by John Stuart Mill

                           Chapter 1
                        General Remarks.

  THERE ARE few circumstances among those which make up the present
condition of human knowledge, more unlike what might have been
expected, or more significant of the backward state in which
speculation on the most important subjects still lingers, than the
little progress which has been made in the decision of the controversy
respecting the criterion of right and wrong. From the dawn of
philosophy, the question concerning the summum bonum, or, what is
the same thing, concerning the foundation of morality, has been
accounted the main problem in speculative thought, has occupied the
most gifted intellects, and divided them into sects and schools,
carrying on a vigorous warfare against one another. And after more
than two thousand years the same discussions continue, philosophers
are still ranged under the same contending banners, and neither
thinkers nor mankind at large seem nearer to being unanimous on the
subject, than when the youth Socrates listened to the old
Protagoras, and asserted (if Plato's dialogue be grounded on a real
conversation) the theory of utilitarianism against the popular
morality of the so-called sophist.
  It is true that similar confusion and uncertainty, and in some cases
similar discordance, exist respecting the first principles of all
the sciences, not excepting that which is deemed the most certain of
them, mathematics; without much impairing, generally indeed without
impairing at all, the trustworthiness of the conclusions of those
sciences. An apparent anomaly, the explanation of which is, that the
detailed doctrines of a science are not usually deduced from, nor
depend for their evidence upon, what are called its first
principles. Were it not so, there would be no science more precarious,
or whose conclusions were more insufficiently made out, than
algebra; which derives none of its certainty from what are commonly
taught to learners as its elements, since these, as laid down by
some of its most eminent teachers, are as full of fictions as
English law, and of mysteries as theology. The truths which are
ultimately accepted as the first principles of a science, are really
the last results of metaphysical analysis, practised on the elementary
notions with which the science is conversant; and their relation to
the science is not that of foundations to an edifice, but of roots
to a tree, which may perform their office equally well though they
be never dug down to and exposed to light. But though in science the
particular truths precede the general theory, the contrary might be
expected to be the case with a practical art, such as morals or
legislation. All action is for the sake of some end, and rules of
action, it seems natural to suppose, must take their whole character
and colour from the end to which they are subservient. When we
engage in a pursuit, a clear and precise conception of what we are
pursuing would seem to be the first thing we need, instead of the last
we are to look forward to. A test of right and wrong must be the
means, one would think, of ascertaining what is right or wrong, and
not a consequence of having already ascertained it.
  The difficulty is not avoided by having recourse to the popular
theory of a natural faculty, a sense or instinct, informing us of
right and wrong. For- besides that the existence of such- a moral
instinct is itself one of the matters in dispute- those believers in
it who have any pretensions to philosophy, have been obliged to
abandon the idea that it discerns what is right or wrong in the
particular case in hand, as our other senses discern the sight or
sound actually present. Our moral faculty, according to all those of
its interpreters who are entitled to the name of thinkers, supplies us
only with the general principles of moral judgments; it is a branch of
our reason, not of our sensitive faculty; and must be looked to for
the abstract doctrines of morality, not for perception of it in the
concrete. The intuitive, no less than what may be termed the
inductive, school of ethics, insists on the necessity of general laws.
They both agree that the morality of an individual action is not a
question of direct perception, but of the application of a law to an
individual case. They recognise also, to a great extent, the same
moral laws; but differ as to their evidence, and the source from which
they derive their authority. According to the one opinion, the
principles of morals are evident a priori, requiring nothing to
command assent, except that the meaning of the terms be understood.
According to the other doctrine, right and wrong, as well as truth and
falsehood, are questions of observation and experience. But both
hold equally that morality must be deduced from principles; and the
intuitive school affirm as strongly as the inductive, that there is
a science of morals. Yet they seldom attempt to make out a list of the
a priori principles which are to serve as the premises of the science;
still more rarely do they make any effort to reduce those various
principles to one first principle, or common ground of obligation.
They either assume the ordinary precepts of morals as of a priori
authority, or they lay down as the common groundwork of those
maxims, some generality much less obviously authoritative than the
maxims themselves, and which has never succeeded in gaining popular
acceptance. Yet to support their pretensions there ought either to
be some one fundamental principle or law, at the root of all morality,
or if there be several, there should be a determinate order of
precedence among them; and the one principle, or the rule for deciding
between the various principles when they conflict, ought to be
  To inquire how far the bad effects of this deficiency have been
mitigated in practice, or to what extent the moral beliefs of
mankind have been vitiated or made uncertain by the absence of any
distinct recognition of an ultimate standard, would imply a complete
survey and criticism, of past and present ethical doctrine. It
would, however, be easy to show that whatever steadiness or
consistency these moral beliefs have, attained, has been mainly due to
the tacit influence of a standard not recognised. Although the
non-existence of an acknowledged first principle has made ethics not
so much a guide as a consecration of men's actual sentiments, still,
as men's sentiments, both of favour and of aversion, are greatly
influenced by what they suppose to be the effects of things upon their
happiness, the principle of utility, or as Bentham latterly called it,
the greatest happiness principle, has had a large share in forming the
moral doctrines even of those who most scornfully reject its
authority. Nor is there any school of thought which refuses to admit
that the influence of actions on happiness is a most material and even
predominant consideration in many of the details of morals, however
unwilling to acknowledge it as the fundamental principle of
morality, and the source of moral obligation. I might go much further,
and say that to all those a priori moralists who deem it necessary
to argue at all, utilitarian arguments are indispensable. It is not my
present purpose to criticise these thinkers; but I cannot help
referring, for illustration, to a systematic treatise by one of the
most illustrious of them, the Metaphysics of Ethics, by Kant. This
remarkable man, whose system of thought will long remain one of the
landmarks in the history of philosophical speculation, does, in the
treatise in question, lay down a universal first principle as the
origin and ground of moral obligation; it is this: "So act, that the
rule on which thou actest would admit of being adopted as a law by all
rational beings." But when he begins to deduce from this precept any
of the actual duties of morality, he fails, almost grotesquely, to
show that there would be any contradiction, any logical (not to say
physical) impossibility, in the adoption by all rational beings of the
most outrageously immoral rules of conduct. All he shows is that the
consequences of their universal adoption would be such as no one would
choose to incur.
  On the present occasion, I shall, without further discussion of
the other theories, attempt to contribute something towards the
understanding and appreciation of the Utilitarian or Happiness theory,
and towards such proof as it is susceptible of. It is evident that
this cannot be proof in the ordinary and popular meaning of the
term. Questions of ultimate ends are not amenable to direct proof.
Whatever can be proved to be good, must be so by being shown to be a
means to something admitted to be good without proof. The medical
art is proved to be good by its conducing to health; but how is it
possible to prove that health is good? The art of music is good, for
the reason, among others, that it produces pleasure; but what proof is
it possible to give that pleasure is good? If, then, it is asserted
that there is a comprehensive formula, including all things which
are in themselves good, and that whatever else is good, is not so as
an end, but as a mean, the formula may be accepted or rejected, but is
not a subject of what is commonly understood by proof. We are not,
however, to infer that its acceptance or rejection must depend on
blind impulse, or arbitrary choice. There is a larger meaning of the
word proof, in which this question is as amenable to it as any other
of the disputed questions of philosophy. The subject is within the
cognisance of the rational faculty; and neither does that faculty deal
with it solely in the way of intuition. Considerations may be
presented capable of determining the intellect either to give or
withhold its assent to the doctrine; and this is equivalent to proof.
  We shall examine presently of what nature are these
considerations; in what manner they apply to the case, and what
rational grounds, therefore, can be given for accepting or rejecting
the utilitarian formula. But it is a preliminary condition of rational
acceptance or rejection, that the formula should be correctly
understood. I believe that the very imperfect notion ordinarily formed
of its meaning, is the chief obstacle which impedes its reception; and
that could it be cleared, even from only the grosser misconceptions,
the question would be greatly simplified, and a large proportion of
its difficulties removed. Before, therefore, I attempt to enter into
the philosophical grounds which can be given for assenting to the
utilitarian standard, I shall offer some illustrations of the doctrine
itself; with the view of showing more clearly what it is,
distinguishing it from what it is not, and disposing of such of the
practical objections to it as either originate in, or are closely
connected with, mistaken interpretations of its meaning. Having thus
prepared the ground, I shall afterwards endeavour to throw such
light as I can upon the question, considered as one of philosophical
                               Chapter 2
                          What Utilitarianism Is.

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

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

  The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the
Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in
proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to
produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure,
and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of
pleasure. To give a clear view of the moral standard set up by the
theory, much more requires to be said; in particular, what things it
includes in the ideas of pain and pleasure; and to what extent this is
left an open question. But these supplementary explanations do not
affect the theory of life on which this theory of morality is
grounded- namely, that pleasure, and freedom from pain, are the only
things desirable as ends; and that all desirable things (which are
as numerous in the utilitarian as in any other scheme) are desirable
either for the pleasure inherent in themselves, or as means to the
promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain.
  Now, such a theory of life excites in many minds, and among them
in some of the most estimable in feeling and purpose, inveterate
dislike. To suppose that life has (as they express it) no higher end
than pleasure- no better and nobler object of desire and pursuit-
they designate as utterly mean and grovelling; as a doctrine worthy
only of swine, to whom the followers of Epicurus were, at a very early
period, contemptuously likened; and modern holders of the doctrine are
occasionally made the subject of equally polite comparisons by its
German, French, and English assailants.
  When thus attacked, the Epicureans have always answered, that it
is not they, but their accusers, who represent human nature in a
degrading light; since the accusation supposes human beings to be
capable of no pleasures except those of which swine are capable. If
this supposition were true, the charge could not be gainsaid, but
would then be no longer an imputation; for if the sources of
pleasure were precisely the same to human beings and to swine, the
rule of life which is good enough for the one would be good enough for
the other. The comparison of the Epicurean life to that of beasts is
felt as degrading, precisely because a beast's pleasures do not
satisfy a human being's conceptions of happiness. Human beings have
faculties more elevated than the animal appetites, and when once
made conscious of them, do not regard anything as happiness which does
not include their gratification. I do not, indeed, consider the
Epicureans to have been by any means faultless in drawing out their
scheme of consequences from the utilitarian principle. To do this in
any sufficient manner, many Stoic, as well as Christian elements
require to be included. But there is no known Epicurean theory of life
which does not assign to the pleasures of the intellect, of the
feelings and imagination, and of the moral sentiments, a much higher
value as pleasures than to those of mere sensation. It must be
admitted, however, that utilitarian writers in general have placed the
superiority of mental over bodily pleasures chiefly in the greater
permanency, safety, uncostliness, etc., of the former- that is, in
their circumstantial advantages rather than in their intrinsic nature.
And on all these points utilitarians have fully proved their case; but
they might have taken the other, and, as it may be called, higher
ground, with entire consistency. It is quite compatible with the
principle of utility to recognise the fact, that some kinds of
pleasure are more desirable and more valuable than others. It would be
absurd that while, in estimating all other things, quality is
considered as well as quantity, the estimation of pleasures should
be supposed to depend on quantity alone.
  If I am asked, what I mean by difference of quality in pleasures, or
what makes one pleasure more valuable than another, merely as a
pleasure, except its being greater in amount, there is but one
possible answer. Of two pleasures, if there be one to which all or
almost all who have experience of both give a decided preference,
irrespective of any feeling of moral obligation to prefer it, that
is the more desirable pleasure. If one of the two is, by those who are
competently acquainted with both, placed so far above the other that
they prefer it, even though knowing it to be attended with a greater
amount of discontent, and would not resign it for any quantity of
the other pleasure which their nature is capable of, we are
justified in ascribing to the preferred enjoyment a superiority in
quality, so far outweighing quantity as to render it, in comparison,
of small account.
  Now it is an unquestionable fact that those who are equally
acquainted with, and equally capable of appreciating and enjoying,
both, do give a most marked preference to the manner of existence
which employs their higher faculties. Few human creatures would
consent to be changed into any of the lower animals, for a promise
of the fullest allowance of a beast's pleasures; no intelligent
human being would consent to be a fool, no instructed person would
be an ignoramus, no person of feeling and conscience would be
selfish and base, even though they should be persuaded that the
fool, the dunce, or the rascal is better satisfied with his lot than
they are with theirs. They would not resign what they possess more
than he for the most complete satisfaction of all the desires which
they have in common with him. If they ever fancy they would, it is
only in cases of unhappiness so extreme, that to escape from it they
would exchange their lot for almost any other, however undesirable
in their own eyes. A being of higher faculties requires more to make
him happy, is capable probably of more acute suffering, and
certainly accessible to it at more points, than one of an inferior
type; but in spite of these liabilities, he can never really wish to
sink into what he feels to be a lower grade of existence. We may
give what explanation we please of this unwillingness; we may
attribute it to pride, a name which is given indiscriminately to
some of the most and to some of the least estimable feelings of
which mankind are capable: we may refer it to the love of liberty
and personal independence, an appeal to which was with the Stoics
one of the most effective means for the inculcation of it; to the love
of power, or to the love of excitement, both of which do really
enter into and contribute to it: but its most appropriate
appellation is a sense of dignity, which all human beings possess in
one form or other, and in some, though by no means in exact,
proportion to their higher faculties, and which is so essential a part
of the happiness of those in whom it is strong, that nothing which
conflicts with it could be, otherwise than momentarily, an object of
desire to them.
  Whoever supposes that this preference takes place at a sacrifice
of happiness- that the superior being, in anything like equal
circumstances, is not happier than the inferior- confounds the two
very different ideas, of happiness, and content. It is indisputable
that the being whose capacities of enjoyment are low, has the
greatest chance of having them fully satisfied; and a highly endowed
being will always feel that any happiness which he can look for, as
the world is constituted, is imperfect. But he can learn to bear its
imperfections, if they are at all bearable; and they will not make him
envy the being who is indeed unconscious of the imperfections, but
only because he feels not at all the good which those imperfections
qualify. It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig
satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.
And if the fool, or the pig, are a different opinion, it is because
they only know their own side of the question. The other party to
the comparison knows both sides.
  It may be objected, that many who are capable of the higher
pleasures, occasionally, under the influence of temptation, postpone
them to the lower. But this is quite compatible with a full
appreciation of the intrinsic superiority of the higher. Men often,
from infirmity of character, make their election for the nearer
good, though they know it to be the less valuable; and this no less
when the choice is between two bodily pleasures, than when it is
between bodily and mental. They pursue sensual indulgences to the
injury of health, though perfectly aware that health is the greater
  It may be further objected, that many who begin with youthful
enthusiasm for everything noble, as they advance in years sink into
indolence and selfishness. But I do not believe that those who undergo
this very common change, voluntarily choose the lower description of
pleasures in preference to the higher. I believe that before they
devote themselves exclusively to the one, they have already become
incapable of the other. Capacity for the nobler feelings is in most
natures a very tender plant, easily killed, not only by hostile
influences, but by mere want of sustenance; and in the majority of
young persons it speedily dies away if the occupations to which
their position in life has devoted them, and the society into which it
has thrown them, are not favourable to keeping that higher capacity in
exercise. Men lose their high aspirations as they lose their
intellectual tastes, because they have not time or opportunity for
indulging them; and they addict themselves to inferior pleasures,
not because they deliberately prefer them, but because they are either
the only ones to which they have access, or the only ones which they
are any longer capable of enjoying. It may be questioned whether any
one who has remained equally susceptible to both classes of pleasures,
ever knowingly and calmly preferred the lower; though many, in all
ages, have broken down in an ineffectual attempt to combine both.
  From this verdict of the only competent judges, I apprehend there
can be no appeal. On a question which is the best worth having of
two pleasures, or which of two modes of existence is the most grateful
to the feelings, apart from its moral attributes and from its
consequences, the judgment of those who are qualified by knowledge
of both, or, if they differ, that of the majority among them, must
be admitted as final. And there needs be the less hesitation to accept
this judgment respecting the quality of pleasures, since there is no
other tribunal to be referred to even on the question of quantity.
What means are there of determining which is the acutest of two pains,
or the intensest of two pleasurable sensations, except the general
suffrage of those who are familiar with both? Neither pains nor
pleasures are homogeneous, and pain is always heterogeneous with
pleasure. What is there to decide whether a particular pleasure is
worth purchasing at the cost of a particular pain, except the feelings
and judgment of the experienced? When, therefore, those feelings and
judgment declare the pleasures derived from the higher faculties to be
preferable in kind, apart from the question of intensity, to those
of which the animal nature, disjoined from the higher faculties, is
suspectible, they are entitled on this subject to the same regard.
  I have dwelt on this point, as being a necessary part of a perfectly
just conception of Utility or Happiness, considered as the directive
rule of human conduct. But it is by no means an indispensable
condition to the acceptance of the utilitarian standard; for that
standard is not the agent's own greatest happiness, but the greatest
amount of happiness altogether; and if it may possibly be doubted
whether a noble character is always the happier for its nobleness,
there can be no doubt that it makes other people happier, and that the
world in general is immensely a gainer by it. Utilitarianism,
therefore, could only attain its end by the general cultivation of
nobleness of character, even if each individual were only benefited by
the nobleness of others, and his own, so far as happiness is
concerned, were a sheer deduction from the benefit. But the bare
enunciation of such an absurdity as this last, renders refutation

  According to the Greatest Happiness Principle, as above explained,
the ultimate end, with reference to and for the sake of which all
other things are desirable (whether we are considering our own good or
that of other people), is an existence exempt as far as possible
from pain, and as rich as possible in enjoyments, both in point of
quantity and quality; the test of quality, and the rule for
measuring it against quantity, being the preference felt by those
who in their opportunities of experience, to which must be added their
habits of self-consciousness and self-observation, are best
furnished with the means of comparison. This, being, according to
the utilitarian opinion, the end of human action, is necessarily
also the standard of morality; which may accordingly be defined, the
rules and precepts for human conduct, by the observance of which an
existence such as has been described might be, to the greatest
extent possible, secured to all mankind; and not to them only, but, so
far as the nature of things admits, to the whole sentient creation.
  Against this doctrine, however, arises another class of objectors,
who say that happiness, in any form, cannot be the rational purpose of
human life and action; because, in the first place, it is
unattainable: and they contemptuously ask, what right hast thou to
be happy? a question which Mr. Carlyle clenches by the addition,
What right, a short time ago, hadst thou even to be? Next, they say,
that men can do without happiness; that all noble human beings have
felt this, and could not have become noble but by learning the
lesson of Entsagen, or renunciation; which lesson, thoroughly learnt
and submitted to, they affirm to be the beginning and necessary
condition of all virtue.
  The first of these objections would go to the root of the matter
were it well founded; for if no happiness is to be had at all by human
beings, the attainment of it cannot be the end of morality, or of
any rational conduct. Though, even in that case, something might still
be said for the utilitarian theory; since utility includes not
solely the pursuit of happiness, but the prevention or mitigation of
unhappiness; and if the former aim be chimerical, there will be all
the greater scope and more imperative need for the latter, so long
at least as mankind think fit to live, and do not take refuge in the
simultaneous act of suicide recommended under certain conditions by
Novalis. When, however, it is thus positively asserted to be
impossible that human life should be happy, the assertion, if not
something like a verbal quibble, is at least an exaggeration. If by
happiness be meant a continuity of highly pleasurable excitement, it
is evident enough that this is impossible. A state of exalted pleasure
lasts only moments, or in some cases, and with some intermissions,
hours or days, and is the occasional brilliant flash of enjoyment, not
its permanent and steady flame. Of this the philosophers who have
taught that happiness is the end of life were as fully aware as
those who taunt them. The happiness which they meant was not a life of
rapture; but moments of such, in an existence made up of few and
transitory pains, many and various pleasures, with a decided
predominance of the active over the passive, and having as the
foundation of the whole, not to expect more from life than it is
capable of bestowing. A life thus composed, to those who have been
fortunate enough to obtain it, has always appeared worthy of the
name of happiness. And such an existence is even now the lot of
many, during some considerable portion of their lives. The present
wretched education, and wretched social arrangements, are the only
real hindrance to its being attainable by almost all.
  The objectors perhaps may doubt whether human beings, if taught to
consider happiness as the end of life, would be satisfied with such
a moderate share of it. But great numbers of mankind have been
satisfied with much less. The main constituents of a satisfied life
appear to be two, either of which by itself is often found
sufficient for the purpose: tranquillity, and excitement. With much
tranquillity, many find that they can be content with very little
pleasure: with much excitement, many can reconcile themselves to a
considerable quantity of pain. There is assuredly no inherent
impossibility in enabling even the mass of mankind to unite both;
since the two are so far from being incompatible that they are in
natural alliance, the prolongation of either being a preparation
for, and exciting a wish for, the other. It is only those in whom
indolence amounts to a vice, that do not desire excitement after an
interval of repose: it is only those in whom the need of excitement is
a disease, that feel the tranquillity which follows excitement dull
and insipid, instead of pleasurable in direct proportion to the
excitement which preceded it. When people who are tolerably
fortunate in their outward lot do not find in life sufficient
enjoyment to make it valuable to them, the cause generally is,
caring for nobody but themselves. To those who have neither public nor
private affections, the excitements of life are much curtailed, and in
any case dwindle in value as the time approaches when all selfish
interests must be terminated by death: while those who leave after
them objects of personal affection, and especially those who have also
cultivated a fellow-feeling with the collective interests of
mankind, retain as lively an interest in life on the eve of death as
in the vigour of youth and health. Next to selfishness, the
principal cause which makes life unsatisfactory is want of mental
cultivation. A cultivated mind- I do not mean that of a philosopher,
but any mind to which the fountains of knowledge have been opened, and
which has been taught, in any tolerable degree, to exercise its
faculties- finds sources of inexhaustible interest in all that
surrounds it; in the objects of nature, the achievements of art, the
imaginations of poetry, the incidents of history, the ways of mankind,
past and present, and their prospects in the future. It is possible,
indeed, to become indifferent to all this, and that too without having
exhausted a thousandth part of it; but only when one has had from
the beginning no moral or human interest in these things, and has
sought in them only the gratification of curiosity.
  Now there is absolutely no reason in the nature of things why an
amount of mental culture sufficient to give an intelligent interest in
these objects of contemplation, should not be the inheritance of every
one born in a civilised country. As little is there an inherent
necessity that any human being should be a selfish egotist, devoid
of every feeling or care but those which centre in his own miserable
individuality. Something far superior to this is sufficiently common
even now, to give ample earnest of what the human species may be made.
Genuine private affections and a sincere interest in the public
good, are possible, though in unequal degrees, to every rightly
brought up human being. In a world in which there is so much to
interest, so much to enjoy, and so much also to correct and improve,
every one who has this moderate amount of moral and intellectual
requisites is capable of an existence which may be called enviable;
and unless such a person, through bad laws, or subjection to the
will of others, is denied the liberty to use the sources of
happiness within his reach, he will not fail to find this enviable
existence, if he escape the positive evils of life, the great
sources of physical and mental suffering- such as indigence, disease,
and the unkindness, worthlessness, or premature loss of objects of
affection. The main stress of the problem lies, therefore, in the
contest with these calamities, from which it is a rare good fortune
entirely to escape; which, as things now are, cannot be obviated,
and often cannot be in any material degree mitigated. Yet no one whose
opinion deserves a moment's consideration can doubt that most of the
great positive evils of the world are in themselves removable, and
will, if human affairs continue to improve, be in the end reduced
within narrow limits. Poverty, in any sense implying suffering, may be
completely extinguished by the wisdom of society, combined with the
good sense and providence of individuals. Even that most intractable
of enemies, disease, may be indefinitely reduced in dimensions by good
physical and moral education, and proper control of noxious
influences; while the progress of science holds out a promise for
the future of still more direct conquests over this detestable foe.
And every advance in that direction relieves us from some, not only of
the chances which cut short our own lives, but, what concerns us still
more, which deprive us of those in whom our happiness is wrapt up.
As for vicissitudes of fortune, and other disappointments connected
with worldly circumstances, these are principally the effect either of
gross imprudence, of ill-regulated desires, or of bad or imperfect
social institutions.
  All the grand sources, in short, of human suffering are in a great
degree, many of them almost entirely, conquerable by human care and
effort; and though their removal is grievously slow- though a long
succession of generations will perish in the breach before the
conquest is completed, and this world becomes all that, if will and
knowledge were not wanting, it might easily be made- yet every mind
sufficiently intelligent and generous to bear a part, however small
and unconspicuous, in the endeavour, will draw a noble enjoyment
from the contest itself, which he would not for any bribe in the
form of selfish indulgence consent to be without.
  And this leads to the true estimation of what is said by the
objectors concerning the possibility, and the obligation, of
learning to do without happiness. Unquestionably it is possible to
do without happiness; it is done involuntarily by
nineteen-twentieths of mankind, even in those parts of our present
world which are least deep in barbarism; and it often has to be done
voluntarily by the hero or the martyr, for the sake of something which
he prizes more than his individual happiness. But this something, what
is it, unless the happiness of others or some of the requisites of
happiness? It is noble to be capable of resigning entirely one's own
portion of happiness, or chances of it: but, after all, this
self-sacrifice must be for some end; it is not its own end; and if
we are told that its end is not happiness, but virtue, which is better
than happiness, I ask, would the sacrifice be made if the hero or
martyr did not believe that it would earn for others immunity from
similar sacrifices? Would it be made if he thought that his
renunciation of happiness for himself would produce no fruit for any
of his fellow creatures, but to make their lot like his, and place
them also in the condition of persons who have renounced happiness?
All honour to those who can abnegate for themselves the personal
enjoyment of life, when by such renunciation they contribute
worthily to increase the amount of happiness in the world; but he
who does it, or professes to do it, for any other purpose, is no
more deserving of admiration than the ascetic mounted on his pillar.
He may be an inspiriting proof of what men can do, but assuredly not
an example of what they should.
  Though it is only in a very imperfect state of the world's
arrangements that any one can best serve the happiness of others by
the absolute sacrifice of his own, yet so long as the world is in that
imperfect state, I fully acknowledge that the readiness to make such a
sacrifice is the highest virtue which can be found in man. I will add,
that in this condition the world, paradoxical as the assertion may be,
the conscious ability to do without happiness gives the best
prospect of realising, such happiness as is attainable. For nothing
except that consciousness can raise a person above the chances of
life, by making him feel that, let fate and fortune do their worst,
they have not power to subdue him: which, once felt, frees him from
excess of anxiety concerning the evils of life, and enables him,
like many a Stoic in the worst times of the Roman Empire, to cultivate
in tranquillity the sources of satisfaction accessible to him, without
concerning himself about the uncertainty of their duration, any more
than about their inevitable end.
  Meanwhile, let utilitarians never cease to claim the morality of
self devotion as a possession which belongs by as good a right to
them, as either to the Stoic or to the Transcendentalist. The
utilitarian morality does recognise in human beings the power of
sacrificing their own greatest good for the good of others. It only
refuses to admit that the sacrifice is itself a good. A sacrifice
which does not increase, or tend to increase, the sum total of
happiness, it considers as wasted. The only self-renunciation which it
applauds, is devotion to the happiness, or to some of the means of
happiness, of others; either of mankind collectively, or of
individuals within the limits imposed by the collective interests of
  I must again repeat, what the assailants of utilitarianism seldom
have the justice to acknowledge, that the happiness which forms the
utilitarian standard of what is right in conduct, is not the agent's
own happiness, but that of all concerned. As between his own happiness
and that of others, utilitarianism requires him to be as strictly
impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator. In the golden
rule of Jesus of Nazareth, we read the complete spirit of the ethics
of utility. To do as you would be done by, and to love your
neighbour as yourself, constitute the ideal perfection of
utilitarian morality. As the means of making the nearest approach to
this ideal, utility would enjoin, first, that laws and social
arrangements should place the happiness, or (as speaking practically
it may be called) the interest, of every individual, as nearly as
possible in harmony with the interest of the whole; and secondly, that
education and opinion, which have so vast a power over human
character, should so use that power as to establish in the mind of
every individual an indissoluble association between his own happiness
and the good of the whole; especially between his own happiness and
the practice of such modes of conduct, negative and positive, as
regard for the universal happiness prescribes; so that not only he may
be unable to conceive the possibility of happiness to himself,
consistently with conduct opposed to the general good, but also that a
direct impulse to promote the general good may be in every
individual one of the habitual motives of action, and the sentiments
connected therewith may fill a large and prominent place in every
human being's sentient existence. If the, impugners of the utilitarian
morality represented it to their own minds in this its, true
character, I know not what recommendation possessed by any other
morality they could possibly affirm to be wanting to it; what more
beautiful or more exalted developments of human nature any other
ethical system can be supposed to foster, or what springs of action,
not accessible to the utilitarian, such systems rely on for giving
effect to their mandates.
  The objectors to utilitarianism cannot always be charged with
representing it in a discreditable light. On the contrary, those among
them who entertain anything like a just idea of its disinterested
character, sometimes find fault with its standard as being too high
for humanity. They say it is exacting too much to require that
people shall always act from the inducement of promoting the general
interests of society. But this is to mistake the very meaning of a
standard of morals, and confound the rule of action with the motive of
it. It is the business of ethics to tell us what are our duties, or by
what test we may know them; but no system of ethics requires that
the sole motive of all we do shall be a feeling of duty; on the
contrary, ninety-nine hundredths of all our actions are done from
other motives, and rightly so done, if the rule of duty does not
condemn them. It is the more unjust to utilitarianism that this
particular misapprehension should be made a ground of objection to it,
inasmuch as utilitarian moralists have gone beyond almost all others
in affirming that the motive has nothing to do with the morality of
the action, though much with the worth of the agent. He who saves a
fellow creature from drowning does what is morally right, whether
his motive be duty, or the hope of being paid for his trouble; he
who betrays the friend that trusts him, is guilty of a crime, even
if his object be to serve another friend to whom he is under greater
  But to speak only of actions done from the motive of duty, and in
direct obedience to principle: it is a misapprehension of the
utilitarian mode of thought, to conceive it as implying that people
should fix their minds upon so wide a generality as the world, or
society at large. The great majority of good actions are intended
not for the benefit of the world, but for that of individuals, of
which the good of the world is made up; and the thoughts of the most
virtuous man need not on these occasions travel beyond the
particular persons concerned, except so far as is necessary to
assure himself that in benefiting them he is not violating the rights,
that is, the legitimate and authorised expectations, of any one
else. The multiplication of happiness is, according to the utilitarian
ethics, the object of virtue: the occasions on which any person
(except one in a thousand) has it in his power to do this on an
extended scale, in other words to be a public benefactor, are but
exceptional; and on these occasions alone is he called on to
consider public utility; in every other case, private utility, the
interest or happiness of some few persons, is all he has to attend to.
Those alone the influence of whose actions extends to society in
general, need concern themselves habitually about large an object.
In the case of abstinences indeed- of things which people forbear to
do from moral considerations, though the consequences in the
particular case might be beneficial- it would be unworthy of an
intelligent agent not to be consciously aware that the action is of a
class which, if practised generally, would be generally injurious, and
that this is the ground of the obligation to abstain from it. The
amount of regard for the public interest implied in this recognition,
is no greater than is demanded by every system of morals, for they all
enjoin to abstain from whatever is manifestly pernicious to society.
  The same considerations dispose of another reproach against the
doctrine of utility, founded on a still grosser misconception of the
purpose of a standard of morality, and of the very meaning of the
words right and wrong. It is often affirmed that utilitarianism
renders men cold and unsympathising; that it chills their moral
feelings towards individuals; that it makes them regard only the dry
and hard consideration of the consequences of actions, not taking into
their moral estimate the qualities from which those actions emanate.
If the assertion means that they do not allow their judgment
respecting the rightness or wrongness of an action to be influenced by
their opinion of the qualities of the person who does it, this is a
complaint not against utilitarianism, but against having any
standard of morality at all; for certainly no known ethical standard
decides an action to be good or bad because it is done by a good or
a bad man, still less because done by an amiable, a brave, or a
benevolent man, or the contrary. These considerations are relevant,
not to the estimation of actions, but of persons; and there is nothing
in the utilitarian theory inconsistent with the fact that there are
other things which interest us in persons besides the rightness and
wrongness of their actions. The Stoics, indeed, with the paradoxical
misuse of language which was part of their system, and by which they
strove to raise themselves above all concern about anything but
virtue, were fond of saying that he who has that has everything;
that he, and only he, is rich, is beautiful, is a king. But no claim
of this description is made for the virtuous man by the utilitarian
doctrine. Utilitarians are quite aware that there are other
desirable possessions and qualities besides virtue, and are
perfectly willing to allow to all of them their full worth. They are
also aware that a right action does not necessarily indicate a
virtuous character, and that actions which are blamable, often proceed
from qualities entitled to praise. When this is apparent in any
particular case, it modifies their estimation, not certainly of the
act, but of the agent. I grant that they are, notwithstanding, of
opinion, that in the long run the best proof of a good character is
good actions; and resolutely refuse to consider any mental disposition
as good, of which the predominant tendency is to produce bad
conduct. This makes them unpopular with many people; but it is an
unpopularity which they must share with every one who regards the
distinction between right and wrong in a serious light; and the
reproach is not one which a conscientious utilitarian need be
anxious to repel.
  If no more be meant by the objection than that many utilitarians
look on the morality of actions, as measured by the utilitarian
standard, with too exclusive a regard, and do not lay sufficient
stress upon the other beauties of character which go towards making
a human being lovable or admirable, this may be admitted. Utilitarians
who have cultivated their moral feelings, but not their sympathies nor
their artistic perceptions, do fall into this mistake; and so do all
other moralists under the same conditions. What can be said in
excuse for other moralists is equally available for them, namely,
that, if there is to be any error, it is better that it should be on
that side. As a matter of fact, we may affirm that among
utilitarians as among adherents of other systems, there is every
imaginable degree of rigidity and of laxity in the application of
their standard: some are even puritanically rigorous, while others are
as indulgent as can possibly be desired by sinner or by
sentimentalist. But on the whole, a doctrine which brings
prominently forward the interest that mankind have in the repression
and prevention of conduct which violates the moral law, is likely to
be inferior to no other in turning the sanctions of opinion again such
violations. It is true, the question, What does violate the moral law?
is one on which those who recognise different standards of morality
are likely now and then to differ. But difference of opinion on
moral questions was not first introduced into the world by
utilitarianism, while that doctrine does supply, if not always an
easy, at all events a tangible and intelligible mode of deciding
such differences.

  It may not be superfluous to notice a few more of the common
misapprehensions of utilitarian ethics, even those which are so
obvious and gross that it might appear impossible for any person of
candour and intelligence to fall into them; since persons, even of
considerable mental endowments, often give themselves so little
trouble to understand the bearings of any opinion against which they
entertain a prejudice, and men are in general so little conscious of
this voluntary ignorance as a defect, that the vulgarest
misunderstandings of ethical doctrines are continually met with in the
deliberate writings of persons of the greatest pretensions both to
high principle and to philosophy. We not uncommonly hear the
doctrine of utility inveighed against as a godless doctrine. If it
be necessary to say anything at all against so mere an assumption,
we may say that the question depends upon what idea we have formed
of the moral character of the Deity. If it be a true belief that God
desires, above all things, the happiness of his creatures, and that
this was his purpose in their creation, utility is not only not a
godless doctrine, but more profoundly religious than any other. If
it be meant that utilitarianism does not recognise the revealed will
of God as the supreme law of morals, I answer, that a utilitarian
who believes in the perfect goodness and wisdom of God, necessarily
believes that whatever God has thought fit to reveal on the subject of
morals, must fulfil the requirements of utility in a supreme degree.
But others besides utilitarians have been of opinion that the
Christian revelation was intended, and is fitted, to inform the hearts
and minds of mankind with a spirit which should enable them to find
for themselves what is right, and incline them to do it when found,
rather than to tell them, except in a very general way, what it is;
and that we need a doctrine of ethics, carefully followed out, to
interpret to us the will God. Whether this opinion is correct or
not, it is superfluous here to discuss; since whatever aid religion,
either natural or revealed, can afford to ethical investigation, is as
open to the utilitarian moralist as to any other. He can use it as the
testimony of God to the usefulness or hurtfulness of any given
course of action, by as good a right as others can use it for the
indication of a transcendental law, having no connection with
usefulness or with happiness.
  Again, Utility is often summarily stigmatised as an immoral doctrine
by giving it the name of Expediency, and taking advantage of the
popular use of that term to contrast it with Principle. But the
Expedient, in the sense in which it is opposed to the Right, generally
means that which is expedient for the particular interest of the agent
himself; as when a minister sacrifices the interests of his country to
keep himself in place. When it means anything better than this, it
means that which is expedient for some immediate object, some
temporary purpose, but which violates a rule whose observance is
expedient in a much higher degree. The Expedient, in this sense,
instead of being the same thing with the useful, is a branch of the
hurtful. Thus, it would often be expedient, for the purpose of getting
over some momentary embarrassment, or attaining some object
immediately useful to ourselves or others, to tell a lie. But inasmuch
as the cultivation in ourselves of a sensitive feeling on the
subject of veracity, is one of the most useful, and the enfeeblement
of that feeling one of the most hurtful, things to which our conduct
can be instrumental; and inasmuch as any, even unintentional,
deviation from truth, does that much towards weakening the
trustworthiness of human assertion, which is not only the principal
support of all present social well-being, but the insufficiency of
which does more than any one thing that can be named to keep back
civilisation, virtue, everything on which human happiness on the
largest scale depends; we feel that the violation, for a present
advantage, of a rule of such transcendant expediency, is not
expedient, and that he who, for the sake of a convenience to himself
or to some other individual, does what depends on him to deprive
mankind of the good, and inflict upon them the evil, involved in the
greater or less reliance which they can place in each other's word,
acts the part of one of their worst enemies. Yet that even this
rule, sacred as it is, admits of possible exceptions, is
acknowledged by all moralists; the chief of which is when the
withholding of some fact (as of information from a malefactor, or of
bad news from a person dangerously ill) would save an individual
(especially an individual other than oneself) from great and unmerited
evil, and when the withholding can only be effected by denial. But
in order that the exception may not extend itself beyond the need, and
may have the least possible effect in weakening reliance on
veracity, it ought to be recognised, and, if possible, its limits
defined; and if the principle of utility is good for anything, it must
be good for weighing these conflicting utilities against one
another, and marking out the region within which one or the other
  Again, defenders of utility often find themselves called upon to
reply to such objections as this- that there is not time, previous to
action, for calculating and weighing the effects of any line of
conduct on the general happiness. This is exactly as if any one were
to say that it is impossible to guide our conduct by Christianity,
because there is not time, on every occasion on which anything has
to be done, to read through the Old and New Testaments. The answer
to the objection is, that there has been ample time, namely, the whole
past duration of the human species. During all that time, mankind have
been learning by experience the tendencies of actions; on which
experience all the prudence, as well as all the morality of life,
are dependent. People talk as if the commencement of this course of
experience had hitherto been put off, and as if, at the moment when
some man feels tempted to meddle with the property or life of another,
he had to begin considering for the first time whether murder and
theft are injurious to human happiness. Even then I do not think
that he would find the question very puzzling; but, at all events, the
matter is now done to his hand.
  It is truly a whimsical supposition that, if mankind were agreed
in considering utility to be the test of morality, they would remain
without any agreement as to what is useful, and would take no measures
for having their notions on the subject taught to the young, and
enforced by law and opinion. There is no difficulty in proving any
ethical standard whatever to work ill, if we suppose universal
idiocy to be conjoined with it; but on any hypothesis short of that,
mankind must by this time have acquired positive beliefs as to the
effects of some actions on their happiness; and the beliefs which have
thus come down are the rules of morality for the multitude, and for
the philosopher until he has succeeded in finding better. That
philosophers might easily do this, even now, on many subjects; that
the received code of ethics is by no means of divine right; and that
mankind have still much to learn as to the effects of actions on the
general happiness, I admit, or rather, earnestly maintain. The
corollaries from the principle of utility, like the precepts of
every practical art, admit of indefinite improvement, and, in a
progressive state of the human mind, their improvement is
perpetually going on.
  But to consider the rules of morality as improvable, is one thing;
to pass over the intermediate generalisations entirely, and
endeavour to test each individual action directly by the first
principle, is another. It is a strange notion that the
acknowledgment of a first principle is inconsistent with the admission
of secondary ones. To inform a traveller respecting the place of
his. ultimate destination, is not to forbid the use of landmarks and
direction-posts on the way. The proposition that happiness is the
end and aim of morality, does not mean that no road ought to be laid
down to that goal, or that persons going thither should not be advised
to take one direction rather than another. Men really ought to leave
off talking a kind of nonsense on this subject, which they would
neither talk nor listen to on other matters of practical
concernment. Nobody argues that the art of navigation is not founded
on astronomy, because sailors cannot wait to calculate the Nautical
Almanack. Being rational creatures, they go to sea with it ready
calculated; and all rational creatures go out upon the sea of life
with their minds made up on the common questions of right and wrong,
as well as on many of the far more difficult questions of wise and
foolish. And this, as long as foresight is a human quality, it is to
be presumed they will continue to do. Whatever we adopt as the
fundamental principle of morality, we require subordinate principles
to apply it by; the impossibility of doing without them, being
common to all systems, can afford no argument against any one in
particular; but gravely to argue as if no such secondary principles
could be had, and as if mankind had remained till now, and always must
remain, without drawing any general conclusions from the experience of
human life, is as high a pitch, I think, as absurdity has ever reached
in philosophical controversy.
  The remainder of the stock arguments against utilitarianism mostly
consist in laying to its charge the common infirmities of human
nature, and the general difficulties which embarrass conscientious
persons in shaping their course through life. We are told that a
utilitarian will be apt to make his own particular case an exception
to moral rules, and, when under temptation, will see a utility in
the breach of a rule, greater than he will see in its observance.
But is utility the only creed which is able to furnish us with excuses
for evil doing, and means of cheating our own conscience? They are
afforded in abundance by all doctrines which recognise as a fact in
morals the existence of conflicting considerations; which all
doctrines do, that have been believed by sane persons. It is not the
fault of any creed, but of the complicated nature of human affairs,
that rules of conduct cannot be so framed as to require no exceptions,
and that hardly any kind of action can safely be laid down as either
always obligatory or always condemnable. There is no ethical creed
which does not temper the rigidity of its laws, by giving a certain
latitude, under the moral responsibility of the agent, for
accommodation to peculiarities of circumstances; and under every
creed, at the opening thus made, self-deception and dishonest
casuistry get in. There exists no moral system under which there do
not arise unequivocal cases of conflicting obligation. These are the
real difficulties, the knotty points both in the theory of ethics, and
in the conscientious guidance of personal conduct. They are overcome
practically, with greater or with less success, according to the
intellect and virtue of the individual; but it can hardly be pretended
that any one will be the less qualified for dealing with them, from
possessing an ultimate standard to which conflicting rights and duties
can be referred. If utility is the ultimate source of moral
obligations, utility may be invoked to decide between them when
their demands are incompatible. Though the application of the standard
may be difficult, it is better than none at all: while in other
systems, the moral laws all claiming independent authority, there is
no common umpire entitled to interfere between them; their claims to
precedence one over another rest on little better than sophistry,
and unless determined, as they generally are, by the unacknowledged
influence of considerations of utility, afford a free scope for the
action of personal desires and partialities. We must remember that
only in these cases of conflict between secondary principles is it
requisite that first principles should be appealed to. There is no
case of moral obligation in which some secondary principle is not
involved; and if only one, there can seldom be any real doubt which
one it is, in the mind of any person by whom the principle itself is
                            Chapter 3
        Of the Ultimate Sanction of the Principle of Utility.

  THE QUESTION is often asked, and properly so, in regard to any
supposed moral standard- What is its sanction? what are the motives
to obey it? or more specifically, what is the source of its
obligation? whence does it derive its binding force? It is a necessary
part of moral philosophy to provide the answer to this question;
which, though frequently assuming the shape of an objection to the
utilitarian morality, as if it had some special applicability to
that above others, really arises in regard to all standards. It
arises, in fact, whenever a person is called on to adopt a standard,
or refer morality to any basis on which he has not been accustomed
to rest it. For the customary morality, that which education and
opinion have consecrated, is the only one which presents itself to the
mind with the feeling of being in itself obligatory; and when a person
is asked to believe that this morality derives its obligation from
some general principle round which custom has not thrown the same
halo, the assertion is to him a paradox; the supposed corollaries seem
to have a more binding force than the original theorem; the
superstructure seems to stand better without, than with, what is
represented as its foundation. He says to himself, I feel that I am
bound not to rob or murder, betray or deceive; but why am I bound to
promote the general happiness? If my own happiness lies in something
else, why may I not give that the preference?
  If the view adopted by the utilitarian philosophy of the nature of
the moral sense be correct, this difficulty will always present
itself, until the influences which form moral character have taken the
same hold of the principle which they have taken of some of the
consequences- until, by the improvement of education, the feeling of
unity with our fellow-creatures shall be (what it cannot be denied
that Christ intended it to be) as deeply rooted in our character,
and to our own consciousness as completely a part of our nature, as
the horror of crime is in an ordinarily well brought up young
person. In the meantime, however, the difficulty has no peculiar
application to the doctrine of utility, but is inherent in every
attempt to analyse morality and reduce it to principles; which, unless
the principle is already in men's minds invested with as much
sacredness as any of its applications, always seems to divest them
of a part of their sanctity.
  The principle of utility either has, or there is no reason why it
might not have, all the sanctions which belong to any other system
of morals. Those sanctions are either external or internal. Of the
external sanctions it is not necessary to speak at any length. They
are, the hope of favour and the fear of displeasure, from our fellow
creatures or from the Ruler of the Universe, along with whatever we
may have of sympathy or affection for them, or of love and awe of Him,
inclining us to do his will independently of selfish consequences.
There is evidently no reason why all these motives for observance
should not attach themselves to the utilitarian morality, as
completely and as powerfully as to any other. Indeed, those of them
which refer to our fellow creatures are sure to do so, in proportion
to the amount of general intelligence; for whether there be any
other ground of moral obligation than the general happiness or not,
men do desire happiness; and however imperfect may be their own
practice, they desire and commend all conduct in others towards
themselves, by which they think their happiness is promoted. With
regard to the religious motive, if men believe, as most profess to do,
in the goodness of God, those who think that conduciveness to the
general happiness is the essence, or even only the criterion of
good, must necessarily believe that it is also that which God
approves. The whole force therefore of external reward and punishment,
whether physical or moral, and whether proceeding from God or from our
fellow men, together with all that the capacities of human nature
admit of disinterested devotion to either, become available to enforce
the utilitarian morality, in proportion as that morality is
recognised; and the more powerfully, the more the appliances of
education and general cultivation are bent to the purpose.
  So far as to external sanctions. The internal sanction of duty,
whatever our standard of duty may be, is one and the same- a feeling
in our own mind; a pain, more or less intense, attendant on violation
of duty, which in properly cultivated moral natures rises, in the more
serious cases, into shrinking from it as an impossibility. This
feeling, when disinterested, and connecting itself with the pure
idea of duty, and not with some particular form of it, or with any
of the merely accessory circumstances, is the essence of Conscience;
though in that complex phenomenon as it actually exists, the simple
fact is in general all encrusted over with collateral associations,
derived from sympathy, from love, and still more from fear; from all
the forms of religious feeling; from the recollections of childhood
and of all our past life; from self-esteem, desire of the esteem of
others, and occasionally even self-abasement. This extreme
complication is, I apprehend, the origin of the sort of mystical
character which, by a tendency of the human mind of which there are
many other examples, is apt to be attributed to the idea of moral
obligation, and which leads people to believe that the idea cannot
possibly attach itself to any other objects than those which, by a
supposed mysterious law, are found in our present experience to excite
it. Its binding force, however, consists in the existence of a mass of
feeling which must be broken through in order to do what violates
our standard of right, and which, if we do nevertheless violate that
standard, will probably have to be encountered afterwards in the
form of remorse. Whatever theory we have of the nature or origin of
conscience, this is what essentially constitutes it.
  The ultimate sanction, therefore, of all morality (external
motives apart) being a subjective feeling in our own minds, I see
nothing embarrassing to those whose standard is utility, in the
question, what is the sanction of that particular standard? We may
answer, the same as of all other moral standards- the conscientious
feelings of mankind. Undoubtedly this sanction has no binding efficacy
on those who do not possess the feelings it appeals to; but neither
will these persons be more obedient to any other moral principle
than to the utilitarian one. On them morality of any kind has no
hold but through the external sanctions. Meanwhile the feelings exist,
a fact in human nature, the reality of which, and the great power with
which they are capable of acting on those in whom they have been
duly cultivated, are proved by experience. No reason has ever been
shown why they may not be cultivated to as great intensity in
connection with the utilitarian, as with any other rule of morals.
  There is, I am aware, a disposition to believe that a person who
sees in moral obligation a transcendental fact, an objective reality
belonging to the province of "Things in themselves," is likely to be
more obedient to it than one who believes it to be entirely
subjective, having its seat in human consciousness only. But
whatever a person's opinion may be on this point of Ontology, the
force he is really urged by is his own subjective feeling, and is
exactly measured by its strength. No one's belief that duty is an
objective reality is stronger than the belief that God is so; yet
the belief in God, apart from the expectation of actual reward and
punishment, only operates on conduct through, and in proportion to,
the subjective religious feeling. The sanction, so far as it is
disinterested, is always in the mind itself; and the notion
therefore of the transcendental moralists must be, that this
sanction will not exist in the mind unless it is believed to have
its root out of the mind; and that if a person is able to say to
himself, This which is restraining me, and which is called my
conscience, is only a feeling in my own mind, he may possibly draw the
conclusion that when the feeling ceases the obligation ceases, and
that if he find the feeling inconvenient, he may disregard it, and
endeavour to get rid of it. But is this danger confined to the
utilitarian morality? Does the belief that moral obligation has its
seat outside the mind make the feeling of it too strong to be got
rid of? The fact is so far otherwise, that all moralists admit and
lament the ease with which, in the generality of minds, conscience can
be silenced or stifled. The question, Need I obey my conscience? is
quite as often put to themselves by persons who never heard of the
principle of utility, as by its adherents. Those whose conscientious
feelings are so weak as to allow of their asking this question, if
they answer it affirmatively, will not do so because they believe in
the transcendental theory, but because of the external sanctions.
  It is not necessary, for the present purpose, to decide whether
the feeling of duty is innate or implanted. Assuming it to be
innate, it is an open question to what objects it naturally attaches
itself; for the philosophic supporters of that theory are now agreed
that the intuitive perception is of principles of morality and not
of the details. If there be anything innate in the matter, I see no
reason why the feeling which is innate should not be that of regard to
the pleasures and pains of others. If there is any principle of morals
which is intuitively obligatory, I should say it must be that. If
so, the intuitive ethics would coincide with the utilitarian, and
there would be no further quarrel between them. Even as it is, the
intuitive moralists, though they believe that there are other
intuitive moral obligations, do already believe this to one; for
they unanimously hold that a large portion of morality turns upon
the consideration due to the interests of our fellow-creatures.
Therefore, if the belief in the transcendental origin of moral
obligation gives any additional efficacy to the internal sanction,
it appears to me that the utilitarian principle has already the
benefit of it.
  On the other hand, if, as is my own belief, the moral feelings are
not innate, but acquired, they are not for that reason the less
natural. It is natural to man to speak, to reason, to build cities, to
cultivate the ground, though these are acquired faculties. The moral
feelings are not indeed a part of our nature, in the sense of being in
any perceptible degree present in all of us; but this, unhappily, is a
fact admitted by those who believe the most strenuously in their
transcendental origin. Like the other acquired capacities above
referred to, the moral faculty, if not a part of our nature, is a
natural outgrowth from it; capable, like them, in a certain small
degree, of springing up spontaneously; and susceptible of being
brought by cultivation to a high degree of development. Unhappily it
is also susceptible, by a sufficient use of the external sanctions and
of the force of early impressions, of being cultivated in almost any
direction: so that there is hardly anything so absurd or so
mischievous that it may not, by means of these influences, be made
to act on the human mind with all the authority of conscience. To
doubt that the same potency might be given by the same means to the
principle of utility, even if it had no foundation in human nature,
would be flying in the face of all experience.
  But moral associations which are wholly of artificial creation, when
intellectual culture goes on, yield by degrees to the dissolving force
of analysis: and if the feeling of duty, when associated with utility,
would appear equally arbitrary; if there were no leading department of
our nature, no powerful class of sentiments, with which that
association would harmonise, which would make us feel it congenial,
and incline us not only to foster it in others (for which we have
abundant interested motives), but also to cherish it in ourselves;
if there were not, in short, a natural basis of sentiment for
utilitarian morality, it might well happen that this association also,
even after it had been implanted by education, might be analysed away.
  But there is this basis of powerful natural sentiment; and this it
is which, when once the general happiness is recognised as the ethical
standard, will constitute the strength of the utilitarian morality.
This firm foundation is that of the social feelings of mankind; the
desire to be in unity with our fellow creatures, which is already a
powerful principle in human nature, and happily one of those which
tend to become stronger, even without express inculcation, from the
influences of advancing civilisation. The social state is at once so
natural, so necessary, and so habitual to man, that, except in some
unusual circumstances or by an effort of voluntary abstraction, he
never conceives himself otherwise than as a member of a body; and this
association is riveted more and more, as mankind are further removed
from the state of savage independence. Any condition, therefore, which
is essential to a state of society, becomes more and more an
inseparable part of every person's conception of the state of things
which he is born into, and which is the destiny of a human being.
  Now, society between human beings, except in the relation of
master and slave, is manifestly impossible on any other footing than
that the interests of all are to be consulted. Society between
equals can only exist on the understanding that the interests of all
are to be regarded equally. And since in all states of civilisation,
every person, except an absolute monarch, has equals, every one is
obliged to live on these terms with somebody; and in every age some
advance is made towards a state in which it will be impossible to live
permanently on other terms with anybody. In this way people grow up
unable to conceive as possible to them a state of total disregard of
other people's interests. They are under a necessity of conceiving
themselves as at least abstaining from all the grosser injuries, and
(if only for their own protection) living in a state of constant
protest against them. They are also familiar with the fact of
co-operating with others and proposing to themselves a collective, not
an individual interest as the aim (at least for the time being) of
their actions. So long as they are co-operating, their ends are
identified with those of others; there is at least a temporary feeling
that the interests of others are their own interests. Not only does
all strengthening of social ties, and all healthy growth of society,
give to each individual a stronger personal interest in practically
consulting the welfare of others; it also leads him to identify his
feelings more and more with their good, or at least with an even
greater degree of practical consideration for it. He comes, as
though instinctively, to be conscious of himself as a being who of
course pays regard to others. The good of others becomes to him a
thing naturally and necessarily to be attended to, like any of the
physical conditions of our existence. Now, whatever amount of this
feeling a person has, he is urged by the strongest motives both of
interest and of sympathy to demonstrate it, and to the utmost of his
power encourage it in others; and even if he has none of it himself,
he is as greatly interested as any one else that others should have
it. Consequently the smallest germs of the feeling are laid hold of
and nourished by the contagion of sympathy and the influences of
education; and a complete web of corroborative association is woven
round it, by the powerful agency of the external sanctions.
  This mode of conceiving ourselves and human life, as civilisation
goes on, is felt to be more and more natural. Every step in
political improvement renders it more so, by removing the sources of
opposition of interest, and levelling those inequalities of legal
privilege between individuals or classes, owing to which there are
large portions of mankind whose happiness it is still practicable to
disregard. In an improving state of the human mind, the influences are
constantly on the increase, which tend to generate in each
individual a feeling of unity with all the rest; which, if perfect,
would make him never think of, or desire, any beneficial condition for
himself, in the benefits of which they are not included. If we now
suppose this feeling of unity to be taught as a religion, and the
whole force of education, of institutions, and of opinion, directed,
as it once was in the case of religion, to make every person grow up
from infancy surrounded on all sides both by the profession and the
practice of it, I think that no one, who can realise this
conception, will feel any misgiving about the sufficiency of the
ultimate sanction for the Happiness morality. To any ethical student
who finds the realisation difficult, I recommend, as a means of
facilitating it, the second of M. Comte's two principle works, the
Traite de Politique Positive. I entertain the strongest objections
to the system of politics and morals set forth in that treatise; but I
think it has superabundantly shown the possibility of giving to the
service of humanity, even without the aid of belief in a Providence,
both the psychological power and the social efficacy of a religion;
making it take hold of human life, and colour all thought, feeling,
and action, in a manner of which the greatest ascendancy ever
exercised by any religion may be but a type and foretaste; and of
which the danger is, not that it should be insufficient but that it
should be so excessive as to interfere unduly with human freedom and
  Neither is it necessary to the feeling which constitutes the binding
force of the utilitarian morality on those who recognise it, to wait
for those social influences which would make its obligation felt by
mankind at large. In the comparatively early state of human
advancement in which we now live, a person cannot indeed feel that
entireness of sympathy with all others, which would make any real
discordance in the general direction of their conduct in life
impossible; but already a person in whom the social feeling is at
all developed, cannot bring himself to think of the rest of his fellow
creatures as struggling rivals with him for the means of happiness,
whom he must desire to see defeated in their object in order that he
may succeed in his. The deeply rooted conception which every
individual even now has of himself as a social being, tends to make
him feel it one of his natural wants that there should be harmony
between his feelings and aims and those of his fellow creatures. If
differences of opinion and of mental culture make it impossible for
him to share many of their actual feelings- perhaps make him denounce
and defy those feelings- he still needs to be conscious that his real
aim and theirs do not conflict; that he is not opposing himself to
what they really wish for, namely their own good, but is, on the
contrary, promoting it. This feeling in most individuals is much
inferior in strength to their selfish feelings, and is often wanting
altogether. But to those who have it, it possesses all the
characters of a natural feeling. It does not present itself to their
minds as a superstition of education, or a law despotically imposed by
the power of society, but as an attribute which it would not be well
for them to be without. This conviction is the ultimate sanction of
the greatest happiness morality. This it is which makes any mind, of
well-developed feelings, work with, and not against, the outward
motives to care for others, afforded by what I have called the
external sanctions; and when those sanctions are wanting, or act in an
opposite direction, constitutes in itself a powerful internal
binding force, in proportion to the sensitiveness and thoughtfulness
of the character; since few but those whose mind is a moral blank,
could bear to lay out their course of life on the plan of paying no
regard to others except so far as their own private interest compels.
                               Chapter 4
      Of what sort of Proof the Principle of Utility is Susceptible.

  IT HAS already been remarked, that questions of ultimate ends do not
admit of proof, in the ordinary acceptation of the term. To be
incapable of proof by reasoning is common to all first principles;
to the first premises of our knowledge, as well as to those of our
conduct. But the former, being matters of fact, may be the subject
of a direct appeal to the faculties which judge of fact- namely, our
senses, and our internal consciousness. Can an appeal be made to the
same faculties on questions of practical ends? Or by what other
faculty is cognisance taken of them?
  Questions about ends are, in other words, questions what things
are desirable. The utilitarian doctrine is, that happiness is
desirable, and the only thing desirable, as an end; all other things
being only desirable as means to that end. What ought to be required
of this doctrine- what conditions is it requisite that the doctrine
should fulfil- to make good its claim to be believed?
  The only proof capable of being given that an object is visible,
is that people actually see it. The only proof that a sound is
audible, is that people hear it: and so of the other sources of our
experience. In like manner, I apprehend, the sole evidence it is
possible to produce that anything is desirable, is that people do
actually desire it. If the end which the utilitarian doctrine proposes
to itself were not, in theory and in practice, acknowledged to be an
end, nothing could ever convince any person that it was so. No
reason can be given why the general happiness is desirable, except
that each person, so far as he believes it to be attainable, desires
his own happiness. This, however, being a fact, we have not only all
the proof which the case admits of, but all which it is possible to
require, that happiness is a good: that each person's happiness is a
good to that person, and the general happiness, therefore, a good to
the aggregate of all persons. Happiness has made out its title as
one of the ends of conduct, and consequently one of the criteria of
  But it has not, by this alone, proved itself to be the sole
criterion. To do that, it would seem, by the same rule, necessary to
show, not only that people desire happiness, but that they never
desire anything else. Now it is palpable that they do desire things
which, in common language, are decidedly distinguished from happiness.
They desire, for example, virtue, and the absence of vice, no less
really than pleasure and the absence of pain. The desire of virtue
is not as universal, but it is as authentic a fact, as the desire of
happiness. And hence the opponents of the utilitarian standard deem
that they have a right to infer that there are other ends of human
action besides happiness, and that happiness is not the standard of
approbation and disapprobation.
  But does the utilitarian doctrine deny that people desire virtue, or
maintain that virtue is not a thing to be desired? The very reverse.
It maintains not only that virtue is to be desired, but that it is
to be desired disinterestedly, for itself. Whatever may be the opinion
of utilitarian moralists as to the original conditions by which virtue
is made virtue; however they may believe (as they do) that actions and
dispositions are only virtuous because they promote another end than
virtue; yet this being granted, and it having been decided, from
considerations of this description, what is virtuous, they not only
place virtue at the very head of the things which are good as means to
the ultimate end, but they also recognise as a psychological fact
the possibility of its being, to the individual, a good in itself,
without looking to any end beyond it; and hold, that the mind is not
in a right state, not in a state conformable to Utility, not in the
state most conducive to the general happiness, unless it does love
virtue in this manner- as a thing desirable in itself, even although,
in the individual instance, it should not produce those other
desirable consequences which it tends to produce, and on account of
which it is held to be virtue. This opinion is not, in the smallest
degree, a departure from the Happiness principle. The ingredients of
happiness are very various, and each of them is desirable in itself,
and not merely when considered as swelling an aggregate. The principle
of utility does not mean that any given pleasure, as music, for
instance, or any given exemption from pain, as for example health,
is to be looked upon as means to a collective something termed
happiness, and to be desired on that account. They are desired and
desirable in and for themselves; besides being means, they are a
part of the end. Virtue, according to the utilitarian doctrine, is not
naturally and originally part of the end, but it is capable of
becoming so; and in those who love it disinterestedly it has become
so, and is desired and cherished, not as a means to happiness, but
as a part of their happiness.
  To illustrate this farther, we may remember that virtue is not the
only thing, originally a means, and which if it were not a means to
anything else, would be and remain indifferent, but which by
association with what it is a means to, comes to be desired for
itself, and that too with the utmost intensity. What, for example,
shall we say of the love of money? There is nothing originally more
desirable about money than about any heap of glittering pebbles. Its
worth is solely that of the things which it will buy; the desires
for other things than itself, which it is a means of gratifying. Yet
the love of money is not only one of the strongest moving forces of
human life, but money is, in many cases, desired in and for itself;
the desire to possess it is often stronger than the desire to use
it, and goes on increasing when all the desires which point to ends
beyond it, to be compassed by it, are falling off. It may, then, be
said truly, that money is desired not for the sake of an end, but as
part of the end. From being a means to happiness, it has come to be
itself a principal ingredient of the individual's conception of
happiness. The same may be said of the majority of the great objects
of human life- power, for example, or fame; except that to each of
these there is a certain amount of immediate pleasure annexed, which
has at least the semblance of being naturally inherent in them; a
thing which cannot be said of money. Still, however, the strongest
natural attraction, both of power and of fame, is the immense aid they
give to the attainment of our other wishes; and it is the strong
association thus generated between them and all our objects of desire,
which gives to the direct desire of them the intensity it often
assumes, so as in some characters to surpass in strength all other
desires. In these cases the means have become a part of the end, and a
more important part of it than any of the things which they are
means to. What was once desired as an instrument for the attainment of
happiness, has come to be desired for its own sake. In being desired
for its own sake it is, however, desired as part of happiness. The
person is made, or thinks he would be made, happy by its mere
possession; and is made unhappy by failure to obtain it. The desire of
it is not a different thing from the desire of happiness, any more
than the love of music, or the desire of health. They are included
in happiness. They are some of the elements of which the desire of
happiness is made up. Happiness is not an abstract idea, but a
concrete whole; and these are some of its parts. And the utilitarian
standard sanctions and approves their being so. Life would be a poor
thing, very ill provided with sources of happiness, if there were
not this provision of nature, by which things originally
indifferent, but conducive to, or otherwise associated with, the
satisfaction of our primitive desires, become in themselves sources of
pleasure more valuable than the primitive pleasures, both in
permanency, in the space of human existence that they are capable of
covering, and even in intensity.
  Virtue, according to the utilitarian conception, is a good of this
description. There was no original desire of it, or motive to it, save
its conduciveness to pleasure, and especially to protection from pain.
But through the association thus formed, it may be felt a good in
itself, and desired as such with as great intensity as any other good;
and with this difference between it and the love of money, of power,
or of fame, that all of these may, and often do, render the individual
noxious to the other members of the society to which he belongs,
whereas there is nothing which makes him so much a blessing to them as
the cultivation of the disinterested love of virtue. And consequently,
the utilitarian standard, while it tolerates and approves those
other acquired desires, up to the point beyond which they would be
more injurious to the general happiness than promotive of it,
enjoins and requires the cultivation of the love of virtue up to the
greatest strength possible, as being above all things important to the
general happiness.
  It results from the preceding considerations, that there is in
reality nothing desired except happiness. Whatever is desired
otherwise than as a means to some end beyond itself, and ultimately to
happiness, is desired as itself a part of happiness, and is not
desired for itself until it has become so. Those who desire virtue for
its own sake, desire it either because the consciousness of it is a
pleasure, or because the consciousness of being without it is a
pain, or for both reasons united; as in truth the pleasure and pain
seldom exist separately, but almost always together, the same person
feeling pleasure in the degree of virtue attained, and pain in not
having attained more. If one of these gave him no pleasure, and the
other no pain, he would not love or desire virtue, or would desire
it only for the other benefits which it might produce to himself or to
persons whom he cared for.
  We have now, then, an answer to the question, of what sort of
proof the principle of utility is susceptible. If the opinion which
I have now stated is psychologically true- if human nature is so
constituted as to desire nothing which is not either a part of
happiness or a means of happiness, we can have no other proof, and
we require no other, that these are the only things desirable. If
so, happiness is the sole end of human action, and the promotion of it
the test by which to judge of all human conduct; from whence it
necessarily follows that it must be the criterion of morality, since a
part is included in the whole.
  And now to decide whether this is really so; whether mankind do
desire nothing for itself but that which is a pleasure to them, or
of which the absence is a pain; we have evidently arrived at a
question of fact and experience, dependent, like all similar
questions, upon evidence. It can only be determined by practised
self-consciousness and self-observation, assisted by observation of
others. I believe that these sources of evidence, impartially
consulted, will declare that desiring a thing and finding it pleasant,
aversion to it and thinking of it as painful, are phenomena entirely
inseparable, or rather two parts of the same phenomenon; in strictness
of language, two different modes of naming the same psychological
fact: that to think of an object as desirable (unless for the sake
of its consequences), and to think of it as pleasant, are one and
the same thing; and that to desire anything, except in proportion as
the idea of it is pleasant, is a physical and metaphysical
  So obvious does this appear to me, that I expect it will hardly be
disputed: and the objection made will be, not that desire can possibly
be directed to anything ultimately except pleasure and exemption
from pain, but that the will is a different thing from desire; that
a person of confirmed virtue, or any other person whose purposes are
fixed, carries out his purposes without any thought of the pleasure he
has in contemplating them, or expects to derive from their fulfilment;
and persists in acting on them, even though these pleasures are much
diminished, by changes in his character or decay of his passive
sensibilities, or are outweighed by the pains which the pursuit of the
purposes may bring upon him. All this I fully admit, and have stated
it elsewhere, as positively and emphatically as any one. Will, the
active phenomenon, is a different thing from desire, the state of
passive sensibility, and though originally an offshoot from it, may in
time take root and detach itself from the parent stock; so much so,
that in the case of an habitual purpose, instead of willing the
thing because we desire it, we often desire it only because we will
it. This, however, is but an instance of that familiar fact, the power
of habit, and is nowise confined to the case of virtuous actions. Many
indifferent things, which men originally did from a motive of some
sort, they continue to do from habit. Sometimes this is done
unconsciously, the consciousness coming only after the action: at
other times with conscious volition, but volition which has become
habitual, and is put in operation by the force of habit, in opposition
perhaps to the deliberate preference, as often happens with those
who have contracted habits of vicious or hurtful indulgence.
  Third and last comes the case in which the habitual act of will in
the individual instance is not in contradiction to the general
intention prevailing at other times, but in fulfilment of it; as in
the case of the person of confirmed virtue, and of all who pursue
deliberately and consistently any determinate end. The distinction
between will and desire thus understood is an authentic and highly
important psychological fact; but the fact consists solely in
this- that will, like all other parts of our constitution, is
amenable to habit, and that we may will from habit what we no longer
desire for itself or desire only because we will it. It is not the
less true that will, in the beginning, is entirely produced by desire;
including in that term the repelling influence of pain as well as
the attractive one of pleasure. Let us take into consideration, no
longer the person who has a confirmed will to do right, but him in
whom that virtuous will is still feeble, conquerable by temptation,
and not to be fully relied on; by what means can it be strengthened?
How can the will to be virtuous, where it does not exist in sufficient
force, be implanted or awakened? Only by making the person desire
virtue- by making him think of it in a pleasurable light, or of its
absence in a painful one. It is by associating the doing right with
pleasure, or the doing wrong with pain, or by eliciting and impressing
and bringing home to the person's experience the pleasure naturally
involved in the one or the pain in the other, that it is possible to
call forth that will to be virtuous, which, when confirmed, acts
without any thought of either pleasure or pain. Will is the child of
desire, and passes out of the dominion of its parent only to come
under that of habit. That which is the result of habit affords no
presumption of being intrinsically good; and there would be no
reason for wishing that the purpose of virtue should become
independent of pleasure and pain, were it not that the influence of
the pleasurable and painful associations which prompt to virtue is not
sufficiently to be depended on for unerring constancy of action
until it has acquired the support of habit. Both in feeling and in
conduct, habit is the only thing which imparts certainty; and it is
because of the importance to others of being able to rely absolutely
on one's feelings and conduct, and to oneself of being able to rely on
one's own, that the will to do right ought to be cultivated into
this habitual independence. In other words, this state of the will
is a means to good, not intrinsically a good; and does not
contradict the doctrine that nothing is a good to human beings but
in so far as it is either itself pleasurable, or a means of
attaining pleasure or averting pain.
  But if this doctrine be true, the principle of utility is proved.
Whether it is so or not, must now be left to the consideration of
the thoughtful reader.
                            Chapter 5
            On the Connection between Justice and Utility.

  IN ALL ages of speculation, one of the strongest obstacles to the
reception of the doctrine that Utility or Happiness is the criterion
of right and wrong, has been drawn from the idea of justice. The
powerful sentiment, and apparently clear perception, which that word
recalls with a rapidity and certainty resembling an instinct, have
seemed to the majority of thinkers to point to an inherent quality
in things; to show that the just must have an existence in Nature as
something absolute, generically distinct from every variety of the
Expedient, and, in idea, opposed to it, though (as is commonly
acknowledged) never, in the long run, disjoined from it in fact.
  In the case of this, as of our other moral sentiments, there is no
necessary connection between the question of its origin, and that of
its binding force. That a feeling is bestowed on us by Nature, does
not necessarily legitimate all its promptings. The feeling of
justice might be a peculiar instinct, and might yet require, like
our other instincts, to be controlled and enlightened by a higher
reason. If we have intellectual instincts, leading us to judge in a
particular way, as well as animal instincts that prompt us to act in a
particular way, there is no necessity that the former should be more
infallible in their sphere than the latter in theirs: it may as well
happen that wrong judgments are occasionally suggested by those, as
wrong actions by these. But though it is one thing to believe that
we have natural feelings of justice, and another to acknowledge them
as an ultimate criterion of conduct, these two opinions are very
closely connected in point of fact. Mankind are always predisposed
to believe that any subjective feeling, not otherwise accounted for,
is a revelation of some objective reality. Our present object is to
determine whether the reality, to which the feeling of justice
corresponds, is one which needs any such special revelation; whether
the justice or injustice of an action is a thing intrinsically
peculiar, and distinct from all its other qualities, or only a
combination of certain of those qualities, presented under a
peculiar aspect. For the purpose of this inquiry it is practically
important to consider whether the feeling itself, of justice and
injustice, is sui generis like our sensations of colour and taste,
or a derivative feeling, formed by a combination of others. And this
it is the more essential to examine, as people are in general
willing enough to allow, that objectively the dictates of justice
coincide with a part of the field of General Expediency; but
inasmuch as the subjective mental feeling of justice is different from
that which commonly attaches to simple expediency, and, except in
the extreme cases of the latter, is far more imperative in its
demands, people find it difficult to see, in justice, only a
particular kind or branch of general utility, and think that its
superior binding force requires a totally different origin.
  To throw light upon this question, it is necessary to attempt to
ascertain what is the distinguishing character of justice, or of
injustice: what is the quality, or whether there is any quality,
attributed in common to all modes of conduct designated as unjust (for
justice, like many other moral attributes, is best defined by its
opposite), and distinguishing them from such modes of conduct as are
disapproved, but without having that particular epithet of
disapprobation applied to them. If in everything which men are
accustomed to characterise as just or unjust, some one common
attribute or collection of attributes is always present, we may
judge whether this particular attribute or combination of attributes
would be capable of gathering round it a sentiment of that peculiar
character and intensity by virtue of the general laws of our emotional
constitution, or whether the sentiment is inexplicable, and requires
to be regarded as a special provision of Nature. If we find the former
to be the case, we shall, in resolving this question, have resolved
also the main problem: if the latter, we shall have to seek for some
other mode of investigating it.

  To find the common attributes of a variety of objects, it is
necessary to begin by surveying the objects themselves in the
concrete. Let us therefore advert successively to the various modes of
action, and arrangements of human affairs, which are classed, by
universal or widely spread opinion, as Just or as Unjust. The things
well known to excite the sentiments associated with those names are of
a very multifarious character. I shall pass them rapidly in review,
without studying any particular arrangement.
  In the first place, it is mostly considered unjust to deprive any
one of his personal liberty, his property, or any other thing which
belongs to him by law. Here, therefore, is one instance of the
application of the terms just and unjust in a perfectly definite
sense, namely, that it is just to respect, unjust to violate, the
legal rights of any one. But this judgment admits of several
exceptions, arising from the other forms in which the notions of
justice and injustice present themselves. For example, the person
who suffers the deprivation may (as the phrase is) have forfeited
the rights which he is so deprived of: a case to which we shall return
presently. But also,
  Secondly; the legal rights of which he is deprived, may be rights
which ought not to have belonged to him; in other words, the law which
confers on him these rights, may be a bad law. When it is so, or
when (which is the same thing for our purpose) it is supposed to be
so, opinions will differ as to the justice or injustice of
infringing it. Some maintain that no law, however bad, ought to be
disobeyed by an individual citizen; that his opposition to it, if
shown at all, should only be shown in endeavouring to get it altered
by competent authority. This opinion (which condemns many of the
most illustrious benefactors of mankind, and would often protect
pernicious institutions against the only weapons which, in the state
of things existing at the time, have any chance of succeeding
against them) is defended, by those who hold it, on grounds of
expediency; principally on that of the importance, to the common
interest of mankind, of maintaining inviolate the sentiment of
submission to law. Other persons, again, hold the directly contrary
opinion, that any law, judged to be bad, may blamelessly be disobeyed,
even though it be not judged to be unjust, but only inexpedient; while
others would confine the licence of disobedience to the case of unjust
laws: but again, some say, that all laws which are inexpedient are
unjust; since every law imposes some restriction on the natural
liberty of mankind, which restriction is an injustice, unless
legitimated by tending to their good. Among these diversities of
opinion, it seems to be universally admitted that there may be
unjust laws, and that law, consequently, is not the ultimate criterion
of justice, but may give to one person a benefit, or impose on another
an evil, which justice condemns. When, however, a law is thought to be
unjust, it seems always to be regarded as being so in the same way
in which a breach of law is unjust, namely, by infringing somebody's
right; which, as it cannot in this case be a legal right, receives a
different appellation, and is called a moral right. We may say,
therefore, that a second case of injustice consists in taking or
withholding from any person that to which he has a moral right.
  Thirdly, it is universally considered just that each person should
obtain that (whether good or evil) which he deserves; and unjust
that he should obtain a good, or be made to undergo an evil, which
he does not deserve. This is, perhaps, the clearest and most
emphatic form in which the idea of justice is conceived by the general
mind. As it involves the notion of desert, the question arises, what
constitutes desert? Speaking in a general way, a person is
understood to deserve good if he does right, evil if he does wrong;
and in a more particular sense, to deserve good from those to whom
he does or has done good, and evil from those to whom he does or has
done evil. The precept of returning good for evil has never been
regarded as a case of the fulfilment of justice, but as one in which
the claims of justice are waived, in obedience to other
  Fourthly, it is confessedly unjust to break faith with any one: to
violate an engagement, either express or implied, or disappoint
expectations raised by our conduct, at least if we have raised those
expectations knowingly and voluntarily. Like the other obligations
of justice already spoken of, this one is not regarded as absolute,
but as capable of being overruled by a stronger obligation of
justice on the other side; or by such conduct on the part of the
person concerned as is deemed to absolve us from our obligation to
him, and to constitute a forfeiture of the benefit which he has been
led to expect.
  Fifthly, it is, by universal admission, inconsistent with justice to
be partial; to show favour or preference to one person over another,
in matters to which favour and preference do not properly apply.
Impartiality, however, does not seem to be regarded as a duty in
itself, but rather as instrumental to some other duty; for it is
admitted that favour and preference are not always censurable, and
indeed the cases in which they are condemned are rather the
exception than the rule. A person would be more likely to be blamed
than applauded for giving his family or friends no superiority in good
offices over strangers, when he could do so without violating any
other duty; and no one thinks it unjust to seek one person in
preference to another as a friend, connection, or companion.
Impartiality where rights are concerned is of course obligatory, but
this is involved in the more general obligation of giving to every one
his right. A tribunal, for example, must be impartial, because it is
bound to award, without regard to any other consideration, a
disputed object to the one of two parties who has the right to it.
There are other cases in which impartiality means, being solely
influenced by desert; as with those who, in the capacity of judges,
preceptors, or parents, administer reward and punishment as such.
There are cases, again, in which it means, being solely influenced
by consideration for the public interest; as in making a selection
among candidates for a government employment. Impartiality, in
short, as an obligation of justice, may be said to mean, being
exclusively influenced by the considerations which it is supposed
ought to influence the particular case in hand; and resisting the
solicitation of any motives which prompt to conduct different from
what those considerations would dictate.
  Nearly allied to the idea of impartiality is that of equality; which
often enters as a component part both into the conception of justice
and into the practice of it, and, in the eyes of many persons,
constitutes its essence. But in this, still more than in any other
case, the notion of justice varies in different persons, and always
conforms in its variations to their notion of utility. Each person
maintains that equality is the dictate of justice, except where he
thinks that expediency requires inequality. The justice of giving
equal protection to the rights of all, is maintained by those who
support the most outrageous inequality in the rights themselves.
Even in slave countries it is theoretically admitted that the rights
of the slave, such as they are, ought to be as sacred as those of
the master; and that a tribunal which fails to enforce them with equal
strictness is wanting in justice; while, at the same time,
institutions which leave to the slave scarcely any rights to
enforce, are not deemed unjust, because they are not deemed
inexpedient. Those who think that utility requires distinctions of
rank, do not consider it unjust that riches and social privileges
should be unequally dispensed; but those who think this inequality
inexpedient, think it unjust also. Whoever thinks that government is
necessary, sees no injustice in as much inequality as is constituted
by giving to the magistrate powers not granted to other people. Even
among those who hold levelling doctrines, there are as many
questions of justice as there are differences of opinion about
expediency. Some Communists consider it unjust that the produce of the
labour of the community should be shared on any other principle than
that of exact equality; others think it just that those should receive
most whose wants are greatest; while others hold that those who work
harder, or who produce more, or whose services are more valuable to
the community, may justly claim a larger quota in the division of
the produce. And the sense of natural justice may be plausibly
appealed to in behalf of every one of these opinions.
  Among so many diverse applications of the term justice, which yet is
not regarded as ambiguous, it is a matter of some difficulty to
seize the mental link which holds them together, and on which the
moral sentiment adhering to the term essentially depends. Perhaps,
in this embarrassment, some help may be derived from the history of
the word, as indicated by its etymology.
  In most, if not in all, languages, the etymology of the word which
corresponds to Just, points distinctly to an origin connected with the
ordinances of law. Justum is a form of jussum, that which has been
ordered. Dikaion comes directly from dike, a suit at law. Recht,
from which came right and righteous, is synonymous with law. The
courts of justice, the administration of justice, are the courts and
the administration of law. La justice, in French, is the established
term for judicature. I am not committing the fallacy imputed with some
show of truth to Horne Tooke, of assuming that a word must still
continue to mean what it originally meant. Etymology is slight
evidence of what the idea now signified is, but the very best evidence
of how it sprang up. There can, I think, be no doubt that the idee
mere, the primitive element, in the formation of the notion of
justice, was conformity to law. It constituted the entire idea among
the Hebrews, up to the birth of Christianity; as might be expected
in the case of a people whose laws attempted to embrace all subjects
on which precepts were required, and who believed those laws to be a
direct emanation from the Supreme Being. But other nations, and in
particular the Greeks and Romans, who knew that their laws had been
made originally, and still continued to be made, by men, were not
afraid to admit that those men might make bad laws; might do, by
law, the same things, and from the same motives, which if done by
individuals without the sanction of law, would be called unjust. And
hence the sentiment of injustice came to be attached, not to all
violations of law, but only to violations of such laws as ought to
exist, including such as ought to exist, but do not; and to laws
themselves, if supposed to be contrary to what ought to be law. In
this manner the idea of law and of its injunctions was still
predominant in the notion of justice, even when the laws actually in
force ceased to be accepted as the standard of it.
  It is true that mankind consider the idea of justice and its
obligations as applicable to many things which neither are, nor is
it desired that they should be, regulated by law. Nobody desires
that laws should interfere with the whole detail of private life;
yet every one allows that in all daily conduct a person may and does
show himself to be either just or unjust. But even here, the idea of
the breach of what ought to be law, still lingers in a modified shape.
It would always give us pleasure, and chime in with our feelings of
fitness, that acts which we deem unjust should be punished, though
we do not always think it expedient that this should be done by the
tribunals. We forego that gratification on account of incidental
inconveniences. We should be glad to see just conduct enforced and
injustice repressed, even in the minutest details, if we were not,
with reason, afraid of trusting the magistrate with so unlimited an
amount of power over individuals. When we think that a person is bound
in justice to do a thing, it is an ordinary form of language to say,
that he ought to be compelled to do it. We should be gratified to
see the obligation enforced by anybody who had the power. If we see
that its enforcement by law would be inexpedient, we lament the
impossibility, we consider the impunity given to injustice as an evil,
and strive to make amends for it by bringing a strong expression of
our own and the public disapprobation to bear upon the offender.
Thus the idea of legal constraint is still the generating idea of
the notion of justice, though undergoing several transformations
before that notion, as it exists in an advanced state of society,
becomes complete.
  The above is, I think, a true account, as far as it goes, of the
origin and progressive growth of the idea of justice. But we must
observe, that it contains, as yet, nothing to distinguish that
obligation from moral obligation in general. For the truth is, that
the idea of penal sanction, which is the essence of law, enters not
only into the conception of injustice, but into that of any kind of
wrong. We do not call anything wrong, unless we mean to imply that a
person ought to be punished in some way or other for doing it; if
not by law, by the opinion of his fellow-creatures; if not by opinion,
by the reproaches of his own conscience. This seems the real turning
point of the distinction between morality and simple expediency. It is
a part of the notion of Duty in every one of its forms, that a
person may rightfully be compelled to fulfil it. Duty is a thing which
may be exacted from a person, as one exacts a debt. Unless we think
that it may be exacted from him, we do not call it his duty. Reasons
of prudence, or the interest of other people, may militate against
actually exacting it; but the person himself, it is clearly
understood, would not be entitled to complain. There are other things,
on the contrary, which we wish that people should do, which we like or
admire them for doing, perhaps dislike or despise them for not
doing, but yet admit that they are not bound to do; it is not a case
of moral obligation; we do not blame them, that is, we do not think
that they are proper objects of punishment. How we come by these ideas
of deserving and not deserving punishment, will appear, perhaps, in
the sequel; but I think there is no doubt that this distinction lies
at the bottom of the notions of right and wrong; that we call any
conduct wrong, or employ, instead, some other term of dislike or
disparagement, according as we think that the person ought, or ought
not, to be punished for it; and we say, it would be right, to do so
and so, or merely that it would be desirable or laudable, according as
we would wish to see the person whom it concerns, compelled, or only
persuaded and exhorted, to act in that manner.*

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

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

  Having thus endeavoured to determine the distinctive elements
which enter into the composition of the idea of justice, we are
ready to enter on the inquiry, whether the feeling, which
accompanies the idea, is attached to it by a special dispensation of
nature, or whether it could have grown up, by any known laws, out of
the idea itself; and in particular, whether it can have originated
in considerations of general expediency.
  I conceive that the sentiment itself does not arise from anything
which would commonly, or correctly, be termed an idea of expediency;
but that though the sentiment does not, whatever is moral in it does.
  We have seen that the two essential ingredients in the sentiment
of justice are, the desire to punish a person who has done harm, and
the knowledge or belief that there is some definite individual or
individuals to whom harm has been done.
  Now it appears to me, that the desire to punish a person who has
done harm to some individual is a spontaneous outgrowth from two
sentiments, both in the highest degree natural, and which either are
or resemble instincts; the impulse of self-defence, and the feeling of
  It is natural to resent, and to repel or retaliate, any harm done or
attempted against ourselves, or against those with whom we sympathise.
The origin of this sentiment it is not necessary here to discuss.
Whether it be an instinct or a result of intelligence, it is, we know,
common to all animal nature; for every animal tries to hurt those
who have hurt, or who it thinks are about to hurt, itself or its
young. Human beings, on this point, only differ from other animals
in two particulars. First, in being capable of sympathising, not
solely with their offspring, or, like some of the more noble
animals, with some superior animal who is kind to them, but with all
human, and even with all sentient, beings. Secondly, in having a
more developed intelligence, which gives a wider range to the whole of
their sentiments, whether self-regarding or sympathetic. By virtue
of his superior intelligence, even apart from his superior range of
sympathy, a human being is capable of apprehending a community of
interest between himself and the human society of which he forms a
part, such that any conduct which threatens the security of the
society generally, is threatening to his own, and calls forth his
instinct (if instinct it be) of self-defence. The same superiority
of intelligence joined to the power of sympathising with human
beings generally, enables him to attach himself to the collective idea
of his tribe, his country, or mankind, in such a manner that any act
hurtful to them, raises his instinct of sympathy, and urges him to
  The sentiment of justice, in that one of its elements which consists
of the desire to punish, is thus, I conceive, the natural feeling of
retaliation or vengeance, rendered by intellect and sympathy
applicable to those injuries, that is, to those hurts, which wound
us through, or in common with, society at large. This sentiment, in
itself, has nothing moral in it; what is moral is, the exclusive
subordination of it to the social sympathies, so as to wait on and
obey their call. For the natural feeling would make us resent
indiscriminately whatever any one does that is disagreeable to us; but
when moralised by the social feeling, it only acts in the directions
conformable to the general good: just persons resenting a hurt to
society, though not otherwise a hurt to themselves, and not
resenting a hurt to themselves, however painful, unless it be of the
kind which society has a common interest with them in the repression
  It is no objection against this doctrine to say, that when we feel
our sentiment of justice outraged, we are not thinking of society at
large, or of any collective interest, but only of the individual case.
It is common enough certainly, though the reverse of commendable, to
feel resentment merely because we have suffered pain; but a person
whose resentment is really a moral feeling, that is, who considers
whether an act is blamable before he allows himself to resent
it- such a person, though he may not say expressly to himself that he
is standing up for the interest of society, certainly does feel that
he is asserting a rule which is for the benefit of others as well as
for his own. If he is not feeling this- if he is regarding the act
solely as it affects him individually- he is not consciously just; he
is not concerning himself about the justice of his actions. This is
admitted even by anti-utilitarian moralists. When Kant (as before
remarked) propounds as the fundamental principle of morals, "So act,
that thy rule of conduct might be adopted as a law by all rational
beings," he virtually acknowledges that the interest of mankind
collectively, or at least of mankind indiscriminately, must be in
the mind of the agent when conscientiously deciding on the morality of
the act. Otherwise he uses words without a meaning: for, that a rule
even of utter selfishness could not possibly be adopted by all
rational beings- that there is any insuperable obstacle in the nature
of things to its adoption- cannot be even plausibly maintained. To
give any meaning to Kant's principle, the sense put upon it must be,
that we ought to shape our conduct by a rule which all rational beings
might adopt with benefit to their collective interest.
  To recapitulate: the idea of justice supposes two things; a rule
of conduct, and a sentiment which sanctions the rule. The first must
be supposed common to all mankind, and intended for their good. The
other (the sentiment) is a desire that punishment may be suffered by
those who infringe the rule. There is involved, in addition, the
conception of some definite person who suffers by the infringement;
whose rights (to use the expression appropriated to the case) are
violated by it. And the sentiment of justice appears to me to be,
the animal desire to repel or retaliate a hurt or damage to oneself,
or to those with whom one sympathises, widened so as to include all
persons, by the human capacity of enlarged sympathy, and the human
conception of intelligent self-interest. From the latter elements, the
feeling derives its morality; from the former, its peculiar
impressiveness, and energy of self-assertion.
  I have, throughout, treated the idea of a right residing in the
injured person, and violated by the injury, not as a separate
element in the composition of the idea and sentiment, but as one of
the forms in which the other two elements clothe themselves. These
elements are, a hurt to some assignable person or persons on the one
hand, and a demand for punishment on the other. An examination of
our own minds, I think, will show, that these two things include all
that we mean when we speak of violation of a right. When we call
anything a person's right, we mean that he has a valid claim on
society to protect him in the possession of it, either by the force of
law, or by that of education and opinion. If he has what we consider a
sufficient claim, on whatever account, to have something guaranteed to
him by society, we say that he has a right to it. If we desire to
prove that anything does not belong to him by right, we think this
done as soon as it is admitted that society ought not to take measures
for securing it to him, but should leave him to chance, or to his
own exertions. Thus, a person is said to have a right to what he can
earn in fair professional competition; because society ought not to
allow any other person to hinder him from endeavouring to earn in that
manner as much as he can. But he has not a right to three hundred
a-year, though he may happen to be earning it; because society is
not called on to provide that he shall earn that sum. On the contrary,
if he owns ten thousand pounds three per cent stock, he has a right to
three hundred a-year; because society has come under an obligation
to provide him with an income of that amount.
  To have a right, then, is, I conceive, to have something which
society ought to defend me in the possession of. If the objector
goes on to ask, why it ought? I can give him no other reason than
general utility. If that expression does not seem to convey a
sufficient feeling of the strength of the obligation, nor to account
for the peculiar energy of the feeling, it is because there goes to
the composition of the sentiment, not a rational only, but also an
animal element, the thirst for retaliation; and this thirst derives
its intensity, as well as its moral justification, from the
extraordinarily important and impressive kind of utility which is
concerned. The interest involved is that of security, to every one's
feelings the most vital of all interests. All other earthly benefits
are needed by one person, not needed by another; and many of them can,
if necessary, be cheerfully foregone, or replaced by something else;
but security no human being can possibly do without on it we depend
for all our immunity from evil, and for the whole value of all and
every good, beyond the passing moment; since nothing but the
gratification of the instant could be of any worth to us, if we
could be deprived of anything the next instant by whoever was
momentarily stronger than ourselves. Now this most indispensable of
all necessaries, after physical nutriment, cannot be had, unless the
machinery for providing it is kept unintermittedly in active play. Our
notion, therefore, of the claim we have on our fellow-creatures to
join in making safe for us the very groundwork of our existence,
gathers feelings around it so much more intense than those concerned
in any of the more common cases of utility, that the difference in
degree (as is often the case in psychology) becomes a real
difference in kind. The claim assumes that character of
absoluteness, that apparent infinity, and incommensurability with
all other considerations, which constitute the distinction between the
feeling of right and wrong and that of ordinary expediency and
inexpediency. The feelings concerned are so powerful, and we count
so positively on finding a responsive feeling in others (all being
alike interested), that ought and should grow into must, and
recognised indispensability becomes a moral necessity, analogous to
physical, and often not inferior to it in binding force exhorted,

  If the preceding analysis, or something resembling it, be not the
correct account of the notion of justice; if justice be totally
independent of utility, and be a standard per se, which the mind can
recognise by simple introspection of itself; it is hard to
understand why that internal oracle is so ambiguous, and why so many
things appear either just or unjust, according to the light in which
they are regarded.
  We are continually informed that Utility is an uncertain standard,
which every different person interprets differently, and that there is
no safety but in the immutable, ineffaceable, and unmistakable
dictates of justice, which carry their evidence in themselves, and are
independent of the fluctuations of opinion. One would suppose from
this that on questions of justice there could be no controversy;
that if we take that for our rule, its application to any given case
could leave us in as little doubt as a mathematical demonstration.
So far is this from being the fact, that there is as much difference
of opinion, and as much discussion, about what is just, as about
what is useful to society. Not only have different nations and
individuals different notions of justice, but in the mind of one and
the same individual, justice is not some one rule, principle, or
maxim, but many, which do not always coincide in their dictates, and
in choosing between which, he is guided either by some extraneous
standard, or by his own personal predilections.
  For instance, there are some who say, that it is unjust to punish
any one for the sake of example to others; that punishment is just,
only when intended for the good of the sufferer himself. Others
maintain the extreme reverse, contending that to punish persons who
have attained years of discretion, for their own benefit, is despotism
and injustice, since if the matter at issue is solely their own
good, no one has a right to control their own judgment of it; but that
they may justly be punished to prevent evil to others, this being
the exercise of the legitimate right of self-defence. Mr. Owen, again,
affirms that it is unjust to punish at all; for the criminal did not
make his own character; his education, and the circumstances which
surrounded him, have made him a criminal, and for these he is not
responsible. All these opinions are extremely plausible; and so long
as the question is argued as one of justice simply, without going down
to the principles which lie under justice and are the source of its
authority, I am unable to see how any of these reasoners can be
refuted. For in truth every one of the three builds upon rules of
justice confessedly true. The first appeals to the acknowledged
injustice of singling out an individual, and making a sacrifice,
without his consent, for other people's benefit. The second relies
on the acknowledged justice of self-defence, and the admitted
injustice of forcing one person to conform to another's notions of
what constitutes his good. The Owenite invokes the admitted principle,
that it is unjust to punish any one for what he cannot help. Each is
triumphant so long as he is not compelled to take into consideration
any other maxims of justice than the one he has selected; but as
soon as their several maxims are brought face to face, each
disputant seems to have exactly as much to say for himself as the
others. No one of them can carry out his own notion of justice without
trampling upon another equally binding.
  These are difficulties; they have always been felt to be such; and
many devices have been invented to turn rather than to overcome
them. As a refuge from the last of the three, men imagined what they
called the freedom of the will; fancying that they could not justify
punishing a man whose will is in a thoroughly hateful state, unless it
be supposed to have come into that state through no influence of
anterior circumstances. To escape from the other difficulties, a
favourite contrivance has been the fiction of a contract, whereby at
some unknown period all the members of society engaged to obey the
laws, and consented to be punished for any disobedience to them,
thereby giving to their legislators the right, which it is assumed
they would not otherwise have had, of punishing them, either for their
own good or for that of society. This happy thought was considered
to get rid of the whole difficulty, and to legitimate the infliction
of punishment, in virtue of another received maxim of justice, Volenti
non fit injuria; that is not unjust which is done with the consent
of the person who is supposed to be hurt by it. I need hardly
remark, that even if the consent were not a mere fiction, this maxim
is not superior in authority to the others which it is brought in to
supersede. It is, on the contrary, an instructive specimen of the
loose and irregular manner in which supposed principles of justice
grow up. This particular one evidently came into use as a help to
the coarse exigencies of courts of law, which are sometimes obliged to
be content with very uncertain presumptions, on account of the greater
evils which would often arise from any attempt on their part to cut
finer. But even courts of law are not able to adhere consistently to
the maxim, for they allow voluntary engagements to be set aside on the
ground of fraud, and sometimes on that of mere mistake or
  Again, when the legitimacy of inflicting punishment is admitted, how
many conflicting conceptions of justice come to light in discussing
the proper apportionment of punishments to offences. No rule on the
subject recommends itself so strongly to the primitive and spontaneous
sentiment of justice, as the bex talionis, an eye for an eye and a
tooth for a tooth. Though this principle of the Jewish and of the
Mahometan law has been generally abandoned in Europe as a practical
maxim, there is, I suspect, in most minds, a secret hankering after
it; and when retribution accidentally falls on an offender in that
precise shape, the general feeling of satisfaction evinced bears
witness how natural is the sentiment to which this repayment in kind
is acceptable. With many, the test of justice in penal infliction is
that the punishment should be proportioned to the offence; meaning
that it should be exactly measured by the moral guilt of the culprit
(whatever be their standard for measuring moral guilt): the
consideration, what amount of punishment is necessary to deter from
the offence, having nothing to do with the question of justice, in
their estimation: while there are others to whom that consideration is
all in all; who maintain that it is not just, at least for man, to
inflict on a fellow creature, whatever may be his offences, any amount
of suffering beyond the least that will suffice to prevent him from
repeating, and others from imitating, his misconduct.
  To take another example from a subject already once referred to.
In a co-operative industrial association, is it just or not that
talent or skill should give a title to superior remuneration? On the
negative side of the question it is argued, that whoever does the best
he can, deserves equally well, and ought not in justice to be put in a
position of inferiority for no fault of his own; that superior
abilities have already advantages more than enough, in the
admiration they excite, the personal influence they command, and the
internal sources of satisfaction attending them, without adding to
these a superior share of the world's goods; and that society is bound
in justice rather to make compensation to the less favoured, for
this unmerited inequality of advantages, than to aggravate it. On
the contrary side it is contended, that society receives more from the
more efficient labourer; that his services being more useful,
society owes him a larger return for them; that a greater share of the
joint result is actually his work, and not to allow his claim to it is
a kind of robbery; that if he is only to receive as much as others, he
can only be justly required to produce as much, and to give a
smaller amount of time and exertion, proportioned to his superior
efficiency. Who shall decide between these appeals to conflicting
principles of justice? justice has in this case two sides to it, which
it is impossible to bring into harmony, and the two disputants have
chosen opposite sides; the one looks to what it is just that the
individual should receive, the other to what it is just that the
community should give. Each, from his own point of view, is
unanswerable; and any choice between them, on grounds of justice, must
be perfectly arbitrary. Social utility alone can decide the
  How many, again, and how irreconcilable, are the standards of
justice to which reference is made in discussing the repartition of
taxation. One opinion is, that payment to the State should be in
numerical proportion to pecuniary means. Others think that justice
dictates what they term graduated taxation; taking a higher percentage
from those who have more to spare. In point of natural justice a
strong case might be made for disregarding means altogether, and
taking the same absolute sum (whenever it could be got) from every
one: as the subscribers to a mess, or to a club, all pay the same
sum for the same privileges, whether they can all equally afford it or
not. Since the protection (it might be said) of law and government
is afforded to, and is equally required by all, there is no
injustice in making all buy it at the same price. It is reckoned
justice, not injustice, that a dealer should charge to all customers
the same price for the same article, not a price varying according
to their means of payment. This doctrine, as applied to taxation,
finds no advocates, because it conflicts so strongly with man's
feelings of humanity and of social expediency; but the principle of
justice which it invokes is as true and as binding as those which
can be appealed to against it. Accordingly it exerts a tacit influence
on the line of defence employed for other modes of assessing taxation.
People feel obliged to argue that the State does more for the rich
than for the poor, as a justification for its taking more from them:
though this is in reality not true, for the rich would be far better
able to protect themselves, in the absence of law or government,
than the poor, and indeed would probably be successful in converting
the poor into their slaves. Others, again, so far defer to the same
conception of justice, as to maintain that all should pay an equal
capitation tax for the protection of their persons (these being of
equal value to all), and an unequal tax for the protection of their
property, which is unequal. To this others reply, that the all of
one man is as valuable to him as the all of another. From these
confusions there is no other mode of extrication than the utilitarian.

  Is, then the difference between the just and the Expedient a
merely imaginary distinction? Have mankind been under a delusion in
thinking that justice is a more sacred thing than policy, and that the
latter ought only to be listened to after the former has been
satisfied? By no means. The exposition we have given of the nature and
origin of the sentiment, recognises a real distinction; and no one
of those who profess the most sublime contempt for the consequences of
actions as an element in their morality, attaches more importance to
the distinction than I do. While I dispute the pretensions of any
theory which sets up an imaginary standard of justice not grounded
on utility, I account the justice which is grounded on utility to be
the chief part, and incomparably the most sacred and binding part,
of all morality. justice is a name for certain classes of moral rules,
which concern the essentials of human well-being more nearly, and
are therefore of more absolute obligation, than any other rules for
the guidance of life; and the notion which we have found to be of
the essence of the idea of justice, that of a right residing in an
individual implies and testifies to this more binding obligation.
  The moral rules which forbid mankind to hurt one another (in which
we must never forget to include wrongful interference with each
other's freedom) are more vital to human well-being than any maxims,
however important, which only point out the best mode of managing some
department of human affairs. They have also the peculiarity, that they
are the main element in determining the whole of the social feelings
of mankind. It is their observance which alone preserves peace among
human beings: if obedience to them were not the rule, and disobedience
the exception, every one would see in every one else an enemy, against
whom he must be perpetually guarding himself. What is hardly less
important, these are the precepts which mankind have the strongest and
the most direct inducements for impressing upon one another. By merely
giving to each other prudential instruction or exhortation, they may
gain, or think they gain, nothing: in inculcating on each other the
duty of positive beneficence they have an unmistakable interest, but
far less in degree: a person may possibly not need the benefits of
others; but he always needs that they should not do him hurt. Thus the
moralities which protect every individual from being harmed by others,
either directly or by being hindered in his freedom of pursuing his
own good, are at once those which he himself has most at heart, and
those which he has the strongest interest in publishing and
enforcing by word and deed. It is by a person's observance of these
that his fitness to exist as one of the fellowship of human beings
is tested and decided; for on that depends his being a nuisance or not
to those with whom he is in contact. Now it is these moralities
primarily which compose the obligations of justice. The most marked
cases of injustice, and those which give the tone to the feeling of
repugnance which characterises the sentiment, are acts of wrongful
aggression, or wrongful exercise of power over some one; the next
are those which consist in wrongfully withholding from him something
which is his due; in both cases, inflicting on him a positive hurt,
either in the form of direct suffering, or of the privation of some
good which he had reasonable ground, either of a physical or of a
social kind, for counting upon.
  The same powerful motives which command the observance of these
primary moralities, enjoin the punishment of those who violate them;
and as the impulses of self-defence, of defence of others, and of
vengeance, are all called forth against such persons, retribution,
or evil for evil, becomes closely connected with the sentiment of
justice, and is universally included in the idea. Good for good is
also one of the dictates of justice; and this, though its social
utility is evident, and though it carries with it a natural human
feeling, has not at first sight that obvious connection with hurt or
injury, which, existing in the most elementary cases of just and
unjust, is the source of the characteristic intensity of the
sentiment. But the connection, though less obvious, is not less
real. He who accepts benefits, and denies a return of them when
needed, inflicts a real hurt, by disappointing one of the most natural
and reasonable of expectations, and one which he must at least tacitly
have encouraged, otherwise the benefits would seldom have been
conferred. The important rank, among human evils and wrongs, of the
disappointment of expectation, is shown in the fact that it
constitutes the principal criminality of two such highly immoral
acts as a breach of friendship and a breach of promise. Few hurts
which human beings can sustain are greater, and none wound more,
than when that on which they habitually and with full assurance
relied, fails them in the hour of need; and few wrongs are greater
than this mere withholding of good; none excite more resentment,
either in the person suffering, or in a sympathising spectator. The
principle, therefore, of giving to each what they deserve, that is,
good for good as well as evil for evil, is not only included within
the idea of justice as we have defined it, but is a proper object of
that intensity of sentiment, which places the just, in human
estimation, above the simply Expedient.
  Most of the maxims of justice current in the world, and commonly
appealed to in its transactions, are simply instrumental to carrying
into effect the principles of justice which we have now spoken of.
That a person is only responsible for what he has done voluntarily, or
could voluntarily have avoided; that it is unjust to condemn any
person unheard; that the punishment ought to be proportioned to the
offence, and the like, are maxims intended to prevent the just
principle of evil for evil from being perverted to the infliction of
evil without that justification. The greater part of these common
maxims have come into use from the practice of courts of justice,
which have been naturally led to a more complete recognition and
elaboration than was likely to suggest itself to others, of the
rules necessary to enable them to fulfil their double function, of
inflicting punishment when due, and of awarding to each person his
  That first of judicial virtues, impartiality, is an obligation of
justice, partly for the reason last mentioned; as being a necessary
condition of the fulfilment of the other obligations of justice. But
this is not the only source of the exalted rank, among human
obligations, of those maxims of equality and impartiality, which, both
in popular estimation and in that of the most enlightened, are
included among the precepts of justice. In one point of view, they may
be considered as corollaries from the principles already laid down. If
it is a duty to do to each according to his deserts, returning good
for good as well as repressing evil by evil, it necessarily follows
that we should treat all equally well (when no higher duty forbids)
who have deserved equally well of us, and that society should treat
all equally well who have deserved equally well of it, that is, who
have deserved equally well absolutely. This is the highest abstract
standard of social and distributive justice; towards which all
institutions, and the efforts of all virtuous citizens, should be made
in the utmost possible degree to converge.
  But this great moral duty rests upon a still deeper foundation,
being a direct emanation from the first principle of morals, and not a
mere logical corollary from secondary or derivative doctrines. It is
involved in the very meaning of Utility, or the Greatest Happiness
Principle. That principle is a mere form of words without rational
signification, unless one person's happiness, supposed equal in degree
(with the proper allowance made for kind), is counted for exactly as
much as another's. Those conditions being supplied, Bentham's
dictum, "everybody to count for one, nobody for more than one,"
might be written under the principle of utility as an explanatory
commentary.* The equal claim of everybody to happiness in the
estimation of the moralist and the legislator, involves an equal claim
to all the means of happiness, except in so far as the inevitable
conditions of human life, and the general interest, in which that of
every individual is included, set limits to the maxim; and those
limits ought to be strictly construed. As every other maxim of
justice, so this is by no means applied or held applicable
universally; on the contrary, as I have already remarked, it bends
to every person's ideas of social expediency. But in whatever case
it is deemed applicable at all, it is held to be the dictate of
justice. All persons are deemed to have a right to equality of
treatment, except when some recognised social expediency requires
the reverse. And hence all social inequalities which have ceased to be
considered expedient, assume the character not of simple inexpediency,
but of injustice, and appear so tyrannical, that people are apt to
wonder how they ever could have. been tolerated; forgetful that they
themselves perhaps tolerate other inequalities under an equally
mistaken notion of expediency, the correction of which would make that
which they approve seem quite as monstrous as what they have at last
learnt to condemn. The entire history of social improvement has been a
series of transitions, by which one custom or institution after
another, from being a supposed primary necessity of social
existence, has passed into the rank of a universally stigmatised
injustice and tyranny. So it has been with the distinctions of
slaves and freemen, nobles and serfs, patricians and plebeians; and so
it will be, and in part already is, with the aristocracies of
colour, race, and sex.

  * This implication, in the first principle of the utilitarian scheme,
of perfect impartiality between persons, is regarded by Mr. Herbert
Spencer (in his Social Statics) as a disproof of the pretensions of
utility to be a sufficient guide to right; since (he says) the
principle of utility presupposes the anterior principle, that
everybody has an equal right to happiness. It may be more correctly
described as supposing that equal amounts of happiness are equally
desirable, whether felt by the same or by different persons. This,
however, is not a pre-supposition; not a premise needful to support
the principle of utility, but the very principle itself; for what is
the principle of utility, if it be not that "happiness" and
"desirable" are synonymous terms? If there is any anterior principle
implied, it can be no other than this, that the truths of arithmetic
are applicable to the valuation of happiness, as of all other
measurable quantities.
  [Mr. Herbert Spencer, in a private communication on the subject of
the preceding Note, objects to being considered an opponent of
utilitarianism, and states that he regards happiness as the ultimate
end of morality; but deems that end only partially attainable by
empirical generalisations from the observed results of conduct, and
completely attainable only by deducing, from the laws of life and
the conditions of existence, what kinds of action necessarily tend
to produce happiness, and what kinds to produce unhappiness. What
the exception of the word "necessarily," I have no dissent to
express from this doctrine; and (omitting that word) I am not aware
that any modern advocate of utilitarianism is of a different
opinion. Bentham, certainly, to whom in the Social Statics Mr. Spencer
particularly referred, is, least of all writers, chargeable with
unwillingness to deduce the effect of actions on happiness from the
laws of human nature and the universal conditions of human life. The
common charge against him is of relying too exclusively upon such
deductions, and declining altogether to be bound by the
generalisations from specific experience which Mr. Spencer thinks that
utilitarians generally confine themselves to. My own opinion (and,
as I collect, Mr. Spencer's) is, that in ethics, as in all other
branches of scientific study, the consilience of the results of both
these processes, each corroborating and verifying the other, is
requisite to give to any general proposition the kind degree of
evidence which constitutes scientific proof.]

  It appears from what has been said, that justice is a name for
certain moral requirements, which, regarded collectively, stand higher
in the scale of social utility, and are therefore of more paramount
obligation, than any others; though particular cases may occur in
which some other social duty is so important, as to overrule any one
of the general maxims of justice. Thus, to save a life, it may not
only be allowable, but a duty, to steal, or take by force, the
necessary food or medicine, or to kidnap, and compel to officiate, the
only qualified medical practitioner. In such cases, as we do not
call anything justice which is not a virtue, we usually say, not
that justice must give way to some other moral principle, but that
what is just in ordinary cases is, by reason of that other
principle, not just in the particular case. By this useful
accommodation of language, the character of indefeasibility attributed
to justice is kept up, and we are saved from the necessity of
maintaining that there can be laudable injustice.
  The considerations which have now been adduced resolve, I
conceive, the only real difficulty in the utilitarian theory of
morals. It has always been evident that all cases of justice are
also cases of expediency: the difference is in the peculiar
sentiment which attaches to the former, as contradistinguished from
the latter. If this characteristic sentiment has been sufficiently
accounted for; if there is no necessity to assume for it any
peculiarity of origin; if it is simply the natural feeling of
resentment, moralised by being made coextensive with the demands of
social good; and if this feeling not only does but ought to exist in
all the classes of cases to which the idea of justice corresponds;
that idea no longer presents itself as a stumbling-block to the
utilitarian ethics.
  Justice remains the appropriate name for certain social utilities
which are vastly more important, and therefore more absolute and
imperative, than any others are as a class (though not more so than
others may be in particular cases); and which, therefore, ought to be,
as well as naturally are, guarded by a sentiment not only different in
degree, but also in kind; distinguished from the milder feeling
which attaches to the mere idea of promoting human pleasure or
convenience, at once by the more definite nature of its commands,
and by the sterner character of its sanctions.

                                    THE END