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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/280

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

trated in every other domain accessible to human inquiry. Before we grapple with this question, however, it will be well to place before ourselves as clear an idea as possible of what man's moral nature is.

The moral nature of man, according to our understanding of the expression, is that part of the human consciousness which takes cognizance of, and is definitely affected by, conduct, as that term is employed both by Herbert Spencer and by Matthew Arnold. That there should be a sense for conduct is as natural as that there should be a sense for any other outward phenomenon; and, if so, we can readily understand that an individual may examine and criticise his own conduct just as he may examine and criticise his own personal appearance. The norm or standard in both cases—that is to say, whether conduct or physical structure is in question—is the same, namely, some assumed ideal suitable to the human race, and in a manner generalized from varying human characteristics. Nobody, so far as we are aware, aspires either to a virtue or to a beauty appropriate to any non-human race of beings. Enough for a man to be a man in the best sense; enough for a woman to fulfill the best type of womanhood. But this striving after a type, what does it imply? Our contemporary says that, so far as conduct is concerned, it implies the original creation of a perfect moral nature, which sin has marred, but of which a perpetual reminiscence lingers. Good! but how about the striving after physical beauty? Does that also imply the reminiscence of a lost perfection? Or does it merely imply a sense in the individual of that which constitutes the best expression of the species? We incline to the latter opinion, and we think a similar answer might be given to the question as to the striving after a moral ideal.

The fact should not be lost sight of that our ideas in regard both to beauty of conduct and to beauty of form are very greatly controlled by habit and tradition. The standard of physical beauty varies from country to country, so that what inspires admiration here may be regarded as far from attractive there; and the same may be said of the standard of virtue. What is deemed most worthy of imitation in one age or clime may be regarded with positive disapproval under changed conditions of time or place. The very words "moral" and "ethical" teach us a lesson under this head; since the essential meaning of both, if we revert to their etymology, is neither more nor less than "customary." The first notions of morality were therefore based wholly on custom; and only as reflection developed, and as the contact of tribe with tribe and nation with nation gave the opportunity of comparing custom with custom, did the notion of morality enlarge and purify itself. The red Indian of former days would strive to harden himself against physical suffering, and to deaden in his heart any stirrings of compassion for a fallen foe. Are we to suppose that the original typical or ideal human nature was one, the main features of which were physical en-' durance and remorseless cruelty? If not, the argument drawn from the sense of struggle or conflict must fall to the ground; for undoubtedly every individual Indian had to strive in order to bring himself up to the true heroic level, as understood in his tribe. The need for effort to attain any moral ideal, whether that of the red Indian or that of the most public-schooled inhabitant of Massachusetts or New York, seems to us to be strictly comparable and analogous to the need for educational effort of other kinds. The family, the tribe, the race, acquire knowledge, habits, and principles of one kind or another, which every new-born individual must grow up into, on pain of social failure and probably of early