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ambitions of the tradesman and the artist are anything but alike; and could we compare the air castles of the ploughman and the philosopher, we should find them of widelydifferent styles of architecture.
Generalizing such facts, we see that the idea of "greatest happiness” is as variable as the other elements of human nature. Between nations the differences of opinion are conspicuous enough. On contrasting the Hebrew patriarchis with their existing descendants, we observe that even in the same race the beau ideal of existence changes. The members of each community disagree upon the question. Neither, if we compare the wishes of the gluttonous schoolboy with those of the earth-scorning transcendentalist into whom he may afterwards grow, do we find any constancy in the individual.
The rationale of this is simple enough. Happiness signifies a gratified state of all the faculties. The gratification of a faculty is produced by its exercise. To be agreeable that exercise must be proportionate to the power of the faculty : if it is insufficient discontent arises, and its excess produces weariness. Hence, to have complete felicity is to have all the faculties exerted in the ratio of the several developments; and an ideal arrangement of circumstances calculated to secure this constitutes the standard of "greatest happiness.” But the minds of no two individuals contain the same combination of elements. There is in each a different balance of desires. Therefore the conditions adapted for the highest enjoyment of one, would not perfectly compass the same end for any other. And, consequently, the notion of happiness must vary with the disposition and character; that is, must vary indefinitely
The allegation that these are hypercritical objections, and that for all practical purposes we agree sufficiently well as to what "greatest happiness” means, will possibly be made by some. This allegation is easily disposed of; for there are
. plenty of questions practical enough to satisfy such cavillers, about which men exhibit none of this assumed unanimity. For example:
What is the ratio between the mental and bodily enjoyments constituting “greatest happiness”? There is a point up to which increase of mental activity produces increase of happiness; but beyond which, it produces in the end more pain than pleasure. Where is that point? Some appear to think that intellectual culture and the gratifications deriveable from it can hardly be carried too far. Others maintain that already among the educated classes mental excitements are taken in excess; and that were more time given to physical activities, a larger amount of enjoyment would be obtained. If "greatest happiness" is to be the rule, it becomes needful to decide which of these opinions is correct; and, further, to determine the boundary between the use and abuse of every faculty.
Which is most truly an element in the desired felicity, content or aspiration? The generality assume that, as a matter of course, content is. There are others, however, who hold that but for discontent we should have been still savages. It is in their eyes the greatest incentive to progress. Nay, they maintain that were content the order of the day, society would even now begin to decay. It is required to reconcile these contradictory theories.
— And this synonym for “greatest happiness ”—this “utility”—what shall be comprised under it? The million would confine it to the things which directly or indirectly minister to the bodily wants, and in the words of the adage “help to get something to put in the pot.” Others there are who think mental culture useful in itself, irrespective of socalled practical results, and would therefore teach astronomy, geology, anatomy, ethnology, &c., together with logic and metaphysics. Unlike some of the Roman writers who held practice of the fine arts to be vicious, there are now many who suppose utility to comprehend poetry, painting, sculpture, and whatever aids the refinement of the taste. While an extreme party maintains that music, dancing, the drama, and what are commonly called amusements, are equally worthy to be included. In place of all which discordance we ought to have agreement.
– Whether shall we adopt the theory of some that felicity means the greatest possible enjoyment of this life's pleasures, or that of others, that it consists in anticipating the pleasures of a life to come? And if we compromise the matter, and say it should combine both, how much of each shall go to its composition ?
Or what must we think of this wealth-seeking age of ours ? Shall we consider the total absorption of time and energy in business—the spending of life in the accumulation of the means to live, as constituting “greatest happiness, and act accordingly? Or how shall we hold that this is to be regarded as the voracity of a larva assimilating material for the development of the future psyche?
Not only, therefore, is an agreement as to the meaning of "greatest happiness” theoretically impossible, but it is also manifest that men are at issue upon all topics which, for their determination, require defined notions of it. So that in directing us to this "greatest happiness of the greatest number,” as the object towards which we should steer, our pilot “keeps the word of promise to our ear and breaks it to our hope." What he shows us through his telescope is a fata morgana, and not the promised land. The real haven sought dips far down below the horizon, and has yet been seen by
Faith not sight must be our guide. We cannot do without a compass.
EVEN were the fundamental proposition of the expediency system not thus vitiated by the indefiniteness of its terms, it would still be vulnerable. Granting for the sake of argument, that the desideratum, "greatest happiness,” is duly comprehended, its identity and nature agreed upon by all, and the direction in which it lies satisfactorily settled, there yet remains the unwarranted assumption that it is possible to determine empirically by what methods it may be achieved Experience daily proves that an uncertainty like that which exists respecting the specific ends to be obtained, exists respecting the right mode of attaining them when supposed to be known. Let us look at a few cases.
When it was enacted in Bavaria that no marriage should be allowed between those without capital, unless certain authorities could “see a reasonable prospect of the parties being able to provide for their children,” it was intended to advance the public weal by checking improvident unions, and redundant population : a purpose most politicians will consider praiseworthy, and a provision which many will think well adapted to secure it. Nevertheless this apparently sagacious measure has by no means answered its end. In Munich, the capital of the kingdom, half the births are illegitimate !
Those too were admirable motives, and cogent reasons, which led our Government to establish an armed force on the coast of Africa for the suppression of the slave trade. What
could be more essential to the greatest happiness” than the annihilation of the abominable traffic? And how could forty ships of war, supported by an expenditure of £700,000 a year, fail to accomplish this? The results have, however, been anything but satisfactory. When the abolitionists of England advocated it, they little thought that such a measure instead of preventing would only “ aggravate the horrors, without sensibly mitigating the extent of the traffic;" that it would generate fast-sailing slavers with decks one foot six inches apart, suffocation from close packing, miserable diseases, and a mortality of thirty-five per cent. They dreamed not that when hard pressed a slaver might throw a whole cargo of 500 negroes into the sea; nor that on a blockaded coast the disappointed chiefs would, as at Gallinas, put to death 200 men and women, and stick their heads on poles along shore, in sight of the squadron.* In short, they never anticipated having to plead, as they now do, for the abandonment of coercion.
The Spitalfields weavers afford us another case in point. No doubt the temptation which led them to obtain the Act of 1773, fixing a minimum of wages, was a strong one; and the anticipations of greater comfort to be secured by its enforcement must have seemed reasonable enough to all. Unfortunately, however, the weavers did not consider the consequences of being interdicted from working at reduced rates ; and little expected that before 1793, some 4000 looms would be brought to a stand in consequence of the trade going elsewhere.
To mitigate distress having appeared needful for the production of the “greatest happiness,” the English people have sanctioned upwards of one hundred Acts of Parliament having this end in view ; each of them arising out of the failure or incompleteness of Acts previously passed. Men are never
* See Anti-Slavery Society's Report for 1847; and Evidence before Parliamentary Committee, 1848.