Edward Westermarck.

The origin and development of the moral ideas online

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his compassion. In some of the Jewish fasts, as we have
seen before, these two objects are closely interwoven.'*
The Jewish custom of fasting in the case of a drought
is in a way parallel to the Moorish practice of tying
holy men and throwing them into a pond in order that
their pitiful condition may induce God to send rain. Mr.
WiUiams tells us of a Fijian priest who, " after suppli-
cating his god for rain in the usual way without success,
slept for several successive nights exposed on the top of
a rock, without mat or piUow, hoping thus to move the
obdurate deity to send a shower." ®

Not only is suffering voluntarily sought as a means of
wiping off sins committed, but it is also endured with a
view to preventing the commission of sin. This is the
second or, in importance, the first great idea upon which
Christian asceticism rests. The gratification of every
worldly desire is sinful, the flesh should be the abject
slave of the spirit intent upon unearthly things. Man
was created for a life in spiritual communion with God,

^ Monier- Williams, Brdhmanism sqq. Schmidt, Die Ethih der alien

and Hinduism, pp. 231, 427. Griechen, i. 82.

Oldenberg, Buddha, p. 302. * Supra, ii. 315.

' Reville, La religion Chinoise, p. ' WiUiams and Calvert, Fiji, p.

221. 196.

' Aeschylus, Agamemnon, 1008


but he yielded to the seduction of evil demons, who
availed themselves of the sensuous side of his nature to
draw him away from the contemplation of the divine and
lead him to the earthly. Moral goodness, therefore,
consists in renouncing all sensuous pleasures, in separating
from the world, in living, solely after the spirit, in
imitating the perfection and purity of God. The contrast
between good and evil is the contrast between God and
the world, and the conception of the world includes not
only the objects of bodily appetites but all human institu-
tions, as well as science and art.^ And still more than
any theoretical doctrine, the personal example of Christ
led to the glorification of spiritual joy and bodily

The antithesis of spirit and body was not pecuHar to
Christianity. It was an old Platonic conception, which
was regarded by the Fathers of the Church as the contrast
between that which was precious and that which was to be
mortified. The doctrine that bodily enjoyments are low
and degrading was taught by many pagan philosophers ;
even a man like Cicero says that all corporeal pleasure is
opposed to virtue and ought to be rejected.^ And in the
Neo-Platonic and Neo-Pythagorean schools of Alexandria
an ascetic ideal of life was the natural outcome of their
theory that God alone is pure and good, and matter im-
pure and evil. Renunciation of the world was taught and
practised by the Jewish sects of the Essenes and Thera-
peutse. In India, Professor Kern observes, " "cHmate,
institutions, the contemplative bent of the native mind,
all tended to facilitate the growth of a persuasion that the
highest aims of human life and real felicity cannot be
obtained but by the seclusion from the busy world, by
undisturbed pious exercises, and by a certain amount of
mortification." ^ We read in the Hitopadesa, " Subjec-
tion to the senses has been called the road to ruin, and

' Hamack, op. cit. ii. 214 sqq. ; iii. ^ Cicero, De officiis, i. 30 ; iii. 33.

258 sqq. von Eicken, Geschichte der ' Kern, Manual of Indian Bud-

mittelalterlichen Weltanschauung, p. dhisni, p. 73.
313 «??•


their subjugation the path to fortune." ^ The Jain regards
pleasure in itself as sinful : — " What is discontent, and
what is pleasure ? One should live subject to neither.
Giving up all gaiety, circumspect, restrained, one should
lead a religious life." ^ According to Buddhism, there
are two causes of the misery with which life is inseparably
bound up — ^lust and ignorance ; and so there are two
cures — the suppression of lust and desire and the removal
of ignorance.^ It is said in the Dhammapada, " There is
no satisfying lusts, even by a shower of gold pieces ; he
who knows that lusts have a short taste and cause pain, he
is wise." * Penances, as they were practised among the
ascetics of India, were discarded by Buddha as vexatious,
unworthy, unprofitable. " Not nakedness, not platted
hair, not dirt, not fasting, or lying on the earth, not
rubbing with dust, not sitting motionless, can purify a
mortal who has not overcome desires."^ Where all con-
tact with the earthly ceases, there, and there only, are
deliverance and freedom.

The idea that man ought to liberate himself from the
bondage of earthly desires is the conclusion of a con-
templative mind reflecting upon the short duration and
emptiness of all bodily pleasures and the allurements by
which they lead men into misery and sin. And separa-
tion from the material world is the ideal of the religious
enthusiast whose highest aspiration is union with God
conceived as an immaterial being, as pure spirit.

^ Hitopadesa, quoted by Monier- Monier- Williams, Buddhism, p. 99.

Williams, Indian Wisdom, p. 538. * Dhammapada, i85 sq.

^ Hopkins, o/>. cii. p. 291. ^ Ibid. 141. See also Oldenberg,

' Oldenberg, op. cit. p. 212 sq. op. cit. p. 301 sq.



Man's sexual nature gives rise to various modes of
conduct on which moral judgments are passed. We shall
first consider such relations between the sexes as are
comprised under the heading Marriage.
f ^In a previous work I have endeavoured to s how that in
all probability there has been no stage m the sociill liisLury
of mankind where marriage has not existed, human mar-
riage apparently being an inheritance from some ape-like
progenitor.^ I then defined marriage as a more or less
Qurable connection between male and female, lasting
beyond the mere act of propagation till after the birth of
the offspring. This is marriage in the natural history sense
of the term. As a social institution, on the other hand, it
has a somewhat different meaning : it is a union regulated
by custom or law.^ Society lays down rules relating to the
selection of partners, to the mode of contracting marriage,
to its form, and to its duration. These rules are essentially
expressions of moral feelings.

There is, first, a circle of persons within which marriage
is prohibited. It seems that the horror of incest is well-
nigh universal in the human race, and that the few cases in
which this feeling is said to be absent can only be regarded

1 Westermarck, History of Human Rechtswiss. x. 255) •. — " Eine von

Marriage, ch. iii. sqq. der Rechtsordnnng anerkannte und

'^ The best definition of marriage as privilegirte Vereinigung geschlechts-

a social institution which I have met differenter Personen, entweder zur

with is the following one given by Fuhrung eines gemeinsamen Haus-

Dr. Friedrichs (' Einzeluntersuch- standes und zum Geschlechtsver-

ungen zur vergleichenden Rechts- kehr, oder zum ausschliesslichen Ge-

wissenschaft,' in Zeitschr. f. vergl. schlechtsverkehr."




as abnormalities. But the degrees of kinship within which
marriage is forbidden are by no means the same every-
where. It is most, and almost universally, abominated
between parents and children. It is also held in general
abhorrence between brothers and sisters who are children
of the same mother as well as of the same father. Most
of the exceptions to this rule refer to royal persons, for
whom it is considered improper to contract marriage with
individuals of less exalted birth ; but among a few peoples
incestuous unions are practised on a larger scale on account
of extreme isolation or as a result of vitiated instincts.^
It seems, however, that habitual marriages between
brothers and sisters have been imputed to certain peoples
vidthout sufficient reason.^ This is obviously true of the
Veddahs of Ceylon, who have long been supposed to
regard the marriage of a man with his younger sister as the
proper marriage.^ " Such incest," says Mr. Nevill, " never
was allowed, and never could be, while the Vaedda

' Westermarck, op. cit. ch. xiv. sq.

^ This is apparently the case with
various peoples mentioned by Sir
J. G. Frazer {Pausanias's Description
of Greece, ii. 84 sq.) as being addicted
to incestuous unions. Mr. Turner's

short statement (Samoa, p. 341) that
among the New Caledonians no
laws of consanguinity were ob-
served in their marriages, and that
even the nearest relatives united,
radically difiEers from M. de Rochas'
description of the same people.
" Les N6o-Cal6doniens," he says
{Nouvelle CaUdonie, p. 232), " ne se
marient pas entre proches parents
du c6t6 patemel ; mais du c6t6 ma-
ternel, Us se marient h tous les
degrfe de cousinage." Brothers and
sisters, after they have reached
years of maturity, are no longer per-
mitted to entertain any social inter-
course with each other ; they are
prohibited from keeping each other
company even in the presence of a
third person ; and if they casually
meet they must instantly go out of
the way or, if that is impossible, the
sister must throw herself on the
ground with her face downwards.
" Cet Moignement," M. de Rochas

adds (ibid. p. 239), " qui n'est certes
I'effet ni du mlpris ni de I'inimitifi,
me paralt n6 d'une exag6ration &€-
raisonnable d'un sentiment naturel,
I'horreur de I'inceste." Sir J. G.
Frazer says that, according to Mr.
Thomson, the marriage of brothers
with sisters has been practised
among the Masai ; but a later and,
as it seems, better informed author-
ity tells us that " the Masai do not
marry their near relations " and
that " incest is unknown" among
them" (Hinde, The Last of the Masai,
p. 76). Again, the statement that
among the Obongos, a dwarf race
in West Africa, sisters marry with
brothers, is only based on informa-
tion derived from anotherpeople,the
Ashangos, who have a strong anti-
pathy to them (Du Chaillu, Journey
to Ashango-Land, p. 320). Liebich's
assertion [Die Zigeuner, p. 49) that
the Gypsies allow a brother to marry
his sister is certainly not true of the
Gypsies of Finland, who greatly ab-
hor incest (Thesleff, 'ZigenarUf i Fin-
land, ' in iSTy a Pressen, i897,no.33iB).
» Bailey, ' Wild Tribes of the Ved-
dahs of Ceylon,' in Trans. Ethn. Soc.
N.S. ii. 294 sq.

366 MARRIAGE chap.

customs lingered. Incest is regarded as worse than murder.
So positive is this feehng, that the Tamils have based a
legend upon the instant murder of his sister by a Vaedda to
whom she had made undue advances. The mistake arose
from gross ignorance of Vaedda usages. The title of a
cousin with whom marriage ought to be contracted, that is,
mother's brother's daughter, or father's sister's daughter,
is nagd or nangi. This, in Sinhalese, is applied to a younger
sister. Hence if you ask a Vaedda, ' Do you marry
your sisters ? ' the Sinhalese interpreter is apt to say, ' Do
you marry your naga ? ' The reply is (I have often tested
it), ' Yes— we always did formerly, but now it is not always
observed.' You say then, ' What ? marry your own-sister-
naga ? ' and the reply is an angry and insulted denial, the
very question appearing a gross insult." The same writer
adds : — " In no case did a person marry one of the same
family, even though the relationship was lost in remote
antiquity. Such a marriage is incest. The penalty for
incest was death." ^

As a rule, the prohibited degrees are more numerous
among peoples unaflEected by modern civilisation than they
are in more advanced communities, the prohibitions in a
great many cases referring even to all the members of the
tribe or clan ; and the violation of these rules is regarded
as a most heinous crime.^

The Algonquins speak of cases where men have been put to
death by their nearest kinsfolk for marrying women of their own
clan.^ Among the Asiniboin, a Siouan tribe, a chief can commit
murder with impunity if the murdered person be without
friends, but if he married within his gens he would be dismissed,
on account of the general disgust which such a union would
arouse.* The Hottentots used to punish alliances between first
or second cousins with death. ^ A Bantu of the coast region
considers similar unions to be "something horrible, something
unutterably disgraceful."" The Busoga of the. Uganda

1 Nevill, ' Vaeddas of Ceylon,' in Ann. Rep. Bur. Ethn. xv. 224.

Tapyobanian-, i. 178. « Kolbeu, Present State of the Cape

" Westermarck, op. cit. p. 297 sqq. of Good Hope, i. 155 sq.

' Frazer, Totemism, p. 59. « Theal, History of the Boers in

' Dorsey, 'Siouan Sociology,' in South Africa, -p. i(,.


Protectorate held in great abhorrence anything like incest even
amongst domestic animals.^ Among the Kandhs of India " inter-
marriage between persons of the same tribe, however large or
scattered, is considered incestuous and punishable with death." ^
In the Malay Archipelago submersion is a common punishment
for incest,^ but among certain tribes the guilty parties are killed
and eaten * or buried alive.^ In Efate, of the New Hebrides, it
would be a crime punishable with death for a man or woman to
marry a person belonging to his or her mother's clan ; ^ and the
Mortlock Islanders are said to inflict the same punishment upon
anybody who has sexual intercourse with a relative belonging to
his own " tribe." "^ Nowhere has marriage been bound by more
severe laws than among the Australian aborigines. Their tribes
are grouped in exogamous subdivisions, the' number of which
varies ; and at least before the occupation of the country by the
whites the regular punishment for marriage or sexual inter-
course with a person belonging to a forbidden division was

Not less intense is the horror of incest among nations
that have passed beyond savagery and barbarism. Among
the Chinese incest with a grand-uncle, a father's first
cousin, a brother, or a nephew^, is punishable by death, and
a man vfh.o marries his mother's sister is strangled ; nay,
punishment is inflicted even on him who marries a person
with the same surname as his own, sixty blows being the
penalty.® So also incest was held in the utmost horror by
the so-called Aryan peoples in ancient times.^° In the
' Institutes of Vishnu ' it is said that sexual intercourse

^ Johnston, Uganda Protectorate, ii. Mortlock Inseln,' in Mittheil. d.

719. Geogr. Gesellsch. in Hamburg,

'Macpherson, quoted by Percival, 1878-9, p. 251.

Land of the Veda, -p. ^^5. C/. Hunter, « Westermarck, op. cit. p. 299 sq.

Annals of Rural Bengal, iii. 81. See, besides the authorities quoted

' Wilken, Huwelijken tusschen there. Roth, Ethnol. Studies among

bloedverwanten, p. 2&sq. Riedel, De the North-West-Central Queensland

sluik- en kroesharige rassen tusschen Aborigines, p. 182 ; Spencer and

Selebes en Papua, p. 460. Gillen, Native Tribes of Central

* Wilken, Over de verwantscho/p en Australia, p. 15.

het huwelijks- en erfrecht bij de ° Medhurst, ' Marriage,^ Affinity,

volken van het maleische ras, p.. 18. and Inheritance in China,' in Trans.

' Glimpses of the Eastern Archi- Roy. Asiatic Soc. China Branch,

p. 103. iv. 21 sqq.

'Macdonald, Oceania, p. 181 sq. i" Leist, Alt-arisches Jus Gentium,

' Kubary, ' Die Bewohner der p. 394 sq.

368 MARRIAGE chap.

with one's mother or daughter or daughter-in-law is a
crime of the highest degree, for which there is no other
atonement than to proceed into the flames.^

Various theories have been set forth to account for the
prohibition of marriage between near kin. I criticised
some of them in my book on the ' History of Human
Marriage,' and ventured at the same time on an explana-
tion of my own.^ I pointed out that there is an innate
aversion to sexual intercourse between persons living very
closely together from early youth, and that, as such
persons are in most cases related by blood, this feehng
would naturally display itself in custom and law as a horror
of intercourse between near kin. Indeed, an abundance of
ethnographical facts seem to indicate that it is not in the
first place by the degree of consanguinity, but by the
close living together, that prohibitory laws against inter-
marriage are determined. Thus many peoples have a rule
of " exogamy " which does not depend on kinship at all,
but on purely local considerations, all the members of
a horde or village, though not related by blood, being
forbidden to intermarry.^ The prohibited degrees are
very differently defined in the customs or laws of different
nations, and it appears that the extent to which relatives
are prohibited from intermarrying is nearly connected
with their close living together. Very often the pro-
hibitions against incest are more or less one-sided,
applying more extensively either to the relatives on the
father's side or to those on the mother's, according as
descent is reckoned through men or women. Now, since

^ Institutes of Vishnu, xxxiv. i sq. leich auch fiir die Lokalgruppe Gel-

^ Westermarck, op. cit. p. 310 sqq. tung hat." This, however, is only

^ Herr Cunow{Die Verwandischafts- Herr Cunow's own inference. And it

Organisationen der Australneger, p. may be asked why it is more " pecu-

187) finds this argument "rather liar " to suppose that the prohibition

peculiar," and offers himself a dif- of marriage between near kin has

ferent explanation of the rule in sprung from aversion to sexual in-

question. He writes : — " In der tercourse between persons living

Wirklichkeit erklart sich das Verbot closely together, than to assume

einfach daraus, dass sehr oft die that the rule which forbids marriage

Lokalgruppe mit dem Geschlechts- between unrelated persons living in

verband beziehungsweise dem To- the same community has sprung

temverband kongruirt, und dem- from the prohibition of marriage

nach das was fur die Gens gilt, zug- between kindred.


the line of descent is largely connected with local relation-
ships, we may reasonably infer that the same local relation-
ships exercise a considerable influence on the table of
prohibited degrCes. However, in a large number of cases
prohibitions of intermarriage are only indirectly influenced
by the close living together.^ Aversion to the intermar-
riage of persons who live in intimate connection with one
another has called forth prohibitions of the intermarriage
of relations ; and, as kinship is traced by means of a
system of names, the name comes to be considered iden-
tical with relationship. This system is necessarily one-
sided. Though it will keep up the record of descent
either on the male or female side, it cannot do both at
once ; ^ and the Hne which has not been kept up by such
means of record, even where it is recognised as a line of
relationship, is naturally more or less neglected and soon
forgotten. Hence the prohibited degrees frequently ex-
tend very far on the one side — to the whole clan — but
not on the other. It should also be remembered that,
according to primitive ideas, the name itself constitutes a
mystic link between those who have it in common. " In
Greenland, as everywhere else," says Dr. Nansen, " the
name is of great importance ; it is believed that there is a
spiritual affinity between two people of the same name." ^
Generally speaking, the feeling that two persons are
intimately connected in some way or other may, through
an association of ideas, give rise to the notion that marriage
or sexual intercourse between them is incestuous. Hence
the prohibitions of marriage between relations by alliance
and by adoption. Hence, too, the prohibitions of the
Roman and Greek Churches on the ground of what is
called " spiritual relationship."

' I do not understand how any what I have said, he might have

reader of my book can, like Herr saved himself the trouble he has

Cunow (op. cit. p. 186 sqq.), attribute taken to prove my great ignorance of

to me the statement that the group early social organisations,

within which intermarriage is pro- ^ Cf. Tyler, Early History of Man-

hibited is identical with the group kind, p. 285 sq.

of people who live closely together. ' Nansen, Eskimo Life, p. 230.
If he had read a little more carefully


370 MARRIAGE chap.

'"I'he question arises : — How has this instinctive aversion
to marriage and sexual intercourse in general between
persons living closely together from early youth origin-
ated ? I have suggested that it may be the result of
natural selection. Darwin's careful studies of the effects
of cross- and self-fertiUsation in the vegetable kingdom,
the consensus of opinion among eminent breeders, and
experiments made with rats, rabbits, and other animals,
seem to have proved that self-fertilisation of plants and
close inter-breeding of animals are more or less injurious
to the species ; and it is probable that the evil chiefly
results from the fact that the uniting sexual elements were
not sufficiently differentiated. No\v it is impossible to
believe that a physiological law which holds good of the
rest of the animal kingdom, as also of plants, would not
apply to man as well. But it is difficult to adduce direct
evidence for the evil effects of consanguineous marriages.
We cannot expect very conspicuous results from other
alliances than those between the nearest relatives — be-
tween brothers and sisters, parents and children, — and the
injurious results even of such unions would not necessarily
appear at once. The closest kind of intermarriage which
we have opportunities of studying is that between first
cousins. Unfortunately, the observations hitherto made
on the subject are far from decisive. Yet it is noteworthy
that of all the writers who have discussed it the majority,
and certainly not the least able of them, have expressed
their belief in marriages between first cousins being more
or less unfavourable to the offspring ; and no evidence
which can stand the test of scientific investigation has
hitherto been adduced against this view. Moreover, w^
have reason to believe that consanguineous marriages are
much more injurious in savage regions, where the struggle
for existence is often very severe, than they have proved
to be in civilised societies, especially as it is among the well-
to-do classes that such marriages occur most frequently. _
Taking all these facts into consideration, I am incHned
to think that consanguineous marriages are in some way or


other detrimental to the species. And here I find a quite
sufficient explanation of the horror of incest ; not because
man at an early stage recognised the injurious influence of
close intermarriage, but because the law of natural selec-
tion must inevitably have operated. Among the ancestors
of man, as among other animals, there was no doubt a time
when blood-relationship was no bar to sexual intercourse.
But variations, here as elsewhere, would naturally present
themselves — ^we know how extremely liable to variations
the sexual instinct is ; and those of our ancestors who
avoided in-and-in breeding would survive, while the others
would gradually decay and ultimately perish. Thus a
sentiment would be developed which would be powerful
enough, as a rule, to prevent injurious unions. Of course
it would display itself, not as an innate aversion to sexual
connections with near relatives as such, but as an aversion
on the part of individuals to union with others with whom
they lived ; but these, as a matter of fact, would be blood-
relations, so that the result would be the survival of
the fittest. Whether man inherited this sentiment from
the predecessors from whom he sprang, or whether it was
developed after the evolution of distinctly human qualities,
we cannot know. It must have arisen at a stage when
family ties became comparatively strong, and children
remained with their parents until the age of puberty or
even longer. And exogamy, resulting from a natural
extension of this sentiment to a larger group, would arise
when single families united into hordes.

This attempt to explain the prohibition of marriage
between kindred and exogamy has not lacked sympathetic
support,^ but more commoidy,! think, it has been rejected.
Yet after a careful consideration of the various objections
raised against it I find, no reason to alter my opinion.
Some of my opponents have evidently failed to grasp the

' A. R. Wallace, in his ' Introduc- xl. 289) says with regard to my
tory Note ' to my History of Human theory that, at any rate, I am " well
Marriage, p. vi. Giddings, Prin- on the track." See also Crooke,

Online LibraryEdward WestermarckThe origin and development of the moral ideas → online text (page 38 of 89)