Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 27.djvu/384

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by means of its short feet, but uses its long spines to perform the manœuvre. The process is a tedious one, and there are generally numerous failures; but the creature perseveres until it eventually succeeds.



THE question of the bearing of the theory of evolution upon morals deserves a serious examination. The doctrine of development breaks at many points with cherished traditional notions, and its opponents have predicted that it would result in a spiritual revolution which would convulse society to its foundations by destroying the sanctions of conscience and paralyzing the religious sense.

The science of ethics has a theoretical and a practical part; the former, founded on the study of the nature of volition and the moral feelings, the latter having for its object to determine what ought to be. The latter, the establishment of rules of conduct, is the real object of ethics, while the purely theoretical researches have only the value of means.

Ethics can, it appears to us, learn much out of the theory of development, or can at least find a confirmation of single principles hitherto recognized by only a part of the students of morals. This theory teaches that the feelings and inclinations, as well as the bodily forms, are results of the adaptation of the living being to the conditions of his existence, and are therefore to be recognized as life-maintaining functions; that, the more complicated are the conditions of life, the less perfect is this adaptation: therefore, in the human world, spontaneous feelings and impulses are not safe guides. We may learn from it, also, to regard the moral feelings and conceptions as the most important part of the adapting of man to the conditions of social existence. It teaches us to bring into special consideration the moral conceptions of the most successful nations in the struggle for existence; for, if their views of right and wrong had diverged greatly from what is really beneficial to society, they would not have reached their dominant position. But the recognition that, in consequence of the complicated conditions of life, the adaptation is never complete, must restrain us from ever regarding the "positive morals" of a people—that is, the sum of their actual moral ideas—as being absolutely perfect.

The development theory, which has made us acquainted, as perhaps no former generation has been, with the idea of progress, has also accustomed us to regard the moral as one of the fields in which progress takes place; and, furthermore, to look forward to perfection in the