Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/241

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
231
ETHICS AND THE STRUGGLE FOR EXISTENCE.

the strength of her affections. She will endure a painful death to save her children from suffering. The animal sacrifices herself, but without consciousness and therefore without moral worth. This is merely the most striking exemplification of the general process of the development of morality. Conduct is first regarded purely with a view to the effects upon the agent, and is therefore enforced by extrinsic penalties, by consequences, that is, supposed to be attached to it by the will of some ruler, natural or supernatural. The instinct which comes to regard such conduct as bad in itself, which implies a dislike of giving pain to others, not merely a dislike to the gallows, grows up under such protection, and in the really moralized being acquires a strength which makes the external penalty superfluous. This, indubitably, is the greatest of all changes, the critical fact which decides whether we are to regard conduct simply as useful or also to regard it as moral in the strictest sense. But I should still call it a development and not a reversal of the previous process. The conduct which we call virtuous is the same conduct externally which we before regarded as useful. The difference is that the simple fact of its utility—that is, of its utility to others and to the race in general—has now become the sufficient motive for the action as well as the implicit cause of the action. In the earlier stages, when no true sympathy existed, men and animals were still forced to act in a certain way because it was beneficial to others. They now act in that way because they perceive it to be beneficial to others. The whole history of moral evolution seems to imply this. We may go back to a period at which the moral law is identified with the general customs of the race; at which there is no perception of any clear distinction between that which is moral and that which is simply customary; between that which is imposed by a law in the strict sense and that which is dictated by general moral principles. In such a state of things, the motives for obedience partake of the nature of "blind instincts." No definite reason for them is present to the mind of the agent, and it does not occur to him even to demand a reason. "Our father did so and we do so" is the sole and sufficient explanation of their conduct. Thus instinct again may be traced back by evolutionists to the earliest period at which the instincts implied in the relations between the sexes, or between parents and offspring, existed. They were the germ from which has sprung all morality such as we now recognize.

Morality, then, implies the development of certain instincts which are essential to the race, but which may in an indefinite number of cases be injurious to the individual. The particular mother is killed because she obeys her natural instincts; but if it were not for mothers and their instincts, the race would come to