Imagens das páginas

will be the “reconstruction ” and “ deeper change ” which Mr Stephen holds to be necessary.1 It is the ambiguity of the subject—or rather its twofold range—which has made the application of evolution to ethics look so obvious, and made a discussion of the easier question frequently do duty for a solution of the more difficult. The ethical writings of the evolutionists, indeed, often confuse the problems of history and theory in a way which presents the same difficulty to the critic as the works of the corresponding school in jurisprudence. In both, the writers seem disinclined fairly to put to themselves the question as to the kind of subjects to which so fruitful a method as that which has fallen into their hands is appropriate: what its conditions are, and whether it has any limits at all. Every one is now familiar with the evils of hypothetical history, and with the iniquity of the proverbial philosophic offence of constructing facts out of one's inner consciousness. The historical jurists deserve no little credit for the thoroughness with which this has been enforced by them ; perhaps, too, the same lesson may be learned from the facts of the development of morality. But it may be questioned whether we are not at the present time more apt to confuse fact and theory in the opposite way: whether the science of law is not sometimes lost sight of in the history of legal institutions, and ethics in danger of being identified with the development of moral sentiments and customs.

1 Science of Ethics, p. vi.

We may naturally expect the theory of evolution to throw light on such questions as the growth of moral feelings and ideas, and of the customs and institutions in which morality is expressed and embodied. But to show the process morality has passed through in the individual mind and in society still leaves the question as to the end of conduct unanswered. It is necessary, therefore, to keep clearly before us the distinction between the historical and the ethical problem, if we would successfully attack the subject of the bearing of the theory of evolution on this fundamental question of ethics. To the theory of evolution we are indebted for the opening up of a new field of investigation—the historical treatment of conduct. But it is one thing to describe the way in which men have acted in the past: to determine the end for their action now is quite a different problem; and there is no reason why the distinction should be overlooked. The interest which belongs to the history of morality is not solely nor mainly due to its bearing on questions beyond the historical sphere. That its results will not be without relation—and that of an important kind—to questions of theory may well be expected. But it can only tend to confusion if we treat the development of morality, in the human mind and in society, from a preconceived attitude—dogmatic of

or agnostic — towards the central problem

2. The development of moralit

The way in which the theory of evolution is apality: plied to ethical psychology is easy enough to under(a) historical stand in principle, though complex and obscure in psychology.

many of its details. We have only to postulate that mental as well as bodily traits admit of modification, and that modifications once produced can be transmitted to descendants, and it at once follows that sentiments and ideas leading to actions which promote life will be encouraged and developed by natural selection. Thus parental and filial feelings, once originated, may have been developed through those families and tribes in which they were strongest, presenting a more united, and therefore stronger, front against hostile influences. The feelings of tribal sympathy and patriotism, too, may have had a similar history. Those races in which they were strongest would, other things being equal, obtain the mastery over and exterminate other races in which they were relatively weak. The compactness of the community would even be promoted by that fear of the political and of the

1 It would seem that the transmission of mental qualities only takes place in the form of modified physical structure (cf. G. H. Lewes, Problems of Life and Mind, 1st series, i. 164). But, if we regard it as established that every mental change has a structural modification corresponding to it, the possibility of mental evolution and inheritance presents no new difficulty.

ties: the

new feel.


religious control in which the feeling of obligation is said to have had its root. In general, benevolence and sympathy amongst a people give it a solidarity from which it derives a stronger position, so that in turn the benevolent and sympathetic feelings gain free scope to develop and expand.

But the working out of this theory is not with- Its difficulout its own difficulties. In the first place, the factor origin of in the theory of evolution which can be most clearly traced—the principle of natural selectionis not itself a source of change or of the production of new results. It is only the means by which advantageous changes are preserved and disadvantageous changes passed by. The initiative in these changes comes either from the unequal pressure of the environment or from some tendency to vary in the organism itself. Now, if we suppose certain moral relations and the feelings corresponding to them to exist in a society, and to tend to greater certainty and fulness of life on the part of those who possess them, such relations and feelings will be favoured by the operation of natural selection, and will gradually be assimilated into the tissue of the social organism. But this does not account for the origin of morality generally nor of any particular moral relation ; it merely shows how, having been somehow originated, it has naturally come to persist. There are thus really two points to be considered in tracing the development of moral

[blocks in formation]

ideas—the question of origin and the question of persistence. The latter is accounted for by natural selection; the former must be brought under the obscure laws of variation, laws so obscure that variations in nature are frequently spoken of as if they took place by chance. These two questions are involved at each stage in the progress of morality. But it is at the initial stage that the question of origin is of greatest importance: when the attempt is made to show how, in the course of time, and by the aid of purely physical and biological laws, feelings and conduct, from being merely natural and reflex, have acquired a moral character

-when, in a word, the moral is being evolved out of the non-moral. A difficulty comes to the front here which scarcely arises when we are simply tracing the various phases through which the moral consciousness has passed, and the various forms in which moral conduct and feelings have expressed and embodied themselves. The latter subject is obviously within the scope of the theory of evolution, if that theory applies to the processes of the human mind and society as well as to those of external nature. And, although each stage involves a modification to be accounted for not by natural selection, but by the laws of variation, yet the variation is within facts of the same order, and creates no more difficulty than the successive modifications of living tissue which have been implied

« AnteriorContinuar »