1902 Encyclopedia > Evolution > Evolution in Philosophy: Darwinism and Ethics and Religion.

(Part 32)


Darwinism and Ethics and Religion.—Passing now to the region of practical philosophy, we find that Darwinism has occasioned in Germany, as in England, a good deal of curious speculation. Among the many writers who have touched on the aspects of Darwinism we can only refer to one or two. Among these we may mention Dr Paul Rée, who, in a recent work, Der Ursprung der moralischen Emphfindungen, argues that moral dispositions or altruistic impulses have been developed as useful to society, yet rather oddly combines with this idea the pessimistic doctrine that man is not on the whole growing more moral. Again Dr Giz’ycki, in the work just referred to, emphasized the bearing of the doctrine of human descent on our feeling towards the lower animals as closely linked to ourselves. He goes on to show that this doctrine involves the most definite and stringent form of determinism, and so has a bearing on our ideas of right and wrong, blame, &c. The writer thinks Darwinism by no means excludes a teleological conception of the world as a process striving towards the highest manifestation of mental life, and this idea leading back to that of an absolute first cause of the order of the world, becomes the starting-point for religious and aesthetic aspiration. In Dr G. Jäger’s work, Die Darwin’sche Theorie und ihre Stellung zu Moral und Religion, we find a practical deduction from Darwinism which curiously contrasts with that of Dr Giz’ycki. Jäger argues that this doctrine teaches us to place ourselves in the greatest possible opposition to the lower animals. The aim of morality, as taught by Darwinism, must be to develop to the utmost those excellence which mark off man from the brute. The author seeks to account for the genesis of social institutions and religious ideas, as utilities which benefited those communities possessing them in the struggle for existence.

A work in which are traced the ethical and religious consequences of the doctrine of evolution is The Old Faith and the New of David Strauss. According to Strauss, all morality has its root in the recognition and realization of the idea of kind in ourselves and in others. He argues from the fact that nature has produced man as her last and highest achievement, and the lower forms of creatures but as steps in the progress towards man, that our end and aim must be the furtherance of that which marks us off from the brutes. Religion again begins with this sense of unity with nature, and the new doctrine of the cosmos enables us to regards nature as the source whence our life, as all life spring.

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