the cultivation in ourselves of a sensitive feeling on the subject of veracity

The cultivation in ourselves of a sensitive feeling

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the cultivation in ourselves of a sensitive feeling on the subject of veracity, is one of the most useful, and the enfeeblement of that feeling one of the most hurtful, things to which our conduct can be instru mental ; and inasmuch as any, even unintentional, deviation from truth, does that much towards weaken ing the trustworthiness of human assertion, which is not only the principal support of all present social well-being, but the insufficiency of which does more than any one thing that can be named to keep back civilisation, virtue, everything on which human hap piness on the largest scale depends ; we feel that the violation, for a present advantage, of a rule of such transcendent expediency, is not expedient, and that he who, for the sake of a convenience to himself or to some other individual, does what depends on him to deprive mankind of the good, and inflict upon them the evil, involved in the greater or less reliance which they can place in each other's word, acts the part of one of their worst enemies. Yet that even this rule, sacred as it is, admits of possible exceptions, is acknowledged by all moralists ; the chief of which is when the with holding of some fact (as of information from a male-
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34 UTILITARIANISM. factor, or of bad news from a person dangerously ill) ' would preserve some one (especially a person other than oneself) from great and unmerited evil, and when the withholding can only be effected by denial. But in order that the exception may not extend itself beyond the need, and may have the least possible effect in weakening reliance on veracity, it ought to be recognized, and, if possible, its limits defined ; and if the principle of utility is good for anything, it must be good for weighing these conflicting utilities against one another, and marking out the region within which one or the other preponderates. Again, defenders of utility often find themselves called upon to reply to such objections as this that there is not time, previous to action, for calculating and weighing the effects of any line of conduct on the general happiness. This is exactly as if any one were to say that it is impossible to guide our conduct by Christianity, because there is not time, on every occasion on which anything has to be done, to read through the Old and New Testaments. The answer I to the objection is, that there has been ample time, ' namely, the whole past duration of the human species. During all that time mankind have been learning by experience the tendencies of actions ; on which expe rience all the prudence, as well as all the morality of life, is dependent. People talk as if the commence ment of this course of experience had hitherto been put off, and as if, at the moment when some man feels tempted to meddle with the property or life of another, he had to begin considering for the first time whether murder and theft are injurious to human happiness.
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