The Principles of Ethics, Vol 1

EPUB EBook by Herbert Spencer

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Spencer's aim with this volume is simple enough. The Principles of Ethics, Vol 1 EPUB EBookHe wants to base ethics on the principles of evolutionary biology.His theme is that there is a progression to evolution where cooperation increases to the point where the freedom of one is compatable with the freedom of all.This necessarily involves self- EPUBrestriction based on the recognition that increased paralysis ensues if each does what one wants.

Spencer arrives at this conclusion through the explanation of biological motivation.Good and bad are based on what is agreeable and disagreeable.The body tells us, in other words, what is right and what is wrong, and self-interest (egoism) is the ultimate principle of conduct.That self-oriented standard becomes a problem for others and social order so Spencer argues that individuals and societies increasingly merge altruistic behavior with egoism.Spencer's reasoning is that we come to realize that our private good depends on the good of others to pursue what is agreeable and to avoid that which is disagreeable.In this way, Spencer bases general happiness on private happiness and thereby provides utilitarian (general happiness) on biological foundations.Spencer believes that this conciliation between egoism and altruisdm occurs because altruism increasingly becomes an end in itself, not just a means to one's own egoistic happiness (this is where some Lamarkian theory creaps into Spencer's thining).In time, Spencer believes this leads to an overall decline in aggressiveness and an increase in sympathy, and altruistic pleasure becomes a higher-order egoistic pleasure to the point where a permanent peace can be achieved.

Throughout this volume Spencer puts forward key insights.The emotional basis for altruism begins with parents and it's this foundation that gets extended to the broader world and provides the emotional foundation for the intellectual recognition that one's own (egoistic) welfare depends on the general public's good.Spencer writes at length about the distinction between group mutuality (amnity) and out of group situations (emnity), and acknowledges that certain practices such as murder and deception are regarded as a virtue in the former but as a vice in the latter.Love thy neighbor might apply only to our group, not human kind, in other words. Spencer is also very good at the sanctions that are employed to keep egoism in check within one's group - fear of the leader, fear of social reprimand, and fear of the divine.

Elsewhere, here and there, Spencer reminds us that he is a product of this time.He's comfortable with dividing humankind into superior and inferior classes and sees "Negroes" as having no capacity for mercy, pity or compassion. Despite these flaws, Spencer writes clearly and makes an honest attempt to place his ethical theory on a solid biological footing.Where he goes wrong is that he classifies all humans as the same.This allows him to argue that all humans evenutally come to merge egoism and altruism, and this is where he arrives at his progressive view of evolution that leads to a peaceful and just society.That assessment is optimistic and I think wrong.The egoist drive is just too strong for much of humanity and that energy intensity is such that egoistic will, not voluntary restriction of self in deference to the other, will always be a problem.Some degree ofexternal restraint and force, as opposed to a natural evolution toward "the good," will always be necessary. Like this book? Read online this: Herbert Spencer, Ethics.

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