Essays: Scientific, Political & Speculative Vol. III

Displaying 1 - 16 of 16
Category: Philosophy
[ Originally published in The Nineteenth Century for January 1890. The writing of this essay was consequent on a controversy carried on in The Times between Nov. 7 and Nov. 27, 1889, and was made needful by the misapprehensions and mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions embodied in that controversy. Hence the allusions which the essay contains. The last few paragraphs of it in its original form were mainly personal in their character; and, not wishing to perpetuate personalities, I have omitted them .] Life in Fiji, at the time when Thomas Williams settled there, must have been something worse than uncomfortable. One of the ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published as the Introduction to a volume entitled A Plea for Liberty, &c.: a series of anti-socialistic essays, issued at the beginning of 1891 .] Of the many ways in which common-sense inferences about social affairs are flatly contradicted by events (as when measures taken to suppress a book cause increased circulation of it, or as when attempts to prevent usurious rates of interest make the terms harder for the borrower, or as when there is greater difficulty in getting things at the places of production than elsewhere) one of the most curious is the way in which ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Westminster Review for April 1854 .] Whoever has studied the physiognomy of political meetings, cannot fail to have remarked a connexion between democratic opinions and peculiarities of costume. At a Chartist demonstration, a lecture on Socialism, or a soirée of the Friends of Italy, there will be seen many among the audience, and a still larger ratio among the speakers, who get themselves up in a style more or less unusual. One gentleman on the platform divides his hair down the centre, instead of on one side; another brushes it back off the forehead, in ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Westminster Review for July 1853. ] From time to time there returns on the cautious thinker, the conclusion that, considered simply as a question of probabilities, it is unlikely that his views upon any debatable topic are correct. “Here,” he reflects, “are thousands around me holding on this or that point opinions differing from mine—wholly in many cases; partially in most others. Each is as confident as I am of the truth of his convictions. Many of them are possessed of great intelligence; and, rank myself high as I may, I must admit that some ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Westminster Review for April 1860 .] Thirty years ago, the dread of impending evils agitated not a few breasts throughout England. Instinctive fear of change, justified as it seemed by outbursts of popular violence, conjured up visions of the anarchy which would follow the passing of a Reform Bill. In scattered farm-houses there was chronic terror, lest those newly endowed with political power should in some way filch all the profits obtained by rearing cattle and growing corn. The occupants of halls and manors spoke of ten-pound householders almost as though they formed an army ...
Category: Note
There is an idolatry which, instead of carving the object of its worship out of dead matter, takes humanity for its raw material, and expects, by moulding a mass of this humanity into a particular form, to give it powers or properties quite different from those it had before it was moulded. In the one case as in the other, the raw material is, as much as may be, disguised. There are decorative appliances by which the savage helps himself to think that he has something more than wood before him; and the citizen gives to the political agencies he ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Reader for June 10, 1865 .] A Hindoo, who, before beginning his day’s work, salaams to a bit of plastic clay, out of which, in a few moments, he has extemporized a god in his own image, is an object of amazement to the European. We read with surprise bordering on scepticism of worship done by machinery, and of prayers which owe their supposed efficacy to the motion given by the wind to the papers they are written on. When told how certain of the Orientals, if displeased with their wooden deities, take them down ...
Category: Philosophy
The two antagonist theories of morals, like many other antagonist theories, are both right and both wrong. The a priori school has its truth; the a posteriori school has its truth; and for the proper guidance of conduct, there must be due recognition of both. On the one hand, it is asserted that there is an absolute standard of rectitude; and, respecting certain classes of actions, it is rightly so asserted. From the fundamental laws of life and the conditions of social existence, are deducible certain imperative limitations to individual action—limitations which are essential to a perfect life, individual and ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in the Edinburgh Review for October 1854 .] Believers in the intrinsic virtues of political forms, might draw an instructive lesson from the politics of our railways. If there needs a conclusive proof that the most carefully-framed constitutions are worthless, unless they be embodiments of the popular character—if there needs a conclusive proof, that governmental arrangements in advance of the time will inevitably lapse into congruity with the time; such proof may be found over and over again repeated in the current history of joint-stock enterprises. As devised by Act of Parliament, the ad­min­i­stra­tions of our public ...
Category: Philosophy
Shakspeare’s simile for adversity― Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, Wears yet a precious jewel in his head, might fitly be used also as a simile for a disagreeable truth. Repulsive as is its aspect, the hard fact which dissipates a cherished illusion, is presently found to contain the germ of a more salutary belief. The experience of every one furnishes instances in which an opinion long shrunk from as seemingly at variance with all that is good, but finally accepted as irresistible, turns out to be fraught with benefits. It is thus with self-knowledge: much as we dislike ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Fortnightly Review for December 1871 .] It is contrary to common-sense that fish should be more difficult to get at the sea-side than in London; but it is true, nevertheless. No less contrary to common-sense seems the truth that though, in the West Highlands, oxen are to be seen everywhere, no beef can be had without sending two or three hundred miles to Glasgow for it. Rulers who, guided by common-sense, tried to suppress certain opinions by forbidding the books containing them, never dreamed that their interdicts would cause the diffusion of these opinions; and ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Westminster Review for January 1858 .] A mong unmitigated rogues, mutual trust is impossible. Among people of absolute integrity, mutual trust would be unlimited. These are truisms. Given a nation made up of liars and thieves, and all trade among its members must be carried on either by barter or by a currency of intrinsic value: nothing in the shape of promises -to-pay can pass in place of actual payments; for, by the hypothesis, such promises being never fulfilled, will not be taken. On the other hand, given a nation of perfectly honest men—men as ...
Category: Philosophy
[ Originally published in America and afterwards published in England in The Contemporary Review for January 1883, preceded by the following editorial note:—“The state of Mr. Spencer’s health unfortunately not permitting him, to give in the form of articles the results of his observations on American society, it is thought useful to reproduce, under his own revision and with some additional remarks, what he has said on the subject; especially as the accounts of it which have appeared in this country are imperfect: reports of the conversation having been abridged, and the speech being known only by telegraphic summary. “The ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Reader for April 15, 1865 .] A test of senatorial capacity is a desideratum. We rarely learn how near the mark or how wide of the mark the calculations of statesmen are: the slowness and complexity of social changes, hindering, as they do, the definite comparisons of results with anticipations. Occasionally, however, parliamentary decisions admit of being definitely valued. One which was arrived at a few weeks ago furnished a measure of legislative judgment too significant to be passed by. On the edge of the Cotswolds, just above the valley of the Severn, occur certain ...
Category: Philosophy
[ From the Fortnightly Review for July 1888. This essay was called forth by attacks on me made in essays published in preceding numbers of the Fortnightly Review— essays in which the Kantian system of ethics was lauded as immensely superior to the system of ethics defended by me. The last section now appears for the first time. ] If, before Kant uttered that often-quoted saying in which, with the stars of Heaven he coupled the conscience of Man, as being the two things that excited his awe, he had known more of Man than he did, he would probably ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Westminster Review for April 1859 .] We are not about to repeat, under the above title, the often-told tale of adulterations: albeit, were it our object to deal with this familiar topic, there are not wanting fresh materials. It is rather the less-observed and less-known dishonesties of trade, to which we would here draw attention. The same lack of con­scien­tious­ness which shows itself in the mixing of starch with cocoa, in the dilution of butter with lard, in the colouring of confectionery with chromate of lead and arsenite of copper, must of course come out ...