صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

We defy the Westminster Reviewer to reconcile this passage with the "general happiness principle" as he now states it. He tells us that he meant by government, not the people invested with the powers of gov ernment, but a mere operation incapable of feeling pleasure or pain. We say, that he meant the people invested with the powers of government, and nothing else. It is true that ought is not predicable of an operation. But who would ever dream of raising any question about the duties of an operation? What did the Reviewer mean by saying, that a government could not be interested in doing right because it was interested in doing wrong? Can an operation be interested in either? And what did he mean by his comparison about the lion? Is a lion an operation incapable of pain or pleasure? And what did he mean by the expression, “other men," so obviously opposed to the word "government?" But let the public judge between us. It is superfluous to argue a point so clear.

The Reviewer does indeed seem to feel that his expressions cannot be explained away, and attempts to shuffle out of the difficulty by owning, that "the double meaning of the word government was not got clear of without confusion." He has now, at all events, he assures us, made himself master of Mr. Bentham's philosophy. The real and genuine “greatest happiness principle" is, that the greatest happiness of every individual is identical with the greatest happiness of society; and all other "greatest happiness principles "whatever are counterfeits. "This," says he, "is the spirit of Mr. Bentham's principle; and if there is anything opposed to it in any former statement it may be corrected by the present."

Assuredly, if a fair and honourable opponent had,

in discussing a question so abstruse as that concerning the origin of moral obligation, made some unguarded admission inconsistent with the spirit of his doctrines, we should not be inclined to triumph over him. But no tenderness is due to a writer who, in the very act of confessing his blunders, insults those by whom hist blunders have been detected, and accuses them of misunderstanding what, in fact, he has himself mis-stated.

The whole of this transaction illustrates excellently the real character of this sect. A paper comes forth, professing to contain a full developement of the "greatest happiness principle," with the latest improvements of Mr. Bentham. The writer boasts that his article. has the honour of being the announcement and the organ of this wonderful discovery, which is to make "the bones of sages and patriots stir within their tombs." This "magnificent principle" is then stated thus: Mankind ought to pursue their greatest happiness. But there are persons whose interest is opposed to the greatest happiness of mankind. Ought is not predicable of such persons. For the word ought has no meaning unless it be used with reference to some interest.

We answered, with much more lenity than we should have shown to such nonsense, had it not proceeded, as we supposed, from Mr. Bentham, that interest was synonymous with greatest happiness; and that, therefore, if the word ought has no meaning, unless used with reference to interest, then, to say that mankind ought to pursue their greatest happiness, is simply to say, that the greatest happiness is the greatest happiness; that every individual pursues his own happiness ; that either what he thinks is happiness must coincide with the greatest happiness of society or not; that, if what he thinks his happiness coincides with the greatest

happiness of society, he will attempt to promote the greatest happiness of society whether he ever heard of the "greatest happiness principle" or not; and that, by the admission of the Westminster Reviewer, if his happiness is inconsistent with the greatest happiness of society, there is no reason why he should promote the greatest happiness of society. Now, that there are individuals who think that for their happiness which is not for the greatest happiness of society is evident. The Westminster Reviewer allowed that some of these. individuals were in the right; and did not pretend to give any reason which could induce any one of them to think himself in the wrong. So that the "magnificent principle" turned out to be, either a truism or a contradiction in terms; either this maxim "Do what you do;" or this maxim, "Do what you cannot do."

The Westminster Reviewer had the wit to see that he could not defend this palpable nonsense; but, instead of manfully owning that he had misunderstood the whole nature of the "greatest happiness principle in the summer, and had obtained new light during the autumn, he attempts to withdraw the former principle unobserved, and to substitute another, directly opposed to it, in its place; clamouring all the time against our unfairness, like one who, while changing the cards, diverts the attention of the table from his sleight of hand. by vociferating charges of foul play against other people.

The "greatest happiness principle" for the present quarter is then this, — that every individual will best promote his own happiness in this world, religious considerations being left out of the question, by promoting the greatest happiness of the whole species. And this principle, we are told, holds good with respect to kings and aristocracies as well as with other people.

"It is certain that the individual operators in any government, if they were thoroughly intelligent and entered into a perfect cal· culation of all existing chances, would seek for their own happiness in the promotion of the general; which brings them, if they knew it, under Mr. Bentham's rule. The mistake of supposing the contrary, lies in confounding criminals who have had the luck to escape punishment with those who have the risk still before them. Suppose, for instance, a member of the House of Commons were at this moment to debate within himself, whether it would be for his ultimate happiness to begin, according to his ability, to misgovern. If he could be sure of being as lucky as some that are dead and gone, there might be difficulty in finding him an answer. But he is not sure; and never can be, till he dead. He does not know that he is not close upon the moment when misgovernment such as he is tempted to contemplate, will be made a terrible example of. It is not fair to pick out the instance of the thief that has died unhanged. The question is, whether thieving is at this moment an advisable trade to begin with all the possibilities of hanging not got over? This is the spirit of Mr. Bentham's principle; and if there is any thing opposed to it in any former statement, it may be corrected by the present."


[ocr errors]

We hope that we have now at last got to the real magnificent principle,' to the principle which is really to make “the bones of the sages. and patriots stir." What effect it may produce on the bones of the dead we shall not pretend to decide; but we are sure that it will do very little for the happiness of the living.

In the first place, nothing is more certain than this, that the Utilitarian theory of government, as developed in Mr. Mill's Essay and in all the other works on the subject which have been put forth by the sect, rests on these two principles, that men follow their interest, and that the interest of individuals may be, and in fact perpetually is, opposed to the interest of society. Unless these two principles be granted, Mr. Mill's Essay does not contain one sound sentence. All his argu

ments against monarchy and aristocracy, all his arguments in favour of democracy, nay, the very argument by which he shows that there is any necessity for having government at all, must be rejected as utterly worthless.

This is so palpable that even the Westminster Reviewer, though not the most clear-sighted of men, could not help seeing it. Accordingly, he attempts to guard himself against the objection, after the manner of such reasoners, by committing two blunders instead of one. "All this," says he, "only shows that the members of a government would do well if they were all-wise;" and he proceeds to tell us that, as rulers are not all-wise, they will invariably act against this principle wherever they can, so that the democratical checks will still be necessary to produce good government.

No form which human folly takes is so richly and exquisitely laughable as the spectacle of an Utilitarian in a dilemma. What earthly good can there be in a principle upon which no man will act until he is allwise? A certain most important doctrine, we are told, has been demonstrated so clearly that it ought to be the foundation of the science of government. And yet the whole frame of government is to be constituted exactly as if this fundamental doctrine were false, and on the supposition that no human being will ever act as if he believed it to be true!

The whole argument of the Utilitarians in favour of universal suffrage proceeds on the supposition that even the rudest and most uneducated men cannot, for any length of time, be deluded into acting against their own true interest. Yet now they tell us that, in all aristocratical communities, the higher and more educated class will, not occasionally, but invariably, act against

« السابقةمتابعة »