Man’s Place in the Cosmos

Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine 1893
Andrew Seth

[923] Professor Huxley’s Romanes lecture on "Evolution and Ethics," published during the summer, deservedly attracted a large amount of attention, due not only to the importance of the subject handled and the reputation of the lecturer, but quite as much to the breadth and scope of the treatment, the nobility of tone, and the deep human feeling which characterise this important utterance. Popular interest was also excited by the nature of the conclusion reached, which, in the mouth of the pioneer and prophet of evolution, had the air of being something like a palinode.

Criticisms of the lecture appeared at the time by Mr, Leslie Steph en in the ‘Contemporary Review' and by Mr Herbert Spencer in a letter to the "Athenaeum’; but it appears to me that the subject has been dismissed from public attention before its significance has been exhausted, or, indeed, properly grasped. Professor Huxley's argument and the criticisms it has called forth illuminate most instructively some deep-seated ambiguities of philosophical terminology, and at the same bring into sharp relief the fundamental difference of standpoint which divides philosophical

thinkers. The questions at issue, moreover, are not merely speculative; already they cast their shadow upon literature and life. The opportunity of elucidation is therefore in the best sense timely, and no apology seems needed for an attempt to recall attention to the points in dispute and to accentuate their significance. This is the more desirable, as no critic has dealt with the scope of Professor Huxley's argument as a whole.

The outstanding feature of that argument is the sharp contrast drawn between nature and ethical man, and the sweeping indictment of "the cosmic process" at the bar of morality. The problem of suffering and the almost complete, absence of any relation between suffering and moral desert is the theme from which he starts, and to which he continually returns. "The dread problem of evil," "the moral indifference of nature," "the unfathomable injustice of the nature of things"–this is the aspect of the world which has burned itself deeply into the writer's soul, and which speaks in moving eloquence from his pages. The Buddhistic and the Stoic attempts to grapple with the problem are considered, and are found to end alike in absolute renunciation. "By the Tiber, as by the Ganges, ethical man admits that the cosmos is too strong for him; and, destroying every bond which ties him to it by ascetic discipline, he seeks salvation in absolute renunciation" (p. 29). Is the antagonism, then, final and hopeless, or can modern science and philosophy offer any better reconciliation of ethical man with the nature to which as an animal lie belongs, and to whose vast unconscious forces he lies open on every side? As Professor Huxley puts the question in his opening pages–Is there or is there not "a sanction or morality in the ways of the cosmos?" Man has built up "an artificial world within the cosmos"’ has human society its roots and its [824] justification in the underlying nature of the cosmos, or is it in very truth an "artificial" world, which is at odds with that nature and must be in perpetual conflict with it? The Stoic rule which places virtue in "following nature" is easily shown to be a phrase of many meanings, and to demand qualification by reference, first, to the specific nature of man, and then to a higher nature or guiding faculty with the mind of man himself. But the modern ethics of devolution apparently claim to have bridged the gulf and to have made the ethical process continuous with the cosmic process of organic nature–they claim, in short, to exhibit the ethical life as only a continuation on another plane, of the struggle for existence. If this claim is well founded, and the two worlds are really continuous, then the maxim, "Follow nature," will have been proved to be, after all, the sum and substance of virtue.

It is against this naturalisation of ethics that Professor Huxley protests in the strongest terms. He readily allows that the ethical evolutionists may be right in their natural history of the moral sentiments. But "as the immoral sentiments have no less been evolved, there is, so far, as much natural sanction for the one as the other . . . . Cosmic evolution may teach us how the good and the evil tendencies of man may have come about; but, in itself, it is incompetent to furnish any better reason why what we call good as preferable to what we call evil, than we had before" (p. 31) That is to say, the origin of a belief and the validity of a belief, or the origin of a tendency and the ethical quality of that tendency, are logically two distinct questions. But the evolutionist is apt to make the answer to the first do duty as the answer to the second also, because he has in reality no standard of appreciation to apply to any phenomenon except that of mere existence. "Whatever is, is right," or at all events, "Whatever is predominant, is right" is the only motto of the consistent evolutionist. This is embodied in the phrase "survival of the fittest," which is used–illegitimately, as we shall see–to effect the transition from the merely natural to the ethical world. In opposition to such theories, Professor Huxley contends that the analogies of the struggle for existence throw no light on the ethical nature of man.

"Cosmic nature is no school of virtue but the headquarters of the enemy of ethical nature" ( p. 27). "Self-assertion, the unscrupulous seizing upon all that can be grasped, the tenacious holding of all that can be kept . . . . constitute the essence of the struggle for existence. . . . For his successful progress, as far as the savage state, man has been largely indebted to those qualities which he shares with the ape and the tiger" (p. 6).

So far is this struggle from explaining morality that

"the practice of what is ethically best–what we call goodness or virtue–involves a course of conduct which, in all respects, is opposed to that which leads to success in the cosmic struggle for existence. In place of ruthless self-assertion, it demands self-restraint; in place of thrusting aside, or treading down, all competitors, it requires that the individual shall not merely respect, but shall help, his fellows . . . . It repudiates the gladitorial theory of existence. . . . Laws and moral precepts are directed to the end of curbing the cosmic process and reminding the individual of his duty to the community, to the protection and influence of which he owes, if not existence itself, at least the life of something better than a brutal savage."

In short, "social progress means [825] a checking of the cosmic process at every step, and the substitution for it of another which may be called the ethical process." This leads up to the characteristic call to arms with which the address concludes: "Let us understand, once for all, that the ethical progress of society depends, not on imitating the cosmic process, still less in running away from it, but in combating it" (pp. 33, 34).

Such is the logical framework of the lecture. It is obvious that the important points of the treatment are: (1) The emphasis laid upon the division between. man and nature, which the reviewer in the ‘Athenaeum' called "an approximation to the Pauline dogma of nature and grace"; and (2) the mood of militant heroism, not untouched, however, by stoical resignation, which naturally results from contemplation of the unequal struggle between the microcosm and the macrocosm.

Before proceeding to consider the consistency of Professor Huxley's argument and the ultimate tenability of his position, I wish to say, in regard to the first point, how timely, it seems to me, is his insistence on the gulf between man and non-human nature; how sound is the stand he takes upon the ethical nature of man as that which is alone of significance and worth in the "transitory adjustment of contending forces," which otherwise constitutes the cosmos. Whether the breach is to be taken as absolute or not, it is at least apparent that if man with his virtues and vices be included simpliciter and without more ado in a merely natural order of facts, we inevitably tend to lose sight of that nature within nature which makes man what he is. The tendency so to include man has become a settled habit in much of our current literature. I need not speak of the documents (if so-called Naturalism, with their never-ending analysis of la bête humaine–analysis from which one would be slow to gather that any such qualities as justice, purity, or disinterested affection had ever disturbed the brutish annals of force and lust. But in other quarters, even where the picture is not so dark, the fashion still is to treat man as a natural product –not as the responsible shaper of his destiny, but, void of spiritual struggles and ideal hopes, as the unresisting channel of the impulses which sway him hither and thither, and issue now in one course of action, now in another. This literature is inartistic, even on its own terms, or, blinded by its materialistic fatalism, it does not even give us things as they are. The higher literature never forgets that man, as Pascal put it, is nobler than the universe; and freedom (in some sense of that ambiguous term) may be held to be a postulate of true art no less than of morality. But besides being bad art, literature of this sort has a subtly corrosive influence upon the ethical temper. For the power of will, as Lamennais said, is that in us which is most quickly used up: "Ce qui s'use le plus vite on nous, c’est la volonté." Hence the insidious force of the suggestion that we do not will at all, but are merely the instruments of our desires. For this is to justify, or at least to excuse, every passion on the ground of its "natural" origin. This temper of mind is found invading even more serious writers, and it is traceable ultimately to the same confusion between the laws of human conduct and the workings of nature in the irresponsible creatures of the field. A. Renan, it will be remembered, delicately excuses himself in his [826] 'Souvenirs'–rallies himself, as we may say–on his continued practice of chastity–

"I continued to live in Paris as I had lived in the seminary. Later, I saw very well the vanity of that virtue as of all the rest. I recognised in particular that nature cares not at all whether man is chaste or not." "I cannot rid myself," he says elsewhere in the same volume, "of the idea that after all it is perhaps the libertine who is right, and who practices the true philosophy of life."

Many will remember, too, how Matthew Arnold took up this parable when lie discoursed in America on the cult of the great goddess Lubricity, to which, as lie said, contemporary France seemed more and more to be devoting herself. After much delicate banter and much direct plain - speaking, Mr Arnold turns upon M. Renan and cuts to the root of the fallacy in a single sentence. "Instead of saying that nature cares nothing about chastity, let us say that human nature, our nature, cares about it a great deal." And when we meet the same fallacy invading our own literature, the same answer will suffice. I think it may be worth pointing out a notable instance in a novel widely read and highly praised within the last two years. Mr Hardy's 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles' is unquestionably a powerful work, but it suffers, in my opinion, both artistically and ethically, from this tendency to assimilate the moral and the natural. To smack of the soil is in many senses a term of praise; but even rustic men and women are not altogether products of the soil, and Mr Hardy is in danger of so regarding them. What I wish, however, to point out here is the pernicious fallacy which underlies a statement like the following. Tess, after she has fallen from her innocence, is wont to wander alone, in the woods, a prey to her own reflections, "terrified without reason," says the author, by "a cloud of moral hobgoblins."

"It was they," he continues, that were out of harmony with the actual world, not she walking among the sleeping birds in the hedges, watching the skipping rabbits on a moonlit warren, or standing under a pheasant- laden bough, she looked upon herself as a figure of guilt intruding into the haunts of innocence. But all the while she was making a distinction where there was no difference. Feeling herself in antagonism, she was quite in accord. She had been made to break an accepted social law, but no law known to the environment in which she fancied herself such an anomaly."

The implication of such a passage is that the "accepted social law" is a mere convention, and that the deeper truth, "the actual world," is to be found in the hedgerows and the warrens. To satisfy ail animal prompting without scruple or hesitation, and without the qualms of a fantastical remorse, is only to fulfil the law of nature, and to put one's self in harmony with one's surroundings. The shallowness of such revolt against "accepted social laws" is too apparent to need further exposure. A convention truly, in one sense, the moral law in question is; but upon this convention the fabric of human society and all the sanctities of the family rest. He must be strangely blinded by a word who deems this sanction insufficient, or who would pit in such a case a "natural" impulse against a "social" law.

In view of pervasive misconceptions and fallacies like these, it is eminently salutary, I repeat, to have our attention so impressively recalled by Professor Huxley to the idea of human life as an imperiuim in imperio–a realm which, though it rises out of [827] nature, and remains exposed to the shock of natural forces, requires for its laws no foreign sanction, but bases them solely on the perfection of human nature itself. For, even though Professor Huxley's way of stating the opposition should prove ultimately untenable, the breach between ethical man and pre-human nature constitutes without exception the most important fact which the universe has to show; and for a true understanding of the world it is far more vital to grasp the significance of this breach than to be misled by a cheap desire for unity and system into minimising, or even denying, the fact.

It is time, however, to examine Professor Huxley's position and arguments more closely. His critics have not been slow to remark upon the ambiguity lurking in the phrase "cosmic process," which occurs so often throughout the lecture, in antithesis to the ethical process–to the moral and social life of man. And they point with one accord to Note 19 as containing, in effect, a retraction of his own doctrine by Professor Huxley himself. "Of course, strictly speaking," we read in the note, "social life and the ethical process, in virtue of which it advances towards perfection, are part and parcel of the general process of evolution." As Mr Spencer pointedly asks, "If the ethical man is not a product of the cosmic process, what is he a product of?" Or as Shakespeare expressed it in the often quoted lines:

"Nature is made better by no means But nature makes that means: so, o'er that art, Which you say adds to nature, is an art That nature makes."

If the cosmic process be understood in the full latitude of the phrase, this is, indeed, so obvious, and the critic's victory so easy, that it is hard to believe Professor Huxley's position rests altogether on a foundation so weak. The term "nature," and still more an expression like "the cosmic process," may be taken in an all-inclusive-sense as equivalent to the universe, as a whole or the nature of things; and if so, it is obvious that human nature with its ethical characteristics is embraced within the larger whole. The unity of the cosmos"–in some sense–is not so much a conclusion to be proved as an inevitable assumption. Professor Huxley apparently denies this unity in the text of his lecture, and is naturally obliged to reassert it in his note, This constitutes the weakness of his position. The part must be somehow included in the process of the whole; there is no extra-cosmic source from which a revolt against the principles of the cosmos could draw inspiration or support.

Now the strength of the evolutionary theory of ethics lies in its frank recognition of the unity of the cosmos; and in this it is, so far, at one with the philosophical doctrine of Idealism to which it is otherwise so much opposed–the doctrine which finds the ultimate reality of the universe in mind or spirit, and its end in the perfecting of spiritual life. But each of these theories exhibits the unity of the world in its own way, The way taken by the ethical evolutionists is to naturalise morality, to assimilate ethical experience to nature, in the lower or narrower sense in which it is used to denote all that happens in the known world except the responsible activities of human beings. And it is against this removing of landmarks that Professor Huxley, rightly, as it seems to me, protests. For though Mr Spencer and Mr Leslie [828] Stephen may be technically in the right, inasmuch as human nature is unquestionably part of the nature of things, it is the inherent tendency of their theories to substitute for this wider nature the laws and processes of that narrower, non-human world, to which the term nature is on the whole restricted by current usage.

This tendency is inherent in every system which takes as its sole principle of explanation the carrying back of facts or events to their antecedent conditions. And, as it happens, this is explicitly formulated by Mr Stephen, in his article in the ‘Contemporary Review,' as the only permissible meaning of explanation: "To 'explain' a fact is to assign its causes–that is, give the preceding set of facts out of which it arose." But surely, I may be asked, you do not intend to challenge a principle which underlies all scientific procedure, and which may even claim to be self-evident. I certainly do not propose to deny the formal correctness of the principle, but I maintain most strongly that the current application of it covers a subtle and very serious fallacy, for the true nature of the cause only becomes apparent in the effect. Now if we explain a fact by giving "the preceding set of facts out of which it arose," we practically resolve the fact into these antecedents–that is to say, we identify it with them. When we are dealing with some limited sphere of phenomena, within which the facts are all of one order–-say, the laws of moving bodies as treated in mechanics–there may be no practical disadvantage from this limited interpretation of causation. But when we pass from one order of facts to another–say, from the inorganic to the organic, or, still more, from animal life to the self-conscious life of man–-the inadequacy of such explanation stares us in the face. For "the preceding set of facts," which we treat as the cause or sufficient explanation of the phenomenon in question, is ex hypothesi different from the phenomenon it is said to explain; and the difference is, that it consists of simpler elements. To explain, according to this view, is to reduce to simpler conditions. But if the elements are really simpler, there is the fact of their combination into a more complex product to be explained and the fact of their combination in such a way as to produce precisely the result in question. And if we choose to take the antecedent conditions, as they appear in themselves, apart from the all-important circumstance of the production of this effect, we have, no doubt, a "preceding set of facts," but we certainly have not, in any true sense, the cause of the phenomenon. We have eliminated the very characteristic we set out to explain–namely, the difference of the new phenomenon from the antecedents out of which it appears to have been evolved. Hence it is that, in the sense indicated, all explanation of the higher by the lower is philosophically a hysteron proteron. The antecedents assigned are not the causes of the consequents; for by antecedents the naturalistic theories mean the antecedents in abstraction from their consequents–the antecedents taken as they appear in themselves or as we might suppose them to be if no such consequents issued from them. So conceived, however, the antecedents (matter and energy, for example) have no real existence–they are mere entia rationis, abstract aspects of the one concrete fact which we call the universe. The true nature of the antecedents is only learned by reference to the consequents which [829] follow; or, as I put it before, the true nature of the cause only becomes apparent in the effect. All ultimate or philosophical explanation must look to the end. Hence the futility of all attempts to explain human life in terms of the merely animal, to explain life in terms of the inorganic, and ultimately to find a sufficient formula for the cosmic process in terms of the redistribution of matter and motion. If we are in earnest with the doctrine that the universe is one, we have to read back the nature of the latest consequent into the remotest antecedent. Only then is the one, in any true sense, the cause of the other.

Applying this to the present question, we may say that, just as within the limits of the organic world there may be exhibited an intelligible evolution of living forms, so within the moral world we may certainly have an evolution of the moral sentiments and of the institutions which subserve ethical conduct. But as, in the one case, we must start with the fact of life–that is to say, with the characteristic ways of behaving which are found in living matter and which are not found in dead matter–so, in the other case, we must carry with us from the outset the characteristics or postulates of moral experience–namely, self-consciousness, with the sense of responsibility, and the capacity for sympathy which is based on the ability to represent to one's self the life and feelings of another. Such an evolution within the moral sphere does not justify us in presenting morality as an "evolution" from non-moral conditions–that is, in resolving morality to non-moral elements. And this Mr Leslie Stephen seems to admit an important passage of the article already referred to.. Morality proper," he says, "begins when sympathy begins; when we really desire the happiness of others, or, as Kant says, when we treat other men as an end, and not simply as a means. Undoubtedly this involves a new principle no less than the essential principle of all true morality." I cannot but regard this as an important admission, but at the same time I am bound to say that, till I met this unexpected sentence of Mr Stephen's, I had supposed that the admission of "a new principle" was precisely what the evolutionists were, of all things, most anxious to avoid.

It seems to me, therefore, that though Professor Huxley may have put himself technically in the wrong by speaking of "the cosmical process," his contention is far from being so inept as a verbal criticism would make it appear. It is really directed against the submergence of ethical man in the processes of non-ethical and non-human nature; and if any justification is to be sought for the use of the phrase, we may find it in the tendency inherent in the evolutionary method of explanation–the tendency already explained to substantiate antecedents in abstraction from their consequents, and thus practically to identify the cosmos with its lowest aspects. If the evolutionists do not make this identification in their own minds, they are at least singularly successful in producing that impression upon their readers.

On another important point, connected with, and indeed involved in, the foregoing, Professor Huxley, by an unguarded statement, laid himself open to a pretty obvious and apparently conclusive rejoinder. "The cosmic process," he says in one place, "has no sort of relation to moral ends." But "the moral indifference of nature," even in the restricted sense of the [830] term, cannot be maintained so absolutely. Nature undoubtedly puts a premium upon certain virtues, and punishes certain modes of excess and defect by decrease of vitality and positive pain. As Mr Stephen says, "that chastity, temperance, truthfulness, and energy are on the whole advantages both to the individual and the race, does not, I fancy, require elaborate proof, nor need I argue at length that the races in which they are common will therefore have inevitable advantages in the "struggle for existence." But if so, then it would seem that cosmic nature is not, as it was represented, "the headquarters of the enemy of ethical nature"; to a certain extent it may even be regarded as a "school of virtue." The sphere, however, in which this holds true is a comparatively limited one, being substantially restricted to temperance, in the Greek sense of the word–that is to say, moderation in the indulgence of the animal appetites, to which may, no doubt, be added, with Mr Stephen, energy. But nature, as distinct from that human nature which organises itself into societies and adds its own sanctions to the moral ideal which it is continually widening and deepening–non-human nature seems to have no sanctions even for such fundamental virtues as truthfulness, justice, and beneficence, still less for the finer shades and higher nobilities of character in which human nature flowers. And even in regard to the list of virtues cited, it might be argued that cosmic nature sanctions and furthers them only when we deliberately restrict our survey to the present stage of the evolutionary process–the stage during which man has grown to be what lie is on this planet. Within this limited period nature, through the struggle for existence, may be said to have favoured the evolution of the morally best. But it is no intrinsic quality of the struggle to produce this result. Here, it appears to me, we strike upon the deeper truth which prompted Professor Huxley's somewhat unguarded statement, and we are under an important obligation to him for the exposure of what he appropriately calls "the fallacy of the fittest."

"Fittest," he writes, "has a connotation of 'best'; and about best there hangs a moral flavour. In cosmic nature, however, what is 'fittest’ depends upon the conditions. Long since, I ventured to point out that if our hemisphere were to cool again, the survival of the fittest might bring about, in the vegetable kingdom, a population of more and more stunted and humbler organisms, until the ‘fittest’ that survived might be nothing but lichens, diatoms, and such microscopic organisms as those which give red snow its colour; while, if it become hotter, the pleasant valleys of the Thames and Isis might be uninhabitable by any animated beings save those that flourish in a tropical jungle. They, as the fittest, the best adapted to the changed conditions, would survive" (p. 32).

Mr Spencer has been forward to emphasis his agreement with this position, and has recalled attention to an essay of his own, twenty years ago, in which he makes the same distinction:–

"The law is not the survival of the ‘better' or the 'stronger,' if we give to these words anything like their ordinary meanings. It is the survival of those which are constitutionally fittest to thrive under the conditions in which they are placed; and very often that which, humanly speaking, is inferiority, causes the survival. Superiority, whether in size, strength, activity, or sagacity, is, other things equal, at the cost of diminished fertility; and where the life led by a species does not demand these higher attributes, the species [831] profits by decrease of them, and accompanying increase of fertility. This is the reason why there occur so many cases of retrograde metamorphosis . . . . When it is remembered that these cases outnumber all others, it will be seen that the expression ‘survivorship of the better’ is wholly inappropriate."1

Out of the mouth of two such witnesses this point may be taken as established. But if so, I entirely fail to see where, on naturalistic principles, we get our standard of higher and lower, of better and worse. If changed conditions of life were to lead to the dehumanisin g of the race, to the dropping one by one of the ethical qualities which we are accustomed to commend, whence the justification for pronouncing this process a "retrograde metamorphosis"? There can be no other sense of better or worse on the theory than more or less successful adaptation to the conditions of the environment, and what survives is best just because it survives. The latest stage of the process must necessarily, therefore, be better than all that went before, from the mere fact that it has maintained itself. Mere existence is the only test we have to apply, and at every stage it would seem that we are bound to say, Whatever is, is right. But this is tantamount to saying that when the theory of evolution is taken in its widest scope, it is not really legitimate to say that nature abets or sanctions morality; since the result of further evolution–or, to speak more properly, of further cosmical changes–might be to dethrone our present ethical conduct from its temporary position as the fittest, and to leave no scope for what we now regard as virtue. The type of conduct which would then succeed, and which would so far have the sanction of nature on its side, we should be constrained, it seems to me, to pronounce superior to the conduct which, from our present point of view, seems to us better, because the latter, if adopted, would in the altered circumstances set us at variance with our surroundings, and so fail, Failure or success in the struggle for existence must, on the theory, be the sole moral standard. Good is what survives; evil is what once was fittest, but is so no longer. Thus, our present good may become–nay, is inevitably becoming–evil, and that not, as might be contended, in the sense of merging in a higher good. We have no guarantee "that the movement of change, miscalled evolution, must continue in the line of past progress: it may gradually, and as it were imperceptibly, assume another direction–a direction which our present moral ideas would condemn as retrograde. Yet, none the less, the mere fact of change would be sufficient to convert our present good into evil.

Such, I must insist, is the only logical position of a naturalistic ethics. But an important outcome of the recent discussion has been to show that the most prominent upholders of the theory do not hold it in its logical form. Mr Spencer, as we have seen, has strongly insisted that survival of the fittest does not mean survival of the better, or even of the stronger; and Mr Stephen tells us that the struggle for existence, instead of being the explanation of morality, "belongs to an underlying order of facts to which moral epithets cannot properly be applied. It denotes a condition of which the moralist has to take account, and to which morality has to be adapted, but which, just because it is a 'cosmic process,' [832] cannot be altered, however much we may alter the conduct which it dictates." Surely this comes very near to admitting Professor Huxley's contention, that our moral standard is not derived from the struggle for existence, but rather implies its reversal, substituting for selfishness sympathy for others, and, in Mr Stephen's own words, "the sense of duty which each man owes to society at large." Mr Spencer speaks of an "ethical check" upon the struggle for existence: it is our duty, he says, "to mitigate the evils " which it entails in the social state. "The use of morality," says Mr Stephen, "is to humanise the struggle, to minimise the sufferings of those who lose the game, and to offer the prizes to the qualities which are advantageous to all, rather than to those which serve to intensify the bitterness of the conflict." But this is neither more nor less than to say that, at soon as man becomes social and moral, he has to act counter to the leading characteristics of the struggle for existence. He becomes animated by other ideals, or, to speak more strictly, he then first becomes capable of an ideal, of a sense of duty, instead of obeying without question the routine of animal impulse.

But if this is so, I still ask the evolutionist who has no other basis than the struggle for existence, how he accounts for the intrusion of these moral ideas and standards, which presume to interfere with the cosmic process, and sit in judgment upon its results? This question cannot be answered so long as we regard morality merely as an incidental result, a by-product, as it were, of the cosmical system. It is impossible on such a hypothesis to understand the magisterial assertion by itself of the part against the whole, its demands upon the universe, its unwavering condemnation of the universe, if these demands are not met by the nature of things. All this would be an incongruous, and even a ludicrous, spectacle if we had here to do with a natural phenomenon like any other. The moral and spiritual life remains, in short, unintelligible, unless on the supposition that it is in reality the key to the world's meaning, the fact in the light of which all other phenomena must be read. We must be in earnest, I have already said, with the unity of the world, but we must not forget that, if regarded merely as a system of forces, the world possesses no such unity. It acquires it only when regarded in the light of an End of absolute worth or value which is realised or attained in it. Such an End-in-itself, as Kant called it, we find only in the self-conscious life of man, in the world of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness which he builds up for himself, and of which he constitutes himself a citizen. If it were possible to consider the system of physical nature apart from the intelligent activities and emotions of rational beings, those, worlds on worlds,

would possess in themselves no spark of the value, the intrinsic worth, which we unhesitatingly assert to belong, at least in possibility, to the meanest human life. The endless redistribution of matter and motion in stupendous cycles of evolution and dissolution would be a world without any justification to offer for its existence–a world which might just as well not have been But if we are honest with ourselves, I do not think we embrace the conclusion that the cosmos is a mere brute fact of this description. The demand for an [833] End-in-itself–that is, for a fact of such a nature that its existence justifies itself–-is as much a rational necessity as the necessity which impels us to refund any phenomenon into its antecedent conditions. And further, unless we sophisticate ourselves, we cannot doubt that we possess within ourselves–in our moral experience most conspicuously–an instance and a standard of what we mean by such intrinsic value. As Carlyle has put it in one of his finest passages

"What, then, is man! What, then, man! He endures but for an hour, and is crushed before the moth. Yet in the being and in the working of a faithful man is there already (as all faith, from the beginning, gives assurance) a something that pertains not to this wild death-element of Time; that triumphs over Time, and is, and will be, when Time shall be no more."

This conviction of the infinite significance and value of the ethical life is the only view-point from which, in Professor Huxley's words, we can "make existence intelligible and bring the order of things into harmony with the moral sense of man." And it is impossible to do the one of these things without the other. To understand the world is not merely to unravel the sequence of an intricate set of facts. So long as we cannot "bring the order of things into harmony with the moral sense of man," we cannot truly be said to have made existence intelligible: the world still remains for us, in Hume's words, " a riddle, an enigma, an inexplicable mystery."

What, then, is Professor Huxley's final attitude? The lecture breathes throughout the loftiest temper of ethical idealism. It is the writer's keen sense of the superiority of ethical man to non-ethical nature that prompts him to pit Pascal's "thinking reed" in unequal struggle against the cosmic forces that envelop him; and the noble words at the close stir the spirit by their impressive insistence on the imperishable worth of human effort inspired by duty. Yet this unflinching conviction does not lead Professor Huxley to what seems the legitimate conclusion from it–namely, that here only, in the life of ethical endeavour, is the end and secret of the universe to be found. It serves but to accentuate the stern pathos of his view of human fate. His ultimate attitude is, theoretically, one of Agnosticism; personally and practically, one of Stoical heroism. Substantially the same attitude, it appears to me, is exemplified in the Religion of Humanity–the same despair, I mean, of harmonising human ideals with the course of the universe. The Religion of Humanity rightly finds in man alone any qualities which call for adoration or worship; but it inconsistently supposes man to develop these qualities in a fundamentally non-ethical cosmos, and so fails to furnish a solution that can be accounted either metaphysically satisfying or ethically supporting. But we must bear in mind, I repeat, the principle of the unity of the world. The attitude of the Agnostic and the Positivist is due to the separation which they unconsciously insist on keeping up between nature and man. The temptation to do so is intelligible, or for we have found that nature, taken in philosophical language as a thing in itself–nature conceived as an independent system of causes–cannot explain the ethical life of man, and we rightly refuse to blur and distort the characteristic features of moral experience by submerging it in the merely natural. We easily, therefore, continue to think of the system of natural causes as a world going its own way, existing quite inde[834]pendently of the ethical beings who draw their breath within it. Man. with his ideal standards and his infinite aspirations appears consequently upon the scene as an alien without rights in a world that knows him not. His life is an unexplained intrusion in a world organised on other principles, and no way adapted as a habitation for so disturbing and pretentious a guest. And the consequence is that he dashes his spirit against the steep crags of necessity, finds his ideals thwarted, his aspirations mocked, his tenderest affections turned to instruments of agony, and is driven, if not into passionate revolt or nerveless despair, then at best into stoical resolve. Some such mood as this appears also in much of Matthew Arnold's poetry, and is to my mind the explanation of its insistent note of sadness.

It is powerfully expressed in the famous monologue or chant in "Empedocles on Etna," with its deliberate renunciation of what the poet deems man's "boundless hopes " and "intemperate prayers." It inspires the fine lines to Fausta on "Resignation," and reappears more incidentally in all his verse. But calm, as he himself reminds us, is not life's crown, though calm is well; and the poet's "calm lucidity of soul" covers in this case the baffled retreat of the thinker, We have, in truth, no right to suppose an independent non-spiritual world on which human experience is incongruously superinduced. If we are really in earnest, at once with the unity of the world and with the necessity of an intrinsically worthy end by reference to which existence may be explained, we must take our courage in both hands an carry our convictions to their legitimate conclusion. We must conclude that the end which we recognise as alone worthy of at attainment is also the end of existence as such–the open secret of the universe. No man writes more pessimistically than Kant of man's relation to the course of nature, so long as man is regarded merely as a sentient creature, susceptible to pleasure and pain But man, as the subject of duty and the heir of immortal hopes, is restored by Kant to that central position in the universe from which, as a merely physical being Copernicus had degraded him.

To a certain extent this conclusion must remain a conviction rather than a demonstration, for we cannot emerge altogether from the obscurities of our middle state, and there is much that may rightly disquiet and perplex our minds. But if it is in the needs of the moral life that we find our deepest principle of explanation, then it nay be argued with some reason that this belongs to the nature of the case, for a scientific demonstration would not serve the purposes of that life. The truly good man must choose goodness on its own account; he must be ready to serve God for naught, without being invaded by M. Renan's doubts. As it has been finely put, lie must possess "that rude old Norse nobility of soul, which saw virtue and vice alike go unrewarded, and was yet not shaken in its faith." This old Norse nobility speaks to us again, in accents of the nineteenth century, in Professor Huxley's lecture. But because such is the temper of true virtue, it by no means follows that such virtue will not be rewarded with "the wages of going on, and not to die."

1 Essays, vol. I, p. 379, "Mr Martineau on Evolution."


C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University