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A MAN will read to little purpose the debates of legislative assemblies, if he be not able pretty readily to detect the bad reasoning to which the members of most of those assemblies, as at present constitated, are, perhaps, more prone, than the rest of the community. In lieu, therefore, of formal preface, we shall in the following compendium, present our readers with an instrument, which will, we trust, enable them at once to discover and expose those fallacies, the prevalence of which has but too much contributed to retard political improvement; and to this instrument we shall make frequent reference in our examination of the ensuing debates.
To the inexperienced or unreflecting, two questions wil here naturally present themselves;-Is it true, that the deliberative assemblies which are said to contain "the collected wisdom of the nation," can be even more prone to bad reasoning than other portions of the community? and if so,-What are the causes of this unhappy tendency?
That the position in question is true, will but too plainly appear to arry one who may apply to the debates in the ensuing volume, the test which we are immediately about to furnish; and will be believed, à priori, by all who are acquainted with the structure of our parliamentary system.
With respect to the causes which contribute to the production and prevalence of bad reasoning, the following seem to be the principal: Weakness of intellect;
Imperfections of language; and
The sinister interest of the individual who errs :—
By a sinister interest, we mean an interest attaching to an individual or a class, incompatible with the interests of the community :-for there are two sets of interests which affect every member of society; -those which are confined to himself; those which attach to him in common with others; that is to say, as a member of the community: -and we call those which are confined to himself, sinister, when they operate in a direction contrary to those which attach to him as a member of the community.
Thus, every man, as a member of the community, has an interest that taxation should be as light as possible; but if he derive an income out of taxes, and this income is proportioned to the amount of the taxes, be has an interest confined to himself, that taxation should be as heavy as possible, provided it do not extend to the destruction of the subject-matter of taxes.
If, out of taxes to the amount of 10 per cent. upon all property, he derives an income of 5001, a year, but would derive 10007. a-year from taxes to the amount of 20 per cent,-supposing him to pay the respective rates of taxation out of each rate of income, he would be tempted, in the proportion of 800 to 450, to sacrifice to the interest confined to himself, the interest which attaches to him as a member of the community. Here, therefore, is an interest confined to the individual himself, which is clearly sinister to, that is, incompatible with the interest of the community.
To prevent the sinister interests of an individual or class of individuals from operating detrimentally on the interests of the rest of the community, ought to be the great object aimed at in the formation or reformation of every government.
With those who assert, that mankind are not actuated in the main with a view to their private interest, we can have no reasoning in common still less with those, who admitting the fact in the case of ordinary individuals, claim for the ruling few an exemption from the common lot of humanity. This is not the place to enter into the proofs of the existence of a principle of action, the predominance of which is attested by the mere existence of laws;-every one who violates a law, does, by so doing, prefer his private interest to his interests as a member of the community;-but the man, who from his own observation has not ascertained the existence of this powerful principle of action, is as weak or as ignorant as he who laments its predominance. The well-being of every individual, and thereby of society at large, is produced by the preference of self: in its strict meaning, self-interest is the mainspring of human action; it is the principle which apportions exertion to the necessities for which it is required, and rescues us from a helpless dependence on other beings. Imagine that condition of things, in which, not the principle of selfinterest, but its opposite,-the preference of the public good to private, should generally obtain: the consequence is as absurd in supposition as it would be disastrous in reality. "Every man shift for all the rest, and let no man take care for himself," says the drunken sailor* in Shakspeare's Tempest. The objection ought to be, not that selfinterest exists and predominates, but that our political institutions have not been so framed as to make it conduce to the benefit of the community as well as to that of the individual, or at all events, that it has not been prevented from operating in a direction opposed to the interests of the community; for that its operation may be so directed or controlled by political institutions constructed to such an end, cannot reasonably be doubted.
With respect to imperfections of language,-that which is mainly instrumental in causing bad reasoning, is, the number of appellatives which beg the question; that is, appellatives, which in addition to the idea of the object which they profess to name, raise up also, as inseparably connected with it, some accessory idea of praise or blame. Thus, among the terms which designate the objects of moral and political science, such words as piety, generosity, prudence, improvement,-present the object, in conjunction with ideas of approbation; -these may be called, laudatory, or eulogistic terms: such words as Stephano.-Act 5.
superstition, prodigality, avarice, innovation,-present the object in conjunction with ideas of disapprobation;-these may be called vituperative, or dyslogistic terms. Such words as creed, disposition, arrangement, change,-present the object singly, unassociated with any sentiment either of approbation or disapprobation, and these may be called neutral terms. As the immediate end of reasoning is commonly to ascertain whether the thing which is the subject of discussion be good, bad, or indifferent, it is obvious that neutral terms ought alone to be employed by those who desire to arrive at the truth. They who employ terms eulogistic or dyslogistic, assume thereby the point in debate, and supersede altogether the process of reasoning. Terms of this kind are not simple, but compound: they include a proposition in themselves: the mere word affirms the quality of the thing it is used to designate, and thus, when the quality is the matter in discussion, it begs the question.
By weakness of intellect we mean, in this place, incapacity to follow logical deductions, whether that incapacity be occasioned by want of instruction, want of practice, or want of inclination.
Now, of the three causes of bad reasoning which we have just specified and explained, the sinister interest of the individual disputant is, to an incalculable degree, the most fertile and fatal source of error and delusion. Weakness of intellect may be aided by instruction, by practice, or the discovery of motives for desiring the attainment of truth;-the imperfections of language may be guarded against and remedied by habits of rigid investigation ;-but sinister interest opposes to the reception of truth an obstacle almost as insuperable as it is extensively-prevailing. The bias which it communicates to the intellect of the individual exposed to it, leads him, often unconsciously, to embrace and receive with disproportionate regard all arguments which tend to support this interest, and to overlook or undervalue all which make against it ;-to find a useful ally in every imperfection of language;-to acquiesce in established opinions as in established abuses;-to deprecate enquiry, and even to sneer at any exertion of the thinking faculty.
To what extent the members of the British Parliament are exposed to the action of sinister interest, is fully understood by those who are aware that these members conduct, subject to no immediate check, the expenditure of an immense fund raised by taxation :-subject to no immediate check, because they are neither elected nor removable by the people whom they are said virtually to represent, but in considerable numbers avowedly purchase their seats, while a majority of them, are indisputably placed in the House by about 180 powerful families, who either in possession or expectancy have a direct interest in a prodigal expenditure of the public money, and as far as possible, in appropriating it to their own purposes. We say, not elected, even by those who vote, because according to the ordinary experience of human nature, the candidate or his friend may be affirmed to have it in their power to compel a vote, so long as they have it in their power to make the voter expect evil at their hands if he votes one way, and good if he votes another; and this power they clearly have wherever