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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/391

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SCIENCE AND ITS ACCUSERS.

he disapproves? It no more occurs to us to think that the Deity has specially enlightened him on the point in question, than it occurs to him to pay our conscientious conviction a similar compliment. We get over the difficulty, not improbably, by hinting that he is a "crank," and the same mode of escape is open to him in relation to us. The criticism of conscience, as Miss Cobbe must well know, antedates Darwin by at least three centuries. The philosopher whose motto was "Que sais-je?" expounded its weaknesses more fully than Darwin ever did; and Locke defines it very briefly as "our own opinion of the moral rectitude or pravity of our own actions." Dugald Stewart shows that the sentiment of the sacredness of property varies from country to country, according to the amount of labor requisite to produce articles of value; and that in other respects local accidents decide to a great extent the form that moral opinion takes. Hartley explained the phenomena of conscience by association; and, since his day, to go no further back, the idea of conscience as a special organ uttering the voice of the Deity has been weakening among thinking men. The evolutionists of to-day have simply succeeded in giving a wider basis to views that were in the world long before their time; but to say that they have in any way lowered the dignity of man's moral nature is to state what is not the case. Miss Cobbe is pleased to suggest that the old ideas gave a basis for moral effort "as firm as the law of the universe itself"; but that henceforth our only fulcrum will be "the sand-heap of hereditary experiences." If anything could less deserve the designation of "sand-heap" than our accumulated hereditary experiences, we should like to know what it is. In the case of the sand-heap there is an utter lack of cohesion; in the case of hereditary experiences cohesion is of their very nature. Miss Cobbe understands this perfectly; it is a pity she should have written as though she did not.

We are very far, therefore, from admitting that "the scientific spirit" has "sprung a mine under the deepest foundations of morality"; or that it is as impossible for a man who holds the evolutionary idea of the origin of conscience "to cherish a great moral ambition as it is for a stream to rise above its source." If, on the one hand, science moderates ambition by keeping before the mind the limits of the possible, on the other it stimulates ambition by producing the conviction that certain things are not only possible, but certain of attainment if the right means are used. There was a time in the history of science when men were laboring to transmute the baser metals into gold; that particular ambition has been abandoned with others equally chimerical; but it surely can not be said that science to-day discourages effort in the field of chemistry? Precisely so in the moral region: we no