From The Righteous State
by Severin Christensen
6.—The Welfare Moral and the Moral of Justice
Among the countless moral systems, which have been constructed through the years, and which again have had to be left because of subjective arbitrariness, the so-called welfare moral must be specifically mentioned because of its popularity. Its objective content has been undermined, to be sure; scientifically, it is a fallen greatness. But a greatness it still is, great from the authorities, which at the time promoted it, and great from the influence it won from the spirit of time, and the grip it got on public life. Even though it belongs to the 19th century as a spiritual phenomenon, it casts its shadow a long stretch into the 20th. Born as it was from the noblest of motives it bears because of its unclear mixing of private feelings and public demands much of the blame for the cultural dark age, in which Europe has been immersed. This is not yet sufficiently understood by the public conscience, and a confrontation between the moral of welfare and the moral of justice is therefore not superfluous. The critique of the moral welfare is already of a long standing. Already during Mills’s life-time Spencer polemicized heavily against it and caused it doubting blows. In France, especially Guyau has directed a matter-of-factly attack on it. Also here in Denmark the ethical science has from early on taken a stance against it (especially, Starcke, N. Bang, Sev. Christensen, Lambek, and Albert Dam. Worth noticing is it that the Danish contribution has not consisted of pure negative critique, but has been the result of a positive consideration, which despite undoubtedly good will has not yet met any factual objection of any substance. Some of the objections towards welfare moral certainly also goes for some of the other subjective moral systems.
As we know, it was Bentham, who first introduced the principle of “the greatest possible happiness for as many people as possible as the guideline for people to follow in their actions. This principle soon caught on. It became expressed differently by other thinkers, to be sure, but by and large this axiom may still be considered the standard of the utilitarianism. Still, neither Bentham, nor any of his followers succeeded in giving a satisfying answer to the simple question, why this principle should contain a duty for you and me. His main view was, that the actions which mostly advances happiness in the world in reality are the same, which lies in the own well-understood interest of a person. But even if this could be proven in an indisputable way, it would never be enough to justify a “you ought to” from the point of view of other people. A suggestion at the most, never a demand.
But it can never be proven, that the interest of the individual and the totality in this way are congruent. And if it was just generally provable, people would still not in daily life be freed from a steady unsolvable doubt – as a practical guideline his axiom would be completely useless. Because life will always provide the individuals with an array of certain choices between narrow personal interests and the needs of the surrounding society. And no welfare theory has so far been able to present a rule of how much the individual should sacrifice on the altar of his neighbour. To be able to in each specific incident to calculate how much the true best of the whole would be is well above human ability. Does the best of the whole demand that I pay dues at the time agreed upon, or should I for once let the creditor wait and spend the money on a trip to the South, so that I could gain strength to do more good to the society afterwards? Who can decide such a matter reliably? Or, if I have a fortune, should I then give the money to the poor or to the Grundtvig Church, or should I spend them on my own health? Who can pose a general proof, which of these uses would create the largest amount of welfare?
The most desperate measures to gain ground for these equations have been tried. It has been attempted to measure the “quantity” of the feeling of happiness, which follows from an act, objectively by looking at its strength, duration, closeness, trustworthiness etc., in short, it has been believed that a sort of mathematical measure could be applied to these conditions. Furthermore, it has at times been proposed that what was important was not the happiness of this or that individual, but exclusively that of the entire amount of happiness in the world, wherever it is – at other times that each individual has exactly the same right to happiness as all others. How can these principles be united, which they are to be consequently executed? In the first case in regard to the happiness of oneself and the others it is demanded, that one has to be a strictly impartial and disinterested audience, who is ready to sacrifice oneself, if the other would gain more that oneself would lose. In the other a certain right of the individual is recognized, which under no circumstances should be violated.
It is easy to see that the Benthamian calculations despite their mathematical make-up are completely unscientific. How can strength and duration be compared in exactly the same way and unite them with an objective denominator? Utterly hopeless. Extant conditions for happiness may perhaps be measured and compared, but the evaluation of these conditions for happiness by different persons will never be foreseeable or calculable. Here we have an unsurmountable obstacle to general rules. That is why the welfare theory is practically unusable. Since the task it poses to itself: to avail the welfare of fellow human beings, cannot be pointed out.
What is welfare, actually? According to Høffding it is everything, which leads to the satisfaction of the urge in human nature in its complete totality. But what the urge of nature of A in its totality means is something, which forever shall remain an unknown quantity to B, who therefore is unable to find the actions, which could satisfy it. Yes, even if A voices an urge, what will then guarantee B that it is the expression of the deepest in his nature, if it serves his true best to have it satisfied; maybe it is not even clear to himself.(By welfare I mean “the true happiness” or “the true usefulness”, Høffding explains). The principle of welfare poses supernatural demands towards pursuing causal rows, which demand that the single moments of pleasure and pain must be evaluated in relation to the total life of the individual and the pleasure and pain of the individual in relation to the total life of the family; the evaluation is based on the how the action interferes with the life and feeling of conscious beings. This is an even more impossible task than to demand that the one, who throws a stone into the water, beforehand should calculate each physical effect, which as a consequence of the throw would be applied to each molecule in the water, because the human soul is a much more complicated medium than the water, and more inaccessible to investigation.
Just as the stone-throw must be reduced to the pursuing of certain specific causal rows, so human interference must let itself be satisfied by pointing out a few, clear causal relations, and one cannot claim, and even less demand other actions than those, whose constant effects can be identified, and not substantiate general rules about them from other points of view than these proofs. Høffding has the feeling of the weakness of this system in this regard, since he says: “and the ethical calculus will never lead to absolute certainty”, but the means he clings to to diminish this uncertainty is desperate: “the principle of welfare must definitely lead to misgivings towards letting reflection and consideration about pro et contra play too important a role, as the energetic and resolute action, which actually turns out to be of great importance, would be excluded”. So, since the considerations about the causal relations do not lead to a certain result, one should resolutely throw overboard the thoughts and let the instinct rule. But instinctive convictons about actions, whose reach does not lend itself to scientific control, s not just very unscientific, but a very alarming notion towards others. That the principle of supplying welfare to others from a basis of conviction is an alarming danger to society is not just a pure allegation, but something which history can document from its most bloody pages. Høffding himself mentions three examples (Jesus, Servet, Kotzebue); they can be added to indefinitely. As is known a welfare commission existed at the time of the revolution, which easily could have derived its named and its practice from the welfare principle, and in a certain way also did just that., since it originates directly with Rousseau, who publicly have admitted to the welfare concept of making people free through force.
Actions, which have nothing else to sustain them than convictions about universal welfare, will on principle be the same as arbitrary tyranny and terrorism.
In our days the barbaric terror only plays a very small role (at least outside of Russia). It has become succeeded by the well-meaning tutelage, which may have to use other means, but is possessed by the same “we-alone-know”-spirit. In the foreign policy the ‘caring for’ the less fortunate nations prompt the large states to out of pure good will to force them to adopt their own high culture, which without further ado lets itself be justified on the basis of the ‘moral’, which the philosophers have preached for the last two generations. I use the word preached expressly, since there has been no such thing as a scientific argument. In the internal policy the individual citizen has by some well-meaning fellow citizens, called politicians, been enclosed in a vice-like grip (albeit upholstered). The well-doings he is unable to appreciate, for instance personal military duty, are forced upon him by those, who know better about his welfare than he does himself; and to uphold a string of purposes, which he is both not interested in, and out of principle against (cultural matters, for instance), the means are not given as one would expect from the philanthropists themselves, but by him, since they simply robs them off him in the name of ‘personal taxes’.
Above we have mentioned an essential nuisance in the welfare principle, that is that it is not possible to find common traits to define such acts, which infallibly lead to as many people’s well-being as possible. But this is exactly the main requirement one would demand from a scientific moral, that it can define a norm, a rule, applicable by everyone and of such a kind that acts done in accordance with it, at least and because of an unbroken causality will lead to the result, which is wanted. This demand the welfare moral has never fulfilled. It is content to give prescriptions of a purpose of such a type that it must be entrusted to each individual to understand it as he best can and find the way to it as well as possible – instead of pointing to a rule of action, which always would lead to the goal.
The one who advises the other to bathe often and go out much in the fresh air has by this defined a rule of action towards a purpose: the health. The one, who encourages doing justice and fulfilling ones duties, has defined a rule of action regarding the purpose: social trust. But what is the rule of action, which leads to ‘the welfare for so many as possible’?
Apart from everything, which talks against the use of the welfare principle in daily private life, there are even more crucial reasons against its use in public life. Here it is not enough to remind us that the legislation acts absolutely blindly, as soon as it tries to impose a measure based on ‘usefulness’ or ‘humanity’. The important point of view here is that philanthropy and love of humanity amongst men, even though it cannot be demanded as a duty, not only is admissible, but in the highest degree laudable, since one is allowed to do with his own, what he wants, if no one else is wronged by it. But the leaders are not owners of the stately property, they are mere managers of a capital, in which we all have equal claim; they cannot give away any of it, which they consider useful, without showing themselves as untrustworthy managers of the goods entrusted to them. They cannot be charitable towards someone without doing wrong to others.
At last we shall look into the argument, which the supporters of welfare moral usually has reserved for other systems, which is that they all are derived from the welfare principle or take that as their precondition. Against the principle of justice it has been upheld that it by and large is superfluous, since in the end also the moral of justice has human happiness and welfare as its ultimate goal.
If this was a correct message it would be a serious objection towards the moral of justice, and therefore we shall investigate this objection further and try to understand the relation between these two systems.
We start from the known fact that in each individual there is a whole array of varied interests and life-conditions, which it is his duty to consider, if he should obtain what is called “happiness”. Among these many are common human conditions and generally the same for different people, for instance economic advantage, health, pleasure from food and drink, erotic experiences, feelings for the family, delight in other people’s trust, safe possession of a certain existence and ability to produce etc. Many of these interests, of which some are special and irreplaceable by others, can be furthered by parallel developments in various individuals, because their physical being and other conditions are equally built: it is possible to formulate uniform rules of action, which infallibly will lead to the desired goal.
If it on the other hand is a concern about the welfare of a human being, ‘the highest good’, or which other names one would use about the total happiness or highest goal of a human being, then it must be considered, not how this person should act to achieve these goals, he defines for himself, or the interests, he sports, but from which purpose or interests he must assume to reach the largest amount of interest in life, or how the relation between the various purposes should be. But how the pattern in the weave of purposes will look in the end, which colours it will bring to the largest recognition, will demand of a personal equation; here the individual effort comes as a parameter, which is completely incalculable. Therefore, the one human being is deprived of the ability to assess the path to ‘happiness’ taken by the other. It might be possible to establish some singular universal conditions for happiness, but happiness itself is the blue bird, which each and every one has to hunt in his own way. It is the individual who has the strings in his hand, mostly the drawing will come as a surprise to others, sometimes even to him. Happiness is a reflection of the exertion of personality.
Now it is evident, that if ethical rules shall be objective and universal, they must restrict themselves just to address one of the singular purposes, interests or life conditions (such as the maintaining of the social trust). Also the use of language shows us the moral as a value in its own right; one does certainly not generally use ‘moral’ to express the same thing as good or valuable.
The basic facts, to which every certain proposition must look back, is now these, that between the individuals active in society certain limits has to be imposed, which it is the duty of society to uphold. If everyone who has the freedom to exert his abilities until a certain limit, which is defined by the equal amount of freedom to the others, from his fellow citizens achieve so much from his contributions, as they value them to be worth, and he lives in safety of life and possession, then one necessary condition for happiness has been reached. It can be considered proven by experience that recognition of certain individual rights, a certain rightful sphere of possession for each individual, a certain rightful return for mutual output really do ascertain a purpose, which everybody finds useful. But the guideline for the legislator is not the usefulness, but the justification, nothing more has been proven that a certain set of actions (the fair ones) always leads to a certain set of desired purposes.
Regarding the welfare principle the rules of the moral of justice takes this position: they cannot be in opposition to what is called welfare, since their aim is the universal interests of human beings, which actually belong to the conditions for human welfare; on this limited basis they can acknowledge with indefinite security and authority and in the format of universal objective norms, since they are based on certainty of how such interests must be nurtured. So, of how each purpose should be realised, it is possible to introduce objective rules, and this is what the moral of justice is doing – but which purpose the individual human being should set for himself and pursue in order to achieve the condition, known as happiness – that has to be an inner personal task. Since there is no common threadbare path to the total happiness or welfare of human beings, the moral of justice does not take this upon itself. The value, which we grant our singular purposes, is defined by the ideals of our personality or the nature of our cultural ideals. Therefore a teaching about the relative value between purposes must necessarily become a subjective philosophy of life and never an objective teaching of norms.
From the text so far it follows that welfare cannot be considered a guiding principle to reach the conditions for happiness, either, since these as has been proven are so special and demand their own singular directions. Good stomachs are a universal condition for welfare; but what it takes to obtain good stomachs needs specialized knowledge and not just a human-loving purpose. In the same way a stable and peaceful relation of trust is a universal condition for happiness, but how it is arrived at only special experience can teach us. Only that can demonstrate that the advantage of being woven into the social relation of trust cannot be reached, without the mutual respect between individuals and their granting each other a minimum of personal freedom and such a basis of industry, which is devised by the principle of justice.
So we have to maintain that the moral is a special kind of value (as the aesthetical for instance is another). If it should be placed in a relation to the concept of happiness, it can be said that the moral aims towards a universal condition for happiness of a social sort, which is why it lends itself to be put forward as an objective teaching of norms or as a technique, so to say.
But as a consequence of that inner conflicts between this consideration and others may arise. Since, of course, no rule can be derived from the moral principle of justice itself, whether one should put this principle above other principles or considerations, or whether all other values always must give way in favour of this special value. The technical rule as to how to arrive at a goal, of course cannot be made the authority to judge the purposes. The moral of justice can only establish what is just and unjust, and its defenders can only propose this special meaning of its purpose. As Axel Dam says (in Value problems in Life) in which he clearly has explained this notion: if one wants something else than the just, the teaching of justice has nothing to say, except that one then acts unjust. The just would be unable to prove that it is healthier or more advantageous to remain faithful to the standard of justice. And it would only weaken the logical meticulousness of the teaching of justice, if it tried to let the validity of its biddings, i.e. its legitimacy, depend on, if such an accordance between the demands of the just and other heterogeneous demands could be found.”
“One can find it useful, necessary, forgivable, etc. to commit an inconsequential injustice, but one cannot through an with just incompatible good make the injustice ‘rightful’. Since then the others would have swallowed it up as superior considerations.”
Has not, Dam asks, in a cause of collision (if for instance I commit an unjust irregularity in a most important matter) a balancing between two incongruent quantities taken place? Yes, but even so no single purpose has been made no. 1 or no. 2 by principle; it is not so that the principle of justice has been submitted to any utilitarian principle or other principles. In this case (in which there was a need to act either in favour of fulfilling a promise or in favour of a humanitarian action preventing me from doing it) I have made a balance of two incongruent purposes, and this balance has been done by the only instrument tuned to perform this, myself, such as I understand my own ideal personality; I have made the single acts and their consequences give meeting at High Court, these values recognized by me. Such a consideration must, when it shall be reliable, be led all the way to the basic values, which are at stake. The result is: the just had to give way; the social condition of trust has been shaken just a little or a bit more, but no one can assert that I have rendered this purpose meaningless, or that the just, as a means to further what it is meant to further, has suffered any damage. The truthfulness of the principle of justice (according to its purpose) has remained unchallenged.
A decent person, however, only leaves the proper way of acting, when he is forced to choose between the purpose, this would ensure, and an even greater value, which otherwise would have been given up. And even though an unjust action or an omission had to be chosen, he can in the eyes of others justify himself as decent, if he can bring them to understand the value of what he chose to save.
To the same extent that this value is for the common good, to the same extent he can better his trustworthiness. But the more reckless he seems to leave the consideration of justice behind, the less he will count in the mutual relationship of trust. It is evident that the decent person will acknowledge his guilt even in cases, where he is convinced that he had to put justice aside, and that he will atone for, what there is to atone for.
One must accept, as Dam says in the aforementioned pamphlet, that the world of values is a pluralistic world, that is a world, where different interests and purposes cannot be considered mathematical quantities, which are congruent with one another. The individual, who is positioned so in this world that he has to choose and to act and from time to time collide into dilemmas, when one value has to be furthered at the cost of others, is unable to find an external denominator. The unit, i.e. the guideline, from which he in each case balances the values against each other, he can only find within himself, in the demand of his own personality.