Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/538

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1. The Animal Stage. Mr. Darwin's book has familiarized us with the idea that the moral and mental elements in man's nature, no less than the physical and material, were derived from irrational creatures by the process of evolution. How far this is capable of being proved in other respects it is not for me to say (whatever I may believe), but I am sure that it is true of that element which seems at first sight most opposed to it—the conscience. Making all allowance for the temptation and tendency to read our own thoughts into the minds of animals, and also for the effect upon the animals themselves of man's moral control, it yet remains certain that the materials out of which conscience has been constructed are everywhere discernible, like the rough unhewed stones of a quarry, in animal life and in Nature itself. The mere fact that animals can be taught and made to feel what they ought to do (how can we avoid using the word "ought?") settles the question. But, without relying upon this, is it not evident that the contrast between the external force that would destroy and the internal power that will live existed long before it became an object of perception and reflection in the brain of a reasoning creature? And this contrast produced such actions as the following—flight, combination for defense, appealing looks, cries of remonstrance, self-defense to the last moment of existence. For instance, the sight of an object accustomed to prey upon a weaker animal then and there stimulated that animal to immediate flight by putting into motion the appropriate muscles and limbs. But the animals with which man is in closest alliance were those whose weakness must certainly have made the necessity of escape a large part of their experience. With this would come a great number of painful and also pleasant emotions. The need of horrible exertions, the terror of anticipation, the sense of unavailing wrath, sometimes the ecstasy of deliverance, which must have been so strong in the heart of every hunted animal that turned to bay at last, are seen to border closely upon that instinct of rightness which so evidently belongs to our individual inherited experience. It needed but the touch of self-consciousness to make the instinctive feeling pass by a bound into an instinctive thought in the mind of a being that "could look before and after." And whatever difficulty there may be in accounting for the evolution of man lies not in his moral but in his mental growth. How he became conscious of himself we may possibly never be able even to imagine, but that being conscious of himself he was by mere force of circumstances possessed of the germ of conscience, is a statement that presents no difficulty at all.

2. The Intermediate Stage. What was the moral condition of the "ape-like man?" He was a creature who had a vivid and intense conception of his own right to exist, and no conception whatever as to the rights of other creatures to the same existence. He was the inheritor of conditions and tendencies which wrought in him such thoughts as these: "You shall die before I will;" "I will use you to please my-