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Even if they had taken this course, there would have been a difficulty. If each man is his own best judge, how can another (Bentham or any other legislator) judge for him. The simple statement of any individual, that he for his part did not find his happiness in the general good, would be unanswerable. It could only be answered on principles that go beyond the older Utilitarianism, with its principle of individual infallibility, It can only be answered when we recognise that the individual's pleasures or pains are no criterion even of his own good, and that there is an ideal of human life which is none of the individual's fixing.
Bentham was less troubled with such difficulties than he might have been ; he was always more of the legislator than of the moralist. He argued that, as the interest of the individual was his own greatest happiness, the interest of a Society was its own greatest happiness as a whole ;” and further that, if its rulers are to secure this, their interest must coincide with that of society, so that they shall lose more by injuring society than by benefiting it. Now the Majority are the only body of whom this is true, and government should therefore be in the hands of the majority. Again, since “the legislator can know nothing of individuals as such, he must only interfere with their action "with respect to those broad lines of conduct in which all persons or very large and permanent descriptions of persons may be in a way to engage.
Government and Society (for Bentham seems to make the distinction“) are not identical ; and governments should do rather too little than too much. Their plainest functions are to give protection and security. All government is, in a sense, an evil, for it is an infraction of liberty, but it is the less of two evils if it is wisely carried
1 In Bentham's own words (M. and L., ch. xvii. 319) : “ It is a standing topic of complaint that a man knows too little of himself. But is it so certain that the legislator must know more ? ” 2 E.g., Morals and Legislation, chap. xii., p. 313.
For a keen criticism of Bentham's views on legislation as well as ethics, see Prof. F. C. Montague's Introduction to the Clarendon Press edition of the Fragment on Government (1891).
3 M. and L., 319. 4 E.g., Fragment on Government, I. IX. X., seq.
Mor. and Legisl., chap. X.
There are cases such as Property where legislation may be said to create private ethics, for, țill property is settled by legislation, the general rules of ethics would guide no one in regard to it.? But Bentham explains his views on the positive functions of government much less fully than his friend James Mill.
James Mill (1773–1836) “the last of the eighteenth century,”? resembled William Godwin in his firm belief in the final victory of Reason in the world through the power of education and discussion, and was also at one with Godwin in regard to the determination of character by circumstances.
He speaks too of "that grand and distinguishing attribute of our nature, its progressiveness,” in a broad unqualified sense in which his son could accept no such doctrine. But in calm, not to say cold reasoning, where feeling is really and not simply in theory excluded, he stands almost by himself, with his master Bentham as his nearest rival.
James Mill, in his article on Government in the Supplement to the Encyclopædia Britannica, 1820, takes us a step further back than Bentham in regard to this subject
. “ The business of government,” he says, “is to increase to the utmost the pleasures, and diminish to the utmost the pains which men derive from one another.
The necessity of labour for obtaining the means of subsistence as well as the means of the greatest part of our pleasures is the primary cause of government, for, if nature had produced spontaneously all the objects which we desire, and in sufficient abundance for the desires of all, there would have been no source of dispute or injury among men, nor would any man have possessed the means of ever acquiring authority over another. The results are exceedingly different when nature produces the objects of desire not in sufficient abundance for all. The source of dispute is then exhaustless, and every man has the means of acquiring
Mor, and Legisl, xvii. 322. 2 J. S. Mill, Autob., p. 204. 3 Ib., p. 106.
4 Ib., p. 108. 5 James Mill, Political Economy, ist ed. (1821), p. 48. Compare J. S. Mill on Guizot in Dissert. and Discuss., II. 237-238 (written 1845).
authority over others in proportion to the quantity of those objects which he is able to possess.
In this case the end to be obtained through government as the means is to make that distribution of the scanty materials of happiness, which would insure the greatest sum of it in the members of the community taken together, preventing every individual or combination of individuals from interfering with that distribution or making any man to have less than his share." 1
Mill goes on to say that, since most objects of desire are products of labour, “the means of insuring labour must be provided for as the foundation of all.” His view on this point is more fully explained by a reference to a passage of his Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind (chap. xxi., pp. 208–209, ed. J. S. M.), where he says that those three “ remote causes of pleasure,”—“Wealth, Power, and Dignity, which appear to most people to sum up the means of human happiness," are the means of procuring for ourselves pleasurable sensations “only by procuring for us the services of our fellow creatures. So far as wealth is used to subserve Power and Dignity it is included under these. So far as it subserves our direct consumption, it stands by itself. But in either case it is “the great means of procuring obedience through the medium of good” (i.e., of procuring service through an equivalent offered). Power on the other hand procures services through the medium of evil (pain or fear), and its range in human affairs is much wider than that of wealth. Where the wealth of an individual commands at most a few thousands of men, his power (e.g., in the case of an Emperor) may command millions. Dignity is the respect procured for us " without the immediate application ” either of reward or fear, though it is really due mainly to both of them, and arises from “association” with them of our actual gain from_the_Wealth and actual suffering from the Power. The Essay on Government proceeds to say that enslavement is plainly contrary to the very end of government, the happiness of the greatest number ; we must leave labour to be secured then "by allurement or the advantage which it brings.” “To obtain all the objects of desire in the greatest possible quantity, we must obtain labour in the greatest possible quantity ; and to obtain labour in the greatest possible quantity we must raise to the greatest possible height the advantage attached to labour." In other words (he explains) we must secure to every man not more indeed than the whole product of his own labour, but so far as possible no less; "the greatest possible happiness of society is attained by insuring to every man the greatest possible quantity of the produce of his labour.” But will not the stronger take the product of the weaker ? Yes, unless men unite to protect one another, and delegate to a small number the power necessary for protecting them all. This is government. It may be in few hands or in many,
1 It was no doubt such passages that gave colour to the caricature of Utilitarianism ("Pig Philosophy”) in the Latter Day Pamphlets. See Note to this chapter.
but, if it is in few, the interest of the governors may be opposed to the general interest ; and this cannot be if the majority are the governors. We must assume that men will always follow their interest. “Government is founded upon this, as a law of human nature that a man, if able, will take from others anything which they have and he desires.”? Men's desire of power is as unlimited as their wants are. Otherwise government is unnecessary, for ex hypothesi human beings will of their own accord abstain from injuring one another.
Here we have a theory like that of Hobbes or of Glaucon in the 2nd book of Plato's Republic -government is formed for the protection of the weak against the strong-together with an economical element which reminds us of Plato's own account of the genesis of Society. Plato says that men combine in a society because otherwise they would not get the benefits of division of labour. James Mill says that men form governments because they would not otherwise have the fruits of their labour secured to them, and therefore would not give all the labour needed (in a world where nature is niggardly)
1 Mill quotes Montesquieu to a like effect. Esp. d. L., II. 4.
2 Mill was familiar with both authors. He was indeed the reawakener of interest in Hobbes.
to secure a maximum production of goods, and therewith a maximum sum of happiness. Government comes into existence to secure property in order to secure labour. If this theory had been only incidentally advanced in the course of an economical discussion, it might have been thought that the writer was stating not a completely adequate theory of government, but simply a justification of government from the special point of view of Political Economy. But the article in which the theory is given is not professedly economical at all; and we must suppose that it was advanced in all good faith as an adequate general theory of the genesis of government. not difficult for Macaulayl and Mackintosh” to point out the weaknesses of it. Mackintosh observes that the word “interest
interest” in the sentence every man pursues his own interest is ambiguous. If it means a man's own general welfare, it is not true that men always pursue that; they may pursue the welfare of another. If it means gratification of desire (or better if the sentence means simply that what we will we will) it is a tautology; “ interest is a mere general title for all subjective motives of will 3; and it does not at all imply that men always pursue their own general welfare. Not only individuals but Nations often prefer passion to interest in the latter sense of the word interest. What can a philosopher make of such complex notions as “interest,” and “general interest” without breaking them down into the elements of which they are composed ? *
It is remarkable that the companion articles to that on Government, especially the articles on Law of Nations and on Jurisprudence contain some of the very features which we most miss in the first. International law, for example, is said to be a law without a command and without a sanction, without combination
1 Edinburgh Review, 1829. Perronet Thompson replied in Westminster Review of same year.
2 Dissertation on Eth. Phil., vol. i., p. 210, ed. Longman, 1854. 3 Prof. Caird, Kant (1889), II. 180. 4 Cf. John Mill, Dissertation, I. 450 (“Coleridge"), written 1840.
• Bentham (or rather Dumont) introduced this adjective into the English language. See Principles of Morals and Legislation (written 1780), chap. xvii. Clar. Press ed., p. 326, n. For other coinages of Bentham see works (ed. Bowring), vol. X., pp. 579, 571.