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It is, at the same time, conceded that the view thus suggested cannot be
accepted without qualification. If we carry our thoughts as far forward
as palaeolithic implements carry them back, we are introduced, not to an
absolute optimism, but to a relative optimism. The cosmic process brings
about retrogression, as well as progression, where the conditions favor
it. Only amid an infinity of modifications, adjusted to an infinity of
changes of circumstances, do there now and then occur some which
constitute an advance: other changes, meanwhile, caused in other
organisms, usually not constituting forward steps in organization, and
often constituting steps backward. Evolution does not imply a latent
tendency to improve everywhere in operation. There is no uniform ascent
from lower to higher, but only an occasional production of a form,
which, in virtue of greater fitness for more complex conditions, becomes
capable of a longer life of a more varied kind. And, while such higher
type begins to dominate over lower types, and to spread at their
expense, the lower types survive in habitats or modes of life that are
not usurped, or are thrust into inferior habitats or modes of life in
which they retrogress.

Mr. Spencer's examination of "The Principles of Sociology" has led him
to the belief that what holds with organic types must hold also with
types of society. Social evolution throughout the future, like social
evolution throughout the past, must, while producing, step after step,
higher societies, leave outstanding many lower. Varieties of men adapted
here to inclement regions, there to regions that are barren, and
elsewhere to regions unfitted, by ruggedness of surface or insalubrity,
for supporting large populations, will, in all probability, continue to
form small communities of simple structures. Moreover, during future
competitions among the higher races, there will probably be left, in the
less desirable regions, minor nations formed of men inferior to the
highest; at the same time that the highest overspread all the great
areas which are desirable in climate and fertility. But while the entire
assemblage of societies thus fulfils the law of evolution by increase of
heterogeneity, - while within each of them contrasts of structure, caused
by differences of environments and entailed occupations, cause
unlikenesses implying further heterogeneity, we may infer that the
primary process of evolution - integration - which, up to the present
time, has been displayed in the formation of larger and larger nations,
will eventually reach a still higher stage, and bring yet greater
benefits. As when small tribes were welded into great tribes, the head
chief stopped inter-tribal warfare; as, when small feudal governments
became subject to a king, feudal wars were prevented by him, - so, in
time to come, a federation of the highest nations, exercising supreme
authority (already foreshadowed by occasional agreements among "the
Powers"), may, by forbidding wars between any of its constituent
nations, put an end to the re-barbarization which is continually undoing

When, eventually, this peace-maintaining federation has been formed, Mr.
Spencer looks for effectual progress towards that equilibrium between
constitution and conditions, - between inner faculties and outer
requirements, - implied by the final stage of human evolution. Adaptation
to the social state, now perpetually hindered by anti-social conflict,
may then go on unhindered; and all the great societies, in other
respects differing, may become similar in those cardinal traits which
result from complete self-ownership of the unit, and from exercise over
him of nothing more than passive influence by the aggregate. On the one
hand, by continual repression of aggressive instincts and by continual
exercise of feelings which prompt ministration to public welfare, and,
on the other hand, by the lapse of restraints gradually becoming less
necessary, there will be produced, in Mr. Spencer's forecast, a kind of
man so constituted that, while fulfilling his own desires, he will
fulfil also the social needs. Already, small groups of men, shielded by
circumstances from external antagonisms, have been moulded into forms of
moral nature so superior to our own that the account of their goodness
almost savors of romance; and it is reasonable to infer that what has
even now happened on a small scale may, under kindred conditions,
ultimately happen on a large scale. Prolonged studies, showing among
other things the need for certain qualifications above indicated, but
also revealing facts like that just named, have not caused our author to
recede from the belief expressed nearly fifty years ago that "the
ultimate man will be one whose private requirements coincide with public
ones. He will be that manner of man who, in spontaneously fulfilling his
own nature, incidentally performs the functions of a social unit; and
yet is only enabled so to fulfil his own nature by all others doing
the like."

Before taking leave of the "Principles of Sociology," we should caution
the reader against a misconception that might seem, at first sight, to
find some warrant in the following remark of a sympathetic reviewer:
"Like Aristotle, he [Mr. Spencer] has had to delegate large portions of
his work to be done for him by others." As our author has himself
pointed out in "Facts and Comments," the reviewer's reference will be
rightly interpreted by those who know that the work delegated by
Aristotle to others was simply the _collection_ of materials for his
Natural History, not the classification of those materials, much less
the drawing of inductions from them. As not one reader in ten knows
this, however, wrong impressions are likely to be made by the reviewer's
remark. Mr. Spencer's name being especially associated with the
"Synthetic Philosophy," the sentence quoted will suggest to many the
thought that large portions of that work were written by deputy. This,
of course, the reviewer did not mean to say. The work to which he
referred is entitled "Descriptive Sociology, or groups of sociological
facts, classified and arranged by Herbert Spencer, compiled and
abstracted by David Duncan, Richard Scheppig and James Collier," eight
parts of which have thus far appeared. Knowing that he should be unable
to read all the works of travel and history containing the facts he
should need when dealing with the science of society, Mr. Spencer
engaged these gentlemen - first one, then two, then three - to read up for
him and arrange the extracts they made in a manner prescribed. With much
material he had himself accumulated in the course of many years, our
author incorporated a much larger amount of material derived from the
compilations just mentioned when writing the "Principles of Sociology."


It is the two volumes entitled the "Principles of Ethics" to which we
shall lastly invite attention. The six parts of which this work is
composed were published in an irregular manner. Part I., presenting the
data of ethics, was issued in 1879; Part IV., a treatise on "Justice,"
in 1891; Parts II. and III., which set forth respectively the inductions
of ethics and the ethics of individual life, and which, along with Part
I., form the first volume, were issued in 1892; Parts V. and VI., which
treat respectively of negative beneficence and positive beneficence,
were issued in 1893, and, along with Part IV., constitute the second
volume. With regard to the "Principles of Ethics," considered as a
whole, it should be noted that the author was prompted to prepare the
work, notwithstanding the ill health by which he was incessantly
interrupted, by the conviction that the establishment of rules of
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. Those who
reject the current creed appear to assume that the controlling agency
conferred by it may safely be thrown aside. On the other hand, those
who defend the current creed allege that, in the absence of the guidance
it yields, no guidance can exist, divine commandments being, in their
opinion, the only possible guides. Dissenting from both of these
beliefs, Mr. Spencer has had for his primary purpose in the two volumes
under review to show that, apart from any supposed supernatural basis,
the principles of ethics have a natural basis. In these two volumes this
natural basis is set forth, and its corollaries are elaborated. If the
conclusions to which the general law of evolution introduces us are not
in all cases as definite as might be wished, yet our author submits that
they are more definite than those to which we are introduced by the
current creed. Complete definiteness is not, of course, to be expected.
Right regulation of the actions of so complex a being as man, living
under conditions so complex as those presented by a society, evidently
forms a subject-matter unlikely to admit of specific statements
throughout its entire range.

The principal inductions drawn from the data collected in the first of
these volumes may be set forth in a few sentences. Multitudinous proofs
are brought forward of the fact that the ethical sentiment prevailing in
different societies, and in the same society under different conditions,
are sometimes diametrically opposed. In Europe and in the United States
to have committed a murder disgraces for all time a man's memory, and
disgraces for generations all who are related to him. By the Pathans,
however, a contrary sentiment is displayed. One who had killed a Mellah
(priest) and failed to find refuge from the avengers, said at length: "I
can but be a martyr; I will go and kill a Sahib." He was hanged after
shooting a sergeant, perfectly satisfied "at having expiated his
offence." The prevailing ethical sentiment in England is such that a man
who should allow himself to be taken possession of and made an
unresisting slave would be regarded with scorn; but the people of
Drekete, a slave-district of Fiji, "said it was their duty to become
food and sacrifices for the chiefs," and that "they were honored by
being considered adequate to such a noble task." Less extreme, though
akin in nature, is the contrast between the feelings which the history
of Englishmen has recorded within a few centuries. In Elizabeth's time,
Sir John Hawkins initiated the slave-trade, and, in commemoration of the
achievement, was allowed to put in his coat-of-arms: "a demi-moor
proper, bound with a cord," - the honorableness of his action being thus
assumed by himself, and recognized by Queen and public. At the present
day, on the other hand, the making slaves of men, called by Wesley "the
sum of all villanies," is regarded in England with detestation; and for
many years the British government maintained a fleet to suppress the
slave-trade. Again, peoples who have emerged from the primitive
family-and-clan organization, hold that one who is guilty of a crime
must himself bear the punishment, and it is thought extreme injustice
that the punishment should fall upon any one else. The remote ancestors
of the English people thought and felt differently, as do still the
Australians, whose "first great principle with regard to punishment is
that all the relatives of a culprit, in the event of his not being
found, are implicated in his guilt: the brothers of the criminal
conceive themselves to be quite as guilty as he is." Then, too, among
civilized peoples the individualities of women are so far recognized
that the life and liberty of a wife are not supposed to be bound up with
those of her husband; and she now, having obtained a right to exclusive
possession of property, contends for complete independence, domestic and
political. It is, or was, otherwise in Fiji. The wives of the Fijian
chiefs consider it a sacred duty to suffer strangulation on the deaths
of their husbands. A woman who had been rescued by an Englishman
"escaped during the night, and, swimming across the river, and
presenting herself to her own people, insisted upon the completion of
the sacrifice which she had in a moment of weakness reluctantly
consented to forego." Another foreign observer tells of a Fijian woman
who loaded her rescuer "with abuse, and ever afterwards manifested the
most deadly hatred towards him." In England and on the Continent the
religious prohibition of theft and the legal punishment of it are joined
with a strong social reprobation, so that the offence of a thief is
never condoned. In Beloochistan, on the other hand, quite contrary ideas
and feelings are current. There "a favorite couplet is to the effect
that the Biloch who steals and murders, secures Heaven to seven
generations of ancestors." In England and the United States reprobation
of untruthfulness is strongly expressed, alike by the gentleman and the
laborer. In many parts of the world it is not so. In Blantyre, for
example, according to MacDonald, "to be called a liar is rather a
compliment." Once more: English sentiment is such that the mere
suspicion of incontinence on the part of a woman is enough to blight her
life; but there are peoples whose sentiments entail no such effect, and,
in some cases, a reverse effect is produced: "Unchastity is, with the
Wetyaks, a virtue." It seems, then, that in respect of all the leading
divisions of human conduct, different races of men, and the same races
at different stages, entertain opposite beliefs, and display
opposite feelings.

In Mr. Spencer's opinion, the evidence here brought to a focus ought to
dissipate once for all the belief in a moral sense, as commonly
entertained. A long experience of mankind, however, prevents him from
indulging in such an expectation. Among men at large, lifelong
convictions are not to be destroyed either by conclusive arguments or
multitudinous facts. Only to those who are not by creed or cherished
theory committed to the hypothesis of a supernaturally created human
species will the evidence above summed up prove that the human mind has
no originally implanted conscience. Mr. Spencer himself at one time
espoused the doctrine of the intuitive moralists, but it has gradually
become clear to him that the qualifications required practically
obliterate the doctrine as enunciated by them. It has become clear to
him, in other words, that if among civilized folk the current belief is
that a man who robs and does not repent will be eternally damned, while
an accepted proverb among the Bilochs is, that "God will not favor a man
who does not steal and rob," it is impossible to hold that men have in
common an innate perception of right and wrong.

At the same time, while the inductions drawn by Mr. Spencer from the
data of ethics show that the moral-sense doctrine in its original form
is not true, they also show that it adumbrates a truth, and a much
higher truth. For the facts cited, chapter after chapter, unite in
proving that the sentiments and ideas current in each society become
adjusted to the kinds of activity predominating in it. A life of
constant external enmity generates a code in which aggression, conquest,
revenge, are inculcated, while peaceful occupations are reprobated.
Conversely, a life of settled internal amity generates a code
inculcating the virtues conducing to harmonious co-operation, - justice,
honesty, veracity, regard for others' claims. The implication is that,
if the life of internal amity continues unbroken from generation to
generation, there must result not only the appropriate code, but the
appropriate emotional nature, - a moral sense adapted to the moral
requirements. Men so conditioned will acquire to the degree needful for
complete guidance that innate conscience which the intuitive moralists
erroneously supposed to be possessed by mankind at large. There needs
but a continuance of absolute peace externally and a rigorous insistence
on non-aggression internally, to insure the moulding of men into a form
naturally characterized by all the virtues. This general induction is
re-enforced by especial induction. Now as displaying this high trait of
nature, now as displaying that, Mr. Spencer has instanced various
uncivilized peoples who, inferior to us in other respects, are morally
superior to us. He has also pointed out that such peoples are, one and
all, free from inter-tribal antagonisms. The peoples showing this
connection between external and internal peacefulness on the one hand,
and superior morality on the other, are of various races. In the Indian
Hills are found some who are by origin Mongolian, Kelarian, Dravidian;
in the forests of Malacca, Burma, and in secluded parts of China exist
such tribes of yet other bloods; in the East Indian archipelago are
some belonging to the Papuan stock; in Japan there are the amiable
Ainos, who have no traditions of internecine strife; and in North Mexico
exists yet another such people unrelated to the rest, the Pueblos. Our
author holds that no more conclusive proof could be wished than that
supplied by these isolated groups of men, who, widely remote in locality
and differing in race, are alike in the two respects that circumstances
have long exempted them from war, and that they are now organically
good. May we not reasonably infer, asks Mr. Spencer, in conclusion, that
the state reached by these small, uncultured tribes may be reached by
the great cultured nations, when the life of internal amity shall be
unqualified by the life of external enmity?

We bring to an end our review of the "Synthetic Philosophy" by pointing
out that the ethical doctrine constituting the culmination of the system
which is set forth in the "Principles of Ethics" is fundamentally a
corrected and elaborated version of the doctrine propounded in "Social
Statics" issued as long ago as 1850. The correspondence between the two
works is shown not only by the coincidence of their constructive
divisions, but also by the agreement of their cardinal ideas. As in the
one, so in the other, Man, in common with lower creatures, is held to be
capable of indefinite change by adaptation to conditions. In both he is
regarded as undergoing transformation from a nature appropriate to his
aboriginal wild life, to a nature appropriate to a settled civilized
life; and in both this transformation is described as a moulding into a
form fitted for harmonious co-operation. In both works, too, this
moulding is said to be effected by the repression of certain primitive
traits no longer needed, and the development of needful traits. As in
the first work, so in this last, the great factor in the progressive
modification is shown to be sympathy. It was contended in "Social
Statics," as it is contended in the "Principles of Ethics," that
harmonious social co-operation implies that limitation of individual
freedom which results from sympathetic regard for the freedoms of
others; and that the law of equal freedom is the law in conformity to
which equitable individual conduct and equitable social arrangements
co-exist. Mr. Spencer's theory in 1850 was, as his theory still is, that
the mental products of Sympathy which constitute what is called "the
moral sense," arise as fast as men are disciplined into social life; and
that along with them arise intellectual perceptions of right human
relations, which become clearer as the form of social life becomes
better. Further, in the earlier work it was inferred, as it is inferred
in the latest, that there is being effected a conciliation of individual
natures with social requirements; so that there will eventually be
achieved the greatest individuation, along with the greatest mutual
dependence, - an equilibrium of such kind that each, in fulfilling the
wants of his own life, will aid in fulfilling the wants of all other
lives. We observe, finally, that, in the first work, there were drawn
essentially the same corollaries respecting the rights of individuals
and their relations to the State that are drawn in the "Principles
of Ethics."

A word may be said in conclusion about the difference between the
relation of Mr. Spencer on the one hand and Darwin on the other to the
thought of the Nineteenth Century. The fact is not to be lost sight of
that the principles of the Evolutionary, or, as Mr. Spencer prefers to
term it, the Synthetic, philosophy were formulated before the
publication of the "Origin of Species." What the ultimately general
acceptance of the theory propounded in Darwin's work did for Mr. Spencer
was precisely this: it greatly strengthened the biological evidence for
the evolutionary hypothesis. That hypothesis was upheld, however, by
evidence drawn not merely from biology, but from many other sources.
Moreover, while the Darwinian theory of natural selection, supplemented
as it was by the adoption of the Lamarkian factors, - the effect of use
and disuse and the assumed transmissibility of acquired
character, - merely attempted to explain the mode in which the changes in
organic life have taken place upon the earth, the evolutionary
hypothesis put forth by Mr. Spencer professed to be applicable to the
whole sphere of the knowable. It is further to be borne in mind that Mr.
Spencer has devoted a large part of his life to tracing in detail the
applications of his fundamental principles to social, political,
religious, and ethical phenomena. Darwin, on the other hand, strictly
confined himself to the biological field, and left to disciples the task
of indicating the bearing of the Darwinian theory upon sociology,
theology, and morals.


The Complete Works of Herbert Spencer (The Synthetic Philosophy).

Also, "Facts and Comments," by Herbert Spencer (Appleton's).

John Fiske's "Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy."

F.H. Collins's "Epitome of the Synthetic Philosophy."

A.D. White's "Herbert Spencer: The Completion of the Synthetic





There is no doubt that, by the judgment of a large majority of
scientists, the place of pre-eminence in the history of science during
the nineteenth century should be assigned to Charles Robert Darwin. The
theory associated with his name deserves to be called epoch-making. The
Darwinian hypothesis, indeed, should not be confounded with the cosmic
theory of Evolution which was formulated earlier and independently by
Herbert Spencer, and supported by many arguments drawn from sources
outside the field of natural history. The specific merit of the
Darwinian hypothesis is that it furnishes a rational and almost
universally accepted explanation of the mode in which changes have taken
place in the development of organic life upon the earth. With the
possible cosmical applications of his theory Darwin did not concern
himself, though the bearing of his hypothesis upon wider problems was at
once discerned, and has been set forth by Spencer and others. Before
stating, however, the conclusions at which Darwin arrived in his "Origin
of Species," the "Descent of Man," and other writings, and before
indicating the extent to which these conclusions have been adopted, we
should say a word about his interesting, amiable, and exemplary
personality. Concerning his private life, there is no lack of
information. He himself wrote an autobiographical sketch which has been
amplified by his son Francis Darwin, and supplemented with numerous
extracts from his correspondence.


Charles Robert Darwin was born at Shrewsbury, Feb. 12, 1809. His mother
was a daughter of Josiah Wedgwood, the well-known Staffordshire potter,
and his father, Dr. Robert Waring Darwin, was a son of Erasmus Darwin,
celebrated in the eighteenth century as a physician, a naturalist, and a
poet. It is a curious fact that in some of his speculations Erasmus
Darwin anticipated the views touching the evolution of organic life
subsequently announced by Lamarck, and ultimately incorporated by
Charles Darwin in the theory that bears his name. The only taste kindred
to natural history which Dr. Darwin possessed in common with his father
and his son was a love of plants. The garden of his house in Shrewsbury,
where Charles Darwin spent his boyhood, was filled with ornamental
trees and shrubs, as well as fruit-trees.

When Charles Darwin was about eight years old, he was sent to a
day-school, and it seems that even at this time his taste for natural
history, and especially for collecting shells and minerals, was well
developed. In the summer of 1818 he entered Dr. Butler's great school in

Online LibraryJohn LordBeacon Lights of History, Volume 14 The New Era; A Supplementary Volume, by Recent Writers, as Set Forth in the Preface and Table of Contents → online text (page 8 of 26)