Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/335

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Actions of brutes, such as those of the bee, the ant, or the beaver, however materially good as regards their relation to the community to which such animals belong, are absolutely destitute of the most incipient degree of real—i. e., formal—"goodness," because unaccompanied by mental acts of conscious will directed toward the fulfillment of duty.

By the examples thus given, it was surely plain that I represented the formally moral character of an act to reside in the intention wherewith it was performed, as distinguished from mere good results, and also in the goodness of that intention. This was made still plainer in my Quarterly article[1] on The Descent of Man. Therein, to guard against the absurdity of supposing I meant that it was necessary, in order that an action should be good, for its goodness to be deliberately thought of and reflected on, I said:

An action which has ceased to be directly or indirectly deliberate has ceased to be moral as a distinct act, but it is moral as the continuation of those preceding deliberate acts through which the good habit was originally formed, and the rapidity with which the will is directed in the case supposed may indicate the number and constancy of antecedent meritorious volitions.

Prof. Huxley reviewed[2] my book and this Quarterly article, simultaneously and at much length, in an exceedingly interesting paper entitled Mr. Darwin's Critics, which I strongly advise those interested in the question to read before reading my reply to it. Therein, entirely siding with Mr. Darwin, he did not hesitate to say[3] (as to my distinction between "material" and "formal" morality):

For myself, I utterly reject it, inasmuch as the logical consequence of the adoption of any such principle is the denial of all moral value to sympathy and affection. According to Mr. Mivart's axiom, the man who, seeing another struggling in the water, leaps in at the risk of his own life to save him, does that which is "destitute of the most incipient degree of real goodness," unless, as he strips off his coat he, says to himself, "Now, mind, I am going to do this because it is my duty, and for no other reason"; and the most beautiful character to which humanity can attain, that of the man who does good without thinking about it, because he loves justice and mercy and is repelled by evil, has no claim on our moral approbation. The denial that a man acts morally because he does not think whether he does so or not may be put upon the same footing as the denial of the title of an arithmetician to a calculating boy, because he did not know how he worked out his sums.

I wondered, and I wonder still, how Prof. Huxley could have written this, he having before his eyes the passage of mine, just above cited, from the article of the Quarterly Review which he was criticising!

  1. See Quarterly Review, July, 1871, p. 82; and also my Essays and Criticisms, 1892, ii, 49.
  2. See The Contemporary Review for 1871; and also his Critiques and Addresses, 1873, p. 251.
  3. Critiques and Addresses, p. 288.