To quote him, “The business of moral science is to deduce from the laws of life what kinds of action necessarily tend to produce happiness, and what kinds tend to produce unhappiness.
Its deductions are to be recognized as laws of conduct, and are to be conformed to irrespective of a direct estimation of happiness or misery.” Herbert Spencer looks upon morality as the last step in the evolution of behaviour.
Evolutionary ethics believes pleasure to be the ultimate objective of life but this pleasure results from the interaction of environment and man. The evolutionists replace the utilitarian theory of ‘maximum, pleasure of the maximum number’ by the ideal of ‘conservation of life,’ or ‘equilibrium of society’.
According to them, the one means of obtaining pleasure is to attempt, after putting the feeling of pleasure in the background to retain the health of society, its efficiency or the state of equilibrium in it.
‘Complete living’ is the supreme objective of man; Spencer would have us believe so. The perfection or completeness results from the harmony with environment or society.
Right and Wrong:
Evolutionism grants property to those elements which assist man to achieve harmony with environment and society, and consequently to lead a more complete life and to come into possession of happiness.
The whole essence of life is “the true harmony between internal and external relations,” meaning that it lies in harmonizing with the environment. Thus, that behaviour which obstructs harmony and consequently renders life painful and incomplete is wrong.
All behaviour is a conglomeration of good and evil. Behaviour can be perfectly good only if it gives exclusive pleasure, unblemished by pain.
But if more pleasure than pain results from behaviour and is pivotal in attaining a higher degree of harmony between the individual and his environment, that behaviour will be comparatively good.
Conversely, comparatively bad behaviour to be so called, will bring more pain than pleasure and make the harmony between the individual and society even more incomplete’. In this way behaviour is good or bad as it takes on the role of promoter or obstructer of harmony in life.
Evolutionary hedonism is the name applied to the ethical theory of Herbert Spencer, he being the first one to introduce principles of evolution in the field of ethics. He pointed out to evolution in morality.
Eshkol laws came into being as a result of evolution in the laws of behaviour which are grounded in the experience of the absolute conflict between man and environment in this way, Herbert Spencer tries to extract moral laws from the laws of the universe. As for his method, it is the historic method. His theory is called the evolutionary theory.
According to Herbert Spencer, “The ultimate end of life is Happiness, but the proximate end of life is die length and breadth of life.” Length means to live to a ripe old age, and breadth implies the complexity of life.
In this way, in the words of Spencer, “Evolution tending ever towards self preservation, reaches its limit when individual life is the greatest both in length and breadth, and we regard as good the conduct furthering self preservation, and as bad conduct tending to sell-destruction.”
The ultimate ends of human life are self-preservation and race-preservation. The happiness, in Spencer’s theory, means pleasure. Similar to the Utilitarian’s, he too looks upon pleasure as the supreme end of human life. It becomes undeniable that die good is universally the pleasurable.
Judgment of good and bad:
According to Spencer, good behaviour is pleasurable while a bad one is painful. All actions include a combination of pleasure and pain. But when the ratio of pain exceeds pleasure, the action may comparatively be called bad. Perfectly good behaviour can be possible only if it does not contain even the slightest pain.
Herbert Spencer has propounded the biological importance of pleasure and pain. According to him, “It is an inevitable deduction from the hypothesis of Evolution that pains are correlatives of actions injurious to the organism, while pleasures are the correlatives of actions conducive to the welfare.” Thus, pleasure is an indication of preservation of life and pain points to the degeneration of life.
From the example of the animal kingdom, Spencer concludes that pleasure assists and pain obstructs life. Considering this importance of pleasure and pain, those actions will be declared good which assist life preservation, while that accelerating life destruction will be considered bad.
For life, adaptation to the environment in accordance with biological laws is essential. A living being always tries to adapt him to the environment. Those activities which promote this adaptation are good and those which hinder it are bad.
Development of Moral Consciousness:
Spencer, like Bentham, believes in the need for external pressure, for consciousness. At the base of moral consciousness, one feeling dominates and rules over another.
The feeling of duty is born of external pressures. In the opinion of Spencer, these pressures are political, religious and social.
These forces lead to the experiencing of a moral obligation, which is temporary in his opinion.
It lasts as long as the harmony between the individual and his environment or society is incomplete.
In a state of complete harmony, duties will become natural and the feeling of obligation will cease to exist. Over and above the three external pressures, Spencer also believes in an internal force.
To quote him, “While at first the motive contains an element of coercion, at last the element of coercion dies out, and the act is performed without any consciousness of being obliged to perform it.
Thus the doing of work, originally under the consciousness that it ought to be done, may eventually cease to have any such accompanying consciousness.” Eventually, a good activity becomes a habit and not being accompanied by any sense of obligation, doing it yields satisfaction.
Compromise of Egoism and Altruism:
In his own words, “From the dawn of life, egoism has been dependent upon altruism, as altruism has been dependent upon egoism; and in the course of evolution, the reciprocal services of the two have been increasing.
The pure egoism and pure altruism are both illegitimate.” A completely egoistic or altruistic life is wrong and consequently he lays emphasis on a harmony of both.
This understanding between egoism and altruism is being established of itself, with evolution of humanity. In an ideal state, the interests of the Society and the individual will have no differences.
Egoism depends upon altruism and altruism upon egoism. Each without the other is self destructive. Spencer imagines an ideal society in the future when the individual will not come into conflict with the society or society with the individual.
Ethical laws will retain their relative nature until a complete harmony in the relations of the society and the individual is achieved. In a state of complete harmony the actions are painless and completely pleasant.
Relative and Absolute morality to this way:
Spencer distinguishes between relative and absolute morality. Absolute moral norms are those which can be obeyed only in an ideal society, in which there is a complete harmony between the interests of the individual and the society. On the contrary, in a complete society, the behaviour of individuals is based on relative moral norms.
Spencer believes that man is evolving towards a state in which the interests of the society and the individual will be identical, and there will be a complete harmony between them. Then moral obligation will completely cease to exist and altruistic activities will involve no feeling of pain.