Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/869

This page has been validated.

this implication would be less prominent if the phrase were changed to "survival of the fittest." From the very first, however, he recognized that the difference between the two terms in this respect was, if we may so express it, purely quantitative; and he took care to make it clear that by "the fittest" he did not in the least intend to signify any form of ideal or subjective fitness, but simply a superior degree of adaptation, as a matter of actual fact, to environing conditions. The conditions at any given moment are as they are, and the "fitness" of any particular organism is such a correspondence with those conditions as permits and favors its perpetuation. The conditions do not create fitness; they merely eliminate unfitness; nor does Mr. Spencer conceive any agency as producing ab extra the fitness which enables an organism or a number of organisms to survive. He differs, however, from what is perhaps the dominant school of biology to-day, in holding that the higher forms of organic life are, as he expresses it, "directly equilibrated" with their surroundings through the inheritance of physical features resulting from effort and habit.

To whatever cause it may be attributed, few writers whose intellectual activity has extended over so long a term of years as Mr. Spencer's have been so consistent in their utterances at different stages as he. The "Synthetic Philosophy" is the realization of a scheme of thought no less wonderful in its coherence and solidity than in its compass, the author having planted himself from the first at a point of view which gave him a clear command of his entire field. To say that no other system of thought equally comprehensive and equally coherent exists in the world to-day would be to make a statement which few competent and dispassionate authorities would deny. Notwithstanding this, there are writers not a few, particularly of the class "who write with ease," who, as we said at the outset, have a propensity for misunderstanding Mr. Spencer, and who consequently accuse him of inconsistencies and self-contradictions for which nothing that he has ever said affords any warrant. One of these gentlemen is the Duke of Argyll, who has lately offered the world another superfluous book under the title of Organic Evolution Cross examined. The duke particularly concerns himself with Mr. Spencer's teaching in regard to the "survival of the fittest," and Mr. Spencer, in the columns of Nature, replies to him in a brief but sufficient manner. It is safe to say that Mr. Spencer's philosophy will show Cyclopean remains generations after the name of his ducal critic shall have passed forever into the mists of oblivion; and the "survival of the fittest" will thus be illustrated in a sense in which Mr. Spencer himself never used the words.


Scientific Literature.


The study of the methods through which the topographical features and rock forms of particular districts have been worked out, as presented in numerous popular monographs, is a fascinating one; and we can hardly doubt that many persons who would never otherwise have thought of it