|Work and Wealth|
CHAPTER XXII: SOCIAL SCIENCE AND
§1. The task of a human valuation of industry involved at the
outset the arbitrary assumption of a standard of value. That standard consisted
in a conception of human well-being applicable to the various forms of human
life, man as individual, as group or nation, as humanity. Starting from that
conception of the health, physical and spiritual, of the individual human
organism, which is of widest acceptance, we proceeded to apply the organic
metaphor to the larger groupings, so as to build up an intelligible standard of
social well-being. This standard, at once physical and spiritual, static and
progressive, was assumed to be of such a kind as to provide a harmony of
individual welfares when the growing social nature of man was taken into due
With the standard of human well-being we then proceeded to assign values to the productive and the consumptive processes of which industry consists, examining them in their bearing upon the welfare of the individuals and the societies engaging in them.
Now this mode of procedure, the only possible, of course involved an immense petitio principii. The assumption of any close agreement as to the nature of individual well-being, still more of social well-being, was logically quite unwarranted.
Economic values have, indeed, an agreed, exact and measurable meaning, derived from the nature of the monetary standard in which they are expressed. Now, no such standard of the human value of economic goods or processes can be established. Yet we pretended to set up a standard of social value and to apply a calculus based upon it, claiming to assess the human worth which underlies the economic costs and utilities that enter into economic values.
Has this procedure proved utterly illicit? I venture to think not. Though at the outset our standard was only a general phrase committing nobody to anything, the process of concrete application, in testing the actual forms of work and wealth which make up industry, gave to it a continual increase of meaning. While the widest divergence would be found in the formal definitions of such terms as "human welfare" or "social progress," a large and growing body of agreement would emerge, when a sufficient number of practical issues had been brought-up for consideration. The truth of our standard and the validity of our calculus are established by this working test. It is not wonderful that this should be so, for the nature and circumstances of mankind have so much in common, and the processes of civilisation are so powerfully assimilating them, as to furnish a continually increasing community of experience and feeling. It is, of course, this fund of 'common sense' that constitutes the true criterion. The assumption that 'common sense' is adequate for a task at once so grave and delicate may, indeed, appear very disputable. Granting that human experience has so much in common, can it be claimed that the reasoning and the feeling based on this experience will be so congruous and so sound as to furnish any reliable guide for conduct? Surely 'common sense' in its broadest popular sense can go a very little way towards such a task as a human interpretation of industry.
There is no doubt a good deal of force in this objection. If we are to invoke 'common sense' for the purposes of an interpretation or a valuation, it must evidently be what is termed an 'enlightened common sense.' And here at once we are brought into danger lest enlightenment should not supply what is required, viz., a clearer or more fully conscious mode of common sense, but a distorted or sophisticated mode. How real this danger is, especially in the conduct of public affairs, may be recognised from the excessive part played by certain highly conscious and over-vocal interests of the commercial and intellectual classes in the art of government. The most pressing task of Civilisation in the self-governing nations of our time is so to spread the area of effective enlightenment as to substitute the common sense of the many for that of the few, and to make it prevail. It is this common sense, more or less enlightened, that the disinterested statesman takes for the sanction of his reading of the general will which he endeavours to express in the conduct of public affairs. That it is never at any time a certain, a perfectly coherent, a precise criterion, will be readily admitted. But that it is sufficiently intelligible, sufficiently sound, is the necessary presupposition of all democratic statecraft. And, so far as it is thus serviceable, it supplies a valid standard and a valid calculus of social values. Though the reading of this standard and the application of this calculus will always be subject to some bias of personal idiosyncrasy, the weight of the general judgment commonly prevails in the more important processes of social valuation.
But, in pinning our faith to enlightened common sense for an interpretation or valuation of industry, we must not allow ourselves to be deceived as to the amount of 'scientific accuracy' which attends such a procedure. While this standard can and must supply the rules and measurements which we apply in the processes of detailed analysis and comparison by which we estimate the costs and utilities and the net human values of the various industrial activities and products, we must not put into this standard a stability it does not possess, or into the quantitative methods it uses an authority for social conduct which they are inherently disqualified from yielding.
§2. The science and art of soCiety have suffered so much from want of exact and measured information that it is only right and natural for immense importance to be attached to the collection of masses of ordered and measured social facts. If a sufficient number of trained investigators could be set to work to gather, measure, sift and tabulate, the various orders of crude fact relating to the employment, wages, housing, expenditure, health, thrift, education, and other concrete conditions of the poorer grades of town and country dwellers, it seems as if a number of accurate and valid generalisations would emerge by clear induction upon which could be constructed an absolutely scientific treatment of poverty. Or, again, to take a narrower and more distinctively economic issue, that of the shorter working day. If a careful series of observations and experiments could be made in a number of representative businesses, as to the effect upon the size, cost and quality of output produced by given reductions in the hours of labour among various classes of workers, it might appear as if an accurately graded social economy of the working day could be attained by calculations.
But though statesmen, philanthropists and reformers are more and more influenced in their judgments and policies by these measured facts, no safe mechanical rules for the guidance of their conduct in any social problem can be based upon them. The facts and figures which appear so hard and so reliable are often very soft and ineffective tools for the social practitioner. There are several defects in them regarded as instruments of social progress.
It is hardly ever possible to prove causation by means of them. You may obtain the most exact statistics of housing conditions and of death-rates for the population of a group of towns, but you cannot prove to what extent 'back to back' houses affect infant mortality. No figures professing to measure the causal connection between drink and crime or insanity, income and birth-rate, or any other two social phenomena, possess the degree of validity they claim. Why? Because you can never isolate the factors completely in any organic or social problem, and you can never know how far you have failed to isolate them. You may, indeed, by varying the conditions of your experiments or observations sufficiently, obtain practical proof of organic causation, but you can seldom express this causation in terms of any quantitative accuracy. Still more is this true of psychological and social problems. A purely descriptive science of society may attain a considerable degree of quantitative accuracy, but the laws expressing the causal relations of these measured facts will always lack the certainty of operation and the measurability of action belonging to the laws of chemistry and physics.
Now the chief facts with which the statesman and the social reformer are concerned in forming judgments and policies are these laws of causal relation, and not the crude measured facts that constitute the raw material of statistics. This comparative inexactitude or lack of rigidity in the laws of social science constitutes the.first difficulty in applying the science to the art of social conduct with the same amount of confidence with which the laws of physics and chemistry are applied to the mechanical arts. But another difficulty quite as grave as this want of rigidity in social facts is the instability of the standard. In all processes of physical measurement it is customary to make allowances for errors due to what is called 'the personal equation,' abnormalities of observation in the experimenter. But the standard of human valuation, the enlightened common sense of a community, applied to interpret social phenomena in terms of 'utility' or 'welfare,' will evidently be subject to much wider variations, and the interpretation of this standard by statesmen, or other individual agents of society, will be subject again to wide errors of personal bias.
Illustrating from the economic sphere which is our concern, that specialisation of industrial life which has made three quarters of our population town-dwellers and is making our nation continually more dependent upon foreign supplies of food, will have a very different value set on it by the narrower nationalism which believes the interests and ambitions of nations to be irreconcilable, and by the wider political outlook which conceives the economic interdependence of nations as in itself desirable and as the best guarantee of national security. Or again, a difference of view or sentiment regarding the relative worth of the personal qualities of enterprise and self-reliance on the one hand, of plodding industry and sociality upon the other, must materially affect the values given to such phenomena as emigration, public provision against unemployment, copartnership, taxation of high incomes or inheritances. Indeed it is quite manifest that with every difference of the range of sympathy and imagination the meaning which enlightened common sense will give to social welfare, and to every fact submitted to this test, will vary.
These considerations may seem at first sight to invalidate the entire purpose of this book, the endeavour to apply a social calculus for the valuation of industry. So long as the cost and utility of economic material and process is expressed in terms of money, you have a fixed standard capable of yielding exact valuations. Endeavour to resolve this cost and utility into terms of human welfare or desirability, you appear to have adopted a fluctuating standard that can give no serviceable information.
§3. The truth, of course, is that a scientific valuation of anything can only proceed by way of quantitative analysis. A standard of valuation which should regard qualitative differences as ultimate would not be scientific at all. It might be aesthetic or hygienic or ethical, according to the nature of the qualitative differences involved. A strictly scientific valuation of wealth, or of cost or of utility, or of life itself, must apply a single standard of measurement to all the various objects it seeks to value, i.e., it must reduce all the different objects to terms of this common denominator. It can measure and value all forms of purchasable goods or services, however various in nature, through the market processes which reduce them to a single monetary equivalent. It can measure and value labour-costs of different sorts, either by a monetary standard or by some measure of fatigue or vital expenditure. It can measure the utility of various sorts of food or of fuel, by comparing the quantities of working-power or output which upon an average they yield. It can ascertain the vital values of different towns and occupations, incomes, races, in terms of longevity, fertility, susceptibility to diseases, etc.
This method, essential to scientific analysis, rests on an assumption that £1 worth of bad books is of the same value as £1 worth of good books. This assumption is true for the purpose to which it is applied, that of a market valuation. It assumes that a year's life of an imbecile or a loafer is worth the same as a year's life of a saint or a genius, and so it is for the purpose of vital statistics.
This is of course universally admitted. Science proceeds by abstraction: it does not pretend to describe or explain the individuality or particular qualities of individual cases, but to discover common attributes of structure or composition or behaviour among numbers of cases, and to explain them in terms of these common characters.
So far, then, as the so-called value of anything, or any happening, consists in its uniqueness or idiosyncrasy, this value necessarily evades scientific analysis. It is only the common properties, the regularities, the conformities, that count for scientific valuation. Nay, more. So far as science takes account of individual qualities, it is in the capacity of eccentricities, i.e., it measures the amount of their variation from the average or normal. It cannot entertain the notion that there is any sort of difference which is inherently immeasurable, i.e., that there is difference in kind as well as in degree.1
§4. A scientific analysis treats all differences as differences of degree. So-called difference of quality or kind it either ignores, or it seeks to reduce them to and express them in differences of quantity. This endeavour to reduce qualitative to quantitative difference is the great stumbling-block in all organic science, but particularly in the departments of psychology and sociology. The difficulty is best illustrated in the recent extension of quantitative analysis into economics by the method of marginal preferences. Not content with the assumption that the particular costs, consumable qualities, etc., of any two articles selling for £1 each may be disregarded, and the single property of their market value abstracted for consideration, the mathematical economists now insist that the study of marginal preferences discloses important laws of the psychology of individuals and societies.
The whole process of expenditure of income appears to be replete with instances of the capacity of the human mind to measure and apply a quantitative comparison to things which seem to be different in kind. It might seem as if my desire to help the starving population of India in a famine, and my desire to attend a Queen's Hall concert this evening were feelings, not merely of different intensity, but of such widely different nature that they could not be accurately measured against each other. And yet this miracle is said to be actually performed, when I decide upon due consideration to divide the 7s 6d in my purse so as to give 5s to the Famine Fund and to buy a 2s 6d ticket for the concert, instead of the more expensive ticket I should have bought had I not been lured to the Famine meeting. I might have given the whole 7s 6d to the Famine Fund, and missed the concert. Why did I not? I must have performed the very delicate spiritual operation of reducing my humanitarian feeling to common terms with my love of music, and to have struck a balance which can only mean that I consider the additional satisfaction I would have got from giving another 2s 6d to the Famine Fund to be a little less than the satisfaction I would get from the concert. But this, of course, is a single crude instance of a far more elaborate process of comparison which underlies the whole expenditure of my income. After the routine expenditure upon necessaries and comforts, which may be said to represent my habitual standard of consumption, has been defrayed, there are various attractive uses to which every other sovereign and shilling may be put. All sorts of different appeals of pleasure, duty, pride, press their claims through a thousand different channels. In order to apportion my expenditure as I do, I must be conceived as reducing all these claims to some common standard of desirability, and deciding how much to lay out on this, how much on that. That physical satisfactions can be compared with one another, by the application of some standard of pleasure may appear intelligible enough. But that a sense of moral duty can be brought into direct comparison with a physical pleasure, or that various duties can be compared in size or strength with one another, would seem almost impossible. Yet this is done incessantly and quickly, if not easily. Even when it is claimed that some duties are so paramount that a good man will refuse to 'weigh' any other claim against them, assigning them a value which, he says, is 'infinite,' the marginal economist will not admit the claim to exemption. 'This only means that to him the total difference between the command of things in the circle of exchange that he already enjoys, and an indefinite, or unlimited command of them, does not weigh as heavy in his mind as the dishonour or the discomfort of the specific thing he is required to do. It does not mean that his objection is "infinite." it merely means that it is larger than his estimate of all the satisfaction that he could derive from unlimited command of articles in the circle of exchange, and this is a strictly, perhaps narrowly, limited quantity.'2
But though there are men whose honour is so incorruptible as always to 'outweigh' other considerations, the ethics of bribery make it clear that a weaker sense of honour can be measured against material satisfaction, and that is all that seems necessary to support the view that such qualitative distinctions can 'be reduced to questions of quantity.' Nor is it merely a matter of the monetary valuation through expenditure of incomes. Precisely the same problem arises in the disposal of one's time or energy. How much shall be given to the performance of this or that personal or family duty, to recreation, or to study? In what proportions shall we combine these activities? If a curtailment of money or of time is necessary, how much shall be taken from this, how much from that employment?
But it is needless to multiply examples. When any scientific valuation is taken, all qualities are abstracted and quantities only are compared and estimated. As in economics, so in ethics. The moral struggle to resist a temptation is nearly always set in scientific psychology as a mechanical problem, for when the ethicist professes to introduce some imponderable 'freedom of the will' he has to throw overboard his science. A 'conflict of duties,' as Mr. Wicksteed recognises, implies that 'duty itself is a quantitative conception.'3
§5. Similarly with the scientific politician who seeks to make full use of quantitative analysis. He too is compelled to visualise and represent the psychological operation through which a political judgment is reached as a mechanical one, conceived in terms of size, weight, strain or intensity. In his Human Nature in Politics Mr. Graham Wallas gives a very interesting example of the scientific valuation of a process of political thinking, viz., the process by which Mr. Gladstone, in the autumn and winter of 1885-6, must be conceived to have arrived at his Home Rule policy, 'thinking incessantly about the matter' and 'preparing myself by study and reflection.'
After describing, with the aid of Lord Morley's Life, the various studies and courses of reflection employed, the 'calculations' of the state of feeling in England and Ireland, the examination of various types of federation, as found in past and current history, the statistical reports upon finance, law and other concrete issues, considerations of the time and opportunity, the play of the emotional valuations, 'the irresistible attraction for him of all the grand and external commonplaces of liberty and self-government,' Mr. Wallas sees the results of all this acquisition of knowledge and reflection gathering and being coordinated into a problem in which the factors are quantities and the solution 'a quantitative solution,' 'a delicate adjustment between many varying forces.'4 'A large part of this work of complex coordination was apparently in Mr. Gladstone's case unconscious,' an operation he declares, 'rather of art than of science.' Now, since 'the history of human progress consists in the gradual and partial substitution of science for art,' it is desirable to bring out with clearer consciousness, and fortify with greater accuracy of knowledge, the processes of political thinking. 'Quantitative method must spread in politics and must transform the vocabulary and the associations of that mental world into which the young politician enters. Fortunately, such a change seems at least to be beginning. Every year larger and more exact collections of detached political facts are being accumulated; and collections of detached facts, if they are to be used at all in political reasoning, must be used quantitatively.'5 Since the problems of political conduct are thus essentially quantitative, they can, in theory at any rate, be 'solved' by science. 'The final decisions which will be taken either by the Commons -- or by Parliament in questions of administrative policy and electoral machinery must therefore involve the balancing of all these and many more considerations by an essentially quantitative process.'6
§6. Now how far is it true that any political problem is essentially quantitative and soluble by a quantitative process? it is of course to be admitted at once that the science of statistics will feed a statesman's mind with a variety of ordered and measured facts. But will this mind, working either scientifically or artistically, consciously or subconsciously, go through a distinctively mechanical process of balancing and measuring and register a quantitative judgment? A scientific setting of the process must indeed so present it. But, then, a scientific setting of any process whatsoever sets it thus in purely quantitative form. The real issue is how far this scientific setting is competent to interpret and explain the facts, and to deliver a judgment which shall be authoritative for the conduct of an individual or a society.
In order to test the scientific claim let us take what seems to be a very different sort of action from that of the politician or the business man, that of the artist. Follow the mind of the painter as he plies his art. Each of his operations too involves considerations of quantity and measurement, scope and focus, adjustment, coordination, balance, the application of definite blends of colours: optics, anatomy, and other sciences feed his mind with exact knowledge. A delicate adjustment of quantities in line and colour is involved in every part of his artistic operations. But does the operation consist of these quantitative arrangements and can it be understood or 'appreciated' by analysing them? Evidently not. Why not? Because in such an analysis or explanation the essentially qualitative or creative action of the artist, which gives unity and artistic value to the whole operation, escapes notice. Science kills in order to dissect. So in the case of every other art. A poem involves certain ordered arrangements of sound which may be expressed in quantitative terms of rhythm and prosody. But any attempt to 'resolve' it into these forms loses its spirit, its unity, its value as a poem. Students of the drama have sometimes explained or interpreted a tragedy of Sophocles or Shakespeare in terms of the gradation of intensity of the various emotions involved, the length of pauses of suspense, the balancing, relief and interlacing of the plots or episodes, the relative strength or height of the climaxes and subclimaxes, the growing rapidity of movement towards the catastrophe. But can it be pretended that this 'mechanics' of the drama can furnish a standard of appreciation, or supply laws according to which a 'good' drama may be constructed or appreciated? No. An artistic operation is essentially organic, creative and qualitative. None of these characters can really be reduced to quantity. Science by quantitative analysis can only deal with the skeleton not with the life that informs it.
I think this eternal inability of science adequately to interpret value, or explain a work of art, will be generally admitted. It is due to the fact that this work and its value are inherently incapable of being reduced to quantities. The difference between one picture and another, one poem and another is a difference of quality. It is of course true that by a merely linguistic necessity we often speak of a picture as being 'much' finer than another, and compare the 'greatness' of one poet with that of another. But we are aware all the time that we are really comparing unlikes, dealing with qualitative differences. On no other supposition indeed can we understand the valuation set upon a work of genius as compared with one of talent.
"Oh the little more, how much it is,
And the little less what worlds away."
What then do economists mean when they insist that qualitative
differences, the desires and satisfactions which have such widely diverse
origins and natures, can be weighed and measured against one another, and that
problems of industry are essentially and ultimately quantitative? Our
examination of artistic activities has shown that in each case quantities are
involved, but that in no case do quantities constitute the problem of action.
But how, it may be said, do you dispose of the admitted facts that by means of
monetary valuations these diverse desires and satisfactions are reduced to a
common standard, are compared, and that a course of conduct is apparently based
upon these quantitative considerations?
The answer is that this is an entirely illusory account of the psychical process by which a man lays out his money, or his time, or his energy. He does not take the several uses to which he might apply the means at his disposal, reduce them, in thought or in feeling, to some common term, and so measure the amount he will expend upon each object that the 'marginal' or 'final' portion of each use shall be exactly equal in the utility it yields. The 'marginalist'7 is correct in saying that the utility imputed to the last sovereign I expend on bread during the year must be considered to be neither greater nor less than that imputed to the last sovereign's worth of tobacco, or books, holiday or charitable subscriptions. In precisely the same sense it is true that the last brushful of green and brown and Turkey red expended on a picture has the same art-value to the painter.
Perhaps the issue can be made clearer by reference to an art usually considered less 'fine' and more closely affected by quantitative considerations than painting, the culinary art. The composition of a dish is here expressed in proportions of its various ingredients, so much flour, so many ounces of raisins, so many eggs, so much sugar, etc. The marginalist would dwell upon the crucial fact that the last pennyworth of the flour, raisins, eggs and sugar, taken severally, had an equal value for the pudding, and that these marginal or final increments were in some way causal determinants of the composition of the pudding, because in using the ingredients the cook took care to use just so much of each, and neither more nor less. And it is quite true that the delicacy of the culinary art will in fact be displayed in deciding whether to put in another handful of raisins, another egg, or a spoonful more sugar. But, from the standpoint of trying to appreciate the virtue or worth of the dish as a culinary creation, it cannot be admitted that any special importance or causal determination attaches to the last increments of the several ingredients. For it is evident that the 'how much' and therefore the 'margin' of each ingredient is itself determined by the conception of the tout ensemble in the mind of the creator or inventor.
And this evidently applies to every form of composition embodying some unity of design or purpose, whether the treatment of a subject in pictorial or dramatic art, the making of a new dish, the construction of a machine, the arrangement of a business, or the laying out of a garden or a fortune. So far as an economical use is made of materials or means of any kind for the attainment of any end this marginal equivalence is implied. The scientific analysis of any composite arrangement, mechanical, organic, conscious, involves this marginal assumption. It is an axiom of all 'economy' whatsoever.
But it explains nothing. Nay, in dealing with any organic being on any plane of action, it darkens counsel. It does so in several ways. First by assuming or asserting that the human mind can and does get rid of qualitative differences by referring them to a quantitative standard: secondly, by assuming or asserting that organic unity can be broken up into its constituent parts and explained in terms of these measured parts; thirdly, by assuming or asserting a uniformity of nature which conflicts with the 'novelties' in which creative energy expresses itself. All these fallacies are just as much involved in the attempt to explain the expenditure of an income as a purely quantitative problem, as in the attempt to explain the art-value of a picture in terms of the respective quantities of line and colour. In each case the root fallacy is the same, the illicit substitution of the abstract 'quantity' for the actual stuff, which is always qualitative and is never identical in any two cases, or at any two times.
§7. In laying out my income, I do not in fact compare all my several needs or tastes, and having assigned so much utility or desirability to each, plan my expenditure so as to spend on each just as much as it is worth, equalising all expenditure at the margins so as to maximise the aggregate. Even Benjamin Franklin or Samuel Smiles would not really do this, though they might think they did, and perhaps draw up schedules to enforce the notion. So far as I act like a free, rational being, not a creature of blind custom or routine, I employ all my personal resources of knowledge, taste, affection, energy, time, and command of material resources, in trying to realise my ideal of a good or desirable life. In the execution of this design, however it be regarded, self-realisation or career, I utilise my various resources in a manner strictly analogous to that in which the artist employs the materials and instruments of his art. Upon the canvas of time I paint myself, using all the means at my disposal to realise my ideal. Among these means is my money income. Its expenditure goes into the execution of my design. So far as I am justified in separating my expenditure of money from the expenditure of my time and other resources, and in regarding the design as an 'economic picture,' I can readily perceive that the unity of my artistic purpose involves and determines the expenditure of my income in definite proportions upon the various objects whose 'consumption' contributes to the design. But these proportions are not determined by a calculation of the separate values of the various items. For, strictly speaking, they have no separate value, any more than have the lines or colours in a picture. Only by consideration of what we may term indifferently the artistic or organic purpose of the whole can a true appreciation or valuation be attained. The full absurdity of suggesting that anything is learned, either in the way of valuation or of guidance, by the quantitative analysis, or the wonderful discovery of equivalence of value at the margins, will now be apparent. This mathematical analysis can do no more towards explaining the expenditure of income than explaining the expenditure of paint. Of course, the expenditure at the margins appears to produce an equal utility: that truth is obviously contained in the very logic of the quantitative analysis. But that quantitative analysis, necessarily ignoring, as it does, the qualitative character which the organic unity of the whole confers upon its parts, fails to perform the psychological interpretation claimed for it.
So far as it is true that the last sovereign of my expenditure in bread equals in utility the last sovereign of my expenditure in books, that fact proceeds not from a comparison, conscious or unconscious, of these separate items at this margin, but from the parts assigned respectively to bread and books in the organic plan of my life. Quantitative analysis, inherently incapable of comprehending qualitative unity or qualitative differences, can only pretend to reduce the latter to quantitative differences. What it actually does is to ignore alike the unity of the whole and the qualitativeness of the parts.
Nor is this all. It is not even true that an application of quantitative analysis does find exact equivalence of values at the margins. Taking a concrete instance, it is not true that the last sovereign of my expenditure in books equals, or even tends exactly to equal, in utility, that of my last sovereign's expenditure on bread. This would be the case if the future tended precisely to repeat the past. In that event my experience of the economy of last year's expenditure would progressively correct any errors, and I should come to employ my resources with greater economy or exactitude to the attainment of the same design. But I am not the same this year as last, my environment is not the same, my resources are not the same, and the plan of life I make will not be the same. This awkward factor of Novelty, involved in organic nature, belongs to every creative art, being indeed of the very essence alike of art and of creation, and impairs to an incalculable extent the quantitative calculus and its marginal interpretation. An addition of £100 to my income this year cannot be laid out by calculation so as to increase each sort of expenditure to an extent which will secure marginal equivalence of utility. That is to say, I cannot tell what will be the best employment of my larger income, until I have tried. The larger income will produce nowhere a strictly proportionate increase of expenditure on a number of several objects. It would shift my economic plan of life, making a new kind of life, and involving all sorts of changes in the items, which follow as consequences from the changed organic plan. This new plan I cannot accurately calculate or forecast. It will work itself out as I proceed. Its execution involves no doubt elements of forethought and even calculation, but the central and essential change will proceed from some novelty of conception, some qualitative change of purpose. In a word, it is the creative power of man, the artist, inspiration, faith and that is ever at work, and the art faculties of adventure will lead him to experiment anew with his resources. As a man gains more intelligence, undergoes some new critical experience of his outer or his inner life, encounters some new personal influence, his entire mode of living will change, and innumerable alterations in the outlay of his income will take place. Some articles of earlier expenditure will disappear, new articles will take their place, and the respective importance of many articles remaining in the expenditure will be shifted. A change of residence from country to town, a 'conversion,' religious or dietetic, a transfer from an outdoor manual to an indoor sedentary employment, marriage, or any other critical event, must bring about some such large complex organic alteration. A comparison of the items of expenditure before and after will shed interesting light upon the results of the psycho-economic change of which they afford a quantitative register, but it cannot be regarded as an explanation of the change of heart or of outlook which is the determinant act from which these shifts of values flow.
§8. The life of a society presents this same problem on a larger scale. On the plane of economic conduct which directly concerns us, every one of the innumerable and incessant alterations in methods of production and consumption ranks as an organic novelty, and, in so far as it is novel, necessarily baffles quantitative analysis and scientific prediction. It would, of course, be incorrect, either in the case of an individual or of a society, to represent any change as entirely novel. Organic growth itself is largely a quantitative conception: the changes are proportionate in size to former changes, and are in definite quantitative relations to one another. The doctrine of continuity thus enables us to go far in calculating the character of future changes. So far the scientific interpretation of uniformity of nature carries us. But quantitative growth, or any other set of quantitative changes, however calculable, always carries some qualitative and essentially incalculable elements of change. These are what we signify by novelty. It is their occurrence in evolution that baffles the clean logic of the geologist, still more of the biologist, and far more of the psychologist. Whether they show themselves as 'faults' or 'sports' or 'mutations,' they represent the disability of past experience to furnish 'laws' for their calculation, and the practical importance which attaches to these incalculable or qualitative changes is very considerable. Though they may be comparatively infrequent and may appear on first inspection almost negligible breaks in the otherwise calculable continuity of the evolutionary process, their determinant importance is receiving ever greater recognition. In human conduct, individual or social, these mutations seem to play a larger part, chiefly by reason of the operation of the so-called 'freedom' of the human will. For whatever philosophic view be held regarding the determination of the acts of the will, its operation scatters mutations thickly over the realm of human conduct. Hence it remains true that science can do so much less in explaining and predicting human history than in any other department of nature. No doubt here, as elsewhere, science hopes to apply quantitative analysis of such increasing accuracy as to enable it to determine and predict a larger number of such mutations. Since there doubtless exist quantitative conditions for every qualitative change, it may seem theoretically possible for science some day to catch up with 'the art of creation.' This supposition, however, assumes that the number of permutations and combinations in 'nature' is limited, and that, therefore, in some extensive run history does repeat itself. The final victory of science thus seems to depend upon the adoption of a cyclical view of the history of the universe. But, for all present practical purposes of social processes, science is so far removed from this perfection that the economist and the sociologist are continually compelled to allow for unpredictable changes of such frequency and of such determinant importance that their claim to direct 'the general will' and to mould the conscious policy of a society must be very modestly expressed.
Such laws of causation as they derive from past observation and experiment must usually be conceived as laws of tendencies, seldom endowed with any rigorous authority of close determination, and still more seldom with accuracy of quantitative prediction.
§9. It is sometimes supposed that this hampering effect of the uniqueness, irregularity, novelty and freedom of the individual and social organisms can be got rid of by a process of multiplication in which particular eccentricities will cancel. To economists, in particular, there is a strong temptation to fall back upon the average man, in the belief that scientific determinism justifies itself through averages. Now the radical defect of measurement by averages, as a mode of social valuation, has already been disclosed. The ascertained fact that the average money income, or even the average real income, of the British people may have risen 10% within the last decade, disables itself, by the very process of averaging, from informing us as to the effect of this increase of national wealth upon national welfare. For this effect depends upon the distribution of the increase, and the process of averaging consists in ignoring this vital fact of distribution.
This defect of averages for purposes of interpretation, of course, involves a consequent defect for purposes of guidance in economic conduct. The calculation that a given course of national conduct, e.g., the expenditure of so many millions upon improved transport, will raise the national or average income by so much, loses all the worth of its superficial exactitude unless we know how much of the increase is going to the landlord in rising rent, how much to the labourer in rising wages.
This, of course, involves no repudiation of the true utility of averages, but only of the spurious accuracy which their forms suggest. The exact statement that the average income of an English family has risen 10% in the last decade does imply a reasonable probability that an increase of total national welfare has taken place.8 But it gives no information as to the amount of that increase, and is consistent with the fact that there may have been a decrease, owing to a worsening of the distribution of the growing income, or of the labour and other costs involved in its production.
§10. So far upon the supposition that welfare is a quantity. It will occur to statisticians that the information to be got from averages of income may be justified by nicer discrimination. If, in addition to learning that the average income of all families has risen 10%, we discovered the different percentages which had been added to rent, interest, profits and wages, or, better still, the ratio of increase for the different income levels, we should surely then, by this extended use of averages, get nearer towards a quantitative estimate of the increase of welfare that had been achieved!
This must certainly be admitted. By the nicer and more complex application of these measures, we should approach a more accurate account of welfare, so far as it is ultimately expressible in terms of quantity. If we discovered that a proposed course of national policy would not only increase the average income by 10% but would increase the lower incomes of the population in a higher ratio, we should seem to have got a scientific warrant for the policy. But even this degree of scientific authority would be purchased to some extent by an artificial simplification of the actual problem of social-economy. To the statesman no problem of actual finance is capable of being set in such distinctively quantitative terms. Not merely cannot an earthly Chancellor of the Exchequer know how much can be added to the incomes of the several classes by the expenditure of so many millions upon transport, or upon any other single service, but, if he could, he would not be much nearer to the standard he requires. There are many different ways of raising the revenue in question and an infinite number of combinations of these ways. The same holds of expenditure. To take the simplest case; the ten millions that he raises may be applied to transport, or to education, or to defence, all the sum or any proportion, to each. Each expenditure claims to be beneficial, an outlay for public welfare. But the benefit in the several outlays is not equally presentable in terms of money income, and, so far as definitely economic gains accrue, they are not equally immediate or equally assured. It is evident that no amount of possession of statistical knowledge can possibly reduce the problem entirely, or even mainly, to one of quantitative calculation. It is equally true that when the problem is solved, its solution will appear in quantitative shape, i.e., so much money for transport, so much for education, so much for defence. It will seem to have been worked out by reducing the three forms of desired benefits to common terms, and then dividing the ten millions among them so as to secure an equivalence of gains at the margins. Economists will point out triumphantly the alleged fact that the last £100 spent on education produces a national return of welfare exactly equal to that obtained by the last £100 spent on gunboats, though his assertion remains inherently insusceptible of proof. In truth, the Chancellor's mind does not work in this way. So far as his statecraft is disinterested, or even allowing for every form of bias, his mind forms an ideal of social progress, of a happier or better state of things, and allots the outlay of his ten millions in an endeavour to assist in realising this ideal. Now the ideal itself is not chiefly a product of quantitative calculus, but of his more or less informed imagination, and his more or less wholesome sympathies. His views as to the means of realising this ideal can never be purely scientific, though science may here be of considerable assistance.
If, treating expenditure more widely as an act of public policy, we consider it as an operation of the general will of the community, a true act of political economy, the problem remains essentially the same. When looked at through scientific spectacles, it is a purely quantitative and mechanically ordered act, because the scientific method by its very modus operandi ignores the qualitative factors. So the nation is supposed to balance this gain against another, and to lay out its revenue so as to get the largest aggregate of some common homogeneous stuff called 'welfare', in such a way that the last £100 spent on education is equivalent in its yield of this 'welfare' to the last £100 spent on the latest super-dreadnaught, or the last lot of old-age pensions. In truth, the common will no more functions in this fashion than the personal will of the Chancellor. In each case Statecraft is an Art, and the financial policy is an artistic or creative work in which quantities are used but do not direct or dominate.
By this line of argument it may appear as if we had repudiated the entire utility of a scientific calculus. This, however, is not the case. For though all the determinant acts of policy or welfare, performed by an individual or a society, involve organic unity of design, and the qualitative considerations appertaining thereto, important and indeed necessary assistance is rendered by the quantitative analysis of past acts expressed in the form of scientific generalisations. A clearer understanding of the nature and extent of this cooperation between science and art in the conduct of life enforces this truth.
§11. Science takes its stand upon a twofold application of the assumption of the uniformity of Nature, first, that all differences of composition can be treated as differences of quantity or degree, secondly, that history repeats itself. Now, just so far as these assumptions fit the facts, Science is valid for interpretation and for guidance. This explains why astronomy, physics and chemistry are more 'exact' sciences than biology or psychology, and why they are able to give more reliable and authoritative rules for the arts of navigation, engineering and drug-making, than the latter can for medicine, for breeding or for education. Edward Carpenter has remarked that astronomy is the most exact of the applied sciences, because we know least about it, i.e., because we treat its subject-matter almost entirely from the single quantitative standpoint of space relations. In all arts dealing entirely or mainly with inorganic matter science occupies a seat of high authority, because of the high relative uniformity of this matter and the comparative regularity of its behaviour. In physics or in inorganic chemistry the individual differences or eccentricities of the material are so trivial that they can usually be disregarded, and history repeats itself with so much regularity that quantitative laws apply.
The passage from the inorganic to the organic involves, as we recognise, a double assertion of the qualitative: first, in respect of the unity and uniqueness of the organic structure, and secondly, by reason of the novelty that attends each act of organic change, vital movement, assimilation, growth, reproduction or decay. The uniqueness of the individual organism and the novelty of each of its changes are an assertion of the qualitative nature of the subject-matter. So far as this qualitative nature prevails and counts for 'conduct,' scientific analysis is impotent for interpretation and advice. When organic matter attains the character of consciousness and the still higher character of self-consciousness, the qualitative considerations reach a maximum, and the interpretation and directive power of science a minimum. But that minimum must not be disparaged. It is not inconsiderable. The assistance which scientific laws can render to the finest arts of human conduct is very important and is capable of constant augmentation. For so far as human nature is uniform and stable among the units which constitute the life whose conduct and welfare are in question, the interpretation and direction of science has validity. To this extent a utilitarian calculus, based upon analysis of past experience, can aid the statesman or the philanthropist in working out his design. In the region of industry the extent of this scientific service will be even greater than in the arts of conduct whose material is more exclusively organic or psychical. For industry, considered as an art of human welfare, will consist largely in the orderly and progressive adaptation of inorganic matter, or of organic matter whose organic differences can be ignored, to the satisfaction of those needs of mankind in which men are similar. That is to say, in industry there exists and will remain a great deal of work and of consumption which is essentially of a uniform or routine character, requiring to be done by measured rules, and depending for its utility upon the exclusion of all individuality or quality. This applies, not only to those industrial processes which we term strictly mechanical, but to a great many others where quality is a matter of comparative indifference. In the progressive economy of human welfare mechanical or routine production will even frequently displace an art in which quality was once displayed. So home-baking, into which no small degree of culinary skill could go, has given way to machine-baking in which the element of personal skill plays a diminished part, and on which the individual taste of the consumer exerts little directive influence. This may be taken as a typical example of the displacement of qualitative art by quantitative mechanism. It is, of course, of very wide extension, being, in fact, commensurate with the application of scientific methods in the world of industry. Indeed, the sciences of chemistry and physics, botany and biology, are everywhere invading the 'arts' of industry and imposing 'rules' upon industrial processes. Even more significant is the application of the still infantile science of psychology to the arts of business organisation and enterprise and of marketing. How can psychology assist in the delicate art of recommending goods to possible purchasers? Only on the supposition that there is sufficient uniformity and stability in human nature to enable the measured rules of past experiment upon other men to hold of this man. Only so far as men are really the same sort of stuff, or so far as any differences are measurable and calculable. Novelty alone can baffle applied science.
If it were true, as some appear to think, that machinery and routine method were destined continually to absorb a larger and larger proportion of human work, and to direct a larger and larger share of human life, economic science with its quantitative calculus would acquire a continual increase of exactitude, and a growing capacity for direction in the art of social conduct. But if, as seems more reasonable, progressive industry must serve to feed a richer liberty and novelty of individual and social life, the domain of quantitative calculus, though absolutely enlarging, may be relatively shrinking.
We now seem able to get a more accurate understanding of what a scientific calculus can do for the assistance of the art of social welfare. It can do for that art what it can do for every other art, viz., furnish rules for the regular. So far as the stuff which constitutes or composes human welfare is uniform, i.e., so far as men are alike in their needs, and the material for the satisfaction of these needs is similar, it can supply rules of social economy which will have a high degree of validity. Though no two human organisms are identical in structure, all human organisms within a wide range of environment are so similar in the kinds of food, air and other material goods which they require, that it is sound 'social policy' to ignore their differences and to treat them as identical in the qualities of their demands and dissimilar only in the quantities. The practical economy of 'markets' stands upon this basis, and the quantitative treatment finds its true justification in the utility of markets. There can be no market for the single or 'singular' consumer. A market, i.e., a practical instrument for measurement of economic wants, implies a standardisation of the desires of buyers and sellers. Just so far as the members of an economic community are thus standardised in their preferences, are economic laws applicable. Thus, for the scientific interpretation of such a community, much depends upon the relative strength and importance of the standardising and the individualising forces. In a society where the so-called 'arts' of industry and of consumption have alike passed by imitation or tradition into firm conventions from which the least transgression is branded as an impiety or a wickedness, economic laws, based upon a sufficient study of the past and present, will enable one to predict the future with considerable accuracy. Primitive or backward communities are usually in this conservative condition. Moreover, as they advance and become economically progressive, it is observable that the most conservative and most calculable wants and activities are those relating to the satisfaction of the primary material needs. Hence it is evident that scientific predictions, based either upon general considerations of human nature or upon past measurements, will come nearest to fulfilment, according as they relate to the production and consumption of those articles most deeply embedded in the standard of living. Conveniences and comforts are more changeable than necessaries, and luxuries most changeable of all. Now the marginal or least useful portion of those supplies, which in the earlier or most useful increments satisfy some prime need, are often luxuries. The marginal portion of the wheat supply goes for cakes, or is thrown into the dust-bin as waste bread: the marginal oil goes into motor rides. Taking expenditure in general, we find the last ten per cent of every income most incalculable in its outlay, because it represents those purchases in which custom is weakest and individual taste or opportunity the strongest. In a word, it is precisely in those economic actions which express marginal preferences, the pivot of the mechanical calculus, that we find the maximum of instability and incalculability. For each of these nice marginal preferences proceeds directly from the changing nature of the organic personality. Whereas fifty per cent of a man's expenditure may express the common satisfaction of the fixed physical needs which custom has embedded in a standard of subsistence, thirty per cent the lighter but fairly stable comforts belonging to his class, the last twenty per cent is the part in which he expresses his individual character and his cravings for personal distinction and variety of enjoyment.
The formal invalidity of the 'marginalist' method has already been disclosed. The considerations just adduced indicate its practical futility as a means of guidance for economic art. Neither as a deductive nor as an inductive science can Economics furnish accurate rules for calculating or directing future economic events. It can only prophesy within such limits as are set by the assumptions of the stability of human nature and of its environment. Its rules or 'laws' will best interpret and predict those economic actions which are most remote from the margin, i.e., those which are most conservative or regular. Marginal preferences will therefore be precisely those which it is precluded from interpreting or predicting by the necessary defect of the intellectual instrument.
§12. Thus the final futility of the mechanical method of marginalism lies in its insistence upon applying a quantitative method of interpretation to the most qualitative portion of the subject-matter, that portion where the organic conditions of personality and novelty are of paramount significance.
Indeed, it is for this reason that economic science, though able to supply relevant and important evidence, can never solve conclusively any social-economic problem, even in that field of action where her authority is most strongly asserted. A given rise or fall of price can never produce the same effect upon demand twice running. Why? Because the desires and beliefs of the more unsettled section of buyers, the 'marginal' buyers, will have changed. Nor can this alteration in effect upon demand be calculated. Why not? Because the changes in desires and beliefs are organic qualitative changes. Observations of past price movements and laws based upon them are not thereby rendered useless. For these organic changes will often be negligible so far as the bulk of the market is concerned. But they negate the possibilities of exact prediction, and often of approximate predictions on the margin.
This is why the 'great' business man often prefers to act by intuition than by express calculation. He recognises that, so far as the more delicate judgments are concerned, his 'feeling' of 'how things will go' is more trustworthy than any estimate. He does not act blindly. He feeds and forties his mind with facts and figures, until he is steeped in familiarity with the subject matter. But he does not deliberately balance against one another these measured forces and commit himself to the resultant. For he is aware that the problem is not one of mere mechanics, a counting-house proposition, but one involving for its solution sympathy and imagination.
But the crucial instance of the organic and spiritual nature of a distinctly economic problem is in the case of credit. The mathematical mechanical treatment claims to find its supreme justification in the part played by money, the most abstract of economic phenomena. Credit, in its objective sense, is the economic plenipotentiary, the absolute representative of economic power. For he who has credit has the command of land, capital, labour, ability of every sort, at any time and in any place. Credit is productive power and purchasing power, for he who possesses it can convert it into any sort of supply or demand he chooses. It is absolutely quantitative, fluid, divisible and measurable. Such is credit, treated objectively by economic science. But credit is also the heart and brains of the industrial system. Subjectively regarded, it is an essentially spiritual thing, a delicate, sensitive creature of human beliefs and desires. Its volume and its power for practical work are affected by this spiritual nature. For its springs are fear, hope, prestige, superstition, sympathy and understanding. Its true basis is neither gold, nor goods, but credibility. And that quality of credibility is fluctuating all the time for every individual, every business, every state. New unpredictable events are constantly affecting it. No one can therefore say with any assurance of correctness "a Bank should keep 20% of its resources in reserve or at call," or put any such rigid limit for the operations of any Bank. If we do set any such quantitative limit, we should realise that it is only a rough practical rule, which, if interpreted with automatic rigour, leads to waste and error in the actual working of finance. For by no plotting of curves can you reckon the future flow of human credibility, or the application of a given amount of concrete credit to the ever-changing gains and risks of human industry. Take the critical case of a collapse of credit and the run upon a Bank. To predict with even approximate accuracy the course of such a run, or to check it by calculations, based upon past experience of similar crises applied to the records of present assets and liabilities, would be impossible. Why? Chiefly because of the psycho-physical factors, the play of organic forces. You can calculate with close exactitude the strain imposed upon a bridge of a given size, material and structure by a given weight, distribution and pace of traffic. You cannot calculate with equal exactitude the strain which a given quantity of liabilities, however carefully analysed and graded, will impose upon a Bank reserve of a given size.
The incalculable element consists of organic novelty, the changes due to having to deal with matter not dead and homogeneous but living and organised. The citation of such instances is not designed to prove that monetary and other statistics are practically useless for the prediction and solution of social-economic problems. On the contrary, they are exceedingly useful. But the formal exactitude which they carry in their method can never be conveyed into the work they are required to assist in doing. The most abundant supply of the most accurate statistics, utilised by the most approved methods of economic science, can only afford results of a rude approximate validity, expressed in tendencies. The practical man in business, in politics, in every mode of social conduct, will supplement and correct the application of the scientific rule by the play of private judgment and intuition.
* * *
§13 If this is true as regards all predictions of future
economic happenings, it is till more true of the conscious purposive guidance of
these happenings by the application of a human standard of values. The practical
statesman or social reformer, confronted with a concrete social problem, e.g.,
the demand for a state enforcement of a national minimum of wages, local option
for the closure of public houses, or a referendum for constitutional changes,
will find himself 'paying attention' and 'giving weight' to a number of diverse
and opposing considerations. How will the selection and the 'weighing' of these
considerations be brought about? Not directly and consciously by the application
of what may be termed his social ideal, the image in his soul of the society
which seems to him absolutely the most desirable. The relation of that ultimate
ideal to the particular scheme under consideration, e.g., a national minimum
wage, may be too distant and too dubious to afford valuation and direction. The
operative ideal will be derivative, one of a related set of possible-desirables,
limited and practicable ideals which form the most potent instruments of his
statecraft. Such an operative ideal for an Englishman at the present time might
be the vision of the State, as the collective will, securing by law a clearly
conceived standard of sound efficient life for the ordinary working-class
family. This present practical ideal, derived from a wider conception of the
duty of the State in relation to the individual members of a civilised society,
would itself be a far wider scheme than the particular proposal, that of
national minimum wage, which it was invoked to assess. The statesman,
enlightened by this derivative ideal, would apply it as a test and standard to
the particular proposal. He would consider it, not merely 'upon its own merits'
but as incorporated in the more complex organic plan of his national minimum.
This organic plan and purpose would determine the 'value' he gave to the various
'pros' and 'cons,' as for instance to the consideration how far legal
intervention might weaken the private organisation of workmen in their
trade-unions, so damaging other benefits of trade-unionism, or the consideration
how far it was better to wait and secure a more democratically administered
State before entrusting it with the delicate function of adjusting pecuniary
arrangements between workmen and employers. This plan or purpose of a national
minimum, as a possible desirable, will of course not remain quite stable in his
mind, will not be a rigid standard. It will change somewhat in pattern, and in
definiteness of outline, as some fresh outer or inner experience makes any part
of it, or the whole, seem more or less desirable, or more or less possible, than
§14. But the important point to note is that it is this larger organic plan or vision, the character and changes of which are essentially qualitative, that furnishes the standard and stamps with their respective 'values' the various considerations which are said to 'determine' the practical value of the proposal and its acceptance or rejection. No social-economic proposal, however distinctively quantitative it appears, can be humanly valued in any other way. It is for this reason that a mere economist is always disabled from giving practical advice in any course of conduct. Take two examples. Political economy can legitimately apply laws of value so as to show that, under competitive conditions, a nation must produce a larger quantity of marketable goods under a policy of free imports than under any sort of Tariff. But that proof in itself can never be sufficient ground for rejecting either a Tariff for revenue, or even a Tariff for protection. For the Statesman can never take the maximum of marketable values as his final and sufficient test. If it could be shown that national security were involved in a protective system which kept all necessary industries within the national limits, he might plead 'defence is more than opulence.' Or, if it could be shown that a protective tariff could be operated so as to distribute a slightly reduced aggregate of wealth in a manner more conducive to the popular welfare and that this consideration was not offset by fear of corruption or of impaired industrial efficiency, or other disadvantages, the Statesman might rightly adopt a Tariff in the teeth of 'economic laws.'9
Or, take another example, the proposal for an eight hours day, secured by law. A purely economic enquiry might, by considering the elasticity of labour in various employments, arrive at the conclusion that a general shortening of the work-day would involve a present reduction of the product by so much percentage in different trades, and that it might involve a reduction of profits and of wages and a probable loss of so much export trade in various industries. It might even present some tentative estimates as to the effects of the pressure of this new cost of production in stimulating improved economies in mines, factories or railways. Such information would be useful and relevant, but not authoritative upon the judgment of the Statesman. For the social value of a shorter work-day would depend mainly upon the organic reactions of increased leisure upon the whole standard of life of the working family, how it affected his expenditure of his wages, its effect upon his health, education and recreations, the cultivation of family affection, the better performance of neighbourly and civic duties, and all that is involved in more liberty and a larger outlook upon life. It is evident, in the first place, that these essential considerations lie outside the calculations of the economist, and, secondly, that the actual value set on each of them will depend upon and be derived from the whole faith and social vision of the statesman in question.
This social or human valuation of a so-called economic process or good, involves then two departures from a quantitative calculus; first, the reduction of the particular economic factors themselves from financial or other quantitative terms to vital or subjective terms; secondly, the restoration of this artificially severed economic process to the larger integrated process of human life from which it was abstracted by the scientific specialism of the economist. The economist can find the facts, but he cannot find their human importance or value, because assigning human value means referring to an extra-economic standard. It means more than this. It means a reference to an extra-scientific standard, one whose distinctive character consists in its being the expression and operation of the organic complex of forces composing the social personality as mirrored in the conscious or unconscious efforts of the individuals and of the Society who make the valuations and frame their conduct upon them.
§15. In conclusion it is necessary to enforce an exceedingly important distinction in the conception of social or human valuation. The term means two things, the attribution of human or social value by an individual and by a society. In most of our illustrations we have taken the standpoint of the Statesman or the reformer, or of some other person, and regarded social values from his eyes. We have taken his ideal as a social ideal. So it is in the sense of being his ideal of a society. But it is essential also to consider society as seeking to realise its own ideal. 'The whole succession of men during many ages,' said Pascal, 'should be considered as one Man, ever living and constantly learning.' This is the true organic view of humanity, regarded either as a single whole or in its several races, nations or communities. The apophthegm is not primarily of political or of ethical significance, but a statement of natural history. It is corroborated in a striking manner by modern biological teaching, with its continuity of the germ-plasm, its embryonic recapitulation and its specific evolution. But not until natural history is rescued from the excessive domination of a purely physical biology, and is read in the language of collective psycho-physics, do we grasp the full bearing of the organic conception in its application to a society. For this conception of mankind as working out the human career by the operation of its original supply of faculties and feelings, in which instinctive physical motives take an increasing admixture of conscious rational guidance, is the key to an understanding of the ascent of man. There is no clear evidence of the continuous ascent of man regarded as individual, at any rate within 'historic' times. There is evidence of the ascent of human society towards a larger and closer complexity of human relations and a clearer intellectual and moral consciousness. This means that mankind, as a whole, and its several societies, is becoming more capable of a human valuation and of a collective conduct of affairs guided by this conscious process. In politics, regarded in its wider meaning, this truth has taken shape in the modern conception of the general will, which in popularly-governed States functions through public opinion and representative institutions. Following our examination of the limits of science or 'rationalism' in the processes of valuation and of conduct on the part of individuals, we shall expect to find some corresponding limits in collective man. In other words, the general will of a people cannot be regarded, either in its estimates or its determinations, as a merely or a mainly calculative process, working out the respective values of existing circumstances, or proposed changes, in terms of clearly-defined utility. It does not even with fuller information, wider education and firmer self-control, tend towards this scientific politics. Collective self-government, like individual self-government, will always remain essentially an art, its direction and determinant motives being creative, qualitative, and rooted in the primal instincts of man.
§16. It is upon this conception of the collective instincts of society regarded as an organism that a rational faith in democracy is based. The animal organism, itself a society of cells, is endowed with energy of body and mind, operating through an equipment of instinctive channels towards its own survival and development and the survival and development of its species. Where there is danger lest too much of this energy should be consumed upon individual ends, too little on specific ends, the social or self-sacrificing instincts are strengthened in the individual, and are reinforced by the herd or specific feelings of other individuals, as where plunderers of the common stock or shirkers in the common tasks are destroyed by the hive or herd. The instinct for the survival and development of the hive, herd or species, cannot be satisfactorily explained as belonging only to the psycho-physical equipment of the individual members. On this basis, viz., that of attributing a social nature only to the individual members of a society, the acts of devotion and self-sacrifice, and still more the acts of preparatory skill, the elaborate performance of deeds that are means to the survival and well-being of a future generation, become mere haphazard miracles. Take the familiar example of the Hunting Wasp.
'The larvae of the various Hunting Wasps demand a motionless prey who will not, by defensive movements, endanger the delicate egg and, afterwards, the tiny grub fixed to a part of the prey In addition, it is necessary that this inert prey shall be nevertheless alive; for the grub would not accept a corpse as food. Its victuals must be fresh meat and not preserved provisions. These two antagonistic conditions of immobility and life the Hymenoptera realises by means of paralysis, which destroys movement and leaves the organic principle of life intact. With a skill which our most famous vivisectors would envy, the insect drives its poison sting into the nerve centres, the seat of muscular stimulation. The operator either confines himself to a single stroke of the lancet, or else gives two, or three or more, according to the structure of the particular nervous system and the number and grouping of the nerve centres. The exact anatomy of the victim guides the needle.'10
Such conduct is not made intelligible by any other hypothesis
than that of a collective life of the species, the individual lives being, in
fact, parts of a common specific life towards which they contribute in a manner
similar to that in which the cells, with their particular lives, contribute to
the life of their organism. Only by this application or extension of the
'organic metaphor' to the relations between members of an existing generation,
and between successive generations, can we construct an intelligible sequence of
causation between these preparatory acts of individual insects of one generation
and the results accruing to other individuals of another generation.
This 'general will' (may we not call it so?), urging the individuals to the fulfilment of a purpose which is but slightly theirs, and is not mainly that of the existing generation, but which embodies the general purpose of the species or some wider purpose of a still larger organic whole, can only be realised for thought and feeling as a single current of will implying and conferring unity of life upon the species or the larger unity.
In 'lower' animal spheres we recognise this fact. But there is a tendency to hold that man, subject to some such specific urge or instincts in his primitive stages, has become more and more individualised and has done so largely by becoming more rational. The gradual displacement of instinct by reason, it is contended, has made man more self-sufficient, his life more of the nature of an end, less of a means towards the life of his tribe or nation, or even towards that of humanity as a whole. Is this so? There are two issues that open here. In the process of civilisation a man certainly becomes more individual. He differs in character more from his fellows than in earlier times; he is able to devote, and does devote, a larger share of his energies of body and mind to activities which are primarily self-regarding. Moreover, he tends to rely less exclusively or predominantly upon what would be called his instincts and more upon his reason.
§17. The 'general will,' which through forms of tribal custom and of gregarious instinct pulsed so vigorously and so insistently in tribal life, seems to have weakened with every expansion of social area and with the advancing complexity of social relations. The economy of human energy allows individuals to apply a larger share of the life-force that flows through them to what appear to them their private purposes, a smaller to the protection and development of the society or species. If we were to assign any final validity to the opposition of individual and society, this change might be regarded as a shrinkage of the dominion of the 'general will,' the specific as contrasted with the individual purpose. But though the narrow intense tribal will may thus appear to have yielded to a broader, feebler and less imperative form of national or social will, it by no means follows that this latter works less effectively for the common good. As man becomes more intelligent and more reflective, and has fortified himself with larger and more reliable records and better methods of controlling his environment, the instinctive operations of the will of groups of tribal animals give place to more conscious, more rational, purposes.
The change must not indeed be overstressed. The validity of the general will does not depend upon the degree of conscious rational purpose it has attained. It remains to-day in the most highly civilised communities what it was in primitive tribal life, an organic instinct. The rationalisation of this blind faculty of organic self-protection and advancement has not yet gone very far. Indeed, it is exceedingly important to recognise that an organic instinct of conservation and of progress underlies the wisdom of the people. Those who consider politics a rightful monopoly of the educated classes doubly err; first, in ignoring the instinctive wisdom of the people, secondly in claiming for education a higher value for political direction than it possesses. The political wisdom of the Roman or the germanic peoples partakes far more of a natural sagacity than of a reasoned process. If this applies to the great statesman, it is still more applicable to the body of the people whose consent or active cooperation contributes to the evolution of a stable and a progressive state. It is impossible to understand or to explain any long and complex movement in national history by piecing together the conscious rational designs of the individuals or groups of men who executed the several moves of which the movement seemed to consist. Such a structure as the British Constitution, such an episode as the French Revolution, cannot be otherwise regarded, in its organic unity, than as a product of energies of common will and purpose, wider, deeper and obscurer in their working than the particular intelligible motives and aims which appeared on the stage of parliamentary debates, military campaigns or mob violence. Every student of the 'spirit' of one of these great national dramas is driven to recognise some moulding or directing influence, some urge of events, by which they seem to unfold themselves in a larger and more complex pattern or consistency than is perceived by any of the agents. There is sometimes a tendency to give a mystical interpretation to this truth. So Victor Hugo writes of the French Revolution:
'Être un membre de la Convention, c'était être une vague de l'Ocean. Et ceci était vrai des plus grands. La force d'impulsion venait d'en haut. Il y avait dans la Convention une volonté qui était celle de tous et a'était celle de personne. Cette volonté était une idée, idée indomptable et démesurée qui soufflait dans l'ombre du haut du ciel. Nous appelons cela la Révolution. Quand cette idée passait elle abattait l'un et soulevait l'autre; elle emportait celui-ci en écume et brisait celui-là aux écueils. Cette idée savait où elle allait, et poussait le gouffre devant elle. Imputer la révolution aux hommes, c'est imputer la marée aux flots.'11
The explanation of our colonial empire as the result of a
career of conquest and expansion conducted 'in a fit of absence of mind' is an
exact statement of the truth. For though a few great empire-builders, such as
Warren Hastings, Molesworth, Elgin, Grey and Rhodes, may have played their parts
with some measure of conscious design, the individual channels of this current
of adventurous and constructive energy embodied in the general process had as
little an idea of the imperial edifice as any working bee of the great
symmetrical structure of the hive.
§18. This sense of 'manifest destiny' is surely no illusion. It is the evolutionary method by which all organic process is achieved, whether in the growth of an oak tree from its acorn, of a motor car from the earliest hand-barrow, a musical symphony from a savage tom-tom, or a modern federal state from the primitive tribal order. In every case a number of what seem separately motived actions are seen to carry and express the continuity of some common tendency which brings them under the control of a single collective design. This wider purpose is seen operating upon the larger organic stage of conduct in ways closely analogous to the operations of the poet or the artist in any human fine art. It exhibits the urge of an inner flow of psycho-physical energy seeking ever finer modes of expression by moulding the materials at its disposal. As soon as we grasp this idea of the collective artistry of a species or any other organic group, we recognise how lacking in logical finality is the accepted antithesis of instinct and reason. The reason of the organism will appear as a blind instinctive drive to the cell whose conduct it directs. So the specific purpose will show itself as instinct in the individual organism, though it may be neither blind nor unconscious to the species taken as the organic unit. Nay, we may go further and suggest that advancing reason in the individual animal may consist in a growing sympathy and syn-noesis with the operations of the wider organism. Must not this be what happens when what we term reason endorses and reinforces the instinctive actions of specific preservation and well-being, substituting reflection for impulse, plans for customs, orderly and changing institutions for blind ordinances whose authority is gregarious imitation or Superstitious prestige? Are we wrong when we trace an instinct of obedience to a chief transformed into a reasoned submission to the law? May not then the whole process of the rationalisation of man be regarded as a bringing of the individual man into vital communion of thought and feeling with the thoughts and feelings of the race, of humanity, perhaps of the larger organic being of the kosmos? For a man only becomes rational so far as he takes a disinterested view of himself, his fellow-men and of the world he lives in, and the wider, closer, keener that view the more rational he becomes. Thus the evolution of the mind of man into a fuller rationality means the strengthening and clarifying of those relations of feeling and thought which bind him to his fellows and to his world and which are rooted in the 'blind' instincts of gregarious, superstitious, curious man.
§19. The upshot of these considerations is to break down the abruptness of the contrast between reason and instinct and to recognise in reason itself the subtlest play of the creative instinct. The 'disinterested' nature of the search for truth has been a subject of derision among some thinkers, who see no way by which man the individual can disengage himself from the selfish motives which seem to rule him and to dispose alike of his emotional and intellectual energies. In man regarded as individual it is very difficult to recognise any possibility of a disinterested motive, because all such motives are ruled out ex hypothesi. But regard the individual man as subject to the dominant control of some wider life than his, that of race, society, humanity or kosmos, and the difficulty disappears. He becomes capable of 'disinterested' curiosity, 'disinterested 'love,' self-sacrifices' of various kinds, because he is a centre of wider interests than those of his own particular self. The action of a Japanese who throws himself upon the Russian bayonets at the word of command, of a doctor who inoculates himself with a deadly poison for the sake of science, the steady lifelong toil of millions of peasants growing the food supply for unknown millions of town-dwellers, are no longer 'disinterested' when they are looked at from the standpoint of the interests of humanity as a whole. This collective will and intelligence can never be considered wholly 'blind' when regarded from the collective standpoint. Every directive instinct of an organism, at any rate in the animal world, must be accredited with some related emotion,12 and this emotion, regarded as a fact in consciousness, must be accredited with some measure of intelligence. The creature subject to the drive of an emotion must have some idea of what he is about, though the full psycho-biological 'purpose' of his action may be hidden from him. This organic standpoint gives an intelligible meaning to what we may call the 'natural wisdom of the people.' The herd, the tribe, the nation is endowed with instincts of self-protection and of growth. These instincts are accompanied by corresponding emotions which, according to the degree of intelligence they contain, impel it to a right or economical use of the physical and spiritual environment for survival and 'progress.' The instinctive and emotional stream of this common life becomes more 'rational' as the factors of intelligence accompanying the emotions become clearer, better coordinated and endowed with larger capacity of central direction. In the evolution of animal organisms this growth of rationality implies, and is compassed by, a decline of the special instincts with a consequent weakening of the special emotions attached to them, and the substitution of a flexible general instinct operating through a centralised nervous system and coordinating the special organic emotions and activities to serve a more clearly conceived organic purpose of the individual or the race. Reason, regarded as a motive power and not as a mere intellectual organ, must be considered as this general instinct of survival and growth, having its roots in the apparently separate instincts of hunger, procreation, shelter, pugnacity, flight, gregariousness, protection of young, curiosity, constructiveness, acquisitiveness and the like, and utilising the emotions proper to these several instincts for the economy of some more general plan of life. Reasoning, as an 'intellectual process,' will probably derive its emotional food and impetus principally from the emotions carried by the instincts of flight and pursuit, which involve quick judgment in the use of means, and by the curiosity and constructiveness which impel the more reflective study and adaptation of material environment.
It is, however, no purpose of mine to enter into the particulars of this theory of the natural origins of reason. It is sufficient to recognise; first that prior to the dawn of 'reason' in organic evolution, the instincts carry and apply a wisdom of direction of their own; secondly that when reason takes over much of this directing power it operates by coordinating, not by creating, motive power.
So when we substitute for the individual organism the herd, the tribe, the nation, ascending to larger collective wholes, sustained by a clearer consciousness of unity and a fuller use of central conscious purpose, we follow the same economy of government. If, as is often urged, a nation, regarded as an organism, must be classed as a comparatively primitive type, on a level rather with the sponges or algae than with the higher animals, we shall expect to find that a very large measure of such 'wisdom' as it possesses will be instinctive rather than 'rational.' The evolution of a general will, whether operative by public opinion or governmental institutions, will on such a hypothesis possess no great degree of centrality or clear consciousness. Good government in such a society could not be compassed by an oligarchy or even a representative assembly assuming a measure of detailed and far-sighted policy for which the collective life was not yet ripe. A large measure of what from the rational standpoint would rank as 'opportunism' would be the true policy at such a stage of social evolution, and the wise statesman would keep his ear to the ground so as to learn the instinctive movements of the popular mind which would yield the best freight of political wisdom at his disposal. Only as education and closer and more reliable communications elevated the organic structure of Society, imparting higher spirituality, more centrality and clearer consciousness to its life, should we expect any considerable rationalisation of the general will. Meanwhile arise the temptation and danger of the formal instruments of government falling into the hands of a little highly self-conscious group or class, who may seek to impose upon the conduct of the nation its clearer plans and far-sighted purposes "under the name and pretext of the commonwealth." The absolute or actual wisdom of their will they will be apt to represent as embodying the reality of the general will. It is what they think 'the people' ought to will and therefore what the people will come to will as soon as they are really capable of willing intelligently!
It is, however, exceedingly important to try and recognise the instinctive wisdom of the people, in order that a misrepresentative government may be prevented from ignoring it and substituting the rationalism of some little conscious class.
This does not mean that a government must always govern and adapt its laws to the level of the current feelings, desires and aspirations of the average man, giving him no lead or stimulus to higher rationality. Such a course would be to ignore that capacity for progress and that susceptibility to proximate ideals which are themselves implanted in the instincts of mankind. But it does require that a government shall keep itself in the closest sympathy with the concrete feelings and ideas of the people, maintaining such contacts as shall enable its acts of policy to rank as substantially correct interpretations of the general will, not as the designs of a supreme governing caste or group of interests, pumped down through some artfully contrived electoral machinery so as to receive the false formal impress of 'the general will.'
These reflections upon the nature of popular government may appear to have carried us far afield. But they have been no irrelevant excursion. For upon our view of the nature and measure of rationality to be imputed to the processes of reform or progress in national life must depend our view of the part which can be played by the social sciences which are invoked as the chief instruments of conscious collective conduct.
Recognising that social progress in all its departments remains always a collective art, inspired and sustained by creative impulses which owe neither their origin or their validity to science, we shall regard the social sciences as servants rather than directors of social progress. We shall be concerned to ask, What are the proper and particular services such sciences can render? How can they assist a people in utilising its human and natural resources for the attainment of the best conditions of human life, individual and social?
This work is written as a partial and illustrative answer to these questions. Taking industry, that department of social conduct most susceptible of the quantitative measurement which is the instrument of science, we have endeavored to construct and apply an organon of human valuation to its activities and achievements. Recognising that industry, regarded from the individual or the social standpoint, was an organic activity, involving continual reactions upon the whole life of the individual and the society, we insisted that the standard of valuation must be constructed in terms of organic well-being. In other words, industry, both from its productive and its consumptive side, must be valued in terms of individual and social health, that term being selected as the one which best expresses the conditions of conservation and of progress universally recognised as the essentials of a 'valuable' life. In the actual interpretation of this organic welfare, we took for our valuer 'enlightened' common-sense. The roots of this common-sense we find laid in the silent, instinctive organic strivings of mankind. It is the business of science, or organised knowledge, to direct these strivings so as to enable them to attain their ends more economically. It does this by interpreting experience and supplying the interpretation in the shape of 'laws' to enlighten common-sense and so enable it to choose its paths. For the economy of blind instincts is only accommodated to simple activities in a stable environment, and is even then subject to enormous vital wastes. For complicated activities in a rapidly changing and complex environment, a general instinct of adaptability of means to ends, involving conscious reflection, is required. Reason is this general instinct and science is its instrument. Society, as its processes of evolution become more conscious, will be able to use more profitably the services of science. Those services consist not in authoritative legislation for social conduct, for laws based upon experience of the past can have no full authority to bind the future. Faith and risk-taking, involving large elements of the incalculable, are inherent in organic processes, and are the very sap of spiritual interest in life. They can never be brought under the dominion of a scientific economy.
But the main staple in every art of conduct is repetition and considered adaptation, resting upon a continuity of conditions. For this part of social conduct science, when sufficiently equipped, can and will offer authoritative advice. Throughout all nature the arts of conservation and creation run together. The art of conservation is the practical function of science: the art of creation ever remains a region of beckoning liberty, continually annexed by science, and yet undiminished in its size and ts appeal.
'For all experience is an arch where through
Gleams that untravelled land whose margin fades
For ever and for ever as we move.'
1. It was precisely on this rock that J.S. Mill's
utilitarianism split. He tried to incorporate in the quantitative calculus of
Benthamite pleasure and pain distinctions of the quality or worth of different
sorts of pleasure and pain, and failed to furnish any method of reducing them to
2. Wicksteed, Common Sense of Political Economy, p. 405.
3. p. 409.
4. p. 153.
5. p. 156.
6. p. 159.
7. This older doctrine of marginalism, concerned with the comparison of marginal utilities, or marginal costs, in the application of expenditure of productive energy, must not be confused with the novel doctrine which we discussed in Chapter XI in relation to wages. In the newer doctrine any unit of a supply may be regarded as the marginal unit and every unit as equally productive or useful. According to the older doctrine each unit has a different cost or utility.
8. Professor Pigou in his Wealth and Welfare discusses with skill and precision the measurable influences of an increase of the general dividend upon general welfare, but omits to take into consideration the 'cost' factors which enter into 'welfare,' however that term be defined.
9. Protectionists can seldom, if ever, plead successfully either of these cases. By reducing the community of economic interests between nations Protection normally increases the chances of war, while lessening the national resources which are the sinews of war. So, likewise, its normal tendency is to worsen the distribution of Wealth within the nation.
10. Henri Fabre, The Eng. Review, Dec., 1912, The Modern Theory of Instincts.
11. Quatre-vingt-treize, Livre III, Chapter XI.
12. Cf. McDougall, Social Psychology.