Chapter V: Ethics in Relation to Conduct.

§ 97.

It is obvious that all the rules, which were enumerated above as likely to be useful in almost any state of society, can also be defended owing to results which they produce under conditions which exist only in particular states of society. And it should be noticed that we are entitled to reckon among these conditions the sanctions of legal penalties, of social disapproval, and of private remorse, where these exist. These sanctions are, indeed, commonly treated by Ethics only as motives for the doing of actions of which the utility can be proved independently of the existence of these sanctions. And it may be admitted that sanctions ought not to be attached to actions which would not be right independently. Nevertheless it is plain that, where they do exist, they are not only motives but also justifications for the actions in question. One of the chief reasons why an action should not be done in any particular state of society is that it will be punished; since the punishment is in general itself a greater evil than would have been caused by the omission of the action punished. Thus the existence of a punishment may be an adequate reason for regarding an action as generally wrong, even though it has no other bad effects but even slightly good ones. The fact that an action will be punished is a condition of exactly the same kind as others of more or less permanence, which must be taken into account in discussing the general utility or disutility of an action in a particular state of society. (§ 97 ¶ 1)