Реферат Bentham By John Stuart Mill Essay Research

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Bentham By John Stuart Mill Essay, Research Paper
by John Stuart Mill
London and Westminster Review, Aug. 1838, revised in 1859 in
Dissertations and Discussion, vol. 1.
There are two men, recently deceased, to whom their country
is indebted not only for the greater part of the important ideas
which have been thrown into circulation among its thinking men in
their time, but for a revolution in its general modes of thought
and investigation. These men, dissimilar in almost all else,
agreed in being closet-students — secluded in a peculiar degree,
by circumstances and character, from the business and intercourse
of the world: and both were, through a large portion of their
lives, regarded by those who took the lead in opinion (when they
happened to hear of them) with feelings akin to contempt. But
they were destined to renew a lesson given to mankind by every
age, and always disregarded — to show that speculative
philosophy, which to the superficial appears a thing so remote
from the business of life and the outward interests of men, is in
reality the thing on earth which most influences them, and in the
long run overbears every other influence save those which it must
itself obey. The writers of whom we speak have never been read by
the multitude; except for the more slight of their works, their
readers have been few.. but they have been the teachers of the
teachers; there is hardly to be found in England an individual of
any importance in the world of mind, who (whatever opinions he
may have afterwards adopted) did not first learn to think from
one of these two; and though their influences have but begun to
diffuse themselves through these intermediate channels over
society at large, there is already scarcely a publication of any
consequence addressed to the educated classes, which, if these
persons had not existed, would not have been different from what
it is. These men are, Jeremy Bentham and Samuel Taylor Coleridge
– the two great seminal minds of England in their age.
No comparison is intended here between the minds or
influences of these remarkable men: this was impossible unless
there were first formed a complete judgment of each, considered
apart. It is our intention to attempt, on the present occasion,
an estimate of one of them; the only one, a complete edition of
whose works is yet in progress, and who, in the classification
which may be made of all writers into Progressive and
Conservative, belongs to the same division with ourselves. For
although they were far too great men to be correctly designated
by either appellation exclusively, yet in the main, Bentham was a
Progressive philosopher, Coleridge a Conservative one. The
influence of the former has made itself felt chiefly on minds of
the Progressive class; of the latter, on those of the
Conservative: and the two systems of concentric circles which the
shock given by them is spreading over the ocean of mind, have
only just begun to meet and intersect. The writings of both
contain severe lessons to their own side, on many of the errors
and faults they are addicted to: but to Bentham it was given to
discern more particularly those truths with which existing
doctrines and institutions were at variance; to Coleridge, the
neglected truths which lay in them.
A man of great knowledge of the world, and of the highest
reputation for practical talent and sagacity among the official
men of his time (himself no follower of Bentham, nor of any
partial or exclusive school whatever) once said to us, as the
result of his observation, that to Bentham more than to any other
source might be traced the questioning spirit, the disposition to
demand the why of everything, which had gained so much ground and
was producing such important consequences in these times. The
more this assertion is examined, the more true it will be found.
Bentham has been in this age and country the great questioner of
things established. It is by the influence of the modes of
thought with which his writings inoculated a considerable number
of thinking men, that the yoke of authority has been broken, and
innumerable opinions, formerly received on tradition as
incontestable, are put upon their defence, and required to give
an account of themselves. Who, before Bentham (whatever
controversies might exist on points of detail) dared to speak
disrespectfully, in express terms, of the British Constitution,
or the English Law? He did so; and his arguments and his example
together encouraged others. We do not mean that his writings
caused the Reform Bill, or that the Appropriation Clause owns him
as its parent: the changes which have been made, and the greater
changes which will be made, in our institutions, are not the work
of philosophers, but of the interests and instincts of large
portions of society recently grown into strength. But Bentham
gave voice to those interests and instincts: until he spoke out,
those who found our institutions unsuited to them did not dare to
say so, did not dare consciously to think so; they had never
heard the excellence of those institutions questioned by
cultivated men, by men of acknowledged intellect; and it is not
in the nature of uninstructed minds to resist the united
authority of the instructed. Bentham broke the spell. It was not
Bentham by his own writings; it was Bentham through the minds and
pens which those writings fed — through the men in more direct
contact with the world, into whom his spirit passed. If the
superstition about ancestorial wisdom has fallen into decay; if
the public are grown familiar with the idea that their laws and
institutions are in great part not the product of intellect and
virtue, but of modern corruption grafted upon ancient barbarism;
if the hardiest innovation is no longer scouted because it is an
innovation — establishments no longer considered sacred because
they are establishments — it will be found that those who have
accustomed the public mind to these ideas have learnt them in
Bentham’s school, and that the assault on ancient institutions
has been, and is, carried on for the most part with his weapons.
It matters not although these thinkers, or indeed thinkers of any
description, have been but scantily found among the persons
prominently and ostensibly at the head of the Reform movement.
All movements, except directly revolutionary ones, are headed,
not by those who originate them, but by those who know best how
to compromise between the old opinions and the new. The father of
English innovation both in doctrines and in institutions, is
Bentham: he is the great subversive, or, in the language of
continental philosophers, the great critical, thinker of his age
and country.
We consider this, however, to be not his highest title to
fame. Were this all, he were only to be ranked among the lowest
order of the potentates of mind — the negative, or destructive
philosophers; those who can perceive what is false, but not what
is true; who awaken the human mind to the inconsistencies and
absurdities of time-sanctioned opinions and institutions, but
substitute nothing in the place of what they take away. We have
no desire to undervalue the services of such persons: mankind
have been deeply indebted to them; nor will there ever be a lack
of work for them, in a world in which so many false things are
believed, in which so many which have been true, are believed
long after they have ceased to be true. The qualities, however,
which fit men for perceiving anomalies, without perceiving the
truths which would rectify them, are not among the rarest of
endowments. Courage, verbal acuteness, command over the forms of
argumentation, and a popular style, will make, out of the
shallowest man, with a sufficient lack of reverence, a
considerable negative philosopher. Such men have never been
wanting in periods of culture; and the period in which Bentham
formed his early impressions was emphatically their reign, in
proportion to its barrenness in the more noble products of the
human mind. An age of formalism in the Church and corruption in
the State, when the most valuable part of the meaning of
traditional doctrines had faded from the minds even of those who
retained from habit a mechanical belief in them, was the time to
raise up all kinds of sceptical philosophy. Accordingly, France
had Voltaire, and his school of negative thinkers, and England
(or rather Scotland) had the profoundest negative thinker on
record, David Hume: a man, the peculiarities of whose mind
qualified him to detect failure of proof, and want of logical
consistency, at a depth which French sceptics, with their
comparatively feeble powers of analysis and abstractions stop far
short of, and which German subtlety alone could thoroughly
appreciate, or hope to rival.
If Bentham had merely continued the work of Hume, he would
scarcely have been heard of in philosophy. for he was far
inferior to Hume in Hume’s qualities, and was in no respect
fitted to excel as a metaphysician. We must not look for
subtlety, or the power of recondite analysis, among his
intellectual characteristics. In the former quality, few great
thinkers have ever been so deficient; and to find the latter, in
any considerable measure, in a mind acknowledging any kindred
with his, we must have recourse to the late Mr. Mill — a man who
united the great qualities of the metaphysicians of the
eighteenth century, with others of a different complexion,
admirably qualifying him to complete and correct their work.
Bentham had not these peculiar gifts; but he possessed others,
not inferior, which were not possessed by any of his precursors;
which have made him a source of light to a generation which has
far outgrown their influence, and, as we called him, the chief
subversive thinker of an age which has long lost all that they
could subvert.
To speak of him first as a merely negative philosopher — as
one who refutes illogical arguments, exposes sophistry, detects
contradiction and absurdity; even in that capacity there was a
wide field left vacant for him by Hume, and which he has occupied
to an unprecedented extent; the field of practical abuses. This
was Bentham’s peculiar province: to this he was called by the
whole bent of his disposition: to carry the warfare against
absurdity into things practical. His was an essentially practical
mind. It was by practical abuses that his mind was first turned
to speculation — by the abuses of the profession which was
chosen for him, that of the law. He has himself stated what
particular abuse first gave that shock to his mind, the recoil of
which has made the whole mountain of abuse totter; it was the
custom of making the client pay for three attendances in the
office of a Master in Chancery; when only one was given. The law,
he found, on examination, was full of such things. But were these
discoveries of his? No; they were known to every lawyer who
practised, to every judge who sat on the bench, and neither
before nor for long after did they cause any apparent uneasiness
to the consciences of these learned persons, nor hinder them from
asserting, whenever occasion offered, in books, in parliament, or
on the bench, that the law was the perfection of reason. During
so many generations, in each of which thousands of educated young
men were successively placed in Bentham’s position and with
Bentham’s opportunities, he alone was found with sufficient moral
sensibility and self-reliance to say to himself that these
things, however profitable they might be, were frauds, and that
between them and himself there should be a gulf fixed. To this
rare union of self-reliance and moral sensibility we are indebted
for all that Bentham has done. Sent to Oxford by his father at
the unusually early age of fifteen — required, on admission, to
declare his belief in the Thirty-nine Articles — he felt it
necessary to examine them; and the examination suggested
scruples, which he sought to get removed, but instead of the
satisfaction he expected was told that it was not for boys like
him to set up their judgment against the great men of the Church.
After a struggle, he signed; but the impression that he had done
an immoral act, never left him; he considered himself to have
committed a falsehood, and throughout life he never relaxed in
his indignant denunciations of all laws which command such
falsehoods, all institutions which attach rewards to them.
By thus carrying the war of criticism and refutation, the
conflict with falsehood and absurdity, into the field of
practical evils, Bentham, even if he had done nothing else, would
have earned an important place in the history of intellect. He
carried on the warfare without intermission. To this, not only
many of his most piquant chapters, but some of the most finished
of his entire works, are entirely devoted: the ‘Defence of
Usury’. the ‘Book of Fallacies’; and the onslaught upon
Blackstone, published anonymously under the title of ‘ A Fragment
on Government’, which, though a first production, and of a writer
afterwards so much ridiculed for his style, excited the highest
admiration no less for its composition than for its thoughts, and
was attributed by turns to Lord Mansfield, to Lord Camden, and
(by Dr. Johnson) to Dunning, one of the greatest masters of style
among the lawyers of his day. These writings are altogether
original; though of the negative school, they resemble nothing
previously produced by negative philosophers; and would have
sufficed to create for Bentham, among the subversive thinkers of
modern Europe, a place peculiarly his own. But it is not these
writings that constitute the real distinction between him and
them. There was a deeper difference. It was that they were purely
negative thinkers, he was positive: they only assailed error, he
made it a point of conscience not to do so until he thought he
could plant instead the corresponding truth. Their character was
exclusively analytic, his was synthetic. They took for their
starting-point the received opinion on any subject, dug round it
with their logical implements, pronounced its foundations
defective, and condemned it: he began de novo, laid his own
foundations deeply and firmly, built up his own structure, and
bade mankind compare the two; it was when he had solved the
problem himself, or thought he had done so, that he declared all
other solutions to be erroneous. Hence, what they produced will
not last; it must perish, much of it has already perished, with
the errors which it exploded: what he did has its own value, by
which it must outlast all errors to which it is opposed. Though
we may reject, as we often must, his practical conclusions, yet
his premises, the collections of facts and observations from
which his conclusions were drawn, remain for ever, a part of the
materials of philosophy.
A place, therefore, must be assigned to Bentham among the
masters of wisdom, the great teachers and permanent intellectual
ornaments of the human race. He is among those who have enriched
mankind with imperishable gifts; and although these do not
transcend all other gifts, nor entitle him to those honours
‘above all Greek, above all Roman fame’, which by a natural
reaction against the neglect and contempt of the ignorant, many
of his admirers were once disposed to accumulate upon him, yet to
refuse an admiring recognition of what he was, on account of what
he was not, is a much worse error, and one which, pardonable in
the vulgar, is no longer permitted to any cultivated and
instructed mind.
If we were asked to say, in the fewest possible words, what
we conceive to be Bentham’s place among these great intellectual
benefactors of humanity; what he was, and what he was not; what
kind of service he did and did not render to truth; we should say
he was not a great philosopher, but he was a great reformer in
philosophy. He brought into philosophy something which it greatly
needed, and for want of which it was at a stand. It was not his
doctrines which did this, it was his mode of arriving at them. He
introduced into morals and politics those habits of thought and
modes of investigation, which are essential to the idea of
science; and the absence of which made those departments of
inquiry, as physics had been before Bacon, a field of
interminable discussion, leading to no result. It was not his
opinions, in short, but his method, that constituted the novelty
and the value of what he did; a value beyond all price, even
though we should reject the whole, as we unquestionably must a
large part, of the opinions themselves.
Bentham’s method may be shortly described as the method of
detail; of treating wholes by separating them into their parts,
abstractions by resolving them into Things, classes and
generalities by distinguishing them into the individuals of which
they are made up; and breaking every question into pieces before
attempting to solve it. The precise amount of originality of this
process, considered as a logical conception — its degree of
connexion with the methods of physical science, or with the
previous labours of Bacon, Hobbes or Locke — is not an essential
consideration in this pace. Whatever originality there was in the
method — in the subjects he applied it to, and in the rigidity
with which he adhered to it, there was the greatest. Hence his
interminable classifications. Hence his elaborate demonstrations
of the most acknowledged truths. That murder, incendiarism,
robbery, are mischievous actions, he will not take for granted
without proof; let the thing appear ever so self-evident, he will
know the why and the how of it with the last degree of precision;
he will distinguish all the different mischiefs of a crime,
whether of the first, the second or the third order, namely, 1.
the evil to the sufferer, and to his personal connexions; 2. the
danger from example, and the alarm or painful feeling of
insecurity; and 3. the discouragement to industry and useful
pursuits arising from the alarm, and the trouble and resources
which must be expended in warding off the danger. After this
enumeration, he will prove from the laws of human feeling, that
even the first of these evils, the sufferings of the immediate
victim, will on the average greatly outweigh the pleasure reaped
by the offender; much more when all the other evils are taken
into account. Unless this could be proved, he would account the
infliction of punishment unwarrantable; and for taking the
trouble to prove it formally, his defence is, ‘there are truths
which it is necessary to prove, not for their own sakes, because
they are acknowledged, but that an opening may be made for the
reception of other truths which depend upon them. It is in this
manner we provide for the reception of first principles, which,
once received, prepare the way for admission of all other
truths.’ To which may be added, that in this manner also we
discipline the mind for practising the same sort of dissection
upon questions more complicated and of more doubtful issue.
It is a sound maxim, and one which all close thinkers have
felt, but which no one before Bentham ever so consistently
applied, that error lurks in generalities: that the human mind is
not capable of embracing a complex whole, until it has surveyed
and catalogued the parts of which that whole is made up; that
abstractions are not realities per se, but an abridged mode of
expressing facts, and that the only practical mode of dealing
with them is to trace them back to the facts (whether of
experience or of consciousness) of which they are the expression.
Proceeding on this principle, Bentham makes short work with the
ordinary modes of moral and political reasoning. These, it
appeared to him, when hunted to their source, for the most part
terminated in phrases. In politics, liberty, social order,
constitution, law of nature, social compact, etc., were the
catchwords: ethics had its analogous ones. Such were the
arguments on which the gravest questions of morality and policy
were made to turn; not reasons, but allusions to reasons;
sacramental expressions, by which a summary appeal was made to
some general sentiment of mankind, or to some maxim in familiar
use, which might be true or not, but the limitations of which no
one had ever critically examined. And this satisfied other
people; but not Bentham. He required something more than opinion
as a reason for opinion. Whenever he found a phrase used as an
argument for or against anything, he insisted upon knowing what
it meant; whether it appealed to any standard, or gave intimation
of any matter of fact relevant to the question; and if he could
not find that it did either, he treated it as an attempt on the
part of the disputant to impose his own individual sentiment on
other people, without giving them a reason for it; a ‘
contrivance for avoiding the obligation of appealing to any
external standard, and for prevailing upon the reader to accept
of the author’s sentiment and opinion as a reason, and that a
sufficient one, for itself. Bentham shall speak for himself on
this subject: the passage is from his first systematic work,
‘Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation’, and
we could scarcely quote anything more strongly exemplifying both
the strength and weakness of his mode of philosophizing.
It is curious enough to observe the variety of inventions men
have hit upon, and the variety of phrases they have brought
forward, in order to conceal from the world, and, if possible,
from themselves, this very general and therefore very pardonable
1. One man says, he has a thing made on purpose to tell him
what is right and what is wrong; and that is called a ‘moral
sense’.. and then he goes to work at his ease, and says, such a
thing is right, and such a thing is wrong — why? ‘Because my
moral sense tells me it is.’
2. Another man comes and alters the phrase: leaving out
moral, and putting in common in the room of it. He then tells you
that his common sense tells him what is right and wrong, as
surely as the other’s moral sense did; meaning by common sense a
sense of some kind or other, which, he says, is possessed by all
mankind: the sense of those whose sense is not the same as the
author’s being struck out as not worth taking. This contrivance
does better than the other; for a moral sense being a new thing,
a man may feel about him a good while without being able to find
it out: but common sense is as old as the creation; and there is
no man but would be ashamed to be thought not to have as much of
it as his neighbours. It has another great advantage: by
appearing to share power, it lessens envy; for when a man gets up
upon this ground, in order to anathematize those who differ from
him, it is not by a sic volo sic jubeo, but by a velitis
3. Another man comes, and says, that as to a moral sense
indeed, he cannot find that he has any such thing: that, however,
he has an understanding, which will do quite as well. This
understanding, he says, is the standard of right and wrong: it
tells him so and so. All good and wise men understand as he does:
if other men’s understandings differ in any part from his, so
much the worse for them: it is a sure sign they are either
defective or corrupt.
4. Another man says, that there is an eternal and immutable
Rule of Right: that the rule of right dictates so and so: and
then he begins giving you his sentiments upon anything that comes
uppermost: and these sentiments (you are to take for granted) are
so many branches of the eternal rule of right.
5. Another man, or perhaps the same man (it is nO matter),
says that there are certain practices conformable and others
repugnant, to the Fitness of Things; and then he tells you, at
his leisure, what practices are conformable, and what repugnant:
just as he happens to like a practice or dislike it.
6. A great multitude of people are continually talking of the
Law of Nature; and then they go on giving you their sentiments
about what is right and what is wrong: and these sentiments, you
are to understand, are so many chapters and sections of the Law
of Nature.
7. Instead of the phrase, Law of Nature, you have sometimes
Law of Reason, Right Reason, Natural Justice, Natural Equity,
Good Order. Any of them will do equally well. This latter is most
used in politics. The three last are much more tolerable than the
others, because they do not very explicitly claim to be anything
more than phrases: they insist but feebly upon their being looked
upon as so many positive standards of themselves, and seem
content to be taken, upon occasion, for phrases expressive of the
conformity of the thing in question to the proper standards,
whatever that may be. On most occasions, however, it will be
better to say utility. utility is clearer as referring more
explicitly to pain and pleasure.
8. We have one philosopher, who says, there is no harm in
anything in the world but in telling a lie; and that if, for
example, you were to murder your own father, this would only be a
particular way of saying, he was not your father. Of course when
this philosopher sees anything that he does not like, he says, it
is a particular way of telling a lie. It is saying, that the act
ought to be done, or may be done, when, in truth, it ought not be
9. The fairest and openest of them all is that sort of man
who speaks out, and says, I am of the number of the Elect: now
God himself takes care to inform the Elect what is right: and
that with so good effect, and let them strive ever so, they
cannot help not only knowing it but practising it. If therefore a
man wants to know what is right and what is wrong, he has nothing
to do but to come to me.
Few will contend that this is a perfectly fair representation
of the animus of those who employ the various phrases so
amusingly animadverted on; but that the phrases contain no
argument, save what is grounded on the very feelings they are
adduced to justify, is a truth which Bentham had the eminent
merit of first pointing out.
It is the introduction into the philosophy of human conduct,
of this method of detail — of this practice of never reasoning
about wholes until they have been resolved into their parts, nor
about abstractions until they have been translated into realities
– that constitutes the originality of Bentham in philosophy, and
makes him the great reformer of the moral and political branch of
it. To what he terms the ‘exhaustive method of classification’,
which is but one branch of this more general method, he himself
ascribes everything original in the systematic and elaborate work
from which we have quoted. The generalities of his philosophy
itself have little or no novelty: to ascribe any to the doctrine
that general utility is the foundation of morality, would imply
great ignorance of the history of philosophy, of general
literature, and of Bentham’s own writings. He derived the idea,
as he says himself, from Helvetius; and it was the doctrine no
less, of the religious philosophers of that age, prior to Reid
and Beattie. We never saw an abler defence of the doctrine of
utility than in a book written in refutation of Shaftesbury, and
now little read — Brown’s ‘Essays on the Characteristics’; and
in Johnson’s celebrated review of Soame Jenyns, the same doctrine
is set forth as that both of the author and of the reviewer. In
all ages of philosophy one of its schools has been utilitarian –
not only from the time of Epicurus, but long before. It was by
mere accident that this opinion became connected in Bentham with
his peculiar method. The utilitarian philosophers antecedent to
him had no more claims to the method than their antagonists. To
refer, for instance, to the Epicurean philosophy, according to
the most complete view we have of the moral part of it, by the
most accomplished scholar of antiquity, Cicero; we ask any one
who has read his philosophical writings, the ‘De Finibus’ for
instance, whether the arguments of the Epicureans do not, just as
much as those of the Stoics or Platonists, consist of mere
rhetorical appeals to common notions, to eikita and simeia
instead of tekmiria, notions picked up as it were casually, and
when true at all, never so narrowly looked into as to ascertain
in what sense and under what limitations they are true. The
application of a real inductive philosophy to the problems of
ethics, is as unknown to the Epicurean moralists as to any of the
other schools; they never take a question to pieces, and join
issue on a definite point. Bentham certainly did not learn his
sifting and anatomizing method from them.
This method Bentham has finally installed in philosophy; has
made it henceforth imperative on philosophers of all schools. By
it he has formed the intellects of many thinkers, who either
never adopted, or have abandoned, many of his peculiar opinions.
He has taught the method to men of the most opposite schools to
his; he has made them perceive that if they do not test their
doctrines by the method of detail, their adversaries will. He has
thus, it is not too much to say, for the first time introduced
precision of thought into moral and political philosophy. Instead
of taking up their opinions by intuition, or by ratiocination
from premises adopted on a mere rough view, and couched in
language so vague that it is impossible to say exactly whether
they are true or false, philosophers are now forced to understand
one another, to break down the generality of their propositions,
and join a precise issue in every dispute. This is nothing less
than a revolution in philosophy. Its effect is gradually becoming
evident in the writings of English thinkers of every variety of
opinion, and will be felt more and more in proportion as
Bentham’s writings are diffused, and as the number of minds to
whose formation they contribute is multiplied.
It will naturally be presumed that of the fruits of this
great philosophical improvement some portion at least will have
been reaped by its author. Armed with such a potent instrument,
and wielding it with such singleness of aim; cultivating the
field of practical philosophy with such unwearied and such
consistent use of a method right in itself, and not adopted by
his predecessors; it cannot he but that Bentham by his own
inquiries must have accomplished something considerable. And so,
it will be found, he has; something not only considerable, but
extraordinary; though but little compared with what he has left
undone, and far short of what his sanguine and almost boyish
fancy made him flatter himself that he had accomplished. His
peculiar method, admirably calculated to make clear thinkers, and
sure ones to the extent of their materials, has not equal
efficacy for making those materials complete. It is a security
for accuracy, but not for comprehensiveness; or rather, it is a
security for one sort of comprehensiveness, but not for another.
Bentham’s method of laying out his subject is admirable as a
preservative against one kind of narrow and partial views. He
begins by placing before himself the whole of the field of
inquiry to which the particular question belongs, and divides
down till he arrives at the thing he is in search of; and thus by
successively rejecting all which is not the thing, he gradually
works out a definition of what it is. This, which he calls the
exhaustive method, is as old as philosophy itself. Plato owes
everything to it, and does everything by it; and the use made of
it by that great man in his Dialogues, Bacon, in one of those
pregnant logical hints scattered through his writings, and so
much neglected by most of his pretended followers, pronounces to
be the nearest approach to a true inductive method in the ancient
philosophy. Bentham was probably not aware that Plato had
anticipated him in the process to which he too declared that he
owed everything. By the practice of it, his speculations are
rendered eminently systematic and consistent; no question, with
him, is ever an insulated one; he sees every subject in connexion
with all the other subjects with which in his view it is related,
and from which it requires to be distinguished; and as all that
he knows, in the least degree allied to the subject, has been
marshalled in an orderly manner before him, he does not, like
people who use a looser method, forget and overlook a thing on
one occasion to remember it on another. Hence there is probably
no philosopher of so wide a range, in whom there are so few
inconsistencies. If any of the truths which he did not see, had
come to be seen by him, he would have remembered it everywhere
and at all times, and would have adjusted his whole system to it.
And this is another admirable quality which he has impressed upon
the best of the minds trained in his habits of thought: when
those minds open to admit new truths, they digest them as fast as
they receive them.
But this system, excellent for keeping before the mind of the
thinker all that he knows, does not make him know enough; it does
not make a knowledge of some of the properties of a thing suffice
for the whole of it, nor render a rooted habit of surveying a
complex object (though ever so carefully) in only one of its
aspects, tantamount to the power of contemplating it in all. To
give this last power, other qualities are required: whether
Bentham possessed those other qualities we now have to see.
Bentham’s mind, as we have already said, was eminently
synthetical. He begins all his inquiries by supposing nothing to
he known on the subject, and reconstructs all philosophy ab
initio, without reference to the opinions of his predecessors.
But to build either a philosophy or anything else, there must be
materials. For the philosophy of matter, the materials are the
properties of matter; for moral and political philosophy, the
properties of man, and of man’s position in the world. The
knowledge which any inquirer possesses of these properties,
constitutes a limit beyond which, as a moralist or a political
philosopher, whatever be his powers of mind, he cannot reach.
Nobody’s synthesis can be more complete than his analysis. If in
his survey of human nature and life he has left any element out,
then, wheresoever that element exerts any influence, his
conclusions will fail, more or less, in their application. If he
has left out many elements, and those very important, his labours
may be highly valuable; he may have largely contributed to that
body of partial truths which, when completed and corrected by one
another, constitute practical truth; but the applicability of his
system to practice in its own proper shape will be of an
exceedingly limited range.
Human nature and human life are wide subjects, and whoever
would embark in an enterprise requiring a thorough knowledge of
them, has need both of large stores of his own, and of all aids
and appliances from elsewhere. His qualifications for success
will be proportional to two things: the degree in which his own
nature and circumstances furnish them with a correct and complete
picture of man’s nature and circumstances; and his capacity of
deriving light from other minds.
Bentham failed in deriving light from other minds. His
writings contain few traces of the accurate knowledge of any
schools of thinking but his own; and many proofs of his entire
conviction that they could teach him nothing worth knowing. For
some of the most illustrious of previous thinkers, his contempt
was unmeasured. In almost the only passage of the ‘Deontology’
which, from its style, and from its having before appeared in
print, may be known to be Bentham’s, Socrates, and Plato are
spoken of in terms distressing to his great admirers; and the
incapacity to appreciate such men, is a fact perfectly in unison
with the general habits of Bentham’s mind. He had a phrase,
expressive of the view he took of all moral speculations to which
his method had not been applied, or (which he considered as the
same thing) not founded on a recognition of utility as the moral
standard; this phrase was ‘vague generalities’. Whatever
presented itself to him in such a shape, he dismissed as unworthy
of notice, or dwelt upon only to denounce as absurd. He did not
heed, or rather the nature of his mind prevented it from
occurring to him, that these generalities contained the whole
unanalysed experience of the human race.
Unless it can be asserted that mankind did not know anything
until logicians taught it to them that until the last hand has
been put to a moral truth by giving it a metaphysically precise
expression, all the previous rough-hewing which it has undergone
by the common intellect at the suggestion of common wants and
common experience is to go for nothing; it must be allowed, that
even the originality which can, and the courage which dares,
think for itself, is not a more necessary part of the
philosophical character than a thoughtful regard for previous
thinkers, and for the collective mind of the human race. What has
been the opinion of mankind, has been the opinion of persons of
all tempers and dispositions, of all partialities and
prepossessions, of all varieties in position, in education, in
opportunities of observation and inquiry. No one inquirer is all
this; every inquirer is either young or old, rich or poor, sickly
or healthy, married or unmarried, meditative or active, a poet or
a logician, an ancient or a modern, a man or a woman; and if a
thinking person, has, in addition, the accidental peculiarities
of his individual modes of thought. Every circumstance which
gives a character to the life of a human being, carries with it
its peculiar biases; its peculiar facilities for perceiving some
things, and for missing or forgetting others. But, from points of
view different from his, different things are perceptible; and
none are more likely to have seen what he does not see, than
those who do not see what he sees. The general opinion of mankind
is the average of the conclusions of all minds, stripped indeed
of their choicest and most recondite thoughts, but freed from
their twists and partialities: a net result, in which everybody’s
point of view is represented, nobody’s predominant. The
collective mind does not penetrate below the surface, but it sees
all the surface; which profound thinkers, even by reason of their
profundity, often fail to do: their intenser view of a thing in
some of its aspects diverting their attention from others.
The hardiest assertor, therefore, of the freedom of private
judgment the keenest detector of the errors of his predecessors,
and of the inaccuracies of current modes of thought — is the
very person who most needs to fortify the weak side of his own
intellect, by study of the opinions of mankind in all ages and
nations, and of the speculations of philosophers of the modes of
thought most opposite to his own. It is there that he will find
the experiences denied to himself — the remainder of the truth
of which he sees but half — the truths, of which the errors he
detects are commonly but the exaggerations. If, like Bentham, he
brings with him an improved instrument of investigation, the
greater is the probability that he will find ready prepared a
rich abundance of rough ore, which was merely waiting for that
instrument. A man of clear ideas errs grievously if he imagines
that whatever is seen confusedly does not exist: it belongs to
him, when he meets with such a thing, to dispel the mist, and fix
the outlines of the vague form which is looming through it.
Bentham’s contempt, then, of all other schools of thinkers;
his determination to create a philosophy wholly out of the
materials furnished by his own mind, and by minds like his own;
was his first disqualification as a philosopher. His second, was
the incompleteness of his own mind as a representative of
universal human nature. In many of the most natural and strongest
feelings of human nature he had no sympathy; from many of its
graver experiences he was altogether cut off; and the faculty by
which one mind understands a mind different from itself, and
throws itself into the feelings of that other mind, was denied
him by his deficiency of Imagination.
With Imagination in the popular sense, command of imagery and
metaphorical expression, Bentham was, to a certain degree,
endowed. For want, indeed, of poetical culture, the images with
which his fancy supplied him were seldom beautiful, but they were
quaint and humorous, or bold, forcible, and intense: passages
might be quoted from him both of playful irony, and of
declamatory eloquence, seldom surpassed in the writings of
philosophers. The Imagination which he had not, was that to which
the name is generally appropriated by the best writers of the
present day; that which enables us, by a voluntary effort, to
conceive the absent as if it were present, the imaginary as if it
were real, and to cloth it in the feelings which, if it were
indeed real, it would bring along with it. This is the power by
which one human being enters into the mind and circumstances of
another. This power constitutes the poet, in so far as he does
anything but melodiously utter his own actual feelings. It
constitutes the dramatist entirely. It is one of the constituents
of the historian; by it we understand other times; by it Guizot
interprets to us the middle ages; Nisard, in his beautiful
Studies on the later Latin poets, places us in the Rome of the
Caesars; Michelet disengages the distinctive characters of the
different races and generations of mankind from the facts of
their history. Without it nobody knows even his own nature,
further than circumstances have actually tried it and called it
out; nor the nature of his fellow-creatures, beyond such
generalizations as he may have been enabled to make from his
observation of their outward conduct.
By these limits, accordingly, Bentham’s knowledge of human
nature is bounded. It is wholly empirical; and the empiricism of
one who has had little experience. He had neither internal
experience nor external; the quiet, even tenor of his life, and
his healthiness of mind, conspired to exclude him from both. He
never knew prosperity and adversity, passion nor satiety. he
never had even the experiences which sickness gives; he lived
from childhood to the age of eighty-five in boyish health. He
knew no dejection, no heaviness of heart. He never felt life a
sore and a weary burthen. He was a boy to the last.
Self-consciousness, that daemon of the men of genius of our time,
from Wordsworth to Byron, from Goethe to Chateaubriand, and to
which this age owes so much both of its cheerful and its mournful
wisdom, never was awakened in him. How much of human nature
slumbered in him he knew not, neither can we know. He had never
been made alive to the unseen influences which were acting on
himself, nor consequently on his fellow-creatures. Other ages and
other nations were a blank to him for purposes of instruction. He
measured them but by one standard; their knowledge of facts, and
their capability to take correct views of utility, and merge all
other objects in it. His own lot was cast in a generation of the
leanest and barrenest men whom England had yet produced, and he
was an old man when a better race came in with the present
century. He saw accordingly in man little but what the vulgarest
eye can see; recognized no diversities of character but such as
he who runs may read. Knowing so little of human feelings, he
knew still less of the influences by which those feelings are
formed: all the more subtle workings both of the mind upon
itself, and of external things upon the mind, escaped him; and no
one, probably, who, in a highly instructed age, ever attempted to
give a rule to all human conduct, set out with a more limited
conception either of the agencies by which human conduct is, or
of those by which it should be, influenced.
This, then, is our idea of Bentham. He was a man both of
remarkable endowments for philosophy, and of remarkable
deficiencies for it: fitted, beyond almost any man, for drawing
from his premises, conclusions not only correct, but sufficiently
precise and specific to be practical: but whose general
conception of human nature and life furnished him with an
unusually slender stock of premises. It is obvious what would be
likely to be achieved by such a man; what a thinker, thus gifted
and thus disqualified, could do in philosophy. He could, with
close and accurate logic, hunt half-truths to their consequences
and practical applications, on a scale both of greatness and of
minuteness not previously exemplified; and this is the character
which posterity will probably assign to Bentham.
We express our sincere and well-considered conviction when we
say, that there is hardly anything positive in Bentham’s
philosophy which is not true: that when his practical conclusions
are erroneous, which in our opinion they are very often, it is
not because the considerations which he urges are not rational
and valid in themselves, but because some more important
principle, which he did not perceive, supersedes those
considerations, and turns the scale. The bad part of his writings
is his resolute denial of all that he does not see, of all truths
but those which he recognizes. By that alone has he exercised any
bad influence upon his age; by that he has, not created a school
of deniers, for this is an ignorant prejudice, but put himself at
the head of the school which exists always, though it does not
always find a great man to give it the sanction of philosophy.
thrown the mantle of intellect over the natural tendency of men
in all ages to deny or disparage all feelings and mental states
of which they have no consciousness in themselves.
The truths which are not Bentham’s, which his philosophy
takes no account of, are many and important; but his
non-recognition of them does not put them out of existence; they
are still with us, and it is a comparatively easy task that is
reserved for us, to harmonize those truths with his. To reject
his half of the truth because he overlooked the other half, would
be to fall into his error without having his excuse. For our own
part, we have a large tolerance for one-eyed men, provided their
one eye is a penetrating one: if they saw more, they probably
would not see so keenly, nor so eagerly pursue one course of
inquiry. Almost all rich veins of original and striking
speculation have been opened by systematic half-thinkers: though
whether these new thoughts drive out others as good, or are
peacefully superadded to them, depends on whether these
half-thinkers are or are not followed in the same track by
complete thinkers. The field of man’s nature and life cannot be
too much worked, or in too many directions; until every clod is
turned up the work is imperfect; no whole truth is possible but
by combining the points of view of all the fractional truths,
nor, therefore, until it has been fully seen what each fractional
truth can do by itself.
What Bentham’s fractional truths could do, there is no such
good means of showing as by a review of his philosophy: and such
a review, though inevitably a most brief and general one, it is
now necessary to attempt.
The first question in regard to any man of speculation is,
what is his theory of human life? In the minds of many
philosophers, whatever theory they have of this sort is latent,
and it would be a revelation to themselves to have it pointed out
to them in their writings as others can see it, unconsciously
moulding everything to its own likeness. But Bentham always knew
his own premises, and made his reader know them: it was not his
custom to leave the theoretic grounds of his practical
conclusions to conjecture. Few great thinkers have afforded the
means of assigning with so much certainty the exact conception
which they had formed of man and of man’s life.
Man is conceived by Bentham as a being susceptible of
pleasures and pains, and governed in all his conduct partly by
the different modifications of self-interest, and the passions
commonly classed as selfish, partly by sympathies, or
occasionally antipathies, towards other beings. And here
Bentham’s conception of human nature stops. He does not exclude
religion; the prospect of divine rewards and punishments he
includes under the head of ’self-regarding interest’, and the
devotional feeling under that of sympathy with God. But the whole
of the impelling or restraining principles, whether of this or of
another world, which he recognizes, are either self-love, or love
or hatred towards other sentient beings. That there might be no
doubt of what he thought on the subject, he has not left us to
the general evidence of his writings, but has drawn out a ‘Table
of the Springs of Action’, an express enumeration and
classification of human motives, with their various names,
laudatory, vituperative, and neutral: and this table, to be found
in Part I of his collected works, we recommend to the study of
those who would understand his philosophy.
Man is never recognized by him as a being capable of pursuing
spiritual perfection as an end; of desiring, for its own sake,
the conformity of his own character to his standard of
excellence, without hope of good or fear of evil from other
source than his own inward consciousness. Even in the more
limited form of Conscience, this great fact in human nature
escapes him. Nothing is more curious than the absence of
recognition in any of his writings of the existence of
conscience, as a thing distinct from philanthropy, from affection
for God or man, and from self-interest in this world or in the
next. There is a studied abstinence from any of the phrases
which, in the mouths of others, import the acknowledgment of such
a fact. If we find the words ‘Conscience’, ‘Principle’, ‘Moral
Rectitude’, ‘Moral Duty’, in his Table of the Springs of Action,
it is among the synonymes of the ‘love of reputation’. with an
intimation as to the two former phrases, that they are also
sometimes synonymous with the religious motive, or the motive of
sympathy. The feeling of moral approbation or disapprobation
properly so called, either towards ourselves or our
fellow-creatures, he seems unaware of the existence of; and
neither the word self-respect, nor the idea to which that word is
appropriated, occurs even once, so far as our recollection serves
us, in his whole writings.
Nor is it only the moral part of man’s nature, in the strict
sense of the term — the desire of perfection, or the feeling of
an approving or of an accusing conscience — that he overlooks;
he but faintly recognizes, as a fact in human nature, the pursuit
of any other ideal end for its own sake. The sense of honour, and
personal dignity — that feeling of personal exaltation and
degradation which acts independently of other people’s opinion,
or even in defiance of it; the love of beauty, the passion of the
artist; the love of order, of congruity, of consistency in all
things, and conformity to their end; the love of power, not in
the limited form of power over other human beings, but abstract
power, the power of making our volitions effectual; the love of
action, the thirst for movement and activity, a principle
scarcely of less influence in human life than its opposite, the
love of ease: None of these powerful constituents of human nature
are thought worthy of a place among the ‘Springs of Action’; and
though there is possibly no one of them of the existence of which
an acknowledgment might not be found in some corner of Bentham’s
writings, no conclusions are ever founded on the acknowledgment.
Man, that most complex being, is a very simple one in his eyes.
Even under the head of sympathy, his recognition does not extend
to the more complex forms of the feeling — the love of loving,
the need of a sympathizing support, or of objects of admiration
and reverence. If he thought at all of any of the deeper feelings
of human nature, it was but as idiosyncrasies of taste, with
which the moralist no more than the legislator had any concern,
further than to prohibit such as were mischievous among the
actions to which they might chance to lead. To say either that
man should, or that he should not, take pleasure in one thing,
displeasure in another, appeared to him as much an act of
despotism in the moralist as in the political ruler.
It would be most unjust to Bentham to surmise (as
narrow-minded and passionate adversaries are apt in such cases to
do) that this picture of human nature was copied from himself;
that all those constituents of humanity which he rejected from
his table of motives, were wanting in his own breast. The unusual
strength of his early feelings of virtue, was, as we have seen,
the original cause of all his speculations; and a noble sense of
morality, and especially of justice, guides and pervades them
all. But having been early accustomed to keep before his mind’s
eye the happiness of mankind (or rather of the whole sentient
world), as the only thing desirable in itself, or which rendered
anything else desirable, he confounded all disinterested feelings
which he found in himself, with the desire of general happiness:
just as some religious writers, who loved virtue for its own sake
as much perhaps as men could do, habitually confounded their love
of virtue with their fear of hell. It would have required greater
subtlety than Bentham possessed, to distinguish from each other,
feelings which, from long habit, always acted in the same
direction; and his want of imagination prevented him from reading
the distinction, where it is legible enough, in the hearts of
Accordingly, he has not been followed in this grand oversight
by any of the able men who, from the extent of their intellectual
obligations to him, have been regarded as his disciples. They may
have followed him in his doctrine of utility, and in his
rejection of a moral sense as the test of right and wrong: but
while repudiating it as such, they have, with Hartley,
acknowledged it as a fact in human nature; they have endeavoured
to account for it, to assign its laws: nor are they justly
chargeable either with undervaluing this part of our nature, or
with any disposition to throw it into the background of their
speculations. If any part of the influence of this cardinal error
has extended itself to them, it is circuitously, and through the
effect on their minds of other parts of Bentham’s doctrines.
Sympathy, the only disinterested motive which Bentham
recognized, he felt the inadequacy of, except in certain limited
cases, as a security for virtuous action. Personal affection, he
well knew, is as liable to operate to the injury of third
parties, and requires as much to be kept under government, as any
other feeling whatever: and general philanthropy, considered as a
motive influencing mankind in general, he estimated at its true
value when divorced from the feeling of duty — as the very
weakest and most unsteady of all feelings. There remained, as a
motive by which mankind are influenced, and by which they may be
guided to their good, only personal interest. Accordingly,
Bentham’s idea of the world is that of a collection of persons
pursuing each his separate interest or pleasure, and the
prevention of whom from jostling one another more than is
unavoidable, may be attempted by hopes and fears derived from
three sources — the law, religion and public opinion. To these
three powers, considered as binding human conduct, he gave the
name of sanctions. the political sanction, operating by the
rewards and penalties of the law; the religious sanction, by
those expected from the Ruler of the Universe; and the popular
which he characteristically calls also the moral sanction,
operating through the pains and pleasures arising from the favour
or disfavour of our fellow-creatures.
Such is Bentham’s theory of the world. And now, in a spirit
neither of apology nor of censure, but of calm appreciation, we
are to inquire how far this view of human nature and life will
carry any one: how much it will accomplish in morals, and how
much in political and social philosophy: what it will do for the
individual, and what for society.
It will do nothing for the conduct of the individual, beyond
prescribing some of the more obvious dictates of worldly
prudence, and outward probity and beneficence. There is no need
to expatiate on the deficiencies of a system of ethics which does
not pretend to aid individuals in the formation of their own
character. which recognizes no such wish as that of self culture,
we may even say no such power, as existing in human nature; and
if it did recognize, could furnish little assistance to that
great duty, because it overlooks the existence of about half of
the whole number of mental feelings which human beings are
capable of, including all those of which the direct objects are
states of their own mind.
Morality consists of two parts. One of these is
self-education; the training, by the human being himself, of his
affections and will. That department is a blank in Bentham’s
system. The other and co-equal part, the regulation of his
outward actions, must be altogether halting and imperfect without
the first; for how can we judge in what manner many an action
will affect even the worldly interests of ourselves or others,
unless we take in, as part of the question, its influence on the
regulation of our, or their, affections and desires? A moralist
on Bentham’s principles may get as far as this, that he ought not
to slay, burn, or steal; but what will be his qualifications for
regulating the nicer shades of human behaviour, or for laying
down even the greater moralities as to those facts in human life
which tend to influence the depths of the character quite
independently of any influence on worldly circumstances — such,
for instance, as the sexual relations, or those of family in
general, or any other social and sympathetic connexions of an
intimate kind? The moralities of these questions depend
essentially on considerations which Bentham never so much as took
into the account; and when he happened to be in the right, it was
always, and necessarily, on wrong or insufficient grounds.
It is fortunate for the world that Bentham’s taste lay rather
in the direction of jurisprudential than of properly ethical
inquiry. Nothing expressly of the latter kind has been published
under his name, except the ‘Deontology’ — a book scarcely ever,
in our experience, alluded to by any admirer of Bentham without
deep regret that it ever saw the light. We did not expect from
Bentham correct systematic views of ethics, or a sound treatment
of any question the moralities of which require a profound
knowledge of the human heart; but we did anticipate that the
greater moral questions would have been boldly plunged into, and
at least a searching criticism produced of the received opinions;
we did not expect that the petite morale almost alone would have
been treated, and that with the most pedantic minuteness, and on
the quid pro quo principles which regulate trade. The book has
not even the value which would belong to an authentic exhibition
of the legitimate consequences of an erroneous line of thought;
for the style proves it to have been so entirely rewritten, that
it is impossible to tell how much or how little of it is
Bentham’s. The collected edition, now in progress, will not, it
is said, include Bentham’s religious writings; these, although we
think most of them of exceedingly small value, are at least his,
and the world has a right to whatever light they throw upon the
constitution of his mind. But the omission of the ‘Deontology’
would be an act of editorial discretion which we should seem
entirely justifiable.
If Bentham’s theory of life can do so little for the
individual, what can it do for society?
It will enable a society which has attained a certain state
of spiritual development, and the maintenance of which in that
state is otherwise provided for, to prescribe the rules by which
it may protect its material interests. It will do nothing (except
sometimes as an instrument in the hands of a higher doctrine) for
the spiritual interests of society; nor does it suffice of itself
even for the material interests. That which alone causes any
material interests to exist, which alone enables any body of
human beings to exist as a society, is national character: that
it is, which causes one nation to succeed in what it attempts,
another to fail; one nation to understand and aspire to elevated
things, another to grovel in mean ones; which makes the greatness
of one nation lasting, and dooms another to early and rapid
decay. The true teacher of the fitting social arrangements for
England, France, or America, is the one who can point out how the
English, French or American character can be improved, and how it
has been made what it is. A philosophy of laws and institutions,
not founded on a philosophy of national character, is an
absurdity. But what could Bentham’s opinion be worth on national
character? How could he, whose mind contained so few and so poor
types of individual character, rise to that higher
generalization? All he can do is but to indicate means by which,
in any given state of the national mind, the material interests
of society can be protected; saving the question, of which others
must judge, whether the use of those means would have, on the
national character, any injurious influence.
We have arrived, then, at a sort of estimate of what a
philosophy like Bentham’s can do. It can teach the means of
organizing and regulating the merely business part of the social
arrangements. Whatever can be understood or whatever done without
reference to moral influences, his philosophy is equal to; where
those influences require to be taken into account, it is at
fault. He committed the mistake of supposing that the business
part of human affairs was the whole of them; all at least that
the legislator and the moralist had to do with. Not that he
disregarded moral influences when he perceived them; but his want
of imagination, small experience of human feelings, and ignorance
of the filiation and connexion of feelings with one another, made
this rarely the case.
The business part is accordingly the only province of human
affairs which Bentham has cultivated with any success; into which
he had introduced any considerable number of comprehensive and
luminous practical principles. That is the field of his
greatness; and there he is indeed great. He has swept away the
accumulated cobwebs of centuries — he has untied knots which the
efforts of the ablest thinkers, age after age, had only drawn
tighter; and it is not exaggeration to say of him that over a
great part of the field he was the first to shed the light of
We turn with pleasure from what Bentham could not do, to what
he did. It is an ungracious task to call a great benefactor of
mankind to account for not being a greater — to insist upon the
errors of a man who has originated more new truths, has given to
the world more sound practical lessons, than it ever received,
except in a few glorious instances, from any other individual.
The unpleasing part of our work is ended. We are now to show the
greatness of the man; the grasp which his intellect took of the
subjects with which it was fitted to deal; the giant’s task which
was before him, and the hero’s courage and strength with which he
achieved it. Nor let that which he did be deemed of small account
because its province was limited: man has but the choice to go a
little way in many paths, or a great way in only one. The field
of Bentham’s labours was like the space between two parallel
lines; narrow to excess in one direction, in another it reached
to infinity.
Bentham’s speculations, as we are already aware, began with
law; and in that department he accomplished his greatest
triumphs. He found the philosophy of law a chaos, he left it a
science; he found the practice of the law an Augean stable, he
turned the river into it which is mining and sweeping away mound
after mound of its rubbish.
Without joining in the exaggerated invectives against
lawyers, which Bentham sometimes permitted to himself, or making
one portion of society alone accountable for the fault of all, we
may say that circumstances had made English lawyers in a peculiar
degree liable to the reproach of Voltaire, who defines lawyers
the ‘conservators of ancient barbarous usages’. The basis of the