Page images
PDF
EPUB

invigorating conflict of opposite reasonings. Resistance to authority in matters of opinion is a sacred privilege essential to the formation of belief; wherefore originality, even when it implies stupidity, is to be carefully protected as a factor of human progress. We need not follow Mr. Stephen in his victorious analysis of the arguments wherewith Mill seeks to uphold this uncompromising individualism, and to guard human perversity against the baneful influence of authority. It is clear enough that society cannot waste its time in perpetual wrangling over issues upon which an authoritative verdict has been delivered ; and for most of us a reasonable probability, founded on the judgement of experts, is sufficient in moral or physical questions as well as in litigation. The religious arena still remains open, where experts differ and decisions are always disputable. Yet Mr. Arthur Balfour devotes a chapter in his .Foundation of Beliefs' to the contention that our convictions on all the deeper subjects of thought are determined not by reason but by authority; whereby he provides us with an escape from the scepticisin that menaces a philosopher who has proved all experience to be at bottom illusory. Mill, on the other hand, would make short work with authority wherever it checks or discourages the unlimited exercise of free individual inquiry; and in politics he would entrust the sovereign power to a representation of the entire aggregate of the community, with the most ample encouragement of incessant discussion. This is, indeed, the system actually in force, and in England it has answered very well; but Mill hardly foresaw that its tendency would be to make the State, as the embodiment of popular will, not less but more authoritative, with a tendency to encroach steadily upon the sphere of individual effort and private enterprise.

It may be said that the abstract Utilitarian doctrine reached its high-water mark in Mill's book on the Subjection of Women, to which Mr. Stephen allots one section of a chapter. The book is a particular enlargement upon Mill's general view that it is a pestilent error to regard such marked distinctions of human character as sex or race as innate and in the main indelible. What is called the nature of women he treats as an artificial thing, an isolated fact which need not at any rate be recognised by law; the proper test was, he argued, to leave free competition to determine whether the distinction is radical or merely the result of external circumstance. But, as Mr. Stephen answers, such a plain physiological difference is at least not

ernal circuistinction is ea free competitio; the

negligible; and competition between the sexes may favour the despotism of the stronger, while complete independence on both sides implies freedom to separate at will; and Mill had only glanced evasively at the question of divorce. Here, again, is a theory which the pressure of social conditions, much more than abstract reasoning, is bringing more and more into prominence with our own generation. On the wider and more complicated question of race distinctions Mill never worked out his argument against their indelibility into a regular treatise; nor could he foresee the increasing influence upon contemporary politics that is now exercised by racial feelings and their claims to recognition. In the eighteenth century the French Encyclopédistes, who were the direct philosophic ancestors of the Utilitarians, regarded frontiers, classes, and races as so many barriers against the spread of universal fraternity; and the revolutionary government took up the idea as a war-cry. The armies of the French Republic proclaimed the rights of the people in all countries, until Napoleon turned the democratic doctrine into the form of Imperialism. M. Eugène de Vogüé has told us recently that this armed propaganda produced a reaction in Europe toward that strong sentiment of nationality which has been vigorously manifested during the second half of the nineteenth century. The assertion of separate nationalities, by the demand for political autonomy and by the attempt to revive the public teaching of obscure languages, is the form taken in western and central Europe by the problem of race. No movement could be more contrary to the views or anticipations of the Utilitarians, for whom it would have been merely a recrudescence of one of those inveterate and unreasoning prejudices which still retard human progress, a fiction accepted by indolent thinkers to avoid the trouble of investigating the true causes that modify human character. Yet not only is national particularism making a fresh stir in Europe, but the spread of European dominion over Asia has forced upon our attention the immense practical importance of racial distinctions. We find that they signify real and profound characteristics; the European discovers that in Asia he is himself one of a ruling race, and thereby isolated among the other groups into which the population is subdivided. If he is a sound Utilitarian he will nevertheless cherish the belief that economical improvements, public instruction, good laws, and regular administration will obliterate antipathies, eradicate irrational prejudices, and reconcile Asiatic folk to

the blessings of scientific civilisation. But he will confess that it is a stubborn element, if not innate yet very like such a quality; if not ineffaceable, yet certain to outlast his dominion. It is at least remarkable that Mill's protest against explaining differences of character by race, to which Buckle 'cordially subscribed,' should have been answered in our time by a clamorous demand for the recognition of those very differences, and by an increasing tendency to admit them.

Upon Mill's theological speculations Mr. Stephen has written an interesting chapter, illustrating Mill's desire to treat religion more sympathetically, with a deeper sense of its importance in life, than in the absolute theories of the older Utilitarians. Bentham had declared that the principle of theology, of referring everything to God's will, was no more than a covert application of the test of utility. You must first know whether a thing is right in order to discover whether it is conformable to God's pleasure; and a religious motive, he said, is good or bad according as the religious tenets of the person acting upon it approach more or less to a coincidence with the dictates of utility. The next step, as Bentham probably knew well, is to throw aside an abstraction that has become virtually superfluous, and to march openly under the Utilitarian standard. But there was in Mill a moral and emotional instinct that deterred him from resting without uneasiness upon such a bare empirical conclusion. He rejected all transcendental conceptions; yet he did his best, as Mr. Stephen shows, to find reasonable proofs of a Deity whose existence and attributes may be inferred by observation and experience. He agreed that such an inference is not inconsistent, à priori, with natural laws, and the argument from design was admitted as providing by analogy, or even inductively, a large balance of probability in favour of creation by Intelligence. The difficulty is to attain by these methods the idea of a Deity perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness; for the order of Nature, apart from human intervention and contrivances for making the earth habitable, discloses no tincture of morality. We are thus reduced to the dilemma propounded by Hume, between an omnipotent Deity who cannot be benevolent because misery is perunitted, and a benevolent Deity with limited powers; and Mill sums up the discussion, doubtfully, in favour of a Being with great but limited powers, whose motives cannot be satisfactorily fathomed by the human intellect.

ully, in favvers; and Milled, and a ben

bis preconcerned to eakness of Mils, no trouble is im

This balting conclusion indicates a departure from the pure empiricism of his school, and even the inadequacy of the argument shows the effort that Mill was making towards some fellow-feeling with spiritual conceptions. As Mr. Stephen points out, there is a curious approximation, on some points, between Mill and his arch-enemy Mansel between the conditioned and unconditioned philosophies. Both of them lay stress on the moral perplexities involved in arguing from the wasteful and relentless course of Nature to an estimate of the divine attributes. And both agree that the existence of evil is a serious difficulty ; though Mansel's solution, or evasion, of it is by insisting that the ways of the unconditioned are necessarily for the most part unknowable, while Mill leans to the possibility that God's power or intelligence may be incomplete. Upon either hypothesis we must confess that our knowledge is imperfect and very fallible. Mr. Stephen has no trouble in exposing the philosophical weakness of Mill's attitude; but we are mainly concerned to compare it briefly with the position of his predecessors, for the purpose of continuing a rapid survey of the course and filiation of Utilitarian doctrines. When the orthodox Utilitarians definitely rejected all theology—though until Philip Beauchamp appeared, in 1822, they made no direct attack upon it-they believed that the fall of theology would also bring down religion, which they regarded as the source of motives that were fictitious, misleading, and profoundly upscientific. Mill agreed that a supernatural origin could not be ascribed to received maxims of morality without harming them, because to consecrate rules of conduct was to interdict free examination of them, and to paralyse their natural developement in accordance with changes of circumstance. Looking back over the interminable controversies, and the successive variations in form and spirit that every great religion has undergone, this objection does not seem to us very formidable. But Mill's evident object was to reconcile the cultivation of religious feelings with his principle of free thought for individuals. In accepting Comte's ideal of a religion of humanity, he had entirely condemned Comte's reproduction of the spiritual authority in the shape of a philosophical priesthood. And it is remarkable, as indicating a radical discordance between the French and the English moralist, that while Comte's adoration, in his later years, of a woman led him to ordain a formal worship of the feminine representative of the Family, coupled with the strict seclusion of women from politics, Mill's lifelong attachment greatly strengthened his ardour for the complete emancipation of the whole sex.

Our readers will bear in mind that we are endeavouring to measure the permanent influence of Utilitarian doctrines, to determine how far they have fixed the direction, and shaped the ends, of contemporary thought and political action. It cannot be said that these doctrines are now predominant in either of these two closely interacting departments. National instincts and prepossessions have lost none of their force; national character now divides neighbouring peoples more sharply, perhaps, than a hundred years ago. Militarism is stronger than ever; cosmopolitan philanthropy is overridden by the growth of national interests; political economy is overruled by political necessities ; nor have ethical systems displaced the traditional religions. Empiricism has fallen into discredit as a narrow and inadequate philosophy; it is superseded in the spiritual world by transcendental interpretations of dogmas as metaphysical representations of underlying realities. Mr. Stephen's most instructive work draws to its close with a dissertation on Liberalism and Dogmatism, showing how and why Utilitarianism failed in convincing or converting Englishmen to a practical assent to its principles and modes of thought. Upon many minds they produced more repulsion than attraction. Maurice earnestly protested that we were to believe in God, not in a theory about God, though the distinction, as Mr. Stephen says, is vague; he appealed to the inner light, to the conscience of mankind; he went back into the slough of Intuitionism. Carlyle cried aloud against materialistic views and logical machinery; he denounced the great steam-engine, Utilitarianism'; he was for the able despot and hero-worship against grinding competition and government by discussion. In theology the mystical spirit rose again with its immemorial power of enchanting human imagination; the moral law is discerned to be the vesture of Divinity, in which He arrays Himself to become apprehensible by the finite intellect; and a Science that tries to understand everything explains nothing. Authority, instead of being discarded, is invoked to deliver men out of the great waters of spiritual and political anarchy. The Tractarians struck in with a fierce attack on Rationalism, propounding Faith and Revelation as imperative grounds of belief. You must accept the dogmas, not as useful, not as moral or reasonable, not even as derived intuitively, but as the necessary fundamental truths declared

« PreviousContinue »