Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/25

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THE MECHANISTIC CONCEPTION OF LIFE

force is not entirely abolished. It will, however, be necessary to ascertain by direct measurements to what extent these phenomena in animals are the expression of Bunsen-Eoscoe's law. But we may already safely state that the apparent will or instinct of these animals resolves itself into a modification of the action of the muscles through the influence of light; and for the metaphysical term "will" we may in these instances safely substitute the chemical term "photochemical action of light."

Our wishes and hopes, disappointments and sufferings have their source in instincts which are comparable to the light instinct of the heliotropic animals. The need of and the struggle for food, the sexual instinct with its poetry and its chain of consequences, the maternal instincts with the felicity and the suffering caused by them, the instinct of workmanship and some other instincts are the roots from which our inner life develops. For some of these instincts the chemical basis is at least sufficiently indicated to arouse the hope that their analysis, from the mechanistic point of view, is only a question of time.

9. Ethics

If our existence is based on the play of blind forces and only a matter of chance; if we ourselves are only chemical mechanisms—how can there be an ethics for us? The answer is, that our instincts are the root of our ethics and that the instincts are just as hereditary as is the form of our body. We eat, drink and reproduce not because mankind has reached an agreement that this is desirable, but because, machine-like, we are compelled to do so. We are active, because we are compelled to be so by processes in our central nervous system; and as long as human beings are not economic slaves the instinct of successful work or of workmanship determines the direction of their action. The mother loves and cares for her children not because metaphysicians had the idea that this was desirable, but because the instinct of taking care of the young is inherited just as distinctly as the morphological characters of the female body. We seek and enjoy the fellowship of human beings because hereditary conditions compel us to do so. We struggle for justice and truth since we are instinctively compelled to see our fellow beings happy. Economic, social and political conditions or ignorance and superstition may warp and inhibit the inherited instincts and thus create a civilization with a faulty or low development of ethics. Individual mutants may arise in which one or the other desirable instinct is lost, just as individual mutants without pigment may arise in animals; and the offspring of such mutants may, if numerous enough, lower the ethical status of a community. Not only is the mechanistic conception of life compatible with ethics; it seems the only conception of life which can lead to an understanding of the source of ethic