those whose mind is a
moral blank, could bear to lay out their course of life on the plan of
paying no regard to others except so far as their own private interest



It has already been remarked, that questions of ultimate ends do not
admit of proof, in the ordinary acceptation of the term. To be incapable
of proof by reasoning is common to all first principles; to the first
premises of our knowledge, as well as to those of our conduct. But the
former, being matters of fact, may be the subject of a direct appeal to
the faculties which judge of fact--namely, our senses, and our internal
consciousness. Can an appeal be made to the same faculties on questions
of practical ends? Or by what other faculty is cognizance taken of them?

Questions about ends are, in other words, questions what things are
desirable. The utilitarian doctrine is, that happiness is desirable, and
the only thing desirable, as an end; all other things being only
desirable as means to that end. What ought to be required of this
doctrine--what conditions is it requisite that the doctrine should
fulfil--to make good its claim to be believed?

The only proof capable of being given that an object is visible, is that
people actually see it. The only proof that a sound is audible, is that
people hear it: and so of the other sources of our experience. In like
manner, I apprehend, the sole evidence it is possible to produce that
anything is desirable, is that people do actually desire it. If the end
which the utilitarian doctrine proposes to itself were not, in theory
and in practice, acknowledged to be an end, nothing could ever convince
any person that it was so. No reason can be given why the general
happiness is desirable, except that each person, so far as he believes
it to be attainable, desires his own happiness. This, however, being a
fact, we have not only all the proof which the case admits of, but all
which it is possible to require, that happiness is a good: that each
person's happiness is a good to that person, and the general happiness,
therefore, a good to the aggregate of all persons. Happiness has made
out its title as _one_ of the ends of conduct, and consequently one of
the criteria of morality.

But it has not, by this alone, proved itself to be the sole criterion.
To do that, it would seem, by the same rule, necessary to show, not only
that people desire happiness, but that they never desire anything else.
Now it is palpable that they do desire things which, in common language,
are decidedly distinguished from happiness. They desire, for example,
virtue, and the absence of vice, no less really than pleasure and the
absence of pain. The desire of virtue is not as universal, but it is as
authentic a fact, as the desire of happiness. And hence the opponents of
the utilitarian standard deem that they have a right to infer that there
are other ends of human action besides happiness, and that happiness is
not the standard of approbation and disapprobation.

But does the utilitarian doctrine deny that people desire virtue, or
maintain that virtue is not a thing to be desired? The very reverse. It
maintains not only that virtue is to be desired, but that it is to be
desired disinterestedly, for itself. Whatever may be the opinion of
utilitarian moralists as to the original conditions by which virtue is
made virtue; however they may believe (as they do) that actions and
dispositions are only virtuous because they promote another end than
virtue; yet this being granted, and it having been decided, from
considerations of this description, what _is_ virtuous, they not only
place virtue at the very head of the things which are good as means to
the ultimate end, but they also recognise as a psychological fact the
possibility of its being, to the individual, a good in itself, without
looking to any end beyond it; and hold, that the mind is not in a right
state, not in a state conformable to Utility, not in the state most
conducive to the general happiness, unless it does love virtue in this
manner--as a thing desirable in itself, even although, in the individual
instance, it should not produce those other desirable consequences which
it tends to produce, and on account of which it is held to be virtue.
This opinion is not, in the smallest degree, a departure from the
Happiness principle. The ingredients of happiness are very various, and
each of them is desirable in itself, and not merely when considered as
swelling an aggregate. The principle of utility does not mean that any
given pleasure, as music, for instance, or any given exemption from
pain, as for example health, are to be looked upon as means to a
collective something termed happiness, and to be desired on that
account. They are desired and desirable in and for themselves; besides
being means, they are a part of the end. Virtue, according to the
utilitarian doctrine, is not naturally and originally part of the end,
but it is capable of becoming so; and in those who love it
disinterestedly it has become so, and is desired and cherished, not as a
means to happiness, but as a part of their happiness.

To illustrate this farther, we may remember that virtue is not the only
thing, originally a means, and which if it were not a means to anything
else, would be and remain indifferent, but which by association with
what it is a means to, comes to be desired for itself, and that too with
the utmost intensity. What, for example, shall we say of the love of
money? There is nothing originally more desirable about money than about
any heap of glittering pebbles. Its worth is solely that of the things
which it will buy; the desires for other things than itself, which it is
a means of gratifying. Yet the love of money is not only one of the
strongest moving forces of human life, but money is, in many cases,
desired in and for itself; the desire to possess it is often stronger
than the desire to use it, and goes on increasing when all the desires
which point to ends beyond it, to be compassed by it, are falling off.
It may be then said truly, that money is desired not for the sake of an
end, but as part of the end. From being a means to happiness, it has
come to be itself a principal ingredient of the individual's conception
of happiness. The same may be said of the majority of the great objects
of human life--power, for example, or fame; except that to each of these
there is a certain amount of immediate pleasure annexed, which has at
least the semblance of being naturally inherent in them; a thing which
cannot be said of money. Still, however, the strongest natural
attraction, both of power and of fame, is the immense aid they give to
the attainment of our other wishes; and it is the strong association
thus generated between them and all our objects of desire, which gives
to the direct desire of them the intensity it often assumes, so as in
some characters to surpass in strength all other desires. In these cases
the means have become a part of the end, and a more important part of it
than any of the things which they are means to. What was once desired as
an instrument for the attainment of happiness, has come to be desired
for its own sake. In being desired for its own sake it is, however,
desired as part of happiness. The person is made, or thinks he would be
made, happy by its mere possession; and is made unhappy by failure to
obtain it. The desire of it is not a different thing from the desire of
happiness, any more than the love of music, or the desire of health.
They are included in happiness. They are some of the elements of which
the desire of happiness is made up. Happiness is not an abstract idea,
but a concrete whole; and these are some of its parts. And the
utilitarian standard sanctions and approves their being so. Life would
be a poor thing, very ill provided with sources of happiness, if there
were not this provision of nature, by which things originally
indifferent, but conducive to, or otherwise associated with, the
satisfaction of our primitive desires, become in themselves sources of
pleasure more valuable than the primitive pleasures, both in permanency,
in the space of human existence that they are capable of covering, and
even in intensity. Virtue, according to the utilitarian conception, is a
good of this description. There was no original desire of it, or motive
to it, save its conduciveness to pleasure, and especially to protection
from pain. But through the association thus formed, it may be felt a
good in itself, and desired as such with as great intensity as any other
good; and with this difference between it and the love of money, of
power, or of fame, that all of these may, and often do, render the
individual noxious to the other members of the society to which he
belongs, whereas there is nothing which makes him so much a blessing to
them as the cultivation of the disinterested, love of virtue. And
consequently, the utilitarian standard, while it tolerates and approves
those other acquired desires, up to the point beyond which they would be
more injurious to the general happiness than promotive of it, enjoins
and requires the cultivation of the love of virtue up to the greatest
strength possible, as being above all things important to the general

It results from the preceding considerations, that there is in reality
nothing desired except happiness. Whatever is desired otherwise than as
a means to some end beyond itself, and ultimately to happiness, is
desired as itself a part of happiness, and is not desired for itself
until it has become so. Those who desire virtue for its own sake, desire
it either because the consciousness of it is a pleasure, or because the
consciousness of being without it is a pain, or for both reasons united;
as in truth the pleasure and pain seldom exist separately, but almost
always together, the same person feeling pleasure in the degree of
virtue attained, and pain in not having attained more. If one of these
gave him no pleasure, and the other no pain, he would not love or desire
virtue, or would desire it only for the other benefits which it might
produce to himself or to persons whom he cared for.

We have now, then, an answer to the question, of what sort of proof the
principle of utility is susceptible. If the opinion which I have now
stated is psychologically true--if human nature is so constituted as to
desire nothing which is not either a part of happiness or a means of
happiness, we can have no other proof, and we require no other, that
these are the only things desirable. If so, happiness is the sole end of
human action, and the promotion of it the test by which to judge of all
human conduct; from whence it necessarily follows that it must be the
criterion of morality, since a part is included in the whole.

And now to decide whether this is really so; whether mankind do desire
nothing for itself but that which is a pleasure to them, or of which the
absence is a pain; we have evidently arrived at a question of fact and
experience, dependent, like all similar questions, upon evidence. It can
only be determined by practised self-consciousness and self-observation,
assisted by observation of others. I believe that these sources of
evidence, impartially consulted, will declare that desiring a thing and
finding it pleasant, aversion to it and thinking of it as painful, are
phenomena entirely inseparable, or rather two parts of the same
phenomenon; in strictness of language, two different modes of naming the
same psychological fact: that to think of an object as desirable (unless
for the sake of its consequences), and to think of it as pleasant, are
one and the same thing; and that to desire anything, except in
proportion as the idea of it is pleasant, is a physical and metaphysical

So obvious does this appear to me, that I expect it will hardly be
disputed: and the objection made will be, not that desire can possibly
be directed to anything ultimately except pleasure and exemption from
pain, but that the will is a different thing from desire; that a person
of confirmed virtue, or any other person whose purposes are fixed,
carries out his purposes without any thought of the pleasure he has in
contemplating them, or expects to derive from their fulfilment; and
persists in acting on them, even though these pleasures are much
diminished, by changes in his character or decay of his passive
sensibilities, or are outweighed by the pains which the pursuit of the
purposes may bring upon him. All this I fully admit, and have stated it
elsewhere, as positively and emphatically as any one. Will, the active
phenomenon, is a different thing from desire, the state of passive
sensibility, and though originally an offshoot from it, may in time take
root and detach itself from the parent stock; so much so, that in the
case of an habitual purpose, instead of willing the thing because we
desire it, we often desire it only because we will it. This, however, is
but an instance of that familiar fact, the power of habit, and is nowise
confined to the case of virtuous actions. Many indifferent things, which
men originally did from a motive of some sort, they continue to do from
habit. Sometimes this is done unconsciously, the consciousness coming
only after the action: at other times with conscious volition, but
volition which has become habitual, and is put into operation by the
force of habit, in opposition perhaps to the deliberate preference, as
often happens with those who have contracted habits of vicious or
hurtful indulgence. Third and last comes the case in which the habitual
act of will in the individual instance is not in contradiction to the
general intention prevailing at other times, but in fulfilment of it; as
in the case of the person of confirmed virtue, and of all who pursue
deliberately and consistently any determinate end. The distinction
between will and desire thus understood, is an authentic and highly
important psychological fact; but the fact consists solely in this--that
will, like all other parts of our constitution, is amenable to habit,
and that we may will from habit what we no longer desire for itself, or
desire only because we will it. It is not the less true that will, in
the beginning, is entirely produced by desire; including in that term
the repelling influence of pain as well as the attractive one of
pleasure. Let us take into consideration, no longer the person who has a
confirmed will to do right, but him in whom that virtuous will is still
feeble, conquerable by temptation, and not to be fully relied on; by
what means can it be strengthened? How can the will to be virtuous,
where it does not exist in sufficient force, be implanted or awakened?
Only by making the person _desire_ virtue--by making him think of it in
a pleasurable light, or of its absence in a painful one. It is by
associating the doing right with pleasure, or the doing wrong with pain,
or by eliciting and impressing and bringing home to the person's
experience the pleasure naturally involved in the one or the pain in the
other, that it is possible to call forth that will to be virtuous,
which, when confirmed, acts without any thought of either pleasure or
pain. Will is the child of desire, and passes out of the dominion of its
parent only to come under that of habit. That which is the result of
habit affords no presumption of being intrinsically good; and there
would be no reason for wishing that the purpose of virtue should become
independent of pleasure and pain, were it not that the influence of the
pleasurable and painful associations which prompt to virtue is not
sufficiently to be depended on for unerring constancy of action until it
has acquired the support of habit. Both in feeling and in conduct, habit
is the only thing which imparts certainty; and it is because of the
importance to others of being able to rely absolutely on one's feelings
and conduct, and to oneself of being able to rely on one's own, that the
will to do right ought to be cultivated into this habitual independence.
In other words, this state of the will is a means to good, not
intrinsically a good; and does not contradict the doctrine that nothing
is a good to human beings but in so far as it is either itself
pleasurable, or a means of attaining pleasure or averting pain.

But if this doctrine be true, the principle of utility is proved.
Whether it is so or not, must now be left to the consideration of the
thoughtful reader.



In all ages of speculation, one of the strongest obstacles to the
reception of the doctrine that Utility or Happiness is the criterion of
right and wrong, has been drawn from the idea of Justice, The powerful
sentiment, and apparently clear perception, which that word recalls with
a rapidity and certainty resembling an instinct, have seemed to the
majority of thinkers to point to an inherent quality in things; to show
that the Just must have an existence in Nature as something
absolute-generically distinct from every variety of the Expedient, and,
in idea, opposed to it, though (as is commonly acknowledged) never, in
the long run, disjoined from it in fact.

In the case of this, as of our other moral sentiments, there is no
necessary connexion between the question of its origin, and that of its
binding force. That a feeling is bestowed on us by Nature, does not
necessarily legitimate all its promptings. The feeling of justice might
be a peculiar instinct, and might yet require, like our other instincts,
to be controlled and enlightened by a higher reason. If we have
intellectual instincts, leading us to judge in a particular way, as well
as animal instincts that prompt us to act in a particular way, there is
no necessity that the former should be more infallible in their sphere
than the latter in theirs: it may as well happen that wrong judgments
are occasionally suggested by those, as wrong actions by these. But
though it is one thing to believe that we have natural feelings of
justice, and another to acknowledge them as an ultimate criterion of
conduct, these two opinions are very closely connected in point of fact.
Mankind are always predisposed to believe that any subjective feeling,
not otherwise accounted for, is a revelation of some objective reality.
Our present object is to determine whether the reality, to which the
feeling of justice corresponds, is one which needs any such special
revelation; whether the justice or injustice of an action is a thing
intrinsically peculiar, and distinct from all its other qualities, or
only a combination of certain of those qualities, presented under a
peculiar aspect. For the purpose of this inquiry, it is practically
important to consider whether the feeling itself, of justice and
injustice, is _sui generis_ like our sensations of colour and taste, or
a derivative feeling, formed by a combination of others. And this it is
the more essential to examine, as people are in general willing enough
to allow, that objectively the dictates of justice coincide with a part
of the field of General Expediency; but inasmuch as the subjective
mental feeling of Justice is different from that which commonly attaches
to simple expediency, and, except in extreme cases of the latter, is far
more imperative in its demands, people find it difficult to see, in
Justice, only a particular kind or branch of general utility, and think
that its superior binding force requires a totally different origin.

To throw light upon this question, it is necessary to attempt to
ascertain what is the distinguishing character of justice, or of
injustice: what is the quality, or whether there is any quality,
attributed in common to all modes of conduct designated as unjust (for
justice, like many other moral attributes, is best defined by its
opposite), and distinguishing them from such modes of conduct as are
disapproved, but without having that particular epithet of
disapprobation applied to them. If, in everything which men are
accustomed to characterize as just or unjust, some one common attribute
or collection of attributes is always present, we may judge whether this
particular attribute or combination of attributes would be capable of
gathering round it a sentiment of that peculiar character and intensity
by virtue of the general laws of our emotional constitution, or whether
the sentiment is inexplicable, and requires to be regarded as a special
provision of Nature. If we find the former to be the case, we shall, in
resolving this question, have resolved also the main problem: if the
latter, we shall have to seek for some other mode of investigating it.

       *       *       *       *       *

To find the common attributes of a variety of objects, it is necessary
to begin, by surveying the objects themselves in the concrete. Let us
therefore advert successively to the various modes of action, and
arrangements of human affairs, which are classed, by universal or widely
spread opinion, as Just or as Unjust. The things well known to excite
the sentiments associated with those names, are of a very multifarious
character. I shall pass them rapidly in review, without studying any
particular arrangement.

In the first place, it is mostly considered unjust to deprive any one
of his personal liberty, his property, or any other thing which belongs
to him by law. Here, therefore, is one instance of the application of
the terms just and unjust in a perfectly definite sense, namely, that it
is just to respect, unjust to violate, the _legal rights_ of any one.
But this judgment admits of several exceptions, arising from the other
forms in which the notions of justice and injustice present themselves.
For example, the person who suffers the deprivation may (as the phrase
is) have _forfeited_ the rights which he is so deprived of: a case to
which we shall return presently. But also,

Secondly; the legal rights of which he is deprived, may be rights which
_ought_ not to have belonged to him; in other words, the law which
confers on him these rights, may be a bad law. When it is so, or when
(which is the same thing for our purpose) it is supposed to be so,
opinions will differ as to the justice or injustice of infringing it.
Some maintain that no law, however bad, ought to be disobeyed by an
individual citizen; that his opposition to it, if shown at all, should
only be shown in endeavouring to get it altered by competent authority.
This opinion (which condemns many of the most illustrious benefactors of
mankind, and would often protect pernicious institutions against the
only weapons which, in the state of things existing at the time, have
any chance of succeeding against them) is defended, by those who hold
it, on grounds of expediency; principally on that of the importance, to
the common interest of mankind, of maintaining inviolate the sentiment
of submission to law. Other persons, again, hold the directly contrary
opinion, that any law, judged to be bad, may blamelessly be disobeyed,
even though it be not judged to be unjust, but only inexpedient; while
others would confine the licence of disobedience to the case of unjust
laws: but again, some say, that all laws which are inexpedient are
unjust; since every law imposes some restriction on the natural liberty
of mankind, which restriction is an injustice, unless legitimated by
tending to their good. Among these diversities of opinion, it seems to
be universally admitted that there may be unjust laws, and that law,
consequently, is not the ultimate criterion of justice, but may give to
one person a benefit, or impose on another an evil, which justice
condemns. When, however, a law is thought to be unjust, it seems always
to be regarded as being so in the same way in which a breach of law is
unjust, namely, by infringing somebody's right; which, as it cannot in
this case be a legal right, receives a different appellation, and is
called a moral right. We may say, therefore, that a second case of
injustice consists in taking or withholding from any person that to
which he has a _moral right_.

Thirdly, it is universally considered just that each person should
obtain that (whether good or evil) which he _deserves_; and unjust that
he should obtain a good, or be made to undergo an evil, which he does
not deserve. This is, perhaps, the clearest and most emphatic form in
which the idea of justice is conceived by the general mind. As it
involves the notion of desert, the question arises, what constitutes
desert? Speaking in a general way, a person is understood to deserve
good if he does right, evil if he does wrong; and in a more particular
sense, to deserve good from those to whom he does or has done good, and
evil from those to whom he does or has done evil. The precept of
returning good for evil has never been regarded as a case of the
fulfilment of justice, but as one in which the claims of justice are
waived, in obedience to other considerations.

Fourthly, it is confessedly unjust to _break faith_ with any one: to
violate an engagement, either express or implied, or disappoint
expectations raised by our own conduct, at least if we have raised those
expectations knowingly and voluntarily. Like the other obligations of
justice already spoken of, this one is not regarded as absolute, but as
capable of being overruled by a stronger obligation of justice on the
other side; or by such conduct on the part of the person concerned as is
deemed to absolve us from our obligation to him, and to constitute a
_forfeiture_ of the benefit which he has been led to expect.

Fifthly, it is, by universal admission, inconsistent with justice to be
_partial_; to show favour or preference to one person over another, in
matters to which favour and preference do not properly apply.
Impartiality, however, does not seem to be regarded as a duty in itself,
but rather as instrumental to some other duty; for it is admitted that
favour and preference are not always censurable, and indeed the cases in
which they are condemned are rather the exception than the rule. A
person would be more likely to be blamed than applauded for giving his
family or friends no superiority in good offices over strangers, when he
could do so without violating any other duty; and no one thinks it
unjust to seek one person in preference to another as a friend,
connexion, or companion. Impartiality where rights are concerned is of
course obligatory, but this is involved in the more general obligation
of giving to every one his right. A tribunal, for example, must be
impartial, because it is bound to award, without regard to any other
consideration, a disputed object to the one of two parties who has the
right to it. There are other cases in which impartiality means, being
solely influenced by desert; as with those who, in the capacity of
judges, preceptors, or parents, administer reward and punishment as
such. There are cases, again, in which it means, being solely influenced
by consideration for the public interest; as in making a selection among
candidates for a Government employment. Impartiality, in short, as an
obligation of justice, may be said to mean, being exclusively influenced
by the considerations which it is supposed ought to influence the
particular case in hand; and resisting the solicitation of any motives
which prompt to conduct different from what those considerations would

Nearly allied to the idea of impartiality, is that of _equality_; which
often enters as a component part both into the conception of justice and
into the practice of it, and, in the eyes of many persons, constitutes
its essence. But in this, still more than in any other case, the notion
of justice varies in different persons, and always conforms in its
variations to their notion of utility. Each person maintains that
equality is the dictate of justice, except where he thinks that
expediency requires inequality. The justice of giving equal protection
to the rights of all, is maintained by those who support the most
outrageous inequality in the rights themselves. Even in slave countries
it is theoretically admitted that the rights of the slave, such as they
are, ought to be as sacred as those of the master; and that a tribunal
which fails to enforce them with equal strictness is wanting in justice;
while, at the same time, institutions which leave to the slave scarcely
any rights to enforce, are not deemed unjust, because they are not
deemed inexpedient. Those who think that utility requires distinctions
of rank, do not consider it unjust that riches and social privileges
should be unequally dispensed; but those who think this inequality
inexpedient, think it unjust also. Whoever thinks that government is
necessary, sees no injustice in as much inequality as is constituted by
giving to the magistrate powers not granted to other people. Even among
those who hold levelling doctrines, there are as many questions of
justice as there are differences of opinion about expediency. Some
Communists consider it unjust that the produce of the labour of the
community should be shared on any other principle than that of exact
equality; others think it just that those should receive most whose
needs are greatest; while others hold that those who work harder, or who
produce more, or whose services are more valuable to the community, may
justly claim a larger quota in the division of the produce. And the
sense of natural justice may be plausibly appealed to in behalf of every
one of these opinions.

Among so many diverse applications of the term Justice, which yet is not
regarded as ambiguous, it is a matter of some difficulty to seize the
mental link which holds them together, and on which the moral sentiment
adhering to the term essentially depends. Perhaps, in this
embarrassment, some help may be derived from the history of the word, as
indicated by its etymology.

In most, if not in all languages, the etymology of the word which
corresponds to Just, points to an origin connected either with positive
law, or with that which was in most cases the primitive form of
law-authoritative custom. _Justum_ is a form of _jussum_, that which has
been ordered. _Jus_ is of the same origin. _Dichanou_ comes from
_dichae_, of which the principal meaning, at least in the historical
ages of Greece, was a suit at law. Originally, indeed, it meant only the
mode or _manner_ of doing things, but it early came to mean the
_prescribed_ manner; that which the recognized authorities, patriarchal,
judicial, or political, would enforce. _Recht_, from which came _right_
and _righteous_, is synonymous with law. The original meaning, indeed,
of _recht_ did not point to law, but to physical straightness; as
_wrong_ and its Latin equivalents meant twisted or tortuous; and from
this it is argued that right did not originally mean law, but on the
contrary law meant right. But however this may be, the fact that _recht_
and _droit_ became restricted in their meaning to positive law, although
much which is not required by law is equally necessary to moral
straightness or rectitude, is as significant of the original character
of moral ideas as if the derivation had been the reverse way. The courts
of justice, the administration of justice, are the courts and the
administration of law. _La justice_, in French, is the established term
for judicature. There can, I think, be no doubt that the _idée mère_,
the primitive element, in the formation of the notion of justice, was
conformity to law. It constituted the entire idea among the Hebrews, up
to the birth of Christianity; as might be expected in the case of a
people whose laws attempted to embrace all subjects on which precepts
were required, and who believed those laws to be a direct emanation from
the Supreme Being. But other nations, and in particular the Greeks and
Romans, who knew that their laws had been made originally, and still
continued to be made, by men, were not afraid to admit that those men
might make bad laws; might do, by law, the same things, and from the
same motives, which, if done by individuals without the sanction of law,
would be called unjust. And hence the sentiment of injustice came to be
attached, not to all violations of law, but only to violations of such
laws as _ought_ to exist, including such as ought to exist but do not;
and to laws themselves, if supposed to be contrary to what ought to be
law. In this manner the idea of law and of its injunctions was still
predominant in the notion of justice, even when the laws actually in
force ceased to be accepted as the standard of it.

It is true that mankind consider the idea of justice and its obligations
as applicable to many things which neither are, nor is it desired that
they should be, regulated by law. Nobody desires that laws should
interfere with the whole detail of private life; yet every one allows
that in all daily conduct a person may and does show himself to be
either just or unjust. But even here, the idea of the breach of what
ought to be law, still lingers in a modified shape. It would always give
us pleasure, and chime in with our feelings of fitness, that acts which
we deem unjust should be punished, though we do not always think it
expedient that this should be done by the tribunals. We forego that
gratification on account of incidental inconveniences. We should be glad
to see just conduct enforced and injustice repressed, even in the
minutest details, if we were not, with reason, afraid of trusting the
magistrate with so unlimited an amount of power over individuals. When
we think that a person is bound in justice to do a thing, it is an
ordinary form of language to say, that he ought to be compelled to do
it. We should be gratified to see the obligation enforced by anybody who
had the power. If we see that its enforcement by law would be
inexpedient, we lament the impossibility, we consider the impunity given
to injustice as an evil, and strive to make amends for it by bringing a
strong expression of our own and the public disapprobation to bear upon
the offender. Thus the idea of legal constraint is still the generating
idea of the notion of justice, though undergoing several transformations
before that notion, as it exists in an advanced state of society,
becomes complete.

The above is, I think, a true account, as far as it goes, of the origin
and progressive growth of the idea of justice. But we must observe, that
it contains, as yet, nothing to distinguish that obligation from moral
obligation in general. For the truth is, that the idea of penal
sanction, which is the essence of law, enters not only into the
conception of injustice, but into that of any kind of wrong. We do not
call anything wrong, unless we mean to imply that a person ought to be
punished in some way or other for doing it; if not by law, by the
opinion of his fellow creatures; if not by opinion, by the reproaches of
his own conscience. This seems the real turning point of the distinction
between morality and simple expediency. It is a part of the notion of
Duty in every one of its forms, that a person may rightfully be
compelled to fulfil it. Duty is a thing which may be _exacted_ from a
person, as one exacts a debt. Unless we think that it might be exacted
from him, we do not call it his duty. Reasons of prudence, or the
interest of other people, may militate against actually exacting it; but
the person himself, it is clearly understood, would not be entitled to
complain. There are other things, on the contrary, which we wish that
people should do, which we like or admire them for doing, perhaps
dislike or despise them for not doing, but yet admit that they are not
bound to do; it is not a case of moral obligation; we do not blame them,
that is, we do not think that they are proper objects of punishment. How
we come by these ideas of deserving and not deserving punishment, will
appear, perhaps, in the sequel; but I think there is no doubt that this
distinction lies at the bottom of the notions of right and wrong; that
we call any conduct wrong, or employ instead, some other term of dislike
or disparagement, according as we think that the person ought, or ought
not, to be punished for it; and we say that it would be right to do so
and so, or merely that it would be desirable or laudable, according as
we would wish to see the person whom it concerns, compelled or only
persuaded and exhorted, to act in that manner.[C]

This, therefore, being the characteristic difference which marks off,
not justice, but morality in general, from the remaining provinces of
Expediency and Worthiness; the character is still to be sought which
distinguishes justice from other branches of morality. Now it is known
that ethical writers divide moral duties into two classes, denoted by
the ill-chosen expressions, duties of perfect and of imperfect
obligation; the latter being those in which, though the act is
obligatory, the particular occasions of performing it are left to our
choice; as in the case of charity or beneficence, which we are indeed
bound to practise, but not towards any definite person, nor at any
prescribed time. In the more precise language of philosophic jurists,
duties of perfect obligation are those duties in virtue of which a
correlative right resides in some person or persons; duties of imperfect
obligation are those moral obligations which do not give birth to any
right. I think it will be found that this distinction exactly coincides
with that which exists between justice and the other obligations of
morality. In our survey of the various popular acceptations of justice,
the term appeared generally to involve the idea of a personal right--a
claim on the part of one or more individuals, like that which the law
gives when it confers a proprietary or other legal right. Whether the
injustice consists in depriving a person of a possession, or in breaking
faith with him, or in treating him worse than he deserves, or worse than
other people who have no greater claims, in each case the supposition
implies two things--a wrong done, and some assignable person who is
wronged. Injustice may also be done by treating a person better than
others; but the wrong in this case is to his competitors, who are also
assignable persons. It seems to me that this feature in the case--a
right in some person, correlative to the moral obligation--constitutes
the specific difference between justice, and generosity or beneficence.
Justice implies something which it is not only right to do, and wrong
not to do, but which some individual person can claim from us as his
moral right. No one has a moral right to our generosity or beneficence,
because we are not morally bound to practise those virtues towards any
given individual. And it will be found, with respect to this as with
respect to every correct definition, that the instances which seem to
conflict with it are those which most confirm it. For if a moralist
attempts, as some have done, to make out that mankind generally, though
not any given individual, have a right to all the good we can do them,
he at once, by that thesis, includes generosity and beneficence within
the category of justice. He is obliged to say, that our utmost exertions
are due to our fellow creatures, thus assimilating them to a debt; or
that nothing less can be a sufficient _return_ for what society does for
us, thus classing the case as one of gratitude; both of which are
acknowledged cases of justice. Wherever there is a right, the case is
one of justice, and not of the virtue of beneficence: and whoever does
not place the distinction between justice and morality in general where
we have now placed it, will be found to make no distinction between them
at all, but to merge all morality in justice.

Having thus endeavoured to determine the distinctive elements which
enter into the composition of the idea of justice, we are ready to enter
on the inquiry, whether the feeling, which accompanies the idea, is
attached to it by a special dispensation of nature, or whether it could
have grown up, by any known laws, out of the idea itself; and in
particular, whether it can have originated in considerations of general

I conceive that the sentiment itself does not arise from anything which
would commonly, or correctly, be termed an idea of expediency; but that,
though the sentiment does not, whatever is moral in it does.

We have seen that the two essential ingredients in the sentiment of
justice are, the desire to punish a person who has done harm, and the
knowledge or belief that there is some definite individual or
individuals to whom harm has been done.

Now it appears to me, that the desire to punish a person who has done
harm to some individual, is a spontaneous outgrowth from two sentiments,
both in the highest degree natural, and which either are or resemble
instincts; the impulse of self-defence, and the feeling of sympathy.

It is natural to resent, and to repel or retaliate, any harm done or
attempted against ourselves, or against those with whom we sympathize.
The origin of this sentiment it is not necessary here to discuss.
Whether it be an instinct or a result of intelligence, it is, we know,
common to all animal nature; for every animal tries to hurt those who
have hurt, or who it thinks are about to hurt, itself or its young.
Human beings, on this point, only differ from other animals in two
particulars. First, in being capable of sympathizing, not solely with
their offspring, or, like some of the more noble animals, with some
superior animal who is kind to them, but with all human, and even with
all sentient beings. Secondly, in having a more developed intelligence,
which gives a wider range to the whole of their sentiments, whether
self-regarding or sympathetic. By virtue of his superior intelligence,
even apart from his superior range of sympathy, a human being is capable
of apprehending a community of interest between himself and the human
society of which he forms a part, such that any conduct which threatens
the security of the society generally, is threatening to his own, and
calls forth his instinct (if instinct it be) of self-defence. The same
superiority of intelligence, joined to the power of sympathizing with
human beings generally, enables him to attach himself to the collective
idea of his tribe, his country, or mankind, in such a manner that any
act hurtful to them rouses his instinct of sympathy, and urges him to

The sentiment of justice, in that one of its elements which consists of
the desire to punish, is thus, I conceive, the natural feeling of
retaliation or vengeance, rendered by intellect and sympathy applicable
to those injuries, that is, to those hurts, which wound us through, or
in common with, society at large. This sentiment, in itself, has nothing
moral in it; what is moral is, the exclusive subordination of it to the
social sympathies, so as to wait on and obey their call. For the natural
feeling tends to make us resent indiscriminately whatever any one does
that is disagreeable to us; but when moralized by the social feeling, it
only acts in the directions conformable to the general good; just
persons resenting a hurt to society, though not otherwise a hurt to
themselves, and not resenting a hurt to themselves, however painful,
unless it be of the kind which society has a common interest with them
in the repression of.

It is no objection against this doctrine to say, that when we feel our
sentiment of justice outraged, we are not thinking of society at large,
or of any collective interest, but only of the individual case. It is
common enough certainly, though the reverse of commendable, to feel
resentment merely because we have suffered pain; but a person whose
resentment is really a moral feeling, that is, who considers whether an
act is blameable before he allows himself to resent it--such a person,
though he may not say expressly to himself that he is standing up for
the interest of society, certainly does feel that he is asserting a rule
which is for the benefit of others as well as for his own. If he is not
feeling this--if he is regarding the act solely as it affects him
individually--he is not consciously just; he is not concerning himself
about the justice of his actions. This is admitted even by
anti-utilitarian moralists. When Kant (as before remarked) propounds as
the fundamental principle of morals, 'So act, that thy rule of conduct
might be adopted as a law by all rational beings,' he virtually
acknowledges that the interest of mankind collectively, or at least of
mankind indiscriminately, must be in the mind of the agent when
conscientiously deciding on the morality of the act. Otherwise he uses
words without a meaning: for, that a rule even of utter selfishness
could not _possibly_ be adopted by all rational beings--that there is
any insuperable obstacle in the nature of things to its adoption--cannot
be even plausibly maintained. To give any meaning to Kant's principle,
the sense put upon it must be, that we ought to shape our conduct by a
rule which all rational beings might adopt _with benefit to their
collective interest_.

To recapitulate: the idea of justice supposes two things; a rule of
conduct, and a sentiment which sanctions the rule. The first must be
supposed common to all mankind, and intended for their good. The other
(the sentiment) is a desire that punishment may be suffered by those who
infringe the rule. There is involved, in addition, the conception of
some definite person who suffers by the infringement; whose rights (to
use the expression appropriated to the case) are violated by it. And the
sentiment of justice appears to me to be, the animal desire to repel or
retaliate a hurt or damage to oneself, or to those with whom one
sympathizes, widened so as to include all persons, by the human capacity
of enlarged sympathy, and the human conception of intelligent
self-interest. From the latter elements, the feeling derives its
morality; from the former, its peculiar impressiveness, and energy of

I have, throughout, treated the idea of a _right_ residing in the
injured person, and violated by the injury, not as a separate element in
the composition of the idea and sentiment, but as one of the forms in
which the other two elements clothe themselves. These elements are, a
hurt to some assignable person or persons on the one hand, and a demand
for punishment on the other. An examination of our own minds, I think,
will show, that these two things include all that we mean when we speak
of violation of a right. When we call anything a person's right, we mean
that he has a valid claim on society to protect him in the possession
of it, either by the force of law, or by that of education and opinion.
If he has what we consider a sufficient claim, on whatever account, to
have something guaranteed to him by society, we say that he has a right
to it. If we desire to prove that anything does not belong to him by
right, we think this done as soon as it is admitted that society ought
not to take measures for securing it to him, but should leave it to
chance, or to his own exertions. Thus, a person is said to have a right
to what he can earn in fair professional competition; because society
ought not to allow any other person to hinder him from endeavouring to
earn in that manner as much as he can. But he has not a right to three
hundred a-year, though he may happen to be earning it; because society
is not called on to provide that he shall earn that sum. On the
contrary, if he owns ten thousand pounds three per cent. stock, he _has_
a right to three hundred a-year; because society has come under an
obligation to provide him with an income of that amount.

To have a right, then, is, I conceive, to have something which society
ought to defend me in the possession of. If the objector goes on to ask
why it ought, I can give him no other reason than general utility. If
that expression does not seem to convey a sufficient feeling of the
strength of the obligation, nor to account for the peculiar energy of
the feeling, it is because there goes to the composition of the
sentiment, not a rational only but also an animal element, the thirst
for retaliation; and this thirst derives its intensity, as well as its
moral justification, from the extraordinarily important and impressive
kind of utility which is concerned. The interest involved is that of
security, to every one's feelings the most vital of all interests.
Nearly all other earthly benefits are needed by one person, not needed
by another; and many of them can, if necessary, be cheerfully foregone,
or replaced by something else; but security no human being can possibly
do without; on it we depend for all our immunity from evil, and for the
whole value of all and every good, beyond the passing moment; since
nothing but the gratification of the instant could be of any worth to
us, if we could be deprived of everything the next instant by whoever
was momentarily stronger than ourselves. Now this most indispensable of
all necessaries, after physical nutriment, cannot be had, unless the
machinery for providing it is kept unintermittedly in active play. Our
notion, therefore, of the claim we have on our fellow creatures to join
in making safe for us the very groundwork of our existence, gathers
feelings round it so much more intense than those concerned in any of
the more common cases of utility, that the difference in degree (as is
often the case in psychology) becomes a real difference in kind. The
claim assumes that character of absoluteness, that apparent infinity,
and incommensurability with all other considerations, which constitute
the distinction between the feeling of right and wrong and that of
ordinary expediency and inexpediency. The feelings concerned are so
powerful, and we count so positively on finding a responsive feeling in
others (all being alike interested), that _ought_ and _should_ grow into
_must_, and recognized indispensability becomes a moral necessity,
analogous to physical, and often not inferior to it in binding force.

If the preceding analysis, or something resembling it, be not the
correct account of the notion of justice; if justice be totally
independent of utility, and be a standard _per se_, which the mind can
recognize by simple introspection of itself; it is hard to understand
why that internal oracle is so ambiguous, and why so many things appear
either just or unjust, according to the light in which they are
regarded. We are continually informed that Utility is an uncertain
standard, which every different person interprets differently, and that
there is no safety but in the immutable, ineffaceable, and unmistakeable
dictates of Justice, which carry their evidence in themselves, and are
independent of the fluctuations of opinion. One would suppose from this
that on questions of justice there could be no controversy; that if we
take that for our rule, its application to any given case could leave us
in as little doubt as a mathematical demonstration. So far is this from
being the fact, that there is as much difference of opinion, and as
fierce discussion, about what is just, as about what is useful to
society. Not only have different nations and individuals different
notions of justice, but, in the mind of one and the same individual,
justice is not some one rule, principle, or maxim, but many, which do
not always coincide in their dictates, and in choosing between which, he
is guided either by some extraneous standard, or by his own personal

For instance, there are some who say, that it is unjust to punish any
one for the sake of example to others; that punishment is just, only
when intended for the good of the sufferer himself. Others maintain the
extreme reverse, contending that to punish persons who have attained
years of discretion, for their own benefit, is despotism and injustice,
since if the matter at issue is solely their own good, no one has a
right to control their own judgment of it; but that they may justly be
punished to prevent evil to others, this being an exercise of the
legitimate right of self-defence. Mr. Owen, again, affirms that it is
unjust to punish at all; for the criminal did not make his own
character; his education, and the circumstances which surround him, have
made him a criminal, and for these he is not responsible. All these
opinions are extremely plausible; and so long as the question is argued
as one of justice simply, without going down to the principles which lie
under justice and are the source of its authority, I am unable to see
how any of these reasoners can be refuted. For, in truth, every one of
the three builds upon rules of justice confessedly true. The first
appeals to the acknowledged injustice of singling out an individual, and
making him a sacrifice, without his consent, for other people's benefit.
The second relies on the acknowledged justice of self-defence, and the
admitted injustice of forcing one person to conform to another's notions
of what constitutes his good. The Owenite invokes the admitted
principle, that it is unjust to punish any one for what he cannot help.
Each is triumphant so long as he is not compelled to take into
consideration any other maxims of justice than the one he has selected;
but as soon as their several maxims are brought face to face, each
disputant seems to have exactly as much to say for himself as the
others. No one of them can carry out his own notion of justice without
trampling upon another equally binding. These are difficulties; they
have always been felt to be such; and many devices have been invented to
turn rather than to overcome them. As a refuge from the last of the
three, men imagined what they called the freedom of the will; fancying
that they could not justify punishing a man whose will is in a
thoroughly hateful state, unless it be supposed to have come into that
state through no influence of anterior circumstances. To escape from the
other difficulties, a favourite contrivance has been the fiction of a
contract, whereby at some unknown period all the members of society
engaged to obey the laws, and consented to be punished for any
disobedience to them; thereby giving to their legislators the right,
which it is assumed they would not otherwise have had, of punishing
them, either for their own good or for that of society. This happy
thought was considered to get rid of the whole difficulty, and to
legitimate the infliction of punishment, in virtue of another received
maxim of justice, _volenti non fit injuria_; that is not unjust which is
done with the consent of the person who is supposed to be hurt by it. I
need hardly remark, that even if the consent were not a mere fiction,
this maxim is not superior in authority to the others which it is
brought in to supersede. It is, on the contrary, an instructive specimen
of the loose and irregular manner in which supposed principles of
justice grow up. This particular one evidently came into use as a help
to the coarse exigencies of courts of law, which are sometimes obliged
to be content with very uncertain presumptions, on account of the
greater evils which would often arise from any attempt on their part to
cut finer. But even courts of law are not able to adhere consistently to
the maxim, for they allow voluntary engagements to be set aside on the
ground of fraud, and sometimes on that of mere mistake or

Again, when the legitimacy of inflicting punishment is admitted, how
many conflicting conceptions of justice come to light in discussing the
proper apportionment of punishment to offences. No rule on this subject
recommends itself so strongly to the primitive and spontaneous sentiment
of justice, as the _lex talionis_, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a
tooth. Though this principle of the Jewish and of the Mahomedan law has
been generally abandoned in Europe as a practical maxim, there is, I
suspect, in most minds, a secret hankering after it; and when
retribution accidentally falls on an offender in that precise shape, the
general feeling of satisfaction evinced, bears witness how natural is
the sentiment to which this repayment in kind is acceptable. With many
the test of justice in penal infliction is that the punishment should be
proportioned to the offence; meaning that it should be exactly measured
by the moral guilt of the culprit (whatever be their standard for
measuring moral guilt): the consideration, what amount of punishment is
necessary to deter from the offence, having nothing to do with the
question of justice, in their estimation: while there are others to whom
that consideration is all in all; who maintain that it is not just, at
least for man, to inflict on a fellow creature, whatever may be his
offences, any amount of suffering beyond the least that will suffice to
prevent him from repeating, and others from imitating, his misconduct.

To take another example from a subject already once referred to. In a
co-operative industrial association, is it just or not that talent or
skill should give a title to superior remuneration? On the negative side
of the question it is argued, that whoever does the best he can,
deserves equally well, and ought not in justice to be put in a position
of inferiority for no fault of his own; that superior abilities have
already advantages more than enough, in the admiration they excite, the
personal influence they command, and the internal sources of
satisfaction attending them, without adding to these a superior share of
the world's goods; and that society is bound in justice rather to make
compensation to the less favoured, for this unmerited inequality of
advantages, than to aggravate it. On the contrary side it is contended,
that society receives more from the more efficient labourer; that his
services being more useful, society owes him a larger return for them;
that a greater share of the joint result is actually his work, and not
to allow his claim to it is a kind of robbery; that if he is only to
receive as much as others, he can only be justly required to produce as
much, and to give a smaller amount of time and exertion, proportioned to
his superior efficiency. Who shall decide between these appeals to
conflicting principles of justice? Justice has in this case two sides to
it, which it is impossible to bring into harmony, and the two disputants
have chosen opposite sides; the one looks to what it is just that the
individual should receive, the other to what it is just that the
community should give. Each, from his own point of view, is
unanswerable; and any choice between them, on grounds of justice, must
be perfectly arbitrary. Social utility alone can decide the preference.

How many, again, and how irreconcileable, are the standards of justice
to which reference is made in discussing the repartition of taxation.
One opinion is, that payment to the State should be in numerical
proportion to pecuniary means. Others think that justice dictates what
they term graduated taxation; taking a higher percentage from those who
have more to spare. In point of natural justice a strong case might be
made for disregarding means altogether, and taking the same absolute sum
(whenever it could be got) from every one: as the subscribers to a mess,
or to a club, all pay the same sum for the same privileges, whether they
can all equally afford it or not. Since the protection (it might be
said) of law and government is afforded to, and is equally required by,
all, there is no injustice in making all buy it at the same price. It is
reckoned justice, not injustice, that a dealer should charge to all
customers the same price for the same article, not a price varying
according to their means of payment. This doctrine, as applied to
taxation, finds no advocates, because it conflicts strongly with men's
feelings of humanity and perceptions of social expediency; but the
principle of justice which it invokes is as true and as binding as those
which can be appealed to against it. Accordingly, it exerts a tacit
influence on the line of defence employed for other modes of assessing
taxation. People feel obliged to argue that the State does more for the
rich than for the poor, as a justification for its taking more from
them: though this is in reality not true, for the rich would be far
better able to protect themselves, in the absence of law or government,
than the poor, and indeed would probably be successful in converting the
poor into their slaves. Others, again, so far defer to the same
conception of justice, as to maintain that all should pay an equal
capitation tax for the protection of their persons (these being of equal
value to all), and an unequal tax for the protection of their property,
which is unequal. To this others reply, that the all of one man is as
valuable to him as the all of another. From these confusions there is no
other mode of extrication than the utilitarian.

       *       *       *       *       *

Is, then, the difference between the Just and the Expedient a merely
imaginary distinction? Have mankind been under a delusion in thinking
that justice is a more sacred thing than policy, and that the latter
ought only to be listened to after the former has been satisfied? By no
means. The exposition we have given of the nature and origin of the
sentiment, recognises a real distinction; and no one of those who
profess the most sublime contempt for the consequences of actions as an
element in their morality, attaches more importance to the distinction
than I do. While I dispute the pretensions of any theory which sets up
an imaginary standard of justice not grounded on utility, I account the
justice which is grounded on utility to be the chief part, and
incomparably the most sacred and binding part, of all morality. Justice
is a name for certain classes of moral rules, which concern the
essentials of human well-being more nearly, and are therefore of more
absolute obligation, than any other rules for the guidance of life; and
the notion which we have found to be of the essence of the idea of
justice, that of a right residing in an individual, implies and
testifies to this more binding obligation.

The moral rules which forbid mankind to hurt one another (in which we
must never forget to include wrongful interference with each other's
freedom) are more vital to human well-being than any maxims, however
important, which only point out the best mode of managing some
department of human affairs. They have also the peculiarity, that they
are the main element in determining the whole of the social feelings of
mankind. It is their observance which alone preserves peace among human
beings: if obedience to them were not the rule, and disobedience the
exception, every one would see in every one else a probable enemy,
against whom he must be perpetually guarding himself. What is hardly
less important, these are the precepts which mankind have the strongest
and the most direct inducements for impressing upon one another. By
merely giving to each other prudential instruction or exhortation, they
may gain, or think they gain, nothing: in inculcating on each other the
duty of positive beneficence they have an unmistakeable interest, but
far less in degree: a person may possibly not need the benefits of
others; but he always needs that they should not do him hurt. Thus the
moralities which protect every individual from being harmed by others,
either directly or by being hindered in his freedom of pursuing his own
good, are at once those which he himself has most at heart, and those
which he has the strongest interest in publishing and enforcing by word
and deed. It is by a person's observance of these, that his fitness to
exist as one of the fellowship of human beings, is tested and decided;
for on that depends his being a nuisance or not to those with whom he is
in contact. Now it is these moralities primarily, which compose the
obligations of justice. The most marked cases of injustice, and those
which give the tone to the feeling of repugnance which characterizes the
sentiment, are acts of wrongful aggression, or wrongful exercise of
power over some one; the next are those which consist in wrongfully
withholding from him something which is his due; in both cases,
inflicting on him a positive hurt, either in the form of direct
suffering, or of the privation of some good which he had reasonable
ground, either of a physical or of a social kind, for counting upon.

The same powerful motives which command the observance of these primary
moralities, enjoin the punishment of those who violate them; and as the
impulses of self-defence, of defence of others, and of vengeance, are
all called forth against such persons, retribution, or evil for evil,
becomes closely connected with the sentiment of justice, and is
universally included in the idea. Good for good is also one of the
dictates of justice; and this, though its social utility is evident, and
though it carries with it a natural human feeling, has not at first
sight that obvious connexion with hurt or injury, which, existing in the
most elementary cases of just and unjust, is the source of the
characteristic intensity of the sentiment. But the connexion, though
less obvious, is not less real. He who accepts benefits, and denies a
return of them when needed, inflicts a real hurt, by disappointing one
of the most natural and reasonable of expectations, and one which he
must at least tacitly have encouraged, otherwise the benefits would
seldom have been conferred. The important rank, among human evils and
wrongs, of the disappointment of expectation, is shown in the fact that
it constitutes the principal criminality of two such highly immoral acts
as a breach of friendship and a breach of promise. Few hurts which human
beings can sustain are greater, and none wound more, than when that on
which they habitually and with full assurance relied, fails them in the
hour of need; and few wrongs are greater than this mere withholding of
good; none excite more resentment, either in the person suffering, or in
a sympathizing spectator. The principle, therefore, of giving to each
what they deserve, that is, good for good as well as evil for evil, is
not only included within the idea of Justice as we have defined it, but
is a proper object of that intensity of sentiment, which places the
Just, in human estimation, above the simply Expedient.

Most of the maxims of justice current in the world, and commonly
appealed to in its transactions, are simply instrumental to carrying
into effect the principles of justice which we have now spoken of. That
a person is only responsible for what he has done voluntarily, or could
voluntarily have avoided; that it is unjust to condemn any person
unheard; that the punishment ought to be proportioned to the offence,
and the like, are maxims intended to prevent the just principle of evil
for evil from being perverted to the infliction of evil without that
justification. The greater part of these common maxims have come into
use from the practice of courts of justice, which have been naturally
led to a more complete recognition and elaboration than was likely to
suggest itself to others, of the rules necessary to enable them to
fulfil their double function, of inflicting punishment when due, and of
awarding to each person his right.

That first of judicial virtues, impartiality, is an obligation of
justice, partly for the reason last mentioned; as being a necessary
condition of the fulfilment of the other obligations of justice. But
this is not the only source of the exalted rank, among human
obligations, of those maxims of equality and impartiality, which, both
in popular estimation and in that of the most enlightened, are included
among the precepts of justice. In one point of view, they may be
considered as corollaries from the principles already laid down. If it
is a duty to do to each according to his deserts, returning good for
good as well as repressing evil by evil, it necessarily follows that we
should treat all equally well (when no higher duty forbids) who have
deserved equally well of us, and that society should treat all equally
well who have deserved equally well of it, that is, who have deserved
equally well absolutely. This is the highest abstract standard of social
and distributive justice; towards which all institutions, and the
efforts of all virtuous citizens, should be made in the utmost possible
degree to converge. But this great moral duty rests upon a still deeper
foundation, being a direct emanation from the first principle of morals,
and not a mere logical corollary from secondary or derivative doctrines.
It is involved in the very meaning of Utility, or the
Greatest-Happiness Principle. That principle is a mere form of words
without rational signification, unless one person's happiness, supposed
equal in degree (with the proper allowance made for kind), is counted
for exactly as much as another's. Those conditions being supplied,
Bentham's dictum, 'everybody to count for one, nobody for more than
one,' might be written under the principle of utility as an explanatory
commentary.[D] The equal claim of everybody to happiness in the
estimation of the moralist and the legislator, involves an equal claim
to all the means of happiness, except in so far as the inevitable
conditions of human life, and the general interest, in which that of
every individual is included, set limits to the maxim; and those limits
ought to be strictly construed. As every other maxim of justice, so
this, is by no means applied or held applicable universally; on the
contrary, as I have already remarked, it bends to every person's ideas
of social expediency. But in whatever case it is deemed applicable at
all, it is held to be the dictate of justice. All persons are deemed to
have a _right_ to equality of treatment, except when some recognised
social expediency requires the reverse. And hence all social
inequalities which have ceased to be considered expedient, assume the
character not of simple inexpediency, but of injustice, and appear so
tyrannical, that people are apt to wonder how they ever could have been
tolerated; forgetful that they themselves perhaps tolerate other
inequalities under an equally mistaken notion of expediency, the
correction of which would make that which they approve seem quite as
monstrous as what they have at last learnt to condemn. The entire
history of social improvement has been a series of transitions, by which
one custom or institution after another, from being a supposed primary
necessity of social existence, has passed into the rank of an
universally stigmatized injustice and tyranny. So it has been with the
distinctions of slaves and freemen, nobles and serfs, patricians and
plebeians; and so it will be, and in part already is, with the
aristocracies of colour, race, and sex.

It appears from what has been said, that justice is a name for certain
moral requirements, which, regarded collectively, stand higher in the
scale of social utility, and are therefore of more paramount obligation,
than any others; though particular cases may occur in which some other
social duty is so important, as to overrule any one of the general
maxims of justice. Thus, to save a life, it may not only be allowable,
but a duty, to steal, or take by force, the necessary food or medicine,
or to kidnap, and compel to officiate, the only qualified medical
practitioner. In such cases, as we do not call anything justice which is
not a virtue, we usually say, not that justice must give way to some
other moral principle, but that what is just in ordinary cases is, by
reason of that other principle, not just in the particular case. By this
useful accommodation of language, the character of indefeasibility
attributed to justice is kept up, and we are saved from the necessity of
maintaining that there can be laudable injustice.

The considerations which have now been adduced resolve, I conceive, the
only real difficulty in the utilitarian theory of morals. It has always
been evident that all cases of justice are also cases of expediency: the
difference is in the peculiar sentiment which attaches to the former, as
contradistinguished from the latter. If this characteristic sentiment
has been sufficiently accounted for; if there is no necessity to assume
for it any peculiarity of origin; if it is simply the natural feeling of
resentment, moralized by being made coextensive with the demands of
social good; and if this feeling not only does but ought to exist in all
the classes of cases to which the idea of justice corresponds; that idea
no longer presents itself as a stumbling-block to the utilitarian
ethics. Justice remains the appropriate name for certain social
utilities which are vastly more important, and therefore more absolute
and imperative, than any others are as a class (though not more so than
others may be in particular cases); and which, therefore, ought to be,
as well as naturally are, guarded by a sentiment not only different in
degree, but also in kind; distinguished from the milder feeling which
attaches to the mere idea of promoting human pleasure or convenience, at
once by the more definite nature of its commands, and by the sterner
character of its sanctions.



[Footnote C: See this point enforced and illustrated by Professor Bain,
in an admirable chapter (entitled "The Ethical Emotions, or the Moral
Sense") of the second of the two treatises composing his elaborate and
profound work on the Mind.]

[Footnote D: This implication, in the first principle of the utilitarian
scheme, of perfect impartiality between persons, is regarded by Mr.
Herbert Spencer (in his _Social Statics_) as a disproof of the
pretentions of utility to be a sufficient guide to right; since (he
says) the principle of utility presupposes the anterior principle, that
everybody has an equal right to happiness. It may be more correctly
described as supposing that equal amounts of happiness are equally
desirable, whether felt by the same or by different persons. This,
however, is not a pre-supposition; not a premise needful to support the
principle of utility, but the very principle itself; for what is the
principle of utility, if it be not that 'happiness' and 'desirable' are
synonymous terms? If there is any anterior principle implied, it can be
no other than this, that the truths of arithmetic are applicable to the
valuation of happiness, as of all other measurable quantities.

[Mr. Herbert Spencer, in a private communication on the subject of the
preceding Note, objects to being considered an opponent of
Utilitarianism; and states that he regards happiness as the ultimate end
of morality; but deems that end only partially attainable by empirical
generalizations from the observed results of conduct, and completely
attainable only by deducing, from the laws of life and the conditions of
existence, what kinds of action necessarily tend to produce happiness,
and what kinds to produce unhappiness. With the exception of the word
"necessarily," I have no dissent to express from this doctrine; and
(omitting that word) I am not aware that any modern advocate of
utilitarianism is of a different opinion. Bentham, certainly, to whom in
the _Social Statics_ Mr. Spencer particularly referred, is, least of all
writers, chargeable with unwillingness to deduce the effect of actions
on happiness from the laws of human nature and the universal conditions
of human life. The common charge against him is of relying too
exclusively upon such deductions, and declining altogether to be bound
by the generalizations from specific experience which Mr. Spencer thinks
that utilitarians generally confine themselves to. My own opinion (and,
as I collect, Mr. Spencer's) is, that in ethics, as in all other
branches of scientific study, the consilience of the results of both
these processes, each corroborating and verifying the other, is
requisite to give to any general proposition the kind and degree of
evidence which constitutes scientific proof.]]

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