Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Harmony Of Virtue

Early Cultural Writings - 1890-1910
The Harmony of Virtue
Keshav: It is gratifying to learn that: but if the interests of a few individuals conflict with the interests of the general body, you prefer the interests of the general body, do you not?
Trevor: As a matter of course.
Keshav: And, as a general rule, if you have to deal with a number of persons, and the good of some is not reconcilable with the good of others, you prefer the good of the greater number!
Trevor: That again is obvious.
Keshav: So you accept the dogma "the greatest good of the greatest number"; for if one interest of a given person or number of persons conflict with another interest, you prefer the greater?
Trevor: Without hesitation.
Keshav: And so the Athenians were right when they put Socrates to death.
Trevor: What makes you advance so absurd a paradox?
Keshav: Why, by your arithmetical system of balancing the good and the evil. The injury to Socrates is not to be put in comparison with the profit to the State, for we prefer the good of the greater number, and the pleasure experienced by the youths he corrupted in his discourse and the enjoyment of their corruption is not to be so much considered as the pain they would experience from the effects of their corruption and the pain inflicted on the State by the rising generation growing up corrupt and dissolute, for among conflicting interests we prefer the greatest.
Trevor: But Socrates did not corrupt the youth of Athens.
Keshav: The Athenians thought he was corrupting their youth and they were bound to act on their opinion.
Trevor: They were not bound to act on their opinion, but on the facts.
Keshav: What is this you are telling me, Trevor? We are then only to act when we have a correct opinion, and, seeing that a definitely correct opinion can only be formed by posterity after we are dead, we are not to use your arithmetical balance or at least can only use it when we are dead? Then I do not see much utility in your arithmetical balance.
Trevor: Now I come to think of it, the Athenians were right in putting Socrates to death.
Keshav: And the Jews in crucifying Christ?
Trevor: Yes.
Keshav: I admire your fortitude, my dear Trevor. And if the English people had thought Bentham was corrupting their youth, they would have been right in hanging Bentham, would they not?
Trevor: What a fellow you are, Desai! of course what I mean is that the Athenians and the Jews did not listen to their honest opinion but purely the voice of malice.
Keshav: Then if these wicked people who put wise men to death not in honest folly but from malice, were to have said to you: "Come now, you who accuse us of pure malice, are you not actuated by pure benevolence? If our approval is founded on sentiment, your disapproval is founded on the same flimsy basis, and you have no reasonable objection to the poisoning of Socrates or the crucifixion of Christ or the hanging of Bentham, as the case may be", and if you were to tell them that your arithmetical balance said it was not profitable, would they not be justified in asking whether your arithmetical balance was infallible and whether you had a satisfactory principle which guided your calculations...
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