Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/535

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THE PLACE OF CONSCIENCE IN EVOLUTION.

came self-conscious was confined to these two spheres of action, flying (by combination and otherwise) for life and killing for life. There were creatures whom it was natural for him to kill, and others who, it was equally natural, should kill him. This was the state of things in which he found himself a living, thinking being; this was the law which he found not only confronting him on every side of his exterior life, but also deep rooted in his inmost nature as an indubitable, unanswerable fact.

Having arrived at this point, let us as our next step remind ourselves that it is impossible to imagine a rational human being in whom there is not present the assurance that he has a right to himself, to be allowed to live in the first place, afterward (as the result maybe of long years of evolution) to be allowed to live happily. That no one has a right to take my life from me is a thought inseparable from myself, it is at any rate the first piece of knowledge of which I become possessed. The infant's cry for nourishment and warmth contains this much meaning to those who can discern how moral feelings grew out of physical conditions. But then this thought remains a mere mystery, and therefore quite unsuitable for affording a basis on which to explain the origin of conscience, until we set it in the light of evolution. So regarded, the mystery vanishes in an instant. For this thought is merely the necessary result of the correlation of the first self-conscious being with his environment, and conscience is the struggle for existence become aware of itself in the mind of a thinking person. The first man, in however dumb, inarticulate a fashion, did nevertheless practically contrive to claim of the universe, of Nature, of creatures like himself, nay, ultimately of the unknown Author of all things, that they should not destroy the life which they had originated. He made his appeal (makes it in truth now) to all the tremendous forces amid which he moved, and in the balance and play of which he endeavored to maintain an independent personal existence, that they should minister to him, the one thinking creature among them, and therefore (for the first man was also the first philosopher) their centre and final cause. It seemed to him, in short, right, could not indeed seem otherwise, the past being what it had been, that his environment should be such as would make life possible to him at once, and in due time useful and enjoyable.

Observe that the condition essential to all knowledge, namely, contrast or the perception of dissimilarities, is here present. As light is meaningless without darkness, or heat without cold, so is right without its contrast of force or wrong. No doubt primeval man may have for long perceived by sensation the contrast of heat and cold, day and night, before he so far separated the ideas as to give them abstract names. So, too, the same man may have for long felt the indescribable contrast between the external force that was everywhere threatening his existence and the internal force that was resolutely bent on con-