In the foregoing chapter it has been shown at large, that goodness or badness cannot, with any propriety, be predicated of motives. Is there nothing, then, about a man that can properly be termed good or bad, when, on such or such an occasion, he suffers himself to be governed by such or such a motive? Yes, certainly: his disposition. Now disposition is a kind of fictitious entity, feigned for the convenience of discourse, in order to express what there is supposed to be permanent in a man’s frame of mind, where, on such or such an occasion, he has been influenced by such or such a motive, to engage in an act, which, as it appeared to him, was of such or such a tendency.
It is with disposition as with every thing else: it will be good or bad according to its effects; according to the effects it has in augmenting or diminishing the happiness of the community. A man’s disposition may accordingly be considered in two points of view: according to the influence it has, either, 1. On his own happiness: or, 2. On the happiness of others. Viewed in both these lights together, or in either of them indiscriminately, it may be termed, on the one hand, good; on the other, bad; or, in flagrant cases, depraved.§ Viewed in the former of these lights, it has scarcely any peculiar name which has as yet been appropriated to it. It might be termed, though but inexpressively, frail or infirm, on the one hand: sound or firm, on the other. Viewed in the other light, it might be termed beneficent or meritorious, on the one hand: pernicious or mischievous, on the other. Now of that branch of a man’s disposition, the effects of which regard in the first instance only himself, there needs not much to be said here. To reform it when bad, is the business rather of the moralist than the legislator: nor is it susceptible of those various modifications which make so material a difference in the effects of the other. Again, with respect to that part of it, the effects whereof regard others in the first instance, it is only in as far as it is of a mischievous nature that the penal branch of law has any immediate concern with it: in as far as it may be of a beneficent nature, it belongs to a hitherto but little cultivated, and as yet unnamed branch of law, which might be styled the remuneratory.
§ It might also be termed virtuous, or vicious. The only objection to the use of those terms on the present occasion is, the great quantity of good and bad repute that respectively stand annexed to them. The inconvenience of this is, their being apt to annex an ill-proportioned measure of disrepute to dispositions which are ill-constituted only with respect to the party himself: involving them in such a degree of ignominy as should be appropriated to such dispositions only as are mischievous with regard to others. To exalt weaknesses to a level with crimes, is a way to diminish the abhorrence which ought to be reserved for crimes. To exalt small evils to a level with great ones, is the way to diminish the share of attention which ought to be paid to great ones.
A man, then, is said to be of a mischievous disposition, when, by the influence of no matter what motives, he is presumed to be more apt to engage, or form intentions of engaging, in acts which are apparently of a pernicious tendency, than in such as are apparently of a beneficial tendency: of a meritorious or beneficent disposition, in the opposite case.
I say presumed: for, by the supposition, all that appears is one single action, attended with one single train of circumstances: but from that degree of consistency and uniformity which experience has shown to be observable in the different actions of the same person, the probable existence (past or future) of a number of acts of a similar nature is naturally and justly inferred from the observation of one single one. Under such circumstances, such as the motive proves to be in one instance, such is the disposition to be presumed to be in others.
I say apparently mischievous; that is, apparently with regard to him; such as to him appear to possess that tendency: for from the mere event, independent of what to him it appears beforehand likely to be, nothing can be inferred on either side. If to him it appears likely to be mischievous, in such case, though in the upshot it should prove innocent, or even beneficial, it makes no difference; there is not the less reason for presuming his disposition to be a bad one: if to him to appears likely to be beneficial or innocent, in such case, though in the upshot it should prove pernicious, there is not the more reason on that account for presuming his disposition to be a good one. And here we see the importance of the circumstances of intentionality,* consciousness,† unconsciousness,† and mis-supposal.†
The truth of these positions depends upon two others, both of them sufficiently verified by experience: The one is, that in the ordinary course of things the consequences of actions commonly turn out conformable to intentions. A man who sets up a butcher’s shop, and deals in beef, when he intends to knock down an ox, commonly does knock down an ox; though by some unlucky accident he may chance to miss his blow and knock down a man: he who sets up a grocer’s shop, and deals in sugar, when he intends to sell sugar, commonly does sell sugar; though by some unlucky accident he may chance to sell arsenic in the room of it.
The other is, that a man who entertains intentions of doing mischief at one time is apt to entertain the like intentions at another.‡
‡ To suppose a man to be of a good disposition, and at the same time likely, in virtue of that very disposition, to engage in an habitual train of mischievous actions, is a contradiction in terms: nor could such a proposition ever be advanced, but from the giving, to the thing which the word disposition is put for, a reality which does not belong to it. If, then, for example, a man of religious disposition should, in virtue of that very disposition, be in the habit of doing mischief, for instance by persecuting his neighbours, the case must be, either that his disposition, though good in certain respects, is not good upon the whole; or that a religious disposition is not in general a good one.
There are two circumstances upon which the nature of the disposition, as indicated by any act, is liable to depend: 1. The apparent tendency of the act: 2. The nature of the motive which gave birth to it. This dependency is subject to different rules, according to the nature of the motive. In stating them, I suppose all along the apparent tendency of the act to be, as it commonly is, the same as the real.
1. Where the tendency of the act is good, and the motive is of the self-regarding kind. In this case, the motive affords no inference on either side. It affords no indication of a good disposition: but neither does it afford any indication of a bad one.
A baker sells his bread to a hungry man who asks for it. This, we see, is one of those acts of which, in ordinary cases, the tendency is unquestionably good. The baker’s motive is the ordinary commercial motive of pecuniary interest. It is plain, that there is nothing in the transaction, thus stated, that can afford the least ground for presuming that the baker is a better or a worse man than any of his neighbours.
2. Where the tendency of the act is bad, and the motive, as before, is of the self-regarding kind. In this case, the disposition indicated is a mischievous one.
A man steals bread out of a baker’s shop: this is one of those acts of which the tendency will readily be acknowledged to be bad. Why, and in what respects it is so, will be stated farther on.∥ His motive, we will say, is that of pecuniary interest; the desire of getting the value of the bread for nothing. His disposition, accordingly, appears to be a bad one: for every one will allow a thievish disposition to be a bad one.
∥ See ch. xii. [Consequences], and Code, B. I. tit. [Theft.]
3. Where the tendency of the act is good, and the motive is the purely social one of good-will. In this case the disposition indicated is a beneficent one.
A baker gives a poor man a loaf of bread. His motive is compassion; a name given to the motive of benevolence, in particular cases of its operation. The disposition indicated by the baker, in this case, is such as every man will be ready enough to acknowledge to be a good one.
4. Where the tendency of the act is bad, and the motive is the purely social one of good-will. Even in this case, the disposition which the motive indicates is dubious: it may be a mischievous or a meritorious one, as it happens; according as the mischievousness of the act is more or less apparent.
It may be thought, that a case of this sort cannot exist; and that to suppose it, is a contradiction in terms. For the act is one which, by the supposition, the agent knows to be a mischievous one. How, then, can it be, that good-will, that is, the desire of doing good, could have been the motive that led him into it? To reconcile this, we must advert to the distinction between enlarged benevolence and confined.* The motive that led him into it, was that of confined benevolence. Had he followed the dictates of enlarged benevolence, he would not have done what he did. Now, although he followed the dictates of that branch of benevolence, which in any single instance of its exertion is mischievous, when opposed to the other, yet, as the cases which call for the exertion of the former are, beyond comparison, more numerous than those which call for the exertion of the latter, the disposition indicated by him, in following the impulse of the former, will often be such as in a man, of the common run of men, may be allowed to be a good one upon the whole.
* See ch. x. [Motives.]
A man with a numerous family of children, on the point of starving, goes into a baker’s shop, steals a loaf, divides it all among the children, reserving none of it for himself. It will be hard to infer that that man’s disposition is a mischievous one upon the whole. Alter the case: give him but one child, and that hungry perhaps, but in no imminent danger of starving: and now let the man set fire to a house full of people, for the sake of stealing money out of it to buy the bread with. The disposition here indicated will hardly be looked upon as a good one.
Another case will appear more difficult to decide than either. Ravaillac assassinated one of the best and wisest of sovereigns, at a time when a good and wise sovereign, a blessing at all times so valuable to a state, was particularly precious; and that to the inhabitants of a populous and extensive empire. He is taken, and doomed to the most excruciating tortures. His son, well persuaded of his being a sincere penitent, and that mankind, in case of his being at large, would have nothing more to fear from him, effectuates his escape: Is this, then, a sign of a good disposition in the son, or of a bad one? Perhaps some will answer, of a bad one; for, besides the interest which the nation has in the sufferings of such a criminal, on the score of the example, the future good behaviour of such a criminal is more than any one can have sufficient ground to be persuaded of.
Well, then, let Ravaillac, the son, not facilitate his father’s escape; but content himself with conveying poison to him, that at the price of an easier death he may escape his torments. The decision will now, perhaps, be more difficult. The act is a wrong one, let it be allowed, and such as ought by all means to be punished: but is the disposition manifested by it a bad one? Because the young man breaks the laws in this one instance, is it probable, that if let alone, he would break the laws in ordinary instances, for the satisfaction of any inordidate desires of his own? The answer of most men would probably be in the negative.
5. Where the tendency of the act is good, and the motive is a semi-social one, the love of reputation. In this case, the disposition indicated is a good one.
In a time of scarcity, a baker, for the sake of gaining the esteem of the neighbourhood, distributes bread gratis among the industrious poor. Let this be taken for granted: and let it be allowed to be a matter of uncertainty, whether he had any real feeling for the sufferings of those whom he has relieved, or no. His disposition, for all that, cannot, with any pretence of reason, be termed otherwise than a good and beneficent one. It can only be in consequence of some very idle prejudice, if it receives a different name.†
† The bulk of mankind, ever ready to depreciate the character of their neighbours, in order indirectly to exalt their own, will take occasion to refer a motive to the class of bad ones as often as they can find one still better, to which the act might have owed its birth. Conscious that his own motives are not of the best class, or persuaded that if they be, they will not be referred to that class by others; afraid of being taken for a dupe, and anxious to show the reach of his penetration; each man takes care, in the first place, to impute the conduct of every other man to the least laudable of the motives that can account for it: in the next place, when he has gone as far that way as he can, and cannot drive down the individual motive to any lower class, he changes his battery, and attacks the very class itself. To the love of reputation he will accordingly give a bad name upon every occasion, calling it ostentation, vanity, or vain-glory.
Partly to the same spirit of detraction, the natural consequence of the sensibility of men to the force of the moral sanction, partly to the influence of the principle of asceticism, may, perhaps, be imputed the great abundance of bad names of motives, in comparison of such as are good or neutral: and, in particular, the total want of neutral names for the motives of sexual desire, physical desire in general, and pecuniary interest. The superior abundance, even of good names, in comparison of neutral ones, would, if examined, be found rather to confirm than disprove the above remark. The language of a people on these points may, perhaps, serve in some measure as a key to their moral sentiments. But such speculative disquisitions are foreign to the purpose of the present work.
6. Where the tendency of the act is bad, and the motive, as before, is a semi-social one, the love of reputation. In this case, the disposition which it indicates is more or less good or bad: in the first place, according as the tendency of the act is more or less mischievous: in the next place, according as the dictates of the moral sanction, in the society in question, approach more or less to a coincidence with those of utility. It does not seem probable, that in any nation, which is in a state of tolerable civilization, in short, in any nation in which such rules as these can come to be consulted, the dictates of the moral sanction will so far recede from a coincidence with those of utility (that is, of enlightened benevolence) that the disposition indicated in this case can be otherwise than a good one upon the whole.
An Indian receives an injury, real or imaginary, from an Indian of another tribe. He revenges it upon the person of his antagonist with the most excruciating torments: the case being, that cruelties inflicted on such an occasion gain him reputation in his own tribe. The disposition manifested in such a case can never be deemed a good one, among a people ever so few degrees advanced, in point of civilization, above the Indians.
A nobleman (to come back to Europe) contracts a debt with a poor tradesman. The same nobleman, presently afterwards, contracts a debt, to the same amount, to another nobleman, at play. He is unable to pay both: he pays the whole debt to the companion of his amusements, and no part of it to the tradesman. The disposition manifested in this case can scarcely be termed otherwise than a bad one. It is certainly, however, not so bad as if he had paid neither. The principle of love of reputation, or (as it is called in the case of this partial application of it) honour, is here opposed to the worthier principle of benevolence, and gets the better of it. But it gets the better also of the self-regarding principle of pecuniary interest. The disposition, therefore, which it indicates, although not so good a one as that in which the principle of benevolence predominates, is better than one in which the principle of self-interest predominates. He would be the better for having more benevolence: but would he be the better for having no honour? This seems to admit of great dispute.*
* See the case of Duels discussed in B. I. tit. [Homicide.]
7. Where the tendency of the act is good, and the motive is the semi-social one of religion. In this case, the disposition indicated by it (considered with respect to the influence of it on the man’s conduct towards others) is manifestly a beneficent and meritorious one.
A baker distributes bread gratis among the industrious poor. It is not that he feels for their distresses: nor is it for the sake of gaining reputation among his neighbours. It is for the sake of gaining the favour of the Deity; to whom, he takes for granted, such conduct will be acceptable. The disposition manifested by such conduct is plainly what every man would call a good one.
8. Where the tendency of the act is bad, and the motive is that of religion, as before. In this case the disposition is dubious. It is good or bad, and more or less good or bad, in the first place, as the tendency of the act is more or less mischievous; in the next place, according as the religious tenets of the person in question approach more or less to a coincidence with the dictates of utility.
It should seem from history, that even in nations in a tolerable state of civilization in other respects, the dictates of religion have been found so far to recede from a coincidence with those of utility; in other words, from those of enlightened benevolence; that the disposition indicated in this case may even be a bad one upon the whole. This, however, is no objection to the inference which it affords of a good disposition in those countries (such as perhaps are most of the countries of Europe at present) in which its dictates respecting the conduct of a man towards other men approach very nearly to a coincidence with those of utility. The dictates of religion, in their application to the conduct of a man in what concerns himself alone, seem in most European nations to savour a good deal of the ascetic principle: but the obedience to such mistaken dictates indicates not any such disposition as is likely to break out into acts of pernicious tendency with respect to others. Instances in which the dictates of religion lead a man into acts which are pernicious in this latter view, seem at present to be but rare: unless it be acts of persecution, or impolitic measures on the part of government, where the law itself is either the principal actor, or an accomplice in the mischief. Ravaillac, instigated by no other motive than this, gave his country one of the most fatal stabs that a country ever received from a single hand: but happily the Ravaillacs are but rare. They have been more frequent, however, in France, than in any other country during the same period: and it is remarkable, that in every instance it is this motive that has produced them. When they do appear, however, nobody, I suppose, but such as themselves, will be for terming a disposition, such as they manifest, a good one. It seems hardly to be denied, but that they are just so much the worse for their notions of religion; and that had they been left to the sole guidance of benevolence, and the love of reputation, without any religion at all, it would have been but so much the better for mankind. One may say nearly the same thing, perhaps, of those persons who, without any particular obligation, have taken an active part in the execution of laws made for the punishment of those who have the misfortune to differ with the magistrate in matters of religion, much more of the legislator himself, who has put it in their power. If Louis XIV, had had no religion, France would not have lost 800,000 of its most valuable subjects. The same thing may be said of the authors of the wars called holy ones; whether waged against persons called Infidels, or persons branded with the still more odious name of Heretics. In Denmark, not a great many years ago, a a sect is said to have arisen, who by a strange perversion of reason took it into their heads, that, by leading to repentance, murder, or any other horrid crime, might be made the road to heaven. It should all along, however, be observed, that instances of this latter kind were always rare; and that, in almost all the countries of Europe, instances of the former kind, though once abundantly frequent, have for some time ceased. In certain countries, however, persecution at home (or what produces a degree of restraint, which is one part of the mischiefs of persecution; I mean the disposition to persecute whensoever occasion happens) is not yet at an end: insomuch that if there is no actual persecution, it is only because there are no heretics; and if there are no heretics, it is only because there are no thinkers.*
* See B. I. tit. [Offences against Religion.]
9. Where the tendency of the act is good, and the motive (as before) is the dissocial one of ill-will. In this case, the motive seems not to afford any indication on either side: it is no indication of a good disposition; but neither is it any indication of a bad one.
You have detected a baker in selling short weight: you prosecute him for the cheat. It is not for the sake of gain that you engaged in the prosecution; for there is nothing to be got by it: it is not from public spirit: it is not for the sake of reputation; for there is no reputation to be got by it: it is not in the view of pleasing the Deity: it is merely on account of a quarrel you have with the man you prosecute. From the transaction, as thus stated, there does not seem to be any thing to be said either in favour of your disposition or against it. The tendency of the act is good: but you would not have engaged in it, had it not been from a motive which there seems no particular reason to conclude will ever prompt you to engage in an act of the same kind again. Your motive is of that sort which may, with least impropriety, be termed a bad one: but the act is of that sort, which, were it engaged in ever so often, could never have any evil tendency; nor indeed any other tendency than a good one. By the supposition, the motive it happened to be dictated by was that of ill-will: but the act itself is of such a nature as to have wanted nothing but sufficient discernment on your part in order to have been dictated by the most enlarged benevolence. Now, from a man’s having suffered himself to be induced to gratify his resentment by means of an act of which the tendency is good, it by no means follows that he would be ready on another occasion, through the influence of the same sort of motive, to engage in any act of which the tendency is a bad one. The motive that impelled you was a dissocial one: but what social motive could there have been to restrain you? None, but what might have been outweighed by a more enlarged motive of the same kind. Now, because the dissocial motive prevailed when it stood alone, it by no means follows that it would prevail when it had a social one to combat it.
10. Where the tendency of the act is bad, and the motive is the dissocial one of malevolence. In this case, the disposition it indicates is of course a mischievous one.
The man who stole the bread from the baker, as before, did it with no other view than merely to impoverish and afflict him: accordingly, when he had got the bread, he did not eat, or sell it; but destroyed it. That the disposition, evidenced by such a transaction, is a bad one, is what every body must perceive immediately.
Thus much with respect to the circumstances from which the mischievousness or meritoriousness of a man’s disposition is to be inferred in the gross: we come now to the measure of that mischievousness or meritoriousness, as resulting from those circumstances. Now with meritorious acts and dispositions we have no direct concern in the present work. All that penal law is concerned to do, is to measure the depravity of the disposition where the act is mischievous. To this object, therefore, we shall here confine ourselves.
It is evident, that the nature of a man’s disposition must depend upon the nature of the motives he is apt to be influenced by; in other words, upon the degree of his sensibility to the force of such and such motives. For his disposition is, as it were, the sum of his intentions: the disposition he is of during a certain period, the sum or result of his intentions during that period. If, of the acts he has been intending to engage in during the supposed period, those which are apparently of a mischievous tendency bear a large proportion to those which appear to him to be of the contrary tendency, his disposition will be of the mischievous cast: if but a small proportion, of the innocent or upright.
Now intentions, like every thing else, are produced by the things that are their causes: and the causes of intentions are motives. If, on any occasion, a man forms either a good or a bad intention, it must be by the influence of some motive.
When the act, which a motive prompts a man to engage in, is of a mischievous nature, it may, for distinction’s sake, be termed a seducing or corrupting motive: in which case also any motive which, in opposition to the former, acts in the character of a restraining motive, may be styled a tutelary, conservatory, preservatory, or preserving motive.
Tutelary motives may again be distinguished into standing or constant, and occasional. By standing tutelary motives, I mean such as act with more or less force in all, or at least in most cases, tending to restrain a man from any mischievous acts he may be prompted to engage in; and that with a force which depends upon the general nature of the act, rather than upon any accidental circumstance with which any individual act of that sort may happen to be accompanied. By occasional tutelary motives, I mean such motives as may chance to act in this direction or not, according to the nature of the act, and of the particular occasion on which the engaging in it is brought into contemplation.
Now it has been shown, that there is no sort of motive by which a man may not be prompted to engage in acts that are of a mischievous nature; that is, which may not come to act in the capacity of a seducing motive. It has been shown, on the other hand, that there are some motives which are remarkably less likely to operate in this way than others. It has also been shown, that the least likely of all is that of benevolence or good-will: the most common tendency of which, it has been shown, is to act in the character of a tutelary motive. It has also been shown, that even when by accident it acts in one way in the character of a seducing motive, still in another way it acts in the opposite character of a tutelary one. The motive of good-will, in as far as it respects the interests of one set of persons, may prompt a man to engage in acts which are productive of mischief to another and more extensive set: but this is only because his good-will is imperfect and confined; not taking into contemplation the interests of all the persons whose interests are at stake. The same motive, were the affection it issued from more enlarged, would operate effectually, in the character of a constraining motive, against that very act to which, by the supposition, it gives birth. This same sort of motive may therefore, without any real contradiction or deviation from truth, be ranked in the number of standing tutelary motives, notwithstanding the occasions in which it may act at the same time in the character of a seducing one.
The same observation, nearly, may be applied to the semi-social motive of love of reputation. The force of this, like that of the former, is liable to be divided against itself. As in the case of good-will, the interests of some of the persons, who may be the objects of that sentiment, are liable to be at variance with those of others: so in the case of love of reputation, the sentiments of some of the persons, whose good opinion is desired, may be at variance with the sentiments of other persons of that number. Now in the case of an act, which is really of a mischievous nature, it can scarcely happen that there shall be no persons whatever who will look upon it with an eye of disapprobation. It can scarcely ever happen, therefore, that an act really mischievous shall not have some part at least, if not the whole, of the force of this motive to oppose it; nor, therefore, that this motive should not act with some degree of force in the character of a tutelary motive. This, therefore, may be set down as another article in the catalogue of standing tutelary motives.
The same observation may be applied to the desire of amity, though not in altogether equal measure. For, notwithstanding the mischievousness of an act, it may happen, without much difficulty, that all the persons for whose amity a man entertains any particular present desire which is accompanied with expectation, may concur in regarding it with an eye rather of approbation than the contrary. This is but too apt to be the case among such fraternities as those of thieves, smugglers, and many other denominations of offenders. This, however, is not constantly, nor indeed most commonly the case; insomuch that the desire of amity may still be regarded, upon the whole, as a tutelary motive, were it only from the closeness of its connexion with the love of reputation. And it may be ranked among standing tutelary motives, since, where it does apply, the force with which it acts depends not upon the occasional circumstances of the act which it opposes, but upon principles as general as those upon which depend the action of the other semi-social motives.
The motive of religion is not altogether in the same case with the three former. The force of it is not, like theirs, liable to be divided against itself; I mean in the civilized nations of modern times, among whom the notion of the unity of the Godhead is universal. In times of classical antiquity it was otherwise. If a man got Venus on his side, Pallas was on the other: if Æolus was for him, Neptune was against him. Æneas, with all his piety, had but a partial interest at the court of heaven. That matter stands upon a different footing now-a-days. In any given person, the force of religion, whatever it be, is now all of it on one side. It may balance, indeed, on which side it shall declare itself: and it may declare itself, as we have seen already in but too many instances, on the wrong as well as on the right. It has been, at least till lately, perhaps is still accustomed so much to declare itself on the wrong side, and that in such material instances, that on that account it seemed not proper to place it, in point of social tendency, on a level altogether with the motive of benevolence. Where it does act, however, as it does in by far the greatest number of cases, in opposition to the ordinary seducing motives, it acts, like the motive of benevolence, in an uniform manner, not depending upon the particular circumstances that may attend the commission of the act; but tending to oppose it, merely on account of its mischievousness, and therefore with equal force, in whatsoever circumstances it may be proposed to be committed. This, therefore, may also be added to the catalogue of standing tutelary motives.
As to the motives which may operate occasionally in the character of tutelary motives, these, it has been already intimated, are of various sorts, and various degrees of strength in various offences: depending not only upon the nature of the offence, but upon the accidental circumstances in which the idea of engaging in it may come in contemplation. Nor is there any sort of motive which may not come to operate in this chaacter; as may be easily conceived. A thief, for instance, may be prevented from engaging in a projected scheme of house-breaking, by sitting too long over his bottle,* by a visit from his doxy, by the occasion he may have to go elsewhere, in order to receive his dividend of a former booty;† and so on.
There are some motives, however, which seem more apt to act in this character than others; especially as things are now constituted, now that the law has every where opposed to the force of the principal seducing motives, artificial tutelary motives of its own creation. Of the motives here meant it will be necessary to take a general view. They seem to be reducible to two heads, viz. 1. The love of ease; a motive put into action by the prospect of the trouble of the attempt; that is, the trouble which it may be necessary to bestow in overcoming the physical difficulties that may accompany it. 2. Self-preservation, as opposed to the dangers to which a man may be exposed in the prosecution of it.
These dangers may be either, 1. Of a purely physical nature: or, 2. Dangers resulting from moral agency; in other words, from the conduct of any such persons to whom the act, if known, may be expected to prove obnoxious. But moral agency supposes knowledge with respect to the circumstances that are to have the effect of external motives in giving birth to it. Now the obtaining such knowledge, with respect to the commission of any obnoxious act, on the part of any persons who may be disposed to make the agent suffer for it, is called detection, and the agent concerning whom such knowledge is obtained, is said to be detected. The dangers, therefore, which may threaten an offender from this quarter, depend, whatever they be, on the event of his detection; and may, therefore, be all of them comprised under the article of the danger of detection.
The danger depending upon detection may be divided again into two branches: 1. That which may result from any opposition that may be made to the enterprise by persons on the spot; that is, at the very time the enterprise is carrying on: 2. That which respects the legal punishment, or other suffering, that may await at a distance upon the issue of the enterprise.
It may be worth calling to mind on this occasion, that among the tutelary motives, which have been styled constant ones, there are two, of which the force depends (though not so entirely as the force of the occasional ones which have been just mentioned, yet in a great measure) upon the circumstance of detection. These, it may be remembered, are, the love of reputation, and the desire of amity. In proportion, therefore, as the chance of being detected appears greater, these motives will apply with the greater force: with the less force, as it appears less. This is not the case with the two other standing tutelary motives, that of benevolence, and that of religion.
We are now in a condition to determine, with some degree of precision, what is to be understood by the strength of a temptation, and what indication it may give of the degree of mischievousness in a man’s disposition in the case of any offence. When a man is prompted to engage in any mischievous act, we will say, for shortness, in an offence, the strength of the temptation depends upon the ratio between the force of the seducing motives on the one hand, and such of the occasional tutelary ones, as the circumstances of the case call forth into action, on the other. The temptation, then, may be said to be strong, when the pleasure or advantage to be got from the crime is such as in the eyes of the offender must appear great in comparison of the trouble and danger that appear to him to accompany the enterprise: slight or weak, when that pleasure or advantage is such as must appear small in comparison of such trouble and such danger. It is plain, the strength of the temptation depends not upon the force of the impelling (that is, of the seducing) motives altogether: for let the opportunity be more favourable, that is, let the trouble, or any branch of the danger, be made less than before, it will be acknowledged, that the temptation is made so much the stronger: and on the other hand, let the opportunity become less favourable, or, in other words, let the trouble, or any branch of the danger, be made greater than before, the temptation will be so much the weaker.
Now, after taking account of such tutelary motives as have been styled occasional, the only tutelary motives that can remain are those which have been termed standing ones. But those which have been termed the standing tutelary motives, are the same that we have been styling social. It follows, therefore, that the strength of the temptation, in any case, after deducting the force of the social motives, is as the sum of the forces of the seducing, to the sum of the forces of the occasional tutelary motives.
It remains to be inquired, what indication concerning the mischievousness or depravity of a man’s disposition is afforded by the strength of the temptation, in the case where any offence happens to have been committed. It appears, then, that the weaker the temptation is, by which a man has been overcome, the more depraved and mischievous it shows his disposition to have been. For the goodness of his disposition is measured by the degree of his sensibility to the action of the social motives:* in other words, by the strength of the influence which those motives have over him. Now, the less considerable the force is by which their influence on him has been overcome, the more convincing is the proof that has been given of the weakness of that influence.
Again, the degree of a man’s sensibility to the force of the social motives being given, it is plain that the force with which those motives tend to restrain him from engaging in any mischievous enterprise will be as the apparent mischievousness of such enterprise, that is, as the degree of mischief with which it appears to him likely to be attended. In other words, the less mischievous the offence appears to him to be, the less averse he will be, as far as he is guided by social considerations, to engage in it: the more mischievous, the more averse. If, then, the nature of the offence is such as must appear to him highly mischievous, and yet he engages in it notwithstanding, it shows, that the degree of his sensibility to the force of the social motives is but slight; and consequently that his disposition is proportionably depraved. Moreover, the less the strength of the temptation was, the more pernicious and depraved does it show his disposition to have been. For the less the strength of the temptation was, the less was the force which the influence of those motives had to overcome: the clearer, therefore, is the proof that has been given of the weakness of that influence.
* Supra, par. 27, 28.
From what has been said, it seems that, for judging of the indication that is afforded concerning the depravity of a man’s disposition by the strength of the temptation, compared with the mischievousness of the enterprise, the following rules may be laid down:
Rule 1. The strength of the temptation being given, the mischievousness of the disposition manifested by the enterprise, is as the apparent mischievousness of the act.
Thus, it would show a more depraved disposition, to murder a man for a reward of a guinea, or falsely to charge him with a robbery for the same reward, than to obtain the same sum from him by simple theft: the trouble he would have to take, and the risk he would have to run, being supposed to stand on the same footing in the one case as in the other.
Rule 2. The apparent mischievousness of the act being given, a man’s disposition is the more depraved, the slighter the temptation is by which he has been overcome.
Thus, it shows a more depraved and dangerous disposition, if a man kill another out of mere sport, as the Emperor of Morocco, Muley Mahomet, is said to have done great numbers; than out of revenge, as Sylla and Marius did thousands; or in the view of self-preservation, as Augustus killed many; or even for lucre, as the same Emperor is said to have killed some. And the effects of such a depravity, on that part of the public which is apprized of it, run in the same proportion. From Augustus, some persons only had to fear, under some particular circumstances: from Muley Mahomet, every man had to fear at all times.
Rule 3. The apparent mischievousness of the act being given, the evidence which it affords of the depravity of a man’s disposition is the less conclusive, the stronger the temptation is by which he has been overcome.
Thus, if a poor man, who is ready to die with hunger, steal a loaf of bread, it is a less explicit sign of depravity, than if a rich man were to commit a theft to the same amount. It will be observed, that in this rule all that is said is, that the evidence of depravity is in this case the less conclusive: it is not said that the depravity is positively the less. For in this case it is possible, for any thing that appears to the contrary, that the theft might have been committed, even had the temptation been not so strong. In this case, the alleviating circumstance is only a matter of presumption; in the former, the aggravating circumstance is a matter of certainty.
Rule 4. Where the motive is of the dissocial kind, the apparent mischievousness of the act, and the strength of the temptation, being given, the depravity is as the degree of deliberation with which it is accompanied.
For in every man, be his disposition ever so depraved, the social motives are those which, wherever the self-regarding ones stand neuter, regulate and determine the general tenor of his life. If the dissocial motives are put in action, it is only in particular circumstances, and on particular occasions; the gentle but constant force of the social motives being for a while subdued. The general and standing bias of every man’s nature is, therefore, towards that side to which the force of the social motives would determine him to adhere. This being the case, the force of the social motives tends continually to put an end to that of the dissocial ones; as, in natural bodies, the force of friction tends to put an end to that which is generated by impulse. Time, then, which wears away the force of the dissocial motives, adds to that of the social. The longer, therefore, a man continues, on a given occasion, under the dominion of the dissocial motives, the more convincing is the proof that has been given of his insensibility to the force of the social ones.
Thus, it shows a worse disposition, where a man lays a deliberate plan for beating his antagonist, and beats him accordingly, than if he were to beat him upon the spot, in consequence of a sudden quarrel: and worse again, if, after having had him a long while together in his power, he beats him at intervals, and at his leisure.*
* See B. I. tit. [Confinement.]
The depravity of disposition indicated by an act is a material consideration in several respects. Any mark of extraordinary depravity, by adding to the terror already inspired by the crime, and by holding up the offender as a person from whom there may be more mischief to be apprehended in future, adds in that way to the demand for punishment. By indicating a general want of sensibility on the part of the offender, it may add in another way also to the demand for punishment. The article of disposition is of the more importance, inasmuch as, in measuring out the quantum of punishment, the principle of sympathy and antipathy is apt to look at nothing else. A man who punishes because he hates, and only because he hates, such a man, when he does not find any thing odious in the disposition, is not for punishing at all; and when he does, he is not for carrying the punishment further than his hatred carries him. Hence the aversion we find so frequently expressed against the maxim, that the punishment must rise with the strength of the temptation; a maxim, the contrary of which, as we shall see, would be as cruel to offenders themselves, as it would be subversive of the purposes of punishment.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05