The World's Greatest Books—Volume 14—Philosophy and Economics
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Greater far are the rewards of virtue than all we have yet shown; for an immortal soul should heed nothing that is less than eternal. "What, is the soul then immortal? Can you prove that?" Yes, of a surety. In all things there is good and evil; a thing perishes of its own corruption, not of the corruption of aught external to it. If disease or injury of the body cannot corrupt the soul, a fortiori they cannot slay it; but injustice, the corruption of the soul, is not induced by injury to the body. If, then, the soul be not destroyed by sin, nothing else can destroy it, and it is immortal. The number of existing souls must then be constant; none perish, none are added, for additional immortal souls would have to come out of what is mortal, which is absurd. Now, hitherto we have shown only that justice is in itself best for the soul, but now we see that its rewards, too, are unspeakably great. The gods, to whom the just are known, will reward them hereafter, if not here; and even in this world they have the better lot in the long run. But of this nothing is comparable to their rewards in the hereafter, revealed to us in the mythos of Er, called the Armenian, whose body being slain in battle, his soul was said to have returned to it from the under-world—renewing its life—a messenger to men of what he had there beheld. For a thousand years the souls, being judged, enjoyed or suffered a tenfold retribution for all they had done of good or evil in this life, and some for a second term, or it might be for terms without end. Then for the most part they were given again, after the thousand years, a choice of another lot on the earth, being guided therein by their experience in their last life; and so, having drunk of the waters of forgetfulness, came back to earth once more, unconscious of their past.

Let us, then, believing that the soul is indeed immortal, hold fast to knowledge and justice, that it may be well with us both here and hereafter.


The World as Will and Idea

Arthur Schopenhauer, who was born at Dantzig, in Germany, Feb. 22, 1788, and died September 21, 1860, came of highly intellectual antecedents, his mother, Johanna Schopenhauer, being a noted German authoress. As an indefatigable student he migrated, according to the fashion of his Fatherland, from one university to another, in order to sit at the feet of various professors, and thus he attended courses at Gottingen, Berlin, and Jena successively, finally graduating at Jena in 1813. The winter of that year he spent at Weimar, revelling in the society of Goethe, and also enjoying intercourse with Maier, the profound Orientalist, who indoctrinated him with those views of Indian mysticism which greatly influenced his future philosophic disquisitions. After writing and publishing a few slight treatises Schopenhauer sent forth his great work, "The World as Will and Idea," which has immortalized him. It appeared in 1819. During subsequent years, when he resided in Frankfort, he wrote his volumes on "Will in Nature," "The Freedom of the Will," "The Basis of Morals," and "Parerga and Paralipomena." The keynote of Schopenhauer's philosophy is that the sole essential reality in the universe is the will, and that all visible and tangible phenomena are merely subjective representations, or formal manifestations of that will which is the only thing-in-itself that actually subsists. Thus he stands among philosophers as the uncompromising antagonist of Hegel, Fichte, Schelling and all the champions of the theory of consciousness and absolute reason as the essential foundation of the faculty of thought. The defect of his system is its tendency to a sombre pessimism, but his literary style is magnificent and his power of reasoning is exceptional. The epitome here given has been prepared from the original German.

I.—The World as Idea

"The world is my idea," is a truth valid for every living creature, though only man can consciously contemplate it. In doing so he attains philosophical wisdom. No truth is more absolutely certain than that all that exists for knowledge, and therefore this whole world, is only object in relation to subject, perception of a perceiver, in a word, idea. The world is idea.

This truth is by no means new; it lay by implication in the reflections of Descartes; but Berkeley first distinctly enunciated it; while Kant erred by ignoring it. So ancient is it that it was the fundamental principle of the Indian Vedanta, as Sir William Jones points out. In one aspect the world is idea; in the other aspect, the world is will.

That which knows all things and is known by none is the subject; and for this subject all exists. But the world as idea consists of two essential and inseparable halves. One half is the object, whose form consists of time and space, and through these of multiplicity; but the other half is the subject, lying not in space and time, for it subsists whole and undivided in every reflecting being. Thus any single individual endowed with the faculty of perception of the object, constitutes the whole world of idea as completely as the millions in existence; but let this single individual vanish, and the whole world as idea would disappear. Each of these halves possesses meaning and existence only in and through the other, appearing with and vanishing with it. Where the object begins the subject ends. One of Kant's great merits is that he discovered that the essential and universal forms of all objects—space, time, causality—lie a priori in our consciousness, for they may be discovered and fully known from a consideration of the subject, without any knowledge of the object.

Ideas of perception are distinct from abstract ideas. The former comprehend the whole world of experience; the latter are concepts, and are possessed by man alone amongst all creatures on earth; and the capacity for these, distinguishing him from the lower animals, is called reason.

Time and space can each be mentally presented separately from matter, but matter cannot be thought of apart from time and space. The combination of time and space in connection with matter constitutes action, that is, causation. The law of causation arises from change, that is from the fact that at the same part of space there is now one thing and then another, and this succession must be the result of some law of causality, seeing that there must be a determined part of space and a determined part of space for the change. Causality thus combines space with time.

Much vain controversy has arisen concerning the reality of the external universe, owing to the fallacious notion that because perception arises through the knowledge of causality, the relation of subject and object is that of cause and effect. For this relation only subsists between objects, that is between the immediate object and objects known indirectly. The object always pre-supposes the subject, and so there can be between those two no relation of reason and consequent. Therefore the controversy between realistic dogmatism and doctrinal scepticism is foolish. The former seeks to separate object and idea as cause and effect, whereas these two are really one; the latter supposes that in the idea we have only the effect, never the cause, and never know the real being, but merely its action. The correction of both these fallacies is the same, that object and idea are identical.

One of the most pressing of questions is, how certainty is to be reached, how judgments are to be established, and wherein knowledge and science consist. Reason is feminine in nature; it can only give after it has received. Of Itself it possesses only the empty forms of its operation. Knowledge is the result of reason, so that we cannot accurately say that the lower animals know anything, but only that they apprehend through the faculty of perception.

The greatest value of knowledge is that it can be communicated and retained. This makes it inestimably important for practice. Rational or abstract knowledge is that knowledge which is peculiar to the reason as distinguished from the understanding. The use of reason is that it substitutes abstract concepts for ideas of perception, and adopts them as the guide of action.

The many-sided view of life which man, as distinguished from the lower animals, possesses through reason, makes him stand to them as the captain, equipped with chart, compass and quadrant, and with a knowledge of navigation of the ocean, stands to the ignorant sailors under his command.

Man lives two lives. Besides his life in the concrete is his life in the abstract. In the former he struggles, suffers, and dies as do the mere animal creatures. But in the abstract he quietly reflects on the plan of the universe as does a captain of a ship on the chart. He becomes in this abstract life of calm reasoning a deliberate observer of those elements which previously moved and agitated his emotions. Withdrawing into this serene contemplation he is like an actor who has played a part on the stage and then withdraws and as one of the audience quietly looks on at other actors energetically performing.

The result of this double life is that human serenity which furnishes so vivid a contrast to the lack of reason in the brutes. Reason has won to a wonderful extent the mastery over the animal nature. The climacteric stage of the mere exercise of reason is displayed in Stoicism, an ethical system which aims primarily not at virtue but at happiness, although this theory inculcates that happiness can be attained only through "ataraxia" (inward quietness or peace of mind), while this can only be gained by virtue. In other words, Zeno, the founder of the Stoic theory, sought to lift man up above the reach of pain and misery. But this use of pure reason involves a painful paradox, seeing that for an ultimate way of escape Stoicism is constrained to prescribe suicide. When compared with the Stoic, how different appear the holy conquerors of the world in Christianity, that sublime form of life which presents to us a picture wherein we see blended perfect virtue and supreme suffering.

II.—The World as Will

We are compelled to further inquiry, because we cannot be satisfied with knowing that we have ideas, and that these are associated with certain laws, the general expression of which is the principle of sufficient reason. We wish to know the significance of our ideas. We ask whether this world is nothing more than a mere idea, not worthy of our notice if it is to pass by us like an empty dream or an airy vision, or whether it is something more substantial.

We can surely never arrive at the nature of things from without. No matter how assiduous our researches may be, we can never reach anything beyond images and names. We resemble a man going round a castle seeking vainly for an entrance and sometimes sketching the facades. And yet this is the method followed by all philosophers before me.

The truth about man is that he is not a pure knowing subject, not a winged cherub without a material body, contemplating the world from without. For he is himself rooted in that world. That is to say, he finds himself in the world as an individual whose knowledge, which is the essential basis of the whole world as idea, is yet ever communicated through the medium of the body, whose sensations are the starting point of the understanding of that world. His body is for him an idea like every other idea, an object among objects. He only knows its actions as he knows the changes in all other objects, and but for one aid to his understanding of himself he would find this idea and object as strange and incomprehensible as all others. That aid is will, which alone furnishes the key to the riddle of himself, solves the problem of his own existence, reveals to him the inner structure and significance of his being, his action, and his movements.

The body is the immediate object of will; it may be called the objectivity of will. Every true act of will is also instantly a visible act of the body, and every impression on the body is also at once an impression on the will. When it is opposed to the will it is called pain, and when consonant with the will it is called pleasure. The essential identity of body and will is shown by the fact that every violent movement of the will, that is to say, every emotion, directly agitates the body and interferes with its vital functions. So we may legitimately say, My body is the objectivity of my will.

It is simply owing to this special relation to one body that the knowing subject is an individual. Our knowing, being bound to individuality, necessitates that each of us can only be one, and yet each of us can know all. Hence arises the need for philosophy. The double knowledge which each of us possesses of his own body is the key to the nature of every phenomenon in the world. Nothing is either known to us or thinkable by us except will and idea. If we examine the reality of the body and its actions, we discover nothing beyond the fact that it is an idea, except the will. With this double discovery reality is exhausted.

We can ascribe no other kind of reality to the material world. If we maintain that it is something more than merely our idea, we must say that in its inmost nature it is that which we discover in ourselves as will. But the acts of will have always a ground or reason outside themselves in motives, which, however, never determine more than how we shall act at any given time or place under any given conditions or circumstances. The will must have some manifestation, and the body is that manifestation. By the movements of the body the will becomes visible, and thus the body may be said to be the objectification of the will. The perfect adaptation of the human and animal body to the human and animal will resembles, though it far exceeds, the correspondence between an instrument and its maker.

III.—The World as Idea. Second Aspect

We have looked at the world as idea, object for a subject, and next at the world as will. All students of Plato know that the different grades of objectification of will which are manifested in countless individuals, and exist as their unrealized types or as the eternal forms of things, are the Platonic Ideas. Thus these various grades are related to individual things as their eternal forms or prototypes.

Thus the world in which we live is in its whole nature through and through will, and at the same time through and through idea. This idea always pre-supposes a form, object and subject. If we take away this form and ask what then remains, the answer must be that this can be nothing but will, which, properly speaking, is the thing in itself. Every human being discovers that he himself is this will, and that the world exists only for him does so in relation to his consciousness. Thus each human being is himself in a double aspect the whole world, the microcosm. And that which he realizes as his own real being exhausts the being of the whole world, the macrocosm. So, like man, the world is through and through will, and through and through idea.

Plato would say that an animal has no true being, but merely an apparent being, a constant becoming. The only true being is the Idea which embodies itself in that animal. That is to say, the Idea of the animal alone has true being, and is the object of real knowledge. Kant, with his theory of "the thing-in-itself" as the only reality, would say that the animal is only a phenomenon in time, space, and causality, which are conditions of our perception, not the thing-in-itself. So the individual as we see it at this particular moment will pass away, without any possibility of our knowing the thing-in-itself, for the knowledge of that is beyond our faculties, and would require another kind of knowledge than that which is possible for us through our understanding.

Thus do these two greatest philosophers of the West differ. The thing-in-itself must, according to Kant, be free from all forms associated with knowing. On the contrary, the Platonic idea is necessarily object, something known and thus different from the thing-in-itself, which cannot be apprehended. Yet Kant and Plato tend to agree, because the thing-in-itself is, after all, that which lays aside all the subordinate forms of phenomena, and has retained the first and most universal form, that of the idea in general, the form of being object for a subject. Plato attributes actual being only to the Ideas, and concedes only an illusive, dream-like existence to things in space and time, the real world for the individual.

IV.—The World as Will. Second Aspect

The last and most serious part of our consideration relates to human action and is of universal importance. Human nature tends to relate everything else to action. The world as idea is the perfect mirror of the will, in which it recognizes itself in graduating scales of distinctness and completeness. The highest degree of this consciousness is man, whose nature only completely expresses itself in the whole connected series of his actions.

Will is the thing-in-itself, the essence of the world. Life is only the mirror of the will. Life accompanies the will as the shadow the body. If will exists, so will life. So long as we are actuated by the will to live, we need have no fear of ceasing to live, even in the presence of death. True, we see the individual born and passing away; but the individual is merely phenomenal. Neither the will, nor the subject of cognition, is at all affected by birth or death.

It is not the individual, but only the species, that Nature cares for. She provides for the species with boundless prodigality through the incalculable profusion of seed and the great strength of fructification. She is ever ready to let the individual fall when it had served its end of perpetuating the species. Thus does Nature artlessly express the great truth that only the Ideas, not the individuals, have actual reality and are complete objectivity of the will.

Man is Nature himself, but Nature is only the objectified will to live. So the man who has comprehended this point of view may well console himself when contemplating death for himself or his friends, by turning his eyes to the immortal life of Nature, which he himself is. And thus we see that birth and death both really belong to life and that they take part in that constant mutation of matter which is consistent with the permanence of the species, notwithstanding the transitoriness of the individual.

V.—The Will as Related to Time

Above all, we must not forget that the form of the phenomenon of the will, the form of life in reality, is really only the present, not the future nor the past. No man ever lived in the past, no man will live in the future. The present is the sole form of life in sure possession. The present exists always, together with its content, and both are fixed like the rainbow on the waterfall.

Now all object is the will so far as it has become idea, and the subject is the necessary correlative of the object. But real objects are in the present only. So nothing but conceptions and fancies are included in the past, while the present is the essential form of the phenomenon of the will, and inseparable from it. The present alone is perpetual and immovable. The fountain and support of it is the will to live, or the thing-in-itself, which we are.

Life is certain to the will, and the present is certain to life. Time is like a perpetually revolving globe. The hemisphere which is sinking is like the past, that which is rising is like the future, while the indivisible point at the top is like the actionless present. Or, time is like a running river and the present is a rock on which it breaks but which it cannot remove with itself. Therefore we are not concerned to investigate the past antecedent to life, nor to speculate on the future subsequent to death. We should simply seek to know the present, that being the sole form in which the will manifests itself. Therefore, if we are satisfied with life as it is, we may confidently regard it as endless and banish the fear of death as illusive. Our spirit is of a totally indestructible nature, and its energy endures from eternity to eternity. It is like the sun, which seems to set only to our earthly eyes, but which, in reality, never sets, but shines on unceasingly.

The problem of the freedom of the will is solved by the considerations which have been thus outlined. Since the will is not phenomenon, is not idea or object, but thing-in-itself, is not determined as a consequent through any reason, and knows no necessity, therefore it is free. But the person is never free, although he is the phenomenon of a free will, for this indisputable reason, that he is already the determined phenomenon of the free volition of this will, and is constrained to embody the direction of that volition in a multiplicity of actions.

Repentance never results from a change of will, for this is impossible, but from a change of knowledge. The essential in what I have willed I must continue to will, for I am identical with this will which lies outside time and change. Therefore I cannot repent of what I have willed, though I can repent of what I have done; because, constrained by false notions, I was led to do what did not accord with my will. Repentance is simply the discovery of this fuller and more correct knowledge.


On Benefits

The more famous son of a famous rhetorician, the Roman philosopher L. Annaeus Seneca was born at Corduba (Cordova), in Spain, about the beginning of the Christian era. While the date of his birth is a matter for conjecture, the circumstances of his death are notorious. He was a victim of Nero's jealousy and ingratitude in 65 A.D., when the emperor seized upon a plot against himself as the pretext for sentencing Seneca to enforced suicide. In the vivid pages of the historian Tacitus, there are few more pathetic descriptions than that recounting the slow ebbing of the old philosopher's life after his veins had been opened. Seneca had known many vicissitudes of fortune. He was banished from Rome in 41 A.D., but, after his recall, rose to great power and affluence as tutor and adviser to Nero. His works, many of which are lost, include tragedies, letters, and treatises on philosophy. The high ethical standard maintained by Seneca favoured the legend that he was influenced by the Apostle Paul, and a spurious correspondence between them was long accepted as genuine. Of the moral works there is, for insight into human nature and for generosity of impulse, no better representative than that "On Benefits."

I.—Benefits are to be Bestowed, Not Lent

Among the many different mistakes made by those who take life as it comes, and do not pause to consider, I should say that scarcely anything is so detrimental as this, that we do not know either how to confer or how to receive a benefit. The consequence is that benefits are bad investments, and turn out bad debts; and in the cases where there is no return, it is too late to complain, for they were lost when we conferred them. I should find it hard to say whether it is meaner for a receiver to repudiate a benefit, or for a giver to press for its repayment, inasmuch as a benefit is a sort of loan, whose return absolutely depends on the spontaneous action of the debtor.

We find many men ungrateful; yet we make more men so, because at one time we are insistent and harsh in our claims for return; at another time we are fickle enough to regret our generosity. By such conduct we spoil the whole favour, not merely after giving, but at the very moment of giving. No one is glad to owe what he has not so much received as wrung out of his benefactor.

Can anyone be grateful to a man who has contemptuously tossed him a favour, or flung it at him in vexation, or out of sheer weariness given simply to rid himself of trouble? A benefit is felt to be a debt in the same spirit in which it is bestowed, and it ought not, therefore, to be bestowed recklessly, for a man thanks himself for what he obtains from an undiscerning giver.

Let us bestow benefits, not lend them on interest. He who, in the act of giving, has thoughts about repayment, deserves to be deceived. Well, then, what if the benefit has turned out ill? Why, children or wives often disappoint our expectations, but we bring children up, we marry all the same; and so determined are we in the teeth of experience, that when baffled we fight better, when shipwrecked we take to sea again.

How much more seemly it is to be persistent in bestowing benefits! If a man does not give because he does not receive, he must have given in order to receive, and that justifies ingratitude. How many are there who are unworthy of the light of day, and nevertheless the sun rises.

This is the property of a great and good mind, to seek not the fruit of good deeds but good deeds themselves, and to search for a good man even after having met with bad men. If there were no cheats, what nobility would there be in showing bounty to many? As it is, goodness lies in giving benefits for which we are not sure of recompense, but of which the fruit is at once enjoyed by a noble mind.

The book-keeping of benefits is simple: so much is expenditure; if there is any return, that is clear gain; if there is no return, that is not a loss. I gave it for the sake of giving. No one registers his benefits in a ledger, or, like an exacting usurer, presses to the day and hour for repayment. An honourable man never thinks of such matters, unless reminded by someone returning a favour; otherwise they assume the form of a debt.

Do not hesitate, then; persevere in your generous work. Assist one with your means, another with credit, another with your favour, or your advice, or a word in season. Is he ungrateful for one benefit? After receiving a second, perhaps he will not be so. Has he forgotten two? Perhaps the third kindness will bring back the recollection of those that slipped his mind.

The subject we have to treat is that of benefits. We have to lay down an ordered account of what is the chief bond of human society: we have to prescribe a rule of life, such that inconsiderate open-handedness may not commend itself under the guise of kindness, but also that our caution, while it controls, may not strangle generosity, which ought to be neither defective nor excessive.

People must be instructed to receive cheerfully and to repay cheerfully, setting before themselves the high aim of not merely equalling but surpassing those to whom they are obliged, and this both in act and in feeling. It is necessary to point out that the first point which we have to learn is what we owe for a kindness received. One says he owes the money which he got, another a consulship, another a province. These, however, are but the outward tokens of good services, not the services themselves. A benefit is to the hand something intangible; it is a process in the mind. There is a world of difference between the material of a benefit and the benefit itself. Hence the reality of a benefit lies not in gold, nor silver, but in the good will of the giver. The things which we hold in our hands, which we look at, and on which our desire is set, are perishable; misfortune or injustice may rob us of them; but a kindness lasts even after the loss of what was given.

What, then, is a benefit? It is the doing of a kindness which gives pleasure and in the giving gets pleasure, being inclined and spontaneously ready for that which it does. Consequently, it is not the thing done or the thing given that matters, it is the intention. The spirit animating the act is what exalts trivial things, throws lustre on mean things, while it can discredit great and highly valued ones. The benefit itself does not consist in what is paid or handed over, just as the worship of the gods lies not in the victims offered but in the dutiful and upright feelings of the worshippers. If benefits consisted in things, and not in the actual wish to benefit, then the more things we got, the greater would the benefit be. But this is incorrect, for sometimes the man who has given a little in a noble way obliges us more deeply; the man, that is, who has forgotten his own poverty in his regard for mine.

What comes from a willing hand is far more acceptable than what comes from a full hand. "It was a small favour for him to do"; yes, but he could do no more. "But it is a great thing which this other gave"; yes, but he hesitated, delayed, grumbled in the giving, gave disdainfully, or he made a show of it and had no mind to please the person on whom he bestowed it. Why, such a man made a present to his own pride, not to me!

II.—On Kinds of Benefits and the Manner of Giving

Let us give, in the first place, what is necessary; secondly, what is useful; next, what is pleasant, and one should add, what is likely to last. We must begin with what is necessary; for a matter involving life appeals to the mind differently from mere adornment and equipment.

A man may be a fastidious critic in the case of a thing which he can do without. But necessary things are those without which we cannot live, or without which we ought not to live, or without which we do not want to live. Examples of the first group are, to be rescued from the hands of the enemy, from a tyrant's anger, and the other chequered perils that beset human life. Whichsoever of these we avert, we shall earn gratitude proportionate to the terrible magnitude of the danger.

Next come things without which, it is true, we can live, yet only in such plight that death were better; such things are freedom, chastity, and good conscience. After these we shall rank things dear to us from association, blood-ties, use, and custom; such as children, wife, home, and all else round which affection has so entwined itself that it views severance from them as more serious than severance from life. There is the subsequent class of things useful, a wide and varied class, including money, not superabundant, but suited to a sensible mode of living; and public office, with advancement for those who look high.

Again, we ought to consider what gift will afford the greatest pleasure; and particularly ought we to take care not to send useless presents, such as weapons of the chase to a woman or an old man, or books to a block-head, or hunting nets to a person engrossed in literary pursuits. We shall be equally careful, on the other hand, while we wish to send what will please, not to insult friends in the matter of their individual failing; not to send wines to a toper, for instance, or drugs to a valetudinarian. Further, if free choice in giving lies in our power, we shall beyond everything select lasting gifts, in order that the present may be as little perishable as possible; for few are so grateful as to think of what they have received when they do not see it. Even the ungrateful have flashes of recollection when a gift is before their eyes.

In a benefit there should be common sense. One should think of time, place, individuals; on these factors turn the welcome or unwelcome quality of gifts. How much more acceptable it is if we give what one does not possess, than if we give that of which he has abundance and to spare! Or the thing of which he has been long in quest without finding it, rather than what he is likely to see everywhere! A benefit bestowed upon all and sundry is acceptable to none. What you wish people to feel grateful for, do seldom. Let no one misconstrue this as an attempt to check generosity: by all means let her go any length she will; but she must go steady, not gad about.

So let every recipient have some special mark about his gifts which may lead him to trust that he has been admitted to particular favour. Let him say: "I got the same as that man, but my gift came unasked"; or, "I got what that man did; but I secured it within a short period, whereas he had earned it by long waiting"; or, "There are others who have the same; but it was not given with the same words, nor the same courtesy on the part of the giver." Yet let discretion wait on bounty; for no delight can come of random gifts. I object to generosity becoming extravagance.

As to this question of how to give, I think I can point out the shortest way: let us give in the manner in which we should like to receive; above all, let it be done willingly, promptly, without the least hesitation. The most welcome benefits are those which are at hand for the taking, which come to meet us, where the one delay lies in the recipient's modesty.

The best course is to forestall a man's wishes; next best, to follow them. He who has got after asking, has not secured the favour for nothing; since nothing costs so much as that which is bought by prayers. "I beg you" is a painful phrase; it is irksome, and has to be said with humble looks. Spare your friend, spare anyone you hope to make your friend, this necessity. However prompt, a benefactor gives too late when he gives by request.

All philosophers counsel that some benefits be given in public (like military decorations), others in secret (like those that succour weakness, want, or disgrace). Sometimes the very person helped must be deceived into taking our bounty without knowing its origin. One may insist, "I wish him to know"; but on that principle will you refuse to save a man's life in the dark? Why should I not abstain from showing him that I have given him anything, when it is one of the cardinal rules never to reproach a man with what you have done for him, and not even to remind him of it? For this is the law of benefits as between the two parties; the one must at once forget what he has given, the other must never forget what he has received.

III.—On the Receiving of Benefits

Now, let us cross to the other side, to treat of the behaviour which becomes men in receiving benefits. "From who are we to receive?" To answer you briefly, I should say, "From those to whom we should have liked to give." It is a severe torment to be indebted to anyone against, your will; on the other hand, it is more delightful to have received a benefit from one whom you could love even after he has done you a wrong.

The truth is that more care must be taken in the choice of a creditor for a benefit than for money; for the latter must have back only as much as I received, but the former must have more paid to him. And even after repayment of the favour, we nevertheless remain bound to each other. Thus an unworthy person is not to be admitted into that most sacred bond of kindnesses bestowed whence friendship arises. "But," it is pleaded, "I cannot always say 'No.'" Suppose the offer is from a cruel and hot-tempered despot, who will interpret your rejection of his bounty as an insult?

Well, when I say you ought to choose, I except superior force and intimidation; for these are factors which destroy choice. But after we have decided on acceptance, let us accept with cheerfulness, showing our gratification, and let it be evident to the giver, so that he may have some immediate return.

There are some who like to receive benefits only in private, for they object to a witness and confidant. One may conclude that such persons have no good intentions. Other men speak most offensively of their greatest benefactors. There are some people whom it is safer to affront than to serve, since by their dislike they seek to give the impression of being under no obligation. One ought to accept without fastidious affectation, and without cringing humility; for if a man shows small care at the time of bestowal, when every newly-conferred benefit should please, what will he do when the first glow of pleasure has cooled down?


We must now investigate the main cause of ingratitude. It is caused by excessive self-esteem, the fault inherent in mortality of partiality to ourselves and all that concerns us; or it is caused by greed; or by jealousy. Let us begin with the first of these. Everybody is a favourable judge of his own interest; hence it comes that he believes himself to have earned all he has received, and views a benefit as payment for services.

Nor does greed allow anyone to be grateful, for a gift is never sufficient for its exorbitant expectations. Of all these hindrances to gratitude, the most violent and distressing vice is jealousy, which torments us with comparisons of this nature: "He bestowed this on me, but more upon him, and he gave it him earlier." There is no kindness so complete that malignity cannot pull it to pieces, and none so paltry that a friendly interpreter may not enlarge it. You shall never fail of an excuse for grumbling if you look at benefits on their wrong side.

See how certain men—yes, even some who make a profession of their philosophy—pass unfair censures upon the gifts of heaven. They complain because we do not equal elephants in bulk of body, harts in swiftness, birds in lightness, bulls in vigour. But what has been denied to mankind could not have been given. Wherefore, whosoever thou art that undervaluest human fortune, bethink thee what blessings our Father has bestowed upon us, how many beasts more powerful than ourselves we have tamed to the yoke, how many swifter creatures we overtake, and how nothing mortal is placed beyond the reach of our weapons.

Not to return gratitude for benefits is base in itself, and is held base in all men's opinion. Therefore, even the ungrateful men complain of the ungrateful, and yet all the time this failing, which none commend, is firmly planted in all; so perverse is human nature that we find some become our deadliest enemies, not merely after benefits received, but for those very favours. I cannot deny but that this befalls some from a kink in their disposition; yet more act so because the interposition of time has extinguished the remembrance. Ungrateful is the man who denies that he has received a good turn which has been done him; ungrateful is he who pretends he has not received it; ungrateful is he who makes no return; but the most ungrateful of all is he who has forgotten.

There is a question raised whether so hateful a vice ought to go unpunished. Now, with the exception of Macedonia, there is no country where an action at law is possible for ingratitude. And this is a strong argument that no such action should be granted. This most frequent crime is nowhere punished, although everywhere condemned. Many reasons occur to me whereby it must needs follow that this fault ought not to come under the purview of law. First of all, the best part of a benefit is lost if a lawsuit is allowable, as in the case of a definite loan. Again, whereas it is a most honourable thing to show gratitude, it ceases to be honourable if it be forced. By such coercion we should spoil two of the finest things in human life—a grateful man and a bountiful giver. "What, then? Shall the ungrateful man be left unchastised?" My answer is: "What, then? Shall the undutiful man be left unchastised—the malignant man, or the avaricious, or the man with no self-control, or the cruel? Dost thou think that goes unpunished which is loathed? Dost thou not call him unhappy who has lost his eyesight, or whose hearing has been impaired by disease? And dost thou not call him miserable who has lost the sense of feeling benefits?"

V.—Divine Benefits to Man

Who is there so wretched, so totally forlorn, who has been born under so hard a fate and to such travail as never to have felt the vastness of the Divine generosity? Look even at those who complain of and live malcontent with their lot, and you will find they are not altogether without a portion in the celestial generosity; and there is none on whom some drops have not fallen from that most gracious fountain. God not give benefits! Whence, then, all you possess, all you give, or refuse or keep or seize?

Whence comes the infinity of delights for eye, ear, and understanding? Whence that abundance that even furnishes our luxury? Think of all the trees in their rich variety, the many wholesome herbs, and such diversity of foods apportioned among the seasons that even the sluggard might find sustenance from the casual bounty of earth. Whence come living creatures of every kind, some bred on solid dry land, some in water, others speeding through the air, to the end that every part of nature may yield us some tribute? Those rivers, too, that, with their pretty bends, environ the plains, or afford a passage for merchandise as they flow down their broad, navigable channel? What of the springs of medicinal waters? What of the bubbling forth of hot wells upon the very seashore?

And what of thee, O mighty Larian Lake? And thee, Benacus, whom wild waves shake?

"Nature," remarks my critic, "gives all this." Do you not realise that in saying this you simply change the name of God? For what else is "nature" but God and Divine Reason pervading the whole universe and all its parts?

It is a question whether one who has done all in his power to return a benefit has returned it. Our opponent urges that the fact that he tried everything proves that he did not in fact succeed in returning it; and, therefore, evidently that he could not have done a thing for which he found no opportunity. But if a physician has done all in his power to effect a cure, he has performed his duty.

So your friend did all in his power to repay you a good turn, only your good fortune stood in his way. He could not give money to the wealthy, nurse one in good health, or run to your aid when all was prosperous. On the other hand, if he had forgotten a benefit received, if he had not even tried to be grateful, you would say he had not shown gratitude; but as it was, he laboured day and night, to the neglect of other claims, to let no chance of proving his thankfulness escape him.



Herbert Spencer was born at Derby, in England, in 1820. He was taught by his father who was a teacher, and by his uncle, a clergyman. At the age of seventeen he became a civil engineer, but about eight years later abandoned the profession because he believed it to be overcrowded. In 1848 he was engaged on the "Economist," and five years later he began to write for the quarterly reviews. Spencer's little book on Education dates from 1861, and has probably been more widely read than all his other works put together, having been translated into almost all civilised, and several primitive languages. It is generally recognised as having effected the greatest educational reform of the nineteenth century. It was certainly the most powerful of single agents in effecting the liberation of girlhood from its unnatural trammels. It placed the whole theory of education upon a sound biological basis in the nature of the child and the natural course of its evolution as a living creature. Spencer struck a fatal blow at the morbid asceticism by proxy which adults used to practice upon their children, and so great has been the influence of his work for the amelioration of childhood that he is certainly to be counted with the philanthropic on this ground. The first chapter has no equal in literature in its splendidly sober praise of natural knowledge. The wide knowledge which Spencer's writings display of physical science, and his constant endeavor to illustrate and support his system by connecting its position with scientific facts and laws have given his philosophy great currency among men of science—more so, indeed, than among philosophical experts. Spencer died December 8, 1903.

I.—What Knowledge is of Most Worth?

It has been truly remarked that in order of time decoration precedes dress, the idea of ornament predominates over that of use. It is curious that the like relations hold with the mind. Among mental, as among bodily acquisitions, the ornamental comes before the useful. Alike in the Greek schools as in our own, this is the case. Men dress their children's minds as they do their bodies in the prevailing fashion; and in the treatment of both mind and body, the decorative element has continued to predominate in an even greater degree among women than among men. The births, deaths, and marriages of kings, and other like historic trivialities are committed to memory, not because of any direct benefit that can possibly result from knowing them, but because society considers them parts of a good education—because the absence of such knowledge may bring the contempt of others. Not what knowledge is of the most real worth is the consideration; but what will bring most applause, honour, respect—what will be the most imposing. As throughout life not what we are but what we shall be thought is the question, so in education the question is not the intrinsic value of knowledge so much as its extrinsic effect on others; and this being our dominant idea, direct utility is scarcely more regarded than by the barbarian when filing his teeth and staining his nails.

The comparative worths of different kinds of knowledge have been as yet scarcely even discussed. But before there can be a curriculum, we must determine, as Bacon would have said, the relative value of knowledges.

To this end a measure of value is the first requisite, and here there can happily be no dispute. How to live?—that is the essential question for us. To prepare us for complete living is the function which education is to discharge. We must therefore classify the leading kinds of activity which constitute human life. In order of importance they are (1) those which directly minister to self-preservation, (2) those which by securing the necessaries of life indirectly minister to self-preservation, (3) those which have for their end the rearing and discipline of offspring, (4) those which are involved in the maintenance of proper social and political relations, (5) those miscellaneous activities which fill up the leisure part of life, devoted to the gratification of the tastes and feelings.

It can easily be shown that these stand in something like their true order of subordination, and such should be the order of education. It must give attention to all of these; greatest where the value is greatest; less where the value is less; least where the value is least.

Happily that all-important part of education which goes to secure direct self-preservation is in great part already provided for. Too momentous to be left to our blundering, nature takes it into her own hands, but there must be no such thwarting of nature as that by which stupid school-mistresses commonly prevent the girls in their charge from the spontaneous physical activities they would indulge in; and so render them comparatively incapable of taking care of themselves in circumstances of peril.

But more is needed, and it is that we should learn the laws of life and of health. This depends upon science, yet that increasing acquaintance with the laws of phenomena which has through successive ages enabled us to subjugate nature to our needs, and in these days gives the common labourer comforts which a few centuries ago kings could not purchase, is scarcely in any degree old to the appointed means of instructing our youth. The vital knowledge—that by which we have grown as a nation to what we are, and which underlies our whole existence—is a knowledge that has got itself taught in nooks and corners, while the ordained agencies for teaching have been mumbling little else than dead formulas.

Hitherto we have made no preparation whatever for the third great division of human activities—the care of offspring, on which no word of instruction is ever given to those who will by and by be parents. Yet that parents should begin the difficult task of rearing children, without ever having given a thought to the principles, physical, moral, or intellectual, which ought to guide them, excites neither surprise at the actors nor pity for their victims. To tens of thousands that are killed, and hundreds of thousands that survive with feeble constitutions, add millions that grow up with constitutions not so strong as they should be, and you will have some idea of the curse inflicted on their offspring by parents ignorant of the laws of life.

Architecture, sculpture, painting, music, and poetry may truly be called the efflorescence of civilised life, but the production of a healthy civilised life must be the first condition. The vice of our educational system is that it neglects the plant for the sake of the flower. In anxiety for elegance it forgets substance, preparing not at all for the discharge of parental functions and for the duties of citizenship, by imparting a mass of facts most of which are irrelevant, and the rest without a key. But the accomplishment of all those things which constitute the efflorescence of civilisation should be wholly subordinate to that instruction and discipline on which civilisation rests. As they occupy the leisure part of life, so should they occupy the leisure part of education.

Yet in this remaining sphere of activity, also, scientific knowledge is fundamental, and only when genius is married to science can the highest results be produced; indeed, not only does science underlie the arts, but science is itself poetic. The current opinion that science and poetry are opposed is a delusion. On the contrary, science opens up realms of poetry where to the unscientific all is blank. Think you that the rounded rock marked with parallel scratches calls up as much poetry in an ignorant mind as in the mind of a geologist, who knows that over this rock a glacier slid a million years ago? The truth is that those who have never entered upon scientific pursuits are blind to most of the poetry by which they are surrounded. Sad indeed is it to see how many men occupy themselves with trivialities, and are indifferent to the grandest phenomena—care not to understand the architecture of the heavens, but are deeply interested in some contemptible controversy about the intrigues of Mary Queen of Scots are learnedly critical over a Greek ode, and pass by without a glance that grand epic written by the finger of God upon the strata of the earth!

If we examine the value of science as discipline, its priority is still assured, whether for discipline of memory, or of judgment, or for moral discipline. Also, the discipline of science is superior to that of our ordinary education because of the religious culture that it gives. Doubtless, to the superstitions that pass under the name of religion, science is antagonistic; but not to the essential religion which these superstitions merely hide; doubtless, too, in much of the science that is current there is a pervading spirit of irreligion, but not in that true science which has passed beyond the superficial into the profound.

Not science, but the neglect of science, is irreligious; devotion to science is a tacit worship—a tacit recognition of worth in the things studied; and by implication in their Cause. Only the genuine man of science can truly know how utterly beyond not only human knowledge, but human conception, is the Universal Power of which Nature and Life and Thought are manifestations.

II.—Intellectual Education

While "believe and ask no questions" was the maxim of the church, it was fitly the maxim of the schools. In that age men also believed that a child's mind could be made to order, that its powers were to be imparted by the schoolmaster; that it was a receptacle into which knowledge was to be put and there built up after the teacher's idea. But now we are learning that there is a natural process of mental evolution which is not to be disturbed without injury; that we may not force on the unfolding mind our artificial forms, but that psychology, like economics, discloses to us a law of supply and demand, to which, if we would not do harm, we must conform.

The forcing system has been by many given up, and precocity is discouraged. People are beginning to see that the first requisite to success in life is to be a good animal. The once universal practice of learning by rote is daily falling into discredit. We are substituting principles for rules, as is exemplified in the abandonment of that intensely stupid custom, the teaching of grammar to children. But of all the changes taking place, the most significant is the growing desire to make the acquirement of knowledge pleasurable rather than painful—a desire based on the more or less distinct perception that at each age the intellectual action which a child likes is a healthy one for it; and conversely. We are on the highway towards the doctrine long ago enunciated by Pestalozzi that alike in its order and its methods, education must conform to the natural process of mental evolution. Education should be a repetition of civilisation in little. Children should be told as little as possible and induced to discover as much as possible. The need for perpetual telling results from our stupidity, not from the child's. We drag it away from the facts in which it is interested, and which it is actively assimilating of itself. We put before it facts far too complex for it to understand, and therefore distasteful to it. By denying the knowledge it craves, and cramming it with knowledge it cannot digest, we produce a morbid state of its faculties; and a consequent disgust for knowledge in general. And having by our method induced helplessness, we make the helplessness a reason for our method.

Education of some kind should begin from the cradle. Whoever has watched with any discernment the wide-eyed gaze of the infant at surrounding objects, knows very well that education does begin thus early, whether we intend it or not; and that these fingerings and suckings of everything it can lay hold of, these open-mouthed listenings to every sound, are first steps in the series which ends in the discovery of unseen planets, the invention of calculating engines, the production of great paintings, or the composition of symphonies and operas. This activity of the faculties from the very first, being spontaneous and inevitable, the question is whether we shall supply in due variety the materials on which they may exercise themselves; and to the question so put, none but an affirmative answer can be given. Here we must take the course which psychology dictates.

What can be more manifest than the desire of children for intellectual sympathy? Mark how the infant sitting on your knee thrusts into your face the toy it holds, that you may look at it. See when it makes a creak with its wet finger on the table, how it turns and looks at you; does it again, and again looks at you; thus saying as clearly as it can—"Hear this new sound." Watch the elder children coming into the room exclaiming—"Mamma, see what a curious thing;" "Mamma, look at this;" "Mamma, look at that;" a habit which they would continue did not the silly mamma tell them not to tease her. Does not the induction lie on the surface? Is it not clear that we must conform our course to these intellectual instincts—that we must just systematise the natural process—that we must listen to all the child has to tell us about each object, and thence proceed? To tell a child this, and to show it the other, is not to teach it how to observe, but to make it a mere recipient of another's observations; a proceeding which weakens rather than strengthens its power of self-instruction.

Object lessons should be arranged to extend to things far wider and continue to a period far later than now; they should not be limited to the contents of the house, but should include those of the fields and hedges, the quarry and the seashore; they should not cease with early childhood, but should be so kept up during youth as insensibly to merge into the investigation of the naturalist and the man of science.

We are quite prepared to hear from many that all this is throwing away time and energy; and that children would be much better occupied in writing their copies and learning their pence tables, and so fitting themselves for the business of life. We regret that such crude ideas of what constitutes education, and such a narrow conception of utility, should still be prevalent. But this gross utilitarianism which is content to come into the world and quit it again without knowing what kind of a world it is, or what it contains, may be met on its own ground. It will by and by be found that a knowledge of the laws of life is more important than any other knowledge whatever—that the laws of life underlie not only all bodily and mental processes, but by implication all the transactions of the house and the street, all commerce, all politics, all morals—and that therefore without a comprehension of them, neither personal nor social conduct can be rightly regulated. It will eventually be seen, too, that the laws of life are essentially the same throughout the whole organic creation.

No one can compare the faces and manners of two boys—the one made happy by mastering interesting subjects, and the other made miserable by disgust with his studies, by consequent inability, by cold looks, by threats, by punishment—without seeing that the disposition of one is being benefited and that of the other injured. Whoever has marked the effects of success and failure upon the mind and the power of the mind over the body, will see that in the one case both temper and health are favourably affected, while in the other there is danger of permanent moroseness, of permanent timidity, and even of permanent constitutional depression.

As suggesting a final reason for making education a process of self-instruction, and by consequence a process of pleasurable instruction, we may advert to the fact that, in proportion as it is made so, there is a probability that it will not cease when schooldays end. As long as the acquisition of knowledge is rendered habitually repugnant, so long will there be a prevailing tendency to discontinue it when free from the coercion of parents and masters. And when the acquisition of knowledge has been rendered habitually gratifying, then there will be as prevailing a tendency to continue, without superintendence, that self-culture previously carried on under superintendence.

III.—Moral Education

The greatest defect in our programmes of education is entirely overlooked. Though some care is taken to fit youths of both sexes for society and citizenship, no care whatever is taken to fit them for the position of parents. While it is seen that for the purpose of gaining a livelihood, an elaborate preparation is needed, it appears to be thought that for the bringing up of children no preparation whatever is needed. While many years are spent by a boy in gaining knowledge of which the chief value is that it constitutes the "education of a gentleman," and while many years are spent by a girl in those decorative acquirements which fit her for evening parties, not an hour is spent by either in preparation for a family. Is it that this responsibility is but a remote contingency? On the contrary, it is sure to devolve on nine out of ten. Is it that the discharge of it is easy? Certainly not: of all functions which the adult has to fulfil, this is the most difficult. Is it that each may be trusted by self-instruction to fit himself, or herself, for the office of parent? No: not only is the need for such self-instruction unrecognised, but the complexity of the subject renders it the one of all others in which self-instruction is least likely to succeed. No rational plea can be put forward for leaving the art of education out of our curriculum. Whether as bearing on the happiness of parents themselves, or whether as affecting the characters and lives of their children and remote descendants, we must admit that a knowledge of the right method of juvenile culture, physical, intellectual and moral, is a knowledge of extreme importance. This topic should be the final one in the course of instruction passed through by each man and woman. As physical maturity is marked by the ability to produce offspring, so mental maturity is marked by the ability to train those offspring. The subject which involves all other subjects, and therefore the subject in which education should culminate, is the THEORY AND PRACTICE OF EDUCATION.

Our system of moral control must again be based upon nature, who illustrates to us in the simplest way the true theory and practice of moral discipline. The natural reactions which follow the child's wrong-doings are constant, direct, unhesitating, and not to be escaped. No threats; but a silent rigorous performance. If a child runs a pin into its finger, pain follows; if it does it again, there is again the same result; and so on perpetually. In all its dealings with inorganic nature it finds this unswerving persistence, which listens to no excuse, and from which there is no appeal; and very soon recognising this stern though beneficent discipline, it soon becomes extremely careful not to transgress. These general truths hold throughout adult life as well as throughout infantile life. If further proof be needed that the natural reaction is not only the most efficient penalty, but that no humanly devised penalty can replace it, we have such further proof in the notorious ill-success of our various penal systems. Out of the many methods of criminal discipline that have been proposed and legally enforced, none have answered the expectations of their advocates. Artificial punishments have failed to produce reformation; and have in many cases increased the criminality. The only successful reformatories are those privately established ones which approximate their regime to the method of nature—which do little more than administer the natural consequences of criminal conduct: diminishing the criminal's liberty of action as much as is needful for the safety of society, and requiring him to maintain himself while living under this restraint. Thus we see, both that the discipline by which the young child is taught to regulate its movements is the discipline by which the great mass of adults are kept in order, and more or less improved; and that the discipline humanly devised for the worst adults fails when it diverges from this divinely-ordained discipline, and begins to succeed on approximating to it. Not only is it unwise to set up a high standard of good conduct for children, but it is even unwise to use very urgent incitements to good conduct. Already most people recognise the detrimental results of intellectual precocity; but there remains to be recognised the fact that moral precocity also has detrimental results. Be sparing of commands, but whenever you do command, command with decision and constancy. Remember that the aid of your discipline should be to produce a self-governing being; not to produce a being to be governed by others.

Lastly, always remember that to educate rightly is not a simple and easy thing, but a complex and extremely difficult thing; the hardest task which devolves on adult life. You will have to carry on your own moral education at the same time that you are educating your children. The last stage in the mental development of each man and woman is to be reached only through a proper discharge of the parental duties; and when this truth is recognised it will be seen how admirable is the arrangement through which human beings are led by their strongest affections to subject themselves to a discipline that they would else elude; and we shall see that while in its injurious effects on both parents and child a bad system is twice cursed, a good system is twice blessed—it blesses him that trains and him that is trained.

IV.—Physical Education

The system of restriction in regard to food which many parents think so necessary is based upon inadequate observation, and erroneous reasoning. There is an over-legislation in the nursery as well as over-legislation in the state; and one of the most injurious forms of it is this limitation in the quantity of food. We contend that, as appetite is a good guide to all the lower creation—as it is a good guide to the infant—as it is a good guide to the invalid—as it is a good guide to the differently-placed races of man—and as it is a good guide for every adult who leads a healthful life, it may safely be inferred that it is a good guide to childhood. It would be strange indeed were it here alone untrustworthy.

With clothing, as with food, the usual tendency is towards an improper scantiness. Here, too, asceticism creeps out. Yet it is not obedience to the sensations, but disobedience to them which is the habitual cause of bodily evils. It is not the eating when hungry, but the eating in the absence of hunger, which is bad; it is not drinking when thirsty, but continuing to drink when thirst has ceased, that is the vice.

Again, harm does not result from taking that active exercise which, as every child shows us, nature strongly prompts, but from a persistent disregard of nature's promptings; but the natural spontaneous exercise having been forbidden, and the bad consequences of no exercise having become conspicuous, there has been adopted a system of factitious exercise—gymnastics. That this is better than nothing we admit; but that it is an adequate substitute for play we deny. The truth is that happiness is the most powerful of tonics. By accelerating the circulation of the blood, it facilitates the performance of every function; and so tends alike to increase health where it exists, and to restore it when it has been lost. Hence the intrinsic superiority of play to gymnastics. The extreme interest felt by children in their games, and the riotous glee with which they carry on their rougher frolics, are of as much importance as the accompanying exertion; and as not supplying these mental stimuli gymnastics must be radically defective, and can never serve in place of the exercises prompted by nature. For girls as well as boys the sportive activities to which the instincts impel are essential to bodily welfare. Whoever forbids them, forbids the divinely-appointed means to physical development.

We suffer at present from a very potent detrimental influence, which is excess of mental application, forgetting that nature is a strict accountant, and if you demand of her in one direction more than she is prepared to lay out, she balances the account by making a reduction elsewhere. We forget that it is not knowledge which is stored up as intellectual fat that is of value, but that which is turned into intellectual muscle. Worse still, our system is fatal to that vigour of physique needful to make intellectual training available in the struggle of life. Yet a good digestion, a bounding pulse, and high spirits are elements of happiness which no external advantages can outbalance.

Perhaps nothing will so much hasten the time when body and mind will both be adequately cared for, as a diffusion of the belief that the preservation of health is a duty. Few seem conscious that there is such a thing as physical morality. Men's habitual words and acts imply the idea that they are at liberty to treat their bodies as they please. Disorders entailed by disobedience to nature's dictates, they regard simply as grievances; not as the effects of a conduct more or less flagitious. Though the evil consequences inflicted on their dependents, and on future generations, are often as great as those caused by time, yet they do not think themselves in any degree criminal. It is true that, in the case of drunkenness, the viciousness of a bodily transgression is recognised; but none appear to infer that, if this bodily transgression is vicious, so, too, is every bodily transgression. The fact is, that all breaches of the laws of health are physical sins. When this is generally seen, then, and perhaps not till then, will the physical training of the young receive the attention which it deserves.

Principles of Biology

In 1860 Spencer commenced a connected series of philosophical works, designed to unfold in their natural order the principles of biology, psychology, sociology and morality. "Principles of Biology" was published in 1864, and aims to set forth, the general truths of biology as illustrative of, and as interpreted by the laws of evolution. It was revised in 1899.

Proximate Definition of Life

To those who accept the general doctrine of evolution, it needs scarcely to be pointed out that classifications are subjective conceptions which have no absolute demarcations in nature corresponding to them. Consequently in attempting to define anything complex we can scarcely ever avoid including more than was intended, or leaving out something that should be taken in. Thus it happens that on seeking a definition of life there is great difficulty in finding one that is neither more nor less than sufficient. As the best mode of determining the general characteristics of vitality, let us compare its two most unlike kinds and see in what they agree.

Choosing assimilation, then, for our example of bodily life, and reasoning for our example of the life known as intelligence, it is first to be observed that they are both processes of change. Without change food cannot be taken into the blood nor transformed into tissue: neither can conclusions be obtained from premises. This conspicuous manifestation of change forms the substratum of our idea of life in general. Comparison shows this change to differ from non-vital changes in being made up of successive changes. The food must undergo mastication, digestion, etc., while an argument necessitates a long chain of states of consciousness, each implying a change of the preceding state. Vital change is further made up of many simultaneous changes. Assimilation and argument both include many actions going on together. Vital changes, both visceral and cerebral, also differ from other changes in their heterogeneity; neither the simultaneous nor the serial acts of digestion or of ratiocination are at all alike. They are again distinguished by the combination subsisting among their constituent changes. The acts that make up digestion are mutually dependent; as are those which compose a train of reasoning. Once more, they differ in being characterised by definiteness. Assimilation, respiration, and circulation, are definitely interdependent. These characterisations not only mark off the vital from the non-vital, but also creatures of high vitality from those of low vitality. Hence our formula reads thus:—Life is the definite combination of heterogeneous changes, both simultaneous and successive. Not a definite combination, allowing that there may be others, but the definite combination. This, however, omits its most distinctive peculiarity.

Correspondence Between Life and Its Circumstances

We habitually distinguish between a live object and a dead one by observing whether a change in the surrounding conditions is or is not followed by some perceptible and appropriate change in the object. Adding this all-important characteristic, our conception of life becomes—the definite combination of heterogeneous changes, both simultaneous and successive, in correspondence with external coexistences and sequences. Some illustrations may serve to show the significance of this addition.

Every act of locomotion implies the expenditure of certain internal mechanical forces, adapted in amounts and directions to balance or outbalance certain external ones. The recognition of an object is impossible without a harmony between the changes constituting perception and particular properties coexisting in the environment. Escape from enemies supposes motions within the organism related in kind and rapidity to motions without it. Destruction of prey requires a particular combination of subjective actions, fitted in degree and succession to overcome a group of objective ones.

The difference of this correspondence in inanimate and animate bodies may be expressed by symbols. Let A be a change in the environment; and B some resulting change in an inorganic mass. Then A having produced B, the action ceases. But take a sufficiently organised living body, and let the change A impress on it some change C; then, while the environment A is occasioning a, in the living body, C will be occasioning c: of which a and c will show a certain concord in time, place, or intensity. And while it is in the continuous production of such concords or correspondences that life consists, it is by the continuous production of them that life is maintained.

As, in all cases, we may consider the external phenomena as simply in relation, and the internal phenomena also as simply in relation, the broadest and most complete definition of life will be:—the continuous adjustment of internal relations to external relations. It will be best, however, commonly to employ its more concrete equivalent—to consider the internal relations as "definite combinations of simultaneous and successive changes"; the external relations as "coexistences and sequences," and the connection between them as a "correspondence."

The Degree of Life Varies as the Degree of Correspondence

It is now to be remarked that the life is high in proportion as this correspondence between internal and external relations is well-fulfilled.

Each step upward must consist in adding to the previously adjusted relations which the organism exhibits some further relation, parallel to a further relation in the environment. And the greater correspondence thus established must, other things being equal, show itself both in greater complexity of life and greater length of life—a truth which will be duly realised on remembering the enormous mortality which prevails among lowly-organized creatures, and the gradual increase of longevity and diminution of fertility which is met with in ascending to creatures of higher and higher development. Those relations in the environment to which relations in the organism must correspond increase in number and intensity as the life assumes a higher form. Perfect correspondence would be perfect life.

Growth, or Increase of Bulk

Perhaps the widest and most familiar induction of biology is that organisms grow. Under appropriate conditions increase of size takes place in inorganic aggregates as well as in organic aggregates. Crystals grow. Growth is indeed a concomitant of evolution. The several conditions by which the phenomena of organic growth are governed, conspiring and conflicting in endless ways and degrees, qualify more or less differently each others' effects. Hence the following generalisations must be taken as true on the average, or other things equal:—

First, that growth being an integration with the organism of such environing matters as are of like nature with the matters composing the organism, its growth is dependent on the available supply of such matters. Second, that the available supply of assimilable matters being the same, and other conditions not dissimilar, the degree of growth varies according to the surplus of nutrition over expenditure. Third, that in the same organism the surplus of nutrition over expenditure is a variable quantity; and that growth is unlimited or has a definite limit according as the surplus does or does not progressively decrease,—a proposition exemplified by the increasing growth of organisms that do not expend force, and by the definitely limited growth of organisms that expend much force. Fourth, that among organisms that are large expenders of force, the size ultimately attained is, other things equal, determined by the initial size. Fifth, that where the likeness of other circumstances permits a comparison, the possible degree of growth depends upon the degree of organisation: an inference testified to by the larger forms among the various divisions and subdivisions of organisms.

Why Do Organisms Cease to Grow

Why should not all organisms, when supplied with sufficient material, continue to grow as long as they live? We have found that organisms are mostly built up of compounds which are stores of force. These substances being at once the materials for organic growth and the sources of organic force, it follows, from the persistence of force, that growth is substantially equivalent to the absorbed nutriment minus the nutriment used up in action. This, however, does not account for the fact that in every domestic animal the increments of growth bear continually decreasing ratios to the mass, and finally come to an end. Nevertheless, it is demonstrable that the excess of absorbed over expended nutriment must decrease as the size increases. Since in similar bodies the areas vary as the squares of the dimensions and the masses vary as the cubes, it follows that, however great the excess of assimilation over waste may be during the early life of an active organism, there must be reached, if the organism lives long enough, a point at which the surplus assimilation is brought to nothing—a point at which expenditure balances nutrition, a state of moving equilibrium. Obviously, this antagonism between assimilation and expenditure must be a leading cause of the contrast in size between allied organisms that are in many respects similarly conditioned.

Development, or Increase of Structure

In each of the organic sub-kingdoms the change from an incoherent, indefinite homogeneity to a coherent definite heterogeneity is illustrated in a quadruple way. The originally-like units or cells become unlike, in various ways, and in ways more numerously marked as the development goes on. The several tissues which these several classes or cells form by aggregation, grow little by little distinct from each other; and little by little become structurally complex. In the shoot as in the limb, the external form, originally very simple and having much in common with countless simple forms, organic and inorganic, gradually acquires an increasing complexity, and an increasing unlikeness to other forms, and meanwhile, the remaining parts of the organism, having been developed severally, assuming structures diverging from each other and from that of this particular shoot or limb, there has arisen a greater heterogeneity in the organism as a whole.

The most remarkable induction of von Baer comes next in order. It is that in its earliest stage every organism has the greatest number of characters in common with all other organisms in their earliest stages; that at each subsequent stage traits are acquired which successively distinguish the developing embryo from groups of embryos that it previously resembled—thus step by step diminishing the group of embryos which it still resembles; and that thus the class of similar forms is finally narrowed to the species of which it is a member. For example, the human germ, primarily similar to all others, first differentiates from vegetal germs, then from invertebrate germs, and subsequently assumes the mammalian, placental unguiculate, and lastly the human characters.

The development of an individual organism is at the same time a differentiation of its parts from each other and a differentiation of the consolidated whole from the environment; and in the last as in the first respect there is a general analogy between the progression of an individual organism and the progression of the lowest orders of organisms to the highest orders.

The Laws of Multiplication

Every living aggregate being one of which the inner actions are adjusted to balance outer actions, it follows that the maintenance of its moving equilibrium depends on its exposure to the right amounts of these actions. Its moving equilibrium may be overturned if one of these actions is either too great or too small in amount: either by excess or defect of some inorganic or organic agency in its environment.

Our inquiry resolves itself into this:—in races that continue to exist what laws of numerical variation result from these variable conflicting forces?

The forces preservative of a race are two—ability in each member of the race to preserve itself, and ability to produce other members. These must vary inversely—one must decrease as the other increases. We have to ask in what way this adjustment comes about as a result of evolution.

Including under individuation all those processes completing and maintaining individual life, and under genesis all those aiding the formation and perfecting of new individuals, the two are necessarily antagonistic. Every higher degree of individual evolution is followed by a lower degree of race multiplication, and vice versa. Progress in bulk, complexity or activity involves retrogress in fertility; and progress in fertility involves retrogress in bulk, complexity, or activity. The same quantity of matter may be divided into many small wholes or few large wholes; but number negatives largeness, and largeness negatives number.

It is a general physiological truth that while the building-up of the individual is going on rapidly, the reproductive organs remain imperfectly developed and inactive; and that the commencement of reproduction at once indicates a declining rate of growth and becomes a cause of arrest in growth.

It has now to be noticed how complexity of organisation is hindered by reproductive activity and conversely. The hydra's power to produce young ones from nearly all parts of its body is due to the comparative homogeneity of its body, while it is not improbable that the smallness of human fertility, compared with the fertility of large feline animals, is due to the greater complexity of the human organisation—more especially the organisation of the nervous system.

Of the inverse variation between activity and genesis we have examples in the contrast between the fertility of birds and the fertility of mammals. Comparing the large with the large and the small with the small, we see that creatures which continually go through the muscular exertion of sustaining themselves in the air and propelling themselves rapidly through it are less prolific than creatures of equal weights which go through the smaller exertion of moving about over solid surfaces. The extreme infertility of the bat is most striking when compared with the structurally similar but very prolific mouse; a difference in the rate of multiplication which may fairly be ascribed to the difference in the rate of expenditure.

Interpretation and Qualification

Derived as the self-sustaining and waste-sustaining forces are from a common stock of force, it necessarily happens that, other things being equal, increase of the one involves decrease of the other. It may therefore be set down as a law that every higher degree of organic evolution has for its concomitant a lower degree of the peculiar organic dissolution which is seen in the production of new organisms.

How is the ratio between individuation and genesis established in each case? All specialties of the reproductive process are due to the natural selection of favourable variations. Given a certain surplus available for race preservation, and it is clear that by indirect equilibration only can there be established that peculiar distribution of this surplus which is seen in each case.

Here a qualification must be made. Recognising the truth that every increase of evolution which is appropriate to the circumstances of an organism brings an advantage somewhat in excess of its cost, the general law, more strictly stated, is that genesis decreases not quite so fast as individuation increases. The result of greater individuation—whether it takes the form of greater strength or higher speed, facilitates some habitual movement or utilises better the absorbed aliment—is a greater surplus of vital capital; part of which goes to the aggrandisement of the individual and part to the formation of new individuals. Hence every type that is best adapted to its conditions has a rate of multiplication that insures a tendency to predominate. Survival of the fittest, acting alone, is ever replacing inferior species by superior species. But beyond the longer survival, and therefore greater chance of leaving offspring, which superiority gives, we see here another way in which the spread of the superior is insured. Though the more evolved organism is the less fertile absolutely, it is the more fertile relatively.

Multiplication of the Human Race

What causes increase or decrease of genesis in other creatures causes increase or decrease of genesis in man. It is true that, even more than hitherto, our reasonings are here beset with difficulties. So numerous are the inequalities in the conditions that but few unobjectionable comparisons can be made. The human races differ not only in their sizes and foods, and in the climates they inhabit, but also their expenditures in bodily and mental action are extremely unequal.

The increase of fertility caused by nutrition that is greatly in excess of expenditure is to be detected by comparing populations of the same race or of allied races one of which obtains good and abundant sustenance much more easily than the other. On carrying out such comparisons it is seen that in the human race, as in all other races, such absolute or relative abundance of nutriment as leaves a large excess after defraying the cost of carrying on parental life, is accompanied by a high rate of genesis.

It is also apparent that relative increase of expenditure, leaving a diminished surplus, reduces fertility. That infertility is generally produced in women by mental labour carried to excess is shown in the fact that most of the flat-chested girls who survive their high-pressure education are incompetent to bear a well-developed infant and to supply it with the natural food for the natural period. It is a matter of common remark how frequently men of unusual mental activity leave no offspring.

It is likely to be urged that since the civilised races are on the average larger than many of the uncivilised races, and since they are also somewhat more complex as well as more active, they ought, in accordance with the alleged general law, and other things being equal, to be less prolific. But other things are not equal; and it is to the inequality of the other things that this apparent anomaly is attributable.

One more objection has to be met. Cases may be named of men conspicuous for activity, bodily and mental, who were also noted, not for less generative power than usual, but for more. The cases are analogous to some before-named in which more abundant food simultaneously aggrandises the individual and adds to the production of new individuals—the differences between cases being that instead of a better external supply of material there is a better internal utilisation of materials. Some peculiarity of organic balance, some potency of the digestive juices, gives to the system a perpetual high tide of rich blood that serves at once to enhance the vital activities and to raise the power of propagation. The proportion between individuation and genesis remains the same: both are increased by the increase of the common stock of materials.

Human Population in the Future

Any further evolution in the most highly-evolved of terrestrial beings—man—must be of the same nature as evolution in general. It must be an advance towards completion of that continuous adjustment of internal to external relations which was shown to constitute life.

Looking at the several possibilities, and asking what direction this further evolution, this more complete moving equilibrium, this better adjustment of inner to outer relations, this more perfect co-ordination of action is likely to take:—the conclusion is that it must take mainly the direction of a higher intellectual and emotional development. There is abundant scope for development in ascertaining the conditions of existence to which we must conform; and in acquiring a greater power of self-regulation.

What are those changes in the environment to which, by direct or indirect equilibration the human organism has been adjusting itself, is adjusting itself now, and will continue to adjust itself? And how do they necessitate a higher evolution of the organism? In all cases pressure of population is the original cause. Were it not for the competition this entails, so much thought and energy would not be spent on the business of life; and growth of mental power would not take place. Difficulty in getting a living is alike the incentive to a higher education of children, and to a more intense and long-continued application in adults. Nothing but necessity could make men submit to this discipline; and nothing but this discipline could produce a continued progression.

Excess of fertility is then the cause of man's further evolution. And the obvious corollary is that man's further evolution itself necessitates a decline in his fertility. The further progress of civilisation will be accompanied by an enhanced cost of individuation: whether it be in greater growth of the organs which subserve self-maintenance, in their added complexity of structure, or in their higher activity, the abstraction of the required material, implies a diminished reserve of materials for race maintenance. This greater emotional and intellectual development does not necessarily mean a mentally laborious life—for, as the goal becomes organic, it will become spontaneous and pleasurable.

The necessary antagonism of individuation and genesis not only fulfils the a priori law of maintenance of the race from the monad up to man, but insures final attainment of the highest form of this maintenance—a form in which the amount of life shall be the greatest possible and the births and deaths as few as possible. From the beginning pressure of population has been the proximate cause of progress. After having duly stocked the globe with inhabitants; raised all its habitable parts into the highest state of culture; brought all processes for the satisfaction of human wants to perfection; developed the intellect into complete competency for its work, and the feelings into complete fitness for social life; the pressure of population as it gradually finished its work, must gradually bring itself to an end.

Changes, numerical, social, organic, must by their mutual influences work unceasingly towards a state of harmony—a state in which each of the factors is just equal to its work. And this highest conceivable result must be wrought out by the same universal process which the simplest inorganic action illustrates.

Principles of Sociology

"Principles of Sociology" was published in four parts from 1876 to 1880. It forms part of a connected series. In "First Principles" inorganic evolution—that of the stars and of the solar system—was outlined; organic evolution was dealt with in "Principles of Biology;" and in the present treatise, "Principles of Sociology," we approach super-organic evolution, and are introduced to the science of society under its Comtist title "Sociology."

Super-organic evolution may be marked off from, organic by taking it to include all those processes and products which imply the co-ordinated action of many individuals. Commencing with the development of the family, sociology has next to describe and explain the rise and development of political organisation; the evolution of the ecclesiastical structures and functions; the control embodied in ceremonial observances; and the relations between the regulative and operative divisions of every society.


That evolution decreases the sacrifice of individual life to the life of the species, we may see on glancing upwards from the microscopic protozoa, where the brief parental life disappears absolutely in the lives of the progeny, to the mammalia, where the greatest conciliation of the interests of the species, the parents and the young, is displayed. The highest constitution of the family is reached where there is such conciliation between the needs of the society and those of its members, old and young, that the mortality between birth and the reproductive age falls to a minimum, while the lives of adults have their subordination to the rearing of children reduced to the smallest possible. The diminution of this subordination takes place in three ways: First, by elongation of that period which precedes reproduction; second, by fewer offspring born, as well as by increase of the pleasure taken in the care of them; and third, by lengthening of the life which follows cessation of reproduction. Let us bear in mind that the domestic relations which are ethically the highest, are also biologically and sociologically the highest.


The propriety of setting out with the foregoing purely natural-history view will be evident upon learning that among low savages the relations of the sexes are substantially like those common among inferior creatures. The effect of promiscuity, however, being to hinder social evolution, wherever it was accompanied by unions having some duration, the product of such unions were likely to be superior to others, and from this primitive stage domestic evolution takes place in several directions by increase of coherence and definiteness.

From promiscuity we pass to that form of polyandry in which the unrelated husbands have but one wife; thence to the form in which the husbands are related; and finally to the form in which they are brothers only, as in the fraternal polyandry of the ancient Britons. It is almost needless to point out that, as in passing from promiscuity to polyandry the domestic relations become more coherent and definite, so do they in passing from the lower forms of polyandry to the higher. That polygyny is better than polyandry may be concluded from its effects. It conduces in a higher degree to social self-preservation than the inferioi types of marital relations by making possible more rapid replacement of men lost in war, and so increases the chance of social survival. By establishment of descent in the male line it conduces to political stability; and, by making possible a developed form of ancestor-worship, it consolidates society.


Societies which from generation to generation produce in due abundance individuals who relatively to the requirements are the best physically, morally, and intellectually, must become the predominant societies, and must tend through the quiet process of industrial competition to replace other societies. Consequently, marital relations which favour this result in the highest degree must spread; while the prevailing sentiments and ideas must become so moulded into harmony with them that other relations will be condemned as immoral. The monogamic form of the sexual relations is manifestly the ultimate form; and any changes to be anticipated must be in the direction of completion and extension of it.

II.—Political Organisation

A society is formed only when, besides juxtaposition there is co-operation. Co-operation is made possible by society and makes society possible. It pre-supposes associative men; and men remain associated only because of the benefits co-operation yields them. But there cannot be concerted actions without agencies by which actions are adjusted in their times, amounts, and kinds; and the actions cannot be of different kinds without the co-operators undertaking different duties. That is to say, the co-operators must become organised, either voluntarily or involuntarily.


The political evolution manifested by increase of mass is political aggregation. One of the laws of evolution at large is that integration results when like units are subject to the same force or the like forces; and from the first stages of political integration to the last this law is illustrated. Likeness in the units forming a social group being one conditioned to their integration, a further condition is their joint reaction against external action: co-operation in war is the chief cause of social integration. The temporary unions of savages for offence and defence show the initiatory steps. When many tribes unite against a common enemy, long continuance of their combined action makes them coherent under some common control. And so it is subsequently with still larger aggregates.


The state of homogeneity in the social aggregate is an unstable one. The primary political differentiation originates from the primary family differentiation. Men and women very early respectively form the two political classes of rulers and ruled. The slave class acquires separateness only as fast as there arrives some restrictions on the powers of the owners; slaves begin to form a division of the body politic when their personal claims begin to be distinguished as limiting the claims of their masters. Where men have passed into the agricultural or settled state it becomes possible for one community to take possession bodily of another community, along with the territory it occupies. When this happens, there arise additional class divisions. The class differentiation of which militancy is the actual cause is furthered by the establishment of definite descent, especially male descent, and by the transmission of position and property to the eldest son of the eldest continually. Inequalities of position and wealth once initiated tend to increase and to establish physical differences; and beyond these there are produced by the respective habits of life mental differences, emotional and intellectual, strengthening the general contrast of nature. When there come conquests which produce compound societies and doubly compound ones there result superpositions of ranks: while the ranks of the conquering society become respectively higher than those which have existed before, the ranks of the conquered society become respectively lower. The political differentiations which militancy originates and which for a long time increase in definiteness, are at later stages and under other conditions interfered with, traversed, and partially or wholly destroyed. While the higher political evolution of large social aggregates tends to break down the divisions of rank which grew up in the small component social aggregates, by substituting other divisions, these original divisions are still more broken down by growing industrialism. Generating a wealth that is not connected with rank, this initiates a compelling power; and at the same time, by establishing the equal positions of citizens before the law in respect of trading transactions, it weakens those divisions which at the outset expressed inequality of position before the law.

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