1902 Encyclopedia > Evolution > Evolution in Philosophy: Relation to Ethics. Relation to Religion.

(Part 26)


Relation to Ethics.—The application of the doctrine of evolution to our ethical and religious ideas has engaged a number of writers. In Mr A. Barrat’s Physical Ethics the development of man’s moral sense out of feelings of the development of man’s moral sense out of feelings of pleasure and pain is traced in connexion with his organic and social evolution on which it is said to depend. By conceiving of all matter as endowed with sensibility (pleasure and pain), Mr Barratt is able to connect man’s moral evolution with the whole process of organic and of cosmic evolution. The idea of a natural growth of the moral sense out of simpler impulses and instincts may also be frequently found in contemporary English literature. On the other hand, this consequence of the evolution theory has been strenuously opposed in the interests of a thorough going intuitive ethics as, for by Mr St George Mivart, in his work, The Genesis of Species, and by Mr R. H. Hutton.2

Again the question has been discussed whether the doctrine evolution contributes towards the determination of the end or standard of morals. Mr Sidgwick has shown that it cannot well do this merely by proving how the moral sense has arisen. It is easy, however, to look upon the natural process as a tendency towards an end, and of our conscious actions as being bound by this tendency, so that the highest end of our existence must be to co-operate with the natural forces. This idea pervades a good deal of contemporary literature. It appears with special distinctness in the writings of Professor Clifford3 and Mr F. Pollock4 and in the able work of Miss Simcox on Natural Law. On the other hand, Mr H. Sidgwick5 has made an elaborate study of the bearings of evolution on the ethical end, and reduces these to insignificant proportions. This writer criticises Mr Darwin’s definition of the general good, and argues that the idea of a mere quantity of life is inadequate to supply a definite end of conduct. Nevertheless life (GREEK) is the prime condition of wellbeing (GREEK), and so far the evolutionist is right in making life a secondary aim. The differentia of wellbeing, however, requires further interpretation, which can only be supplied by the utilitarian principle. At the same time the doctrine of evolution guides us in the pursuit of this ultimate end, in so far as increase of happiness accompanies organic progress, or elevation in the scale of existence. Mr Sidgwick further points out how little doctrine of evolution assists the utilitarian in dealing with social and political problems.

Relation to Religion.—The bearing of the doctrine of evolution on religion has formed the theme of a host of minor writings. On the whole, Mr Darwin’s doctrine has been said (as it is by the author himself), not only to be compatible with the idea of an original creation of the world, but to supply a higher conception of the divine attributes than the hypothesis of special creations; on the other hand, Mr Spencer’s doctrine, distinctly excluding as it does the idea of creative activity, has called forth strong opposition from a number of theological writers, among whom the most powerful is certainly Professor Martineau.6 In connexion with the subject of the relation of the evolution doctrine to religious ideas, it is worthy of remark that this doctrine appears to be serving as the starting –point for a new quasi-religious conception of nature. The idea of the cosmos and its forces as the author and source of our being easily lends itself to a kind of pantheistic sentiment

FOOTNOTE (p.766)

(1) See an essay on "Instinct" in Macmillan’s Magazine, vol. xxvii. p. 282. sq.

(2) See Essays, vol. i. essay 3, "Science and Theism," in which it is said that "the Darwinian theory is quite incapable of explaining the specifically human phenomenon of the rise of what may be called an anti-Darwinian conscience, which restrains and subordinates the principle of competition."

(3) See especially an article entitled "Right and Wrong," in the Fortnightly Review, vol. xviii. New series, p. 794 sq.

(4) See an article on "Evolution and Ethics," in Mind, No. 3.

(5) See an article headed "The Theory of Evolution in its relation to Practice," in Mind, No. 1 ; cf. Methods of Ethics, 2nd edition, pp. 69, 70 et passim.

(6) See the pamphlet Modern Materialism, in which Professor Tyndall’s version of evolution is severely criticized ; also an article "The Place of Mind in Nature and Intuition in Man," Contemp. Rev., vol. xix. p. 606sq

unknowable force ever sustaining the evolving worlds which is said to excite this emotion. In the work of Miss Simcox already referred to, and the occasional papers of Proffessor Clifford,1 It is rather visible nature itself which is thus elevated into a religious object.

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