Self-interest masks itself and says suavely “we seek the good of the species,” instead of saying bluntly, “we gladly pick up all that other individuals let slip from their grasp. ” Are not we the species as contradistinguished from any individual? When we go so far as to urge sacrifices for the good of the species what are we but beggars and hypocrites?
Persuasion is mingled freely with flattery administered to the vanity of the individual, and it is not to be ignored that the Moral philosopher flatters himself as he proceeds to render what he vainly imagines to be a service to his species. Assuming the point of view that he is spokesman for the species, the dictum that that is good conduct which promotes the interests of the species, is a subtle mendicancy or a veiled terror in the supposed interest of the crowd.
But assuming an individual point of view the question is diHerently shaped. It then becomes : what use can I make of the species , of the crowd?
A summary of ethical teachings of Herbert Spencer says th at postulating the desirability of the preservation and prosperity of thegiven species, there emerges the general conclusion that “in order of obligation the preservation of the species takes precedence of the preservation of the individual. ”
The species he admits, “has no existence save as an aggregate of individuals,” and hence, “the welfare of the species is an end to be subserved only as subserving the welfare of individuals,” but, continues the summary, “since disappearance of the species involves absolute failure in achieving the end, whereas disappearance of individuals makes fulfillment simply somewhat more difficult, ‘the preservation of the individual must be subordinated to the preservation of the species where the two conflict.’ “
There are several features of sophistry in this. Let us, however, note first the admission that “the species” is simply a convenient term.
Now, where confusion is possible the safe way is to lay aside the term.
When this is done it will be found that in restating the foregoing propositions it becomes necessary to speak, instead, either of all the individuals concerned except one or of all the individuals concerned, without exception. But he has seemingly used the term species in both senses or else, with his “order of obligation,” he has affirmed an obligation to subordinate the preservation of one individual to that of another. As this is intelligible for the purpose of the crowd dealing with individuals but not for the individual acting for himself with himself as the victim, the immedate inference at this point is that Spencer is expounding the Egoistic logic of the crowd.
If the welfare of others is subserved only as subserving my welfare, it can never be true that I must subordinate my preservation to that of others, for this is to divert the general rule, which applies while I am one of the crowd, to the exceptional case wherein I am set apart from the crowd. All conditions of benefit imply at least preservation.
When I am counted out for non-preservation, for the good of others, it must be the others, not I, who do the counting out. In the first premise Spencer speaks for the individual treating the crowd from his proper motive ; but in the conclusion he speaks for the crowd or some of its preserved part contemplating the sacrifice of an individual, yet these shifting points of view are included in a syllogism.
The welfare of the crowd a mediate end : that is reasonable to the individual.
The preservation of the individual a mediate end to the crowd : that is reasonable from the crowd’s point of view ; but analysis of the diverse points of view is needed, not an attempt to link the two in a syllogism the conclusion of which is merely the crowd’s conclusion .
Now examine the second premise of the syllogism : “the disappearance of the species involves absolute failure in achieving the end.”
Why, in fact? Because the disappearance of others of the species but myself involves it? Not at all ; but because the term species in-eludes myself. But as far as my existence is concerned it would be the same if I alone disappeared. Do you say : the preservation of the alphabet is of no use to A except as A combines with other letters ; but the disappearance of the alphabet would involve the disappearance of A; hence the preservation of one letter (A) is less important than the preservation of all the other letters? The letter A answers : “Bosh ! “
Speaking for the individual, how does the doctrine of subordination of the preservation of the individual accord with evolutionary theory regarding the origin of species? Do species originate by individuals taking care of themselves under whatever circumstances, i:f possible, or by the contrary rule of their benevolence toward the pre-existing species? The reader can pursue this inquiry for himself; bu t I should like to suggest that what has been considered regarding the individual and the species can be paraphrased with reference to the species and the genus under which it is classified, thus :
The welfare of the genus is to be subserved only as serving the welfare of the species, but since the disappearance of the genus involves absolute failure, whereas disappearance of particular species makes fulfillment simply somewhat more difficult, therefore the preservation of the species must be subordinated to the preservation of the genus where the two conflict. The fallacy of this sort of reasoning may appear without comment, inasmuch as the individual will easily maintain the point of view of the interested species, and will not practically allow himself to slide over to the position of the presuming genus.
A supplementary remark may be indulged. The genus never licenses or encourages the origination of new species ; but then the verbal sophistry of the genus would not prove to be a preventive.
I pass by the small occasion of confusion in the use of the word “end,” the second time, in the foregoing statement. Total failure may be assumed to refer to failure of the ultimate aim.