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Title: On Mr. Spencer's Data of Ethics
Author: Guthrie, Malcolm
Language: English
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(_All rights reserved._)


            THE PHILOSOPHICAL VIEW                    1

             OF ETHICS                               27




CHAPTER VI.--SYSTEMS OF ETHICS                       75



CHAPTER IX.--SUMMARY                                120


This volume completes the critical examination of Mr. Spencer's system
of Philosophy already pursued through two previous volumes entitled
respectively "On Mr. Spencer's Formula of Evolution," and "On Mr.
Spencer's Unification of Knowledge." The entire task has been undertaken
by a student for the use of students. It cannot be of much use to the
general reader, as it presumes and indeed requires a very intimate
knowledge of Mr. Spencer's works. For those who do not wish to enter
into detailed examination perhaps Chapter I. of the "Unification of
Knowledge" will afford a good epitome of the line of criticism; and this
may be followed, if desired, by a perusal of the "Formula of Evolution."
It is believed that the most serious piece of criticism against Mr.
Spencer's system will be found in the examination of his re-constructive
Biology in Chapter V. of the "Unification," and in the examination of
the origin of organic molecules commencing at page 30 of the "Formula
of Evolution." Evidently of the highest importance in a system of
philosophy conceived in the manner in which Mr. Spencer presents it,
this point of transition between the inorganic and the organic with its
dependent histories is of the very deepest fundamental interest, and
upon the question whether it is well or badly treated depends the
practical value of his philosophy as applied to human concerns.

In our opinion, whatever of worth there is in Mr. Spencer's works (and
there is very much), derives its value from _a posteriori_ grounds and
not from its _a priori_ reliance upon first principles, nor from its
place in a deductive system of cosmic philosophy. It has not fallen to
our lot, nor has it been our object, to appraise the separate or
incidental value of Mr. Spencer's works. Our view has been limited to
the single object of examining them in the mode in which he presents
them, as forming a connected system of philosophy. We have done so
because he sets forth his works to us in this light, and evidently if
they can be so accepted, it would be a gift to humanity of the highest
value, for it would lend cogency to every past and confer a guidance to
all future ages, forming a crowning glory to the intellectual
achievements of the human race.

It is therefore to this point that we address our examination, and in
no unfriendly spirit; for the object Mr. Spencer had in view was one
which appealed to every sentiment and every intellectual aspiration
within us. But we feel bound to say how sadly we have been disappointed.
We have found the object of our admiration to be like Nebuchadnezzar's
dream god, a thing apparently perfect and complete in configuration but
like the image compounded of iron and clay and precious stones
inevitably falling to pieces under the strain of sustained criticisms.

Mr. Spencer's philosophic conception was indeed imposing, and before its
magnificent proportions many have bowed down in sincere respect. But his
cosmical scheme when carefully examined proved to be constructed of
terms which had no fixed and definite meaning, which were in fact merely
symbols of symbolic conceptions, conceptions themselves symbolic because
they were not understood--and the moment we began to put them to use as
having definite values they landed us forthwith in alternative
contradictions! Then to effect cosmical evolution, which is a process of
imperceptible objective change, what was necessary, but to adopt a
system of imperceptible word changes, so that the imperceptible word
changes accompanying the imperceptible objective changes should lead us
in the end to the completed results, and the process of evolution should
thus be made comprehensible! In this manner over the spaces of an
enormous work have we been skilfully led by a master of language till we
find ourselves in imagination following out mentally the actual
processes of the universe. But after all it has only been a process, in
our own minds, of the skilful substitution of words!

Errors to be successful must be big and bold. Fallacies of reasoning are
detected on a medium scale, but when they are "writ large" it is
difficult to detect them. Trains of syllogisms are sometimes more
effective because they are vast than because they are true. Let them be
imposing in their language and grand in their proportions, we naturally
bow down to power, even if it is only power of largeness. When dealing
with Mr. Spencer's reasonings we feel a certain awe as if we were
contradicting the forces of the universe--seemingly allied to him. We
feel conscious of an impertinence in treating of such great matters,
dealt with in such a mighty sweep--disdainful of precision and
consistency. The transformations and evolutions of reasoning in Mr.
Spencer's works are no less wonderful than his treatment of words. The
mind is swept along by an indiscernable but mighty flow, and sometimes
after mysterious disappearances of consecutiveness between volumes or
chapters, we find ourselves landed in a satisfied but bewildered manner
at a conclusion about which we cannot but wonder however we arrived

By such terms as equilibration, including the theory of the moving
equilibrium; by such terms as polarity plastic and coercive; and by
plausible similarities between modes of process, we are deluded into
supposing we understand the constructive progress of nature and are made
to feel happy and proud of our knowledge. A great self satisfaction
attends the student who believes himself rightly to understand the
universe. We are pleased with our teacher, and are still more pleased
with ourselves.

But the real difficulty appears when the necessity for exposition
arises. If one undertakes to explain, if one has to condense and
solidify for the purpose of teaching, if one wishes to make others
understand, and share the knowledge one has attained, then indeed our
difficulties commence. What seemed so grand and alluring to look at will
not stand the ordinary handling of scientific language and logical
statement as between man and man. The illusion vanishes, the system has
gone. In these remarks we speak only of Mr. Spencer's cosmical system.
Of the general value of this work as a philosopher we express no
opinion. In the estimation of competent thinkers it is very great.
Fiske, Youmans, Carveth Read, Ribot, Maudsley, Clifford, Sully, Grant
Allen, Gopinay, and others are all working on Spencerian lines, but we
do not understand that they accept the cosmical explanation of Mr.
Spencer. He marks not the age of complete accomplishment but the age of
transition. He has not grasped the solution of problems, but he has
shewn the direction of future studies. He has failed in his grand
endeavour, but he has shown what to aim at and has pointed the way. Much
of his detailed work has been good and effective, and therefore one
feels some compunction in writing of him so severely. Nevertheless a man
of such eminence must not be held sacred from criticism, but on the
contrary, just by reason of his eminence and consequent influence, must
his work be well examined before it is accepted and approved. This is
the task we have set ourselves and which may now be considered as
complete. We have approached the study without any prepossessions, and
we have endeavoured, while being very strict, to be perfectly fair and
honest in our presentations of Mr. Spencer's theories. Naturally the
work has been long and tedious, and where so many contradictory and
indistinct expressions of opinion are given it has been necessary to
deal largely in quotations. This has been done in justice both to
ourselves and to our author. If we have succeeded in bringing out the
main lines of thought for the future use of students we shall have
accomplished our end. It is only by very strict thinking and discussion
that truth is finally evolved.

A few words must be added as to the teleological implications which a
_Westminster_ reviewer has discovered in our previous works, and has
regarded as vitiating the whole of their reasoning. The subject of
teleology is a very interesting and puzzling one, and is bound to
receive careful attention from the student of nature. It requires much
consideration as to what is meant by the term. There may be a natural
teleology apart from a supernatural teleology. We have no very clear
conceptions upon this point ourselves as yet, but are at present engaged
upon the study of the question. Intention and design are exemplified in
human actions, means to an end are adopted by many animals; the "Moving
Equilibrium" theory, and the "Happy Accident" theory alike seem
inadequate to account for the origin of natural teleology or even for
all variations of species; and the study of biological developments
suggests to us the presence and activity of a subjective factor related
to physical factors by some law to which may be due the origin of some
of the biological variations. Mr. Spencer's theory of biological
variations as internal forces generated by external forces, and thus
acting as a counterbalance in opposition to an inimical force, or in
harmony with a favourable force, having for its object the protection or
sustentation of the organism, is an altogether different theory from the
agnostic "Happy Accident" hypothesis of the naturalist school. It
implies the origin of biological variations as means adapted to ends in
the preservation of the organism or species, and if this is not found
workable on the physical equilibration hypothesis, some extension of
theory is required to account for the origin of biological variations in
which teleological implications are involved, although this theory may
be truly naturalistic and in perfect harmony with an orderly development
in the manner of evolution. If we cannot predicate an anthropomorphic
teleological mind at the beginning of things, nevertheless a teleology
appears to be involved in biological developments and requires a
naturalistic explanation.

M. Lionel Dauriac[1] enquires how it comes about that, while accepting
the theory of Evolution, we write a book of 476 pages against its most
illustrious exponent, and asks us to explain our acceptance of the
doctrine as a whole. It is quite true, as he states, that we repudiate a
materialistic explanation, and it is on this ground that we join issue
with Mr. Spencer, inasmuch as, notwithstanding Mr. Spencer's own formal
repudiation, all the formulas of explanation upon which he attempts the
reconstruction of the universe are materialistic. The factors of
chemistry, and the laws of physics, together with the laws of
equilibration and polarity, are all purely materialistic in character.
By the aid of these factors and these laws alone we do not think it
possible to understand and explain the history of cosmical evolution. Do
we then accept a spiritual evolution to which the materialistic has been
altogether subordinate? No. We do not understand the operations of the
subjective apart from the material organism. It seems to us that there
are material factors, and factors which are subjective, and what is
wanted is the law of their correlation. When we say that we accept
Evolution, we mean that we accept the theory of an orderly progress from
a state of indefinite, incoherent simplicity to a state of definite
coherent complexity. We discern two sets or kinds of factors, the
materialistic and the subjective, but we are unable sufficiently to
understand them and their laws of correlation to lay down a formula of
interaction of such a nature as to explain the orderly development which
we recognise.

This is a difficulty which has not been overlooked by Mr. Spencer. He
would escape it in two ways. Firstly by a mysticism, through which after
the definite meaning he has given to his terms has been found to fail in
actual work he changes all his fundamental terms into "symbolic
conceptions." Why? Because they have no meaning; and if you give them a
meaning the conclusions from them land the student in irreconcilable
contradictions. Out of this mysticism no progress is possible. Secondly
by means of the "double aspect" theory. According to this theory
everything is both material and subjective, as you choose to regard it,
and may be explained and accounted for in laws of the relations of
either set of factors. It is true that phenomena may be so described,
but it is not true that they can be so explained. There is an undoubted
concomitance between the bodily act and the conscious feeling, but the
real question is this,--Does the conscious feeling wholly depend upon
the physical series of events and has itself no effects on the physical
series? Is it produced without producing? Is it something occurring in
connexion with certain motions in the nerves of the organism and
therefore dependent upon and wholly produced by the physical factors in
their interrelation, according to the known chemical and physical laws
of the factors? If it is so determined, and does not determine as part
in a chain of causation it cannot be said to interfere with the
materialistic explanation. That is complete in itself. The only question
left is this:--How comes it about that some portions of the physical
series of phenomena have this strange accompaniment of consciousness? A
very interesting but comparatively unimportant question. The theory that
phenomena have two sides is of no use whatever in the endeavour towards
the statement of a cosmical formula of explanation. The result of our
studies is to the effect that there are physical factors and subjective
factors alike produced and producing. We aim at the statement of their
law of correlation, and in this we would seek the cosmical formula. We
however seek it in vain, and we do not think it possible to attain it.
In the meantime we look to the development of the subjective factor in
life, and more especially in human life, as a fact of the greatest
interest, the more so that we discern in that development an orderly
progress in a well marked manner; and it is our task to understand the
laws of that orderly development. This study has to be undertaken along
with the study of material Evolution; and although we may not fully
understand our problem, there is much that we can understand and much to
make our views large and sympathetic and our minds expansive in working
out the great questions that are set before us.

The study of Ethics from the Evolutionist's point of view assumes an
altogether different phase from the old methods of inquiry and rests
upon an altogether different basis. Its ground of authority is seen to
rest in the very nature of humanity and does not come to him as an
imposed law. Confidence is first shaken and then fully restored. From
the new point of view the merit of all preceding systems is seen, and
how they all fall into harmony in a wonderful manner in the consensus of
mutual support and enforce ethical law by an united authority.

The chief merit of Mr. Spencer's "Data of Ethics" is that it puts the
study upon an entirely new basis in grafting it upon the study of the
larger science of Biology. Heretofore the study has been isolated, and
supposed to be complete within its own borders. Henceforth no professor
or student will be considered competent to express opinions without
being well grounded in the study of Biological and Psychological
evolution. Ethics, along with Sociology, must be studied as part of the
greater movement.


[1] "Revue Philosophique," Dec. 1883.





Always a very complex problem, the study of ethics, in Mr. Spencer's
works, becomes in some respects still more complex from the necessity he
is under of affiliating it in some way upon the cosmical process.
Conceiving all knowledge to be capable of unification as a system of
causation, so that when the relations of the original factors are
understood, all histories are merely corollaries from these ultimate
truths, Mr. Spencer feels bound, in the first place, to show that each
particular science falls into its due place in the logical scheme.
Consequently, one of the main ideas permeating the "Data of Ethics" is
this view of ethics as interpretable only by an adequate knowledge of
the cosmical process in which it forms a feature.

Indeed, the proposition is laid down at the outset that parts can only
be properly understood through a knowledge of the wholes of which they
form part.[2] Upon this Mr. Spencer reasons that since ethics deals
with purposed conduct, that kind of conduct can only be understood
through a scientific knowledge of conduct in general, which again forms
part of the study of action in general, bringing us at once to the
cosmical process upon the understanding of which, therefore, depends the
understanding of our special subject.

This philosophic relation of Ethics to the cosmical process is referred
to in the preface as being, in fact, the main object Mr. Spencer had in
view in his elaborate series of volumes, and is more explicitly stated
in Chapter IV. of the work under review, in which Mr. Spencer
considering "The Ways of Judging Conduct," justifies the course he thus
pursues. Here it is pointed out that in the systems of all preceding
authors the idea of causation has been insufficiently recognised or has
even been altogether ignored--an assertion which is thereupon justified
by a review of the Theological, Political, Intuitional, and Utilitarian
schools of moral philosophers. Mr. Spencer thereupon proceeds (¶ 22)
"Thus, then, is justified the allegation made at the outset, that,
irrespective of their distinctive characters and their special
tendencies, all the current methods of ethics have one general
defect--they neglect ultimate causal connexions. Of course, I do not
mean that they wholly ignore the natural consequences of actions; but I
mean that they recognise them only incidentally. They do not erect into
a method the ascertaining of necessary relations between causes and
effects, and deducing rules of conduct from formulated statements of

"Every science begins by accumulating observations, and presently
generalises these empirically; but only when it reaches the stage at
which its empirical generalisations are included in a rational
generalisation does it become developed science. Astronomy has already
passed through its successive stages; first, collections of facts, then
inductions from them, and lastly deductive interpretations of these, as
corollaries from a universal principle of action among masses in space.
Accounts of structures and tabulations of strata, grouped and compared,
have led gradually to the assigning of various classes of geological
changes to igneous and aqueous actions; and it is now tacitly admitted
that geology becomes a science proper, only as fast as such changes are
explained in terms of those natural processes which have arisen in the
cooling and solidifying Earth, exposed to the Sun's heat and the action
of the Moon upon its ocean. The science of life has been, and is still,
exhibiting a like series of steps; the evolution of organic forms at
large is being affiliated on physical actions in operation from the
beginning; and the vital phenomena each organism presents, are coming to
be understood as connected sets of changes, in parts formed of matters
that are affected by certain forces, and disengage other forces. So is
it with mind. Early ideas concerning thought and feeling ignored
everything like cause, save in recognising those effects of habit which
were forced on men's attention and expressed in proverbs; but there are
growing up interpretations of thought and feeling as correlates of the
actions and reactions of a nervous structure, that is influenced by
outer changes and works in the body adapted changes, the implication
being that psychology becomes a science, as fast as these relations of
phenomena are explained as consequences of ultimate principles.
Sociology, too, represented down to recent times only by stray ideas
about social organisation, scattered through the masses of worthless
gossip furnished us by historians, is coming to be recognised by some as
also a science; and such adumbrations of it as have from time to time
appeared in the shape of empirical generalisations, are now beginning to
assume the character of generalisations made coherent by derivation from
causes lying in human nature placed under given conditions. Clearly
then, _ethics, which is a science dealing with the conduct of associated
human beings_, regarded under one of its aspects, has to undergo a like
transformation, and, at present undeveloped, can be considered a
developed science only when it has undergone this transformation.

"A preparation in the simpler sciences is pre-supposed. Ethics has a
physical aspect, since it treats of human activities, which, in common
with all expenditures of energy, conform to the law of the persistence
of energy; moral principles must conform to physical necessities. It has
a biological aspect, since it concerns certain effects, inner and outer,
individual and social, of the vital changes going on in the highest type
of animal. It has a psychological aspect, for its subject matter is an
aggregate of actions that are prompted by feelings and guided by
intelligence. And it has a sociological aspect, for these actions, some
of them directly, and all of them indirectly, affect associated beings.

"What is the implication? Belonging under one aspect to each of these
sciences--physical, biological, psychological, sociological--it can find
its ultimate interpretations only in those fundamental truths which are
common to all of them. Already we have concluded in a general way that
conduct at large, including the conduct Ethics deals with, is to be
fully understood only as an aspect of evolving life; and now we are
brought to this conclusion in a more special way.

"Here, then, we have to enter on the consideration of moral phenomena as
phenomena of evolution; being forced to do this by finding that they
form a part of the aggregate of phenomena which evolution has wrought
out. If the entire visible universe has been evolved--if the solar
system as a whole, the earth as part of it, the life in general which
the earth bears, as well as that of each individual organism--if the
mental phenomena displayed by all creatures, up to the highest, in
common with the phenomena presented by aggregates of these highest--if
one and all conform to the laws of evolution; then the necessary
implication is that those phenomena of conduct in these highest
creatures with which morality is concerned, also conform."[3]

In this passage Mr. Spencer propounds morality or ethics as a matter for
scientific study, only to be understood or explained as part of general
conduct when it is capable of explanation deductively from antecedent
causes. The distinction recognised between conduct called moral and
conduct regarded as immoral is only to be understood when, after a
historical survey of human actions and of the actions of organisms in
general, we not only perceive its immediately antecedent causes, but,
going behind them, recognise the ultimate necessity of their occurrence
in the very nature of the universe. This reveals the special features of
Mr. Spencer's method in the treatment of his subject as distinguished
from that followed by Mr. Leslie Stephen in his "Science of Ethics," a
distinction which we may conveniently mark by terming them respectively
the Philosophic and the Scientific methods. The former term we use in
the sense assigned to it in the definition given by Mr. Spencer in
"First Principles."[4]

A philosophy is complete when the mind has been able to form for itself
such an appraisement of the relations and conditions of factors at a
period sufficiently remote to ante-date any great amount of complexity
as will enable us deductively to frame a history of developments which
may correspond with the actual history of sequences in the concrete
universe. If this appraisement of a remote cosmos characterised by
comparative simplicity nevertheless admits the existence of many factors
whose differences are not accounted for, philosophy is so far formally
incomplete: but as the determination of these points lies beyond the
powers of human reason, philosophy may justly be regarded as practically
complete if it unifies from this point of view all the knowledge with
which the human mind is conversant. If we are able to include all the
sciences in one coherent whole nothing more can be expected of
philosophy--beyond that lies the realm of speculation and the

The scope of the sciences is not so ambitious. Their aim is limited
within a much narrower purview. They seek merely to ascertain the laws
which subsume special classes of phenomena. They recognise causation and
their inductions are valid to the extent of the classes of facts
expressed in any particular law. But each science or class of facts is
severally and separately worked upon even though the progress of study
is ever disclosing the mutual dependence of the various sciences.

It is very evident that there must be great imperfections in our scheme
of knowledge so long as there remain great blanks between the sciences.
But this is a natural condition of the progress of thought. On the other
hand a complete philosophic system such as that referred to above, and
at which Mr. Spencer aims, would throw a flood of light upon each
particular department if the mutual relation of all problems could be
deduced from ascertained relations of the original factors. But it is
also clear that if we think we have framed such a philosophy without
having really succeeded in so doing, or at any rate without having
succeeded in making others understand or accept it, then the supposed
philosophy becomes a confusing element in the exposition of a scientific
problem. In the work under review the philosophical attempt is very
regrettable for it spoils the exposition of a scientific treatment,
surpassing all former expositions, since it dims the clearness of the
argument, and hinders the force of its practical application.

Such is our judgment of Mr. Spencer's "Data of Ethics." It contains at
once an excellent scientific treatment of the subject and a weak attempt
to affiliate it upon an impotent philosophy. To the philosophical or
cosmical aspect of the work we will confine ourselves in the present
chapter, so that we shall hereafter be free to devote our attention to
the more solid scientific treatment of the questions at issue which it

The students of Mr. Spencer's previous volumes will have observed that
although he states the problem of evolution as a deductive one, he has
yet regarded evolution in a different aspect in the working out of each
specific problem. Thus it is very noteworthy that throughout the
Biological, Psychological, and Sociological expositions, Mr. Spencer has
regarded the establishment of the fact of evolution by the accretion of
insensible changes as equivalent to an actual affiliation of the
sciences upon the theory of evolution, utterly regardless of his own
rigid requirement that these changes should be explained and accounted
for by the general deductions of cosmical evolution. The histories of
organisms, for instance, exhibit gradual development, and therefore are
supposed to conform to the definition of evolution at large. But if
these changes are not intellectually discerned as the result of
antecedent conditions and traceable to the relations of the ultimate
factors recognised by the philosophy, then the affiliation of the
science upon evolution in general is not made good. While the form and
outside show are present, the organic connexion is not exhibited. But it
is a characteristic of Mr. Spencer's mode of exposition, that when the
latter fails, the former takes its place. Hence the gradual development
of conduct is evolution of conduct, but it is an evolution of which we
want an explanation. We seek it in Biology, but find that Biology also
is a gradual increment of insensible changes of which again we seek in
vain for an explanation.

The effect of this mode of presenting evolution or the unification of
knowledge is heightened by the seemingly systematic manner of its
exposition. Development is shown to be universally characterised by
progress in three forms--namely, from a simple, indefinite, incoherent
state to a complex, definite, and coherent state: and the wonderful
scope which the universe affords, both in time and space, for
historically exhibiting these traits, overwhelms the mind with a sense
of the universality of evolution, in spite of the fact that all the time
the very point of the question is missed in the absence of any
explanation. We recognise the gradual development, but where is the
deductive connexion? Where is the promised system of corollaries from
original factors which shall account for the historical development?

Thus, when in the "Data of Ethics" we find a reference to the Biology,
the Psychology, and the Sociology as parts of an established
philosophical system we are apt to suppose that the views as to ethics
which Mr. Spencer expresses derive their authority from an antecedent
apprehension of the cosmical process; whereas this is not really the
case: and although it is essential to the study that ethics should be
viewed as dependent upon the sciences named, yet such a connexion is not
shown as one of logical order; we are only told that Ethics exhibits
similar traits in its order of development.

But in addition to this foisting of the sciences upon philosophy by
means of general similarities of history, the student will find that
whatever inner deductive warrant is set forth is badly conceived in the
appraisement of the original factors--Matter, Motion, and Force--terms
to which no definite conceptions can be attached. And should any one be
so rash as to attach to them such definite meanings as would render
their logical use possible, then the deductive process which would have
to be undertaken to render them into corollaries corresponding to
concrete histories would very shortly bring him to confusion. Should
he, again, confine himself to the definite chemical factors existent in
the primordial nebulæ, then his deductive attempt would bring him to the
impassable gulf at the commencement of life. And, moreover, should he
import the factor of sentiency into some simple chemical aggregates, and
should he be able to set forth some gradual development of mind in
correlation with gradual changes of physical organism, then again in the
absence of any knowledge as to the relations of the two he would find
himself unable to work out the deductive process and fail in the system
of _à priori_ explanations which philosophy requires. For philosophy,
according to Mr. Spencer, demands a deductive process commencing with
the apprehension of the relations subsisting between the factors of the
universe at some particular stage, which deductive process shall be a
counterpart of the actual histories of the universe.

Such deductive explanations Mr. Spencer does attempt--mainly in the
Biology--the most important as to results, and the most badly reasoned
of all his works. It is attempted firstly in a very concrete manner, by
a consideration of the properties of the chemical substances which form
the bases of organisms, and of the properties of the surrounding
agencies--light, heat, air, water, etc. To the inter-relation of these
are applied the laws of mechanics, such as movement in the direction of
least resistance, etc., and by their instrumentality at last are
organisms supposed to be evolved which have, somehow, a concomitant of
consciousness which is nevertheless not a factor in any action of an
organism. In such a history however, it is found necessary to admit
genesis, reproduction, and heredity, and these, since they cannot be
explained, are accepted without explanation.

It is true that Polarity is called in to assist the endeavour, but it is
a polarity which is the obedient servant of the author, and does as it
is bid, firstly in being so amenable to changed conditions as to alter
conformably with them, and again in being so rigid in its acquired form
as to coerce molecules into definite construction. It is alternately so
pliable and so fixed as, hand over hand, to enable the author to scale
the highest summits of Biology. It is also true that Equilibration is
called in: but then every change in the organic and the inorganic world
turns out to be an equilibration, so that the word becomes devoid of

A more special study has to be given to Mr. Spencer's theory of the
moving equilibrium with which he identifies the existence of an
organism, and by means of which he is supposed to bridge over the chasm
between it and the inorganic. The idea is derived from a consideration
of the spinning top, the solar system, and the steam engine, more
particularly if the latter is self-feeding! These are moving equilibria,
and if their motions are disturbed by some external object they will
generate forces in opposition to the environment. This purely mechanical
conception is then rendered into an abstract form by the substitution of
the idea of related _forces_, as constituting a moving equilibrium, and
is found to fit the abstract conception of an organism, so that the
solar system and the organism can both be identified as moving
equilibria. Next, by loosely characterising the behaviour of the solar
system in its relation to its environment, real or hypothetical, as
consisting of changes due to the laws of a moving equilibrium, Mr.
Spencer seeks to show that the adaptations of an organism in response to
changed external conditions are likewise due to the same laws, so that
organisms and their histories are supposed to be explainable or
accounted for both in their origin and in their development in the same
manner as the moving equilibria of the physical world. Thereupon we are
supposed to understand both why organisms generate forces to
counterbalance inimical external forces, and why they generate forces
(adaptations) for securing and absorbing forces of the environment
(food) favourable to their continued existence. It is only what all
moving equilibria do. This biological theory we have discussed at great
length elsewhere,[5] and we then came to the conclusion that it was only
a mockery of a rational explanation. We also found that the facts of
Genesis and the Law of Heredity were wholly inexplicable by means of a
study of physics or by means of a study of the nature and laws of the
moving equilibrium. So that altogether we found the main requirements of
a philosophical explanation of biological facts very far from being
complied with.

As part of the deductive system which our philosophy requires, we have
now to consider the origin and development of purposed actions--the
subject-matter, namely, of our present study which is to lead us up to
the ultimate study of Ethics proper.

Resuming the consideration of the problem at the point where we left off
in our reference to the explanations of biology, we have first to review
the arguments which would explain the origin of purposed actions in the
nature and laws of the moving equilibrium. For if the actions of
organisms are thus explainable, so must be the purposed actions or
purposed conduct of organisms, and Mr. Spencer himself expressly
includes them in the biological definition. And indeed it is doubtful
whether "purpose" is not covertly introduced in the very definition of
life as "the continuous adaptation of inner relations to outer

The question is a very nice one, and brings us at once to the obscure
confines of the organic and the inorganic worlds. How, for instance,
from the laws of the moving equilibrium, as derived from the study of
the solar system, are we to regard the movements of an infusorium? "An
infusorium swims randomly about, determined in its course not by a
perceived object to be pursued or escaped, but, apparently, by varying
stimuli in its medium; and its acts unadjusted in any appreciable way to
ends, lead it now into contact with some nutritive substance which it
absorbs, and now into the neighbourhood of some creature by which it is
swallowed and digested.... The conduct is constituted of actions so
little adjusted to ends, that life continues only as long as the
accidents of the environment are favourable."[6]

This is one of Mr. Spencer's transitional passages. The infusorium is a
moving equilibrium. Consequently it rearranges its forces for
self-preservation in opposition to inimical forces of the environment,
and in harmony with favoring forces of the environment. The special
adjustment it displays is motion. But this is not communicated motion of
a mechanical description, such as the kick given to a foot-ball. Nor,
apparently, are we to regard its motions as due to a series of
mechanical motions of the molecules of the environment. The action of
the environment is expressed as being a stimulus. Does this mean a
chemical action? Or does it refer to the action of heat and light? If so
it means that the attractions and repulsions of atoms and the motions of
ether and of molecules, account for the movements of the infusorium.
There is certainly no "purpose" in such a theory. But then the question
arises, how do we apply the theory of the moving equilibrium to such an
assemblage of atoms thus acted upon to account for the fact that the
assemblage of atoms endeavours to prolong its existence by defence and
absorption or by absorption only? If it be said that it does not do so,
and that its movements have no food object, but are simply the effect of
chemical and mechanical action, then it is not an animal displaying
life, inasmuch as it does not adapt means to an end--motions to the end
of sustenance. If it be regarded as a moving equilibrium in this sense,
it is one of the same sort as the solar system, and not one of the sort
known as animals. Nevertheless, Mr. Spencer regards it as displaying
life, yet very little adjusted to ends; but again he regards its actions
as determined by external stimuli, without, however, explaining his

If we are to regard the motions of the infusorium as displaying life, it
must be by regarding them as adaptations of inner relations to outer
relations--the outer relations being food; but if its actions are merely
chemically and mechanically determined, then its conduct is not adapted
to or balanced against the action of any external relations, but is the
submissive consequent thereof. But if its conduct is altogether
determined by external relations we seem to be landed in a paradox. The
only escape is by the obvious inference that the definition of life
advanced by Mr. Spencer always implies an adaptation or adjustment or
action having the definite twofold object in view of sustenance and
self-protection employed _against_ the inimical forces of the
environment. Life adaptations are always for the accomplishment of the
end of self-preservation, either by the procuring of food, or by defence
against enemies--self-preservation primarily and afterwards the
continuation of the race. Therefore, if we regard the movements of the
infusoria as included in the definition of life we must regard them as
having in view the sustenance of the creatures. They are acts adapted to
ends. Are they then to be regarded as purposed actions? Life adaptations
seem to be distinguished from the changes wrought by external forces
upon a physical moving equilibrium in the fact, namely, that they act
towards a definite end, and therefore come into the class of purposed
actions. We cannot do more than indicate the difficulty. If we say these
actions are not purposed we allow that there may be purposed adaptation
of means to ends by chemistry and mechanics. If we say that chemistry
and mechanics do this, then we have to revise our meaning of chemistry
and mechanics, and that in a much more thorough manner than Mr. Spencer
has done in his treatment of the moving equilibrium.

That there are biological adjustments which do not manifest purpose we
experience every day in the thickening of the skin and the changes
wrought by climate or daily avocation, although it is true these
adjustments may receive a scientific explanation independently of their
being adaptations of means to ends. We also find that there are reflex
actions of organisms which take place in response to external stimuli
without any conscious purpose, such as breathing, digesting, &c. We are
also acquainted with the fact that purposed actions become by long habit
automatic. Indeed we have more experience of purposed actions becoming
automatic than of automatic or reflex actions becoming purposed.

Can there then be purpose without consciousness? There are adaptations
in the vegetable world as well as in the animal, and of these we do not
predicate conscious design. Nor can we, on the theory of life as the
adaptation of a moving equilibrium to its environment, admit that these
changes are due to mere happy accidents of origin and survival, for we
are required to account for them as necessary results of their existence
as moving equilibria. Yet if so the adjustments are so complex, so
marvellous in their relations to the insect world and the animal world
generally in view of their preservation and the propagation of their
species, that purpose or means adapted to ends is the apparent
characteristic. Means adapted to ends is denied in the "Happy Accident"
theory, and is sought to be explained by the "Moving Equilibrium"
theory. Yet when we come to consider the abstract conception of a moving
equilibrium derived from our solar system we can discern no endeavour
towards self-sustenance and self defence. No adaptations are there made
to secure either of these objects. There is no purpose manifested, and
no adjustment made in view of ends to be secured. On the other hand,
there are many adaptations in the animal and vegetable worlds which are
not consciously purposed. Since, however, ours is a critical task and
not a reconstructive work we need do no more than point out that
purposed actions in particular, and biological adaptations as a whole,
are not explainable by regarding organisms as aggregates of the chemical
elements acted upon by physical forces and constituting merely physical
moving equilibria, of which the laws are similar to those derived from a
consideration of moving equilibria like the solar system. Such a theory
does not admit of purposed action.

Stated in the abstract, the problem is how to explain the origin of
purpose in a moving equilibrium--commencing from the solar system and
proceeding to a self-feeding engine and pursuing our investigation to
the abstract moving equilibrium of forces in which external inimical or
favourable forces generate internal forces as a counterbalance, either
of opposition or harmony of adjustment. Thus stated, the problem is
purely of a dynamic nature, and would give an understanding of purpose
as a dynamic relation of aggregates of forces. This is the true
Spencerian view to take of the problem and its mode of settlement, but
it is one to which Mr. Spencer does not apply himself. In the absence of
such a study Mr. Spencer forsakes the true line of explanation required
by his philosophy.

But we think if we proceed more deeply into this study we shall find
purpose connected with consciousness. The question arises, must all
purpose be conscious purpose? Purpose implies the direction of action,
it implies an interval of time, it implies the accomplishment of a
result. In these respects it differs from chemical and mechanical
action. We have to ask what place consciousness finds in the
constitution and action of a moving equilibrium. Evidently it has no
place in the solar system, for physicists can make their calculations
without taking it into consideration as a factor. Yet the ideal or
abstract moving equilibrium, by whose aid we are endeavouring to
understand the actions of organisms, is derived from the consideration
of the solar system as a moving equilibrium. But reducing the problem
from the abstract to the concrete study of an organism, we have to ask
what place consciousness holds in a moving equilibrium of oxygen,
nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen, etc., in relation with an environment of
heat, light, etc. We find that it is in the main a factor in all those
classes of actions which we term purposed--that in so far as actions
depart from the chemical and mechanical, that in so far as aggregates
manifest the characteristics of life--namely, the adaptation of inner
relations to outer relations--the nearer do they approach the most
complete adaptation of means to the ends of complete living, and the
more do they manifest conscious purpose.

The theory has been propounded that consciousness is the result of
complexity in the combination of the chemical elements, a complexity
which can be explained on purely physical grounds. Mr. Spencer's biology
is partly worked so as to prove this theory. But it is evident that no
more can be got out of a deductive theory than is contained in the
original factors. It is useless to say that we do not sufficiently know
all the properties of the original factors, because that is to abandon
this particular theory, and to acknowledge its inadequacy. The admission
necessitates an attempt to re-state the original forces of the factors.
If this can be done it is equivalent to propounding a new theory, which
again must be judged by its deductive efficacy.

The theory that complexity of nervous structure--a structure produced by
chemical and mechanical combination--suffices to explain memory,
reflection, judgment, choice, and purpose, has been treated by Dr. Bain
and Professor Clifford at considerable length, and has been criticised
in our former works in great detail.[7]

The theory that organisms are the result of chemical and mechanical
combinations, and that consciousness is a concomitant of some processes
in the continuous existence of such physical combinations, throws all
the burthen of explanation just as fully upon the line of physical
causation as if there were no such concomitant of consciousness
whatsoever. The determining causes are wholly physical, and the chain of
sequence is complete within the lines of chemical and mechanical
relations. The fact that independent and concomitant consciousness
accompanies some of the actions in question is an interesting
circumstance, but although consciousness is produced as an effect, it
never on this theory produces any effects itself.

The attempt to amend the conceptions of the original chemical factors
(the sixty or seventy so-called elements,) and of the physical factors
(heat, light, etc.,) by the association with them of mind, feeling,
etc., has at various times produced vague theories. More particularly of
later years Professor Clifford's theory of mind-stuff has attracted a
great deal of attention. But, singular to say, Professor Clifford only
endeavoured to work out his theory in some vague semi-mechanical,
semi-subjective kind of way. It was not of such a sort that, given a
nebula such as we supposed to be the predecessor of the solar system, we
should be able to deduce from it the existing universe. The proper
statement of such a problem would be a statement of the relations not
merely of mind-stuff, but of mind-oxygen, mind-nitrogen, etc. The
conception would have to be of such a nature as to express the
mind-factor, mental side, or subjective aspect of oxygen, as related to
the mind-factor of nitrogen, etc., and how they variously affected the
conduct of the doubly-constituted atoms or of the more complex molecules
into which they formed themselves. But this is a mere indication of the
larger task of estimating the whole of the elementary substances, and
estimating the value and the action of their relative mind-factors. From
this would have to be determined the law of growth by which increasing
complexity evolved the continually increasing power of the mind-factor
in determining actions. Upon this might rest a rational basis for a
definition of life of such sort that the organic could be recognised as
arising out of the inorganic. And since the organic, in its latest and
highest development, is mainly distinguished by purposed actions,
purposed actions might be deemed to have evolved in a natural way out of
actions which were not purposed. But such a theory is not capable of
definite statement, and our philosophic object in endeavouring to
account for the origin of purposed action out of non-purposed action is
as far off as ever.

It might be as well here for the full satisfaction of the student, to
consider how far the origin of purposed action is taken account of by
Mr. Darwin, or is to be accounted for by his methods. There is a wide
distinction between Mr. Spencer's treatment of Biology and that of Mr.
Darwin. Mr. Spencer aims at a complete logical deductive system, and
endeavours to show how in the very nature of things, everything that is,
must have been what it is. Mr. Darwin's endeavour is not so ambitious.
He confines his studies to the field of biology, and to past histories
of living creatures, as preserved for us in the geological record. His
is a purely scientific work, not trespassing beyond the generalisation
of the facts with which he deals. These are large and immensely
important; so much so, that they cover the whole history of living
things: but his explanations only go a certain way. They are not
fundamental, and we are only led backwards in time to the original
twilight and ultimate darkness. His theory is strictly causational. The
explanation of existing organisms is to be found in the relations of
antecedent factors. Part of these we understand, and part of them we do
not understand. We do not understand the wherefore of genesis and
heredity, but we know them to be facts, and they form the basis for
large explanations. For if organisms are modifiable, ever-increasing
changes of structure and function can be produced and reproduced. The
increment of induced changes in various directions may in succeeding
generations be such as to obliterate all semblance of relationship to
the original ancestor. What are the laws of these changes it is Mr.
Darwin's great achievement to have explained. The struggle for
existence, the survival of the fittest, the adaptation to new
environments by the use and disuse of parts, the changes induced by
change of climate and food, or by the action of new organisms in the
environment, all these considerations open out to the astonished and
admiring gaze of man vast and interesting histories of changes such as
a discerning mind like Mr. Grant Allen revels in in his rambles through
the English fields.

The question arises how far Mr. Darwin's theories can be extended
philosophically, so as to explain what he accepts unexplained, viz.:
genesis, heredity, the origin of organisms out of the inorganic, the
gradual development of consciousness, the increase of feeling and
intelligence, and the advent of purposed conduct directed to the
achievement of definite and deferred ends? For all these points he
leaves undealt with as not coming within his scientific province.
Evidently his theories are not fitted to explain what they take for
granted. They cannot explain what they are founded upon. The origin of
organisms is unexplained: propagation of the species is accepted as an
unexplained fact, so are heredity and the presence of consciousness.
Purposed actions are not accounted for in Mr. Darwin's works.

But there is one point to which we wish to call attention as regards the
different method in which the changes of species are treated by Mr.
Spencer and Mr. Darwin. The former regards all changes as necessitated
by the laws of the moving equilibrium, so that a change of climate of
such a nature as to deprive an organism of the requisite moisture for
continued existence through a long period of time, would absolutely
necessitate some device on its part to counterbalance the external force
of drought. It would be a consequent in the very nature of things that
the plant should become thick and succulent like the cactus, or that the
animal should form for itself a reservoir for the storage of water.

Mr. Darwin's theory is very different. He advances the fact that
organisms, and more particularly those of the lower and simpler forms
constantly produce "sports." These are not chance accidents in the false
metaphysical sense of being uncaused, but are termed accidents as being
produced by some external or internal incident in the growth of the
embryo, which causes it to deviate in some point from the structure of
the parent. This "sport" may be to the advantage or to the detriment of
the new organism. If it should be the latter, it soon perishes: but if
it should assist the organism to a fuller life, then it will live longer
and better, and its progeny will in like manner survive to the detriment
of its fellows of the unimproved type. The accretion of changes produced
in this way, now in one direction, and now in another, together with the
influences elsewhere indicated, might do and no doubt has done much in
the development of species.

To this cause of change we give in no disrespectful spirit, the name of
the "Happy Accident Theory" as opposed to Mr. Spencer's "Moving
Equilibrium Theory," and would ask what it may and may not account for.
It may account for much within the limits of Mr. Darwin's enquiry, but
does it at all account for those fundamental facts which he takes for
granted--genesis, heredity and consciousness, or the origin of the
organic out of the inorganic. Could some inorganic aggregate, produced
by the relations of certain chemical compounds under the action of
light, heat, &c, accidentally take to generation by fission or
otherwise, and then by a succession of sports eventuate in sexual
generation? Could such a chemical combination accidentally become
conscious, and by a succession of sports organise its consciousness
into purpose? Into these regions we think we cannot carry the Happy
Accident Theory--the theory of sports. This is a valid and justifiable
theory within the limits of biology, though even here the estimate of
its results may be exaggerated; but beyond it and behind those limits it
is of no use. The very admission of it is a confession of ignorance and
incapacity to apprehend the exact line of causation; but so long as we
are satisfied that the accident or the sport which gives rise to a
variety, occurs within the scope of factors which we are able to
recognise, the incapacity to account for the special cause of a special
sport does not affect the general theory. But if any one should rashly
extend the application of the theory so as to explain the otherwise
unaccountable presence of a new factor, or advance it as an explanation
of a line of sequences not logically deducible from all that is included
in the mental appraisement of the original factors by which the system
of sequences is to be unified, then he makes a very great mistake

It is to guard against such a mistake that we take notice of the proper
limits to the applicability of Mr. Darwin's theory. Indeed we think it
is too commonly supposed that Mr. Darwin's theory is of the
universalistic scope of Mr. Spencer's theories; his work however is
purely of a scientific character relating to the province of Biology.

It will have been noticed that in the preceding argument we have not
dealt with the philosophical problem of the theory of knowledge. We have
simply taken the study of the cosmos in the historical order, finding
the inorganic as antecedent to the organic, the unconscious to the
conscious, a historical order which cannot be disputed whatever theory
of knowledge may be held.

We conclude therefore that in so far as the Data of Ethics is an attempt
to explain purposed actions and their ethical quality upon a
philosophical method of the kind propounded by Mr. Spencer, namely, as
included in a proper understanding of the cosmical process, and of the
histories of the universe consequent upon a knowledge of the relations
of its original factors--so far Mr. Spencer's work must be considered a
failure. That there is much of real scientific value in the work under
review, and much original insight and true apprehension of process, we
hold to be true; but this scientific value is much obscured by the vague
cosmical references which pervade an otherwise admirable study. As
stated at the outset of the chapter, we consider the attempt to
affiliate purposed actions upon the general lines of the cosmical
process to mar the effect of the work in its scientific aspect. The
fault is all the greater since Mr. Spencer rests the full stress of his
theories, not so much upon their limited scientific value, as upon the
soundness of the philosophic basis. For twenty years or more he has been
working from this basis, and in the course of his marvellous work has
had ever in view as his crowning achievement the establishment of Ethics
upon a cosmical basis through a cosmical process of which it should be
the glorious outcome. Ethics should be shown to be dominant and
imperative through the voice of the expanding universe. Yet, except as
showing Ethics to be a part of the study of Biology, the general laws of
the development of which are known, but which in its factors and their
relations and origin is utterly unknown, he has not succeeded. He
might, with the exception indicated, just as well have written his "Data
of Ethics" first as last.


[2] Data of Ethics, pp. 5 and 6.

[3] Data of Ethics, p. 61.

[4] See "On Mr. Spencer's Unification of Knowledge," Chap. I., ¶ 1, and
Chap. III, ¶ 4.

[5] On Mr. Spencer's "Unification of Knowledge," Chap. V.

[6] Data of Ethics, p. 10.

[7] On Mr. Spencer's "Unification of Knowledge," p. 231, _et seq._; and
see Dr. Bain's reply in "Mind," No. xxxi.



Modern thought since the publication of the "Origin of Species," has
been more and more forced into the recognition of ethics, (together with
all other forms of human conduct) as the result of a process of natural
growth. The factors out of which this growth arose are lost in the
obscurities of our ignorance, and many of the processes upon which it
has depended also surpass existing human powers of explanation. Science
has to take for granted the unexplained existence of organisms. For her
purposes she is obliged to begin by assuming certain primitive organisms
of some simple structure and functions. She is also obliged to admit,
although she does not understand, the facts of reproduction and of
heredity. Nor can she refuse to acknowledge a place in the history of
development, along with the factors of chemistry and of physics, to a
subjective factor called feeling, consciousness, mind, or however else
it may be best expressed. All these unexplainable but fundamental
verities of existence she has to assume. It is because these are
unexplained that science falls short of becoming a philosophy. But
within the range of their operation science can tell us much, and the
Darwinian doctrines have displayed before our eyes the wonderful
histories of change and growth through the preceding cycles of the
world's existence. Little doubt now remains in the minds of thoughtful
men as to the truth of biological development. The theory rests upon
such a wide induction of facts extending over so many branches of
science and over such remote periods of time, and withal as by a stroke
of magic it has so arranged all sorts of odd incomprehensible facts into
definite places in a well ordered organic history, that the mind can no
longer withhold its subjection to so imperial and cogent a scientific

Although the philosophical laws of biological development are as we have
seen beyond our reach, and although our theory of the accidental origin
of variations is rather lame, still there is much that can be expressed
in the formal statements called the Laws of Biological Development,
which throws light upon those processes of change and growth that have
led up from simple organic forms to the highest manifestation of life in
the human race. Mr. Spencer defines life as "the continuous adjustment
of inner relations to outer relations." This Mr. Spencer regards not
merely as a definition but as a law. Its philosophical justification is
sought in vain, but it may be accepted as a correct scientific
statement--not only of the non-conscious adaptations of organisms to
changes of the environment, (such as the thickening of the fur to resist
arctic cold, or protective change of colour to imitate physical
surroundings,) but also of the conscious adaptations by which higher
animals perform particular actions or undergo changes of habit.

As Mr. Spencer points out, the acceptance of this law implies not merely
an entire harmony between the existence of an organism and its
environment, but it also implies various degrees of life. The greater
the number and variety of correspondences established between an
organism and the immensities of the external world--immensities
displayed not only in the multiplicities of individual objects, but also
in the grandeur of their collective interrelations--the greater the
degree of life. Much stress is laid by Mr. Spencer upon this
Quantitative character of Life. Much more, indeed, than upon mere
continuity, although the latter is to a certain extent essential to the
former. Subordinate to this notion, advance in degree of life is found
to proceed from a simple, incoherent, and indefinite life to a more and
more definite, coherent and complex set of relations with the

But side by side with this development, and indeed in a manner to be
likened to that of a geometrical progression, the subjective factor has
advanced in relative importance. In its more rudimentary development,
Mr. Spencer finds pain to be the concomitant of those states of the
physical organism which tend to its destruction, and pleasure to be the
concomitant of those states which tend to its promotion. Thus hunger is
a pain indicative of the absence of those supplies of energy to be
obtained from the environment, which are requisite for the continuance
of the organism's activity, while the pleasure of feeding is concomitant
with the due supply of the energy necessary for the continuance of
organic function. Pleasure and pain, therefore, become motives, and the
attainment of the one and the avoidance of the other work together for
the continuance of life. Pleasures and pains are relative to the
organism--according to the physiological constitution and structure of
the organism so are its pleasures and its pains.

The concomitant of some of the structures and functions of the organism
has been not merely sentiency but perception. Mind has developed from
the distinguishment, identification, and recognition of modes of
sentiency. These functions and structures have been accompanied by
pleasure and pain, and have formed the basis of the pleasures of
intellectual activity in their multiform variety. From their very nature
in relation to the environment they have increased wonderfully the
quantitative development of life.

With the increase of mind has proceeded the recognition of the part
played in the organic universe by feeling. This recognition of the
existence of feeling--of the susceptibilities of external organisms to
pleasure and pain--has formed the basis of a large part of the
adaptations of organisms in relation to their organic environment.
Adaptations revealing this recognition are to be seen not only more
manifestly in the actions of man and the animals, but also in the
functions of plants, strange as this may seem.

With this increase of general intelligence has proceeded an increase of
rational knowledge of the causal relationships of phenomena: and with
the increase of the knowledge of human motives has proceeded an
increased knowledge of the sequences of actions. Thus larger rational
judgments of the consequences of actions have been attained.

Following upon the increased recognition of pleasure and pain as
motives, and upon the increased amount of rational judgment as to the
sequences of actions, has come the adaptation of conduct to the pains
and pleasures of others. Those adaptations have, however, been relative
to the particular constitution of the Ego, and relative also to the
constitution of the environing Egos.

The knowledge of the existence of sentiency in external organisms may be
turned to the account of the Ego by inflicting pain, so as to coerce
other sentient organisms to its own selfish objects; or, again, by
conferring pleasure, so as to subserve the same end. Thus cruelty may be
a natural pleasure in certain early stages of development, as a
concomitant of necessities of existence, and may remain by inheritance
long after the necessities have passed away. But with the increase of
life has occurred the increase of sympathy. It is a law of nature that
after the pleasures of the ego are satisfied they are augmented by the
contemplation of similar enjoyments of others. But this again is
relative. The gourmand likes the society of gourmands, and cares not for
the company of the æsthetic or the ascetic. The man of taste revels in
the society of kindred natures and despises the pleasures of the base.
But the family relation has been the main source of all sweet and manly
sympathies: and it has been the gradually widening scope of social
organisations which has spread more and more the feeling of human
sympathy. The course of history exhibits to us a constant growth, not
merely in passively refraining from the infliction of pain, but also in
the active endeavour to promote the happiness of our fellow creatures.

This is a general statement of the scientific view of purposed conduct.
Its laws are derived from a study of its growth. The growth is one
exhibiting several distinguishable features. There has been the ordinary
biological "struggle for existence," and "survival of the fittest."
There have been adaptations necessitated by the action of the
environment, and there have been chance variations within the lines of
causation which, benefitting the individual or some particular race,
have given them such an advantage in the battle of life as to secure for
their descendants a preponderating possession of the good things of the
world. There has been the increase of intelligence, the increase in the
organisation of society, the increase of rational judgments of phenomena
and human actions. There has been increased knowledge of the
determination of actions by motives. There has been increase of

But what is the ethical virtue of this historical study is not very
clear. The history of human developments is a matter of natural history
and no more. And even if we proceed as we might do, to study more in
detail the history of the development of notions of right and wrong and
of the various changeful applications of those terms, we are still
within the limits of a natural history--we are still holding the merely
scientific or observant attitude. It is true such study may be essential
to our future history: but the mere study of what has been, and the
consequent pre-vision of what will be, establishes no rule of right. To
prophecy the determining courses of future human conduct does not
furnish an ethical imperative to the individual. "If so it will be," he
may say, "so let it be, it is no affair of mine. The obligation rests
with nature and not with me." Whence then the new "regulative system,"
the want of which fills Mr. Spencer with alarm? Where shall we look for
the new gospel which shall restrain and vivify the moral conduct of
future generations in place of the supernatural systems which are
supposed to be tottering to their fall?

And if we go beyond this and find that this natural history of man is
governed by general laws of adaptation and development we shall still
have to question the ethical discernment and ethical authority in
special junctures, when what is--is judged not to be what it ought to
be; when, in fact, adaptations or biological facts, or equilibrations
produced by evolution, are judged not to be ethically good

However, Mr. Spencer holds that rules of right conduct can be
established on a scientific basis, and it is our task to examine his
treatment of the problem.

"Though this first division of the work terminating the Synthetic
Philosophy, cannot, of course, contain the specific conclusions to be
set forth in the entire work; yet it implies them in such wise that,
definitely to formulate them requires nothing beyond logical deduction.

"I am the more anxious to indicate in outline if I cannot complete this
final work, because the establishment of rules of right conduct on a
scientific basis is a pressing need. Now that moral injunctions are
losing the authority given by their supposed sacred origin, the
secularization of morals is becoming imperative. Few things can happen
more disastrous than the decay and death of a regulative system, no
longer fit, before another and fitter regulative system has grown up to
replace it. Most of those who reject the current creeds, appear to
assume that the controlling agency furnished by it may be safely thrown
aside, and the vacancy left unfilled by any other controlling agency.
Meanwhile, those who defend the current creeds allege that in the
absence of the guidance it yields, no guidance can exist; divine
commandments they think the only possible guides. Thus between these
extreme opponents there is a certain community. The one holds that the
gap left by disappearance of the code of supernatural ethics, need not
be filled by a code of natural ethics; and the other holds that it
cannot be so filled. Both contemplate a vacuum which the one wishes and
the other fears. As the change which promises or threatens to bring
about this state, desired or dreaded, is rapidly progressing, those who
believe that the vacuum can be filled, are called on to do something in
pursuance of their belief."[8]

It is clear, from the above passage, that Mr. Spencer seeks not merely a
knowledge of the laws of past developments, which have landed us in our
present position with regard to moral obligation in general and the
varied social regulations extant in different societies, but he seeks in
addition to strengthen and establish on a new basis the authority of all
such obligations. What Mr. Spencer hopes for is a practical end. He
seeks the art of good living. As there are sciences of chemistry,
metallurgy, electricity, etc., and arts consequent upon them, so he
looks for Rules of Life which shall benefit humanity, consequent upon
the Science of Humanity. But it is a question whether the Moral
Imperative can be regarded as the result of science. However, if not the
result, yet science may be able to discern that the Moral Imperative is
so firmly established in human nature, that it may be able to proclaim
loudly its empire in the heart and over the actions of man; while at the
same time Science may be able to guide it to wiser and better judgments.

The task we have before us is to pursue Mr. Spencer's course of
thought, undertaken in this spirit, through the succeeding chapters of
his work. Neglecting minor criticisms and passing over much valuable
teaching, our business is to follow the main course of his reasoning and
examine the chief grounds for such authority and guidance which he
finally presents to us as the outcome of his study.


[8] Introduction to "Data of Ethics," p. 3.



We shall best arrive at an adequate estimate of Mr. Spencer's ethical
system by studying first what he terms the biological view of ethics.
But to do this properly requires a survey not only of Chapter VI., which
bears this title, but also of the following chapter, which deals with
the psychological view. We hold that Mr. Spencer, in this division of
his subject into separate stages, makes a false arrangement of his
studies. For as on the one hand he endeavours to include the study of
biology as a branch of physics, on the other hand he treats it as
incapable of comprehensive developmental study apart from the factors of
feeling and mind. These divisions are marked features of the form into
which Mr. Spencer has thrown his study of human conduct, but they do not
correspond with his actual treatment of the subject. The course of
thought cannot be fitted into the formal outline. It is found that the
understanding of biology is as dependent upon a knowledge of psychology
as it is upon a knowledge of physics. The sequence of dependent stages
as set forth does not hold good. The conduct of animal and perhaps
vegetable organisms is not explicable as the action of mere physical
aggregates, and is little understood without the admission of a
subjective factor of feeling or mind. It is all very well for Mr.
Spencer to argue, as he does in Chapter V., on the "Physical View," that
since all conduct is objectively physical action it may be separately
studied from the physical point of view; but since the actions of
organisms are not to be explained within the limits of physical laws
this is a very useless reminder, and Mr. Spencer himself makes nothing
of the study since he cannot work out the line of causation in terms of
the physical factors only. On the other hand we find that our author has
not proceeded three pages into the biological view before he introduces
the subjective factors of Pleasure and Pain, which he eventually
establishes not merely as the accompaniments of life-sustaining and
life-diminishing acts, but even as the causes of further actions which
shall at the same time tend to secure Pleasure and avoid Pain, and thus
sustain the organism in a continuance of existence. Only for three pages
can the purely biological view of animal organisms as physical moving
equilibria be maintained; and then with section 32 comes the
introduction of subjective factors--factors which are treated not merely
as the concomitants of physical processes conducted wholly within and
according to the laws of physical sequence, but as actual factors
interfering with and affecting the line of causation. It is true Mr.
Spencer recognises and deals with the difficulty which obviously arises
as to the separability of the psychological view from a biological view
which admits the factors of Pleasure and Pain. But the distinction he
makes, while justifiable, does not deal with the fundamental difficulty.
Psychology treats, roughly speaking, of mentality; it comprises a study
of the establishment of sets of inner relations, (_i.e._, associations
of thought, relations of ideas, relations of sequences, the powers of
remembrance, of discrimination and identification,) with sets of
external relations, namely, the actual existences of which the inner
relations are the representatives. The establishment of such inner
relations corresponding to outer relations and their widening growth,
must have a marked influence upon human conduct so that it may very well
be separated for convenience of study from the earlier forms of organic
conduct, in which such action is little recognisable. But how to form
the connective law is the difficulty. Moreover, it is one thing to
establish the fact of evolution, and another thing to explain it. We
ourselves admit the fact, indeed, but search in vain for the

Are we to look for the origin of Pleasure and Pain in those laws of the
moving equilibrium which necessitate the generation of internal forces
equal and in opposition to external inimical forces? If so, Pleasure and
Pain must be regarded as forces--as factors--in the organism, and we
must regard the subjective as generated by external physical factors
operating upon internal physical factors, and we must regard these
subjective factors not merely as concomitant, but as producing physical
effects by way of reaction.

So far as it goes there may be a physical view of purposed conduct, and
so far as it goes there may be a psychological view, but between the two
the biological view is a mere disorderly mixture, borrowing its terms
first on one hand and then on the other, and assigning its determining
causes first to the physical moving equilibrium theory, and then again
to the anticipation of Pleasure and Pain. But the biological law which
should co-ordinate these two sets of laws is not formulated, and hence
we find more or less gliding, or more or less sudden transition from one
set of terms or laws to the other, a defect which is concealed in some
measure by the formal divisions of the chapters. But if the course of
thought is carefully followed it is found that the actual treatment does
not properly fit in. There is an unmistakeable transition from the
purely physical set of factors to the purely subjective, and there is no
co-ordinated biological law at all. The chapter is a transitional one,
it is true, but only in the sense of gradually leaving off the
employment of one set of terms, and the gradual employment of another
set of terms in the treatment of the same phenomena.

Mr. Spencer argues well in Chapter V. as to the concomitance of
pleasure-giving acts with life-sustaining acts, and of pain-giving acts
with decrease of life; but which is prior in the chain of causation? Or,
to repeat the old difficulty, is the subjective factor present in the
line of causation at all? Is it merely a concomitant of the physical
line of events?

Mr. Spencer proposes to deal with feelings and functions in their mutual
dependence,[9] and so admits the subjective as a factor. Thus there are
feelings which are sensations and serve partly as guides and partly as
stimuli towards actions for the sustenance and preservation of life.
And there are feelings which are classed as emotions which also act in a
very potent way as guides and stimuli, such as fear and joy. Hence, in
treating of conduct under its biological aspect we are compelled to
consider that inter-action of feelings and functions which is essential
to animal life in all its more developed forms.[10]

Following upon this we are taught that Pleasure is a feeling which we
seek to bring into consciousness, and Pain a feeling which we seek to
keep out of consciousness. This certainly accords to the subjective
factor a commanding position in the physical action of organisms; it
also implies a foresight of the results of actions, and a certain degree
of advance in psychology but throws no light upon the lower stages of
biological action. Mr. Spencer says, however, that "fit connections
between acts and results must establish themselves in living things even
before consciousness arises." This is followed by an interesting study
of the proposition that "after the rise of consciousness these
connections can change in no other way than to become better
established," and that "whenever sentiency makes its appearance as an
accompaniment, its forms must be such that in the one case the produced
feeling is of a kind that will be sought--Pleasure, and in the other
case is of a kind that will be shunned--Pain." "It is an inevitable
deduction from the hypothesis of evolution that races of sentient
creatures could have come into existence under no other conditions" than
that "pains are the correlatives of actions injurious to the organism,
while pleasures are the correlatives of actions conducive to its

All this may be admitted, granted the existence of the subjective
factor; but at what stage does it commence to have such a potent
influence upon the development of organisms, and whence came it at all?
Mr. Spencer says, "fit connections between acts and results must
establish themselves in living things even before consciousness arises."
"At the very outset life is maintained by persistence in acts which
conduce to it, and desistance from acts which impede it." It would seem
that if life can be maintained by means of unconscious persistence in
beneficial acts and unconscious desistance from injurious acts, such a
process might continue in more complex organisms without the assistance
of consciousness, and that the continuance and development of life could
be explained in terms of the same factors and processes which originated
life, and regulated and propagated the existence of races in the lowest
forms of organisms. Mr. Spencer clearly holds that such races of
organisms were originated and maintained by the action of physical laws
before sentiency became a factor in their sustaining or generative
actions. What need then for sentiency in the subsequent development? Mr.
Spencer's argument is good, that, granted the concomitance of Pleasure
and Pain with life-sustaining and life-diminishing acts respectively,
the attainment of the one and the avoidance of the other acts on the
increase of life; but he says that, previous to the advent of sentiency,
life was sustained in much the same way. There is this difference in it,
however, that only where the requisite acts were performed or avoided in
pre-sentient organisms did such organisms continue to exist, and that
these acts were not consciously performed, but only happened in the
course of physical sequence; whereas in the case of sentient creatures
Pleasure is consciously sought, and Pain is intentionally avoided. But
it seems to us that when acts are determined by the anticipation of
Pleasure or Pain, we enter upon the domain of psychology, and when they
are determined by physical factors without consciousness we remain in
the province of physics, so that there is no intermediate science of
Biology at all. And by this we mean, not that for convenience we may not
so arrange our classes of study, but that there are no laws of physics
which will account for the development of organisms, and there are no
biological processes which do not imply the action of a subjective
factor; and that there is no true biological law which properly
expresses the correllation of the two. Mr. Spencer starts with a Biology
from which the subjective is completely absent, and ends with a
Psychology of the highest description: but he fails to express the
biological law which accounts for the growth of the one out of the
other, or expresses the law of their correlation in a concomitant

How then can we arrive at any ethical rule by the study of Biology? In
this way. An organism is a moving equilibrium: it is a law of moving
equilibria that they counterbalance by means of new adjustments
antagonistic forces in the environment, and absorb forces from the
environment favourable to their continuance. Their continued existence
depends upon such continuous absorption and adjustment. But as
environment varies, so do adjustments; and thus there is a wonderful
variety of different moving equilibria, which form important parts of
one another's environment. The suitable structures and functions which
have thus been evolved are therefore relative to the environment, and
the inherited structure and functions forming a moving equilibrium are
fitted for particular environments and no other. There is no absolute
moving equilibrium; all are relative. "That which was defined as a
moving equilibrium, we define biologically as a balance of functions.
The implication of such a balance is that the several functions in their
kinds, amounts, and combinations, are adjusted to the several activities
which maintain and constitute complete life; and to be so adjusted is to
have reached the goal towards which the evolution of conduct continually
tends." But completeness of life means primarily the completeness of
life in each individual organism as regards its continued existence, and
the full satisfaction of all its functions during the period of its
existence. The biologically good is all that conduces to this end, and
the biologically bad is all that detracts from it. The biologically good
and bad are therefore relative to the consensus of functions which
constitute an animal or other organism. The biologically good and bad
are therefore individual. That which is good for the individual is the
right conduct, and that which is bad for it is wrong conduct. It is
therefore right for the big fishes to eat the little ones, for the bird
to prey upon the insect; it is a fit satisfaction for the functions of
the lion to devour the antelope, for one tribe to slay or drive out
another tribe in order to possess itself of more fertile plains and more
delightful countries. And so, as long as the functions delight in
egoism, and there is no counterforce of sympathy included among them, it
is right to tyrannise, to subject others to the service or passions of
the dominant organisms. They subserve the biological law--they are
conducive to complete relative life. The biological law does not
recognise the lives of others until sympathy has become part of the
functions of the organism.

The question here arises, how far the ethical law is to be determined by
the biological law, for if the biological law is dominant, and the
ethical dependant, the latter can only be explained and justified by the
former. But we at once see that the two things are not identical and
co-extensive. We recognise the difference between the biologically
efficient and the ethically good and bad. The law of Biology refers to
the actions of each individual in regard to itself alone, whatever the
functions, etc., which constitute that self. It relates to its good
alone, irrespective of the good of others, unless, and until, sympathy
with others has become part of the functions of the individual.

But Mr. Spencer seeks to make the biological view of conduct identical
with the ethical by introducing the conception of quantitative life. In
this case an organism has more life the greater the number of
correspondences it has with the environment. And since the environment
is constituted of two classes of objects, the objective and the
subjective--the purely physical and the organisms possessing feeling--so
the correspondences established in the individual are of two kinds, the
psychological and the emotional. In the former class are comprised all
the objects and relations of the inorganic world, the great laws and
intricacies of nature and her past history, including the history of
organisms and of man. In the latter are included all the feeling, living
creatures around us, with their pleasures, hopes, and pains, and all the
characters, noble and beautiful, delicate or brutal, passionate or
aspiring, who have ever trod the stage of history, or wrought or thought
for us in antecedent ages. In fact all the patient work and mighty
achievements of science, and all the emotional relations of men have
afforded scope for the quantitative increase of life; and in proportion
to the increase so it is suggested that life became ethical. The
biological law is the continuous adjustment of organisms to environment,
and the increase of adjustment is the increase of life.

This may be so; but it is a denial of Ethics as being coeval with
Biology; it makes the one simply a late outcome of the other. According
to this view, Ethics is something which has supervened upon the process,
and which requires a separate analysis. But we have seen that increase
of correspondence is of two kinds--it takes place in the direction of
intellect, and it takes place in the direction of emotion, whether of
sympathy or antipathy. But it is with the latter class of phenomena
alone that Ethics is concerned. The increased quantitative life which is
identical with the increase of knowledge has no ethical aspect. It is
increased relations of an emotional nature only which admit that term.
In fact it is to societarian relations alone that it is applicable.
Increase of life may proceed in the direction of intellect or
recognition of the facts and relations of the external world, and yet
the life may never be termed ethical; while on the other hand there may
be but little increase of intellect, yet a great increase of ethical
relations. Therefore, increased quantitative life, considered as a mode
of identifying the biological law with the ethical law, except by way of
comprehension in a larger classification, fails in the end because it
is not true that the increase of correspondences need be in the special
direction of increase of emotional correspondences: and thus we find
that ethics is not to be affiliated upon the main line of biological
progress, but with one distinguishable result of it--namely the relation
of the individual with its subjective environment--that is to say,

And here it is fit that we should take notice of Mr. Spencer's account
of Good and Bad Conduct, given in chapter 3 of the "Data of Ethics." A
good knife, gun, or house are such in virtue of their capacity for
fulfilling the purposes for which they were designed. A good day or a
good season are such as satisfy certain of our desires. A good pointer
or a good ox are so in reference to certain of our requirements. A good
jump, or good stroke at billiards, are those which accomplish the
desired ends. And bad things are those which do not subserve desired

Mr. Spencer then proceeds to study the ethically good and bad, and to
discuss the application of these terms to actions as regards the welfare
of self, of offspring, and of fellow citizens. Acts are said to be good
and bad according as they affect the welfare of self. Here it is
indicated that acts are judged according to their degree of biological
efficiency. In the next class--namely, acts relating to offspring--a
father and mother are again judged according to their efficiency in
those capacities, although the egoistic element is present in a
subordinate degree. "Most emphatic, however, are the applications of the
words good and bad to conduct throughout that third division of it
comprising the deeds by which men affect one another. In maintaining
their own lives" (biological laws) "and fostering their offspring,
men's adjustments of acts to ends are so apt to hinder the kindred
adjustments of other men, that insistence on the needful limitations has
to be perpetual; and the mischiefs caused by men's interferences with
one another's life-subserving actions are so great, that the interdicts
have to be peremptory."

The general meaning of "good" and "bad" as applied to actions, then, has
reference to their efficiency. The differences of their meaning are due
to the end regarded. The meanings are harmonised, however, when we
consider that they are applicable to different degrees in the evolution
of conduct; the conduct to which we apply the name good is the
relatively more evolved conduct, and "bad is the name we apply to
conduct which is relatively less evolved. This involves a reference to
the three stages of biological evolution, the individual, the offspring,
and society."

"Lastly, we inferred that establishment of an associated state, both
makes possible and requires a form of conduct such that life may be
completed in each and in his offspring, not only without preventing
completion of it in others, but with furtherance of it in others; and we
have found that this is the form of conduct most emphatically termed
good."[11] From this Mr. Spencer infers the contemporaneous achievement
of the greatest totality of life in self, and this is supposed to
vindicate the affiliation of Ethics upon Biology.

We have, however, already shown that the enlargement of the relations
between the individual and the subjective environment is the special
ethical relation, and that the enlargement of the relations between the
individual and the objective environment is non-ethical, thus
specialising the ethical interpretation of the enlargement of biological
relations. We must also notice that Mr. Spencer's affiliation of biology
with ethics relates to a remote ideal future and not to an actual
present or a historic past. The biological law is the adaptation of the
individual to its own special surroundings, and not the adaptation of
its remote and changed descendant to its remote and changed environment.
According to the fitness of the individual for supplying itself with
food, whether of a vegetable or animal nature, and according to its
capacities for, self preservation or defence, so will it be deemed
biologically perfect. This is a relative, an individual standard,
without reference to the subjective environment except in so far as this
subjective environment subserves some internal function of sympathy. But
even in this case the ethical relation is subordinate to the biological
and is relative to the actual individual and not to a future ideal
descendant. Moreover, the biological standard is always individual and
singular and is not societarian.

We therefore come to the conclusion that the biological point of view
does not furnish us with any ethical theory. The biological law is not
individual completeness; it is individual suitability to environment. It
is true, individual greatness may be the most complete life; but when
that is not possible from the nature of the inherited organism, or from
the nature of the surroundings, then the actually best thing, because
relatively best, is conformity to the surroundings. The man who cannot
adapt the environment to himself will prudently adapt himself to the
environment. That is the biological law; whether it be the ethical law
is another question. Abstract quantitative life may not be attainable
either intellectually or in relation to the emotional surroundings.
Therefore the more skilful adaptation having in view the particular
functions of the organisms, (whether they include sympathies with the
subjective surroundings, or not), is the biological law--although it may
not be regarded as the ethical law.

Quantitative life, viewed biologically, _i.e._, individually, does not
mean an ideal quantitative life, but the most that an individual
organism can get. This depends upon the organism's own nature and
capacities, and upon the nature of the environment. That some
descendents some day may have other natures and other surroundings, is
not to the point. The presence of subjective surroundings in the
environment affects the individual according to the nature of his own
feelings: it affects him in the first place according to his possession
or non-possession of sympathy, and in the second place according to his
position of command or subserviency.

If Biology takes cognisance of Ethics, it is from a prudential point of
view alone. It means a recognition of the penalties of legal enactments
or social laws. As a matter of calculation it takes account of the
consequences of actions, and the conduct varies accordingly.

And if we are unable to accept the biological view as identical with the
fundamentals of Ethics, so we are unable to accept the correlative that
the preponderance of pleasurable feelings is indicative of the ethically
correct life. For this criterion again is relative to the individual,
and prescribes that course of conduct which to him is most largely
pleasurable. It is only ethical when the surrounding conditions are
such as to make the personally pleasurable harmonise with what is also
pleasurable to the subjective environment--again showing the external or
social origin and authority of the ethical imperative.

Before quitting this subject, it would-be as well to notice the narrow
limitation assigned to the relation of feeling and function in the
chapter on the biological view. Pleasure is there described as the
correlative of life-sustaining acts, and Pain as the correlative of
life-destructive acts; and we are told that under these conditions alone
sentient creatures could evolve. This would apparently limit the range
of the evolution of feeling to those classes of actions which are
essential to the mere continuance of existence. If the growth of feeling
is co-extensive with the growth of actions essential to existence, then
Pleasure and Pain should be limited to the feelings involved in the
supply of food, the escape from enemies, the pursuit of prey, &c. If to
these should be added the larger, but as yet unexplained, view of
Biology, which makes the individual a part only of a greater moving
equilibrium--namely the species to which he belongs--then there will be
an extension of feeling (that is, of Pleasure and Pain) to the acts
requisite for the propagation of the race and the care of off-spring.
But to these two classes of functions, human pleasures and pains are not
limited. Beyond what may be termed the essential growth of feeling,
there has been a super-growth of feeling concomitant with every
extension of the correspondences between the inner relations and the
outer relations. In the converse of the organism with its environment
there has grown up a vast extension of knowledge as to external facts;
and in the classification and reasoning upon these there has supervened
a vast interest, which has been pleasurable quite apart from any
life-sustaining necessity. So in the arts of life there has arisen a
pleasure in the exercise of ingenuity and skill of manufacture, far
above the requisites for bodily preservation. In the spread of
æstheticism and the appreciation of the beautiful in Painting, Statuary,
Architecture and Decoration generally, there has been manifested an
amount of taste or feeling, utterly beyond any value it may have as
"life-sustaining." Poetry, Music, Literature, along with all the other
highest manifestations of civilization, are not the outcome of the
necessities of existence, but a work super-imposed upon the poor and
bare adaptations which are sufficient for simple existence. The same may
be said of all those fine sympathies of man for man, of man for noble
ideals of humanity, and even of the more homely love and good feeling of
simple natures. Our friendships, our admirations, all that makes man
something over and above the mere brute animals, is due to this larger
growth of feeling beyond what is essential to the mere continuance of
life--and if we should identify Pleasure and Pain merely with the
conditions of life-sustaining and life-destructive acts, we should form
a very inadequate conception of their place in human life. This of
course is on the understanding that the biological law implies only self
continuance or race continuance. That this is Mr. Spencer's original
view is manifest from the fact that he theoretically derives life from
the consideration of the laws of the moving equilibrium. But if we take
the larger view, (which, however, is not derivable from the former),
that life is correspondence between inner relations and outer
relations, and is to be measured quantitatively by the increase of the
number of correspondences, then of course the whole estimation of
pleasures and pains is changed.

Under the latter view the organism enters into correspondence with all
the individual objects of the environment, and not only has a present
regard, but a past and a future interest. The scope of interest in the
larger minds embraces long lines of history leading up and down the eras
of development. In narrow measures of family or local interest, the
social feeling has first risen, but as the framework of tribes or
nations becomes knit together, so the social feelings acquire a wider
interest. The merely biological interests have become enlarged by means
of an internal growth, so as to have regard for other sentient
existences. Altruism becomes a part of Egoism. We care for others, not
by compulsion, but from natural growth of interest. Into the causes and
incidents of this growth it is not necessary to enter. It is a simple
fact of human nature that the pains and pleasures of others affect us
much, and sometimes very keenly indeed.

Thus we find that the purely biological law, regarded as the adjustment
of a moving equilibrium to its environment, derived from and exemplified
in the physical moving equilibrium of the solar system, the spinning
top, the steam engine, &c, does not afford us much insight into ethical
theory, even if the equilibrations have a concomitant of feeling. In any
approach from the purely biological towards the ethical, we are thrown
for our explanations upon efficient subjective factors--upon the
interaction of feeling organisms and sympathetic organisms.

If we attempt to apply the biological law as an explanation of the
super-growth of correspondences over and above the actual necessities of
continued existence, and as an explanation of the growth of sympathy or
altruism, we have to suppose that the external forces have generated in
the organism internal forces in opposition or balance therewith. But
this theory of the moving equilibrium, difficult to understand and
accept in its simplest applications, transcends all powers of human
comprehension when it attempts to deal with the subjective relations of
organisms, and, it appears to us, entirely fails to account for the
growth of sympathy or altruistic feeling.


The fact of the existence of altruistic feelings in the texture of the
Ego has led to the theory that all altruistic actions, since they arise
out of the constitution of the Ego, are really egoistic. This argument
is irresistible. A kind, sympathetic man or woman is so by virtue of
innate qualities, just as the selfish or the brutal man is. And if the
justification of actions were to depend upon the authority of natural
egoism the one is as much capable of justification as the other. If
Ethics depends for its explanation and justification upon Biology, then,
since the view of Biology is limited to the individual and means the
suitable adjustment of every moving equilibrium to its special
environment, each is capable of equal justification and similar
explanation. Egoism may include Altruism or it may not, but in either
case the action is equally valid from the point of view of Biology.

If, however, an extension of this view be argued for on the theory that
a rationalistic view of all the requirements of the subjective
surroundings involves a certain line of conduct in order to secure a
suitable adaptation between the organism and the environment, which
shall be the equation of that organism, the best adaptation for the time
being--this will be a superior, because a more extended, biological
aspect of conduct, and it is not disputed that such a view of life may
be more or less acted upon.

But neither the Ego-altruistic view, nor the prudential rationalistic
view attains to the true ethical point of view of human conduct; for the
altruistic growth in the Ego is not universal, nor of equal development;
and the prudential rationalistic motive is purely egoistic and
biological, and therefore adverse to the altruistic, even if it exists
in the Ego.

The main object of the present argument is to shew that the purely
biological explanation of ethical injunctions is insufficient as a means
of understanding their imperative character. And yet it is difficult to
say this if Biology is to be considered as the law of actions of
organisms. It all depends upon the factors which are included in the
generalisation. If the factors are simply physical, then the
generalisation is insufficient; if the forces included in the moving
equilibrium include subjective forces capable of growth into sympathy or
Altruism, then the biological laws receive, perhaps, an extension which
renders them capable of determining the whole of the phenomena. But if
Pleasure and Pain are limited to life-sustaining acts or
life-destructive acts, then the influence of the subjective factors is
limited to the physical, and the super-growth of correspondences of
inner with outer (which is necessary to explain the larger growth of
feeling) transgresses the narrow limits of the biological law--the law
of simple equilibration between the organism and its environment.

It is well now to raise the question what is the object of ethical
enquiry. Is it merely scientific determination of the origin, growth,
and variations of ethical opinion? Is it a natural history of human
conduct, more particularly of that part of it called ethical? Is it an
investigation into the natural authority of ethical injunction? Is the
object to establish ethical authority, or to show that ethics has no
authority, or to enable us to conform to it and administer it
intelligently? Generally speaking, is it a scientific enquiry for the
information of our minds, or is it investigated for the enforcement of
ethical injunctions?

It is to be presumed that we have both ends in view. Knowledge must
precede power. Light must go before footsteps. At least, so it must be
if intellect is to rule. As a matter of fact, Ethics has not been so
much a reasoned out system of conduct as a worked out system to be
afterwards reasoned about. Morality has been the interbalance, growth,
and counterbalance of subjective and sympathetic individuals. Then it
became something to reason about, to modify by reason in the the
application to remoter ends and larger bodies of the principles out of
which it arose. But the province of reason is not to supersede those
principles, nor to weaken their authority, which indeed it could not do,
for the forces which produced morality are ever present to sustain it,
and, indeed, acquire age after age an increasing force.


[9] Data of Ethics, p. 78.

[10] Ibid, p. 78.

[11] Ibid, p. 25.



We now enter upon the study of Ethics proper. Notwithstanding Mr.
Spencer's attempt at the outset of the chapter to identify "right
living" with the universal biological principle that "Given its
environment and its structure, and there is for each kind of creature a
set of actions adapted in their kinds, amounts, and combinations to
secure the highest conservation its nature permits," the fact still
remains that the ethical imperative is drawn from the social
surroundings, and is not derivable from the adaptation to environment,
unless the environment be of a subjective character requiring an
adaptation to it as such. Mr. Spencer considers that "there is a
supposable formula for the activity of each species, which, could it be
drawn out, would constitute a system of morality for that species,"
although "such a system of morality would have little or no reference to
the welfare of others than self and offspring." We cannot concede that
the formula of activities for a worm by which it maintains its
existence, is a formula of morality; nor can we admit that the
longest-lived oyster is the most moral of oysters. Systems of morality
which relate to the welfare of self and offspring alone are in the
latter instance confessedly of a very limited character, and when
entirely confined to self it would seem that we lose all ethical quality
whatsoever. We continually find in Mr. Spencer's exposition that,
notwithstanding his attempt to affiliate Ethics upon the biological law,
it is only in the increased correlation of subjective individuals that
Ethics arises, and it is only the modification of the individual by
society, and the mental or emotional growths in the individual
consequent on the action of the social environment, that constitute the
groundwork of Ethics.

It is true that, since society is composed of individuals, the nature
and constitution of the units has to be considered in their mutual
interaction, and therefore the study must have a biological basis: but
when we have to consider the special action of the compound social
environment upon the individual, the study is not one which can be
properly considered from the purely biological side, nor is it to be
comprised within the formula of individual life. With respect to the
social environment Mr. Spencer says, "This additional factor in the
problem of complete living, is, indeed, so important that the
necessitated modifications of conduct have come to form a chief part of
the code of conduct. Because the inherited desires, which directly refer
to the maintenance of individual life, are fairly adjusted to the
requirements, there has been no need to insist on that conformity to
them which furthers self-conservation. Conversely, because these
desires prompt activities that often conflict with the activities of
others, and because the sentiments responding to other's claims are
relatively weak, moral codes emphasise those restraints on conduct which
the presence of fellow men entails. From the sociological point of view,
then, Ethics becomes nothing else than a definite account of the forms
of conduct that are fitted to the associated state, in such wise that
the lives of each and all may be the greatest possible, alike in length
and breadth. But here we are met by a fact which forbids us thus to put
in the foreground the welfares of citizens, individually considered, and
requires us to put in the foreground the welfare of the society as a
whole. The life of the social organism must, as an end, rank above the
lives of its units. These two ends are not harmonious at the outset, and
though the tendency is towards harmonisation of them, they are still
partially conflicting."[12]

The difficulty alluded to arises from the fact that human society is not
one well-ordered whole, but has been from the first, and still is, split
up into numerous nations having conflicting interests: from which it
follows that there is not a complete homogeneity of duty between man and
man when, for instance, a state of warfare exists.

If now we recognise Ethics as the rule of life imposed by Society upon
the individual, we shall have to recognise great varieties of rule,
according to the nature and objects of the particular Society imposing
the rule, according to the state of development at which that Society
has arrived, and according to the nature of the environment.

The rule of a club over the individuals composing it, the rule of a
church over its members, the rule of any body of men over its
constituent units is founded upon the ethical principle, however
trifling or however serious the objects of the particular association
may be. Those slight or those important social penalties or
commendations which fill up the course of everyday life in business, in
the workshop, in social intercourse--the familiar judgments of
companions or contemporaries--are all of them ethical valuations of
conduct. Slight though some of them may be, they are still enforcements
of social opinions. Man is hedged in on all sides by forces limiting his
action to certain lines of conduct, and this social pressure is as much
the basis of the most forceful ethical commands or prohibitions as of
the most ephemeral influences. The only difference consists in the
importance of the mode in which the various actions affect the general
welfare. But this we shall have occasion to treat of hereafter in
greater detail. It is, however, all a matter of the greater or lesser
degree in which it affects the welfare of the temporary organisation,
the welfare of the family, or the welfare of the permanent community, of
which the individual forms a part.

But it is evident that as the stage of development differs, and as
nations differ in their environments, so there will be different
standards of conduct at different times and places. And therefore,
again, there will be different standards of morality for different sets
of purposes. This must be acknowledged at once.

Hence arise the questions, What can be the obligation of a relative
morality? and--Is there no absolute morality with its imperatives
universal in space and in time?

The question as to absolute morality we reserve: meanwhile we confine
our considerations to a study of the influence of Society upon
individuals. This is disclosed in a study of Sociology.

Living together in a social state necessitates certain negative and,
eventually, positive duties.

"Whether the members of a social group do or do not co-operate, certain
limitations to their individual activities are necessitated by their
association; and after recognising these as arising in the absence of
co-operation, we shall be the better prepared to understand how
conformity to them is effected when co-operation begins.[13]

"What shape, then, must the mutual restraints take when co-operation
begins? or rather, what, in addition to the primary mutual restraints
already specified, are those secondary mutual restraints required to
make co-operation possible? * * * * The reply will be made clearer if we
take the successive forms of co-operation in the order of ascending
complexity. We may distinguish as homogeneous co-operation (1) that in
which like efforts are joined for like ends that are simultaneously
enjoyed. As co-operation that is not completely homogeneous we may
distinguish (2) that in which like efforts are joined for like ends that
are not simultaneously enjoyed. A co-operation of which the
heterogeneity is more distinct is (3) that in which unlike efforts are
joined for like ends. And lastly comes the decidedly heterogeneous
co-operation, (4) that in which unlike efforts are joined for unlike

The social attainment reaches a full development in the last mentioned

"Only under voluntary agreement then, no longer tacit and vague, but
overt and definite, can co-operation be harmoniously carried on when
division of labour becomes established. And, as in the simplest
co-operation, where like efforts are joined to secure a common good, the
dissatisfaction caused in those who, having expended their labours, do
not get their share of the good, prompts them to cease co-operating; as
in the more advanced co-operation, achieved by exchanging equal labours
of like kind expended at different times, aversion to co-operate is
generated if the expected equivalent of labour is not rendered; so in
this developed co-operation, the failure of either to surrender to the
other that which was avowedly recognized as of like value with the
labour or product given, tends to prevent co-operation by exciting
discontent with its results. And, evidently while antagonisms thus
caused impede the lives of the units, the life of the aggregate is
endangered by diminished cohesion."

"But now we have to recognise the fact that complete fulfilment of these
conditions, original and derived, is not enough. * * * * If no one did
for his fellows anything more than was required by strict performance of
contract, private interests would suffer from the absence of attention
to public interests. The limit of evolution of conduct is consequently
not reached, until, beyond avoidance of direct and indirect injuries to
others, there are spontaneous efforts to further the welfare of others."

The point brought out here is the social pressure of the society upon
the individual, so as to ensure that the actions of the individual
primarily are not inimical to its welfare, and secondarily are
subservient to its welfare. But, of course, since society is composed
of individuals, this pressure must not be of such a character as to be
destructive of the welfare of the individuals of which the society is
composed, for that would militate against its own objects.

It is easy to reason out from this principle what actions would be
condemned and what actions would be praised in the various stages of
human development. The strongest injunctions would correspond with the
fundamental requirements of existence, and would enjoin the sacredness
of life within the community. The family relationships would come next
in order of authority. The safeguards of property of every description
would early receive ethical recognition. Commendation would be accorded
to men whose actions were properly limited in these respects. In early
stages of development the coward would be condemned, while the warrior
who did his share well in the protection of the community would be
praised. And so in a variety of ways men's actions would receive praise
or blame, according as they conduced to the welfare or to the suffering
of the existing community.


[12] Data of Ethics, p. 133.

[13] Data of Ethics, p. 139.

[14] Ibid., p. 140.



We have thus seen that the origin and authority of Ethics are to be
found in Sociology; but to allow the enquiry to rest here is only half
to understand the nature and imperativeness of ethical obligations as to
conduct. We consider that Mr. Spencer's ethical theory suffers from his
mode of exposition. We should be disposed to approach the question in an
inverse order, and instead of seeking for an ethical authority on
individual or biological grounds, culminating in an ethical Sociology,
to acknowledge at once the sociological origin and authority of the
ethical obligation, and to endeavour to understand it in detail by a
subordinate study of biological requirements and psychological growths.

The main fact underlying all Ethics is the existence of a society
composed of subjective factors, factors possessing feelings and
reasoning powers. The fundamental notion in Ethics is the regulation of
the mutual conduct of these factors. It is the voice of the million
against the voice of the unit which decides the duty of the unit. It is
the voice of the individual against the voice of society claiming a
modification of opinion. It is the voice of individuals to other
individuals specifying general duty. Broadly speaking it is the claim of
duties towards other individuals upon the Ego. But it follows from the
universality of the claim, that there is mutuality of claim, and the
duties which are demanded have at the same time to be acknowledged. The
principle can be easily accepted as theoretically correct, and many
general rights and duties can be readily deduced as corollaries, but
beyond these general rules ethical problems have rather to be worked out
than thought out--in the more important matters by societies during
their upward growth, in smaller matters by individuals through
multitudinous adjustments and re-adjustments. I do this or that in
contravention of some accepted social law. I am condemned, and am made
so generally uncomfortable by the social penalties that I am coerced
into conformity, or, otherwise, society modifies its opinion in
acknowledgment of my right to do as I have done.

But then the question arises, upon what principle should ethical
judgments be formed? Since society demands the performance of certain
actions, while it prohibits the performance of others, and since its aim
is the biological completeness of each of the individuals, what are the
principles upon which it determines the restraints and imposes the
injunctions so as not to interfere too much with individual liberties?
This principle finds very good expression in Mr. Spencer's formula.

The whole problem comes before us when we have to consider the relative
claims of egoism and altruism, a problem splendidly worked out by Mr.
Spencer, in the chapters entitled "Egoism _versus_ Altruism," "Altruism
_versus_ Egoism," "Trial and Compromise," and "Conciliation." As this is
a purely critical work, to be read only in conjunction with the work
criticised, we do not feel called upon to give an account of these
chapters. We simply state our acceptance of them bodily, the
reservations we would make being merely in regard to certain details of
the exposition. We ought to reprint them here in order to make this work
complete in its argument, but it is simpler to ask the student to
interrupt his reading of this criticism by a reperusal of the chapters
referred to.

       *       *       *       *       *       *

Having read Mr. Spencer's treatment of the problem, the question
remains, is the ethical imperative merely an external one, dictated by a
prudential consideration of the requirements of the social environment?
The answer must be a negative one; there is an internal moral authority
which gives to actions their ethical glory, their poetic delicacy, their
qualitative appreciation, insomuch that there are names in past history
that stand ever in the forefront of the memories of men, hallowed and
ennobled in their imaginations for all time, on account of the ethical
glory of their lives and the manner in which their example appeals to
the wide sympathies within us. From the same internal fount springs the
detestation of foul and cruel actions, the hatred of unjust and
tyrannical deeds, and the abhorrence of the men and women who commit
them. The same internal sentiment covers the individual himself with
shame and remorse for unworthy actions committed, from which an
ever-present memory suffers no release.

The natural history of the growth of this internal authority is the
history of the action of the subjective environment upon the subjective
individual. The understanding of this growth is the province of
Psychology in the two forms of emotional evolution and intellectual
evolution as presented by Mr. Spencer in chapter vii of the "Data of
Ethics,"--the enlargement of the number of sympathies with the
subjective environment--past, present, and future--and the enlargement
of the number of correspondences with the objective environment in
space, and time, and generality. We are more particularly concerned with
that branch of it which deals with the growth of the emotions. The
purely biological view relates to the individual, and its own personal
existence. But the care of offspring, arising from some incomprehensible
necessity for the continuance of the species, and accompanied by a
recognition of their subjective character, produces actions, having
regard to their effects upon the subjectivity of the offspring, of a
regulative, coercive, or deterrent character. Moreover, by some not
understood law, the sympathies which undoubtedly exist between
organisms, have led to the recognition of the pains of others as
egoistic pains, and of the pleasures of others as egoistic pleasures.
Thus altruism from the very first became _to a certain extent_ a form of
egoism, and the action of the Ego in its subjective environment was of a
regulative character amongst its offspring. An extension and
modification of this action ensued upon a social environment composed of
more distant, or only tribal relationships. Nevertheless psychological
evolution made the sympathies gradually include tribal and national, and
eventually humanitarian recognitions. The growth of Ethics, and the
growth of ethical feeling, are thus seen to be a natural growth, and not
merely the solution of an intellectual problem. The justification for
the ethical feeling is that it exists. The justification for any code of
morality is that is exists. But the amendment of the code of morality
derives its justification from changing conditions. The changefulness of
the latter does not detract from but attests the essential nature of the
former. It is the court of appeal for the retention of existing codes,
and for the judgment of imminent changes. We cannot, therefore turn
round and say--as we may be tempted to do when we find the relativity of
morals and its origin in external obligation--"Ethics is only an
intellectual puzzle, only a social contract, into which I may enter or
not as I please." If a man assumes a hostile attitude to society, he
wrongs his nature as a man; and if a philosopher or selfish man of the
world cuts off human sympathy for the purpose of living a merely
prudential life he becomes something less than a man, he misses the full
function and joy of life. Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that
there are men who have so maimed their emotional nature as to lead
tolerably satisfactory lives within the narrow limits of selfish
desires. To them ethical obligation is external only, and the internal
obligation is a minimum. Such may be the case. There are men who do
actions in contradiction of the voice of society, and who do not repent.
Society has to deal with these men as best it can. The ethical problem
is only of interest to those who feel the obligation, or to the
philosopher who studies the human nature of which it is a

Viewed as a practical question, no philosophical theory will carry the
force of conviction to a bestial, brutal, sordid, selfish man. These
require the material punishments of the administrators of the law,
personal force, and social coercion. And even then there remain large
criminal classes in every community. The study of the ethical problem
is for those who recognise ethical obligation and seek guidance or to
guide. The internal ethical obligation is not to be reasoned into a man.
It must be grown into the child. This is to be done by love-enkindling
actions and demeanour, a just and considerate course of conduct, well
judged according to ethical principles. And herein lies the utility of
the study. Example and injunctions in daily exigencies form the
groundwork of such influence as can be exerted by education. A
discriminating judgment of contemporary actions and of past histories
tends to develop a proper discrimination of the qualities of actions.

But below and accompanying all this must be recognised--as Mr. Spencer
so fully recognises--the registration, as he terms it, of emotions and
mental capacities in the inherited constitutions of organisms. That
which is the lesson of one age has become the inborn faculty of a
succeeding one. There are natural tendencies inherited by individuals
from their ancestors, and the perpetual social improvement tends to the
gradual production of individuals more and more suitable to the social
state by the possession of sympathies for others, and the internal
feeling of moral obligation. Furthermore, these individuals are born and
reared under the influence of a social state ever more and more
permeated by the recognition of the good of society as rightly
overruling the destinies of the individual.

The ethical imperative then must be regarded as an internal growth in a
subjective individual brought about in psychological evolution in the
continuous advance both of the increase of the sympathetic
correspondences and of the intellectual correspondences with the
subjective environment, and in the hereditary transmission of the same,
and their perpetuation and modification by means of education and
training induced by the current social pressure, special and general;
which social pressure is itself undergoing constant but gradual change
in its incidence and tendency. The ethical imperative therefore is
partly internal in so far as each individual is actuated by societarian
sympathies and emotional regards for humanitarian ideals, or in so far
as he possesses numerous special and personal kindly relations with his
environment. But in-so-far as a man is destitute of these sympathetic
possessions, so far is he free from the obligations of the internal
ethical imperative, and so much does he approach to the lower
evolutionary states of the inanimate object, or of the beast of the
forest, the insensate fish which stares into vacuity in the tanks of an
aquarium, or a self-feeding engine which is only a little less developed
form of a moving equilibrium. For such as these there only remains the
external prudential obligation of conformity to social pressure in its
several forms of law, custom, or public opinion, or the variously
expressed displeasure or commendations of neighbours whereto it would be
wise to conform. This to them is the only ethical imperative.

To neither class does any reasoned-out theory of absolute morality yield
any force of obligation or insight into the details of duty. And here it
will be convenient to enquire whether Mr. Spencer himself attaches to
absolute morality, any power as an ethical imperative. Absolute morality
in Mr. Spencer's treatment is merely a conception of ideal conduct in an
ideal state of society. We must conceive a state of society in the
highest degree complex, composed of individuals following all the
various occupations necessitated by the sub-division of labour from the
lowest to the highest, in which each individual may yet perform his or
her functions in such a manner as to insure the highest degree of
personal happiness, and at the same time promote the highest happiness
of the society as a whole.

Such an ideal state would comprise individuals of all ages, from infancy
to extreme old age, and could not possibly exclude invalids and the
maimed, for we cannot suppose that moving equilibria will be able to
develop internal forces so as to preserve them intact from the effects
of storms, explosions, and other natural occurrences, and as it is part
of the moving equilibrium theory to suppose that organisms are only
temporary equilibrations on the way towards a final equilibration in a
state of rest, it is necessary to suppose that they will always be
subject to disease and death. It is therefore probable that the society
would comprise many sufferers from organic diseases, and it is difficult
to imagine any state of society which would be entirely free from mental
disorders in various degrees of defect, or excess, or aberration.
Nevertheless we are asked to conceive a state of perfect balance amongst
a society composed of heterogeneous individuals in various stages of
equilibration, and we are told that a proper and complete conception of
this character would furnish us with a code of absolute morality. But it
is quite clear that Mr. Spencer's utopian hypothesis is the outcome of
hope springing from large human sympathies rather than a realisable
future, affording an ethical imperative.

Thus it is supposed that actual standards of morality are extremely
imperfect, and form but faint foreshadowings of a future ideal, or in
any case, that there is an absolute morality which rules throughout all
ages, and is the authority for the approximations of each age. But if
we sufficiently realise the fundamental notion of Biology as that of the
most complete adjustment of the organism to its environment, including
incidentally the adjustment of the environment to the organism we must
acknowledge that the most perfect morality is the best adjustment of the
individual to his environment in the society to which he belongs. Thus
the most perfect morality is the best relative adjustment, and not the
nearest conformity to an ideal standard suited to a perfect state of
society. The biological rule is more fundamental than any other, the
societarian view following; and its ideal of morality is perfection of
actual adjustment amongst the individuals of existing societies so as to
insure the greatest happiness of each and all. Thus as there are higher
lives and lower lives, there are higher moralities and lower moralities,
but they are justified by their quantitative relative perfection, and
not according to their approach to absolute morality, and they do not
derive their ethical obligation from the latter source.

It is due to the growth of psychological views that man is troubled with
the burthen of so many ideals. Far be it from us to detract from noble
aims, but it is necessary to note the origin and nature of moral ideals
and to assign them their proper place. They arise from the growing
sympathies of the race, and its ever-widening intelligence; more
especially do they arise in the minds of thinkers and students of
humanity in regard to the continuous aggregations of tribes and nations
of men in entering on the practical problem, how they shall live
together without unduly trespassing upon one another's rights of life
and enjoyment. These necessarily had to form for themselves practical
ideals, but ideals of some sort--ideals of greater or less degree of
imperativeness in proportion as they affected the essentials of a
pleasurable existence, or as they affected interactions of lesser
consequence. The growth of individual sympathies continually afforded
wider scope in the judgment of personal actions, and the spread of
intelligence insured the acceptance of more general laws of regulative
requirements on the part of the society. The authoritativeness of some
of the laws so recognised seemed eventually to be in the nature of
things, and to be independent and absolute in its imperativeness. Those
laws which were seen to be essential to the very existence of society
were regarded as eternal and true independently of society. But this is
at once seen to be a false notion, and only a peculiar manner of
representing the most essential laws of relative morality. No men, no
morals! Immorality is a sin, not against eternal principles of right,
but against the practical working principles co-eval with human society.

To set up a perfect morality, an ideal code, which may possibly exist in
an ideal state of society, but which is scarcely likely ever to be
realised as a rule of present conduct, is to set up not only an
impracticable, but a false standard, since the only true standard is the
relative sociological one founded upon the historical principle of

Perhaps, however, even from this principle we work round to the same
point, for in working out the problem how to secure to each his fair
share of happy life, we are obliged to set down certain fundamental laws
protecting the individual from injury in the full exercise of his
faculties, and we are obliged to impose upon society as a whole, and
upon each individual, certain positive duties of assistance towards
individuals, being members of the community. Nevertheless, the ideal set
before each generation is that of which it is actually capable, and not
a fanciful one which is beyond its powers. And we imagine that some harm
is done by the sweeping condemnation of religious and moral idealists in
inculcating the sense of sin, and imperfection, and incapability of
attainment, which the preaching of such high absolute standards

No doubt the inculcation of high ideals kindles youthful enthusiasm, and
sustains manly effort. But sometimes the non-attainment of impossible
ideals detracts from the effort towards attainable relative perfections,
and causes us to under-value and to neglect the good qualities actually
extant in ourselves, and in our fellow-creatures. The "unco guid" may
repress as much as they may develop, for the idealists have made more
sin, and therefore sinners, than is justified by the adaptations of

Nevertheless, the psychological conception of an ideal man in an ideal
state is a most fascinating one, alike to the philanthropist whose heart
broadens out to all humanity, and to the philosopher who aims at
absolute perfection of moral or political theory. There are men and
women of noble and sweet sympathies who aim at making each his little
ideal world around him, and so leaven the general mass and aid the
movement towards the great ideal. Poets have sung, and will sing through
all ages, of that golden age, and philosophers, consciously or
unconsciously, have it for their ruling motive in all their writings.
Statesmen in lesser circles of practical scope only work towards it, and
the whole heart of humanity teems with hope for a time when troubles
shall cease, and a bearable, if not a happy lot, shall be the meed of

The ethical imperative we therefore find to possess a two-fold origin.
It has external authority in the imposition of coercive rules of
conduct, carrying with them social penalties or rewards, varying in
degree according to the essential or trivial manner in which actions
affect the lives of other individuals, and again an external one in the
sympathetic action of surrounding subjective organisms upon subjective
organisms in eliciting and enkindling sympathetic response. It has also
an internal authority in the sympathies which, by a law of nature, grow
up in the ego towards surrounding egos in the manifestation of its
several subjective characteristics.

Thus the ethical imperative is a growth within a man. It is also an
education imposed upon him, and it is again an external social pressure
accompanied by rewards and punishments. The internal ethical imperative
does not exist to all men, and to them must be applied the social
pressure in more or less manifest forms of scorn, denunciation, and even
scant diet, and the cold frowning walls of jails, and unrewarding
labour. Towards this end the legislator works, also in the removal of
hindrances to life, and the promotion of education. The philanthropist
gently encourages the feeble efflorescences of humanitarian sympathies.
Sunday schools and pulpits more or less earnestly impress the moral
obligations. Parents call forth the love and sympathy of children, and
amongst brothers and sisters and companions the child first learns the
lesson of mutual duty and mutual help. Occasionally in the world's
history arises a prophet in whom has become concentrated in a ten-fold
degree the humanitarian sentiment, and he speaks in a voice which
reverberates down the outspreading avenues of time, calling forth an
answering note from the attuned heart chords of the nations.



Mr. Spencer very justly claims for his system that it gives a new
meaning and authority to all previous systems of Ethics and theories of
human action. In his system they all harmonise. Their contradictions
disappear on the discovery that they are all parts of one consensus of
truth. We will proceed to examine in order some of these earlier
theories in their relation to the one now propounded.

The idea that society is a pact or contract, though essentially untrue,
since society has been a growth and not a partnership resulting from
negociations, is nevertheless true in the sense that men have had to
give up individual biological liberties or egoisms in entering upon the
social stage. There never was any conscious bargaining, but there have
been an infinite number of tacit understandings of societarian and
individual adjustments which eventually brought about the well-ordered
societies of modern times.

The Intuitional School of Moralists finds the intuitions as to what is
right and wrong, and more especially the feeling of right and the
feeling of wrong, justified and established in the fact of the growth of
feeling in general as the essential of the biological history, and in
the historical establishment of the internal growth of moral feelings
transmitted from generation to generation. Validity and authority are
given, to moral principles by the very fact of their existing strength
and their recognised fitness to the social circumstances. The
indignation or the admiration naturally felt by man at certain actions
is justified _a priori_, and apart from any reasoned opinion of their
bearings. Praise and blame are not much, as a matter of fact, affected
by reason. Spontaneously and independently passion and enthusiasm are
expressed. Without staying to think, comes the unbidden frown and sharp
reproof, or even the hasty blow. Without thought come the expression of
sorrow and sympathy, the glow of praise, the approving smile, the
commendatory word, straight from the heart and sympathies of the
like-minded spectator. Reason may argue about details--it may rejudge
the spontaneous expressions of the sympathies, it may guide and direct,
but it never lends to praise its warmth, or to condemnation its
severity. These are purely instinctive, and reason justifies them in the
ascertainment of their origin and growth. There is an intuitive
conscience which has been developed by evolution. The adjustment of
organisms, the growth of feeling, the acquisition of altruistic or
sympathetic feeling in an environment of subjective individuals has
developed not only social adjustments, but also feelings in individuals,
relative to those social adjustments, which compose a conscience or
intuition. Never yet could such a conscience or intuition wholly and of
itself teach a man moral action. The conscience presupposes for its
actualization the presence of its environment. It needs education,
encouragement, and instruction. Society is a continuous existence. The
child born into a society not only inherits its dispositions, but from
the very first receives its prepossessions, is subject to its
injunctions, and is trained in its habits. Intuition is only a part of
the truth. Yet although it may be developed by education, and guided by
reason, there is no question as to its existence, and as to its
affording the zest to praise, the keenness to condemnation, and the
poignancy to remorse.

The view which regards Ethics as explicable by Egoism is a very
imperfect and ambiguous one. For what is the Ego spoken of, and of what
does it consist? The view which makes egoism the rule of life, and which
some suppose may afford the ultimate rationale of Ethics, is identical
with the biological view which we have already discussed. No doubt
egoism is the rule of life taken in its widest sense. No doubt the
adjustment of the Ego to society, and of society to the Ego, is the rule
of life. But egoism only becomes ethical when it, in order of growth,
includes love of offspring, love of family, love of fellow-man, regard
for the tribe, the nation, or humanity at large. As egoism loses its
narrowness, as it loses its exclusive regard for personal continuance,
and finds itself possessed of affections for others and altruistic
considerations, so does it become continually less and less egoistic. It
is a matter of chopping logic to say that its action is still
essentially selfish, if it does good to others, because it is part of
its own nature to do good to others, and it does so to satisfy its own
egoistic desires. This only proves that egoism is the rule of life, but
does not establish it as the rule of Ethics, which is a very different
thing. The ethical rule has been found in the course of the enquiry to
be, firstly, the body of injunctions which society lays upon the
individual; and, secondly, the conscience which a society of subjective
individuals cultivates in each separate Ego, both arising from the
growth of altruistic sympathy in the subjective organism of which
society is composed. To say that when men act ethically they act from
egoism is only to include ethical action in a statement of a more
general biological law, and takes the mind off from the special ethical
study altogether. Ethical egoism pre-supposes ethical feeling in the
Ego, otherwise egoistic morality is obliged to frame for itself a
hypothetical society of individuals without feelings, which, of course,
puts it out of relation with humanity. Egoism, as a basis of morals, is
bound to include altruism, or else it is merely a form of expressing the
most general law of Biology.

Egoism however gives, in its highest form, a wide and wise consistency
to actions. It pre-supposes a well-ordered mind capable of
self-regulation and control. It takes a look all round, and it judges of
the eventualities of actions. It sums up its own forces and motives, it
takes account of its present and future surroundings and forms a
judgment as to the most prudent course of action for securing the
fittest life possible for itself and the greatest continuance of such
life in the future. A wise and well-judged egoism is very valuable to
the community, as well as profitable to the individual. It is not
however essentially ethical, and is so only in so far as the individual
is properly altruistic. If the egoist is not altruistic, he may become a
curse to the society in which he lives, or if on a larger scale--a
terrible scourge to humanity at large.

Utilitarianism does not explain ethics, unless the word be accepted as
co-extensive with the biological and sociological adjustments which have
gone on during the upward growth. No doubt these were all utilities;
and, therefore, utilitarianism is so far true. But since the process has
been one of accompanying modified feeling, it is only half an
explanation, only one feature of the general explanation. It was no
common intellectual appreciation of the axiom "the greatest happiness
for the greatest number," which caused the evolution of morals. The
axiom was itself an after-thought. It may have great use in these days,
as the expression of the outcome in feeling and in philosophic thought
of processes of evolution, but it was not the ruling principle which
produced the evolution. Accepted thus as the outcome, it may be the
criterion and guide for future action in detailed adjustments and
modifications of ethical judgments or political action, and may have an
authority in modern times which it could not have had primordially. But
its scope is limited to the formation of deliberate judgments, and it
does not impel spontaneous praise or give any force to spontaneous
blame. Its judgments are those of the calm reasoner which may very
properly modify the opinions of society at large, and thus tend to form
an improved conscience, but it will never make a moral impulse or form
the base for an ethical ideal.

In an ethical system founded upon an acceptance of biological and
sociological evolution, all these systems of previous philosophers find
a due place. Egoism cannot be denied as the rule of life, but it is
shown that egoism cannot always remain purely egoistic, but at last
includes inevitably an altruistic growth. The progress of society
involves altruistic conditions. The intrinsic growth of sympathy and the
extrinsic imposition of conditions form in a continuous society, by
change in the internal constitution of organisms, and by hereditary
transmission of such changes, not only an intuitional feeling of right
and wrong, but also an intuitional conscience of greater or less
development. Thus, we admit and explain the law of right and wrong
written upon each civilized human heart. Utilitarianism is recognised as
the ultimate outcome of philosophical thought; and, while it is but an
inadequate expression in the hands of some writers, it may, perhaps, in
its wider expansion by later philosophers, become an adequate and
suitable expression of the ethical principle, and a guide for
re-adjustments in the recognition of the wider ends and larger views of
human organisation.

But any one of these views is inadequate by itself to explain and
express the largeness of ethical movement. Only when we seize upon the
history of the development of subjectivity, only when we understand the
gradual progress from gross beginnings, and recognise the grand movement
which carries us forward to we know not what hopeful future, can we
properly appreciate the ethical position and the ethical authority. But
to one who understands the evolution of organisms and of society, all
these varying views fall at once into their natural places in a
beautiful harmony. The touch of genius in a Darwin or a Spencer,
produces out of the apparent chaos a well-ordered and progressive

This is the proper place to notice Mr. Leslie Stephen's very valuable
and elaborate work upon "The Science of Ethics." That work is wise in
conception, sound as to its basis and construction, beautifully
proportioned in its mode of treatment, carefully, and, perhaps, too
elaborately worked out in detail.

The original conception is wise in that it excludes metaphysical
questions and discussions as to first principles, and limits the range
of its considerations to properly-ascertained scientific facts or laws,
and to such extensions of scientific surmise as are warranted by the
acceptance of the modern doctrine of evolution, expounded by Darwin. The
acceptance of this doctrine not only involves the acceptance of historic
developments, but justifies, and even necessitates, the acceptance of a
supposititious prehistoric development. This hypothetical history,
founded on observations of historical order, and of the habits and
customs of uncivilised races, is perfectly justifiable. However, the
problem, conducted within scientific limits is to consider the
groundwork of actual morality (Ch. i.).

Properly to effect this object, it is necessary to study the influence
of the emotions as determining conduct. Next, the influence of the
reason as determining conduct, and finally, the interaction of the race
and the individual (Ch. ii. and iii.).

These preliminaries are succeeded by a study of the moral law as derived
from social interests, following upon social necessities, establishing
the moral law as natural, and as authoritative (Ch. iv.).

The contents of the moral law are next discussed, in which the virtues
of courage, temperance, truth, and the social virtues are considered
(Ch. v.).

Altruism, as a growth within the Ego, is necessarily an object of study,
and is explained as a natural development of sympathy out of intrinsic
subjectivity. Its place in a system of ethics is also set forth. (Ch.

Upon this follows an exposition of special views upon merit, free-will,
effort, and knowledge, as modified by the acceptance of the doctrine of
evolution. Of essential importance to an ethical work is a consideration
of the nature of conscience and the variations of its judgments (Ch.

A discussion of happiness as a criterion succeeds, including a study of
utilitarianism, and a consideration of the relations of morality and
happiness (Ch. ix. and x.). A concluding chapter sums up a work of
nearly 500 closely printed pages.

It is very evident that we cannot undertake the criticism of so large
and important a work without having to enter minutely upon points of
agreement and difference which would greatly augment the size of our
present volume. We need only say that, although there are naturally many
minor criticisms to be made, we accept it as an excellent exposition of
modern ethical views modified and co-ordinated as necessitated by the
recognition of the Darwinian theories. It should be read, we think, in
succession to Professor Sidgwick's excellent broad and dispassionate
work on "The Methods of Ethics." Mr. Leslie Stephen's study is based
upon the same scientific fundamentals as Mr. Spencer's "Data of Ethics,"
without the confusing cosmical views which are necessitated by Mr.
Spencer's position, but which do not by any means tend to strengthen it.



Two distinct theories may be held by the Evolutionist with respect to
volition, both of them being strictly causational, and, therefore, of a
scientific, as opposed to a mystical character.

He may hold, in the first place, the double aspect theory pure and
simple, according to which all developments of mind are merely dependent
concomitants of the development of nerve ramifications, with consequent
growths of nerve-cells, ganglions, and the more considerable nerve
plexuses, culminating in the growth of a brain. This evolution of a
nervous and cerebral system he may hold to be wholly due to the action
of molecular and other motions upon a mass of colloid substances of such
a constitution as to be fittest, under the action of these external
stimuli, to form lines for the transmission of motions and for the
discharge of these motions into certain otherwise formed contractile
structures called muscles. He will consider that they eventually acquire
a power of retaining these motions, so that the effect of all the
motions thus caused is not immediate but deferred. And since all motions
received are not immediately concerned with the welfare of the organism,
he may suppose that separate masses of nervous matter are produced, in
which these motions are stored in an organised form, related indirectly
rather than directly to the motor apparatus. According to this theory
the whole system of determining causes is purely physical. In the simple
organisms the response of muscular action to incident motions is quick,
direct, and unhesitating. Such action is called reflex or automatic, and
is as unconscious as chemical activity. But when the system becomes more
complex, when nerves cross each other, when cells and junctions are
formed, and more particularly when the storages of motions are formed,
as just referred to; then compoundings and recompoundings of nervous
motions take place, and, according to the strength of the various
currents, to the facility of discharge, and to various physical local or
general conditions, the action becomes slower and more hesitating. Under
these circumstances, it is held that the nervous system becomes
conscious. A double aspect then arises, and the actions which thereafter
take place may be described either in terms of the relations of the
various molecular motions in the nervous and cerebral systems, or in
terms of feeling; but all the same the latter is merely the secondary
aspect of series of changes altogether determined by the motions and
structure of the former. On this theory memory is the revived motion of
a nerve structure; feeling is a consciousness of interaction between
different nerve motions; trains of thought are the reverberations of
great varieties of motions throughout the system and brain;
consciousness resulting from the mingling of the nerve currents and the
consequent conflict and retardation of effects.

The element of mystery here lies in the secondary or subjective aspect,
but it is placed strictly without the line of deduction and is a merely
unexplained accompaniment of a series of changes otherwise fully
accounted for.

A second theory--as strictly causational as the former--recognises the
presence of a subjective factor. In some of the quotations from Mr.
Spencer's "Psychology," given above, it will have been seen that, at the
point of development of nerve junctions when different currents meet in
the developed ganglion and in proportion as the system becomes more
complex, Mr. Spencer asserts not only the rise of a secondary aspect,
but of an additional factor. The element of mystery here is the entrance
of this additional factor, capable of taking part as an active agent in
the affairs of the organism. But since it is itself the result of
experience and the organization of experiences of the physical nervous
system, it is strictly of a causational or deductive order, and after
its unexplained inception, it has to be studied strictly in the
scientific order of development and action. Notwithstanding that it
plays a part in the conduct of life, and notwithstanding that its
dependence upon physical organization and development is so intimate,
and that this development again cannot be understood without
it--notwithstanding all this incomprehensibleness of relation and our
ignorance of its origin, the Evolutionist maintains the orderly
development of organism and actions, including the subjective as
resultants of the relations of original factors, although he may be for
the time being ignorant of the nature of the processes.

It will therefore be seen that in either case he holds the deterministic
theory of volition, and believes all purposed actions to be actions
determined by pre-existing causes, whether he regards these causes as
the structure and condition of nerve centres, or as feelings and
thoughts, or whether he regards them as ascribable to some law of
correlation between the two.

Nevertheless, it seems to be incumbent upon all writers dealing with
the subject of Ethics to define their position as to the Free Will
controversy. It is needless to say that we accept unreservedly the
deterministic theory, though it may be necessary to attempt its
reconciliation with the consciousness in persons of Free Will.

We here make a distinction between theories of Will and theories of Free
Will. What we have just been considering have been theories of will or
volition. They are of the deterministic order because in either case the
actions are wholly determined by preceding facts. Human and all actions
of organisms are held to be merely resultants of pre-existing factors
and their relations. This is the theory held by all scientific
philosophers, and the one most analogous to what we know of physical
science as well as most in conformity with actual experience of human
conduct. Another theory--arising no doubt in the mystery of the
secondary aspect or in the mystery of the origin of the subjective
factor, denies the rigidity of the scientific order, and asserts the
presence and activity of a _self-determining factor_, thus placing
volitional action beyond the scientific order of the dependent and
related successions of cause and effect.

Perhaps, however, we would be more correct in attributing the confidence
with which this theory of a self-determining power is sometimes held to
another cause. There is in all human beings the consciousness of a power
more or less developed to regulate their own actions; and this process
of self-regulation is held to be inconsistent with the deterministic
theory. There can be no doubt that there is such a consciousness and we
think there can be no doubt also that there is such a power. The
superficial evolutionist, indeed, may admit the consciousness, which he
may explain as a secondary aspect of conflicting nerve-currents, and
laugh in his sleeve at the egotistic vanity of a trustful man proud of
his power of Will. But we think a deeper explanation, and one more
commensurate with the phenomena, is to be found: and this brings us back
to the distinction, as indicated at the outset of this section, between
theories of Will or Volition, and theories of Free Will or the power of
regulating one's own conduct.

Will, in its scientific sense, is merely volition, _i.e._ the mental
state accompanying or immediately preceding action. The nature of the
action, good, bad, or indifferent, is immaterial. Technically speaking,
all volitions are equal, viewed as such. The volition for the time being
is the Will for the time being. The Will of a man is the totality of his
volitions during the whole of his lifetime. It is a general or
collective term relating to conscious actions, or states of
consciousness immediately preceding actions, and is not the name of an

But if Will is the volition for the time being, irrespective of any
qualitative characteristic, then we have to inquire as to the
applicability to it of the term "Free." Now this term is antithetical to
the two terms "restrained" and "constrained." Thus if a man's actions
are hindered or forcefully prevented by the Will of others, that man's
actions are not free. But if some of a man's motives are restrained or
his actions constrained by the predominance of some other of his
motives--as, for instance, when he performs actions which his conscience
tells him are wrong--in his Will not free? The actions are his
volitions. If some motives are restrained, and therefore not to be
considered free, still the others which have gained the predominance
have thereby become his Will; their operation proves their non-restraint
or freedom, and the volition or Will is still free. The action is an
evidence of freedom. Volition is always free. It is of different kinds,
but this does not affect the conclusion that volition proves its own
freedom. The Will is always and under all circumstances free.

But although this disposes of the question theoretically, the ordinary
man remains unconvinced, and clings to his belief in a Free Will, which
is not merely this technical and universal Free Will, but must be
interpreted as a power he feels himself to possess of choosing and
determining his own actions; and if we say to him, "Undoubtedly you have
this power; but your choice, and therefore your volition and consequent
action, is still determined in the same manner as if you had not
recognized the power," he will demur, and, logically or illogically, he
will deny your position, and hold to his consciousness of what he calls
his self-determining power over his own actions, which he places out of
the line of Determinism, however unmeaning or paradoxical his assertions
may be proved to be.

It is this state of consciousness, this clinging to the belief held by
many men in their own _power of self-rule_ over their own general
conduct, and by most men in their own control over some of their
activities, that Evolution is bound to account for and explain.
Evolutionists do not sufficiently mark off this _practical_ part of the
question from the _theoretical_ part, and thus leave imperfectly
explained the consciousness of the so-called "Free Will." They deem
that the explanation of Free Will is included in an explanation of Will,
and therefore they only deal incidentally and imperfectly with
self-rule. The confusion arises from the term Free Will having two
meanings--the theoretic or scientific one, as opposed to Determinism,
and the practical one, as implying the power of self-rule, choice,
effort, and determination.

That there exists such a power of self-regulation is a fact recognized
in every department of social intercourse--in the attribution of praise
or blame, in the teachings of the moralist, in the eye of the law, and
in the process of education. Every individual is supposed to have a
command over his own actions, except such as are purely automatic. It is
not supposed that men are responsible for their congenital tastes or
abilities; but all members of the community are held responsible for
their actions towards other members of the community, and to a certain
extent they are judged to be wise or foolish with regard to themselves,
on the supposition that they are able to carry out a purposed conduct.
And even if in various particulars it is seen that they do not possess
such a power, they, or the persons responsible for their earlier
education are blamed for their want of this power since it is held to be
one of the most characteristic and valuable possessions of humanity.
Thus we find the judicious parent, from the very first, endeavours to
inculcate in the child habits of command over his temper and his
appetites. The youth who has received the lessons of wise counsellers,
who has been imbued with the lessons of Christianity, who has drunk in
the teachings of the ancient moralists, and framed his ambitions upon
the severe examples of early Greece and Rome, or who has found his
sympathies excited by the dreams of modern philanthropy, knows that the
foundation of all his personal greatness is in his power of
self-command. It is no idle verbiage that of the rhetorician, the
preacher, the philosophical novelist, the poet, when they exhort to the
cultivation of the powers of the Will in their varied representations of
the aspirations and struggles of noble humanity. There is something that
calls forth the moralist's sympathies in the poet's appeals to the power
of Will, and there is no grander spectacle in all this universe than to
witness the battle of the will-power of a man against difficulties and
oppositions of all sorts; none the less if the scene of the conflict be
in the region of his own heart and mind, rather than in the wider field
of the battle of life.

The evolutionist is bound to account for this amongst the other
phenomena of human existence. The principles of such an evolution are
contained in Mr. Spencer's "Psychology," but the development is not
elaborated in detail, and is well worthy of a special study. We have
previously roughly indicated the outlines of such a study; and as the
special psychological question has been treated in an interesting and
suggestive manner by the Rev. T. W. Fowle in the number of the
"Nineteenth Century" for March 1881, we will find it convenient to take
this article as the text or basis of our own remarks.

The writer's argument appears in brief to be this. In the course of
Evolution, man became self-conscious (see p. 392). This consciousness of
self led, first of all, to self-preservation, then to self-assertion,
and finally to self-pleasing. "When man first uttered the words or
rather felt the impression to which language subsequently gave definite
shape and force, '_I will_ live in spite of all the forces encompassing
my destruction,' then was Free Will created upon the earth."

Note here, that Will is changed to Free Will in the course of a single
sentence, and that this "Free Will" is simply human action predominant
over external difficulties, which should therefore rather be called
Will, and is certainly not the Free Will or self-rule which we have now
under consideration. Hence arises a certain amount of confusion, as
witness p. 393:--"We ascribe, then, man's consciousness of _Free Will_
to the concentration of all his pre-human experiences into one
imperative determination to preserve, to assert, and to please himself."
Thus, "Free Will," in the mind of the writer, is simply the human Will
as opposed to the forces of nature. Nothing is said about the exterior
opposing wills of others, though surely he must intend them also to be
included in the environment. At the same time we do not know that it
makes the particular point under consideration more difficult of study,
although these external wills form a considerable part of the objects
determining the activities of the self. Yet, as our particular point of
study is _self_-rule, this extension of the reference to external forces
does not directly affect the argument.

But it will be seen that the Will or Free Will mentioned here, and
defined as self-assertion and determination to please one's self, is
self-assertion as opposed to environment--a self-assertion which,
irrespective of the qualities or nature of the motives comprised in that
self, determines to work out its own pleasure there and then in spite of
all opposition. Such a state is well illustrated in the first
self-assertions of childhood--its so-called _wilfulness_; for as
embryology illustrates the stages of biological evolution, so does
childhood illustrate the stages of mental and moral evolution. This
self-assertion is also illustrated in the conduct of the insane and of
the rude, rough, uneducated minds of the masses. Still it is not what is
meant by Free Will, but the very reverse; for such persons are said to
be slaves to their passions or motives. This is undoubtedly Egoistic
_Will_; and therefore theoretically, as before distinguished, it is
_free_: but it is not the Free Will, the self-rule we are now in search
of. This sort of self-assertion is the determination to please oneself,
_irrespective of consequences_. But when it is known that consequences
recoil upon self--when the _element of time_ is taken into account, and
the self is found to be continuous, then there is reflection, and
by-and-by succeeds caution, restraint, and the co-ordination of actions
to a given end. This is the germ of self-rule which is mistakenly
regarded as identical with the self-determination of volition.

The term "self-preservation" has a wide and also a restricted sense. It
may simply mean the continuance in existence of the body; or if the self
is equivalent to the preservation of the activities comprised in that
self, _whatever those activities may be_--lust, hate, benevolence,
æsthetic feeling, &c.--then it implies the continuous gratification of
those activities. This understanding of self-preservation is dependent
on the length of time for which the self is expected to continue. The
religious man, believing in a God and a future life, preserves what he
esteems his self--_i.e._, his moral and religious being--even in
martyrdom. But if there is no future life, then the self that has to be
preserved is the self as it is, whatever that may happen to be--gross or

There are no better recognised traits of Free Will--_i.e._,
self-rule--than the power of self-denial, self-abnegation,
self-sacrifice. These cannot be explained by any definition of Free Will
founded on self-assertion and self-preservation merely. Then, again,
self-education, the designed alteration of the character, and the
intentional acquirement of self-control, can hardly be held to be
consistent with simple self-assertion. Self-assertion is the assertion
of self as it is. The resolution to alter is the denial of
self-preservation as regards the existing self. The adaptation to
environment involved in self-abnegation is the opposite to

Are we to suppose that the Free Will predicated of man is an universal
possession of all? If it is a _theoretical_ question, it must be granted
that all men's wills are free. But if it is a practical question as to
the strength of the Will as opposed to external forces, and held to be
free in proportion to its relative strength of self-assertion, surely
Free Will is a variable quality. If, again, it is a practical question
as to the power of self-rule, are we to suppose that all men have it in
equal degrees? Do the idiot and the maniac possess it, or on the
contrary is it possessed unequally by men, and by some not at all?

The writer says, p. 391, "Now, from the moment that self became an
object of consciousness, it became also a motive."

This consciousness of self is a consciousness of the totality of the
activities, a consciousness of the unity of that totality, a
consciousness of the continuance of that totality for a more or less
certain future. The motive consequent upon such recognition must be the
longest continuance of that self, the greatest amount of gratification
of the activities of that self, the avoidance of pains to that self, and
the aggregation of more activities by that self.

The result of that motive would be the co-ordination of actions to
attain the final end thus set before the total self, and the
subordination of particular motives to their proper places in the
co-ordinative scheme. But as the total self is in relation to
environment, that environment, physical or societarian, has to be taken
into account; and as consequences of actions recoil upon the individual
at a later time, the results of actions have to be taken into account.
Therefore there is brought into activity a large amount of rational
consideration and judgment as to the eventualities of conduct in regard
to the 'total self'; and finally it is found that action must take one
of two forms: either the environment must be adjusted to the
organism--this is a form of Will--or the organism must be adjusted to
the environment--this is Free Will or self-rule--_i.e._, the Free Will
as here understood. This is the solution implied in the writer's
statement that "from the moment that self became an object of
consciousness it became also a motive."

This rational view of self as an aggregate of faculties and motives
likely to last a certain length of time, and surrounded by a social
environment which has in great measure formed it, and which exercises
upon it a continual pressure, brings forward the relation of Free Will
to Ethics in the fact that the acquired power of self-rule has to take
into account, in-so-far as it exists in the individuals forming the
social coercions and approvals, and in so far as the Ego approaches the
normal standard of regulating his own sympathies, which together in an
instructed community make up personal responsibility to the ethical law,
and supply the ethical as distinguished from the merely altruistic

The evolutionist's definition of life is "the continuous adjustment of
inner to outer relation," or of organism to environment. The principles
and results of this continuous adjustment, in the modifications of
structure and function, and their transmission by heredity in gradually
more permanently established forms, is well understood from the writings
of Mr. Darwin, Mr. Spencer, and others.

The progress of development in the human race has consisted in the
_establishment of correspondences_ of a definite and permanent character
between organism and environment. Why it should have been possible for
such a grand development to take place as that which has actually taken
place lies beyond the limits of our subject; but if Evolution is true,
the fact remains that the human organism has continually been increasing
the number of its correspondences, in accordance with the increasing
complexity of its surroundings. Roughly, this establishment of relations
with the external world may be classed under two divisions, each
containing a great variety of details. Firstly, the class of cognitions,
including the knowledge of the physical world, the field, the forest,
the stream, the animals, the sky and heavenly bodies, and also the
knowledge of men, and their ways in society; secondly, the class of
direct relations with other individuals, such as the relations of wife,
children, parents, chiefs, involving also property, and inducing the
feelings of love, friendship, hate, justice, and other social

The establishment of a correspondence between the organism and the
environment, of such a definite character as to be transmitted by
heredity, involves the establishment of motives. The stomach without
food experiences hunger, a want, and forms a motive. So of the other
organs, and so of all other established relations inwoven in the
organism. However subtle and refined any established relation may be,
but less in proportion to its later order of development, and directly
as its necessity to existence, so its force. It experiences a want in
respect of its correlate, and this want becomes a motive or incentive to
its own gratification.

The kinds of actions, then, may be distinguished as--

The Functional, such as the action of the heart, the intestines, &c.
These are wholly involuntary.

The Emotional Involuntary, such as the feelings and desires, and the
muscular expression of some of them, as in laughing, crying, &c.

The Emotional Volitional, or actions proceeding from the emotions, and
constraining the muscles to the means of their gratification.

Here must be added the Rational Volitional; and if the rational choice
of actions and ordering of conduct, in which the emotions and passions
play a subordinate part as factors in a general estimate or judgment,
can be interpreted as a recognition of "self as an object," and the
establishment of a correspondence therewith, then the "motive of self"
as advanced by the essayist may be considered as the highest motive of
the Emotional Volitional class. Thus self as an enduring whole becomes
established as the predominating object in the mind of the Ego, towards
which object or ideal attainment in continuity, and in expansiveness of
relation the motives of the individual turn--co-ordinating to it all the
more special motives; and evolving in a higher degree the powers of

In this manner Self-Rule or Free Will is explained and vindicated as a
natural possession of humanity and one of its highest and most
characteristic attainments. At the same time it is found to be
consistent with a Deterministic scheme and not to require the assistance
of an incomprehensible Self-Determining Power on the part of the Ego.
The Deterministic theory as regards the actions and conduct of an
individual is not, however, so narrow in its purview as this. It
recognises a great many kinds of conditions as the more or less direct
or remote causes of actions. It recognises--

_Heredity_, by which the physical qualities, and emotional and
intellectual tendencies, of the parents, more or less obscurely known on
account of intermixture, are transmitted to the offspring. The child is
born with a certain inherited constitution, containing potentially
within it a course of development through certain physiological changes
up to decay and old age. This constitution is one of a definite
character, having definite proportions of parts, as of head, chest,
abdomen, &c., and definite relations of systems, such as nervous,
vascular, muscular, visceral, &c., and partly as a consequence of this
the child also possesses mental and moral tendencies which, while very
susceptible of influence, are primarily derived by heredity.

_Action of Environment._--From the moment of birth, (or sooner), the
organism comes into relation with very complex conditions, which
variously affect its course of development. The suitable or unsuitable
conditions of the mother's health, food, warmth, sleep, &c., influence
the development of the child; and thenceforward all through life the
conditions of nourishment, diet, climate, exposure, disease, accident,
&c., have strong and recognisable effects upon the organism, physical
and mental.

_General Tuition_, or the education by contact with the members of the
family, playmates, companions, and the great body of the individuals of
the environment with whom the child or youth comes into contact, into
the general tone and principles of his age, country, class, or sect,
gradually fashioning him into a certain pattern, shaping the general
mode of his life, and forming within him certain standards of action,
certain codes of obligation, moral or ceremonial, certain customs,
fashions, &c., as well as implanting in him the convictions, theological
or otherwise, of his time.

_Special Tuition._--Tuition affects the whole of the activities of the
individual according to the nature of the training, its suitability or
unsuitability, its persistence, and the force exerted. The value of a
long course of direct education is well understood in all civilised
communities, and in modern times is recognised as one of the great means
of effecting the general improvement of society, if only it could be
thoroughly applied.

_The Education of Circumstances_ affects not only the physical
constitution, but also very much the mental and moral qualities of the
individual. And as these circumstances are widely varied and the
hereditary tendencies very different, the results will be widely diverse
in different individuals; but there is no doubt that a condition of
poverty or of affluence, good or ill usage, neglect or over-governing, a
solitary or a social condition, surroundings of town or country, status
of parents, nature of and facilities for amusements and studies, the
degree of early responsibilities, the kind of business occupation or
other avocation, all largely affect the conduct and modify the motives
of the individual.

And it is wonderful in a highly developed and complex state of society,
where the possession of great wealth creates a large leisure class, and
the enormous activity pervading the whole ever tends to put the
organisms included into every possible relation with the outer world,
and with every relation that can grow up in its own complex social
mixture--it is wonderful, we say, in such circumstances, the number of
motives that will grow up. The relations extend to the past and the
future. The most paltry, evanescent, and adventitious relations become
more or less motives of action, and grow more or less established in the
individual and more or less transmitted to posterity. Besides the great
number of these relationships, there is the difference of kind. Many are
of a concrete sort; as for instance, the love of dogs, horses, &c.;
others are of a very abstract description. These latter are principally
the outcome of social and intellectual relationships. They are
generalisations of conduct, or they are abstractions of the intellect.
Virtue, ideal conduct, justice, beauty, truth, science, philosophy, a
perfected humanity, all become realised abstractions, as it were, with
which a relation is established, and which, therefore, assume the guise
of motives seeking their means of gratification. We recognize the fact
that abstractions may become objects of motives, as distinct from the
concrete objects which are definitely in relation with corresponding
affections of the organism. These abstractions grow into definite parts
of self, and, if they largely predominate in an individual, he will
become a martyr rather than abandon his devotion to them. He will esteem
them the principal part of self, and let his body perish rather than act
against them. Such organic abstractions may, indeed, become the objects
of the most powerful passions, before which concrete objects sink into
utter insignificance. We have found that the recognition of the
continuous or "total self" can become such an object and induce the
establishment of a corresponding motive.

At the outset, we distinguish the province of Reason, in which is
included the calculation of the results of actions, and the devising of
the best means for accomplishing a desired end without incurring pains
and inconveniences. If a certain end is desired, the intellect has to
forecast the outcome of different modes for effecting the desired
result, and to discern that which secures the end with the fewest
drawbacks. The end may be good or bad; the motives may be of the most
elevated and generous character or they may be of the worst; but all the
same, it must be duly considered what is the best means of securing it.
What would be the result if I did this? on the other hand, would it not
be better to do that? It will be seen that here there is no choice
between motives, no dispute to settle between conflicting principles and
passions, but only a kind of mental calculus or intellectual
engineering. This state of the mind is sometimes taken to be the
exercise of a choice, and it may be so; but it is of a different kind to
that involved in self-rule, which we now approach.

As a power of very gradual growth must we regard that cognition, (with
its subsequent establishment as an object and a motive in the human
organism) which recognises the Self as a whole--as a whole at any given
time, and as a whole extending over seventy years, and perhaps
indefinitely longer!

Man's total self can become an object of thought and that object a
motive, as distinguished from any of the particular motives of which it
is made up. Man's future self may be an object of thought as well as the
present; and man's Continuous Self may become a constant and
all-predominating object of regard and interest--an all-absorbing
motive. Indeed, so far may this go, that the long continuous self
prospected after death may and has been so much an object of motive as
to overshadow and dwarf every interest of the present. And if this
Continuous Self is recognised by the Reason as the complete object, the
one and chief motive--and it must be so since it includes every motive
at every instant of time--then the Reason accords to it and claims for
it a _ruling_ position, a claim before which every other must give way.
There is no doubt that this is substantially taught, although in
different terms of exposition, in all ethical books and in all verbal
precepts of good counsel.

The psychogeny of this development of the continuous self into an object
and a motive is to be found in the intellectual recognition of the
actual order displayed by nature in the processes of life. It is the
harmonising of the volitional actions with the laws of natural change.
We have seen that the process of life is the continuous adaptation of
organism to environment. But this is a natural, non-volitional process.
Change in the environment produces change of organism to correspond with
it. When cognitions are developed the sequences of action are foreseen,
the changes of environment are foreseen, the developments of organism
are foreseen; a generalisation is made of all the factors, and logical
conclusions drawn as to the necessary adaptations. Then follows a
rational or intentional adaptation of organism and environment, due to
the motive of Self which we have just considered; this rational or
intentional adaptation may be either incidental or continuous, and the
adaptation may be either of organism or of environment. And in this
calculus the relation of the individual to the mass of individuals
constituting society must be taken into account.

A man having regard to his continuous self finds himself in a certain
position. The motive relating to the continuous self determines that his
conduct shall be regulated by the best regard for that continuous self.
And it must be admitted at once that technically it is not qualitatively
related to any abstraction, such as virtue, &c., unless, indeed, virtue
be interpreted as the establishment of such a harmony, but has regard
purely to the establishment of the most harmonious correspondence
between himself and his environment for the remainder of his life. It
might be that such a resolve would result in a system of ethics, but we
wish to limit the consideration to our special subject.

And, in the first place, we must recognise the _quantitative_ character
of such an adaptation. The self is surrounded by an enormous and highly
complex environment; but it may, from heredity, or want of education, or
perverse education, be a very narrow, poor, meagre, little self, having
very few, weak, feeble correspondences with the environment. A pig in
his stye may be well adjusted to his environment; but his
correspondences with the external world are few in number and of small
intensity. We would therefore assert with Mr. Spencer as a corollary
from the continuous adjustment of the organism and the environment, not
merely the establishment of a convenient _modus vivendi_, but an
adjustment of the organism by enlargement of the number of its
correspondences with the environment, so as to render the adjustment
between organism and environment more perfect by making the former
co-extensive with the latter. In proportion to the number of points of
interest or correspondences established between organism and
environment, so is the perfection of the continuous self. In this manner
then Free Will or Self-Rule in its very nature is related to the
conception of a continuous self towards which it acts as the object of a
motive, and possesses also an ethical bearing with regard to the
enlargement of the correspondences with the external world. For what is
there of greater interest in the external world than the subjective
individuals of our surroundings, the society of which we form a part,
the mysterious past out of which we came and the dependent nations of
the future which we are helping to make?

It is evident that in thus setting up the continuous self as an object,
whose realisation is to be the ruling power in the regulation of
conduct, (whether this self be the complete self we have just
contemplated, or the incomplete self which we may happen to be, and to
be pretty well contented with,) a certain amount of self-regulation will
always be necessary in order to effect the object in view, and at
occasional crises a very great amount of struggle and effort will have
to be exerted in order to put down the influence of some active motive
which would, by its hasty and blind gratification, mar the result of
that line of conduct already decided upon as the best. Here will come in
the conflict of passion with reason, and of impulse with prudence, which
is really of the greatest practical interest in our study.

And here we find, as one of the chief motives in such a conflict, the
motive of _regard for the continuous self_. It is not always a ruling
motive. It is best that it should be so. The object of education and
self-culture is to make it so. But at any rate it is a motive, and a
strong one. In proportion to its predominance is the amount of
self-rule, of self-control, and, as we read it, of Free Will.

Thus the rational regard for self becomes recognised as a motive. The
Rational Volitional becomes the Emotional Volitional. It has been
recognised in many philosophies under various names, advanced sometimes
as a motive, sometimes as the very self of self, and sometimes
designated by the term "self-determining power," &c.; but its true
character and genesis is best explained by Evolution.

The great practical question is this: Has man the power of choice
amongst motives? Has he the vaunted power of self-rule? and can he
cultivate it?

We can only reply that, as a matter of fact, some men have it and some
have not; that some have in some respects and not in others. As a matter
of possibility, most men may attain in a considerable degree to the
power of self-rule by judicious self-culture: and in the education of
the young, more particularly in home education, a very high standard in
this respect may be attained. Some feeble minds and flighty or
impassioned natures, as well as idiots, may not be able to reach it, and
some fools may lose it after they have got it; but as a general rule
and a safe fact for all to accept, we may say that a high degree of
self-rule may by most people be attained, and that the possession of it
is for the most part happiness.

Adopting, then, the statement of the essayist, "from the moment that
self became an object of consciousness it became also a motive," we
would add the element of time and recognise a continuous self. Then,
placing the statement in a subordinate position, as part of the general
evolution of life--which is the continuous adjustment of organism and
environment--and acknowledging the growth of reason, we would define the
course of action which results from all these factors as _the rational
quantitative and continuous adjustment of organism and environment_.
This is the Evolutionist formula of Free Will or self-rule.

Thus the consciousness of choice and of the power of self-rule receives
an explanation on the Evolution of Deterministic hypothesis in this
respect, that the recognition of the continuous self as an object of
thought and an important object of interest and regard, _becomes thereby
a motive determining action and conduct_, even against the immediate
urgencies of passion. Determinism is thus acknowledged to be a correct
theory: but the dignity of the claim for self-rule and free choice is
vindicated, and the attainment of it by most people is shown to be both
desirable and feasible.



The recognition of the ultimate tendencies of evolution suggests two
further enquiries, one as to the personal relation with the far-off
result, and one as to the origin of such a definite progress.

Perhaps the consideration of the former question is bound up in the
latter. Nevertheless, within the scope of the former more limited
enquiry, the Comtists are content to rest. For them the narrow limits of
history and its immediate outlook are sufficient. What is actually
recorded of humanity, and what is actually revealed in it, together with
the indications of its possibilities, suffice for the creed of the
Comtist. The Positivist produced by Evolution worships his Cause under
the name of humanity, and works towards Mr. Spencer's evolutionist
ideal. He seeks no justification in philosophy. The product of
Evolution--he acts from inward impulse and requires no authority. He has
none to appeal to in the inculcation of his worship, but the natural
response to be found in the hearts of those who occupy the same
intellectual and sympathetic position. But this is after all only a
partial grasp of the fundamental problem of history. It is an
abandonment, temporary or otherwise, of the intellectual problem,
although it is a recognition of the onward sweep of humanitarian
Evolution. The history and the tendencies are alike sought to be
explained by the philosophy of the Evolutionist. What, then, is the
position of the Evolutionist in regard to the problem of religion, and
what practical bearing has it upon Ethics or moral obligation?

The answer to these questions depends upon what is meant by the theory
of Evolution. If by Evolution is meant a complete system of explanations
by which all the events comprised in all departments of human knowledge,
stretching throughout the whole of history recorded and surmised, are
intelligibly accounted for as the results of the interrelation of
primordial factors, of which we have a clear apprehension, insomuch that
the logical order becomes a picture of the historical order, then our
estimate of Evolution depends upon our estimate of the original factors.
If they are held to be some seventy in number, and to be those elements
of which a full account is given in chemistry, and to be subject to
general laws, such as those described in works on physics, then our
regard for Evolution must be one due to the reverence we possess for
chemistry, electricity, heat, gravitation, and the like, and our conduct
must be made to conform--if we wish to coincide with the eventual
tendencies of evolution--with what we judge to be the ultimate
tendencies of the evolution of these factors, namely, their ultimate
equilibration in universal quiescence. Life, according to this view, is
an interruption of the process, and a contradiction of cosmical

This view of evolution is not saved by the theory that behind these
chemical affinities and physical relations there is an unknowable power
of which they are but the manifestations: for the power is not
unknowable if its manifestations are limited to these known
manifestations; and if they are not so limited, but operate in other
ways with new factors, not comprised in our estimate of them, then our
explanatory system is at fault, and has to be abandoned or amended. The
recognition of an unknowable power behind chemistry and physics, yet
limited by the laws of chemistry and physics, is equal only to our
estimate of chemistry and physics. We could but address it as Oh my Lord
Chemistry! Oh my Lord Physics!

But we have shown in our previous criticisms that this view of
evolution, as dealing with purely physical factors, is inadequate to
explain the cosmical histories. We have criticised adversely Mr.
Spencer's attempts so to explain biological development; and we have
indicated the necessity for supposing that other superior factors are
present in biological evolution. We do not know that Mr. Spencer
disputes it--his work is too vague and inconsistent to enable us to say
precisely what he does and what he does not teach. But the admission of
additional factors does not destroy the theory of evolution. Darwin and
Spencer and the modern school have established, beyond dispute, the fact
of orderly development in the cosmos. We are forced, therefore, to admit
both evolution and the presence in it, so far as Biology is concerned,
and probably also as regards all the changes anterior to the beginnings
of life, of a factor over and above the chemical and physical factors.
The nature of this factor we do not know, nor do we know how, as having
an orderly relation to chemical and physical events, its law is to be
expressed in such a manner as to enable us to understand how organisms
arose and were developed. Here, indeed, we can recognise a power, and an
inscrutable one: but inasmuch as it is inscrutable it spoils our
philosophy--our systems of explanations--and laughs at our formulas.

But after all, if we succeed in establishing purposive actions as
incidents in a process of equilibration, what have we gained? We have
gained a scientific explanation of all purposive actions as well as of
all actions of organisms in general. They all stand upon the same
footing--that is to say they are all equally explicable as parts of the
universal process. They are all equally equilibrations, and so justified
in their order of occurrence. They rank alike as incidents in a line of
causation explicable by the law of equilibration.

Apparently all that is, is right. Equilibration does not recognise any
distinction as to the quality of actions. This distinction can be
explained by equilibration, but cannot be justified by it as a law for
future conduct, any more than any other incident of the course of
equilibration. If certain laws of living become established, then moving
equilibria capable of recognising this fact must act accordingly--they
must adapt themselves to the environment: but this does not prevent the
organism from adapting the environment to itself, if it can, by changing
it or overcoming it--this is merely a matter of equilibration. The law
of Biology will allow it to cope with an adverse environment in many
ways, namely, by conformity, by escape so as to preserve its
individuality, and by altering or overcoming the environment. If the
forces of the environment be powerful and omnipresent, then conformity
is the only resource. It is only a matter of superiority of force, and
the resulting conformity is merely a matter of equilibration. It is not
that equilibration lends any special sanctity or quality to certain
actions. Social pressure coerces individual pressure--the mutual
coercion of society is equilibration--the result of this equilibration,
whatever it is, is a variable Ethics. The recognition of great duties
and great faults, the facts of moral approbation and condemnation, the
phenomena of a private and public conscience are all explicable as
equilibrations: but since whatever is, is an equilibration, it is not
from the laws of equilibration that any established moral distinction or
obligation can be justified for guidance for a single day in advance.
There is no universality, either in place or time in Ethics thus viewed.
The justification of Ethics from the evolution point of view must be
sought on other grounds than in that of a cosmical equilibration.

It is difficult to say what support is rendered to practical Ethics by
the theory of Evolution. According to it, Ethics is a history and a
prediction; but failing the existence in any individual (as the result
of a growth) of the moral sense for which Evolution professes to
account, the prediction only applies to future generations; and it is
difficult to see that practical Ethics has for such a person any
intrinsic authority. And even if the moral sense, and social pressure
(which are respectively the intrinsic and the extrinsic authority, for
practical Ethics) are sufficient of themselves to enforce moral conduct,
then the understanding of how they both came to possess such a power of
command, lends them no additional authority, but rather tends, at first
sight, to detract from their sacred prestige. The confidence of the
philosopher is however soon restored, when he considers that despite the
failure of his theory to intellectually establish moral enforcements,
nevertheless, the great forces which have produced both the intrinsic
and the extrinsic ethical authorities are still at work, and must more
and more prevail. If these are natural growths the movement in the
hearts of men, and in societarian organization, will ever prevail over
and above all reasoning about them. Individual opposition and
restiveness will be levelled before the might of the advance. The
individual must obey or perish; indeed he must himself change and become
part of the coercive power.

Thus it will be found that the apprehension which Mr. Spencer expresses
in his preface, as to the loss of a controlling agency in the decay and
death of an older regulative system is not met by the establishment of a
new controlling agency which takes the place of the discarded authority,
but may be met by the fact disclosed in evolution, that whatever
authority men may recognise, nay, even if they do not recognise any, it
is all the same--they are part and parcel of an onward growth against
which it is useless to rebel. The moral authority is the conviction of
the inevitable. Thus evolution dispels the fear of a moral anarchy by
showing the necessity for the existence of present and future moral
order, ensured alike by extrinsic social organization, and by a no less
certain prevalence of intrinsic motives. Thus, though evolution lends
but little additional theoretical force to moral argument, it shows
forth the power of natural ethical authority, and declares with
convincing efficacy, "magna est veritas et prævalebit."

The moral imperative is found to be firstly extrinsic in social
pressure, and secondly intrinsic in altruistic sympathy. These are the
only authorities competent to say: "Thus shalt thou do, and thus shalt
thou not do." Evolution establishes no absolute morality. It is always
relative to the surroundings, and it differs according to the stage of
civilization. The more nearly the conduct approaches the relatively
perfect the more truly ideal is it. The imagined ideal is not so perfect
as the relatively perfect. According as a necessity is universal, so is
the degree of moral enforcement which accompanies it, and the degree of
accord in the recognition of its imperativeness. The sanctity of life,
the condemnation of these who infringe it, the commendation of those who
promote it are of first eminence. Liberty, Property, and other
essentials receive little less recognition; and so on by degrees down to
the small details of everyday life. The kind of moral imperative is the
same throughout, the degree of enforcement differing according to the
varying importance of the actions.

As this point very properly comes in the Evolutionist's view of
religion. We take, as our text on this subject, the speech by Professor
Fiske at the Spencer banquet held in New York, November 9th, 1882, and
since published in the form of a tractette.[15]

Professor Fiske here pursues Mr. Spencer's faulty plan of generalising
all religions, and assuming the common or fundamental content as a true
finding, besides holding that the fundamental truths of science are
identical with this final deliverance of religion. It is not that
Professor Fiske's argument is bad, but that it is badly put. If we
confine ourselves to the scientific view, and say that the universe
manifests an orderly development; that it is probably altogether the
result of the relations of primordial factors; but that of these we can
form no adequate conception although, nevertheless, they undoubtedly
contained something of the elements of a subjective nature--then we do
not transgress the scientific view. Neither do we so transgress when, by
inductions from the history of man, we assert that the law of
development of the subjective is towards altruistic sympathy,
quantitative increase of life, and social harmony or equilibration. Mr.
Matthew Arnold's recognition of "an eternal power, not ourselves, that
makes for righteousness" is as near an approach to the truth as we can
get. Mr. Spencer's formula should be "an unknowable power, not
ourselves, that makes towards equilibrium." The question, thereupon
arises, Is the subjective a factor in a process of equilibration, and is
righteousness subjective equilibration? The question also arises in the
latter case, Is the "makes for" or "makes towards" a teleological aiming
at an end, or a process determined completely by antecedent factors of
which it is but the outcome?

It is difficult to imagine under a system of evolution, even if an
universal subjective factor be admitted, the operation of a teleological
activity as ordinarily understood. Nevertheless, we find a teleological
faculty evolved in man. And even if we accept Mr. Matthew Arnold's
description, the question arises, Has the eternal power a conscious
intention of making towards righteousness from the first or from any
time? Or is it implicit in the original relations of the subjective to
the chemical and physical that it makes through Biology towards
righteousness--is righteousness merely another expression for a
completed biological law involved in the original relations of atoms
with an omnipresent subjective and relative factor?

And again, what, scientifically viewed, is our personal relation to
that inscrutable power which makes for righteousness? Here comes in the
ethical problem as affected by the religious, and both as affected by
our views of evolution. Professor Fiske says of the propositions
recognised by all religions "that men ought to do certain things and
ought to refrain from doing certain other things; and that the reason
why some things are wrong to do and other things are right to do, is in
some mysterious but very real way connected with the existence and
nature of this divine Power."

The fact that personal responsibility to the inscrutable Power belongs
to the essence of all religions is one thing, and the establishment of
it as a scientific truth is another. The fact of its existence and of
its universality is a presumption in its favour, but is not more than a
presumption. What has science to say to it? With this point Professor
Fiske next deals. He says that science, after all its searchings, finds,
in its ultimate enquiries, not only inexplicable laws whose effects it
can calculate though the laws themselves remain unexplained, but also
long processes which are not explicable by the known laws, and which
will probably remain for ever inexplicable. If he does not say so in
those words, we presume that must be what he means: for if he only means
that all cosmical histories are explicable by known laws, these laws
being themselves inexplicable, the inscrutable or Divine Power is only
antecedent to cosmical histories, and is not present in them, nor does
it affect the future. Nevertheless, what Professor Fiske has to say of
the results of scientific enquiry does not amount to much. "The doctrine
of evolution asserts, as the widest and deepest truth which the study of
nature can disclose to us, that there exists a power to which no limit
in time or space is conceivable, and that all the phenomena of the
universe, whether they be what we call material or what we call
spiritual phenomena, are manifestations of this infinite and eternal

But this scientific truth does not in its mere enunciation bear upon the
question as to our ethical relationship to the Unknown Power. It is only
when we study its spiritual or subjective manifestation as an orderly
development that we can recognise a power to which we owe a moral
obligation. The scientific evidence of moral obligation to the
inscrutable power rests, not upon the recognition of the power of which
the cosmos is a manifestation, nor upon the fact of its inscrutability,
but upon the knowledge of the subjective factor, its manifested history,
and the inductions to be drawn from a study of that history in the laws
of the working of altruistic sympathy, of quantitative life, and of the
harmony of life as already set forth. Professor Fiske's conclusion is a
good statement of this scientific establishment of personal
responsibility to the divine power, and of religion as the crown and
sanction of Ethics.

"Now, science began to return a decisively affirmative answer to such
questions as these when it began, with Mr. Spencer, to explain moral
beliefs and moral sentiments as products of evolution. For clearly, when
you say of a moral belief or a moral sentiment that it is a product of
evolution, you imply that it is something which the universe through
untold ages has been labouring to bring forth, and you ascribe to it a
value proportionate to the enormous effort that it has cost to produce
it. Still more, when with Mr. Spencer we study the principles of right
living as part and parcel of the whole doctrine of the development of
life upon the earth; when we see that, in an ultimate analysis, that is
right which tends to enhance fulness of life, and that is wrong which
tends to detract from fulness of life--we then see that the distinction
between right and wrong is rooted in the deepest foundations of the
universe; we see that the very same forces, subtle, exquisite, and
profound, which brought upon the scene the primal germs of life and
caused them to unfold, which through countless ages of struggle and
death have cherished the life that could live more perfectly, and
destroyed the life that could only live less perfectly, and humanity,
with all its hopes, and fears, and aspirations, has come into being as
the crown of all this stupendous work--we see that these very same
subtle and exquisite forces have wrought into the very fibres of the
universe those principles of right living which it is man's highest
function to put into practice. The theoretical sanction thus given to
right living is incomparably the most powerful that has ever been
assigned in any philosophy of Ethics. Human responsibility is made more
strict and solemn than ever, when the eternal power that lives in every
event of the universe is thus seen to be in the deepest possible sense
the author of the moral law that should guide our lives, and in
obedience to which lies our only guarantee of the happiness which is
incorruptible--which neither inevitable misfortune nor unmerited obloquy
can ever take away."

This appears to us the best statement yet made of the logical results of
the enquiry into Evolution when pursued to its furthest point. Some
enquirers halt at the materialistic point, but an irresistible logic
leads the honest and open-minded enquirer beyond this stage of thought,
and he finds in the recognition of the existence of the subjective, and
in the history of its development, a law of spiritual life. He finds a
law of relation in subjective individuals which induces the
establishment of a quantitative life in the increase of the number of
correspondences with the external world both in Time and Space, and,
which induces also the establishment of altruistic feeling--a feeling
that expands to a greater or less comprehension of the great life of the
subjective throughout the cosmical history; and in this recognition he
finds also a sense of personal responsibility towards a Power which
demands from him a surrender, so that he shall work towards its great
ideal, and find his happiness therein. What more there may be in natural
religion is beyond the scope of our present volume, though we hope at
same future time to treat of this important subject. Our present view is
limited to the consideration of Ethics, and how that science is affected
by the recent large generalisations of Biological history. Certain
definite conclusions of a religious character have come forward as the
result of our studies, and since these have an ethical import, it is
necessary to refer to them in this place.

Nevertheless the study of Evolution assists Ethics, although it can
bring no argument to bear upon those who possess little moral
aspiration, and can add nothing to the forcefulness of social pressure.
Its _point d'appui_ is in the existence in most men of the moral
aspirations. Through them it will work upon individuals of their
environment, and upon the teachers and legislators who form and guide
society. To them is disclosed the fact that their aspirations coincide
with the tendencies of nature. They find that they are going with the
stream, are in fact part of the historic stream itself. They recognise
in society three movements. The first is the growth of altruism or
sympathy. The second is the enlargement of quantititive life. The third
is the approach towards a harmony or equilibration of life. The
recognition of these truths imparts a deeper faith in moral progress,
and gives a greater breadth of view, and a more intelligent and
charitable interpretation of human action. Philosophers, teachers, and
statesmen, understanding the movements of society from age to age, and
discerning the goal to which it inevitably works, can read more
intelligently its primary phases, and assist more skilfully in its
onward movement. The more extended recognition of the social aim
throughout society will guide and increase social pressure in a
corresponding direction, not only in the proper application of social
rewards and penalties, but in the ethical inculcations, and eventually
in the hereditarily established intrinsic motives.

Nor will prophets, the ripest fruit of evolution, be wanting in the
future. Ages produce not only the working results but the religious
voices. There are always men who give utterance to the thought and to
the aspirations of their time. Standing in the fore-front of the
advancing race, they face the mysterious darkness of the future
illumined but by the lights drawn from the Power working through the
subjective history.


[15] "Evolution and Religion," by John Fiske, M.A., LL.B. London: J. C.
Foulger, The Modern Press, 1882. Price Twopence.



Whether we consider Biology as a process of equilibration of physical
factors in a state of moving equilibrium, (including in this formula the
process of reproduction and heredity to which biologically speaking the
life of a species is limited--which equilibration explanation includes
an equilibration of forces, as well as an equilibration of motives,
respecting which our conceptions are as yet very indefinite and vague,)
or on the other hand consider that the facts of Biology require us to
include in our explanatory moving equilibrium theory an equilibration of
subjective factors with each other, and with the physical forces
concerned, it is clear in either case that the dominant law of Biology
as set forth by Mr. Spencer is that of Equilibration.

The place to be assigned to Purpose in a process of equilibration is not
very clear. In the first place, if the biological explanations are all
strictly limited to the chemical and physical factors, it seems evident
that there can be no purposive actions, since all actions are determined
by the chemical and mechanical relations of molecules, masses of
molecules, and organised masses of molecules. To say that what we call
purposive actions are explicable by physical and mechanical laws is to
abolish purpose and substitute physical causation. Can purpose by any
means be made lineable in such a sequence? The problem is a fair one to
consider and to attempt. We fail to do it, and we think that all who
have attempted it have failed.

But if a subjective factor is admitted into the problem, then it is
necessary to understand in what way it becomes part of, and in what way
it affects, a process of equilibration on the part of a moving
equilibrium in which it is a factor. The peculiar nature of a biological
moving equilibrium, and the respect in which it differs from a physical
or mechanical moving equilibrium, consists in the fact that it works
towards, if indeed it does not purposely aim at self-continuance by
assimilation of force and self-continuance by means of self-protection
from adverse forces in the environment. The coincidence of the
subjective element with this tendency, in many equilibria, is suggestive
of an efficient connexion. Yet if we do not understand the law of the
relation of a subjective factor with the physical and mechanical
factors, how can we understand the resultant process of equilibration
and the necessity for the biological law of adaptations for
self-preservation and self-protection? How can we understand Purpose as
an equilibration?

Ethics to be affiliated upon the cosmical process requires that we
should understand how purposive actions can be so affiliated, for Ethics
relates to purposive actions. In the failure of such a logical
connexion, we may understand Ethics on partial and limited grounds, but
we do not understand it as Mr. Spencer proposes we should understand it,
namely, as part of the cosmical process.

According to Mr. Spencer, we are bound to accept Ethics as part of the
process of cosmical equilibration for this is after all the main
conception of Mr. Spencer's great work. The apparent and ostensible
conception, and that with which he has most succeeded in impressing the
public mind, is the principle of evolution or gradual development; but
we must not lose sight of the fact that what he proposed to accomplish
was an explanation of evolution, and not merely the establishment of its
historical verity. This explanation is in terms of equilibration. That
conception lies behind and above the celebrated "Formula of Evolution,"
and by means of it the fanciful law of the moving equilibrium is posited
as the ruling principle of biological change and development, as well as
of physical changes proper. The biological law, or law of the moving
equilibrium, rules supreme over all actions and developments of
organisms: and even if an additional factor of subjectivity is present
as one of the forces which equilibrate in a moving equilibrium, it is,
nevertheless, subject to the laws of equilibration. It is not yet made
clear how the law of equilibration, which necessitates that all forces
should come to a state of rest in as speedy a time as possible, can be
changed into a biological law working in the antagonistic direction of
the self-preservation of a set of motions, and their self-protection
against a possible cessation or extinction, with the addition of means
of reproduction in view of an eventual cessation or extinction. But it
is these biological actions, some of them purposive, and some of them
perhaps not consciously purposive, which have to be properly shown as
part of the cosmical process of equilibration, before purposive actions,
and therefore, before Ethics can be explained upon cosmical principles.


Page xiii, lines 1 and 13, for "actors" read "factors."

Page ii, line 18, for "he bridges over" read "he is supposed to bridge

Page 38, line 27, at the end, delete "in the."

Page 43, heading, for "The Philosophical View" read "The Biological

Page 47, line 27, for "Ethics" read "of Ethics."

Page 51, line 7, for "ætheticism" read "æstheticism."

Page 74, line 14, for "eges" read "egos."

Page 88, line 28, for "pervented" read "prevented."

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