Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/161

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MR. GOLDWIN SMITH ON "THE DATA OF ETHICS."

More important still is it to remark that Mr. Spencer distinctly assigns the action which he cites to a lower plane altogether than that to which the action of the Italian physician properly belongs. These are the words with which he introduces his illustration: "Among the best examples of absolutely right actions to be named are those arising where the nature and the requirements have been molded to one another before social evolution began." (The italics are ours.) The adaptation found subsisting between mother and child was established in a pre-social period; and, though social evolution has since been carried forward many stages, the relation in question retains its character as an almost wholly physical one. No doubt maternal love is to-day a much tenderer and more complex thing than in savage days; but, as the higher affection is not always guided by adequate knowledge, we must still look to the physical adaptation as the highest example of perfect adjustment. The action of the mother nourishing her child is "absolutely right," but "absolutely right" in a comparatively low sphere of conduct; the action of the Italian physician is only "relatively right," but it is "relatively right" in a much higher sphere of conduct. It is, therefore, not correct to say, without careful qualification, that, according to Mr. Spencer's philosophy, "the action of the Italian physician is ethically inferior to that of a Caffre woman suckling her child." What may be said of it is that it is typically inferior, although ethically higher; that is to say, less adapted to serve as the type of perfect action, though indicating the presence of far superior moral elements. The distinction is not difficult to seize.

The precise position from which Mr. Smith makes his attack on Mr. Spencer is not very easy to discern. He evidently does not like the evolution philosophy in its application to morals; and yet it is not very clear that he takes his stand distinctly on any other. A most critical time, he thinks, has arrived in the intellectual development of society, and what the result is going to be he does not venture to predict. Serious breaches have been made in the defenses, not only of revealed, but of natural religion; the theistic hypothesis itself is threatened. The breaches may be repaired—Mr. Smith does not feel at all certain one way or the other; but meanwhile he thinks it a safe thing to point out the deficiencies of the evolution philosophy as compared with a theistic philosophy. But supposing the breaches should not be repaired, but, on the contrary, widened; and supposing we should have in the end to fall back on the evolution philosophy or something like it, would it not then be the part of wisdom to make the most of it—to show it in the most favorable, rather than in the least favorable, light? Mr. Smith seems to us to be somewhat in the position of a man battering a house in which, according to his own admission, he may some day have to live. Supposing the evolution philosophy to be true, or to be an adumbration of the truth, any de-