The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex HTML version

Comparison Of The Mental Powers Of Man And The
Lower Animals—continued
The moral sense--Fundamental proposition--The qualities of social animals-- Origin of
sociability--Struggle between opposed instincts--Man a social animal--The more
enduring social instincts conquer other less persistent instincts--The social virtues alone
regarded by savages--The self-regarding virtues acquired at a later stage of development-
-The importance of the judgment of the members of the same community on conduct--
Transmission of moral tendencies--Summary.
I fully subscribe to the judgment of those writers (1. See, for instance, on this subject,
Quatrefages, 'Unite de l'Espece Humaine,' 1861, p. 21, etc.) who maintain that of all the
differences between man and the lower animals, the moral sense or conscience is by far
the most important. This sense, as Mackintosh (2. 'Dissertation an Ethical Philosophy,'
1837, p. 231, etc.) remarks, "has a rightful supremacy over every other principle of
human action"; it is summed up in that short but imperious word "ought," so full of high
significance. It is the most noble of all the attributes of man, leading him without a
moment's hesitation to risk his life for that of a fellow-creature; or after due deliberation,
impelled simply by the deep feeling of right or duty, to sacrifice it in some great cause.
Immanuel Kant exclaims, "Duty! Wondrous thought, that workest neither by fond
insinuation, flattery, nor by any threat, but merely by holding up thy naked law in the
soul, and so extorting for thyself always reverence, if not always obedience; before whom
all appetites are dumb, however secretly they rebel; whence thy original?" (3.
'Metaphysics of Ethics,' translated by J.W. Semple, Edinburgh, 1836, p. 136.)
This great question has been discussed by many writers (4. Mr. Bain gives a list ('Mental
and Moral Science,' 1868, pp. 543-725) of twenty-six British authors who have written
on this subject, and whose names are familiar to every reader; to these, Mr. Bain's own
name, and those of Mr. Lecky, Mr. Shadworth Hodgson, Sir J. Lubbock, and others,
might be added.) of consummate ability; and my sole excuse for touching on it, is the
impossibility of here passing it over; and because, as far as I know, no one has
approached it exclusively from the side of natural history. The investigation possesses,
also, some independent interest, as an attempt to see how far the study of the lower
animals throws light on one of the highest psychical faculties of man.
The following proposition seems to me in a high degree probable--namely, that any
animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts (5. Sir B. Brodie, after
observing that man is a social animal ('Psychological Enquiries,' 1854, p. 192), asks the
pregnant question, "ought not this to settle the disputed question as to the existence of a
moral sense?" Similar ideas have probably occurred to many persons, as they did long
ago to Marcus Aurelius. Mr. J.S. Mill speaks, in his celebrated work, 'Utilitarianism,'
(1864, pp. 45, 46), of the social feelings as a "powerful natural sentiment," and as "the
natural basis of sentiment for utilitarian morality." Again he says, "Like the other
acquired capacities above referred to, the moral faculty, if not a part of our nature, is a
natural out-growth from it; capable, like them, in a certain small degree of springing up
spontaneously." But in opposition to all this, he also remarks, "if, as in my own belief, the
moral feelings are not innate, but acquired, they are not for that reason less natural." It is
with hesitation that I venture to differ at all from so profound a thinker, but it can hardly