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DARWINISM AND MORALITY.

BY JOHN WATSON, M.A., QUEEN'S COLLEGE, KINGSTON.

IT
T sometimes happens that a conception | Evolution is true or false ; but whether, as-

is found to fit a class of facts quite dif- suming its truth, it has any bearing upon ferent from that to account for which it was Morality. On the former topic the present originally framed. This unexpected result, writer, not being a scientific specialist, does it is well known, is one of the best proofs not feel competent to express any authorithat a vera causa has been discovered, and tative opinion ; on the latter he proposes to in most cases at once raises a tentative hy. set down a few thoughts that will, he bepothesis to the rank of an established law. lieves, be found to have some weight. The temptation, however, to distort or mis- 1. The first point that suggests itself is, apprehend facts in the endeavour to push a whether the theory of Evolution can be new conception beyond its proper limits is shown to affect in any way the truth or so strong, that the most extreme care is falsehood of our moral conceptions. That needed to guard against it. Even when the theory, as originally presented by its author order of phenomena sought to be explained in his great work, The Origin of Species, is of the same kind as that already account- shows, or attempts to show, that all species ed for, the probabilities are against the pro- of living beings, vegetable and animal, are posed extension ; when, on the other hand, co-descendants of one or more primordial the new phenomena are extremely unlike forms. Different species, in other words, the old, the antecedent improbability is so are no more of separate origin than are very great as to require evidence of the most varieties of the same species. The same inundeniable kind to counterbalance it. fluences which have co-operated in produc

The attempt now being made to explaining varieties are competent to account for moral and social phenomena by the doctrine all the differences of species, without reof Evolution, is an instance of the effort to course being had to the hypothesis of special apply a hypothesis to a totally new class of creation. These influences are Inheritance, facts. While the extreme divergence in the Variability, and External Circumstances. two kinds of facts raises a strong à priori | Each living being tends to resemble its impresumption against the success of this at- mediate or more remote progenitors in cer. tempt, it does not entitle any one to dis- tain definite characteristics; it also tends to miss the project as futile without inquiry ; display individual features that mark it off more especially as some who are by no from all other beings. If we could suppose means advocates of Darwinism, although the conditions of existence absolutely alike they believe it to have a high degree of prob- for all beings of the same kind, we should ability in its favour, look upon this recent have the same type persisting for an inphase of it with qualified approval. The definite period withoutanyimportant change. acceptance of Evolution will, in the opinion But as all organic beings increase in a geoof Mr. Goldwin Smith,* "render it necessary metrical ratio, more individuals are produced to rewrite our manuals of Moral Philosophy. than can possibly survive, and a severe If this suggestion at all corresponds to the struggle for life takes place, usually between truth, it is well that we should know it; if, beings of the same species, but often beon the other hand, as others believe, it sug- tween those of distinct species. The relagests a distrust that is uncalled for, the tions between living things, determining sooner we hear reasons for coming to that which shall survive and which shall die, beconclusion the better. The question is not, ing exceedingly complex, those individuals it will be observed, whether the theory of which chance to display a variation in the

least degree more advantageous to their ex• CANADIAN MONTHLY, May, 1876, p. 415.

istence than their competitors survive, while

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those less favourably endowed die out. Such Nor does the theory throw any light, except a variation tends by the law of Inheritance perhaps incidentally, upon the disputed to be perpetuated, and thus by the slow question of the nature of Life ; wherein it accumulation of slight increments of differ- consists, and how living things are demarence a variation from the original type is at cated, if at all, from inorganic matter; it length produced, so marked as to explain simply tells us that certain characteristics why certain kinds of beings have been end by being slowly intensified to alter the classed as independent species. Besides physical features of organic beings. But if this process of Natural Selection, another the theory does not account for more than less potent cause, which tends to a like re- phenomenal manifestations and changes ; sult, is that of Sexual Selection,* depending if it determines nothing about the relations upon a struggle between the individuals of of life and matter, much less can it give one sex for the possession of the other sex. any assistance in the case of problems The whole theory may be summed up in which depend for their solution upon the the words of one of its ablest advocates :- nature of consciousness and reason. The “All the phenomena of organic nature, past bearing of this conclusion will appear furand present, result from or are caused by the ther on; at present the important thing to interaction of those properties of organic note is, that the doctrine of Evolution is a matter called ATAVISM and VARIABILITY, purely physical theory, and even as such with the CONDITIONS OF EXISTENCE ; or, in only an empirical law destitute of the acother words,-given the existence of or- curacy and stability of the highest kind of ganic matter, its tendency to transmit its natural law. properties, and its tendency occasionally to Now, this inference seems effectually to vary; and, lastly, given the conditions of dispose of any claim the doctrine of Evoluexistence by which organic matter is sur- tion might be supposed to have to determine rounded—these put together are the causes the validity or invalidity, or in any way to of the Present and the Past conditions of affect the truth, of moral conceptions. For, ORGANIC NATURE.”+

granting in the meantime that the law of This statement of the salient points of Natural Selection is of a nature to explain the doctrine of Evolution has been intro- how the infinite diversity of moral ideas, duiced as a basis upon which to rest two past and present, has arisen, it is difficult to plain inferences. The first inference is that, see how this in any way enables us to deadmitting its truth, the theory is not com- cide which ideas are true and which false, or petent to do more than explain generally indeed whether any of them are true. The how the various species of organic beings mere fact that under certain conditions cerhave as a matter of fact arisen in pro- tain moral conceptions prevail, does not cess of time. It declares that those charac- help us in the least to determine what the teristics which in certain given conditions relation or absolute value of competing conare most favourable to the preservation of ceptions may be. No doubt we may, by the plant's or animal's life have something comparing these conceptions together, deto do with the being's preservation, but it cide their comparative worth, but such a does not pretend to say upon what those comparison is not a part of the doctrine of characteristics ultimately depend. The so- Evolution, but a purely ethical question, to called laws of Inheritance and Variability be determined upon purely ethical grounds. are simply empirical generalizations,not com- To state the special ways in which a class parable in any strict sense with an absolute of ideas has come into existence is one physical law, such as that “bodies attract thing; to appraise these ideas according to each other proportionally to their mass and their moral value is another and a very difinversely as the square of their distance." ferent thing; and the doctrine of Evolution

being necessarily limited by its very nature * Sexual Selection may be practically left out of to the former task, is impotent to underaccount, more especially as Mr. Wallace has recent- take the latter task. If, for example, it were ly expressed his conviction that its influence has argued, as it has been argued, that the fact been altogether overrated. See Academy, June 17,

of contradictory moral conceptions being 1876, p. 588. + Huxley On the Origin of Species, Am. Ed.,

held at different times and among different 1863, p. 131.

nations shows that truth on ethical questions

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is not obtainable, of what use is it to be told to be placed is the one that will survive. that the existence of so great a diversity of When the fitness, as no doubt is most geneconceptions can be explained by the inter- rally the case, consists in a variation that, action of the laws of Inheritance and Vari- when intensified by the law of Inheritance, ation, together with the conditions of exis- results in a higher type of being, there is tence? This evidently is no answer to the progress ; when, on the contrary, the variaquestion asked-namely, whether any of the tion is absolutely an inferiority, although it conceptions is true—but to a totally differ is favourable to the preservation of the ent question, which has not been asked at all. species, there is degradation. “ The law," Or again, how shall the right of personal says Mr. Herbert Spencer,* " is not the surProperty be established by a theory that at vival of the ' better' or the stronger,' if we best can only explain how the belief in that give to those words anything like their ordiright has grown up? What reply is to be nary meaning. It is the survival of those made to the Socialist who maintains that which are constitutionally fittest to thrive the belief ought not to have grown up, and under the conditions in which they are that if he can accomplish it the Evolutionist placed ; and very often that which, humanly will next have to explain by Natural Selec- speaking, is inferiority, causes the survival. tion how the institution of Property has come Superiority, whether in size, strength, actito be abolished. The only plausible argu- vity, or sagacity, is, other things equal, at ment which can be advanced to show that the cost of diminished fertility; and when the development theory has a bearing upon the life led by a species does not demand questions of morals is that drawn from the those higher attributes, the species profits notion of Progress. The fact, it may be by decrease of them, and accompanying said, that certain moral ideas are held by increase of fertility. This is the reason 'communities that have gone through the why there occur so many cases of retrograde whole process of development, is a strong metamorphosis-this is the reason why presumption in favour of their truth. And, parasites, internal and external, are so comundoubtedly, there is weight in this argu- monly degraded forms of higher types. ment; but its force depends upon the as

When it is remembered that sumption, that the Darwinian theory neces- these cases outnumber all others—that sarily implies the notion of progress. there are more species of parasites than

Now, a second inference easily drawn from there are species of all other animals put the summary given above is, that the concep- together—it will be seen that the exprestion of a development from lower to higher sion survivorship of the better' is wholly types of organic beings is not an integral part inappropriate." of the doctrine of Evolution. No doubt it is The special application of the conclusion true as a matter of fact that, broadly speak- just arrived at is obvious. If the doctrine ing, the lower form is also the older, and of Evolution does not establish the fact of that superiority of organism has kept pace progress when put forward to account for with the lapse of time; but unvarying pro- biological phenomena, neither does it imply gress, so far from being established by the that notion when employed to explain moral theory, is not only not an essential part of phenomena. To determine whether there it, but is distinctly and utterly inconsistent has been any advance in morality, recourse with it. To the rule of a gradual advance must be had to considerations other than from lower to higher there are numerous those furnished by a theory which is as conexceptions; and therefore an hypothesis sistent with retrogression as with advancewhich only explained the majority of cases, ment. The truth of the physical laws of leaving the minority unexplained, would be Inheritance and Variability will not be overessentially and fatally imperfect. Degrada- thrown if the golden age is placed in the tion of type in some instances is as past instead of in the future, unless the data certain as its elevation of type in others, and for either view are specially invented for the the theory claims to explain both equally. occasion. This conclusion is, in fact, simply The law of Natural Selection is not that the the negative aspect of the inference already higher being kills out the lower in the struggle for existence, but the being which is best

Recent Discussions in Science, &c., Am. Ed., p. fitted for the conditions in which it chances 340.

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drawn, that the theory of Evolution limits moral conceptions, have grown out of the itself to the discovery of the laws that regu- past, irrespective of whether these are lower late the physical variations of living beings. or higher than those that have gone before For as the reasonings by which these laws them. Morality has not in all cases gone are proved do not affect the truth or false- on in a straight line of development; on the hood of a single moral idea, they supply no contrary, there are whole nations, it is notostandard by reference to which the varying rious, that have stood still or gone back. conceptions that from time to time present That morality has “on the whole" progressthemselves may be arranged in a graduated ed is no doubt true, and may perhaps be scale of excellence, and therefore no possi- gathered from the materials supplied by the ble criterion of moral progress. The con- theory of development; but the conception ception of progress necessarily implies a re- of progress is not an essential part of the gular advance towards a predetermined goal, theory, nor can it be proved by it. To and until that goal has been fixed upon, at show that living beings have, on the whole, . least provisionally, it is impossible to say displayed a continuous process of elevation, whether a given series of movements has presupposes a standard of comparison, just been forward or backward. Were it not that as to prove that morality is progressive we every one has in his mind a ready-made must assume a given set of conceptions as standard of morality, which has got there in at least relatively perfect. The standard is a way that it would puzzle him exactly to in the one case supplied by the human ortrace, and which therefore seems an unprov- ganism, as in the other it is taken from able intuition, the Evolutionist would not existing morality, such as we find it in the imagine that he is establishing the fact of judgment of the average right-minded man;" moral progress by physical reasonings, when but in either case it has to be fetched from in reality he is resting it upon quite other a sphere into which the doctrine of developgrounds. But by a very natural confusion, ment cannot enter. If, as is distinctly imarising from imperfection of analysis, he plied, that doctrine can only show that attempts to prove that morality is progres- moral progress has taken place by reference sive by assuming, to begin with, that moral to “an end which appears to us as right," progress has been made. It is this tacit as- that end cannot be proved to be right by sumption that gives plausibility to the argu- being shown to come at the end of a process ment by which one of Mr. Darwin's disciples of development. It is a manifest see-saw to has recently tried to show that the doctrine argue that “existing morality” is presumaof Evolution affords a strong d priori pre- bly true because it has been developed, sumption in favour of existing moral con- when the only proof of its development is ceptions. “If we are satisfied,” says Mr. that it is presumably true. The "natural Frederick Pollock,* " that the process of history" of morals, in short, does not tell development is on the whole towards an end us which code of morals is true and which which appears to us as right, then there is at false, and therefore cannot establish that least some scientific presumption in favour morality is progressive. It may, however, of existing morality, such as we find it in be contended that although the doctrine of the judgment of the average right-minded Evolution does not of itself determine the man, and the burden of proof is on those value of moral conceptions, or account for who assert that in any particular case it re- moral progress, it nevertheless throws light quires correction." In other words, the upon ethical questions by supplying a wider doctrine of Evolution necessarily implies a range of facts upon which to base an ethical process of development from lower to higher. system. This position has now to be invesThis assumption, however, as has been tigated. shown, cannot be justified, as indeed is vir- 2. It is undeniable that the Darwinian tually admitted when the limiting clause theory, if true, has incidentally brought out " on the whole” is inserted. The need of the notion of progress in relation to a class such a limitation lies in the fact that the of facts which was supposed to be exempt theory only explains how certain organisms, from it. That notion could hardly be said or, if it be extended to morality, certain to be suggested at all in reference to organic

beings, so long as species were conceived as * Mind, No. iii. p. 336.

completely independent in their origin, and

were simply classified according to their vances into civilization, and small tribes are main differences. The development hypo- united into larger communities, the simplest thesis, on the other hand, by tracing all reason would tell each individual that he past and present species of organic beings ought to extend his social instincts and symback to a few original forms, and explaining pathies to all the members of the same natheir marked differences as due to the gra- tion. This point being once reached, there dual accumulation of slight peculiarities, in- is only an artificial barrier to prevent his evitably produced the conviction that the sympathies extending to the men of all naolder forms are also the lower, and that, tions and races."* In short, moral pronotwithstanding many instances of an oppo- gress consists in strengthening and widening site tendency, there has been upon the from generation to generation the social inwhole a regular rise in the scale of existence. stincts originally inherited from some lower The theory has therefore, apart altogether form of animal. from its intrinsic merits, done good service This theory attempts to account for moral in binding together all living things by the progress by the convenient method of leavbond of a common descent, and thus sug- ing out all that makes it moral. If the only gesting the possibility at least of continuous difference between man and the lower aniprogressive development.

mals is that the former strengthens and The same claim cannot, however, be made widens certain instincts they have in comgood when we pass from biological to psycho- mon, it is impossible to explain why we call logical phenomena. The unity of all the the one a moral being and the other not. races of mankind is not a new but a very Why should the very same instinct, leading old conception; and although anthropology to results of the same kind, be regarded as is a comparatively new study, it has not re- morally indifferent in the case of animals,

а quired to wait upon the promulgation of the and as morally right in the case of man? Darwinian theory for its inauguration and Or why should an instinct which does not prosecution, although it may have indirectly extend beyond one's tribe be regarded as profited by it, and has certainly received lower from a moral point of view than when from it a new impulse. But what it espe- it is extended so as to embrace a larger numcially concerns us to note is, that the con- ber of persons? It is difficult to see how ception of progress, including progress in the mere extension of a feeling which in its morality, so far from being due to the doc- essential nature remains absolutely unchanged trine of Evolution, had been independently should so mysteriously alter its nature. If worked out upon a grand scale by men who an instinct is not moral at one time or in had no thought of its more recent extension one set of circumstances, it cannot be moral to biological facts. The only question, at another time or in another set of circumtherefore, which remains to be decided is, stances. The only mode of escape from whether the results arrived at in the sphere such difficulties is to suppose that an instinct of biology, allowing them to be correct, are in man is no longer an instinct; a new eleapplicable to moral problems, and are of ment being superadded which differentiates such a nature as to supersede the notion of man from the animals, and makes him moral progress as it has been hitherto con- moral. ceived.

A moral being,” says Mr. Darwin, “ is It is held by Mr. Darwin and his follow- one who is capable of comparing his past ers that the true scientific explanation of and future actions or motives, and of approvmorality must be sought in the transmission ing or disapproving of them.” Had this to the early man of the social instincts, in- thought been worked out to its logical cluding the family ties, to be found in the consequences, the futility of any physical lower animals. These instincts are not in theory, Darwinism or other, to throw light the animals extended to all individuals of upon moral problems could hardly have rethe same species, but are limited to those mained concealed. The “capacity of comof the same community; and hence, as was paring past and future actions or motives” to be expected, the same instincts in savage is, in other words, the capacity of holding up races of men are directed exclusively to the one's inner being before one's self, and of welfare of the tribe—not that of the species nor of the individual. But “as man ad- * Darwin's Descent of Man, Am. Ed., p. 96.

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