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The Lowell Lectures On The Ascent Of Man by Henry Drummond


The moment it is grasped that we may have in Nature a key to the future progress of Mankind, the study of Evolution rises to an imposing rank in human interest. There lies the programme of the world from the first of time, the instrument, the charter, and still more the prophecy of progress. Evolution is the natural directory of the sociologist, the guide through that which has worked in the past to what -- subject to modifying influences which Nature can always be trusted to give full notice of -- may be expected to work in the future. Here, for the individual, is a new and impressive summons to public action, a vocation chosen of Nature which it will profit him to consider, for thereby he may not only save the whole world, but find his own soul. |The study of the historical development of man,| says Prof. Edward Caird, |especially in respect of his higher life, is not only a matter of external or merely speculative curiosity; it is closely connected with the development of that life in ourselves. For we learn to know ourselves, first of all, in the mirror of the world: or, in other words, our knowledge of our own nature and of its possibilities grows and deepens with our understanding of what is without us, and most of all with our understanding of the general history of man. It has often been noticed that there is a certain analogy between the life of the individual and that of the race, and even that the life of the individual is a sort of epitome of the history of humanity. But, as Plato already discovered, it is by reading the large letters that we learn to interpret the small.... It is only through a deepened consciousness of the world that the human spirit can solve its own problem. Especially is this true in the region of anthropology. For the inner life of the individual is deep and full, just in proportion to the width of his relations to other men and things; and his consciousness of what he is in himself as a spiritual being is dependent on a comprehension of the position of his individual life in the great secular process by which the intellectual and moral life of humanity has grown and is growing. Hence the highest practical as well as speculative interests of men are connected with the new extension of science which has given fresh interest and meaning to the whole history of the race.|

If, as Herbert Spencer reminds us, |it is one of those open secrets which seem the more secret because they are so open, that all phenomena displayed by a nation are phenomena of Life, and are dependent on the laws of Life,| we cannot devote ourselves to study those laws too earnestly or too soon. From the failure to get at the heart of the first principles of Evolution the old call to |follow Nature| has all but become a heresy. Nature, as a moral teacher, thanks to the Darwinian interpretation, was never more discredited than at this hour; and friend and foe alike agree in warning us against her. But a further reading of Nature may decide not that we must discharge the teacher but beg her mutinous pupils to try another term at school. With Nature studied in the light of a true biology, or even in the sense in which the Stoics themselves employed their favourite phrase, it must become once more the watchword of personal and social progress. With Mr. Huxley's definition of what the Stoics meant by Nature as |that which holds up the ideal of the supreme good and demands absolute submission of the will to its behests . . . which commands all men to love one another, to return good for evil, to regard one another as citizens of one great state,| the phrase, |Live according to Nature,| so far from having no application to the modern world or no sanction in modern thought, is the first commandment of Natural Religion.

The sociologist has grievously complained of late that he could get but little help from science. The suggestions of Bagehot, the Synthetic Philosophy of Herbert Spencer, the proposals of multitudes of the followers of the last who announced the redemption of the world the moment they discovered the |Social Organism,| raised great expectations. But somehow they were not fulfilled. Mr. Spencer's work has been mainly to give this century, and in part all time, its first great map of the field. He has brought all the pieces on the board, described them one by one, defined and explained the game. But what he has failed to do with sufficient precision, is to pick out the King and Queen. And because he has not done so, some men have mistaken his pawns for kings; others have mistaken the real kings for pawns; every ism has found endorsement in his pages, and men have gathered courage for projects as hostile to his whole philosophy as to social order. Theories of progress have arisen without any knowledge of its laws, and the ordered course of things has been done violence to by experiments which, unless the infinite conservatism of Nature had neutralized their evils, had been a worse disaster than they are. This inadequacy, indeed, of modern sociology to meet the practical problems of our time, has become a by-word. Mr. Leslie Stephen pronounces the existing science |a heap of vague empirical observation, too flimsy to be useful|; and Mr. Huxley, exasperated with the condition in which it leaves the human family, protests that |if there is no hope of a large improvement| he should |hail the advent of some kindly comet which would sweep the whole affair away.|

The first step in the reconstruction of Sociology will be to escape from the shadow of Darwinism -- or rather to complement the Darwinian formula of the Struggle for Life by a second factor which will turn its darkness into light. A new morphology can only come from a new physiology, and vice versa, and for both we must return to Nature. The one-sided induction has led Sociology into a wilderness of empiricism, and only a complete induction can reinstate it among the sciences. The vacant place is there awaiting it; and every earnest mind is prepared to welcome it, not only as the coming science, but as the crowning Science of all the sciences, the Science, indeed, for which it will one day be seen every other science exists. What it waits for meantime is what every science has had to wait for, exhaustive observation of the facts and ways of Nature. Geology stood still for centuries waiting for those who would simply look at the facts. Men speculated in fantastic ways as to how the world could have been made, and the last thing that occurred to them was to go and see it making. Then came the observers, men who, waiving all theories of the process, addressed themselves to the natural world direct, and in watching its daily programme of falling rain and running stream laid bare the secret for all time. Sociology has had its Werners; it awaits its Huttons. The method of Sociology must be the method of all the natural sciences. It also must go and see the world making, not where the conditions are already abnormal beyond recall, or where Man, by irregular action, has already obscured everything but the conditions of failure; but in lower Nature which makes no mistakes, and in those fairer reaches of a higher world where the quality and the stability of the progress are guarantees that the eternal order of Nature has had her uncorrupted way.

It cannot be that the full programme for the perfect world lies in the imperfect part. Nor can it ever be that science can find the end in the beginning, get moral out of non-moral states, evolve human societies from ant-heaps, or philanthropies from protoplasm. But in every beginning we get a beginning of an end; in every process a key to the single step to be taken next. The full corn is not in the ear, but the first cell of it is, and though it doth not yet appear' what the million-celled ear shall be, there is rational ground for judging what the second cell shall be. The next few cells of the Social Organism are all that are given to Sociology to affect. And, in dealing with them, its business is with the forces; the phenomena will take care of themselves. Neither the great forces of Nature, nor the great lines of Nature, change in a day, and however apparently unrelated seem the phenomena as we ascend -- here animal, there human; at one time non-moral, at another moral -- the lines of progress are the same. Nature, in horizontal section, is broken up into strata which present to the eye of ethical Man the profoundest distinctions in the universe; but Nature in the vertical section offers no break, or pause, or flaw. To study the first is to study a hundred unrelated sciences, sciences of atoms, sciences of cells, sciences of Souls, sciences of Societies; to study the second is to deal with one science -- Evolution. Here, on the horizontal section, may be what Geology calls an unconformability; there is overlap; changes of climate may be registered from time to time, each with its appropriate reaction on the things contained; upheavals, depressions, denudations, glaciations, faults, vary the scene; higher forms of fossils appear as we ascend; but the laws of life are continuous throughout, the eternal elements in an ever temporal world. The Struggle for Life, and the Struggle for the Life of Others, in essential nature, have never changed. They find new expression in each further sphere, become coloured to our eye with different hues, are there the rivalries or the affections of the brute, and here the industrial or the moral conflicts of the race; but the factors themselves remain the same, and all life moves in widening spirals round them. Fix in the mind this distinction between the horizontal and the vertical view of Nature, between the phenomena and the law, between all the sciences that ever were and the one science which resolves them all, and the confusions and contradictions of Evolution are reconciled. The man who deals with Nature statically, who catalogues the phenomena of life and mind, puts on each its museum label, and arranges them in their separate cases, may well defy you to co-relate such diverse wholes. To him Evolution is alike impossible and unthinkable. But these items that he labels are not wholes. And the world he dissects is not a museum, but a living, moving, and ascending thing. The sociologist's business is with the vertical section, and he who has to do with this living, moving, and ascending thing must treat it from the dynamic point of view.

The significant thing for him is the study of Evolution on its working side. And he will find that nearly all the phenomena of social and national life are phenomena of these two principles -- the Struggle for Life, and the Struggle for the Life of Others. Hence he must betake himself in earnest to see what these mean in Nature, what gathers round them as they ascend, how each acts separately, how they work together, and whither they seem to lead. More than ever the method of Sociology must be biological. More urgently than ever |the time has come for a better understanding and for a more radical method; for the social sciences to strengthen themselves by sending their roots deep into the soil underneath from which they spring; and for the biologist to advance over the frontier and carry the methods of his science boldly into human society, where he has but to deal with the phenomena of life, where he encounters life at last under its highest and most complex aspect.|

Would that the brilliant writer whose words these are, and whose striking work appears while these sheets are almost in the press, had |sent his roots deep enough into biological soil| to discover the true foundation for that future Science of Society which he sees to be so imperative. No modern thinker has seen the problem so clearly as Mr. Kidd, but his solution, profoundly true in itself, is vitiated in the eyes of science and philosophy by a basis wholly unsound. With an emphasis which Darwin himself has not excelled, he proclaims the enduring value of the Struggle for Life. He sees its immense significance even in the highest ranges of the social sphere. There it stands with its imperious call to individual assertion, inciting to a rivalry which Nature herself has justified, and encouraging every man by the highest sanctions ceaselessly to seek his own. But he sees nothing else in Nature; and he encounters therefore the difficulty inevitable from this standpoint. For to obey this voice means ruin to Society, wrong and anarchy against the higher Man. He listens for another voice; but there is no response. As a social being he cannot, in spite of Nature, act on his first initiative. He must subordinate himself to the larger interest, present and future, of those around him. But why, he asks, must he, since Nature says |Mind thyself|? Till Nature adds the further precept, |Look not every man on his own things, but also on the things of Others,| there is no rational sanction for morality. And he finds no such precept. There is none in Nature. There is none in Reason. Nature can only point him to a strenuous rivalry as the one condition of continued progress; Reason can only endorse the verdict. Hence he breaks at once with reason and with Nature, and seeks an |ultra-rational sanction| for the future course of social progress.

Here, in his own words, is the situation. |The teaching of reason to the individual must always be that the present time and his own interests therein are all-important to him. Yet the forces which are working out our development are primarily concerned not with those interests of the individual, but with those widely different interests of a social organism subject to quite other conditions and possessed of an indefinitely longer life. . . . The central fact with which we are confronted in our progressive societies is, therefore, that the interests of the social organism and those of the individuals comprising it at any time are actually antagonistic; they can never be reconciled; they are inherently and essentially irreconcilable.| Observe the extraordinary dilemma. Reason not only has no help for the further progress of Society, but Society can only go on upon a principle which is an affront to it. As Man can only attain his highest development in Society, his individual interests must more and more subordinate themselves to the welfare of a wider whole. |How is the possession of reason ever to be rendered compatible with the will to submit to conditions of existence so onerous, requiring the effective and continual subordination of the individual's welfare to the progress of a development in which he can have no personal interest whatever?|

Mr. Kidd's answer is the bold one that it is not compatible. There is no rational sanction whatever for progress. Progress, in fact, can only go on by enlisting Man's reason against itself. |All those systems of moral philosophy, which have sought to find in the nature of things a rational sanction for human conduct in society, must sweep round and round in futile circles. They attempt an inherently impossible task. The first great social lesson of those evolutionary doctrines which have transformed the science of the nineteenth century is, that there cannot be such a sanction. . . . The extraordinary character of the problem presented by human society begins thus slowly to come into view. We find man making continual progress upwards, progress which it is almost beyond the power of the imagination to grasp. From being a competitor of the brutes he has reached a point of development at which he cannot himself set any limits to the possibilities of further progress, and at which he is evidently marching onwards to a high destiny. He has made this advance under the sternest conditions, involving rivalry and competition for all, and the failure and suffering of great numbers. His reason has been, and necessarily continues to be, a leading factor in this development; yet, granting, as we apparently must grant, the possibility of the reversal of the conditions from which his progress results, those conditions have not any sanction from his reason. They have had no such sanction at any stage of his history, and they continue to be as much without such sanction in the highest civilizations of the present day as at any past period.|

These conclusions will not have been quoted in vain if they show the impossible positions to which a writer, whose contribution otherwise is of profound and permanent value, is committed by a false reading of Nature. Is it conceivable, a priori, that the human reason should be put to confusion by a breach of the Law of Continuity at the very point where its sustained action is of vital moment? The whole complaint, which runs like a dirge through every chapter of this book, is founded on a misapprehension of the fundamental laws which govern the processes of Evolution. The factors of Darwin and Weismann are assumed to contain an ultimate interpretation of the course of things. For all time the conditions of existence are taken as established by these authorities. With the Struggle for Life in sole possession of the field no one, therefore, we are warned, need ever repeat the gratuitous experiment of the past, of Socrates, Plato, Kant, Hegel, Comte, and Herbert Spencer, to find a sanction for morality in Nature. |All methods and systems alike, which have endeavoured to find in the nature of things any universal rational sanction for individual conduct in a progressive society, must be ultimately fruitless. They are all alike inherently unscientific in that they attempt to do what the fundamental conditions of existence render impossible.| And Mr. Kidd puts a climax on his devotion to the doctrine of his masters by mourning over |the incalculable loss to English Science and English Philosophy| because Herbert Spencer's work |was practically complete before his intellect had any opportunity of realizing the full transforming effect in the higher regions of thought, and, more particularly, in the department of sociology, of that development of biological science which began with Darwin, which is still in full progress, and to which Professor Weismann has recently made the most notable contributions.| Whether Mr. Spencer's ignorance or his science has been at the bottom of the escape, it is at least a lucky one. For if Mr. Kidd had realized |the full transforming effect| of the following paragraph, much of his book could not have been written. |The most general conclusion is that in order of obligation, the preservation of the species takes precedence of the preservation of the individual. It is true that the species has no existence save as an aggregate of individuals; and it is true that, therefore, the welfare of the species is an end to be subserved only as subserving the welfare of individuals. But since disappearance of the species, implying absolute disappearance of all individuals, involves absolute failure in achieving the end, whereas disappearance of individuals, though carried to a great extent, may leave outstanding such numbers as can, by continuance of the species, make subsequent fulfilment of the end possible; the preservation of the individual must, in a variable degree according to circumstances, be subordinated to the preservation of the species, where the two conflict.|

What Mr. Kidd has succeeded, and splendidly succeeded, in doing is to show that Nature as interpreted in terms of the Struggle for Life contains no sanction either for morality or for social progress. But instead of giving up Nature and Reason at this point, he should have given up Darwin. The Struggle for Life is not |the supreme fact up to which biology has slowly advanced.| It is the fact to which Darwin advanced; but if biology had been thoroughly consulted it could not have given so maimed an account of itself. With the final conclusion reached by Mr. Kidd we have no quarrel. Eliminate the errors due to an unrevised acceptance of Mr. Darwin's interpretation of Nature, and his work remains the most important contribution to Social Evolution which the last decade has seen. But what startles us is his method. To put the future of Social Science on an ultra-rational basis is practically to give it up. Unless thinking men have some sense of the consistency of a method they cannot work with it, and if there is no guarantee of the stability of the results it would not be worth while.

But all that Mr. Kidd desires is really to be found in Nature. There is no single element even of his highest sanction which is not provided for in a thorough-going doctrine of Evolution -- a doctrine, that is, which includes all the facts and all the factors, and especially which takes into accounts that evolution of Environment which goes on pari passu with the evolution of the organism and where the highest sanctions ultimately lie. With an Environment which widens and enriches until it includes -- or consciously includes, for it has never been absent -- the Divine; and with Man so evolving as to become more and more conscious that that Divine is there, and above all that it is in himself, all the materials and all the sanctions for a moral progress are for ever secure. None of the sanctions of religion are withdrawn by adding to them the sanctions of Nature. Even those sanctions which are supposed to lie over and above Nature may be none the less rational sanctions. Though a positive religion, in the Comtian sense, is no religion, a religion that is not in some degree positive is an impossibility. And although religion must always rest upon faith, there is a reason for faith, and a reason not only in Reason, but in Nature herself. When Evolution comes to be worked out along its great natural lines, it may be found to provide for all that religion assumes, all that philosophy requires, and all that science proves.

Theological minds, with premature approval, have hailed Mr. Kidd's solution as a vindication of their supreme position. Practically, as a vindication of the dynamic power of the religious factor in the Evolution of Mankind, nothing could be more convincing. But as an apologetic, it only accentuates a weakness which scientific theology never felt more keenly than at the present hour. This weakness can never be removed by an appeal to the ultra-rational. Does Mr. Kidd not perceive that anyone possessed of reason enough to encounter his dilemma, either in the sphere of thought or of conduct, will also have reason enough to reject any |ultra-rational| -- solution? This dilemma is not one which would occur to more than one in a thousand; it has tasked all Mr. Kidd's powers to convince his reader that it exists; but if exceptional intellect is required to see it, surely exceptional intellect must perceive that this is not the way out of it. One cannot, in fact, think oneself out of a difficulty of this kind; it can only be lived out. And that precisely is what Nature is making all of us, in greater or less degree, do, and every day making us do more. By the time, indeed, that the world as a whole is sufficiently educated to see the problem, it will already have been solved. There is little comfort, then, for apologetics in this direction. Only by bringing theology into harmony with Nature and into line with the rest of our knowledge can the noble interests given it to conserve retain their vitality in a scientific age. The first essential of a working religion is that it shall be congruous with Man; the second that it shall be congruous with Nature. Whatever its sanctions, its forces must not be abnormal, but reinforcements and higher potentialities of those forces which, from eternity, have shaped the progress of the world. No other dynamic can enter into the working schemes of those who seek to guide the destinies of nations or carry on the Evolution of Society on scientific principles. A divorce here would be the catastrophe of reason, and the end of faith. We believe with Mr. Kidd that |the process of social development which has been taking place, and which is still in progress, in our Western civilization, is not the product of the intellect, but the motive force behind it has had its seat and origin in the fund of altruistic feeling with which our civilization has become equipped.| But we shall endeavour to show that this fund of altruistic feeling has been slowly funded in the race by Nature, or through Nature, and as the direct and inevitable result of that Struggle for the Life of Others, which has been from all time a condition of existence. What religion has done to build up this fund, it may not be within the scope of this introductory volume to inquire; it has done so much that students of religion may almost be pardoned the oversight of the stupendous natural basis which made it possible. But nothing is gained by protesting that |this altruistic development, and the deepening and softening of character which has accompanied it, are the direct and peculiar product of the religious system.| For nothing can ever be gained by setting one half of Nature against the other, or the rational against the ultra-rational. To affirm that Altruism is a peculiar product of religion is to excommunicate Nature from the moral order, and religion from the rational order. If science is to begin to recognize religion, religion must at least end by recognizing science. And so far from religion sacrificing vital distinctions by allying itself with Nature, so far from impoverishing its immortal quality by accepting some contribution from the lower sphere, it thereby extends itself over the whole rich field, and claims all -- matter, life, mind, space, time -- for itself. The present danger is not in applying Evolution as a method, but only in not carrying it far enough. No man, no man of science even, observing the simple facts, can ever rob religion of its due. Religion has done more for the development of Altruism in a few centuries than all the millenniums of geological time. But we dare not rob Nature of its due. We dare not say that Nature played the prodigal for ages, and reformed at the eleventh hour. If Nature is the Garment of God, it is woven without seam throughout; if a revelation of God, it is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; if the expression of His Will, there is in it no variableness nor shadow of turning. Those who see great gulfs fixed -- and we have all begun by seeing them -- end by seeing them filled up. Were these gulfs essential to any theory of the universe or of Man, even the establishment of the unity of Nature were a dear price to pay for obliterating them. But the apparent loss is only gain, and the seeming gain were infinite loss. For to break up Nature is to break up Reason, and with it God and Man.

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