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John Stuart Mill, 1806-1873



Chapter 1

General Remarks.

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 a 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 a 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 a
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 a 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 a 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 cognisance 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.

Chapter 2

What Utilitarianism Is.

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.[*]

[*] 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

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 pursuitthey 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, etc., 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

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 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, are 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

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 suspectible, 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 creation.

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
civilised 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 without.

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 the
world, paradoxical as the assertion may be, the conscious ability to do
without happiness gives the best prospect of realising, 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 you would be done by,
and to love your neighbour as yourself, 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 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.

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 authorised 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 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
unsympathising; 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 blamable, 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 lovable 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 again 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

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 a 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 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 connection with
usefulness or with happiness.

Again, Utility is often summarily stigmatised 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 interests 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 transcendant
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 malefactor,
or of bad news from a person dangerously ill) would save an individual
(especially an individual 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
recognised, 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, are
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 generalisations 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 a utilitarian will be apt to make his
own particular case an exception to moral rules, and, when under temptation,
will see a 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 recognised.

Chapter 3

Of the Ultimate Sanction of the Principle of Utility.

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 denied 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 meantime, 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 recognised; 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
fact 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,
This 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 sanctions.

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 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 in 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
harmonise, 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 recognised 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 civilisation. 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 civilisation, 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 even 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 civilisation 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, 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 the practice of it, I think that no
one, who can realise this conception, will feel any misgiving about the
sufficiency of the ultimate sanction for the Happiness morality. To any
ethical student who finds the realisation difficult, I recommend, as a means
of facilitating it, the second of M. Comte's two principle works, the Traite
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 psychological 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 ascendancy 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 recognise 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 compels.

Chapter 4

Of what sort of Proof the Principle of Utility is Susceptible.

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 cognisance 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, is 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

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, then, be 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

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 happiness.

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 impossibility.

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 in 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

Chapter 5

On the Connection between Justice and Utility.

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
connection 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 the 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 characterise 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

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 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, connection, 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 dictate.

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 wants 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 distinctly to an origin connected with the
ordinances of law. Justum is a form of jussum, that which has been ordered.
Dikaion comes directly from dike, a suit at law. Recht, from which came
right and righteous, is synonymous with law. 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. I am not
committing the fallacy imputed with some show of truth to Horne Tooke, of
assuming that a word must still continue to mean what it originally meant.
Etymology is slight evidence of what the idea now signified is, but the very
best evidence of how it sprang up. There can, I think, be no doubt that the
idee mere, 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 may 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, 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.[*]

[*] 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.

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 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 gratitute; both of which are acknowledged cases
of justice. Wherever there is 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 expediency.

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 sympathise. 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 sympathising, 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 sympathising 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, raises his instinct of sympathy, and urges him to resistance.

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 would make us resent
indiscriminately whatever any one does that is disagreeable to us; but when
moralised 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 blamable
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 sympathises, 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 him 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. 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 anything 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 around 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 recognised indispensability becomes a moral necessity, analogous to
physical, and often not inferior to it in binding force exhorted,

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 recognise 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 unmistakable 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 much 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 predilections.

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 the 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 surrounded 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 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

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 misinformation.

Again, when the legitimacy of inflicting punishment is admitted, how many
conflicting conceptions of justice come to light in discussing the proper
apportionment of punishments to offences. No rule on the subject recommends
itself so strongly to the primitive and spontaneous sentiment of justice, as
the bex talionis, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Though this
principle of the Jewish and of the Mahometan 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

How many, again, and how irreconcilable, 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 so strongly with man's
feelings of humanity and 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 an 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 unmistakable
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 characterises 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

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 connection 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 connection, 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 sympathising
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.[*] 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 a universally stigmatised 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.

[*] 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 pretensions 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

[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 generalisations 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. What 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 generalisations 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 degree of evidence which constitutes scientific

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, moralised 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.