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From The Contemporary Review. ETHICS AND SCIENCE.
called utilitarian-decided, that is, by considerations referring to general enjoyment-depends the further issue, whether it is an advancing or a stationary thing. "How so?" asked a reviewer (in words here necessarily remembered and not copied). "Why must we take this for granted? Why should not the general conscience be a growing thing, as well as the general knowledge?" The review, which is traceable to the pen of Dr. Martineau, was the earliest protest I can recall from contemporary literature against a view which ignores or defies the lessons of all history.
Those who can look back, through the mists and storms of nearly half a century, to the comparative lull between the political agitation of the Crimean war and the intellectual agitation stirred by "The Origin of Species," will recall the publication of a book the immediate effect of which was much stronger than its permanent position in literature would appear to justify. Buckle's "Introduction to the History of Civilization" remains, indeed, a volume of much interest, and has its warm partisans, whose claim for it would chime in with all that was felt by its earliest readers; but a remark made on it by one who was among its most enthusiastic admirers on its first appearance-Charles Darwin-recurs now almost as a verdict. "How curiously the fortune of books changes!" he said, on re-perusing that one shortly before his death; "what a stir that book made among us when it first came out, and now it is dead!" Its significance for the student of to-day is that of some ancient mark of high tide where the land has gained upon the sea-it records a limit that has long vanished. Its argument may be summed up in a few sentences. There is in the world such a thing as progress; civilization is a growing thing. Morality, on the other hand (he assumed), is evidently a stationary thing. A good man at one age is much the same as a good man at another. Therefore civilization (he inferred) must depend on something which is capable of increase, and this is evidently knowledge. The momentum and the direction of progress are given exclusively by science. As one gives this bald summary of a book which took the world by storm, one wonders that its wealth of illustration and vigor of expression could blind its readers to assumptions so baseless. But Buckle, daring heretic as he thought himself and was thought by others, when he assumed that moral development was only individual, merely echoed a view then common to the thoughtless and the thoughtful. John Mill, in his essay on "Utilitarianism," urges that on the issue whether morality is intuitive or what he
Nothing is more unquestionable, surely, than that the character and actions which men admired and approved, for instance, in the thirteenth century are different from those which we admire and approve now. Many people think that the good man of the nineteenth century is better than the good man of the thirteenth; a few think that he is not so good; the wise and thoughtful, who are also few, consider that he is both better and worse; but all would agree that he is different. The best of men were ready then for actions from which the worst would shrink in our day. Who, in our time, would burn a fellow-creature alive? Six hundred years ago it would have been the most ardent philanthropists who were ready for that action. We cannot say that philanthropy was unreal then and is real now. We may be very thankful that it is purged of noxious and hateful superstition; but if we suppose that it was in no spirit of love for mankind that a St. Dominic desired to burn a heretic, then we are equally blinded by superstition of our own. We cannot measure our approximation to the moral feeling of the past by our actual nearness to it. If we look back a little way we shall find ourselves among men who felt very differently from the way their representatives feel to-day; if we go back much farther we may find ourselves among people much more sympathetic with our own standard. Cicero and Horace would be more likely to agree with nineteenth-century men of the world than Dominic and Francis of Assisi would. Mr. Huxley or Mr. John
Morley would be more out of sympathy with Luther than either of them would be with Pericles. But, just as there is an increase of temperature from January to July, and a decrease from July to December, though a warm day in January or December may sometimes be as warm as a cold day in July, so there is a change in the progress of the ages-a change which some may assimilate to the first of these and some to the second, but which, one way or another, none can ignore. The change would generally be summed up in the word "progress"-we can, indeed, hardly find another word to describe it-although the implied decision that the progress is in the right direction is not accepted by every one. I remember it being abjured, to my great surprise, by Mr. Froude. I know not whether he has ever maintained in print a view which seems so much out of keeping with the general tenor of his work, but it was certainly serious at the time, now far remote, at which he expressed it to me, and it is one in which he was not absolutely singular. But belief in the change, with or without satisfaction in it, is now universal.
We do not need to open those records of the past which we label as history for proofs of a change in men's impulses and feelings quite as great as any in their beliefs, habits or knowledge. Men now living may remember, might possibly have fought, a duel. Certainly there is nothing in which people less differ than in their objection to a violent death. Yet a number of people who in our own time would be quite incapable of an act requiring so much nerve, were ready, less than a hundred years ago, to stand to be shot at. It was at least as dangerous to fight a duel, in the days when duels were a reality, as it is to jump into the water to save a drowning person. We do not explain the change in ascribing it to the influence of public opinion. What makes public opinion? It is not as if one set of persons somehow made another set of persons go and fight; it was a practice which society imposed upon itself. Nor can we say that the progress of knowledge had much to do with the abandonment of a practice which lin
gered only among the classes attending the universities. We may say that the decay of duelling is a result of the spread of humane feeling, or of the shrinking of military feeling; both statements are true, and each is incomplete. In either case, it is an illustration of that principle of evolution, so strangely ignored till it was universally accepted, by which men's desires and emotions change from generation to generation, whether the change be regarded as loss or gain.
It is difficult to realize that the recognition of anything so obvious is recent. But much publication of new truth is, in fact, an illumination of the obvious; certainly this is true of the doctrine of the Origin of Species by Natural Selection. That more animals are brought into the world every year than can survive to leave offspring, that those who do survive to leave offspring must be the fittest to survive, that their offspring inherit more or less of those characteristics which fit them to survive-these are not opinions. They may be described as a string of truisms. Some of them are also important truths. Long before the publication of "The Origin of Species" the moral bearing of heredity weighed with any wise master who engaged a servant, with any wise father who sanctioned a marriage; other things might outweigh it, but there it was. The resemblance of child to parent is, indeed, even more moral than it is intellectual. A father cannot bequeath his knowledge otherwise than by giving his son the opportunity of learning, as he might give it to any one else. He may not, it is true, bequeath his ideal of conduct-a Marcus Aurelius may leave a Commodus as his heir, but the very conspicuousness of that contrast marks it as exceptional. To ponder over the fact that every generation transmits to its successor some feelings and impulses derived from its predecessor is to discern the bearing of moral evolution. No one ever denied the facts, though, as translated into theory, they revolutionized the world of thought.
The influence of a new philosophy is a complex thing, and may be stated, from different points of view, with wuat
their inherited views, it stimulated the mental act of rejection, it gave new theory the prestige of a recent and glorious victory. With that victory, the antithesis of heaven and earth disappeared alike from the physical and moral world. From one point of view heaven itself disappeared. The high "above" changed to the wide "around;" the words "above" and "below" lost their meaning. How wonderfully linked are the sensible and the spiritual worlds! We may repeat what has just been said of the former with almost equal applicability to the latter. The high and the low, to a great extent, lost their meaning here also. Earth, in its new brilliancy, attracted men's whole attention.
looks like inconsistency. If Buckle were living now, he might point out the moral vicissitude of the closing century as a striking illustration of what he had meant to say, though he would have to modify his dialect in expressing it. "Was there ever a greater change produced in the moral world," he might ask, "than that which resulted from the Darwinian theory of creation?" or, as he would doubtless haye expressed it, from a knowledge of a true method of creation. And in whatever else we might disagree with him, we could not deny that the change, which may be briefly described as the substitution of a world making for a world made, was the greatest in our intellectual history. It was an alteration similar to that by which the law regulating the movement The change which took place then is of an apple or a falling leaf was recog- strikingly analogous to that of our own nized as regulating also the movements age. What the discovery of gravitation of worlds vastly greater than our own. did for space, that the discovery of evoAnd in that case also a moral accom- lution did for time. As under the influpanied an intellectual revolution. The ence of the first a law supposed only astronomers who, in the picturesque terrestrial expanded to fill the universe; and homely words of Mr. Huxley, so under the influence of the second, a swept away much beside. The old med- process supposed complete in the six iæval conceptions of the earth, with the days of Creation, expanded to fill the heavens above and a dark world below, ages of our planet's existence. The first though it had undergone much modifica- change cancelled the antithesis of tion before the time of Newton, em- heaven and earth, the second change bodied and typified a whole system of cancelled the antithesis between Creethics, which was destroyed only with ation and that unmiraculous condithe "cycle and epicycle, orb on orb," to tion which we supposed to have folwhich Milton alludes in the very crisis lowed it. The stationary world vanof their disappearance. The ideas of ished as the dark world had vanished, the moral world have been almost as and we found ourselves the spectators different, since the time of Newton, as of creation as we had found ourselves the ideas of the physical world. Every- the inhabitants of a star. Of concepbody knows, more or less, what is tions so vast as these it is difficult to meant by the spirit of the eighteenth say that they are merely anything, but, century; it has come to be a synonym so far as we can concentrate our attenfor criticism, scepticism, disbelief. tion on their limits, we may say that the How much of this is a result of the vast views of the universe introduced both change which revolutionized men's con- by the Newtonian and the Darwinian ceptions of the physical universe is not science are purely intellectual. Yet equally a matter of general agreement; there is no reasonable doubt that both but there was surely some connection register a moral change. All who between the two things. The revolu- ponder over the history of thought will tion which discarded what ordinary allow that at the time when this earth common sense had assumed, which was seen itself to be one of "those wantaught men to invert the conceptions of dering fires which move in mystic tradition, and believe that the seeming dance," the secular interests of men stationary body was whirling rapidly— took a new importance. If we turn the seeming motion was imaginary; this from the great men of the seventeenth taught men also to call in question all century-Cromwell, Milton, Jeremy