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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/334

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

acquaintance of a dear and valued friend, whose acute intellect first taught me to fully understand in what the essence of "goodness" consists, as his virtue led me to appreciate its active exercise. But my enlightenment ultimately resulted in controversy; and, in order that my readers may be able to judge what signs of ascensive evolution Prof. Huxley has lately shown, I must briefly refer to a passage of arms which took place between us one-and-twenty years ago.

I had, in a little book, then recently published,[1] contended that the process of "natural selection" could never have evolved our ethical perceptions and our clear intellectual idea of "duty" as distinct from mere feelings of "sympathy," "fear," etc. I said:

These two ideas, the "right" and the "useful," being so distinct here and now, a great difficulty meets us with regard to their origin from some common source. For the distinction between the "right" and the "useful" is so fundamental and essential that not only does the idea of benefit not enter into the idea of duty, but we see that the very fact of an act not being beneficial to us makes it the more praiseworthy, while gain tends to diminish the merit of an action. Yet this idea, "right," thus excluding, as it does, all reference to utility or pleasure, has nevertheless to be constructed and evolved from utility and pleasure, and ultimately from pleasurable sensations, if we are to accept pure Darwinism: if we are to accept, that is, the evolution of man's psychical nature and highest powers by the exclusive action of "natural selection" from such faculties as are possessed by brutes; in other words, if we are to believe that the conceptions of the highest human morality arose through minute and fortuitous variations of brutal desires and appetites in all conceivable directions.

It is here contended, on the other hand, that no conservation of any such variations could ever have given rise to the faintest beginning of any such moral perceptions; that by "natural selection" alone the maxim fiat justitia, mat cælum, could not have been excogitated, still less have found a widespread acceptance; that it is impotent to suggest even an approach toward an explanation ot the first beginning of the idea of "right." It need hardly be remarked that acts may be distinguished, not only as pleasurable, useful, or beautiful, but also as good in two different senses: (1) Materially moral acts; and (2) acts which areq formally moral. The first are acts good in themselves, as acts, apart from any intention of the agent, which may or may not have been directed toward "right." The second are acts which are good, not only in themselves, as acts, but also in the deliberate intention of the agent who recognizes his actions as being "right." Thus acts may be materially moral or immoral in a very high degree without being in the least formally so. For example, a person may tend and minister to a sick man with scrupulous care and exactness, having in view all the time nothing but the future reception of a good legacy. Another may, in the dark, shoot his father, taking him to be an assassin, and so commit what is materially an act of parricide, though formally it is only an act of self-defense or more or less culpable rashness. A woman may innocently, because ignorantly, marry a married man, and so commit a material act of adultery. She may discover the facts and persist, and so make her act formal also.


  1. The Genesis of Species (Macmillan & Co.), 1871, second edition, p. 219.