Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/167

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

direction, which is used in the furtherance of life and happiness. There is a school of French philosophers to-day[1] who, while making frank profession of atheism, speak of man as the union of an organism with an "immateriality." The language is uncouth; but it might be used, at least provisionally, to express Mr. Spencer's conception; for, while the whole direction of every human being proceeds from his consciousness, that consciousness is not itself material or physical, the very essence of materiality being objectivity to sense. From the evolutionary point of view every mite of moral effort is just as precious as from the theological point of view; but what the evolutionary theory does not do is to reconcile us to the miseries that have abounded and still abound in the world, as possibly having their explanation and justification in some supernatural scheme of government. If the sufferings borne by our fellow-creatures are any part of the Divine scheme, as Mr. Smith hints may perhaps be the case, what confidence can we feel that we are right in trying to alleviate them? With a strange inconsistency, the partisans of a supernatural view of disease are always ready to apply themselves most vigorously to abbreviating by natural means the chastisements which they say are meant for their good; while the more sensible among them manage, by a careful attention to the rules of health, to escape such chastisements altogether, or nearly so. And so we have no doubt it would be if Mr. Smith had it in his power to greatly ameliorate the general lot of mankind: he would do it, and let the moral education of the race take its chance under the happier conditions.

Evolutionary ethics tell us what is evil, and explain the why. They tell us that whatever depresses the energies of any human being, or comes between labor and its due reward, is evil. It drops no hints of mysterious compensation hereafter for ills borne in this life—so making things a trifle more comfortable still for the "man in the suburban villa, with a good business in the city," whom the voice of duty so imperiously calls to take a regular luncheon every day, instead of merely swallowing a hasty sandwich. That worthy citizen might, in the interest of his digestion, like to think that the shivering, storm-tossed mariner, the delver in the mine, the overworked and underfed farm-laborer, and all the beaten and baffled and despairing ones whose lot is so disagreeable a contrast to his own, should some day, after they had served their turn here in the production of capital, have some modicum of compensating happiness dealt out to them in a better world. If such be his soothing fancy, he can not at least profess to draw it from the doctrine of evolution, which proclaims, without reserve or qualification, that suffering is suffering, that injustice is injustice, and that, if we would remedy these, we must work while it is called day. It is the weakness not the strength of theological and ultra-mundane doctrines

  1. The so-called "Socialistes Rationnels," whose organ, "La Philosophic de l'Avenir," contains some acute and powerful writing.