Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation

Jeremy Bentham

Chapter 2, Footnote #02
Sympathy and Antipathy: Caprice if not Phantasy

The following Note was first printed in January 1789.

It ought rather to have been styled, more extensively, the principle of caprice. Where it applies to the choice of actions to be marked out for injunction or prohibition, for reward or punishment, (to stand, in a word, as subjects for obligations to be imposed,) it may indeed with propriety be termed, as in the text, the principle of sympathy and antipathy. But this appellative does not so well apply to it, when occupied in the choice of the events which are to serve as sources of title with respect to rights: where the actions prohibited and allowed the obligations and rights, being already fixed, the only question is, under what circumstances a man is to be invested with the one or subjected to the other? from what incidents occasion is to be taken to invest a man, or to refuse to invest him, with the one, or to subject him to the other? In this latter case it may more appositely be characterized by the name of the phantastic principle. Sympathy and antipathy are affections of the sensible faculty. But the choice of titles with respect to rights, especially with respect to proprietary rights, upon grounds unconnected with utility, has been in many instances the work not of the affections but of the imagination.

When, in justification of an article of English Common Law calling uncles to succeed in certain cases in preference to fathers, Lord Coke produced a sort of ponderosity he had discovered in rights, disqualifying them from ascending in a straight line, it was not that he loved uncles particularly, or hated fathers, but because the analogy, such as it was, was what his imagination presented him with, instead of a reason, and because, to a judgment unobservant of the standard of utility, or unacquainted with the art of consulting it, where affection is out of the way, imagination is the only guide.

When I know not what ingenious grammarian invented the proposition Delegatus non potest delegare, to serve as a rule of law, it was not surely that he had any antipathy to delegates of the second order, or that it was any pleasure to him to think of the ruin which, for want of a manager at home, may befall the affairs of a traveller whom an unforeseen accident has deprived of the object of his choice: it was, that the incongruity, of giving the same law to objects so contrasted as active and passive are, was not to be surmounted, and that -atus chimes, as well as it contrasts, with -are.

When that inexorable maxim, (of which the dominion is no more to be defined, than the date of its birth, or the name of its father, is to be found) was imported from England for the government of Bengal, and the whole fabric of judicature was crushed by the thunders of ex post facto justice, it was not surely that the prospect of a blameless magistracy perishing in prison afforded any enjoyment to the unoffended authors of their misery; but that the music of the maxim, absorbing the whole imagination, had drowned the cries of humanity along with the dictates of common sense. Fiat Justitia, ruat coelum, says another maxim, as full of extravagance as it is of harmony: Go heaven to wreck—so justice be but done:—and what is the ruin of kingdoms, in comparison of the wreck of heaven?

So again, when the Prussian chancellor, inspired with the wisdom of I know not what Roman sage, proclaimed in good Latin, for the edification of German ears, Servitus servitutis non datur, [Cod. Fred. tom. ii. par. 2. liv. 2. tit. x. §6. p. 308.] it was not that he had conceded any aversion to the life-holder who, during the continuance of his term, should wish to gratify a neighbour with a right of way or water, or to the neighbour who should wish to accept of the indulgence; but that, to a jurisprudential ear, -tus -tutis sound little less melodious than -atus -are. Whether the melody of the maxim was the real reason of the rule, is not left open to dispute for it is ushered in by the conjunction quia, reason's appointed harbinger quia servitus servitutis non datur.

Neither would equal melody have been produced, nor indeed could similar melody have been called for, in either of these instances, by the opposite provision: it is only when they are opposed to general rules, and not when by their conformity they are absorbed in them, that more specific ones can obtain a separate existence. Delegatus potest delegare, and Servitus servitutis datur, provisions already included under the general adoption of contracts, would have been as unnecessary to the apprehension and the memory, as, in comparison of their energetic negatives, they are insipid to the ear.

Were the inquiry diligently made, it would be found that the goddess of harmony has exercised more influence, however latent, over the dispensations of Themis, than her most diligent historiographers, or even her most passionate panegyrists, seem to have been aware of. Every one knows, how, by the ministry of Orpheus, it was she who first collected the sons of men beneath the shadow of the sceptre: yet, in the midst of continual experience, men seem yet to learn, with what successful diligence she has laboured to guide it in its course. Every one knows, that measured numbers were the language of the infancy of law: none seem to have observed with what imperious sway they have governed her maturer age. In English jurisprudence in particular, the connexion betwixt law and music, however less perceived than in Spartan legislation, is not perhaps less real nor less close. The music of the Office, though not of the same kind, is not less musical its kind, than the music of the Theatre; that which hardens the heart, than that which softens it:—sostenutos as long, cadences as sonorous; and those governed by rules, though not yet promulgated, not less determinate. Search indictments, pleadings, proceedings in chancery, conveyances: whatever trespasses you may find against truth or common sense you will find none against the laws of harmony. The English Liturgy justly as this quality has been extolled in that sacred office, possesses not a greater measure of it, than is commonly to be found in an English Act of Parliament. Dignity, simplicity, brevity, precision, intelligibility, possibility of being retained or so much as apprehended, every thing yields to Harmony. Volumes might be filled, shelves loaded, with the sacrifices that are made to this insatiate power. Expletives, her ministers in Grecian poetry are not less busy, though in different shape and bulk, in English legislation: in the former, they are monosyllables: in the latter, they are whole lines.

To return to the principle of sympathy and antipathy: a term preferred at first, on account of its impartiality, to the principle of caprice. The choice of an appellative, in the above respects too narrow, was owing to my not having, at that time, extended my views over the civil branch of law, any otherwise than as I had found it inseparably involved in the penal. But when we come to the former branch, we shall see the phantastic principle making at least as great a figure there, as the principle of sympathy and antipathy in the latter.

In the days of Lord Coke, the light of utility can scarcely be said to have as yet shone upon the face of Common Law. If a faint ray of it, under the name of the argumentum ab inconvenienti, is to be found in a list of about twenty topics exhibited by that great lawyer as the co-ordinate leaders of that all-perfect system, the admission, so circumstanced, is as sure a proof of neglect, as, to the statues of Brutus and Cassius, exclusion was a cause of notice. It stands, neither in the front, nor in the rear, nor in any post of honour; but huddled in towards the middle, without the smallest mark of preference. [Coke, Littleton, ii. a.] Nor is this Latin inconvenience by any means the same thing with the English one. It stands distinguished from mischief: and because by the vulgar it is taken for something less bad, it is given by the learned as something worse. The law prefers a mischief to an inconvenience, says an admired maxim, and the more admired, because as nothing is expressed by it, the more is supposed to be understood.

Not that there is any avowed, much less a constant opposition, between the prescriptions of utility and the operations of the common law: such constancy we have seen to be too much even for ascetic fervor. From time to time instinct would unavoidably betray them into the paths of reason: instinct which, however it may be cramped, can never be killed by education. The cobwebs spun out of the materials brought together by the competition of opposite analogies, can never have ceased being warped by the silent attraction of the rational principle: though it should have been, as the needle is by the magnet, without the privity of conscience.

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Ipml, Chapter 2 Of Principles Adverse to that of Utility