Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Evolution and Ethics and Other Essays by Thomas H. Huxley

Part 1 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.6 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.




THE discourse on "Evolution and Ethics," reprinted in the first half of
the present volume, was delivered before the University of Oxford, as
the second of the annual lectures founded by Mr. Romanes: whose name I
may not write without deploring the untimely death, in the flower of
his age, of a friend endeared to me, as to so many others, by his
kindly nature; and justly valued by all his colleagues for his powers
of investigation and his zeal for the advancement of knowledge. I well
remember, when Mr. Romanes' early work came into my hands, as one of
the secretaries of the Royal Society, how much I rejoiced in the
accession to the ranks of the little army of workers in science of a
recruit so well qualified to take a high place among us.

It was at my friend's urgent request that I agreed to undertake the
lecture, should I be honoured with an official proposal to give it,
though I confess not without misgivings, if only on account of the
serious fatigue and hoarseness which public speaking has for some
years caused me; while I knew that it would be my fate to follow the
most accomplished and facile orator of our time, whose indomitable
youth is in no matter more manifest than in his penetrating and
musical voice. A certain saying about comparisons intruded itself
somewhat importunately.

And even if I disregarded the weakness of my body in the matter of
voice, and that of my mind in the matter of vanity, there remained a
third difficulty. For several reasons, my attention, during a number
of years, has been much directed to the bearing of modern scientific
thought on the problems of morals and of politics, and I did not care
to be diverted from that topic. Moreover, I thought it the most
important and the worthiest which, at the present time, could engage
the attention even of an ancient and renowned University.

But it is a condition of the Romanes foundation that the lecturer
shall abstain from treating of either Religion or Politics; and it
appeared to me that, more than most, perhaps, I was bound to act, not
merely up to the letter, but in the spirit, of that prohibition. Yet
Ethical Science is, on all sides, so entangled with Religion and
Politics that the lecturer who essays to touch the former without
coming into contact with either of the latter, needs all the dexterity
of an egg-dancer; and may even discover that his sense of clearness
and his sense of propriety come into conflict, by no means to the
advantage of the former.

I have little notion of the real magnitude of these difficulties when I
set about my task; but I am consoled for my pains and anxiety by
observing that none of the multitudinous criticisms with which I have
been favoured and, often, instructed, find fault with me on the score
of having strayed out of bounds.

Among my critics there are not a few to whom I feel deeply indebted for
the careful attention which they have given to the exposition thus
hampered; and further weakened, I am afraid, by my forgetfulness of a
maxim touching lectures of a popular character, which has descended to
me from that prince of lecturers, Mr. Faraday. He was once asked by a
beginner, called upon to address a highly select and cultivated
audience, what he might suppose his hearers to know already. Whereupon
the past master of the art of exposition emphatically replied

To my shame as a retired veteran, who has all his life profited by
this great precept of lecturing strategy, I forgot all about it just
when it would have been most useful. I was fatuous enough to imagine
that a number of propositions, which I thought established, and which,
in fact, I had advanced without challenge on former occasions, needed
no repetition.

I have endeavoured to repair my error by prefacing the lecture with
some matter--chiefly elementary or recapitulatory--to which I have
given the title of "Prolegomena" I wish I could have hit upon a
heading of less pedantic aspect which would have served my purpose;
and if it be urged that the new building looks over large for the
edifice to which it is added, I can only plead the precedent of the
ancient architects, who always made the adytum the smallest part of
the temple.

If I had attempted to reply in full to the criticisms to which I have
referred, I know not what extent of ground would have been covered by
my pronaos. All I have endeavoured to do, at present, is to remove
that which seems to have proved a stumbling-block to many--namely, the
apparent paradox that ethical nature, while born of cosmic nature, is
necessarily at enmity with its parent. Unless the arguments set forth
in the Prolegomena, in the simplest language at my command, have some
flaw which I am unable to discern, this seeming paradox is a truth, as
great as it is plain, the recognition of which is fundamental for the
ethical philosopher.

We cannot do without our inheritance from the forefathers who were the
puppets of the cosmic process; the society which renounces it must be
destroyed from without. Still less can we de with too much of it; the
society in which it dominates must be destroyed from within.

The motive of the drama of human life is the necessity, laid upon every
man who comes into the world, of discovering the mean between
self-assertion and self-restraint suited to his character and his
circumstances. And the eternally tragic aspect of the drama lies in
this: that the problem set before us is one the elements of which can
be but imperfectly known, and of which even an approximately right
solution rarely presents itself, until that stern critic, aged
experience, has been furnished with ample justification for venting
his sarcastic humour upon the irreparable blunders we have already

I have reprinted the letters on the "Darkest England" scheme, published
in the "Times" of December, 1890, and January, 1891; and subsequently
issued, with additions, as a pamphlet, under the title of "Social
Diseases and Worse Remedies," because, although the clever attempt to
rush the country on behalf of that scheme has been balked, Booth's
standing army remains afoot, retaining all the capacities for mischief
which are inherent in its constitution. I am desirous that this fact
should be kept steadily in view; and that the moderation of the
clamour of the drums and trumpets should not lead us to forget the
existence of a force, which, in bad hands, may, at any time, be used
for bad purposes.

In 1892, a Committee was "formed for the purpose of investigating the
manner in which the moneys, subscribed in response to the appeal made
in the book entitled 'In Darkest England and the Way out,' have been
expended." The members of this body were gentlemen in whose competency
and equity every one must have complete confidence; and in December,
1892, they published a report in which they declare that, "with the
exception of the sums expended on the 'barracks' at Hadleigh," the
moneys in question have been "devoted only to the objects and expended
in the methods set out in that appeal, and to and in no others."

Nevertheless, their final conclusion runs as follows: "(4) That whilst
the invested property, real and personal, resulting from such Appeal
is so vested and controlled by the Trust of the Deed of January 30th,
1891, that any application of it to purposes other than those declared
in the deed by any 'General' of the Salvation Army would amount to a
breach of trust, and would subject him to the proceedings of a civil
and criminal character, before mentioned in the Report, ADEQUATE LEGAL

The passage I have italicised forms part of a document dated December
19th, 1892. It follows, that, even after the Deed of January 30th,
1891, was executed, "adequate legal safeguards" "to prevent the
misapplication of the property" did not exist. What then was the state
of things, up to a week earlier, that is on January 22nd, 1891, when
my twelfth and last letter appeared in the "Times"? A better
justification for what I have said about-the want of adequate security
for the proper administration of the funds intrusted to Mr. Booth
could not be desired, unless it be that which is to be found in the
following passages of the Report (pp. 36 and 37):--

"It is possible that a 'General' may be forgetful of his duty, and
sell property and appropriate the proceeds to his own use, or to
meeting the general liabilities of the Salvation Army. As matters now
stand, he, and he alone, would have control over such a sale. Against
such possibilities it appears to the Committee to be reasonable that
some check should be imposed."

Once more let it be remembered that this opinion given under the hand
of Sir Henry James, was expressed by the Committee, with the Trust
Deed of 1891, which has been so sedulously flaunted before the public,
in full view.

The Committee made a suggestion for the improvement of this very
unsatisfactory state of things; but the exact value set upon it by the
suggestors should be carefully considered (p.37).

"The Committee are fully aware that if the views thus expressed are
carried out, the safeguards and checks created will not be sufficient
for all purposes absolutely to prevent possible dealing with the
property and moneys inconsistent with the purposes to which they are
intended to be devoted."

In fact, they are content to express the very modest hope that "if the
suggestion made be acted upon, some hindrance will thereby be placed in
the way of any one acting dishonestly in respect of the disposal of
the property and moneys referred to."

I do not know, and, under the circumstances, I cannot say I much care,
whether the suggestions of the Committee have, or have not, been acted
upon. Whether or not, the fact remains that an unscrupulous "General"
will have a pretty free hand, notwithstanding "some" hindrance.

Thus, the judgment of the highly authoritative, and certainly not
hostile, Committee of 1892, upon the issues with which they concerned
themselves is hardly such as to inspire enthusiastic confidence. And
it is further to be borne in mind that they carefully excluded from
their duties "any examination of the principles, government, teaching,
or methods of the Salvation Army as a religious organization, or of
its affairs" except so far as they related to the administration of
the moneys collected by the "Darkest England" appeal.

Consequently, the most important questions discussed in my letters were
not in any way touched by the Committee. Even if their report had been
far more favourable to the "Darkest England" scheme than it is; if it
had really assured the contributors that the funds raised were fully
secured against malversation; the objections, on social and political
grounds, to Mr. Booth's despotic organization, with its thousands of
docile satellites pledged to blind obedience, set forth in the
letters, would be in no degree weakened. The "sixpennyworth of good"
would still be out-weighed by the "shillingsworth of harm"; if indeed
the relative worth, or unworth, of the latter should not be rated in
pounds rather than in shillings.

What would one not give for the opinion of the financial members of
the Committee about the famous Bank; and that of the legal experts
about the proposed "tribunes of the people"?

July, 1894.





EVOLUTION AND ETHICS [1893]. . . . . . . . . . . . .46


SCIENCE AND MORALS [1886]. . . . . . . . . . . . . 117


CAPITAL--THE MOTHER OF LABOUR [1890] . . . . . . . 147



Preface. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 188
The Struggle for Existence in Human Society. 195
Letters to the Times . . . . . . . . . . . . 237
Legal Opinions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 312
The Articles of War of the Salvation Army. . 321







IT may be safely assumed that, two thousand years ago, before Caesar
set foot in southern Britain, the whole country-side visible from the
windows of the room in which I write, was in what is called "the state
of nature." Except, it may be, by raising a few sepulchral mounds,
such as those which still, here and there, break the flowing contours
of the downs, man's hands had made no mark upon it; and the thin veil
of vegetation which overspread the broad-backed heights and the
shelving sides of the coombs was unaffected by his industry. The
native grasses and weeds, the scattered patches of gorse, contended
with one another for the possession of the scanty surface soil; they
fought against the droughts of summer, the frosts of winter, and the
furious gales which swept, with unbroken force, now from the [2]
Atlantic, and now from the North Sea, at all times of the year; they
filled up, as they best might, the gaps made in their ranks by all
sorts of underground and overground animal ravagers. One year with
another, an average population, the floating balance of the unceasing
struggle for existence among the indigenous plants, maintained itself.
It is as little to be doubted, that an essentially similar state of
nature prevailed, in this region, for many thousand years before the
coming of Caesar; and there is no assignable reason for denying that
it might continue to exist through an equally prolonged futurity,
except for the intervention of man.

Reckoned by our customary standards of duration, the native vegetation,
like the "everlasting hills" which it clothes, seems a type of
permanence. The little Amarella Gentians, which abound in some places
to-day, are the descendants of those that were trodden underfoot, by
the prehistoric savages who have left their flint tools, about, here
and there; and they followed ancestors which, in the climate of the
glacial epoch, probably flourished better than they do now. Compared
with the long past of this humble plant, all the history of civilized
men is but an episode.

Yet nothing is more certain than that, measured by the liberal scale
of time-keeping of the universe, this present state of nature, however
it may seem to have gone and to go on for ever, is [3] but a fleeting
phase of her infinite variety; merely the last of the series of
changes which the earth's surface has undergone in the course of the
millions of years of its existence. Turn back a square foot of the
thin turf, and the solid foundation of the land, exposed in cliffs of
chalk five hundred feet high on the adjacent shore, yields full
assurance of a time when the sea covered the site of the "everlasting
hills"; and when the vegetation of what land lay nearest, was as
different from the present Flora of the Sussex downs, as that of
Central Africa now is.* No less certain is it that, between the time
during which the chalk was formed and that at which the original turf
came into existence, thousands of centuries elapsed, in the course of
which, the state of nature of the ages during which the chalk was
deposited, passed into that which now is, by changes so slow that, in
the coming and going of the generations of men, had such witnessed
them, the contemporary, conditions would have seemed to be unchanging
and unchangeable.

* See "On a piece of Chalk" in the preceding volume of these
Essays (vol. viii. p. 1).

But it is also certain that, before the deposition of the chalk, a
vastly longer period had elapsed; throughout which it is easy to
follow the traces of the same process of ceaseless modification and of
the internecine struggle for existence of living things; and that even
when we can get no further [4] back, it is not because there is any
reason to think we have reached the beginning, but because the trail
of the most ancient life remains hidden, or has become obliterated.

Thus that state of nature of the world of plants which we began by
considering, is far from possessing the attribute of permanence. Rather
its very essence is impermanence. It may have lasted twenty or thirty
thousand years, it may last for twenty or thirty thousand years more,
without obvious change; but, as surely as it has followed upon a very
different state, so it will be followed by an equally different
condition. That which endures is not one or another association of
living forms, but the process of which the cosmos is the product, and
of which these are among the transitory expressions. And in the living
world, one of the most characteristic features of this cosmic process
is the struggle for existence, the competition of each with all, the
result of which is the selection, that is to say, the survival of
those forms which, on the whole, are best adapted, to the conditions
which at any period obtain; and which are, therefore, in that respect,
and only in that respect, the fittest.* The acme reached by the cosmic
[5] process in the vegetation of the downs is seen in the turf, with
its weeds and gorse. Under the conditions, they have come out of the
struggle victorious; and, by surviving, have proved that they are the
fittest to survive.

* That every theory of evolution must be consistent not merely
with progressive development, but with indefinite persistence
in the same condition and with retrogressive modification, is a
point which I have insisted upon repeatedly from the year 1862
till now. See Collected Essays, vol. ii. pp. 461-89; vol. iii.
p. 33; vol. viii. p. 304. In the address on "Geological
Contemporaneity and Persistent Types" (1862), the
paleontological proofs of this proposition were, I believe,
first set forth.

That the state of nature, at any time, is a temporary phase of a
process of incessant change, which has been going on for innumerable
ages, appears to me to be a proposition as well established as any in
modern history.

Paleontology assures us, in addition, that the ancient philosophers
who, with less reason, held the same doctrine, erred in supposing that
the phases formed a cycle, exactly repeating the past, exactly
foreshadowing the future, in their rotations. On the contrary, it
furnishes us with conclusive reasons for thinking that, if every link
in the ancestry of these humble indigenous plants had been preserved
and were accessible to us, the whole would present a converging series
of forms of gradually diminishing complexity, until, at some period in
the history of the earth, far more remote than any of which organic
remains have yet been discovered, they would merge in those low groups
among which the Boundaries between animal and vegetable life become

* "On the Border Territory between the Animal and the Vegetable
Kingdoms," Essays, vol. viii. p. 162

[6] The word "evolution," now generally applied to the cosmic process,
has had a singular history, and is used in various senses.* Taken in
its popular signification it means progressive development, that is,
gradual change from a condition of relative uniformity to one of
relative complexity; but its connotation has been widened to include
the phenomena of retrogressive metamorphosis, that is, of progress
from a condition of relative complexity to one of relative uniformity.

As a natural process, of the same character as the development of a
tree from its seed, or of a fowl from its egg, evolution excludes
creation and all other kinds of supernatural intervention. As the
expression of a fixed order, every stage of which is the effect of
causes operating according to definite rules, the conception of
evolution no less excludes that of chance. It is very desirable to
remember that evolution is not an explanation of the cosmic process,
but merely a generalized statement of the method and results of that
process. And, further, that, if there is proof that the cosmic process
was set going by any agent, then that agent will be, the creator of it
and of all its products, although supernatural intervention may remain
strictly excluded from its further course.

So far as that limited revelation of the nature of things, which we
call scientific knowledge, has [7] yet gone, it tends, with constantly
increasing emphasis, to the belief that, not merely the world of
plants, but that of animals; not merely living things, but the whole
fabric of the earth; not merely our planet, but the whole solar
system; not merely our star and its satellites, but the millions of
similar bodies which bear witness to the order which pervades
boundless space, and has endured through boundless time; are all
working out their predestined courses of evolution.

* See "Evolution in Biology," Essays, vol. ii. p. 187

With none of these have I anything to do, at present, except with that
exhibited by the forms of life which tenant the earth. All plants and
animals exhibit the tendency to vary, the causes of which have yet to
be ascertained; it is the tendency of the conditions of life, at any
given time, while favouring the existence of the variations best
adapted to them, to oppose that of the rest and thus to exercise
selection; and all living things tend to multiply without limit, while
the means of support are limited; the obvious cause of which is the
production of offspring more numerous than their progenitors, but with
equal expectation of life in the actuarial sense. Without the first
tendency there could be no evolution. Without the second, there would
be no good reason why one variation should disappear and another take
its place; that is to say there would be no selection. Without the [8]
third, the struggle for existence, the agent of the selective process
in the state of nature, would vanish.*

* Collected Essays, vol. ii. passim.

Granting the existence of these tendencies, all the known facts of the
history of plants and of animals may be brought into rational
correlation. And this is more than can be said for any other
hypothesis that I know of. Such hypotheses, for example, as that of
the existence of a primitive, orderless chaos; of a passive and
sluggish eternal matter moulded, with but partial success, by
archetypal ideas; of a brand-new world-stuff suddenly created and
swiftly shaped by a supernatural power; receive no encouragement, but
the contrary, from our present knowledge. That our earth may once have
formed part of a nebulous cosmic magma is certainly possible, indeed
seems highly probable; but there is no reason to doubt that order
reigned there, as completely as amidst what we regard as the most
finished works of nature or of man.** The faith which is born of
knowledge, finds its object in an eternal order, bringing forth
ceaseless change, through endless time, in endless space; the
manifestations of the cosmic energy alternating between phases of
potentiality and phases of explication. It may be that, as Kant
suggests,*** every cosmic [9] magma predestined to evolve into a new
world, has been the no less predestined end of a vanished predecessor.

**Ibid., vol. iv. p. 138; vol. v. pp. 71-73.
***Ibid., vol. viii. p. 321.


Three or four years have elapsed since the state of nature, to which I
have referred, was brought to an end, so far as a small patch of the
soil is concerned, by the intervention of man. The patch was cut off
from the rest by a wall; within the area thus protected, the native
vegetation was, as far as possible, extirpated; while a colony of
strange plants was imported and set down in its place. In short, it
was made into a garden. At the present time, this artificially treated
area presents an aspect extraordinarily different from that of so much
of the land as remains in the state of nature, outside the wall.
Trees, shrubs, and herbs, many of them appertaining to the state of
nature of remote parts of the globe, abound and flourish. Moreover,
considerable quantities of vegetables, fruits, and flowers are
produced, of kinds which neither now exist, nor have ever existed,
except under conditions such as obtain in the garden; and which,
therefore, are as much works of the art of man as the frames and
glasshouses in which some of them are raised. That the "state of Art,"
thus created in the state of nature by man, is sustained by and
dependent on him, would at once become [10] apparent, if the watchful
supervision of the gardener were withdrawn, and the antagonistic
influences of the general cosmic process were no longer sedulously
warded off, or counteracted. The walls and gates would decay;
quadrupedal and bipedal intruders would devour and tread down the
useful and beautiful plants; birds, insects, blight, and mildew would
work their will; the seeds of the native plants, carried by winds or
other agencies, would immigrate, and in virtue of their long-earned
special adaptation to the local conditions, these despised native
weeds would soon choke their choice exotic rivals. A century or two
hence, little beyond the foundations of the wall and of the houses and
frames would be left, in evidence of the victory of the cosmic powers
at work in the state of nature, over the temporary obstacles to their
supremacy, set up by the art of the horticulturist.

It will be admitted that the garden is as much a work of art,* or
artifice, as anything that can be mentioned. The energy localised in
certain human bodies, directed by similarly localised intellects, has
produced a collocation of other material bodies which could not be
brought about in the state of nature. The same proposition is true of
all the

* The sense of the term "Art" is becoming narrowed; "work of
Art" to most people means a picture, a statue, or a piece of
bijouterie; by way of compensation "artist" has included in its
wide embrace cooks and ballet girls, no less than painters and

[11] works of man's hands, from a flint implement to a cathedral or a
chronometer; and it is because it is true, that we call these things
artificial, term them works of art, or artifice, by way of
distinguishing them from the products of the cosmic process, working
outside man, which we call natural, or works of nature. The
distinction thus drawn between the works of nature and those of man,
is universally recognized; and it is, as I conceive, both useful and


No doubt, it may be properly urged that the operation of human energy
and intelligence, which has brought into existence and maintains the
garden, by what I have called "the horticultural process," is,
strictly speaking, part and parcel of the cosmic process. And no one
could more readily agree to that proposition than I. In fact, I do not
know that any one has taken more pains than I have, during the last
thirty years, to insist upon the doctrine, so much reviled in the
early part of that period, that man, physical, intellectual, and
moral, is as much a part of nature, as purely a product of the cosmic
process, as the humblest weed.*

* See "Man's Place in Nature," Collected Essays, vol. vii., and
"On the Struggle for Existence in Human Society" (1888), below.

But if, following up this admission, it is urged [12] that, such being
the case, the cosmic process cannot be in antagonism with that
horticultural process which is part of itself--I can only reply, that
if the conclusion that the two are, antagonistic is logically absurd,
I am sorry for logic, because, as we have seen, the fact is so. The
garden is in the same position as every other work of man's art; it is
a result of the cosmic process working through and by human energy and
intelligence; and, as is the case with every other artificial thing
set up in the state of nature, the influences of the latter, are
constantly tending to break it down and destroy it. No doubt, the
Forth bridge and an ironclad in the offing, are, in ultimate resort,
products of the cosmic process; as much so as the river which flows
under the one, or the seawater on which the other floats.
Nevertheless, every breeze strains the bridge a little, every tide
does something to weaken its foundations; every change of temperature
alters the adjustment of its parts, produces friction and consequent
wear and tear. From time to time, the bridge must be repaired, just
as the ironclad must go into dock; simply because nature is always
tending to reclaim that which her child, man, has borrowed from her
and has arranged in combinations which are not those favoured by the
general cosmic process.

Thus, it is not only true that the cosmic energy, working through man
upon a portion of [13] the plant world, opposes the same energy as it
works through the state of nature, but a similar antagonism is
everywhere manifest between the artificial and the natural. Even in
the state of nature itself, what is the struggle for existence but the
antagonism of the results of the cosmic process in the region of life,
one to another?*

* Or to put the case still more simply. When a man lays hold of
the two ends of a piece of string and pulls them, with intent
to break it, the right arm is certainly exerted in antagonism
to the left arm; yet both arms derive their energy from the
same original source.


Not only is the state of nature hostile to the state of art of the
garden; but the principle of the horticultural process, by which the
latter is created and maintained, is antithetic to that of the cosmic
process. The characteristic feature of the latter is the intense and
unceasing competition of the struggle for existence. The
characteristic of the former is the elimination of that struggle, by
the removal of the conditions which give rise to it. The tendency of
the cosmic process is to bring about the adjustment of the forms of
plant life to the current conditions; the tendency of the
horticultural process is the adjustment of the conditions to the needs
of the forms of plant life which the gardener desires to raise.

The cosmic process uses unrestricted multiplication [14] as the means
whereby hundreds compete for the place and nourishment adequate for
one; it employs frost and drought to cut off the weak and unfortunate;
to survive, there is need not only of strength, but of flexibility and
of good fortune.

The gardener, on the other hand, restricts multiplication; provides
that each plant shall have sufficient space and nourishment; protects
from frost and drought; and, in every other way, attempts to modify
the conditions, in such a manner as to bring about the survival of
those forms which most nearly approach the standard of the useful or
the beautiful, which he has in his mind.

If the fruits and the tubers, the foliage and the flowers thus
obtained, reach, or sufficiently approach, that ideal, there is no
reason why the status quo attained should not be indefinitely
prolonged. So long as the state of nature remains approximately the
same, so long will the energy and intelligence which created the
garden suffice to maintain it. However, the limits within which this
mastery of man over nature can be maintained are narrow. If the
conditions of the cretaceous epoch returned, I fear the most skilful
of gardeners would have to give up the cultivation of apples and
gooseberries; while, if those of the glacial period once again
obtained, open asparagus beds would be superfluous, and the training
of fruit [15] trees against the most favourable of mouth walls, a
waste of time and trouble.

But it is extremely important to note that, the state of nature
remaining the same, if the produce does not satisfy the gardener, it
may be made to approach his ideal more closely. Although the struggle
for existence may be at end, the possibility of progress remains. In
discussions on these topics, it is often strangely forgotten that the
essential conditions of the modification, or evolution, of living
things are variation and hereditary transmission. Selection is the
means by which certain variations are favoured and their progeny
preserved. But the struggle for existence is only one of the means by
which selection may be effected. The endless varieties of cultivated
flowers, fruits, roots, tubers, and bulbs are not products of
selection by means of the struggle for existence, but of direct
selection, in view of an ideal of utility or beauty. Amidst a multitude
of plants, occupying the same station and subjected to the same
conditions, in the garden, varieties arise. The varieties tending in a
given direction are preserved, and the rest are destroyed. And the
same process takes place among the varieties until, for example, the
wild kale becomes a cabbage, or the wild Viola tricolor, a prize



The process of colonisation presents analogies to the formation of a
garden which are highly instructive. Suppose a shipload of English
colonists sent to form a settlement, in such a country as Tasmania was
in the middle of the last century. On landing, they find themselves in
the midst of a state of nature, widely different from that left behind
them in everything but the most general physical conditions. The
common plants, the common birds and quadrupeds, are as totally
distinct as the men from anything to be seen on the side of the globe
from which they come. The colonists proceed to put an end to this
state of things over as large an area as they desire to occupy. They
clear away the native vegetation, extirpate or drive out the animal
population, so far as may be necessary, and take measures to defend
themselves from the re-immigration of either. In their place, they
introduce English grain and fruit trees; English dogs, sheep, cattle,
horses; and English men; in fact, they set up a new Flora and Fauna and
a new variety of mankind, within the old state of nature. Their farms
and pastures represent a garden on a great scale, and themselves the
gardeners who have to keep it up, in watchful antagonism to the old
regime. Considered as a whole, the colony is a composite unit
introduced into the old state of nature; and, [17] thenceforward, a
competitor in the struggle for existence, to conquer or be vanquished.

Under the conditions supposed, there is no doubt of the result, if the
work of the colonists be carried out energetically and with
intelligent combination of all their forces. On the other hand, if
they are slothful, stupid, and careless; or if they waste their
energies in contests with one another, the chances are that the old
state of nature will have the best of it. The native savage will
destroy the immigrant civilized man; of the English animals and plants
some will be extirpated by their indigenous rivals, others will pass
into the feral state and themselves become components of the state of
nature. In a few decades, all other traces of the settlement will have


Let us now imagine that some administrative authority, as far superior
in power and intelligence to men, as men are to their cattle, is set
over the colony, charged to deal with its human elements in such a
manner as to assure the victory of the settlement over the
antagonistic influences of the state of nature in which it is set
down. He would proceed in the same fashion as that in which the
gardener dealt with his garden. In the first place, he would, as far
as possible, put a [18] stop to the influence of external competition
by thoroughly extirpating and excluding the native rivals, whether
men, beasts, or plants. And our administrator would select his human
agents, with a view to his ideal of a successful colony, just as the
gardener selects his plants with a view to his ideal of useful or
beautiful products.

In the second place, in order that no struggle for the means of
existence between these human agents should weaken the efficiency of
the corporate whole in the battle with the state of nature, he would
make arrangements by which each would be provided with those means;
and would be relieved from the fear of being deprived of them by his
stronger or more cunning fellows. Laws, sanctioned by the combined
force of the colony, would restrain the self-assertion of each man
within the limits required for the maintenance of peace. In other
words, the cosmic struggle for existence, as between man and man,
would be rigorously suppressed; and selection, by its means, would be
as completely excluded as it is from the garden.

At the same time, the obstacles to the full development of the
capacities of the colonists by other conditions of the state of nature
than those already mentioned, would be removed by the creation of
artificial conditions of existence of a more favourable character:
Protection against extremes of heat and cold would [19] be afforded by
houses and clothing; drainage and irrigation works would antagonise
the effects of excessive rain and excessive drought; roads, bridges,
canals, carriages, and ships would overcome the natural obstacles to
locomotion and transport; mechanical engines would supplement the
natural strength of men and of their draught animals; hygienic
precautions would check, or remove, the natural causes of disease.
With every step of this progress in civilization, the colonists would
become more and more independent of the state of nature; more and
more, their lives would be conditioned by a state of art. In order to
attain his ends, the administrator would have to avail himself of the
courage, industry, and co-operative intelligence of the settlers; and
it is plain that the interest of the community would be best served by
increasing the proportion of persons who possess such qualities, and
diminishing that of persons devoid of them. In other words, by
selection directed towards an ideal.

Thus the administrator might look to the establishment of an earthly
paradise, a true garden of Eden, in which all things should work
together towards the well-being of the gardeners: within which the
cosmic process, the coarse struggle for existence of the state of
nature, should be abolished; in which that state should be replaced by
a state of art; [20] where every plant and every lower animal should
be adapted to human wants, and would perish if human supervision and
protection were withdrawn; where men themselves should have been
selected, with a view to their efficiency as organs for the
performance of the functions of a perfected society. And this ideal
polity would have been brought about, not by gradually adjusting the
men to the conditions around them, but by creating artificial
conditions for them; not by allowing the free play of the struggle for
existence, but by excluding that struggle; and by substituting
selection directed towards the administrator's ideal for the selection
it exercises.


But the Eden would have its serpent, and a very subtle beast too. Man
shares with the rest of the living world the mighty instinct of
reproduction and its consequence, the tendency to multiply with great
rapidity. The better the measures of the administrator achieved their
object, the more completely the destructive agencies of the state of
nature were defeated, the less would that multiplication be checked.

On the other hand, within the colony, the enforcement of peace, which
deprives every man of the power to take away the means of existence
from another, simply because he is the stronger, [21] would have put
an end to the struggle for existence between the colonists, and the
competition for the commodities of existence, which would alone
remain, is no check upon population.

Thus, as soon as the colonists began to multiply, the administrator
would have to face the tendency to the reintroduction of the cosmic
struggle into his artificial fabric, in consequence of the
competition, not merely for the commodities, but for the means of
existence. When the colony reached the limit of possible expansion,
the surplus population must be disposed of somehow; or the fierce
struggle for existence must recommence and destroy that peace, which
is the fundamental condition of the maintenance of the state of art
against the state of nature.

Supposing the administrator to be guided by purely scientific
considerations, he would, like the gardener, meet this most serious
difficulty by systematic extirpation, or exclusion, of the superfluous.
The hopelessly diseased, the infirm aged, the weak or deformed in body
or in mind, the excess of infants born, would be put away, as the
gardener pulls up defective and superfluous plants, or the breeder
destroys undesirable cattle. Only the strong and the healthy,
carefully matched, with a view to the progeny best adapted to the
purposes of the administrator, would be permitted to perpetuate their



Of the more thoroughgoing of the multitudinous attempts to apply the
principles of cosmic evolution, or what are supposed to be such, to
social and political problems, which have appeared of late years, a
considerable proportion appear to me to be based upon the notion that
human society is competent to furnish, from its own resources, an
administrator of the kind I have imagined. The pigeons, in short, are
to be their own Sir John Sebright.* A despotic government, whether
individual or collective, is to be endowed with the preternatural
intelligence, and with what, I am afraid, many will consider the
preternatural ruthlessness, required for the purpose of carrying out
the principle of improvement by selection, with the somewhat drastic
thoroughness upon which the success of the method depends. Experience
certainly does not justify us in limiting the ruthlessness of
individual "saviours of society"; and, on the well-known grounds of
the aphorism which denies both body and soul to corporations, it seems
probable (indeed the belief is not without support in history) that a
collective despotism, a mob got to believe in its own divine right by
demagogic missionaries, would be capable of more thorough [23] work in
this direction than any single tyrant, puffed up with the same
illusion, has ever achieved. But intelligence is another affair. The
fact that "saviours of society" take to that trade is evidence enough
that they have none to spare. And such as they possess is generally
sold to the capitalists of physical force on whose resources they
depend. However, I doubt whether even the keenest judge of character,
if he had before him a hundred boys and girls under fourteen, could
pick out, with the least chance of success, those who should be kept,
as certain to be serviceable members of the polity, and those who
should be chloroformed, as equally sure to be stupid, idle, or
vicious. The "points" of a good or of a bad citizen are really far
harder to discern than those of a puppy or a short-horn calf; many do
not show themselves before the practical difficulties of life
stimulate manhood to full exertion. And by that time the mischief is
done. The evil stock, if it be one, has had time to multiply, and
selection is nullified.

* Not that the conception of such a society is necessarily based
upon the idea of evolution. The Platonic state testifies to the


I have other reasons for fearing that this logical ideal of
evolutionary regimentation--this pigeon-fanciers' polity--is
unattainable. In the absence of any such a severely scientific
administrator as we have been dreaming of, human society [24] is kept
together by bonds of such a singular character, that the attempt to
perfect society after his fashion would run serious risk of loosening
them. Social organization is not peculiar to men. Other societies,
such as those constituted by bees and ants, have also arisen out of
the advantage of co-operation in the struggle for existence; and their
resemblances to, and their differences from, human society are alike
instructive. The society formed by the hive bee fulfils the ideal of
the communistic aphorism "to each according to his needs, from each
according to his capacity." Within it, the struggle for existence is
strictly limited. Queen, drones, and workers have each their allotted
sufficiency of food; each performs the function assigned to it in the
economy of the hive, and all contribute to the success of the whole
cooperative society in its competition with rival collectors of nectar
and pollen and with other enemies, in the state of nature without. In
the same sense as the garden, or the colony, is a work of human art,
the bee polity is a work of apiarian art, brought about by the cosmic
process, working through the organization of the hymenopterous type.

Now this society is the direct product of an organic necessity,
impelling every member of it to a course of action which tends to the
good of the whole. Each bee has its duty and none [25] has any rights.
Whether bees are susceptible of feeling and capable of thought is a
question which cannot be dogmatically answered. As a pious opinion, I
am disposed to deny them more than the merest rudiments of
consciousness.* But it is curious to reflect that a thoughtful drone
(workers and queens would have no leisure for speculation) with a turn
for ethical philosophy, must needs profess himself an intuitive
moralist of the purest water. He would point out, with perfect
justice, that the devotion of the workers to a life of ceaseless toil
for a mere subsistence wage, cannot be accounted for either by
enlightened selfishness, or by any other sort of utilitarian motives;
since these bees begin to work, without experience or reflection, as
they emerge from the cell in which they are hatched. Plainly, an
eternal and immutable principle, innate in each bee, can alone account
for the phenomena. On the other hand, the biologist, who traces out
all the extant stages of gradation between solitary and hive bees, as
clearly sees in the latter, simply the perfection of an automatic
mechanism, hammered out by the blows of the struggle for existence
upon the progeny of the former, during long ages of constant

* Collected Essays, vol. i., "Animal Automatism"; vol. v.,
"Prologue," pp. 45 et seq.



I see no reason to doubt that, at its origin, human society was as much
a product of organic necessity as that of the bees.* The human family,
to begin with, rested upon exactly the same conditions as those which
gave rise to similar associations among animals lower in the scale.
Further, it is easy to see that every increase in the duration of the
family ties, with the resulting co-operation of a larger and larger
number of descendants for protection and defence, would give the
families in which such modification took place a distinct advantage
over the others. And, as in the hive, the progressive limitation of
the struggle for existence between the members of the family would
involve increasing efficiency as regards outside competition.

But there is this vast and fundamental difference between bee society
and human society. In the former, the members of the society are each
organically predestined to the performance of one particular class of
functions only. If they were endowed with desires, each could desire
to perform none but those offices for which its organization specially
fits it; and which, in view of the good of the whole, it is proper it
should do. So long as a new queen does not make her appearance,
rivalries, and competition are absent from the bee polity.

* Collected Essays, vol v., Prologue, pp. 50-54,

[27] Among mankind, on the contrary, there is no such predestination to
a sharply defined place in the social organism. However much men may
differ in the quality of their intellects, the intensity of their
passions, and the delicacy of their sensations, it cannot be said that
one is fitted by his organization to be an agricultural labourer and
nothing else, and another to be a landowner and nothing else.
Moreover, with all their enormous differences in natural endowment,
men agree in one thing, and that is their innate desire to enjoy the
pleasures and to escape the pains of life; and, in short, to do
nothing but that which it pleases them to do, without the least
reference to the welfare of the society into which they are born. That
is their inheritance (the reality at the bottom of the doctrine of
original sin) from the long series of ancestors, human and semi-human
and brutal, in whom the strength of this innate tendency to
self-assertion was the condition of victory in the struggle for
existence. That is the reason of the aviditas vitae*--the insatiable
hunger for enjoyment--of all mankind, which is one of the essential
conditions of success in the war with the state of nature outside; and
yet the sure agent of the destruction of society if allowed free play

* See below. Romanes' Lecture, note 7.

The check upon this free play of self-assertion, or natural liberty,
which is the necessary condition for the origin of human society, is
the product [28] of organic necessities of a different kind from those
upon which the constitution of the hive depends. One of these is the
mutual affection of parent and offspring, intensified by the long
infancy of the human species. But the most important is the tendency,
so strongly developed in man, to reproduce in himself actions and
feelings similar to, or correlated with, those of other men. Man is
the most consummate of all mimics in the animal world; none but
himself can draw or model; none comes near him in the scope, variety,
and exactness of vocal imitation; none is such a master of gesture;
while he seems to be impelled thus to imitate for the pure pleasure of
it. And there is no such another emotional chameleon. By a purely
reflex operation of the mind, we take the hue of passion of those who
are about us, or, it may be, the complementary colour. It is not by
any conscious "putting one's self in the place" of a joyful or a
suffering person that the state of mind we call sympathy usually
arises; * indeed, it is often contrary to one's sense of [29] right,
and in spite of one's will, that "fellow-feeling makes us wondrous
kind," or the reverse. However complete may be the indifference to
public opinion, in a cool, intellectual view, of the traditional sage,
it has not yet been my fortune to meet with any actual sage who took
its hostile manifestations with entire equanimity. Indeed, I doubt if
the philosopher lives, or ever has lived who could know himself to be
heartily despised by, a street boy without some irritation. And,
though one cannot justify Haman for wishing to hang Mordecai on such a
very high gibbet, yet, really, the consciousness of the Vizier of
Ahasuerus, as he went in and out of the gate, that this obscure Jew
had no respect for him, must have been very annoying.**

* Adam Smith makes the pithy observation that the man who
sympathises with a woman in childbed, cannot be said to put
himself in her place. ("The Theory of the Moral Sentiments,"
Part vii. sec. iii. chap. i.) Perhaps there is more humour than
force in the example; and, in spite of this and other
observations of the same tenor, I think that the one defect of
the remarkable work in which it occurs is that it lays too much
stress on conscious substitution, too little on purely reflex

** Esther v. 9-13. ". . . but when Haman saw Mordecai in the
king's gate, that he stood not up, nor moved for him, he was
full of indignation against Mordecai. . . . And Haman told them
of the glory of his riches . . . and all the things wherein the
king had promoted him . . . Yet all this availeth me nothing,
so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate."
What a shrewd exposure of human weakness it is!

It is needful only to look around us, to see that the greatest
restrainer of the anti-social tendencies of men is fear, not of the
law, but of the opinion of their fellows. The conventions of honour
bind men who break legal, moral, and religious bonds; and, while
people endure the extremity of physical pain rather than part with
life, shame drives the weakest to suicide.

Every forward step of social progress brings [30] men into closer
relations with their fellows, and increases the importance of the
pleasures and pains derived from sympathy. We judge the acts of others
by our own sympathies, and we judge our own acts by the sympathies of
others, every day and all day long, from childhood upwards, until
associations, as indissoluble as those of language, are formed between
certain acts and the feelings of approbation or disapprobation. It
becomes impossible to imagine some acts without disapprobation, or
others without approbation of the actor, whether he be one's self, or
any one else. We come to think in the acquired dialect of morals. An
artificial personality, the "man within," as Adam Smith* calls
conscience, is built up beside the natural personality. He is the
watchman of society, charged to restrain the anti-social tendencies of
the natural man within the limits required by social welfare.

* "Theory of the Moral Sentiments," Part iii. chap. 3. On the
Influence and Authority of Conscience.


I have termed this evolution of the feelings out of which the
primitive bonds of human society are so largely forged, into the
organized and personified sympathy we call conscience, the ethical
process.* So far as it tends to

* Worked out, in its essential features, chiefly by Hartley and
Adam Smith, long before the modern doctrine of evolution was
thought of. See Note below, p. 45.

[31] make any human society more efficient in the struggle for
existence with the state of nature, or with other societies, it works
in harmonious contrast with the cosmic process. But it is none the
less true that, since law and morals are restraints upon the struggle
for existence between men in society, the ethical process is in
opposition to the principle of the cosmic process, and tends to the
suppression of the qualities best fitted for success in that

* See the essay "On the Struggle for Existence in Human Society"
below; and Collected Essays, vol. i. p. 276, for Kant's
recognition of these facts.

It is further to be observed that, just as the self-assertion,
necessary to the maintenance of society against the state of nature,
will destroy that society if it is allowed free operation within; so
the self-restraint, the essence of the ethical process, which is no
less an essential condition of the existence of every polity, may, by
excess, become ruinous to it.

Moralists of all ages and of all faiths, attending only to the
relations of men towards one another in an ideal society, have agreed
upon the "golden rule," "Do as you would be done by." In other words,
let sympathy be your guide; put yourself in the place of the man
towards whom your action is directed; and do to him what you would
like to have done to yourself under the circumstances. However much
one may admire the generosity of such a rule of [32] conduct; however
confident one may be that average men may be thoroughly depended upon
not to carry it out to its full logical consequences; it is
nevertheless desirable to recognise the fact that these consequences
are incompatible with the existence of a civil state, under any
circumstances of this world which have obtained, or, so far as one can
see, are, likely to come to pass.

For I imagine there can be no doubt that the great desire of every
wrongdoer is to escape from the painful consequences of his actions.
If I put myself in the place of the man who has robbed me, I find that
I am possessed by an exceeding desire not to be fined or imprisoned;
if in that of the man who has smitten me on one cheek, I contemplate
with satisfaction the absence of any worse result than the turning of
the other cheek for like treatment. Strictly observed, the "golden
rule" involves the negation of law by the refusal to put it in motion
against law-breakers; and, as regards the external relations of a
polity, it is the refusal to continue the struggle for existence. It
can be obeyed, even partially, only under the protection of a society
which repudiates it. Without such shelter, the followers of the
"golden rule" may indulge in hopes of heaven, but they must reckon with
the certainty that other people will be masters of the earth.

What would become of the garden if the [33] gardener treated all the
weeds and slugs, and birds and trespassers as he would like to be
treated, if he were in their place?


Under the preceding heads, I have endeavoured to represent in broad,
but I hope faithful, outlines the essential features of the state of
nature and of that cosmic process of which it is the outcome, so far
as was needful for my argument; I have contrasted with the state of
nature the state of art, produced by human intelligence and energy, as
it is exemplified by a garden; and I have shown that the state of art,
here and elsewhere, can be maintained only by the constant
counteraction of the hostile influences of the state of nature.
Further, I have pointed out that the "horticultural process," which
thus sets itself against the "cosmic process" is opposed to the latter
in principle, in so far as it tends to arrest the struggle for
existence, by restraining the multiplication which is one of the chief
causes of that struggle, and by creating artificial conditions of
life, better adapted to the cultivated plants than are the conditions
of the state of nature. And I have dwelt upon the fact that, though
the progressive modification, which is the consequence of the struggle
for existence in the state of nature, is at an end, such modification
may still be effected [34] by that selection, in view of an ideal of
usefulness, or of pleasantness, to man, of which the state of nature
knows nothing.

I have proceeded to show that a colony, set down in a country in the
state of nature, presents close analogies with a garden; and I have
indicated the course of action which an administrator, able and
willing to carry out horticultural principles, would adopt, in order
to secure the success of such a newly formed polity, supposing it to
be capable of indefinite expansion. In the contrary case, I have shown
that difficulties must arise; that the unlimited increase of the
population over a limited area must, sooner or later, reintroduce into
the colony that struggle for the means of existence between the
colonists, which it was the primary object of the administrator to
exclude, insomuch as it is fatal to the mutual peace which is the
prime condition of the union of men in society.

I have briefly described the nature of the only radical cure, known to
me, for the disease which would thus threaten the existence of the
colony; and, however regretfully, I have been obliged to admit that
this rigorously scientific method of applying the principles of
evolution to human society hardly comes within the region of practical
politics; not for want of will on the part of a great many people; but
because, for one reason, there is no hope that mere human beings will
ever possess enough intelligence to select the fittest. And I [35]
have adduced other grounds for arriving at the same conclusion.

I have pointed out that human society took its rise in the organic
necessities expressed by imitation and by the sympathetic emotions;
and that, in the struggle for existence with the state of nature and
with other societies, as part of it, those in which men were thus led
to close co-operation bad a great advantage.* But, since each man
retained more or less of the faculties common to all the rest, and
especially a full share of the desire for unlimited
self-gratification, the struggle for existence within society could
only be gradually eliminated. So long as any of it remained, society
continued to be an imperfect instrument of the struggle for existence
and, consequently, was improvable by the selective influence of that
struggle. Other things being alike, the tribe of savages in which
order was best maintained; in which there was most security within the
tribe and the most loyal mutual support outside it, would be the

* Collected Essays, vol. v., Prologue, p. 52.

I have termed this gradual strengthening of the social bond, which,
though it arrest the struggle for existence inside society, up to a
certain point improves the chances of society, as a corporate whole,
in the cosmic struggle--the ethical process. I have endeavoured to
show that, when the ethical process has advanced so far as to secure
[36] every member of the society in the possession of the means of
existence, the struggle for existence, as between man and man, within
that society is, ipso facto, at an end. And, as it is undeniable that
the most highly civilized societies have substantially reached this
position, it follows that, so far as they are concerned, the struggle
for existence can play no important part within them.* In other words,
the kind of evolution which is brought about in the state of nature
cannot take place.

* Whether the struggle for existence with the state of nature
and with other societies, so far as they stand in the relation
of the state of nature with it, exerts a selective influence
upon modern society, and in what direction, are questions not
easy to answer. The problem of the effect of military and
industrial warfare upon those who wage it is very complicated.

I have further shown cause for the belief that direct selection, after
the fashion of the horticulturist and the breeder, neither has played,
nor can play, any important part in the evolution of society; apart
from other reasons, because I do not see how such selection could be
practised without a serious weakening, it may be the destruction, of
the bonds which hold society together. It strikes me that men who are
accustomed to contemplate the active or passive extirpation of the
weak, the unfortunate, and the superfluous; who justify that conduct
on the ground that it has the sanction of the cosmic process, and is
the only way of ensuring the progress of the race; who, if [37] they
are consistent, must rank medicine among the black arts and count the
physician a mischievous preserver of the unfit; on whose matrimonial
undertakings the principles of the stud have the chief influence;
whose whole lives, therefore, are an education in the noble art of
suppressing natural affection and sympathy, are not likely to have any
large stock of these commodities left. But, without them, there is no
conscience, nor any restraint on the conduct of men, except the
calculation of self-interest, the balancing of certain present
gratifications against doubtful future pains; and experience tells us
how much that is worth. Every day, we see firm believers in the hell
of the theologians commit acts by which, as they believe when cool,
they risk eternal punishment; while they hold back from those which am
opposed to the sympathies of their associates.


That progressive modification of civilization which passes by the name
of the "evolution of society," is, in fact, a process of an
essentially different character, both from that which brings about the
evolution of species, in the state of nature, and from that which
gives rise to the evolution of varieties, in the state of art.

There can be no doubt that vast changes have taken place in English
civilization since the reign [38] of the Tudors. But I am not aware of
a particle of evidence in favour of the conclusion that this
evolutionary process, has been accompanied by any modification of the
physical, or the mental, characters of the men who have been the
subjects of it. I have not met with any grounds for suspecting that
the average Englishmen of to-day are sensibly different from those
that Shakspere knew and drew. We look into his magic mirror of the
Elizabethan age, and behold, nowise darkly, the presentment of

During these three centuries, from the reign of Elizabeth to that of
Victoria, the struggle for existence between man and man has been so
largely restrained among the great mass of the population (except for
one or two short intervals of civil war), that it can have had little,
or no, selective operation. As to anything comparable to direct
selection, it has been practised on so small a scale that it may also
be neglected. The criminal law, in so far as by putting to death or by
subjecting to long periods of imprisonment, those who infringe its
provisions, prevents the propagation of hereditary criminal
tendencies; and the poor-law, in so far as it separates married
couples, whose destitution arises from hereditary defects of
character, are doubtless selective agents operating in favour of the
non-criminal and the more effective members of society. But the
proportion of the population which they influence [39] is very small;
and, generally, the hereditary criminal and the hereditary pauper have
propagated their kind before the law affects them. In a large
proportion of cases, crime and pauperism have nothing to do with
heredity; but are the consequence, partly, of circumstances and,
partly, of the possession of qualities, which, under different
conditions of life, might have excited esteem and even admiration. It
was a shrewd man of the world who, in discussing sewage problems,
remarked that dirt is riches in the wrong place; and that sound
aphorism has moral applications. The benevolence and open-handed
generosity which adorn a rich man, may make a pauper of a poor one;
the energy and courage to which the successful soldier owes his rise,
the cool and daring subtlety to which the great financier owes his
fortune, may very easily, under unfavourable conditions, lead their
possessors to the gallows, or to the hulks. Moreover, it is fairly
probable that the children of a "failure" will receive from their
other parent just that little modification of character which makes
all the difference. I sometimes wonder whether people, who talk so
freely about extirpating the unfit, ever dispassionately consider
their own history. Surely, one must be very "fit," indeed, not to know
of an occasion, or perhaps two, in one's life, when it would have been
only too easy to qualify for a place among the "unfit."

[40] In my belief the innate qualities, physical, intellectual, and
moral, of our nation have remained substantially the same for the last
four or five centuries. If the struggle for existence has affected us
to any serious extent (and I doubt it) it has been, indirectly,
through our military and industrial wars with other nations.


What is often called the struggle for existence in society (I plead
guilty to having used the term too loosely myself), is a contest, not
for the means of existence, but for the means of enjoyment. Those who
occupy the first places in this practical competitive examination are
the rich and the influential; those who fail, more or less, occupy the
lower places, down to the squalid obscurity of the pauper and the
criminal. Upon the most liberal estimate, I suppose the former group
will not amount to two per cent. of the population. I doubt if the
latter exceeds another two per cent.; but let it be supposed, for the
sake of argument, that it is as great as five per cent.*

* Those who read the last Essay in this volume will not accuse
me of wishing to attenuate the evil of the existence of this
group, whether great or small.

As it is only in the latter group that any thing comparable to the
struggle for existence in the state of nature can take place; as it is
[41] only among this twentieth of the whole people that numerous men,
women, and children die of rapid or slow starvation, or of the
diseases incidental to permanently bad conditions of life; and as
there is nothing to prevent their multiplication before they are
killed off, while, in spite of greater infant mortality, they increase
faster than the rich; it seems clear that the struggle for existence
in this class can have no appreciable selective influence upon the
other 95 per cent. of the population.

What sort of a sheep breeder would he be who should content himself
with picking out the worst fifty out of a thousand, leaving them on a
barren common till the weakest starved, and then letting the survivors
go back to mix with the rest? And the parallel is too favourable;
since in a large number of cases, the actual poor and the convicted
criminals are neither the weakest nor the worst.

In the struggle for the means of enjoyment, the qualities which ensure
success are energy, industry, intellectual capacity, tenacity of
purpose, and, at least, as much sympathy as is necessary to make a man
understand the feelings of his fellows. Were there none of those
artificial arrangements by which fools and knaves are kept at the top
of society instead of sinking to their natural place at the bottom,*
the struggle for the means [42] of enjoyment would ensure a constant
circulation of the human units of the social compound, from the bottom
to the top and from the top to the bottom. The survivors of the
contest, those who continued to form the great bulk of the polity,
would not be those "fittest" who got to the very top, but the great
body of the moderately "fit," whose numbers and superior propagative
power, enable them always to swamp the exceptionally endowed minority.

* I have elsewhere lamented the absence from society of a
machinery for facilitating the descent of incapacity.
"Administrative Nihilism." Collected Essays, vol. i. p. 54.

I think it must be obvious to every one, that, whether we consider the
internal or the external interests of society, it is desirable they
should be in the hands of those who are endowed with the largest share
of energy, of industry, of intellectual capacity, of tenacity of
purpose, while they are not devoid of sympathetic humanity; and, in so
far as the struggle for the means of enjoyment tends to place such men
in possession of wealth and influence, it is a process which tends to
the good of society. But the process, as we have seen, has no real
resemblance to that which adapts living beings to current conditions
in the state of nature; nor any to the artificial selection of the

[43] To return, once more, to the parallel of horticulture. In the
modern world, the gardening of men by themselves is practically
restricted to the performance, not of selection, but of that other
function of the gardener, the creation of conditions more favourable
than those of the state of nature; to the end of facilitating the free
expansion of the innate faculties of the citizen, so far as it is
consistent with the general good. And the business of the moral and
political philosopher appears to me to be the ascertainment, by the
same method of observation, experiment, and ratiocination, as is
practised in other kinds of scientific work, of the course of conduct
which will best conduce to that end.

But, supposing this course of conduct to be scientifically determined
and carefully followed out, it cannot put an end to the struggle for
existence in the state of nature; and it will not so much as tend, in
any way, to the adaptation of man to that state. Even should the whole
human race be absorbed in one vast polity, within which "absolute
political justice" reigns, the struggle for existence with the state
of nature outside it, and the tendency to the return to the struggle
within, in consequence of over-multiplication, will remain; and,
unless men's inheritance from the ancestors who fought a good fight in
the state of [44] nature, their dose of original sin, is rooted out by
some method at present unrevealed, at any rate to disbelievers in
supernaturalism, every child born into the world will still bring with
him the instinct of unlimited self-assertion. He will have to learn
the lesson of self-restraint and renunciation. But the practice of
self-restraint and renunciation is not happiness, though it may be
something much better.

That man, as a "political animal," is susceptible of a vast amount of
improvement, by education, by instruction, and by the application of
his intelligence to the adaptation of the conditions of life to his
higher needs, I entertain not the slightest doubt. But so long as he
remains liable to error, intellectual or moral; so long as he is
compelled to be perpetually on guard against the cosmic forces, whose
ends are not his ends, without and within himself; so long as he is
haunted by inexpugnable memories and hopeless aspirations; so long as
the recognition of his intellectual limitations forces him to
acknowledge his incapacity to penetrate the mystery of existence; the
prospect of attaining untroubled happiness, or of a state which can,
even remotely, deserve the title of perfection, appears to me to be as
misleading an illusion as ever was dangled before the eyes of poor
humanity. And there have been many of them.

That which lies before the human race is a [45] constant struggle to
maintain and improve, in opposition to the State of Nature, the State
of Art of an organized polity; in which, and by which, man may develop
a worthy civilization, capable of maintaining and constantly improving
itself, until the evolution of our globe shall have entered so far
upon its downward course that the cosmic process resumes its sway;
and, once more, the State of Nature prevails over the surface of our

Note: (See p. 30).--It seems the fashion nowadays to ignore
Hartley; though, a century and a half ago, he not only laid the
foundations but built up much of the superstructure of a true theory
of the Evolution of the intellectual and moral faculties. He speaks of
what I have termed the ethical process as "our Progress from
Self-interest to Self-annihilation." Observations on Man (1749), vol.
ii p. 281.




[The Romanes Lecture, 1893.]

Soleo enim et in aliena castra transire, non tanquam transfuga sed
tanquam explorator. (L. ANNAEI SENECAE EPIST. II. 4.)

THERE is a delightful child's story, known by the title of "Jack and
the Bean-stalk," with which my contemporaries who are present will be
familiar. But so many of our grave and reverend Juniors have been
brought up on severer intellectual diet, and, perhaps, have become
acquainted with fairyland only through primers of comparative
mythology, that it may be needful to give an outline of the tale. It
is a legend of a bean-plant, which grows and grows until it reaches
the high heavens and there spreads out into a vast canopy of foliage.
The hero, being moved to climb the stalk, discovers that the leafy
expanse supports a world composed of the same elements as that below
but yet strangely new; and his adventures there, on which I may not
dwell, must [47] have completely changed his views of the nature of
things; though the story, not having been composed by, or for,
philosophers, has nothing to say about views.

My present enterprise has a certain analogy to that of the daring
adventurer. I beg you to accompany me in an attempt to reach a world
which, to many, is probably strange, by the help of a bean. It is, as
you know, a simple, inert-looking thing. Yet, if planted under proper
conditions, of which sufficient warmth is one of the most important,
it manifests active powers of a very remarkable kind. A small green
seedling emerges, rises to the surface of the soil, rapidly increases
in size and, at the same time, undergoes a series of metamorphoses
which do not excite our wonder as much as those which meet us in
legendary history, merely because they are to be seen every day and
all day long.

By insensible steps, the plant builds itself up into a large and
various fabric of root, stem, leaves, flowers, and fruit, every one
moulded within and without in accordance with an extremely complex
but, at the same time, minutely defined pattern. In each of these
complicated structures, as in their smallest constituents, there is an
immanent energy which, in harmony with that resident in all the
others, incessantly works towards the maintenance ,of the whole and
the efficient performance of the part which it has to play in the
economy of nature.

[48] But no sooner has the edifice, reared with such exact
elaboration, attained completeness, than it begins to crumble. By
degrees, the plant withers and disappears from view, leaving behind
more or fewer apparently inert and simple bodies, just like the bean
from which it sprang; and, like it, endowed with the potentiality of
giving rise to a similar cycle of manifestations. Neither the poetic
nor the scientific imagination is put to much strain in the search
after analogies with this process of going forth and, as it were,
returning to the starting-point. It may be likened to the ascent and
descent of a slung stone, or the course of an arrow along its
trajectory. Or we may say that the living energy takes first an upward
and then a downward road. Or it may seem preferable to compare the
expansion of the germ into the full-grown plant, to the unfolding of a
fan, or to the rolling forth and widening of a stream; and thus to
arrive at the conception of "development," or "evolution." Here, as
elsewhere, names are "noise and smoke"; the important point is to have
a clear and adequate conception of the fact signified by a name. And,
in this case, the fact is the Sisyphaean process, in the course of
which, the living and growing plant passes from the relative
simplicity and latent potentiality of the seed to the full epiphany of
a highly differentiated type, thence to fall back to simplicity and

[49] The value of a strong intellectual grasp of the nature of this
process lies in the circumstance that what is true of the bean is true
of living things in general. From very low forms up to the highest--in
the animal no less than in the vegetable kingdom--the process of life
presents the same appearance [Note 1] of cyclical evolution. Nay, we
have but to cast our eyes over the rest of the world and cyclical
change presents itself on all sides. It meets us in the water that
flows to the sea and returns to the springs; in the heavenly bodies
that wax and wane, go and return to their places; in the inexorable
sequence of the ages of man's life; in that successive rise, apogee,
and fall of dynasties and of states which is the most prominent topic
of civil history.

As no man fording a swift stream can dip his foot twice into the same
water, so no man can, with exactness, affirm of anything in the
sensible world that it is.[Note 2] As he utters the words, nay, as he
thinks them, the predicate ceases to be applicable; the present has
become the past; the "is" should be "was." And the more we learn of
the nature of things, the more evident is it that what we call rest is
only unperceived activity; that seeming peace is silent but strenuous
battle. In every part, at every moment, the state of the cosmos is the
expression of a transitory adjustment of contending forces; a scene,
of strife, in which all the combatants fall in turn. What is [50] true
of each part, is true of the whole. Natural knowledge tends more and
more to the conclusion that "all the choir of heaven and furniture of
the earth" are the transitory forms of parcels of cosmic substance
wending along the road of evolution, from nebulous potentiality,
through endless growths of sun and planet and satellite; through all
varieties of matter; through infinite diversities of life and thought;
possibly, through modes of being of which we neither have a
conception, nor are competent to form any, back to the indefinable
latency from which they arose. Thus the most obvious attribute of the
cosmos is its impermanence. It assumes the aspect not so much of a
permanent entity as of a changeful process in which naught endures
save the flow of energy and the rational order which pervades it.

We have climbed our bean-stalk and have reached a wonderland in which
the common and the familiar become things new and strange. In the
exploration of the cosmic process thus typified, the highest
intelligence of man finds inexhaustible employment; giants are subdued
to our service; and the spiritual affections of the contemplative
philosopher are engaged by beauties worthy of eternal constancy.

But there is another aspect of the cosmic process, so perfect as a
mechanism, so beautiful as a work of art. Where the cosmopoietic energy
[51] works through sentient beings, there arises, among its other
manifestations, that which we call pain or suffering. This baleful
product of evolution increases in quantity and in intensity, with
advancing grades of animal organization, until it attains its highest
level in man. Further, the consummation is not reached in man, the
mere animal; nor in man, the whole or half savage; but only in man,
the member of an organized polity. And it is a necessary consequence
of his attempt to live in this way; that is, under those conditions
which are essential to the full development of his noblest powers.

Man, the animal, in fact, has worked his way to the headship of the
sentient world, and has become the superb animal which he is, in
virtue of his success in the struggle for existence. The conditions
having been of a certain order, man's organization has adjusted itself
to them better than that of his competitors in the cosmic strife. In
the case of mankind, the self-assertion, the unscrupulous seizing upon
all that can be grasped, the tenacious holding of all that can be
kept, which constitute the essence of the struggle for existence, have
answered. For his successful progress, throughout the savage state,
man has been largely indebted to those qualities which he shares with
the ape and the tiger; his exceptional physical organization; his
cunning, his sociability, his curiosity, and his imitativeness; his
ruthless and [52] ferocious destructiveness when his anger is roused
by opposition.

But, in proportion as men have passed from anarchy to social
organization, and in proportion as civilization has grown in worth,
these deeply ingrained serviceable qualities have become defects.
After the manner of successful persons, civilized man would gladly
kick down the ladder by which he has climbed. He would be only too
pleased to see "the ape and tiger die." But they decline to suit his
convenience; and the unwelcome intrusion of these boon companions of
his hot youth into the ranged existence of civil life adds pains and
griefs, innumerable and immeasurably great, to those which the cosmic
process necessarily brings on the mere animal. In fact, civilized man
brands all these ape and tiger promptings with the name of sins; he
punishes many of the acts which flow from them as crimes; and, in
extreme cases, he does his best to put an end to the survival of the
fittest of former days by axe and rope.

I have said that civilized man has reached this point; the assertion
is perhaps too broad and general; I had better put it that ethical man
has attained thereto. The science of ethics professes to furnish us
with a reasoned rule of life; to tell us what is right action and why
it is so. Whatever differences of opinion may exist among experts
there is a general consensus that the ape and [53] tiger methods of
the struggle for existence are not reconcilable with sound ethical

The hero of our story descended the bean-stalk, and came back to the
common world, where fare and work were alike hard; where ugly
competitors were much commoner than beautiful princesses; and where
the everlasting battle with self was much less sure to be crowned with
victory than a turn-to with a giant. We have done the like. Thousands
upon thousands of our fellows, thousands of years ago, have preceded
us in finding themselves face to face with the same dread problem of
evil. They also have seen that the cosmic process is evolution; that
it is full of wonder, full of beauty, and, at the same time, full of
pain. They have sought to discover the bearing of these great facts on
ethics; to find out whether there is, or is not, a sanction for
morality in the ways of the cosmos.

Theories of the universe, in which the conception of evolution plays a
leading part, were extant at least six centuries before our era.
Certain knowledge of them, in the fifth century, reaches us from
localities as distant as the valley of the Ganges and the Asiatic
coasts of the Aegean. To the early philosophers of Hindostan, no less
than to those of Ionia, the salient and characteristic feature of the
phenomenal world was its [54] changefulness; the unresting flow of all
things, through birth to visible being and thence to not being, in
which they could discern no sign of a beginning and for which they saw
no prospect of an ending. It was no less plain to some of these
antique forerunners of modern philosophy that suffering is the badge
of all the tribe of sentient things; that it is no accidental
accompaniment, but an essential constituent of the cosmic process. The
energetic Greek might find fierce joys in a world in which "strife is
father and king;" but the old Aryan spirit was subdued to quietism in
the Indian sage; the mist of suffering which spread over humanity hid
everything else from his view; to him life was one with suffering and
suffering with life.

In Hindostan, as in Ionia, a period of relatively high and tolerably
stable civilization had succeeded long ages of semi-barbarism and
struggle. Out of wealth and security had come leisure and refinement,
and, close at their heels, had followed the malady of thought. To the
struggle for bare existence, which never ends, though it may be
alleviated and partially disguised for a fortunate few, succeeded the
struggle to make existence intelligible and to bring the order of
things into harmony with the moral sense of man, which also never
ends, but, for the thinking few, becomes keen er with every increase
of knowledge and with every step towards the realization of a worthy
ideal of life.

[55] Two thousand five hundred years ago, the value of civilization was
as apparent as it is now; then, as now, it was obvious that only in
the garden of an orderly polity can the finest fruits humanity is
capable of bearing be produced. But it had also become evident that
the blessings of culture were not unmixed. The garden was apt to turn
into a hothouse. The stimulation of the senses, the pampering of the
emotions, endlessly multiplied the sources of pleasure. The constant
widening of the intellectual field indefinitely extended the range of
that especially human faculty of looking before and after, which adds
to the fleeting present those old and new worlds of the past and the
future, wherein men dwell the more the higher their culture. But that
very sharpening of the sense and that subtle refinement of emotion,
which brought such a wealth of pleasures, were fatally attended by a
proportional enlargement of the capacity for suffering; and the divine
faculty of imagination, while it created new heavens and new earths,
provided them with the corresponding hells of futile regret for the
past and morbid anxiety for the future. [Note 3] Finally, the
inevitable penalty of over-stimulation, exhaustion, opened the gates
of civilization to its great enemy, ennui; the stale and flat
weariness when man delights-not, nor woman neither; when all things
are vanity and vexation; and life seems not worth living except to
escape the bore of dying.

[56] Even purely intellectual progress brings about its revenges.
Problems settled in a rough and ready way by rude men, absorbed in
action, demand renewed attention and show themselves to be still
unread riddles when men have time to think. The beneficent demon,
doubt, whose name is Legion and who dwells amongst the tombs of old
faiths, enters into mankind and thenceforth refuses to be cast out.
Sacred customs, venerable dooms of ancestral wisdom, hallowed by
tradition and professing to hold good for all time, are put to the
question. Cultured reflection asks for their credentials; judges them
by its own standards; finally, gathers those of which it approves into
ethical systems, in which the reasoning is rarely much more than a
decent pretext for the adoption of foregone conclusions.

One of the oldest and most important elements in such systems is the
conception of justice. Society is impossible unless those who are
associated agree to observe certain rules of conduct towards one
another; its stability depends on the steadiness with which they abide
by that agreement; and, so far as they waver, that mutual trust which
is the bond of society is weakened or destroyed. Wolves could not hunt
in packs except for the real, though unexpressed, understanding that
they should not attack one another during the chase. The most
rudimentary polity is a pack of men living under the like tacit, or
expressed, [57] understanding; and having made the very important
advance upon wolf society, that they agree to use the force of the
whole body against individuals who violate it and in favour of those
who observe it. This observance of a common understanding, with the
consequent distribution of punishments and rewards according to
accepted rules, received the name of justice, while the contrary was
called injustice. Early ethics did not take much note of the animus of
the violator of the rules. But civilization could not advance far,
without the establishment of a capital distinction between the case of
involuntary and that of wilful misdeed; between a merely wrong action
and a guilty one. And, with increasing refinement of moral
appreciation, the problem of desert, which arises out of this
distinction, acquired more and more theoretical and practical
importance. If life must be given for life, yet it was recognized that
the unintentional slayer did not altogether deserve death; and, by a
sort of compromise between the public and the private conception of
justice, a sanctuary was provided in which he might take refuge from
the avenger of blood.

The idea of justice thus underwent a gradual sublimation from
punishment and reward according to acts, to punishment and reward
according to desert; or, in other words, according to motive.
Righteousness, that is, action from right motive, [58] not only became
synonymous with justice, but the positive constituent of innocence and
the very heart of goodness.

Now when the ancient sage, whether Indian or Greek, who had attained to
this conception of goodness, looked the world, and especially human
life, in the face, he found it as hard as we do to bring the course of
evolution into harmony with even the elementary requirement of the
ethical ideal of the just and the good.

If there is one thing plainer than another, it is that neither the
pleasures nor the pains of life, in the merely animal world, are
distributed according to desert; for it is admittedly impossible for
the lower orders of sentient beings, to deserve either the one or the
other. If there is a generalization from the facts of human life which
has the assent of thoughtful men in every age and country, it is that
the violator of ethical rules constantly escapes the punishment which
he deserves; that the wicked flourishes like a green bay tree, while,
the righteous begs his bread; that the sins of the fathers are visited
upon the children; that, in the realm of nature, ignorance is punished
just as severely as wilful wrong; and that thousands upon thousands of
innocent beings suffer for the crime, or the unintentional trespass of

Greek and Semite and Indian are agreed upon [59] this subject. The book
of Job is at one with the "Works and Days" and the Buddhist Sutras;
the Psalmist and the Preacher of Israel, with the Tragic Poets of
Greece. What is a more common motive of the ancient tragedy in fact,
than the unfathomable injustice of the nature of things; what is more
deeply felt to be true than its presentation of the destruction of the
blameless by the work of his own hands, or by the fatal operation of
the sins of others? Surely Oedipus was pure of heart; it was the
natural sequence of events--the cosmic process--which drove him, in
all innocence, to slay his father and become the husband of his
mother, to the desolation of his people and his own headlong ruin. Or
to step, for a moment, beyond the chronological limits I have set
myself, what constitutes the sempiternal attraction of Hamlet but the
appeal to deepest experience of that history of a no less blameless
dreamer, dragged, in spite of himself, into a world out of joint
involved in a tangle of crime and misery, created by one of the prime
agents of the cosmic process as it works in and through man?

Thus, brought before the tribunal of ethics, the cosmos might well seem
to stand condemned. The conscience of man revolted against the moral
indifference of nature, and the microcosmic atom should have found the
illimitable macrocosm guilty. But few, or none, ventured to record
that verdict.

[60] In the great Semitic trial of this issue, Job takes refuge in
silence and submission; the Indian and the Greek, less wise perhaps,
attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable and plead for the defendant.
To this end, the Greeks invented Theodicies; while the Indians devised
what, in its ultimate form, must rather be termed a Cosmodicy. For,
although Buddhism recognizes gods many and lords many, they are
products of the cosmic process; and transitory, however long enduring,
manifestations of its eternal activity. In the doctrine of
transmigration, whatever its origin, Brahminical and Buddhist
speculation found, ready to hand[Note 4] the means of constructing a
plausible vindication of the ways of the cosmos to man. If this world
is full of pain and sorrow; if grief and evil fall, like the rain,
upon both the just and the unjust; it is because, like the rain, they
are links in the endless chain of natural causation by which past,
present, and future are indissolubly connected; and there is no more
injustice in the one case than in the other. Every sentient being is
reaping as it has sown; if not in this life, then in one or other of
the infinite series of antecedent existences of which it is the latest
term. The present distribution of good and evil is, therefore, the
algebraical sum of accumulated positive and negative deserts; or,
rather, it depends on the floating balance of the account. For it was
not thought necessary that a complete settlement [61] should ever take
place. Arrears might stand over as a sort of "hanging gale;" a period
of celestial happiness just earned might be succeeded by ages of
torment in a hideous nether world, the balance still overdue for some
remote ancestral error. [Note 5]

Whether the cosmic process looks any more moral than at first, after
such a vindication, may perhaps be questioned. Yet this plea of
justification is not less plausible than others; and none but very
hasty thinkers will reject it on the ground of inherent absurdity.
Like the doctrine of evolution itself, that of transmigration has its
roots in the world of reality; and it may claim such support as the
great argument from analogy is capable of supplying.

Everyday experience familiarizes us with the facts which are grouped
under the name of heredity. Every one of us bears upon him obvious
marks of his parentage, perhaps of remoter relationships. More
particularly, the sum of tendencies to act in a certain way, which we
call "character," is often to be traced through a long series of
progenitors and collaterals. So we may justly say that this
"character"--this moral and intellectual essence of a man--does
veritably pass over from one fleshly tabernacle to another, and does
really transmigrate from generation to generation. In the new-born
infant, the character of the stock lies latent, and the Ego is little
more [62] than a bundle of potentialities. But, very early, these
become acutalities; from childhood to age they manifest themselves in
dulness or brightness, weakness or strength, viciousness or
uprightness; and with each feature modified by confluence with another
character, if by nothing else, the character passed on to its
incarnation in new bodies.

The Indian philosophers called character, as thus defined,
"karma."[Note 6] It is this karma which passed from life to life and
linked them in the chain of transmigrations; and they held that it is
modified in each life, not merely by confluence of parentage, but by
its own acts. They were, in fact, strong believers in the theory, so
much disputed just at present, of the hereditary transmission of
acquired characters. That the manifestation of the tendencies of a
character may be greatly facilitated, or impeded, by conditions, of
which self-discipline, or the absence of it, are among the most
important, is indubitable; but that the character itself is modified
in this way is by no means so certain; it is not so sure that the
transmitted character of an evil liver is worse, or that of a
righteous man better, than that which he received. Indian philosophy,
however, did not admit of any doubt on this subject; the belief in the
influence of conditions, notably of self-discipline, on the karma was
not merely a necessary postulate of its theory of retribution, but it
presented [63] the only way of escape from the endless round of

The earlier forms of Indian philosophy agreed with those prevalent in
our own times, in supposing the existence of a permanent reality, or
"substance," beneath the shifting series of phenomena, whether of
matter or of mind. The substance of the cosmos was "Brahma," that of
the individual man "Atman;" and the latter was separated from the
former only, if I may so speak, by its phenomenal envelope, by the
casing of sensations, thoughts and desires, pleasures and pains, which
make up the illusive phantasmagoria of life. This the ignorant take
for reality; their "Atman" therefore remains eternally imprisoned in
delusions, bound by the fetters of desire and scourged by the whip of
misery. But the man who has attained enlightenment sees that the
apparent reality is mere illusion, or, as was said a couple of
thousand years later, that there is nothing good nor bad but thinking
makes it so. If the cosmos is just "and of our pleasant vices makes
instruments to scourge us," it would seem that the only way to escape
from our heritage of evil is to destroy that fountain of desire whence
our vices flow; to refuse any longer to be the instruments of the
evolutionary process, and withdraw from the struggle for existence. If
the karma is modifiable by self-discipline, if its coarser desires,
one after another, can be extinguished, the ultimate [64] fundamental
desire of self-assertion, or the desire to be, may also be destroyed.
[Note 7] Then the bubble of illusion will burst, and the freed
individual "Atman" will lose itself in the universal "Brahma."

Such seems to have been the pre-Buddhistic conception of salvation, and
of the way to be followed by those who would attain thereto. No more
thorough mortification of the flesh has ever been attempted than-that
achieved by the Indian ascetic anchorite; no later monachism has so
nearly succeeded in reducing the human mind to that condition of
impassive quasi-somnambulism, which, but for its acknowledged
holiness, might run the risk of being confounded with idiocy.

And this salvation, it will be observed, was to be attained through
knowledge, and by action based on that knowledge; just as the
experimenter, who would obtain a certain physical or chemical result,
must have a knowledge of the natural laws involved and the persistent
disciplined will adequate to carry out all the various operations
required. The supernatural, in our sense of the term, was entirely
excluded. There was no external power which could affect the sequence
of cause and effect which gives rise to karma; none but the will of
the subject of the karma which could put an end to it.

Only one rule of conduct could be based upon the remarkable theory of
which I have endeavoured to give a reasoned outline. It was folly to
continue [65] to exist when an overplus of pain was certain; and the
probabilities in favour of the increase of misery with the
prolongation of existence, were so overwhelming. Slaying the body only
made matters worse; there was nothing for it but to slay the soul by
the voluntary arrest of all its activities. Property, social ties,
family affections, common companionship, must be abandoned; the most
natural appetites, even that for food, must be suppressed, or at least
minimized; until all that remained of a man was the impassive,
extenuated, mendicant monk, self-hypnotised into cataleptic trances,
which the deluded mystic took for foretastes of the final union with

The founder of Buddhism accepted the chief postulates demanded by his
predecessors. But he was not satisfied with the practical annihilation
involved in merging the individual existence in the unconditioned--the
Atman in Brahma. It would seem that the admission of the existence of
any substance whatever--even of the tenuity of that which has neither
quality nor energy and of which no predicate whatever can be
asserted--appeared to him to be a danger and a snare. Though reduced
to a hypostatized negation, Brahma was not to be trusted; so long as
entity was there, it might conceivably resume the weary round of
evolution, with all its train of immeasurable miseries. Gautama got
rid of even that [66] shade of a shadow of permanent existence by a
metaphysical tour de force of great interest to the student of
philosophy, seeing that it supplies the wanting half of Bishop
Berkeley's well-known idealistic argument.

Granting the premises, I am not aware of any escape from Berkeley's
conclusion, that the "substance" of matter is a metaphysical unknown
quantity, of the existence of which there is no proof. What Berkeley
does not seem to have so clearly perceived is that the non-existence
of a substance of mind is equally arguable; and that the result of the
impartial applications of his reasonings is the reduction of the All
to coexistences and sequences of phenomena, beneath and beyond which
there is nothing cognoscible. It is a remarkable indication of the
subtlety of Indian speculation that Gautama should have seen deeper
than the greatest of modern idealists; though it must be admitted
that, if some of Berkeley's reasonings respecting the nature of spirit
are pushed home, they reach pretty much the same conclusion. [Note 8]

Accepting the prevalent Brahminical doctrine that the whole cosmos,
celestial, terrestrial, and infernal, with its population of gods and
other celestial beings, of sentient animals, of Mara and his devils,
is incessantly shifting through recurring cycles of production and
destruction, in each of which every human being has his transmigratory
[67] representative, Gautama proceeded to eliminate substance
altogether; and to reduce the cosmos to a mere flow of sensations,
emotions, volitions, and thoughts, devoid of any substratum. As, on
the surface of a stream of water, we see ripples and whirlpools, which
last for a while and then vanish with the causes that gave rise to
them, so what seem individual existences are mere temporary
associations of phenomena circling round a centre, "like a dog tied to
a post." In the whole universe there is nothing permanent, no eternal
substance either of mind or of matter. Personality is a metaphysical
fancy; and in very truth, not only we, but all things, in the worlds
without end of the cosmic phantasmagoria, are such stuff as dreams are
made of.

What then becomes of karma? Karma remains untouched. As the peculiar
form of energy we call magnetism may be transmitted from a loadstone
to a piece of steel, from the steel to a piece of nickel, as it may be
strengthened or weakened by the conditions to which it is subjected
while resident in each piece, so it seems to have been conceived that
karma might be transmitted from one phenomenal association to another
by a sort of induction. However this may be, Gautama doubtless had a
better guarantee for the abolition of transmigration, when no wrack of
substance, either of Atman or of Brahma, was left behind; when, in
short, a man had but to [68] dream that he willed not to dream, to put
an end to all dreaming.

This end of life's dream is Nirvana. What Nirvana is the learned do
not agree. But, since the best original authorities tell us there is
neither desire nor activity, nor any possibility of phenomenal
reappearance for the sage who has entered Nirvana, it may be safely
said of this acme of Buddhistic philosophy--"the rest is silence."

[Note 9] Thus there is no very great practical disagreement between
Gautama and his predecessors with respect to the end of action; but it
is otherwise as regards the means to that end. With just insight into
human nature, Gautama declared extreme ascetic practices to be useless
and indeed harmful. The appetites and the passions are not to be
abolished by mere mortification of the body; they must, in addition,
be attacked on their own ground and conquered by steady cultivation of
the mental habits which oppose them; by universal benevolence; by the
return of good for evil; by humility; by abstinence from evil thought;
in short, by total renunciation of that self-assertion which is the
essence of the cosmic process.

Doubtless, it is to these ethical qualities that Buddhism owes its
marvellous success.[Note 10] A system which knows no God in the
western sense; which denies a soul to man; which counts the belief in
immortality a blunder and the hope of it a sin; [69] which refuses any
efficacy to prayer and sacrifice; which bids men look to nothing but
their own efforts for salvation; which, in its original purity, knew
nothing of vows of obedience, abhorred intolerance, and never sought
the aid of the secular arm; yet spread over a considerable moiety of
the Old World with marvellous rapidity, and is still, with whatever
base admixture of foreign superstitions, the dominant creed of a large
fraction of mankind.

Let us now set our faces westwards, towards Asia Minor and Greece and
Italy, to view the rise and progress of another philosophy, apparently
independent, but no less pervaded by the conception of evolution.[Note

The sages of Miletus were pronounced evolutionists; and, however dark
may be some of the sayings of Heracleitus of Ephesus, who was probably
a contemporary of Gautama, no better expressions of the essence of the
modern doctrine of evolution can be found than are presented by some
of his pithy aphorisms and striking metaphors. [Note 12] Indeed, many
of my present auditors must have observed that, more than once, I have
borrowed from him in the brief exposition of the theory of evolution
with which this discourse commenced.

But when the focus of Greek intellectual activity shifted to Athens,
the leading minds [70] concentrated their attention upon ethical
problems. Forsaking the study of the macrocosm for that of the
microcosm, they lost the key to the thought of the great Ephesian,
which, I imagine, is more intelligible to us than it was to Socrates,
or to Plato. Socrates, more especially, set the fashion of a kind of
inverse agnosticism, by teaching that the problems of physics lie
beyond the reach of the human intellect; that the attempt to solve
them is essentially vain; that the one worthy object of investigation
is the problem of ethical life; and his example was followed by the
Cynics and the later Stoics. Even the comprehensive knowledge and the
penetrating intellect of Aristotle failed to suggest to him that in
holding the eternity of the world, within its present range of
mutation, he was making a retrogressive step. The scientific heritage
of Heracleitus passed into the hands neither of Plato nor of
Aristotle, but into those of Democritus. But the world was not yet
ready to receive the great conceptions of the philosopher of Abdera.
It was reserved for the Stoics to return to the track marked out by
the earlier philosophers; and, professing themselves disciples of
Heracleitus, to develop the idea of evolution systematically. In doing
this, they not only omitted some characteristic features of their
master's teaching, but they made additions altogether foreign to it.
One of the most influential of these importations was the
transcendental [71] theism which had come into vogue. The restless,
fiery energy, operating according to law, out of which all things
emerge and into which they return, in the endless successive cycles of
the great year; which creates and destroys worlds as a wanton child
builds up, and anon levels, sand castles on the seashore; was
metamorphosed into a material world-soul and decked out with all the
attributes of ideal Divinity; not merely with infinite power and
transcendent wisdom, but with absolute goodness.

The consequences of this step were momentous. For if the cosmos is the
effect of an immanent, omnipotent, and infinitely beneficent cause,
the existence in it of real evil, still less of necessarily inherent
evil, is plainly inadmissible. [Note 13] Yet the universal experience
of mankind testified then, as now, that, whether we look within us or
without us, evil stares us in the face on all sides; that if anything
is real, pain and sorrow and wrong are realities.

It would be a new thing in history if a priori philosophers were
daunted by the factious opposition of experience; and the Stoics were
the last men to allow themselves to be beaten by mere facts. "Give me
a doctrine and I will find the reasons for it," said Chrysippus. So
they perfected, if they did not invent, that ingenious and plausible
form of pleading, the Theodicy; for the purpose of showing firstly,
that there is no such [72] thing as evil; secondly, that if there is,
it is the necessary correlate of good; and, moreover, that it is
either due to our own fault, or inflicted for our benefit. Theodicies
have been very popular in their time, and I believe that a numerous,
though somewhat dwarfed, progeny of them still survives. So far as I
know, they are all variations of the theme set forth in those famous
six lines of the "Essay on Man," in which Pope sums up Bolingbroke's
reminiscences of stoical and other speculations of this kind--

"All nature is but art, unknown to thee;
All chance, direction which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood;
All partial evil, universal good;
And spite of pride, in erring reason's spite,
One truth is clear: whatever is is right."

Yet, surely, if there are few more important truths than those
enunciated in the first triad, the second is open to very grave
objections. That there is a "soul of good in things evil" is
unquestionable; nor will any wise man deny the disciplinary value of
pain and sorrow. But these considerations do not help us to see why
the immense multitude of irresponsible sentient beings, which cannot
profit by such discipline, should suffer; nor why, among the endless
possibilities open to omnipotence--that of sinless, happy existence
among the rest--the actuality in which sin and misery abound should be
that selected.

[73] Surely it is mere cheap rhetoric to call arguments which have
never yet been answered by even the meekest and the least rational of
Optimists, suggestions of the pride of reason. As to the concluding
aphorism, its fittest place would be as an inscription in letters of
mud over the portal of some "stye of Epicurus"[Note 14]; for that is
where the logical application of it to practice would land men, with
every aspiration stifled and every effort paralyzed. Why try to set
right what is right already? Why strive to improve the best of all
possible worlds? Let us eat and drink, for as today all is right, so
to-morrow all will be.

But the attempt of the Stoics to blind themselves to the reality of
evil, as a necessary concomitant of the cosmic process, had less
success than that of the Indian philosophers to exclude the reality of
good from their purview. Unfortunately, it is much easier to shut
one's eyes to good than to evil. Pain and sorrow knock at our doors
more loudly than pleasure and happiness; and the prints of their heavy
footsteps are less easily effaced. Before the grim realities of

Book of the day: