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THE MISSING FACTOR IN CURRENT THEORIES
But it is not so much in ignoring Man that evolutionary philosophy has gone astray; for of that error it has seriously begun to repent. What we have now to charge against it, what is a main object of these pages to point out, is that it has misread Nature herself. In “fixing on a part” whereby to “reconstruct the ultimate,” it has fixed upon a part which is not the most vital part, and the reconstructions, therefore, have come to be wholly out of focus. Fix upon the wrong “part,” and the instability of the fabric built upon it is a foregone conclusion. Now, although reconstructions of the cosmos in the light of Evolution are the chief feature of the science of our time, in almost no case does even a hint of the true scientific standpoint appear to be perceived. And although it anticipates much that we should prefer to leave untouched until it appears in its natural setting, the gravity of the issues makes it essential to summarize the whole situation now.
The root of the error lies, indirectly rather than directly, with Mr. Darwin. In 1859, through the publication of the Origin of Species, he offered to the world what purported to be the final clue to the course of living Nature. That clue was the principle of the Struggle for Life. After the years of storm and stress which follow the intrusion into the world of all great thoughts, this principle was universally accepted as the key to all the sciences which deal with life. So ceaseless was Mr. Darwin’s emphasis upon this factor, and so masterful his influence, that, after the first sharp conflict, even the controversy died down. With scarce a challenge the Struggle for Life became accepted by the scientific world as the governing factor in development, and the drama of Evolution was made to hinge entirely upon its action. It became the “part” from which science henceforth went on “to reconstruct the whole,” and biology, sociology, and teleology, were built anew on this foundation.
That the Struggle for Life has been a prominent actor in the drama is certain. Further research has only deepened the impression of the magnitude and universality of this great and far-reaching law. But that it is the sole or even the main agent in the process of Evolution must be denied. Creation is a drama, and no drama was ever put upon the stage with only one actor. The Struggle for Life is the “Villain” of the piece, no more; and, like the “Villain” in the play, its chief function is to re-act upon the other players for higher ends. There is, in point of fact, a second factor which one might venture to call the Struggle for the Life of Others, which plays an equally prominent part. Even in the early stages of development, its contribution is as real, while in the world’s later progress—under the name of Altruism—it assumes a sovereignty before which the earlier Struggle sinks into insignificance. That this second form of Struggle should all but have escaped the notice of Evolutionists is the more unaccountable since it arises, like the first, out of those fundamental functions of living organisms which it is the main business of biological science to investigate. The functions discharged by all living things, plant and animal, are two44There is a third function—that of Co-relation—but, to avoid confusing the immediate issue, this may remain at present in the background. in number. The first is Nutrition, the second is Reproduction. The first is the basis of the Struggle for Life; the second, of the Struggle for the Life of Others. These two functions run their parallel course—or spiral course, for they continuously intertwine—from the very dawn of life. They are involved in the fundamental nature of protoplasm itself. They affect the entire round of life; they determine the whole morphology of living things; in a sense they are life. Yet, in constructing the fabric of Evolution, one of these has been taken, the other left.
Partly because of the limitations of its purely physical name, and partly because it has never been worked out as an evolutionary force, the function of Reproduction will require to be introduced to the reader in some detail. But to realize its importance or even to understand it, it will be necessary to recall to our minds the supreme place which function generally holds in the economy of life.
Life to an animal or to a Man is not a random series of efforts. Its course is set as rigidly as the courses of the stars. All its movements and changes, its apparent deflections and perturbations are guided by unalterable purposes; its energies and caprices definitely controlled. What controls it are its functions. These and these only determine life; living out these is life. Trace back any one, or all, of the countless activities of an animal’s life, and it will be found that they are at bottom connected with one or other of the two great functions which manifest themselves in protoplasm. Take any organ of the body—hand or foot, eye or ear, heart or lung—or any tissue of the body—muscle or nerve, bone or cartilage—and it will be found to be connected either with Nutrition or with Reproduction. Just as everything about an engine, every bolt, bar, valve, crank, lever, wheel, has something to do with the work of that engine, everything about an animal’s body has something to do with the work prescribed by those two functions. An animal, or a Man, is a consistent whole, a rational production. Now the rationale of living stands revealed to us in protoplasm. Protoplasm sets life its task. Living can only be done along its lines. There start the channels in which all life must run, and though the channels bifurcate endlessly as time goes on, and though more life and fuller is ever coursing through them, it can never overflow the banks appointed from the beginning.
But this is not all. The activities even of the higher life, though not qualitatively limited by the lower, are determined by these same lines. Were these facts only relevant in the domain of physiology, they would be of small account in a study of the Ascent of Man. But the more profoundly the Evolution of Man is investigated the more clearly is it seen that the whole course of his development has been conducted on this fundamental basis. Life, all life, higher or lower, is an organic unity. Nature may vary her effects, may introduce qualitative changes so stupendous as to make their affinities with lower things unthinkable, but she has never re-laid the foundations of the world. Evolution began with protoplasm and ended with Man, and all the way between, the development has been a symmetry whose secret lies in the two or three great crystallizing forces revealed to us through this first basis.
Having realized the significance of the physiological functions, let us now address ourselves to their meaning and connotations. The first, the function of Nutrition, on which the Struggle for Life depends, requires no explanation. Mr. Darwin was careful to give to his favourite phrase, the Struggle for Life, a wider meaning than that which associates it merely with Nutrition; but this qualification seems largely to have been lost sight of—to some extent even by himself—and the principle as it stands to-day in scientific and philosophical discussion is practically synonymous with the Struggle for Food. As time goes on this Struggle —at first a conflict with Nature and the elements, sustained by hunger, and intensified by competition —assumes many disguises, and is ultimately known in the modern world under the names of War and Industry. In these later phases the early function of protoplasm is obscured, but on the last analysis, War and Industry—pursuits in which half the world is now engaged—are seen to be simply its natural developments.
The implications of the second function, Reproduction, lie further from the surface. To say that Reproduction is synonymous with the Struggle for the Life of Others conveys at first little meaning, for the physiological aspects of the function persist in the mind, and make even a glimpse of its true character difficult. In two or three chapters in the text, the implications of this function will be explained at length, and the reader who is sufficiently interested in the immediate problem, or who sees that there is here something to be investigated, may do well to turn to these at once. Suffice it for the moment to say that the physiological aspects of the Struggle for the Life of Others are so overshadowed even towards the close of the Animal Kingdom by the psychical and ethical that it is scarcely necessary to emphasize the former at all. One’s first and natural association with the Struggle for the Life of Others is with something done for posterity—in the plant the Struggle to produce seeds, in the animal to beget young. But this is a preliminary which, compared with what directly and indirectly rises out of it, may be almost passed over. The significant note is ethical, the development of Other-ism, as Altruism—its immediate and inevitable outcome. Watch any higher animal at that most critical of all hours—for itself, and for its species—the hour when it gives birth to another creature like itself. Pass over the purely physiological processes of birth; observe the behaviour of the animal-mother in presence of the new and helpless life which palpitates before her. There it lies, trembling in the balance between life and death. Hunger tortures it; cold threatens it; danger besets it; its blind existence hangs by a thread. There is the opportunity of Evolution. There is an opening appointed in the physical order for the introduction of a moral order. If there is more in Nature than the selfish Struggle for Life the secret can now be told. Hitherto, the world belonged to the Food-seeker, the Self-seeker, the Struggler for Life, the Father. Now is the hour of the Mother. And, animal though she be, she rises to her task. And that hour, as she ministers to her young, becomes to the world the hour of its holiest birth.
Sympathy, tenderness, unselfishness, and the long list of virtues which make up Altruism, are the direct outcome and essential accompaniment of the reproductive process. Without some rudimentary maternal solicitude for the egg in the humblest forms of life, or for the young among higher forms, the living world would not only suffer, but would cease. For a time in the life history of every higher animal the direct, personal, gratuitous, unrewarded help of another creature is a condition of existence. Even in the lowliest world of plants the labours of Maternity begin, and the animal kingdom closes with the creation of a class in which this function is perfected to its last conceivable expression. The vicarious principle is shot through and through the whole vast web of Nature; and if one actor has played a mightier part than another in the drama of the past, it has been self-sacrifice. What more has come into humanity along the line of the Struggle for the Life of Others will be shown later. But it is quite certain that, of all the things that minister to the welfare and good of Man, of all that make the world varied and fruitful, of all that make society solid and interesting, of all that make life beautiful and glad and worthy, by far the larger part has reached us through the activities of the Struggle for the Life of Others.
How grave the omission of this supreme factor from our reckoning, how serious the effect upon our whole view of nature, must now appear. Time was when the science of Geology was interpreted exclusively in terms of the action of a single force —fire. Then followed the theories of an opposing school who saw all the earth’s formations to be the result of water. Any Biology, any Sociology any Evolution, which is based on a single factor, is as untrue as the old Geology. It is only when both the Struggle for Life and the Struggle for the Life of Others are kept in view, that any scientific theory of Evolution is possible. Combine them, contrast them, assign each its place, allow for their inter-actions, and the scheme of Nature may be worked out in terms of them to the last detail. All along the line, through the whole course of the development, these two functions act and react upon one another; and continually as they co-operate to produce a single result, their specific differences are never lost.
The first, the Struggle for Life, is, throughout, the Self-regarding function; the second, the Other-regarding function. The first, in lower Nature, obeying the law of self-preservation, devotes its energies to feed itself; the other, obeying the law of species-preservation, to feed its young. While the first develops the active virtues of strength and courage, the other lays the basis for the passive virtues, sympathy, and love. In the later world one seeks its end in personal aggrandizement, the other in ministration. One begets competition, self-assertion, war; the other unselfishness, self-effacement, peace. One is Individualism, the other, Altruism.
To say that no ethical content can be put into the discharge of either function in the earlier reaches of Nature goes without saying. But the moment we reach a certain height in the development, ethical implications begin to arise. These, in the case of the first, have been read into Nature, lower as well as higher, with an exaggerated and merciless malevolence. The other side has received almost no expression. The final result is a picture of Nature wholly painted in shadow—a picture so dark as to be a challenge to its Maker, an unanswered problem to philosophy, an abiding offence to the moral nature of Man. The world has been held up to us as one great battlefield heaped with the slain, an Inferno of infinite suffering, a slaughter-house resounding with the cries of a ceaseless agony.
Before this version of the tragedy, authenticated by the highest names on the roll of science, humanity was dumb, morality mystified, natural theology stultified. A truer reading may not wholly relieve the first, enlighten the second, or re-instate the third. But it at least re-opens the inquiry; and when all its bearings come to be perceived, the light thrown upon the field of Nature by the second factor may be more impressive to reason than the apparent shadow of the first to sense.
To relieve the strain of the position forced upon ethics by the one-sided treatment of the process of Evolution, heroic attempts have been made. Some have attempted to mitigate the amount of suffering it involves, and assure us that, after all, the Struggle, except as a metaphor, scarcely exists. “There is,” protests Mr. Alfred Russel Wallace, “good reason to believe . . . that the supposed ‘torments’ and ‘miseries’ of animals have little real existence, but are the reflection of the imagined sensations of cultivated men and women in similar circumstances; and that the amount of actual suffering caused by the Struggle for Existence among animals is altogether insignificant.”55Darwinism, p. 37. Mr. Huxley, on the other hand, will make no compromise. The Struggle for Life to him is a portentous fact, unmitigated and unexplained. No metaphors are strong enough to describe the implacability of its sway. “The moral indifference of nature” and “the unfathomable injustice of the nature of things” everywhere stare him in the face. “For his successful progress, as far as the savage state, Man has been largely indebted to those qualities which he shares with the ape and the tiger.”66Evolution and Ethics, p.6. That stage reached, “for thousands and thousands of years, before the origin of the oldest known civilizations, men were savages of a very low type. They strove with their enemies and their competitors; they preyed upon things weaker or less cunning than themselves; they were born, multiplied without stint, and died, for thousands of generations, alongside the mammoth, the urus, the lion, and the hyaena, whose lives were spent in the same way; and they were no more to be praised or blamed, on moral grounds, than their less erect and more hairy compatriots.... Life was a continual free fight, and beyond the limited and temporary relations of the family, the Hobbesian war of each against all was the normal state of existence. The human species, like others, plashed and floundered amid the general stream of evolution, keeping its head above water as it best might, and thinking neither of whence nor whither.”77Nineteenth Century, Feb., l888.
How then does Mr. Huxley act—for it is instructive to follow out the consequences of an error—in the face of this tremendous problem? He gives it up. There is no solution. Nature is without excuse. After framing an indictment against it in the severest language at his command, he turns his back upon Nature—sub-human Nature, that is —and leaves teleology to settle the score as best it can. “The history of civilization,” he tells us, “is the record of the attempts of the human race to escape from this position.” But whither does he betake himself? Is he not part of Nature, and therefore a sharer in its guilt? By no means. For by an astonishing tour de force—the last, as his former associates in the evolutionary ranks have not failed to remind him, which might have been expected of him—he ejects himself from the world-order, and washes his hands of it in the name of Ethical Man. After sharing the fortunes of Evolution all his life, bearing its burdens and solving its doubts, he abandons it without a pang, and sets up an imperium in imperio, where, as a moral being, the ‘cosmic’ Struggle troubles him no more. “Cosmic Nature,” he says, in a parting shot at his former citadel, “is no school of virtue, but the head-quarters of the enemy of ethical nature.”88Evolution and Ethics, p. 27. So far from the Ascent of Man running along the ancient line, “Social progress means a checking of the cosmic process at every step and the substitution for it of another, which may be called the ethical process; the end of which is not the survival of those who may happen to be the fittest, in respect of the whole of the conditions which exist, but of those who are ethically the best.”99Evolution and Ethics, p. 33.
The expedient, to him, was a necessity. Viewing Nature as Mr. Huxley viewed it there was no other refuge. The “cosmic process” meant to him the Struggle for Life, and to escape from the Struggle for Life he was compelled to turn away from the world-order, which had its being because of it. As it happens, Mr. Huxley has hit upon the right solution, only the method by which he reaches it is wholly wrong. And the mischievous result of it is obvious —it leaves all lower Nature in the lurch. With a curious disregard of the principle of Continuity, to which all his previous work had done such homage, he splits up the world-order into two separate halves. The earlier dominated by the ‘cosmic’ principle—the Struggle for Life; the other by the ‘ethical’ principle—virtually, the Struggle for the Life of Others. The Struggle for Life is thus made to stop at the ‘ethical’ process; the Struggle for the Life of Others to begin. Neither is justified by fact. The Struggle for the Life of Others, as we have seen, starts its upward course from the same protoplasm as the Struggle for Life; and the Struggle for Life runs on into the ‘ethical’ sphere as much as the Struggle for the Life of Others. One has only to see where Mr. Huxley gets his ‘ethical’ world to perceive the extent of the anomaly. For where does he get it, and what manner of world is it? “The history of civilization details the steps by which men have succeeded in building up an artificial world within the cosmos.”1010Evolution and Ethics, p. 35 An artificial world within the cosmos?
This suggested breach between the earlier and the later process, if indeed we are to take it seriously, is scientifically indefensible, and the more unfortunate since the same result, or a better, can be obtained without it. The real breach is not between the earlier and the later process, but between two rival, or two co-operating processes, which have existed from the first, which have worked together all along the line, and which took on ‘ethical’ characters at the same moment in time. The Struggle for the Life of Others is sunk as deep in the “cosmic process” as the Struggle for Life; the Struggle for Life has a share in the “ethical process” as much as the Struggle for the Life of Others. Both are cosmic processes; both are ethical processes; both are both cosmical and ethical processes. Nothing but confusion can arise from a cross-classification which does justice to neither half of Nature.
The consternation caused by Mr. Huxley’s change of front, or supposed change of front, is matter of recent history. Mr. Leslie Stephen and Mr. Herbert Spencer hastened to protest; the older school of moralists hailed it almost as a conversion. But the one fact everywhere apparent throughout the discussion is that neither side apprehended either the ultimate nature or the true solution of the problem. The seat of the disorder is the same in both attackers and attacked—the one-sided view of Nature. Universally Nature, as far as the plant, animal, and savage levels, is taken to be synonymous with the Struggle for Life. Darwinism held the monopoly of that lower region, and Darwinism revenged itself in a manner which has at least shown the inadequacy of the most widely accepted premise of recent science.
That Mr. Huxley has misgivings on the matter himself is apparent from his Notes. “Of course,” he remarks, in reference to the technical point, “strictly speaking, social life and the ethical process, in virtue of which it advances towards perfection, are part and parcel of the general process of Evolution.”1111Evolution and Ethics, note 19. And he gets a momentary glimpse of the “ethical process” in the cosmos, which, if he had followed it out, must have modified his whole position. “Even in these rudimentary forms of society, love and fear come into play, and enforce a greater or less renunciation of self-will. To this extent the general cosmic process begins to be checked by a rudimentary ethical process, which is, strictly speaking, part of the former, just as the ‘governor’ in a steam-engine is part of the mechanism of the engine.”1212Evolution and Ethics, note 19.
Here the whole position is virtually conceded; and only the pre-conceptions of Darwinism and the lack of a complete investigation into the nature and extent of the “rudimentary ethical process” can have prevailed in the face of such an admission. Follow out the metaphor of the ‘governor,’ and, with one important modification, the true situation almost stands disclosed. For what appears to be the ‘governor’ in the rudimentary ethical process becomes the ‘steam-engine’ in the later process. The mere fact that it exists in the “general cosmic process” alters the quality of that process; and the fact that, as we hope to show, it becomes the prime mover in the later process, entirely changes our subsequent conception of it. The beginning of a process is to be read from the end and not from the beginning. And if even a rudiment of a moral order be found in the beginnings of this process it relates itself and that process to a final end and a final unity.
Philosophy reads end into the earlier process by a necessity of reason. But how much stronger its position if it could add to that a basis in the facts of Nature? “I ask the evolutionist,” pertinently inquires Mr. Huxley’s critic, “who has no other basis than the Struggle for existence, how he accounts for the intrusion of these moral ideas and standards which presume to interfere with the cosmic process and sit in judgment upon its results.”1313Prof Seth, Blackwood’s Magazine, Dec., 1893. May we ask the philosopher how he accounts for them? As little can he account for them as he who has “no other basis than the Struggle for existence.” Truly, the writer continues, the question “cannot be answered so long as we regard morality merely as an incidental result, a by-product, as it were, of the cosmical system.” But what if morality be the main product of the cosmical system—of even the cosmical system? What if it can be shown that it is the essential and not the incidental result of it, and that so far from being a by-product, it is immorality that is the by-product?
These interrogations may be too strongly put. ‘Accompaniments’ of the cosmical system might be better than ‘products’; ‘revelations through that process’ may be nearer the truth than ‘results’ of it. But what it is intended to show is that the moral order is a continuous line from the beginning, that it has had throughout, so to speak, a basis in the cosmos, that upon this, as a trellis-work, it has climbed upwards to the top. The one—the trelliswork—is to be conceived of as an incarnation; the other—the manifestation—as a revelation; the one is an Evolution from below, the other an Involution from above. Philosophy has long since assured us of the last, but because it was never able to show us the completeness of the first, science refused to believe it. The defaulter nevertheless was not philosophy but science. Its business was with the trellis-work. And it gave us a broken trellis-work, a ladder with only one side, and every step on the other side resting on air. When science tried to climb the ladder it failed; the steps refused to bear any weight. What did men of science do? They condemned the ladder and, balancing themselves on the side that was secure, proclaimed their Agnosticism to philosophy. And what did philosophy do? It stood on the other half of the ladder, the half that was not there, and rated them. That the other half was not there was of little moment. It was in themselves. It ought to be there; therefore it must be there. And it is quite true; it is there. Philosophy, like Poetry, is prophetic: “The sense of the whole,” it says, “comes first.”1414Prof. H. Jones, Browning, p. 28.
But science could not accept the alternative. It had looked, and it was not there; from its standpoint the only refuge was Agnosticism—there were no facts. Till the facts arrived, therefore, philosophy was powerless to relieve her ally. Science looked to Nature to put in her own ends, and not to philosophy to put them in for her. Philosophy might interpret them after they were there, but it must have something to start from; and all that science had supplied her with mean time was the fact of the Struggle for Life. Working from the standpoint of the larger Nature, Human Nature itself, philosophy could put in other ends; but there appeared no solid backing for these in facts, and science refused to be satisfied. The position was a fair one. The danger of philosophy putting in the ends is that she cannot convince everyone that they are the right ones.
And what is the valid answer? Of course, that Nature has put in her own ends if we would take the trouble to look for them. She does not require them to be secretly manufactured upstairs and credited to her account. By that process mistakes might arise in the reckoning. The philosophers upstairs might differ about the figures, or at least in equating them. The philosopher requires fact, phenomenon, natural law, at every turn to keep him right; and without at least some glimpse of these, he may travel far afield. So long as Schopenhauer sees one thing in the course of Nature and Rousseau another, it will always be well to have Nature herself to act as referee. The end as read in Nature, and the end as re-read in, and interpreted by, the higher Nature of Man may be very different things; but nothing can be done till the End-in-the-phenomenon clears the way for the End-in-itself—till science overtakes philosophy with facts. When that is done, everything can be done. With the finding of the other half of the ladder, even Agnosticism may retire. Science cannot permanently pronounce itself “not knowing,” till it has exhausted the possibilities of knowing. And in this case the Agnosticism is premature, for science has only to look again, and it will discover that the missing facts are there.
Seldom has there been an instance on so large a scale of a biological error corrupting a whole philosophy. Bacon’s aphorism was never more true: “This I dare affirm in knowledge of Nature, that a little natural philosophy, and the first entrance into it, doth dispose the opinion to atheism, but on the other side, much natural philosophy, and wading deep into it, will bring about men’s minds to religion.”1515Meditationes Sacrae, X. Hitherto, the Evolutionist has had practically no other basis than the Struggle for Life. Suppose even we leave that untouched, the addition of an Other-regarding basis makes an infinite difference. For when it is then asked on which of them the process turns, and the answer is given ‘On both,’ we perceive that it is neither by the one alone, nor by the other alone, that the process is to be interpreted, but by a higher unity which resolves and embraces all. And as both are equally necessary to the antinomy, even that of the two which seems irreconcilable with higher ends is seen to be necessary. Viewed simpliciter, the Struggle for Life appears irreconcilable with ethical ends, a prodigious anomaly in a moral world; but viewed in continuous reaction with the Struggle for the Life of Others, it discloses itself as an instrument of perfection the most subtle and far-reaching that reason could devise.
The presence of the second factor therefore, while it leaves the first untouched, cannot leave its implications untouched. It completely alters these implications. It has never been denied that the Struggle for Life is an efficient instrument of progress; the sole difficulty has always been to justify the nature of the instrument. But if even it be shown that this is only half the instrument, teleology gains something. If the fuller view takes nothing away from the process of Evolution, it imports something into it which changes the whole aspect of the case. For even from the first that factor is there. The Struggle for the Life of Others, as we have seen, is no interpolation at the end of the process, but radical, engrained in the world-order as profoundly as the Struggle for Life. By what right, then, has Nature been interpreted only by the Struggle for Life? With far greater justice might science interpret it in the light of the Struggle for the Life of Others. For, in the first place, unless there had been this second factor, the world could not have existed. Without the Struggle for the Life of Others, obviously there would have been no Others. In the second place, unless there had been a Struggle for the Life of Others, the Struggle for Life could not have been kept up. As will be shown later the Struggle for Life almost wholly supports itself on the products of the Struggle for the Life of Others. In the third place, without the Struggle for the Life of Others, the Struggle for Life as regards its energies would have died down, and failed of its whole achievement. It is the ceaseless pressure produced by the exuberant fertility of Reproduction that creates any valuable Struggle for Life at all. The moment “Others” multiply, the individual struggle becomes keen up to the disciplinary point. It was this, indeed—through the reading of Malthus on Over-population—that suggested to Mr. Darwin the value of the Struggle for Life. The law of Over-population from that time forward became the foundation-stone of his theory; and recent biological research has made the basis more solid than ever. The Struggle for the Life of Others on the plant and animal plane, in the mere work of multiplying lives, is a final condition of progress. Without competition there can be no fight, and without fight there can be no victory. In other words, without the Struggle for the Life of Others there can be no Struggle for Life, and therefore no Evolution. Finally, and all the reasons already given are frivolous beside it, had there been no Altruism—Altruism in the definite sense of unselfishness, sympathy, and self-sacrifice for Others, the whole higher world of life had perished as soon as it was created. For hours, or days, or weeks in the early infancy of all higher animals, maternal care and sympathy are a condition of existence. Altruism had to enter the world, and any species which neglected it was extinguished in a generation.
No doubt a case could be made out likewise for the imperative value of the Struggle for Life. The position has just been granted. So far from disputing it, we assume it to be equally essential to Nature and to a judgment upon the process of Evolution. But what is disputed is that the Struggle for Life is either the key to Nature, or that it is more important in itself than the Struggle for the Life of Others. It is pitiful work pitting the right hand against the left, the heart against the head; but if it be insisted that there is neither right hand nor heart, the proclamation is necessary not only that they exist, but that absolutely they are as important and relatively to ethical Man of infinitely greater moment than anything that functions either in the animal or social organism.
But why, if all this be true of the Struggle for the Life of Others, has a claim so imperious not been recognized by science? That a phenomenon of this distinction should have attracted so little attention suggests a suspicion. Does it really exist?
Is the biological basis sound? Have we not at least exaggerated its significance? The biologist will judge. Though no doubt the function of Reproduction is intimately connected in Physiology with the function of Nutrition, the facts as stated here are facts of Nature; and some glimpse of the influence of this second factor will be given in the sequel from which even the non-biological reader may draw his own conclusions. Difficult as it seems to account for the ignoring of an elemental fact in framing the doctrine of Evolution, there are circumstances which make the omission less unintelligible. Foremost, of course, there stands the overpowering influence of Mr. Darwin. In spite of the fact that he warned his followers against it, this largely prejudged the issue. Next is to be considered the narrowing, one had almost said the blighting, effect of specialism. Necessary to the progress of science, the first era of a reign of specialism is disastrous to philosophy. The men who in field and laboratory are working out the facts, do not speculate at all. Content with slowly building up the sum of actual knowledge in some neglected and restricted province, they are too absorbed to notice even what the workers in the other provinces are about. Thus it happens that while there are many scientific men, there are few scientific thinkers. The complaint is often made that science speculates too much. It is quite the other way. One has only to read the average book of science in almost any department to wonder at the wealth of knowledge, the brilliancy of observation, and the barrenness of idea. On the other hand, though scientific experts will not think themselves, there is always a multitude of onlookers waiting to do it for them. Among these what strikes one is the ignorance of fact and the audacity of the idea. The moment any great half-truth in Nature is unearthed, these unqualified practitioners leap to a generalization; and the observers meantime, on the track of the other half, are too busy or too oblivious to refute their heresies. Hence, long after its foundations are undermined, a brilliant generalization will retain its hold upon the popular mind; and before the complementary, the qualifying, or the neutralizing facts can be supplied, the mischief is done.
But while this is true of many who play with the double-edged tools of science, it is not true of a third class. When we turn to the pages of the few whose science is adequate and whose sweep is over the whole vast horizon, we find, as we should expect, some recognition of the altruistic factor. Though Mr. Herbert Spencer, to whom the appeal in this connection is obvious, makes a different use of the fact, it has not escaped him. Not only does the Other-regarding function receive recognition, but he allots it a high place in his system. Of its ethical bearings he is equally clear. “What,” he asks, “is the ethical aspect of these [altruistic] principles? In the first place, animal life of all but the lowest kinds has been maintained by virtue of them. Excluding the Protozoa, among which their operation is scarcely discernible, we see that without gratis benefits to offspring, and earned benefits to adults, life could not have continued. In the second place, by virtue of them life has gradually evolved into higher forms. By care of offspring, which has become greater with advancing organization, and by survival of the fittest in the competition among adults, which has become more habitual with advancing organization, superiority has been perpetually fostered and further advances caused.”1616Principles of Ethics, Vol. II., p. 5. Fiske, Littre, Romanes, Le Conte, L. Buchner, Miss Buckley, and Prince Kropotkin have expressed themselves partly in the same direction; and Geddes and Thomson, in so many words, recognize “the co-existence of twin-streams of egoism and altruism, which often merge for a space without losing their distinctness, and are traceable to a common origin in the simplest forms of life.”1717The Evolution of Sex, p. 279. The last named—doubtless because their studies have taken them both into the fields of pure biology and of bionomics—more clearly than any other modern writers, have grasped the bearings of this theme in all directions, and they fearlessly take their standpoint from the physiology of protoplasm. Thus, “in the hunger and reproductive attractions of the lowest organisms, the self-regarding and other-regarding activities of the higher find their starting-point. Though some vague consciousness is perhaps co-existent with life itself, we can only speak with confidence of psychical egoism and altruism after a central nervous system has been definitely established. At the same time, the activities of even the lowest organisms are often distinctly referable to either category.... Hardly distinguishable at the outset, the primitive hunger and love become the starting-points of divergent lines of egoistic and altruistic emotion and activity.”1818Ibid., p. 279.
That at a much earlier stage than is usually supposed, Evolution visibly enters upon the “rudimentary ethical” plane, is certain, and we shall hope to outline the proof. But even if the thesis fails, it remains to challenge the general view that the Struggle for Life is everything, and the Struggle for the Life of Others nothing. Seeing not only that the second is the more important, but also this far more significant fact—which has not yet been alluded to—that as Evolution proceeds the one Struggle waxes, and the other wanes, would it not be wiser to study the drama nearer its denouement before deciding whether it was a moral, a non-moral, or an immoral play?
Lest the alleged waning of the Struggle for Life convey a wrong impression, let it be added that of course the word is to be taken qualitatively. The Struggle in itself can never cease. What ceases is its so-called anti-ethical character. For nothing is in finer evidence as we rise in the scale of life than the gradual tempering of the Struggle for Life. Its slow amelioration is the work of ages, may be the work of ages still, but its animal qualities in the social life of Man are being surely left behind; and though the mark of the savage and the brute still mar its handiwork, these harsher qualities must pass away. In that new social order which the gathering might of the altruistic spirit is creating now around us, in that reign of Love which must one day, if the course of Evolution holds on its way, be realized, the baser elements will find that solvent prepared for them from the beginning in anticipation of a higher rule on earth. Interpreting the course of Evolution scientifically, whether from its starting-point in the first protoplasm, or from the rallying-point of its two great forces in the social organism of to-day, it becomes more and more certain that only from the commingled achievement of both can the nature of the process be truly judged. Yet, as one sees the one sun set, and the other rise with a splendour the more astonishing and bewildering as the centuries roll on, it is impossible to withhold a verdict as to which may be most reasonably looked upon as the ultimate reality of the world. The path of progress and the path of Altruism are one. Evolution is nothing but the Involution of Love, the revelation of Infinite Spirit, the Eternal Life returning to Itself. Even the great shadow of Egoism which darkens the past is revealed as shadow only because we are compelled to read it by the higher light which has come. In the very act of judging it to be shadow, we assume and vindicate the light. And in every vision of the light, contrariwise, we resolve the shadow, and perceive the end for which both light and dark are given.
“I can believe,
this dread machinery
Of sin and sorrow, would confound me else,
Devised—all pain, at most expenditure
Of pain by Who devised pain—to evolve,
By new machinery in counterpart,
The moral qualities of Man—how else?—
To make him love in turn, and be beloved,
Creative and self-sacrificing too,
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