Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/488

This page has been validated.
472
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

words good and bad have come to be specially associated with acts which (respectively) further the complete living of others and acts which obstruct their complete living.

We approach now the heart of the matter. We have seen how conduct has been evolved in the various races of living creatures, from the lowest to man the highest. We have learned how closely related are men's ideas of good and bad to that which is the chief end of all conduct—the preservation and extension of life. And we have found that while the conception of rightness and wrongness is not very marked in relation to conduct affecting self-life, it becomes clear and obvious in relation to conduct affecting the life of offspring, and attains its greatest definiteness and as it were emphasis in its application to conduct affecting the lives of others. Where the rules determining right and wrong in regard to the life of self, of offspring, and of others, come into conflict, as they must until social relations become perfect, the right in regard to self mostly gives way to right in regard to offspring, and both usually give way to right in regard to the rest of humankind. But in Mr. Spencer's words (I quote them with emphasis, because he has been so preposterously and indeed wickedly charged with teaching a very different doctrine) "the conduct called good rises to the conduct conceived as best, when it fulfills all three classes of ends at the same time."

But now the vital question of all comes before us.

We conceive as good or bad such conduct as conduces or the reverse to life and the fullness of life, in self and others. But is conduct of the one kind really good or conduct of the other kind really bad? Though good or bad with reference to that particular end, and though held to be right or wrong because that end is actually in view among men, may not conduct be differently judged when the nature of that end is considered? In other words, the question comes before us, Is life worth living? We need not take either the optimist view, according to which life is very good, or the pessimist view, according to which it is very bad. But each one of us from his experience as regards his own life, and from his observation (often most misleading, however) on the lives of others, may be led to hold that on the whole life is good, or that on the whole it is bad. Of course, in the very theory of the evolution of conduct, or rather in the series of observed facts demonstrating the evolution of conduct, we see that life and the fullness of life are fought for throughout nature as if they were good. In the highest race the love of life in self, which assumes that the life of others also is good, has attained its highest expression. "Everything that a man has he will give for his life," is a rule established rather than shaken by exceptions and the attention directed to such exceptions. Yet the mere fact that life is fought for by all, and that the struggle for life has been so potent a factor in the development of life, does not in itself prove life to be an actual good. Death comes