The Idea of Justice in the Synthetic
As the culminating
development of his evolutionary or Synthetic Philosophy, Mr. Spencer now
comes to treat of those social-economic questions that involve the idea of
justice, in a book which he entitles Justice.
But what is justice?
It is the rendering to each his due. It presupposes
a moral law, and its corollaries, natural rights which are self-evident.
But where in a philosophy that denies spirit, that ignores will, that derives
all the qualities and attributes of man from the integration of matter
and the dissipation of motion, can we find any basis for the idea of justice?
"Justice," says Montesquieu, "is a relation
of congruity which really subsists between two things. This relation is
always the same, whatever being considers it, whether it be God, or an angel,
or lastly a man." This, too, in Social Statics, was Mr. Spencer's
conception. Justice he tells us there means equalness—that is to say, a
relation of congruity or equality which is always the same, and always apprehensible
by men, no matter what be their condition of development or degree of knowledge.
As the basis of all his reasoning he postulates an inherent moral sense, which
"none but those committed to a preconceived theory can fail to recognize-a
perception that bears to morality the same relationship that the perception
of the primary laws of quantity bears to mathematics; and which enables
us to recognize an "eternal law of things," a "Divine order," in which,
and not in any notions of what is expedient either for the individual or
for all individuals, we may find a sure guide of conduct, the apprehension
of right and wrong. And this it seems to me is necessarily and universally
involved in the idea of Justice, so that when a man, whatever be his theories,
thinks of right or wrong, just or unjust, he thinks of a relation, like
that of odd and even, or more and less, which is always and everywhere to
be seen by whoever will look.
But this self-evidence of natural rights the
Synthetic Philosophy denies. It admits the existence of natural rights—that
is to say, rights which pertain to the individual man as man, and are consequently
equal; but it derives the genesis of these rights, or at least their apprehension
by man, from this process of his gradual evolution, by virtue of which
they evolve, or he becomes conscious of them, after a certain amount of
"social discipline," and not before. If such rights exist before, it must
be potentially, or in some such way as the Platonic ideas. But as this
would involve an appointed order; and hence intelligent will, to which we
must attribute equity; and hence God; it seems inconsistent with Mr. Spencer's
present view—not necessarily with that part which derives our physical constitutions
from lower animals and primarily from the integrations of matter and motion
for this is a mere matter of external form, and that our bodies come, somehow,
"from the dust of the earth" as the Scriptures put it, is as clear as that
ice comes from water but with that part which gives to the ego the same
genesis, and accounts for our mental and moral qualities by variation, survival
of the fittest, the pressure of conditions, social discipline and heredity
of acquired characteristics.
Mr. Spencer realizes this inconsistency, for,
abandoning altogether his original derivation and explanation of justice,
he proceeds in Justice to make another derivation and explanation
in accordance with his new philosophy, devoting to this the first eight
chapters, or something more than a fifth of the book. With its validity
or invalidity, its coherency or incoherency, I am not here concerned; my
object being merely to show how he arrives at the conception of justice
and what it is, so that we may judge the teachings of Justice from
its own avowed standpoint.
To present Mr. Spencer's argument as intelligibly
as I can, I will make a synopsis of the first eight chapters of Justice,
as far as possible in his own words, but without quotationmarks, employing
smaller type where the exact words can be used at some length.
These chapters are—
During immaturity, benefits received must be inversely
proportioned to capacities possessed. After maturity, benefits must vary
directly as worth, measured by fitness for the conditions of existence.
The ill-fitted must suffer the evils of unfitness, and the well-fitted prove
The law of sub-human Justice is that each individual
shall receive the benefits and the evils of its own nature and its consequent
Each individual ought to receive the benefits
and the evils of his own nature and consequent conduct, neither being prevented
from having whatever good his actions normally bring him, nor allowed to
shoulder off this evil on other persons.
4.—The Sentiment of Justice.
Our feeling that we ourselves ought to have
freedom to receive the results of our own nature and consequent actions,
and which prompts maintenance of the sphere for this free play, results
from inheritances of modifications produced by habit, or from more numerous
survivals of individuals having nervous structures which have varied in
fit ways, and from the tendency of groups formed of members having this
adaptation to survive and spread. Recognition of the similar freedom of
others is evolved from the fear of retaliation, from the punishment of interference
prompted by the interests of the chief, from fear of the dead chief's ghost,
and from fear of God, when dead-chief-ghost worship grows into God worship,
and, finally, by the sympathy evolved by gregariousness.
5.—The Idea of Justice.
It emerges and becomes definite from experiences,
generation after generation, which provoke resentment and reactive pains,
until finally there arises a conception of a limit to each kind of activity
up to which there is freedom to act. But it is a long time before the general
nature of the limit common to all cases can be conceived. On the one hand
there is the positive element, implied by each man's recognition of his
claims to unimpeded activities and the benefits they bring; on the other
hand there is the negative element implied by the consciousness of limits
which the presence of other men having like claims necessitates. Inequality
is suggested by the one, for if each is to receive the benefits due his own
nature and consequent conduct, then, since men differ in their powers, there
must be differences in the results. Equality is suggested by the other, since
bounds must be set to the doings of each to avoid quarrels, and experience
shows that these bounds are on the average the same for all. Unbalanced appreciation
of the one is fostered by war, and tends to social organization of the militant
type, where inequality is established by authority, an inequality referring,
not to the natural achievement of greater rewards by greater merits, but
to the artificial apportionment of greater rewards to greater merits. Unbalanced
appreciation of the other tends to such theories as Bentham's greatest
happiness principle, and to communism and socialism. The true conception
is to be obtained by noting that the equality concerns the mutually limited
spheres of action which must be maintained if associated men are to co-operate
harmoniously, while the inequality concerns the results which each may
achieve by carrying on his actions within the implied limits. The two may
be and must be simultaneously asserted.
6.—The Formula Of Justice.
It must be positive in so far as it asserts
for each that, since he is to receive and suffer the good and evil of his
own actions, he must be allowed to act. And it must be negative in so far
as, by asserting this of every one, it implies that each can be allowed
to act only under the restraint imposed by the presence of others having
like claims to act. Evidently, the positive element is that which expresses
a prerequisite to life in general, and the negative element is that which
qualifies this prerequisite in the way required, when, instead of one life
carried on alone, there are many lives carried on together.
Hence, that which we have to express in a precise
way is the liberty of each limited only by the like liberties of all. This
we do by saying, Every man is free to do what he wills, provided he infringes
not the equal freedom of any other man.
7.—The Authority of this Formula.
The reigning school of politics and morals has
a contempt for doctrines that imply restraint on the doings of immediate
expediency. But if causation be universal, it must hold throughout the actions
of incorporated men. Evolution implies that a distinct conception of justice
can have arisen but gradually. It has gone on more rapidly under peaceful
relations, and been held back by war. Nevertheless, where the conditions have
allowed, it has evolved slowly to some extent, and formed for itself approximately
true expressions, as shown in the Hebrew Commandments, and without distinction
between generosity and Justice, in the Christian Golden Rule, and in modern
forms in the rule of Kant. It is also shown on the legal side, in the maxims
of lawyers as to natural law, admitted inferentially even by the despotically
These, it will be objected, are apriori beliefs.
The doctrine of evolution teaches that a priori beliefs entertained by
men at large must have arisen, if not from the experiences of each individual,
then from the experiences of the race. Fixed intuitions must have been
established by that intercourse with things which throughout an enormous
past has directly and indirectly determined the organization of the nervous
system, and certain resulting necessities of thought. Thus had the law
of equal freedom no other than a priori derivations, it would still be
rational to regard it as an adumbration of a truth, if not still literally
true. And the inductive school, including Bentham and Mill, are, on analysis,
driven to the basis of a priori cognitions.
But the principle of natural equity, expressed
in the freedom of each, limited only by the like freedom of all, is not exclusively
an a priori belief.
Examination of the facts has shown it
to be a fundamental law by conformity to which life has evolved from its
lowest up to its highest forms, that each adult individual shall take the
consequences of its own nature and actions: survival of the fittest being
the result. And the necessary implication is an assertion of that full liberty
to act which forms the positive element in the formula of justice; since,
without full liberty to act, the relation between conduct and consequence
cannot be maintained. Various examples have made clear the conclusion manifest
in theory, that among gregarious creatures this freedom of each to act has
to be restricted; since if it is unrestricted there must arise such clashing
of actions as prevents the gregariousness. And the fact that, relatively unintelligent
though they are, inferior gregarious creatures inflict penalties for breaches
of the needful restrictions, shows how regard for them has come to be unconsciously
established as a condition to persistent social life.
These two laws, holding, the one of all
creatures and the other of social creatures, and the display of which is
clearer in proportion as the evolution is higher, find their last and fullest
sphere of manifestation in human societies. We have recently seen that along
with the growth of peaceful co-operation there has been an increasing conformity
to this compound law under both its positive and negative aspects; and
we have also seen that there has gone on simultaneously an increase of
emotional regard for it, and intellectual apprehension of it.
So that we have not only the reasons above given
for concluding that this a priori belief has its origin in the experiences
of the race, but we are enabled to affiliate it on the experiences of living
creatures at large, and to perceive that it is but a conscious response
to certain necessary relations in the order of nature.
No higher warrant can be imagined; and now,
accepting the law of equal freedom as an ultimate ethical principle, having
an authority transcending every other, we may proceed with our inquiry.
That the general formula of justice may serve
for guidance, deductions must be drawn severally applicable to special
classes of cases. The several particular freedoms deducible from the laws
of equal freedom may fitly be called, as they commonly are called, rights.
Rights truly so called are corollaries from the law of equal freedom, and
what are falsely called rights are not deducible from it.
It is not worth while to examine this argument.
It is sufficient for our purpose to see that in Justice Mr. Spencer
re-asserts the same principle from which in Social Statics he condemned
private property in land.